The Psychological Pull of the Christian Story

There is just something about the Christian story that makes me want to believe it. I know of no other story like this one. In fact, when I watch music videos of the Christian story I feel its psychological pull on me, and I'm a former believer who has rejected that story. So how much more does the story have a great amount of psychological pull on the hearts of others, especially believers, whose faith is confirmed whenever they ponder it. Case in point are the three videos below:

By Amy Grant Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song):



Lyrics:

I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy Father you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now

[Chorus:]
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me

[Chorus] [2x]
By Mark Lowrey, Mary Did You Know?:



Lyrics:

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know---

The blind will see, the deaf will hear,the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb---.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great--I--- AM---.

Keith Green Easter Song (With Lyrics):



When watching these videos most of us living in Christianized societies who have heard the story before, are drawn in by them. Who needs Christian apologetics with a story like this? Who needs to defend such a story at all? The story itself provides the only evidence people need to believe. Just tell the story. Claim it as a properly basic belief. Tell us the Holy Spirit testifies to this story through an inner witness. After all, it does resonate with us.

Why? Because we want it to be true. We want to believe we can be forgiven for things we have done wrong. We want to believe there is divine help when in trouble, or divine healing when sick. We want to believe there is life after death too. And we want to believe we are so important that God would take notice of us and redeem us. Yes, we are that important, such selfish bastards that we are. Yes, Yes, Yes. God, the creator of the universe cares for me, Lil 'Ole me, enough to become a baby and die for me, and enough to help me through life and welcome me into his presence.

Nevermind the fact that we haven't a clue as to how a child could be 100% God and 100% human with nothing left over. Nevermind that we only find virgin birth stories in pre-scientific cultures. Nevermind the fact that we cannot make any sense whatsoever as to how the death of Jesus atones for our sins. Nevermind that we have never actually seen a man resurrected from the grave, nor do we have a clue how this is possible, or why we should ever believe it since it was first told by ancient superstitious people.

No, just leave your brains at the door. Embrace your emotions. Go with them. Live your life by them. It makes life more comfortable for you. And since these emotional factors are so very powerful go ahead and find reasons to believe after the fact. Continually claim that while you cannot make heads nor tails of these beliefs God's ways are mysterious. Play the omniscience escape clause card. Claim that unless I can show your faith is logically impossible (which is simply an impossible standard) that you still have an epistemic warrant to believe.

The bottom line is the story. It has the power to persuade in our society. It offers the believer a great deal.

But I'm here to tell Christians their faith is a delusion. They reject and attack me for telling them this. For I can only offer them non-existence when they die. I offer them no divine help in times of trouble, no answered prayers, no divine healing, and no forgiveness either. I offer them no hope of seeing their loved ones again after they die. I have nothing more to offer but knowledge and understanding.

No wonder belief has it easy. It's hard to compete with a fantasyland. People would rather believe a delusion than face the truth.

[First posted 8/4/10]

25 comments:

Leah Elliott Hauge said...

I don't believe in it anymore either, but I do still have a soft spot for the story.

mikespeir said...

I think the concept of atonement, however that is construed, is what makes Christianity appealing. It's probably also what makes it unique. We've all done things we consider wrong, and most of us have done things we consider very wrong. Usually, that involves hurting someone else. The injured party is not always willing to forgive. And yet, psychologically, we need that forgiveness. Wouldn't it be nice is there were some sort of clearinghouse for forgiveness, someplace we can go where we can be assured of being forgiven, regardless?

The genius of Christianity is that it makes all wrongs, in actuality, offenses against God. That some human was hurt, while not unimportant, isn't the real issue. It's God who has been offended. The good news? That God is ever willing to forgive. That means that, ultimately, it doesn't matter whether the human victim forgives. God always will, because he's made atonement for all "sins"; and if God forgives you, you're forgiven indeed.

Clever. Psychologically palliative. I wonder, though, if it can't provide an excuse to ignore the real problem of offended real persons.

Eric said...

Why do no adults believe in Santa Claus? It's a great story, and I personally would love it if it were true; yet, I don't believe it, and I know of no well educated, sane adults who do. I do know, however, that some of the smartest, best educated adults alive believe the Christian story. Hence, your claim that "people would rather believe a delusion than face the truth" is too simplistic.

Now I'm not denying that "wanting to believe" what we believe is a factor that we must *all* be cognizant of, theist and atheist alike. I'm just saying it's far from being the only factor, or even from being the predominant factor.

