Everybody has an agenda. You can log that somewhere so you’ll remember it. Nobody is just out on a quest to find the truth or follow the evidence wherever it leads. Now, I’m not saying there are none who allow the evidence to convince them contrary to their agenda, but those who permit the evidence to have an influence on their preconceived notions are a rare breed. Most of us have already arrived at a conclusion and hold onto the evidence that supports it, while ignoring, rejecting and forgetting any facts that might seriously test that conclusion (and therefore challenge us).
Let’s take the belief in God as a primary example. There are three types of people when it comes to faith in God: those who believe, those who disbelieve, and those who refuse to make up their mind one way or the other. Now, the final group might at first seem like the ones who would be most apt to seek an answer, but I think it is just as likely that they are just more lazy or indecisive than either theists or atheists. “God? Who can know if God exists or not. I have better things to think about, more important matters to attend to.” So, the agnostic typically has an agenda too: She doesn’t want to be bothered to seek. He is more interested in something else and doesn’t wish to be distracted.
There are atheists who used to be theists–I’ve only encountered former Christians in this category, but I’m sure there are former Muslims, Jews or former believers in polytheist religious ideas as well (Mormonism, Hinduism). Each of these former Christians have a story to tell. Christians would call this a “testimony”. The story follows a pattern: “I was raised in church. I encountered certain evidence against the existence of God, or for evolution, or against the Bible, and since I’m a rational person I don’t believe in God. Faith in God is like belief in fairies or Santa Claus.” However, I often find that the more vocal atheists are not merely logical and intelligent people who just followed the evidence, or failed to find evidence for God, but emotional people (like all people) who are angry with God for one reason or another. Many atheists are not really logical non-believers, but actually anti-theists, or God haters. Richard Dawkins fits this category perfectly. The man hates God. Evolution is his religion (I’m not making a judgment on the validity of evolutionary theory here, but on Dawkins’ fundamentalist devotion to it.) Dawkins famous quote from the God Delusion verifies this.
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Then there are theists who used to be atheists. My exposure is to Christians who converted from atheism. The two popular authors who exemplify this are Oxford don C. S. Lewis, and the former crime journalist for the Chicago Tribune Lee Strobel. Lewis’s journey is a bit more complex to describe, so I’ll focus on Strobel. His wife had become a Christian, and so he wanted to prove that the Bible or the Christian faith, or, most likely both, were fake. After two years of research, he became a Christian. Now, on the surface this would seem to be one of those rare cases where someone allowed the evidence to change their agenda. Perhaps. However, the fact that Strobel’s wife had become a devout believer had to have been a powerful motivator for him to follow suit. I should hasten to add that that motivation in itself doesn’t invalidate the evidence that Strobel discovered, but it may help us to understand why he accepted that evidence and dismissed the arguments of atheists. Lewis is harder to pin down because his thinking is more complex. In my reading of his work it would seem that the powerful sense that he had that “there must be something beyond this,” that the mythology he loved carried him to a world he desperately wanted to exist, worked as a motivator. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
I am going to give an example of one person for whom I can find no agenda other than “following the evidence wherever it leads,” and that is philosopher Anthony Flew. He was a towering figure among atheists for half a century. He wrote many books espousing and defending atheism. Flew wrote a paper called “Theology and Falsification,” which he first presented at a meeting of the Oxford University Socratic Club in 1950. The chairman of that club was none other than C. S. Lewis. Flew’s paper, which sought to demonstrate the absurdity of theism due to its inability or unwillingness to admit falsifiers, was the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the 20th century. Yet at the end of his life Anthony Flew authored a brief, non-technical book tellingly titled “There Is a God.” When the critics got wind of Flew’s change of mind they assumed what I’ve asserted here” there is an agenda.
“When reports of my change of mind were spread by the media and the ubiquitous internet, some commentators were quick to claim that my advanced age had something to do with my “conversion.” It has been said that fear concentrates the mind powerfully, and these critics had concluded that expectations of an impending entrance into the afterlife had triggered a deathbed conversion. Clearly these people were familiar with neither my writings on the nonexistence of an afterlife nor with my current views on the topic. For over 50 years I have not only denied the existence of God, but also the existence of an afterlife” (There Is a God, p. 2).
So, if this was not Flew’s motivation or agenda, what was? Well, his father was a minister, and somewhat of a contrarian. Perhaps Flew was following in his father’s footsteps. It should be noted that Flew did not claim to be a Christian. He didn’t even have faith that the God he had come to believe exists may be known at all. Anthony Flew called himself a Deist, which is a theist who believes God created the world and let it run on its own.
