The possibility has occurred to me recently that perhaps I've had the wrong idea of Christianity all along. What I have considered to be the main verifiable claim of Christianity (a personal relationship with a loving God) does not seem to be the evidence offered up by most Christians. Nobody claims to "know" God in any relational sense of the word. I do not intend to be contrarian here, and I think a lot of Christians would have a gut reaction disagreement with the previous sentence, so allow me to clarify: when you press the Christian for how exactly they "know" God, it is almost never through direct interaction. It's through a particularly impacting experience, or through a word spoken from a friend at the right time, or through reading a passage of the Bible at a point in their life where it seemed particularly applicable to them. For the most part, God does not act as a tangible, interactive presence in daily life. (I must pause here to admit that I have met people who claim this, but they generally tend to be a little bit crazy. People who "hear" from God are the same people who's testimony I wouldn't trust in court)
This goes against what I was always taught. I was always taught that Christians ought to have a real, self-authenticating relationship with God. Indeed, my lack of a real relationship was the thing that ultimately drove me away from Christianity. It was recently pointed out to me, however, that to focus on this relationship (or lack thereof) is to focus on only one pillar of the entirety of Christianity- and I agree with this sentiment. However, in my mind, the Christian must have a good answer to the question "what is true about this reality that would not be true if my religion were false?" Specifically, the Christian must say what about their religion or religious experience would be different if God was not real. I am of the opinion that most of the rest of it would hold together- living a moral life, loving your enemies, experiencing authentic community with other believers- as this is exactly the portion of other (presumably false) religions that holds together. But the "relationship" part would be conspicuously absent. And that's what I saw in my experience.
Moreover, if we say that our "relationship" with God is not a two-way relationship, in the sense that he is not tangibly present to the believer to any extent greater than he can be "seen" in nature, then what does this say about our belief in him? It seems to me to say that it's probablistically based. We have no "assurance" of anything.
Put it another way- let's pretend for a moment that I'm convinced by the arguments for the supernatural. By "convinced" here, I would simply mean that I consider the weight of the arguments for the supernatural to be greater than the weight of arguments against the supernatural (and indeed, I'm actually much closer to this than I ever would have expected). My belief is therefore Bayesian- probabilistic in nature. I would remain convinced only so long as I didn't hear new arguments or gain new experiences that render old arguments more or less compelling. Certainly my belief would not be the "assurance" or "self-authenticating" faith that Christians tout, and I would be just as willing to give up this faith, in light of new evidence, as I am to give up any other fact of nature.
In my mind, such a belief implies two things: first, a totally impersonal "relationship" with God. You don't accept the existence of a friend, mentor, father, or any other personal relationship on probablistic evidence. If we fall back on probability to explain God, then we've lost any semblance of a bi-directional relationship. Second, this strikes me as not true "belief". Certainly it is not the belief the Bible asks for. Saying "I accept God as being sufficiently likely that I will act as if he exists" seems to me a much different thing than saying "I have faith that God exists"
It seems, then, that Christianity leaves no room for probabalistic belief. If you are to believe, you must believe with everything you have- all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. For someone like me to do this, I would need an incredibly high level of confidence in its truth. A level of confidence, I think, that far exceeds what mere rational argumentation can give. A level of confidence that can only be achieved via a Supernatural Relationship with a being that is clearly and undeniably God.
I must admit I'm a bit confused by those who describe this demand- this requirement of an undeniably supernatural experience before I will believe- as "testing" God. It is looked down on as a request lacking "faith". To both of these I say, yes. I AM testing God- not the personal character of God, or his faithfulness, or his power, but rather his very existence. To do anything else is irresponsible. And yes, I do lack "faith" in the blind sense of the word. Faith, in my mind, is earned. I have faith in my parents, in my brother, in my good friends. I trust them, not because I close my eyes and hope really hard that they have my best interest at heart, but because they've demonstrated it throughout my life. If we are prepared to accept on faith the final conclusion of a religion, then we've lost any basis for differentiating between religions (or more generally, world views), as I could just as easily accept on faith the existence of Allah, or of reincarnation, or of no God at all.
So it seems to me that without some evidence- something I can point to and conclusively say "This would not be true if God were not real"- I can't go beyond my weak Bayesian belief. And therein lies the heart of my problem. I have already deconverted on the basis of Bayesian beliefs. I see no reason to think I won't do so again.
I would be interested to hear any comments from Christians about whether you think it's viable to believe in Christianity on Bayesian principles. Is it enough to say "I think this is likely, but I'm not sure"? Or is true, 100% buy-in required?