John W. Loftus said...

Eric, has anyone argued that the belief in Santa was properly basic or that there is an inner witness in our hearts about it? Does it have a creator deity? Does it ask that believers surrender everything and even die for believing in Santa?

I understand your point though. It's just that there is no solid evidence for your faith so the only thing left is the story itself told in an already Christianized culture.

Eric said...

"Eric, has anyone argued that the belief in Santa was properly basic or that there is an inner witness in our hearts about it? Does it have a creator deity? Does it ask that believers surrender everything and even die for believing in Santa?"

John, no, but you were talking specifically about believing Christianity *because* the story is a good one. I'm just pointing out that the Santa Claus story is very good too, and it's one we'd all like to believe; however, it's one no sane, intelligent adult in fact believes, which means that we don't necessarily believe good stories we wish were true. Something more is needed. I'd say that that something more is, for many of us, good reasons to believe that the good story is true.

"It's just that there is no solid evidence for your faith so the only thing left is the story itself told in an already Christianized culture."

Well, we disagree about the evidence, of course. :)

I will certainly admit that the Christian story does, to me, have the sort of "psychological pull" you referred to in your post. But this was not always the case: When I was an atheist, I thought the Christian story was fatuous. Not only that -- I was positively repulsed by it. I didn't even feel the pull from the much vaunted wisdom and insight of Jesus; to me at the time, Plato's Socrates was a much more compelling figure. I can't speak for everyone of course, but I think I can say that wanting Christianity to be true was not much of a factor in my conversion (reversion?). Now I admit that there may have been some unconscious or semiconscious desire on my part that it be true, and that I simply haven't looked closely enough at myself to determine whether that's the case. But as far as I can tell, that's not how it was for me.

GearHedEd said...

Eric,

Didn't youay elsewhere that you started out as a Catholic? Why then should any of us be impressed if you returned to it? I'm pretty sure that it was "comforting" to return to your roots.

I once let an acquaintance convince me to go to church with him. I was in the middle of getting divorced and hadn't been to church in at least 7 months (my mother used to make me and my sibs go to an Episcopalian church in our hometown, but I was in the army and didn't attend anymore).

So I said, "Sure, I'll go".

The church he took me to was a fire and brimstone Pentecostal assembly, and after a lengthy harangue from the preacher, there was what they termed an "altar call".

Immediately, about a dozen people started babbling in "tongues", rolling around on the floor, some frothing even.

I thought to myself, "Self, this is NOT church. These peoples are crazy".

But you know, the Anglicans and the Episcopalians BOTH call themselves "Christians".

Go figure.

floyd said...

Can't it all be summed up as "Daddy, Love me!!"?

Pieter said...

Of all the religions of the world Christianity gets my prize for the most hysterically funny and at the same time the most daring concept of them all. It is funny because of the endless absurd details they expect us to swallow and believe and the most daring because of that last reason that they actually do expect us to fall for all that outrageous crap. The only miracle I have come across in the fact that so many people actually do believe it or at the very least expect us to believe that they believe it. What a nerve. In fact this crazy cult is its own proof that it is nonsense because if Jesus was God he would have destroyed this silly religion centuries ago. As for the catholic church.... I don't even know where to begin. Is there anything more vile and evil on earth? Apart from those awful Scientologists that is.... GRRR

Ryan Anderson said...

Obviously, the Christian story has some emotional pull, otherwise it wouldn't have had any followers in the beginning. However I have to wonder how much less power or pull it would have today if our culture hadn't been steeping in that story for 2000 years.

Eric said...

"Didn't you elsewhere that you started out as a Catholic? Why then should any of us be impressed if you returned to it? I'm pretty sure that it was "comforting" to return to your roots."

Ed, I think I also made it clear that, given the nominal nature of my family's Catholicism, I didn't have much in the terms of 'roots' there at all. As I said, I made my First Communion, about which I remember next to nothing, went to mass a handful of times -- twice a year was frequent -- and maybe went to confession twice. I did not enjoy mass or confession at all, and my family didn't take any of it very seriously. We *never* talked about religion at home, never prayed at home, etc. As a result, I knew next to nothing about Catholicism as a young nominal Catholic. In short, there wasn't much for me to return to. The Church I now know resembles the Catholic Church I knew as a child about as much as it resembles Midewiwin.

