Tuesday, August 20, 2013


When I was growing up our local paper, the Battle Creek Enquirer & News, ran a daily quiz of 10 questions.  The quiz was entitled, “How Smart Are You?”  I’m sure it was a syndicated feature that the paper just picked up.  Naturally, I was eager to test myself. 
Some of the questions were really quite specific or trivial.  I can still recall a few of those.  One was, What is the length of Long Island?  Answer, 118 miles.  Another, What is the longest continuous numbered U.S. Highway?  Answer, U.S. 6, running from the tip of Cape Cod to Los Angeles, California.  A third, What line precedes the following line of poetry, “ . . . Whence all but he had fled”?  Answer, “The boy stood on the burning deck . . . “  I recall not knowing either of the first two but miraculously getting the third.  Maybe it is because those questions were so obscure that I can still recall them more than 50 years later.  However, most of the questions were of a general information nature and more reasonable than those above.  I could usually count on getting five to eight right.  And that may explain why I can’t recall any of those.    

The quiz appeared on the second page of the paper, while the answers were given on a different page.  Usually, I would try to answer all 10 questions in my head and then look at the answers, but sometimes I would want to check one of the answers before moving on to the next question.  That created a risk.  When I looked for a particular answer, I tried not to check the answer to the question that followed.  However, on occasion I would see that next answer, either because I happened to see it before finding my way to the answer to the question I had just finished or because my eyes just seemed to want to peek at that next answer.  In any event, if ever I saw an answer before reading the question, that next question was “spoiled.”  I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know the answer; it was already in my head.

This is the same feeling I have regarding belief in Christianity.  I can’t just pretend that I don’t already have answers to questions such as the existence of God or the divinity of Christ.  The answers are already in my head and I can’t ignore them in order to gain a faith that I don’t have.  Those horses, as they say, are already out of the barn.  But I’m also sure the same is true for those who have religious beliefs.  They are as helpless to deny their faith as I am to acquire it.

So where am I going with this?  I believe this is support for my view that faith (or its absence) is not a matter of choice--nothing is.  Rather, once we have a point of view, it’s the same as when we have peeked at the answers.  We simply can’t deny what we believe any more than we can ignore what we have learned.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I had lost all of my faith in religion.  However, at that time I had a friend who very much wanted me to regain my Christian beliefs.  I told her I would give it a shot and set out to read a number of books on Christian faith.  To no avail.  If anything, the experience strengthened my existing world view.  Ultimately, I had to admit that I could not change my beliefs--I simply had no choice in the matter.  And that was the end of that.

© 2013 John M. Phillips


  1. Am I to understand that once we develop the concept of belief whether there is or isn't a God we are stuck? We have all heard many answers...both in science and religion...but isn't there an ever revealing truth? During the dark ages Christians used force to get their converts...the Luther took a definant step and said no God doesn't operate that way...and we started reading newly printed Bibles and many "reformed." Science has evolved in the same way we finally stopped thinking the earth was flat and that bleeding someone healed! How can anyone say, whether Christian for Scientist we have all the answers? There are many who are looking at Christianity with new lenses...through the lense of Jesus...as the ultimate truth...studying His life and teachings as God revealed. And even in science things considered so certain like the universe was once considered to be unchanging, but now they know it is growing...expanding...and new discoveries make questioning old views necessary. The whole worm hole idea could change our concept of time and the bending of light... the incredible microbiology... it's an exciting age we live in. So though you can not change your beliefs you may be forced to by evidence...as may I.

  2. Lisa,
    I probably should have been clearer here. I am not saying that one's beliefs, once established, cannot change. Indeed, the reverse is true. What I am saying is that I cannot voluntarily change my beliefs simply because I want to, anymore than I can ignore something I already have knowledge of, such as the answer to a question. I cannot decide to believe in God simply by gritting my teeth and deciding to do so. I'm sure you would feel the same way about becoming, say, an agnostic just because you wanted to. Our beliefs do change, but that is because of the events that influence our thinking, not because we simply decide to change them.

  3. Right...being a Christian is something I am, not just because I want to but because not being one would drastically change my life...I find peace, and joy and hope and happiness, I know a true friend, someone trustworthy...someone who I can share everything with. I have an experience that fills my heart. I can live without expectations of others, because they are as human as me and will fall short of those expectations and I can still love them...because I have Jesus who fills all my expectations to the point of my cup running over with thankfulness.

    Much like Mary Magdalene, I know someone who will never use or abuse me, or hurt me...the pearl of great price, no wonder she bought the most expensive perfume in honor of Him. I have lived with much hurt...I know why she finds Jesus so attractive...in Him is forgiveness both towards self and towards others and it set us free.

    1. Lisa,

      Again, I have read and reread you comment and cannot figure out what it has to do with the topic of how one's beliefs change. Again, I am not saying that beliefs, once established, do not change. That is certainly not my experience, as my beliefs have changed, as, I would dare say, have yours. To repeat, what I am saying is that we cannot voluntarily change those beliefs just by wanting to.

      Your Christian testimonial has nothing to do with that topic that I can understand. My request is that if do not have anything to contribute to the topic, that you simply pass rather than launching once more into Christian rhetoric unrelated to the topic.

      And, by the way, I also "find peace and joy and hope and happiness," and it has nothing to do with Christianity.