Why The Modern World Makes Belief In God So Difficult

Appreciating The Social Dimension of Belief.

Are you a modern western Christian, who occasionally finds yourself doubting God’s existence?

If you do doubt, then you’re normal. It’s normal to doubt God’s existence in this modern world of ours. And there’s a surprising reason why.

It’s not because of science.

(If anything, modern science shows that God’s existence is more probable than not.)

And it’s not because of some knock-down Atheistic argument.

(I’ve yet to see any such argument).

But there’s another reason – a reason Christians don’t often think about –  why the modern world makes it hard to believe in God.

Modern City

Photo courtesy canva.com

But to understand this reason, we must first see how people think – how they come to accept something as ‘true’, or reject it as ‘false’. 

1) People Often Believe Things Without Good Reason

People often accept things as true (or reject as false) without even thinking about it. 

We like to think that people are rational beings, who accept truth – and reject falsehood –  only after some serious thought. However, that’s not the way people work. Christian thinker Os Guinness puts it this way::

‘[We live in a world] in which flagrant nonsense or complete error can be believed, and incontrovertible truth, in turn, can be disbelieved-without the question of their being objectively true or false being raised at all. In short, we have created a climate in which a thing’s seeming to be true is often mistaken for its being true.’ (p 42)

We see this dynamic in action all the time.

The Atheist who rejects God not because they’ve carefully examined Christianity, but merely because their dad was a religious hypocrite. Or the pro-SSM supporter who accepts the ‘marriage equality’ slogan as gospel truth without ever examining the issues.

(It must be said that people can become Atheists, or pro-SSM, after careful rational thought. But in my experience on a university campus, many people just assume these positions without any thought whatsoever.)

Why do people do this? Why do they accept some beliefs as true – or reject as false – without even thinking about it?

In large part, it’s because of the ‘plausibility structure’ of a belief.

2) The ‘Plausibility Structure’ – Your Social Setting that Affects What You Believe

The culture around us has its own beliefs, and it impacts what we believe.

Guinness continues:

The degree to which a belief (or disbelief) seems convincing is directly related to its “plausibility structure” – that is, the group or community that provides the social and psychological support for the belief.’ (p43 – emphasis added).

He goes on:

If the support structure is strong, it is easy to believe; if the support structure is weak, it is difficult to believe. The question of whether the group’s belief is actually true may never become an issue’. (p43 – emphasis added).

So a Christian high-school student at a Christian school might wonder how anyone could question God’s existence – isn’t it obvious that God exists?  Her Christian school community makes believing in God easy.

But when this Christian student moves to a secular university campus – full of sceptical students and Atheistic lecturers – then believing in God suddenly got a lot harder.

But here’s the thing: God didn’t change.

The community of people around her – the ‘plausibility structure’ – changed.  At her school, the ‘plausibility structure’ says ‘God exists’. On campus, the ‘plausibility structure’ says ‘God doesn’t exist’.

And so a ‘Plausibility Structure’ – a particular community –  affects the beliefs of everyone within it. 

Now since our modern western world is a ‘plausibility structure’, it has its own beliefs – including beliefs about God. And these affect everyone.

3) Our Modern World’s Key Belief About God: His Existence is Unlikely.

And Christians in the modern world are affected by this worldview.

Western society has changed its view about God in the last 500 or so years. Belief in God went from ‘undeniable’ to ‘unlikely’.[1]

And when you’re embedded in a culture – in a ‘plausibility structure’ – where the dominant belief is God’s existence is unlikely, then don’t be surprised if you find yourself having regular doubts about God. 

And so living in the modern world can be corrosive to our faith in God.

The Big Question

If this is the sea we modern Christians are swimming in, then how do we keep ourselves from drowning?

How do we strengthen and nurture our faith in an environment that is so corrosive?

That’s the question we need to answer if we’re to remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

[1] For a great book on why and how this shift in western culture has taken place, see James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to be Secular – Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2014).

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4 thoughts on “Why The Modern World Makes Belief In God So Difficult

  1. The education system in Australia as in schools and universities has become the main nurturing grounds where kids receive the view on the non exists of God and how they should live their lives so many parents now rely on this system to guide their children not just in the basic academics but in everything and i believe this includes some who would consider themselves as christians that attend a church every Sunday but would not talk to the kids about what they learned in Sunday school let alone what they have been challenge or change by what has been preached to them.
    The Non exists of conversations between child and parents of what has been learned and shows no change how can God be seen, how will they know any better if we don’t discuss what this world believes and why and how important it is to hold onto the words how they protect us and ultimately the saving grace that it shows in a darkening world. i believe faith in Jesus is more than ” i believe in Jesus”, it calls us to obedience to serve the King of Kings in evrey facet of our life because it is His.

  2. Thanks Akos. When you have a young person going from a Christian home to university (or the workforce), whether via a Christian school or not, the amount to which they have been taught to think dualistically is also crucial. If they have a dualistic framework of viewing life and world, and they now find themselves swimming in a completely different plausability structure, then the dualism means that the cleft is already in place and it becomes easy to part ways with the biblical frame of reference.

  3. This really is the answer to all your posts.
    2 Timothy 4:3-5New International Version (NIV)

    3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.