I initially investigated Catholicism after I had decided, on philosophical grounds, that some sort of god existed, simply because it seemed to lack a host of what were for me deal-breakers that other forms of Christianity (and other religions) possessed. For example, I saw that it was plainly not anti-science (and, contrary to popular opinion on the internet, never has been to any serious extent), or anti-intellectual (all priests have a minimum of eight years higher education), or anti-doubt (every priest or Catholic theologian or Catholic scholar I've talked to since my reversion *encourages* doubt and serious investigation of the claims of the church). The lack of deal-breakers was just an open gate, though; I ultimately chose to enter it for other reasons. I could go on, but you get the idea. Anyway, each conversion or reversion story is unique. As Chesterton said, “The Church is a house with a hundred gates; and no two men enter at exactly the same angle.”

Edward T. Babinski said...

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE REFLECTS JOHN'S

In high school my history teacher gave me a copy of a Modern English New Testament to read, titled, "The Greatest Is Love," challenging me to finish reading it before he did. I loved reading the Gospels more than the letters to the churches, and I cried upon arriving at the end of each, at the point where Jesus is scourged, crucified, then resurrected. The welling up of tears after reading a dramatic story was not unusual for me. At that age I was also very taken with Plato's dialogues in which Socrates dies at the end. I also stayed up all night to read a Ray Bradbury book about a culture that outlawed books, so some people resurrected literature by becoming living books, keeping the stories alive by memorizing an entire book, word for word, and reciting it to others. The ending of that book moved me too.

But, having been raised on the story of Jesus all my life as a cradle Catholic, and now reading it for the first time in the oldest extant church documents translated into modern English, it touched something deep inside me.

That same point was also touched, later, when I read the Christian novel, The Robe, and read C. S. Lewis' story of Aslan's death and resurrection in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was even touched by certain movies, such as E.T. and Short Circuit in which the beloved main character is believed to have died, yet is survives and shows himself alive.

In a more general sense, I've always been a big fan, like most people, of tales where the hero must "beat the odds." It may require a genuine (or merely apparent) "miracle" for them to succeed, but succeed they do!

*To read the story of my journey (as published in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists) see

http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/leaving_the_fold/babinski_agnosticism.html

zenmite said...

I think there are certain recurrent themes in mythology (whether the myth is based upon actual underlying facts or not)that appeal to us because they reflect some psychological truth. The work of Joseph Campbell is excellent in this regard. The hero theme, the dying god that is reborn, the forbidden or taboo that is broken, etc.

Watching that old Samson movie, I still get chillbumps when the 'power of god' enters him and he pulls the temple down upon the phillistines. The martyr theme is powerful. God gives his only son for us as a mother sacrifices her life for her child. Sacrifice appears over and over in ancient cultures. We hope to appease what is beyond our control by giving something away...whether killing an ox, goat or our first-born child. If we can control existence (or god) in this way the world can seem less scary.

Think of the Kung Fu character, Caine. He's all humble and mild-mannered. He allows himself to be abused up to a point. We thrill to the knowledge that Caine could easily defeat any of his opponents at any time he chose. Then at the end of the show he would totally kick-ass.

Jesus of lowly origins (like a wandering chinaman /coolie in old west)acts all humble and lets himself be abused and mistreated and we thrill to the idea that he could zap his opponents with his godly power at any time if he chose. Just when you think he's defeated..bam...he comes back to life and rises to god only to return at the end of the show (judgement day) to totally kick-ass.

Myths are powerful because they resonate with something within us. It's just that some myths resonate more with some people.

Ignerant Phool said...

The psychological pull is so evident and strong you can see it just by talking to the average christian and comparing their different and opposing beliefs. Every one of them will tell you that these are "good reasons to believe that the story is true" just the same as Eric say. Obviously everyone's views can't all be equally true, what this shows is that people are willing to believe in Christianity while having false beliefs because they prefer it to be true.

As John said "people believe that which they prefer to be true", when it comes to the existence of a god and a "true religion" this is most definitely the case. You prefer to believe in a god who is hidden. You prefer to believe he's revealed himself to man (who knows when he supposedly first did this) because you prefer to believe said men. Everything you as a christian believe, you prefer to believe. Why? Because of your favourite word called "faith". You need it. God isn't appeased by your faith, he knows christianity can't survive without it. As a matter of fact a theistic religion would not exist without it. And they all have sane and intelligent people who have "good reasons" for believing in theirs also. Would you not say these people "believe that which they prefer to be true"? If God demands faith, I would recommend Islam over Christianity any day. But if he requires psychological pulling you win hands down.

