I remember when Jurassic Park first came out. I think it was in 94′. Great movie. It was the first movie that was really able to capture new Hollywood special effects with the world of dinosaurs. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Loved every seen. Will, my son, calls the intense scary moments in movies when something makes you jump a “pop out”. Jurassic Park had enough “pop outs” for a life time.
I remember driving home after watching the movie. It was a Summer evening. Dusk was the setting. As I passed by a non-industrialized area close to my house, the trees took on a life that two hours ago I would not have thought possible. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something move. Do you know what my brain interpreted it as? You got it. A Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sure, my rational mind did not engage in this activity, but my disposition was set differently. Due to two hours of exposure and wonder at the possibility of dinosaurs, rationality was not in the driver’s seat. The increased adrenaline and the slightly elevated heart rate demonstrated how the irrational, impossible, and bizarre can grab a hold of our imagination to such a degree that some part of us begins to doubt the reality we know and tips the waiter of unlikelihood.
Over-exposure to these type of things can do that. They can tear the very fabric of reality and what we know to be the truth can suddenly be on the market competing with new ideas that had no market value before.
I have seen it too many times to count now. Young scholars. Young apologists. Young theologians. They all qualify. You know the type. You may be the type. You have been exposed to the reality of the Christian faith, understand its intellectual defensibility for the first time, are set sail to change the world. But something must come first: you have to prepare yourself. In doing so, you seek to face every foe and every enemy which which could to lay siege to your faith. In order to defend your faith properly, you immerse yourself in the study of worldviews which are not your own. You think to yourself, “In order to be prepared, I am going to read every atheist book ever written. The titans of the alternatives will come under my critical eye. I will not stop until completely demonished their arguments. I will not slow down until I can say that I have been to every lion’s den and survived. I will bring people confidence by my own stories of victory. Every battle scare will be a testimony to the faith I defend.”
However, this is not how it aways works. Please forgive me here and just hear me out. Often our pride and confidence work against us. Our method becomes madness. Our feet begin to slip and we don’t know why. Suddenly we slowly begin to succumb to “the other side” bringing our faith to the brink of disaster. We find ourselves doubting the very faith we set out to confirm. The fact that we doubt our worldview—what we knew to be reality—makes us begin to fall apart inside. Disillusionment is not far behind. “If, due to intellectual engagement, I can doubt what I knew to be true, what does that say about the truths I knew? What does that say about my ability to instill confidence in others when I don’t have confidence myself?” Disillusionment gives way to despair and despair to spiritual depression.
At this point, some people stop studying. They stop engaging in the alternatives. They may give up the whole pipe dream of apologetics. They close their eyes, close their ears, and close their mind. They emotionally tell themselves that the Christian view is true and all the other alternatives are wrong and rely solely on the “burning in the bosom” they have in their heart.
Others move into a life long struggle of doubt and depression. Life becomes meaningless in so many ways. Suicide is sometimes the hope, but the fear of death and uncertainty keep us from pulling the trigger. With no where to turn, hope fades and a new life of either perpetual instability or outright unbelief take over.
In short, in both cases, what we set out to destroy has destroyed us.
Let me give you a bit a permission here. No, let me give you advice. Don’t spend so much time in the enemies camp. You can’t handle it. No one can.
Hang with me.
You don’t want to stop studying, but you have to keep your studies moderated or they can have a very negative effect. Don’t stay in the apologetics stuff too much. Don’t ever leave it, but don’t think you can be continually, day in and day out, challenging yourself with every alternative all the time. You are not all that. No one is. Dive in for a time, then take a break to process. No matter how strong we are, we begin to take on the characteristics of those whom we surround ourselves. Like with the Jurassic Park illustration, no matter how irrational the alternative reality is (i.e. their was a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the trees), it can become your worldview when you have been over-exposed. I often tell people if I hang around the Flat Earth Society (yes, there is one) too long, I will start to doubt whether the earth is round.
Atheism is about the most irrational worldview that there is. I truly believe that. But if I did nothing but hang around atheists with no intellectual contact with fellow believers, I would begin to see dinosaurs moving in the trees. Don’t laugh. You will too.
Like when you are exercising (yes, another illustration!), you do not decide that you are going to conquer your muscular atrophy by going into the gym and working out non-stop, 24/7. One hour a day of intense training is about all your body can handle. The rest of the time your body is processing your work out through healing. When doing apologetics, take time to heal, get the nourishment you need, study with those who do agree with you, fellowship with other like minded people, and process what you have learned. I can’t tell you how important this is.
Paul sought the company of other like minded believers. He did not see this as a weakness, but as a necessary component to building up your faith.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
This is not simply a suggestion. This is an imperative. No matter how good your intentions, no matter how tough you think you are, your reality will begin to unravel. Dinosaurs will become more reasonable. A flat earth will become viable. And, yes, even something as irrational as atheism can become an option.
Do not stop studying, but don’t think you can take the world of alternative ideas on your shoulders non-stop. You cannot. Read Erhman, Dawkins, or Hitchings. Read those who disagree with you. Challenge yourself. Head to the intellectual gym. But take breaks. Read those who agree with you too. Take breaks from the battle.