Argument # 10: The Testimonials and Changed Lives Argument.
Evangelical Christians usually declare that regardless of all their intellectual arguments to support the validity of the Bible and their faith, the best evidence lies in the wonderful inspiring testimonials of born again Christians. They are proud to say that Jesus changes lives and transforms them for the better to produce good fruit, and that’s the real evidence.
Now, that’s all fine and dandy. I don’t dispute that there are many such cases where people’s lives were changed by the Christian faith for the better, given fulfillment and meaning, made happier, and given kinder hearts and improved morality, etc. In fact, I was such a case myself, for when I was a Christian fundamentalist, my life was made more meaningful and gave me a sense of strong inner purpose as well. I also agree that there seems to be some supernatural power behind these changed lives, answered prayers, and miracles.
However, those who use this argument almost NEVER consider, acknowledge, or take into account the following facts which are just as true as the premise of the argument.
1) First, just because a religion or belief system has changed people’s lives for the better doesn’t mean that the teachings or doctrines of the system must be true and infallible. Nor do they erase all other similar testimonials of all other religions and belief systems. Richard Carrier in his article Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story put it well when he stated:
“Any belief system that involves a radical break with past belief toward a positive acceptance of new hope or wisdom will have a powerful transformative effect on a person, whether their new belief is true or not. I myself "converted" from an all-but-areligious childhood to Taoism, and its effect on me was certainly profound. Am I so ignorant of the world that I would actually claim that "only the true Tao could have such a transforming power in a person's life"? No. I am more honest than that, and more aware of the ways of the world. I was overcome by the genius and beauty of a belief, and the hope and wisdom it granted in a shining moment of revelation. But after long examination I found it was not the correct world view, that there were flaws only visible to careful study.”
2) Second, what these Christians also NEVER acknowledge or even realize is that there are also MANY people whose lives were changed for the better through other religions or systems of belief. I could EASILY bring up the SAME kind evidence of changed lives and testimonials from other belief systems, religions, pop psychology fads, self-help groups, Alcoholics Anonymous groups, New Age sects, Wiccans, even from Atheists/Agnostics, etc. I have known practitioners of Buddhism, Islam, New Age, alternative non-organized spirituality, etc. who can testify that their lives had been changed for the better in many ways as a result of their beliefs/practices. Anyone who wants to find such testimonies can easily do so by walking into the worship buildings of other religions, seeking testimonies over the internet, reading about them from books in the library/bookstore, etc. However, just because those testimonials are true and sincere does not mean each of those belief systems and practices are right for everyone. The same goes for the Christian faith too.
However, Christians prefer not to factor this in. And if confronted with these testimonials of other religions, belief systems, and spiritual practices, their response is to claim that they mean nothing if not based on the Bible, and that Satan could be behind them because he can appear “as an angel of light” and is the “father of lies” according to the Bible (implying that even religions that do good are still inherently evil since they do not acknowledge Jesus as the only way to God).
The problem for them is that claiming that Satan is behind the testimonials of other religions/spiritual practices DOES NOT erase or invalidate them. They seem to think that claiming that Satan is behind it is some kind of a “magic eraser” that can delete all contrary evidence! Not only is it a total cop out, but it’s insulting to others as well. I would ask them how they would feel and how they would like it if I used the “Satan is behind it” explanation to explain away their evidence of Christian testimonials too?
3) Third, many people throughout history have sincerely tried the Christian faith, found it lacking or unfulfilling, and then left it too. Many of these deconverts were sincere, believed in and loved Jesus with all their heart, etc. Yet, for one reason or another, the faith failed them. It either didn’t live up to its promise, was too closed-minded for their evolving minds which sought to broaden itself, didn’t make sense, had too many contradictions/discrepancies to continue rationalizing away, etc. Although there are no exact statistics for the number of people who convert and deconvert from Christianity each year, I would say that the number of deconverts is nearly as many as the converts. They are so common in fact that I have met them everywhere. This is to be expected though, because in reality, no single belief system or religion is right for everyone. People are different in many ways and on different levels of intellectual/spiritual evolution. Therefore, there are going to be some people are just not compatible with the Christian religion, for any number of reasons. In other words, it’s not for everyone, contrary to what Christians think. This is not only true for religion, but for career paths, organizations and social groups as well. No one is compatible with everything, and no group/organization/belief is suited for everyone. That’s the reality.
Now, to be fair, this should count as evidence against the validity of Christianity as well. Yet, the Evangelical Christians NEVER seem to count it as points against them, nor do they acknowledge this fact at all! Instead, if someone has fallen away, they are considered “backsliders” and presumed to be lovers of sin and pleasure, or else were deceived by false religion, secular passions, or Satan. It’s never the fault of the Christian religion of course. It’s another classic case of blaming the victims (much like Amway and multi-level marketing companies blame those who fail the “business system” rather than the inherent flaws of the system).