Andre

David said...

Hi John,

I understand where you are coming from with this post, however I would like to offer a differing view.

I see where the potential comfort may lie for believers, or ex-believers but as a non-believer I feel there are too many obstacles in the way to even getting to the stage of wishing it were true.

But with that said I actually don't want to believe. I find the central doctrine of expiation a monstrous way to deal with our individual wrong doings.

In my opinion it is one of the most awful and least compassionate things about Christianity; that it tries to alleviate personal responsibility. And the method it uses to do this is the logically inconsistent suicide and self torture of a sentient being that is both, as you well put it, 100% god and 100% man.

When I try to think about what that actually means several things happen in my head!

a) First I try to grapple with the logic: Ok so a supreme being with infinite power and knowledge, created us sick and demands that we love him for doing so. Then the only way that said supreme being could think of to save us from our wicked ways, was to send himself to earth and have himself tortured and crucified. Failure to then believe in or accept this act of "love" will mean that you will be tortured for eternity.

b) But even ignoring the failures of logic and abundant internal consistencies, is the torture and crucifixion of a person really the best way to reconcile god and man, again he's is infinite in power and wisdom...

I just can't find that appealing in any way, in fact it makes me feel a bit nauseous and sad. The more I read and learn about Christianity, the more it seems apologetics is merely an act of mental contortion. A way to reconcile the strange, bizarre logical absurdities of the central Christian beliefs.

Love reading the blog, and I've recently picked up both your books for my Kindle. I've started on TCD, should I really have started with WIBAC?

All the best

David

GearHedEd said...

I saidlast night:

"...I thought to myself, "Self, this is NOT church. These peoples are crazy".

But you know, the Anglicans and the Episcopalians BOTH call themselves "Christians".

Go figure."

The second sentence should read,

"But you know, the Pentecostals and the Episcopalians BOTH call themselves "Christians".

I was pointing up the obvious conflicts in the two approaches...

----------------------------------

Eric said,

"...For example, I saw that [the Catholic church] was plainly not anti-science (and, contrary to popular opinion on the internet, never has been to any serious extent), or anti-intellectual (all priests have a minimum of eight years higher education), or anti-doubt (every priest or Catholic theologian or Catholic scholar I've talked to since my reversion *encourages* doubt and serious investigation of the claims of the church)."

How can anyone say that the RCC has not been anti-science or anti- intellectual? Have we forgotten Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno just to name a few?

Just because they admit NOW that they were wrong about science back then looks very suspiciously like an accomodationist tactic to sucker people into a "more enlightened, liberal faith" (my emphasis).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

The only reason the Vatican even HAS an observatory is because they can't afford to let secular thinkers upstage them again the way Galileo did in 1610. And don't forget that it took the Vatican 359 years to "pardon" him, as if he had STILL offended the church, but that they were saying that it didn't matter anymore. In other words, he was still guilty in their view. Remember when Ford "pardoned" Nixon? Everyone knew Nixon was guilty and still potentially had to face charges until Ford said "we will not pursue this matter" (paraphrased).

A pardon is a promise not to prosecute, not a withdrawal of charges.

Eric said...

"How can anyone say that the RCC has not been anti-science or anti- intellectual? Have we forgotten Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno just to name a few?"

Ed, you're in serious need of some remedial work in Church history. May I suggest, for starters, Lindberg's "The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450"? Here's a quote that from Lindberg that sums it all up
nicely: "There was no warfare between science and the church." Now this is not to say that no member of the church (or even the church as an institution) has ever acted in a way that was inimical to science; that's quite a different claim, and a somewhat trivial one at that. Indeed, many scientists have acted in ways inimical to science.

Ryan Anderson said...

Eric; Is there more to that argument or did you simply quote a historian saying "There was no warfare between science and the church" to show that there was no warfare between science and the church?

Did you read Lindberg or are you just parroting D'Souza?

GearHedEd said...

"The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450..."

Hmmm...

There's a REASON that the last 1,000 years of that stated period of time is commonly referred to as

"The Dark Ages"

and it's not because of a lack of natural illumination.

I've heard this argument before (but only from other Catholics), and it doesn't stand up.

The Catholic Church wants to paint itself as intellectual and progressive by claiming such rubbish as that Copernicus and Pope Paul III were "buddies" because

a) Copernicus dedicated his work "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" to said Pope;

b) that Copernicus is usually described as a "Polish monk", although it's unclear if he even took vows for minor orders, let alone was ordained.