As one reads Anthony Flew’s book, There Is a God, however, it does seem that the old philosopher did what he believed he had done his entire life, what I’ve said here that nobody does. He followed the evidence.
“My departure from atheism was not occasioned by an new phenomenon or argument. Over the last two decades my whole framework of thought has been in a state of migration. This was a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature. When I finally came to recognize the existence of a God, it was not a paradigm shift, because my paradigm remains, as Plato in his Republic scripted his Socrates to insist: ‘We must follow the argument wherever it leads.'” (There Is a God, p. 89).
I don’t have Flew’s temperament as a scholar or his apparent willingness to continue seeking, but I can admit to my biases, attempt to have insight into my own agenda, and factor those into my research and study of God and the Bible. Perhaps you can do the same? I think we may each aspire to follow the argument and evidence wherever they may lead, even at the expense of an emotional investment into our preconceived notions. Atheists should admit that they either hate God, and/or do not want a God over them telling them what to do. Christians should admit that they need to have a God in control of their chaotic world, and/or deeply desire a father to love them and tell them that they are ok. Admit your bias. Look for your agenda. Are you just trying to prove to everybody that you are right? Are there certain people whom you have something against and seek to prove wrong?
I do believe that the evidence clearly leads to the existence of an unimaginably powerful Being who sustains existence, an incalculably intelligent Mind behind the creation of the universe. I do believe that this Being is capable, willing, and has made efforts to communicate with human beings. I am astounded and appalled at the profound stupidity I see parading as intelligence in our culture. This article was occasioned by an editorial I read in the Washington Post wherein a man advanced what appears to be a growing thesis, that Jesus Christ never existed. Now, it doesn’t bother me than one person, or even a small group, espouse such nonsense. After all, there is also a growing community that believe the earth is flat. As a Christian, someone who worships Jesus Christ as the Son of God, denying his existence is not only ridiculous but deeply offensive because such wide publicity may serve to make the lie more believable by people who would be helped immeasurably by believing in Jesus. It is also infuriating that the editorial came out around Easter. The disrespect shown to Christians by the media demonstrates their agenda. However, I need to put my emotions aside and publicize the evidence, which overwhelmingly supports the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Even skeptic Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became the Son of God and similar books, who holds the New Testament to be no more than a collection of human documents, affirms the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
If you dismiss the Jesus of history, you must dismiss antiquity. For example, there is better and more prolific evidence for Jesus Christ’s existence than there is for Alexander the Great. Both of these men changed history. Yet the earliest full biographies we have of Alexander come from 400 years after his life, and they are obviously written by those who are very favorable to the conqueror. The earliest oral tradition, which is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 dates to within two to five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Nearly 500 witnesses of the resurrection were still alive at the writing of that Corinthian letter. The Gospels, Jesus’ biographies, date to within 40 years of his life. These are also written by those who favored Jesus; yet they present potentially embarrassing incidents about the followers of Jesus, and even about the first witnesses of his resurrection. It was Jesus’ women followers who were the first to see him alive on that Easter Sunday; their testimony would have been inadmissible in a first century Jewish court because women’s opinions or observations weren’t respected. Even the chosen male disciples intially rejected these women’s testimony. The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament come from the second and third centuries. More importantly, there are more than 5,000 manuscript fragments that date earlier than the fifth century. The manuscripts detailing Alexander’s life by contrast come from the 11th century, over a millennium after his life.
I know my motivation and agenda and try to admit it when I’m looking at evidence, but what could be the agenda of someone who wants to erase Jesus from history? Perhaps the same as that of the atheist, an unwillingness to believe in God and Jesus is the Son of God, or perhaps it has become trendy and these pseudo-historians are looking for attention, or they are inveterate contrarians who must always be against something in order to have a sense of meaning. Dan Brown in his DaVinci Code novel seems to have been of the final type, in that he wanted to shock readers with the news that Jesus was really a feminist who wanted to turn the church over to his wife! Anything to sell a book. I see something more insidious than commerce at work here, however. There is a concerted effort among many in the media, big business, and especially the academic community, to oppose Christianity. They want to change the Christian worldview. Indeed, they have been quite successful. Although our calendar still has Christmas and Easter, fewer young people than ever know what these holidays are supposed to celebrate. Near Easter of this year our youth minister asked a group of teenagers what Good Friday meant; none of them knew.
There is an agenda in the media, in academia and in big business. It is to recreate our culture and remove the Christian basis of a previous era. However, our most cherished values are being destroyed in the process: life, liberty and the pursuit of deep and meaningful happiness.