Nevertheless, I am not an Atheist and so unlike them, my position is NOT that the change in people’s lives after committing to a religion is purely psychological or due to delusion or imagination. Not at all. Such a materialistic view does not fit all the evidence and accounts on the matter. My view on this is much broader than that, and will be expanded on in the next section involving answered prayers and miracles. I have reasons for believing in metaphysical components of these phenomena, because physical conventional explanations are insufficient to account for the total body of evidence.
In any case, my conclusion about this is that yes there is something supernatural going on here with the Christian faith, evidenced by the testimonies of changed lives, answered prayers, miracles, etc. However, just because there is some supernatural force or power behind it, doesn’t mean that all other beliefs and religions are false, don’t lead to God, and are of Satan and lead to hell, for there are supernatural things going on in other religions and spiritual practices as well. That is what Fundamentalist Christians don’t get.
Related argument: All non-Christians are empty and unhappy without Christ
A related argument to the above is that everyone without Christ is empty and unhappy deep down inside. But the truth is, there are many non-Christians, both secularists and people of other faiths, who are just as happy as Christians if not more. And there are many Christians who are unhappy and find their faith lacking and nonsensical, so much that many of them end up deconverting. Obviously since this doesn't fit in with the Christian paradigm, it is ignored through cognitive dissonance. One time, I had a discussion with two Christian missionaries in Moscow who brought up this argument, which proved to be highly circular. It went something like this:
Missionaries: Everyone is empty deep down inside with Christ, for only he could fill that human emptiness that we all have.
Me: But I know many people who are happy and fulfilled in other beliefs and religions.
Missionaries: They are only pretending to be happy and fulfilled. Without Christ, there is no true inner joy, peace, or fulfillment.
Me: For example, the movie star Richard Gere claims to be happy in his Buddhist beliefs.
Missionaries: Richard Gere is not truly happy. He just tells everyone that to keep up his image.
Me: I also know and can name many former Christians who were unhappy or empty in their faith, and found fulfillment and meaning in other religions or belief systems, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, Islam, Hinduism, Wiccan, New Age, or even Atheism/Agnosticism. Many of them have emailed me to share their stories before, and my site has links to forums and support group sites dedicated to them.
Missionaries: Then they were never true Christians to begin with. No one who is truly “born again” would fall away permanently. They may have thought that they were truly born again, but were mistaken. Nothing compares with being born again and having a relationship with Christ, which is completely satisfying.
Me: But many of these were honest devout Bible thumpers who gave their whole lives for their faith, evangelizing all along the way, just like you!
Missionaries: Again, not all who claim to be Christians are. Having a mere intellectual belief in Jesus doesn’t make one born again. It requires God to open up their eyes, and their complete surrender to him. A lot of people who think they are saved, are not. Remember that Jesus said that on Judgment Day, many will come to him and claim to be his followers, but he will say that he never knew them, and throw them aside.
The circular nature of their reasoning is apparent here. Those two missionaries rationalized away whatever didn’t fit in with their beliefs and theology. Rather than updating their beliefs to fit the facts, they twisted and adjusted the facts around their beliefs, sometimes even denying them altogether. Essentially, they ignored what proved them wrong. Do you really think an honest belief system would require a complete ignoring of evidence against it like that? (See the addendum of this book for my formal written response to their arguments)
(For a similar example of Christian circular reasoning in dialogue format like the above, see Robert Ingersoll’s The Talmagian Catechism on Infidels.org.)
The problems with this argument are:
1) Even if I concluded that my life is empty and unsatisfying, it doesn’t mean that the Christian faith is the answer that would satisfy my life, especially since I have tried it for years before. Though they would disagree, the fact is that no one religion or belief system is right for everyone. I feel that due to my metaphysical views, other religions and spiritual practices are more suited for me. I have too many problems with Christian doctrine, theology, mentality, etc. In fact, I would even find more fulfillment and meaning in Buddhism than Christianity, as it makes far more sense and is far less controversial.
2) Many non-Christians do claim and do have generally happy and fulfilling lives. Though Christians don’t believe them and deny it, that does not make these other testimonials untrue or erase them.
3) Many former Christians (some fervent too) felt empty, incomplete, unhappy, and restless in their faith, thus deconverted and went to other belief systems. Christians often attempt to claim deconverts were never real Christians in the first place, but that is a total cop out. Every zealot and fanatic says the same about the deconverts of their beliefs. It’s nothing new.