By L. Alfred James
There are many intelligent people who believe that God exists. Whether it is for emotional reasons, intellectual reasons, or because of some experiences they’ve had, they believe that God is real. However, they remain very skeptical about whether or not God has told us very much about himself. I’ve had many conversations with people who think this way, and I’ve heard several explanations for their skepticism:
“I believe in a higher power, but I’m convinced that we can never know anything about it.”
“I believe there is a God, but I’m not comfortable just selecting one religion and saying that it’s true and all the other ones are false. I believe that God is love and that is all that we need to know.”
“I find problems with each one of the holy books of the various world religions. Thus, I don’t think this is how God has revealed himself (or herself, or itself).”
“There’s just too much confusion about religious issues. No one is really sure what is going on. So I can’t really believe that there is one single holy book that reveals the truth about God.”
This kind of thinking has also invaded the church. Research by Christian Smith has convincingly demonstrated that the vast majority of young people in evangelical churches have abandoned the historic Christian faith. Instead, they have embraced what Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Broadly speaking, this is the belief that God exists to help us cope with life, and that he wants us to be nice, but he isn’t going to get into our personal business. He isn’t going to condemn the moral choices we make, especially our choices about sexual behavior.
A Vague God
Whether it is the generic version, or the Christian version, the technical term for this view is deism. Deism is the belief in a generic God, a fuzzy God, an undefined, vague God who hasn’t revealed all that much about himself. The only things we supposedly know about this God are that he wants us to be kind and loving (but we have no idea what “loving” actually means) and that we don’t know much of anything about him. Indeed, the only thing we can know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure about God. Oh, and his one single commandment: “Thou shalt be nice!”
Why is this vagueness such an essential component of contemporary deism? Because the more we know about God, the more convicted we will feel. (And, good heavens, we don’t think God would want us to feel convicted, do we?) The more we know about him, the more obligations we will become aware of. The more we know about him, the more changes we will feel that we have to make in how we live.
But we don’t want to feel obligated. We don’t want to change. We’d rather tell ourselves that we can’t know the truth about God. We’d rather say it is all vague and fuzzy and nobody really knows anything for sure.
The Real Driving Force of Vague Theology
What motivates this insistence on God’s being so vague? To be sure, sometimes there are legitimate intellectual issues at play. Certain people are very philosophically minded, and they might really be wrestling with particular aspects of Christian theology (or monotheism in general) that they find intellectually problematic. However, that is not the case with most followers of the vague God. Ninety-eight percent of the time, the driving force behind vague theology is quite easy to understand:
It is the human instinct to hide from the light of truth.
It’s a basic instinct, a fundamental reflex. It’s the same instinct that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. After they had sinned, they “hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).
It’s the same instinct that makes us turn the channel when an ad comes on the television asking us to give money for children starving in another country. It’s the same instinct that makes abortion activists turn away from a sonogram video showing how very baby-like an unborn baby is. It’s the same instinct that made many slaveholders turn away from manifestations of the intelligence and thoughtfulness of their slaves (which showed that they were fully human).
It’s a fact: We recoil from the light of truth because it makes us feel like we need to change. It reveals our flaws. Thus, we have a strong desire to keep things vague. We want to turn the bright light of God’s truth into a dim, soft glow that just makes us feel good about ourselves. The Bible talks about this:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
So, if you find yourself inclined to embrace a vague view of God, you have some serious questions you need to ask yourself. Are you really struggling with intellectual issues? If so, are you maintaining your intellectual integrity and truly seeking to find if there is an answer to your doubts? Are you reading any books on the subject? Are you taking advantage of the intellectual riches one finds in Christian apologetics?
If I could be allowed to interject a point of personal experienced: When I’ve struggled with various intellectual issues regarding Christianity, there have been many times I’ve assumed that I’ve had a particular question, or a particular perspective, that no one has had before. Thus, I’ve also assumed that there was no answer to my question. However, in each case I have found that many, many people before me have already asked the same question, from the same perspective, and thoroughly answered it. So, don’t be so arrogant as to think that you are the first person to struggle with a particular intellectual issue. Get digging, researching, and reading. For many questions, I have found that Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig provides a profoundly satisfying answer along with carefully listening to William Lane Craig’s debates with atheists.
But if there is no intellectual holdup, what is the holdup? Is it that, if you are honest, you need to admit that you really just don’t want the truth?