Question: Copernicus is known to have essentially completed "De revolutionibus" around 1532, but refused to publish it until he was (legend has it) on his deathbed in 1543. This was a guy who KNEW the truth, but was afraid to publish it, presumably because he didn't relish the idea of being roasted alive.
----------------
That Galileo was financially supported by the Church in his experiments and research.

Maybe.

But only until they discovered what he was saying about his conclusions. Then they had a big problem with it.
-----------------

The TRUTH of the matter is that the church suppressed or destroyed (or attempted to destroy) any opinions that differed from their own.

-------------------------

Eric, I've been semi-employed since January 2009, so I can't just go to amazon.com and buy every book you recommend, so I have to resort to looking at summaries. And the summaries I read suggest that Lindberg gives credit where credit is due: to the ancient GREEKS, for turning away from the gods as explanatory devices and toward an understanding of natural causes:

"The world of the (ancient Greek) philosophers, in short, was an orderly, predictable world in which things behave according to their natures. The Greek term used to denote this ordered world was kosmos, from which we derive our word “cosmology.” The capricious world of divine intervention was being pushed aside, making room for order and regularity; chaos was yielding to kosmos. A clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural was emerging; and there was a wide agreement that causes (if they are to be dealt with philosophically) must be sought only in the natures of things (p. 27)."

If the RCC supported the sciences, the Dark ages would NOT have lasted 1,000 years.

Eric said...

"If the RCC supported the sciences, the Dark ages would NOT have lasted 1,000 years."

Ed, you're proving my point. Research what historians mean by the phrase "Dark Age." It's not at all what you think it means.

GearHedEd said...

(chortle...)

Ryan Anderson said...

Ed; to be fair, the "Dark Ages" as I understand it was from the fall of the Rome Empire until Charlemagne, about 300 years. Also known as the Early Middle Ages and rouhly corresponds with the Germanic Migration Period. However, the rest of those years up to (and including, really) the Renaissance still sucked pretty bad for all but the most wealthy. Although Catholic's sometimes like to claim otherwise, mainly because they were running the show for the most part during the Dark Ages.

You can make a case that they held the whole thing together, but at what cost I would ask, there would have been Clovises and Charles Martels without the church, or we could be reading this blog in Arabic right now, who knows....

GearHedEd said...

OK, granted I'm not up on the latest history of the "Middle Ages".

But my point is still not completely wrong, in that the Church only supported "the sciences" up until "the sciences" began to show that many things as described in the Bible are NOT TRUE.

How can anyone that even casually studies history not see that from the time of Constantine until the Protestant Reformation the Roman Catholic Church set itself up as the ultimate authoritarian "thought police" institution of all Western civilization?

How many stories of regular people that were shunned, exiled or killed because they had other opinions are lost to history? The Cathars is just one of the more heinous examples. If I had lived in those tiomes and spoke what I think about religion and god NOW, I'd have been burned at the stake, drawn and quartered, and strangled to boot (not necessarily in that order)!

Jean-Noel said...

It is fine and dandy to criticise Christianity and it's flaws and Many there are, created by the very people, it tries to correct, however I don't know of very many alternatives, and I have tried many .... As for the criticisms I think that it is very important to engage them so that because of our human frailties we are not taken for a ride but how about some intellectual honesty about the other options like Islam , boudhism etc human kind stands at an dangerous impass of focussing on petty thieves while the true criminal is at work. Human kind whether you want it or not has seeked a spiritual meaning from the beginning, I just hope your work doesn't end up pushing more people in despair due to your lack of courage and honesty about more real dangers out there.

Grace said...

Well, hey, I'm not her to argue, but thanks for these wonderful videos. Certainly feel the "psychological pull," that tug from the hound of heaven.

As a Christian, I'm not rejecting or attacking you, John. Just strongly disagree with your primary mission, and worldview. :)

Otherwise, I think you're a good man.

Hugs...

Marcus McElhaney said...

If I understand the Lofus the problem he has with the "story" of Jesus is that he does not have enough evidence to convince him that it is true. If you press most atheists you find that their reasons for rejecting the story is just as emotional as Loftus accuses Christians of being in accepting it as true. I have a different theory for why the story is attractive. The Bible tells us what the issue is in Romans 1:18-32.
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