Isn’t Christianity just wishful thinking?
I’ve seen this charge levied against Christians all the time. I think it’s very misguided, and I’ll briefly discuss four points, though more could be said.
My first and longest point is that we need to establish whether it’s wishful in the first place. I would maintain that atheism, for example, is just as wishful, if not more, when compared to Christianity. On atheism, mankind is pretty much the boss. We define our own good and we answer to no higher power, because after all, who wants to be subjected to authority? On atheism, no one has to give up their precious time by attending church, studying the Bible, or sharing the Gospel. You aren’t compelled to give your hard-earned money as offering. There are hardly any restrictions on sex or the number of sexual partners you can have. In fact, even secular psychologists have posited that the issue of sexual freedom is the biggest factor in people’s reluctance to accept certain religions. I don’t know if I’d wholly agree with that, but it’s hardly a trivial point. So with atheism, you’re the boss, you face fewer “restrictions,” you get to save your time and money, and you needn’t feel guilt over much at all besides big, obvious transgressions.
Christianity, by comparison, is decidedly inconvenient. You might argue, “But what could be better than the delusion that you’re going to eternal paradise after this life?” Well yes, that could be considered one of the “perks,” but you could just as easily point to clear indications that people prefer the NOW rather than the later. If everyone actually lived for their futures and subscribed to this way of thinking, you would probably see a lot more people studying much harder in school. After all, everyone knows that if you study harder, you’ll improve your chances of future success. You’d see people diligently watching what they eat, and exercising to prolong their lives. Sure, there is a minority subset of the population that does these things–whether religious or not–but it’s not a common trait. It takes above-average individuals to live this way, and judging by the vast numbers of Christians (many of whom are not exemplary in character or discipline on their own merits), you have to conclude that there’s more to belief than hoping for a nice future in the afterlife. In fact, I know a good number of Christians who earnestly say that they would believe and follow whether there was a heaven or not. In my earlier walk, this was hard to believe, but I can see the truth in that statement now.
Well, isn’t it wishful for Christians to think that their sins are all forgiven just by accepting Christ? Isn’t this a too-easy “get out of jail free” card? Only if you believe in the concept of sin in the first place, really. It’s more convenient to believe that sin doesn’t exist at all than to acknowledge it then seek forgiveness. Plus, TRUE Christianity is anything but easy.
Second, even if Christianity is more wishful than not, that does nothing to prove its falsehood. As William Lane Craig might put it, this is “Philosophy 101.” Namely, this is committing genetic fallacy because the origins of a conclusion do nothing to determine whether it’s true or not. What matters are things like proof and logic.
For example, people fervently hope that their loved ones will return safely from war. This has no bearing on the chances of survival for that loved one. The mere fact that it might be wishful doesn’t affect the probability of it being true.
Third, wishfulness could be attributed to pretty much any belief in existence today. As I mentioned, even atheism is not exempt from this. Something’s got to be right, and chances are, whatever’s right has some wishful elements to it. After all, there’s got to be some positives or benefits in it, right? So this charge of “wishful thinking” is just irrelevant.
Fourth and lastly, one might argue that wishful thinking will cause a person to stick to a belief despite evidence to the contrary. This may be the case sometimes, true. But again, changing one’s beliefs might just be trading in one set of perks for another. You could say this for holding to any position.
What this argument really boils down to is the ability to disprove Christianity in the first place. If you can show that its teachings are demonstrably false, but people are clinging to it out of wishful thinking, you’d have a more valid point here. In that case, you don’t even need to show that it’s wishful thinking because you’ve proved Christianity false on the merits of evidence and logic.
But honest atheists will admit that it cannot proved false, at least by any scientific means. So why bring up the “wishful thinking” claim in the first place? It’s like going in circles. You can only say “they believe because of wishful thinking” if you’ve shown the belief to be false beforehand.
Sorry, now I’m the one who might be going in circles…