You, my Christian friend, are an admitted atheist. And the basis of your entire faith depends on this very concept.
As you declare your belief in the one true God, you advocate your non-belief (a.k.a. atheism) in all other deities. Christians have made a conscience decision that their faith is the correct one and all others are false. They are by nature skeptics of any other faith that isn’t their own.
Please don’t mistake what I just said as derogatory or demeaning. When I was a strong evangelical Christian, I would even praise fellow believers for displaying these characteristics. It was a sign they were using their gift of discernment.
I first heard about The Outsider Test of Faith when I read a book by John Loftus entitled Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity. The idea gripped my mind completely and was the primary impetus for my searching for the ultimate truth of Christianity.
The Outsider Test of Faith is this: using the same critical eye and discerning spirit by which you judge all other belief systems false, look at your own faith in that exact same way.
This is an incredibly difficult task! Especially if you are 100% convinced your belief system is the correct one! How does one look at Christianity with a critical eye? I contend there are at least three items one should consider when starting this journey.
1. The Bible. I start here because this is the fountain from which all other presuppositions flow. What your believe about the Bible is the lense through which you view the world. The following is pulled from the Doctrinal Statement of the Christian Reformed Church:
Holy Scripture in its entirety is the written Word of God, inspired by God to be our rule of faith and practice. This inspiration is organic, extending to the ideas and the words of Scripture, and is so unique that Scripture alone is the Word of God. The human authors of Scripture were moved by the Holy Spirit so that their writing, reflecting their own personalities, language, and style, communicates infallibly God’s self-revelation. Belief in the inspiration of Scripture, required by Scripture itself and by our Lord and his apostles, is indispensable to Christian faith. The infallibility of Scripture is inferred from inspiration, and the inspiration of Scripture secures its infallibility
There are some big words! Inerrant and Infallible and Inspired. (Personally, I’m a little stunned by the blatant circular reasoning used in the statement, but that is another blog post) Needless to say, if you honestly apply The Outsider Test of Faith to the Christian Scripture, you are in for quite a shock. There are errors and contradictions in both the Old and New Testament. I plan on writing more about the problems that I struggled with the most in a later post. My point here is that I was convinced the Quran and Book of Mormon and The Vedas and the Tipitaka and every other holy book that wasn’t The Bible were wrong.
As an evangelical Christian, my faith in the literal Bible was rock solid. Once I looked at it with the same skeptical eye that I viewed other holy texts with, my faith was shaken quite a bit. I didn’t know what to do!
2. History. I had been led to believe that you could read the Bible just as you could read a history textbook. After all, history was HIS STORY, right? All the texts I mentioned in number 1 are considered history books for their corresponding religions. Yet I believed only the Christian Bible was correct. If I used the tools of a historian and dug into ancient Middle Eastern history, what would I find? Any evidence for the temple curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple being torn in two upon Jesus death? Nope, no corresponding citings or writings from any historians except for the writers of the Gospels. What about the resurrection of the dead that came out of their graves and walked around Jerusalem when Jesus died on the cross? Surely something that magnificent would have been recorded by some third, neutral party! Again the answer is no.
3. Science. What do you do if the prevailing science of the day directly contradicts what your scriptures say? God created the earth and everything in it in 6 days. That is the literal interpretation of Genesis. A talking snake seduced Eve and sin was introduced into the human race as a result of her disobedience. Yet science tells us the universe is at least 14 billion years old and that life evolved on earth over millions and millions of years. Both can not be literally true. If I apply the Outsider Test of Faith in this category, Christianity seems to fail yet again.
I write this to you, my dear Christian friend, not to ask you to give up your faith. I instead ask you to look at that faith with the same selective skepticism that you look at atheism and humanism and every other belief system you do not agree with. You will be challenged to your core if you are honest in your critique, but I guarantee you will be better for it in the long run.
After reading all this, I just want you to see why Stephen F. Roberts could say ““I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one less god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” and mean it. The issue isn’t as black and white as you might think.