Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Deconverting a Muslim

The question that seems to have generated the most interesting results for me in conversations with Christians is "On what basis should a Muslim deconvert?"  The power of this question is that it forces you to consider what would make you deconvert from a religion, while separating you from the emotional ties you have with your own.  It implicitly asks you if you hold yourself to the same standard you hold other religious believers (who you presumably think have the wrong idea about God, and should convert).

I've been surprised by how many Christians have answered this the same way I did three years ago, but arrived at a totally different conclusion.  My answer was that there was no standard I could apply to both them and myself that would declare my religious experience to be true and their religious experience to be false.  I had to admit that, had I been born a Muslim and maintained my current standards for belief, I would have forever remained a Muslim.  What surprised me about the Christians who echoed my sentiments was that their response was not to doubt the validity of their belief.  Rather, their response was to thank God that they had been born into a Christian environment.  Several times I have heard the phrase "if I had been born a Muslim, I think I would probably still be a Muslim", and was astonished that it was not immediately followed by a recanting of Christianity.

This seems so logically inconsistent to me that I don't really know where to start.  This is a confession that your beliefs are not based on reality, but on Geography.  This is a confession that your beliefs are not objectively true, but rather culturally convincing.  This is a confession that your standards of belief are so weak that you cannot even differentiate yourself from your principle rival (globally speaking) that claims to offer a contradictory version of truth.  And most important, it seems a confession that there is no reason anyone should choose Christianity over Islam, because their relative plausibility is based on your culture rather than the truth.  I just can't get my head around someone admitting to all this, and being thankful they were born into this particular arbitrarily held belief system- as if the Muslim would not say the exact same?

I honestly think Islam is the best argument against Christianity.  It falsifies a lot of the core assumptions of Christian apologetics- that a group of men two thousand years ago wouldn't have died for a belief unless it was real, that God reveals himself in an active and unmistakeable way, that miracles and fulfilled prophecy are convincing and sufficient to prove a religion correct.  Moreover, it shows that people can be absolutely convinced that their religious beliefs and experiences are true- but be totally wrong.

My point is, if you don't have a good filter that passes your religion and fails every other religion, then I think you need to reevaluate your standard of belief.  This is why I placed such a premium on the Personal Relationship claim made by Christianity, because it was just one such differentiator.  But in the end, that didn't bare itself out in my life.

I'd be interested in hearing any suggestions about what kind of filter we might apply that passes one and only one religion- or an argument of how we're justified believing one of the two religions without such a filter


  1. What is Truth? Absolute truth?

  2. Religion is man and God’s attempts to reach each other, so the Christian and the Muslim’s faith “experiences” are not necessarily mutually exclusive. However, that does not mean that all religious claims are able to stand up under close scrutiny. That both must be equally wrong because they can’t both be equally right does not follow. To determine the truth of each religion, perhaps a good place to start is to see how each religion discredits the other and whether they do so based on fact or on misconceptions. Could truth and reason be considered a filter?

    1. Well, I obviously think "truth" would be a good filter, but that's sort of the crux of the whole argument- how do you arrive at truth? How do you figure out the truth? If you knew "religion A is true, religion B is false", then we've found a good filter, but at the expense of that filter being at all useful. Since all religions claim to be true, I don't think calling "truth" our filter gets us any closer to making a judgement here.

      Likewise, all religions certainly claim to be reasonable. I absolutely think we need to filter our beliefs through our reason, but I don't think this solves our problem either. Do you really believe Christianity because it is fundamentally more reasonable than Islam? This seems like a claim of an extensive understanding of Islam, which I know I (and most Christians) don't have.

      Moreover, on the surface Christianity does not exactly conform to my idea of reason either. It makes a lot of assertions that sound patently absurd if you don't grow up hearing them (God, creator of the universe, became a human. And then was tortured and killed for your sins. You. Personally. And he wants a relationship with you. That doesn't sound in the least bit reasonable).

      At the very least, I'm not convinced reason is enough of a differentiator between the major religions. Take Judaism- it's basically the first half of Christianity (the Old Testament), minus the Jesus part (A gross oversimplification, but good enough for this argument). That means that Christians think Judaism was basically true at one point! So obviously it's not any less based on reason- it's essentially a subset of the Christian Doctrine.

    2. 1. Are there ways we can see if a religion conforms to reality, putting miracles aside? I know you mentioned internal consistency. What about a religion’s ability to answer the questions that science struggles to answer, such as how did we get here, what is our purpose, why is there evil and suffering, etc.?
      2. Guilty as charged. I am no expert on Islam or even Christianity. I think I have a basic understanding of most of the larger religions. Some religions offer alterations on Christianity many years after the fact (Islam (Jesus was just a prophet but not God), Protestantism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc….). I believe a study of the Bible (even taken as just a historical document) and the writings of the earliest Christians can give us a definitive answer to the true nature of Jesus, his mission, and his church as he intended.
      3. I’m not sure how you mean it is unreasonable. Do you mean it is impossible that God would do such a thing?
      4. The New Testament is not an undoing or repudiation of the Old Testament, but a fulfillment of it. Christians see Judaism as true but incomplete.

    3. 1. While we should definitely demand answer to those questions, I don't think they are necessarily a good way to tell if a religion conforms to reality (it's not hard to invent answers to those questions if you just require a religious claim as your evidence. It's not like you can falsify a claim about why we're here). I think the best differentiator between religions is probably how well the claims they make conform to our personal experiences. If I find relationships with other people to be the most compelling aspect of the human experience, then I should look for a religion that agrees with this sentiment (or at least explains it)- probably not Buddhism (if my understanding of it is correct, which it might not be)

      2, 4. Islam treats Christianity as true but incomplete (or rather, corrupted) as well. So we have on one side Judaism and on the other Islam, but we've picked the one in the middle, and claim it is the ultimate fulfillment of God's relationship with humanity. I'm not making an argument for either of the other two religions, just that calling Christianity a "fulfillment" of Judaism but Islam an "alteration many years after the fact" of Christianity seems a bit inconsistent.

      3. No, not impossible at all, but just a little bit absurd. I think Chesterton and Lewis would both agree with me- in fact, its a sizable portion of their arguments for Christianity. Lewis says something along the lines of "it has just that queerness about it that true things have". Christianity makes some pretty outlandish claims- it's just a question of whether or not you think they're true.

    4. 1. Agreed.

      2,4 "Islam treats Christianity as true but incomplete (or rather, corrupted) as well"

      Corrupted. That is where the truth can be known with some certainty. There are many historical documents from the earliest days of Christianity that can be studied. Islam claims Jesus to be a prophet, which by the religious definition, is one that speaks for God. However, according to Jesus and his followers, Jesus claimed to BE God, this is what he was killed for. One may argue that Jesus's followers died in vain, but by their own writings, we can determine that they died for a belief in his divinity. What mere prophet of God claims to be equal to Him? I am saying that one of the two, Christianity or Islam, must be wrong about the true nature of Jesus.

      Judaism, on the other hand, lies in wait for a messiah. Jesus claimed to be that messiah. Christians do not believe there is anything corrupted about Judaism. Jewish people today may not agree that Jesus was the awaited messiah, but they don't claim he was a prophet either. That leaves us determining if Jesus is who He said He is or not. I hope this clears up my inconsistency.

      3. Yes, absolutely, outrageous but not impossible. I think it is a crazy concept as well. But as one who believes it to be true, it is incredibly humbling. Too many Christians who grow up knowing the story think the "Good News" is more like old news. I'm glad to see you take it as seriously as it should.

  3. What is your definition of "Truth"?