Intellectually honest people don’t want to believe something because they find it comforting. Rather, they want to believe whatever is true, no matter the consequences. However, this very good commitment to ‘the truth, whatever the consequences,’ can create an intellectual dilemma, because many true beliefs are also comforting.
So let’s consider what to make of the claim that “Christianity is too good to be true.” After all, the religion is based on Jesus fulfilling dozens of prophecies, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and then bodily rising from the dead! We’re told that if we just ‘place our faith in Christ,’ all our sins will be forgiven, the Holy Spirit will fill our lives with love and joy, and we will live forever in God’s presence. Death defeated, sin destroyed, hope renewed… what’s not to like about Christianity?
In my experience, the idea that “Christianity is too good to be true” is often (but by no means exclusively) an emotional objection that is discussed as an intellectual problem to Christianity. But this issue plays out in very different ways for different people, and so this post may or may not address the particular way that you feel about the good promises of the Christian worldview.
To get to the root of the issue, we need to consider a few key issues:
The Benefits of a Belief Are Logically Independent of the Truth of the Belief
Think about stating this idea as a logical argument:
- If a belief promises benefits, then it is false.
- Christianity promises benefits.
- Therefore, Christianity is false.
This is a logically valid argument, but clearly the first premise is false. We can think of thousands of ‘benefit-promising’ beliefs that are also (in certain circumstances) true:
- “My boyfriend wants to marry me!”
- “I’m being offered a great job!”
- “I can afford to buy that delicious ice cream.”
Would it be rational to say, “hey, wait a second. It is just too good to be true that you want to hire me. Forget it. I’ll find a job somewhere else!” No, not if a company is really offering you a great job.
Just because Christianity offers good news doesn’t, in and of itself, give us a reason to be suspicious that Christianity is false. We need to look elsewhere for the real problem we have with all the benefits that Christianity promises.
What Could Justify Attacking the Good Promises of Christianity?
Imagine what a global skepticism towards good news would look like. Do you really doubt yourself every time it seems that a true belief is also a good belief? Let’s take just three beliefs: “The sun is shining today.” “I was just complimented.” “My life has meaning.”
A consistent skepticism that ‘good benefits imply false statements’ would mean you’d have to walk around with an umbrella over your head in broad daylight, scowling at people who manipulatively flattered you, in a funk about the pointlessness of your existence.
That’s obviously ridiculous. It is irrational.
So again, the real issue isn’t that benefit-promising beliefs are suspect; rather, it is more likely that you think Christianity is false. Therefore, you are likely to believe that the means by which this dumb idea spreads is through promising good things to suckers. Christianity is just one more fraud.
Here’s one place of agreement: I think Christianity is true, and if you think Christianity is false, we can still agree that some con men use the promises of Christianity to swindle people out of their money and more. We can also agree that those sleazy actions are unethical, hurtful, and wrong.
At the same time, some people who got burned in Ponzi schemes subsequently refuse to invest their money in the stock market. (“They estimate an average of 5% annual returns over the next twenty years! Hogwash!”).
Skepticism about con men is wise. And paranoia is an overreaction.
These are where the real objection seems to be: intellectually, a belief that Christianity is false, or emotionally, that false people are misusing Christianity.
But notice, if your real intellectual objection is that Christianity is false, then continuing to present the “Christianity is too good to be true” idea is an unnecessary distraction. The real point of dialogue is whether or not Christianity is true. If that describes you, let me encourage you to impartially direct your attention to the evidence for and against the Christian worldview. (For what its worth, I’ve collected some of the best reasons for the existence of God).
If your real problem is that Christianity is false, then it isn’t intellectually rigorous to get side-tracked by the emotional part of the ‘too good to be true’ objection to Christianity.
For Some Doubters, Becoming a Christian Would Be Awful
When it comes to the emotional part of our distaste for how con men have misused the supposed benefits of Christianity to harm their followers, we need to consider the full range of emotions we have about Christianity.
For instance, depending on your social situation, can you imagine the reaction from your friends and colleagues if you converted? “You, a devout advocate of reason and progress, have become one of them? A Christian? Really?” In some contexts, a decision to obey Jesus means you will be killed for blasphemy and heresy. In others, you might lose your job or your family.
The psychological costs and benefits of a worldview aren’t just related to thoughts of the forever, but the here-and-now. It can be easy to say, “Christianity is just too good to be true” to cover up the fact that Christianity actually sounds like a raw deal. You get a two for one deal: first, you flatter your Christian friend and second, you avoid dealing with the fact that you actually have some moral and spiritual distaste for this religion.
Are you really rejecting Christianity because it is too convenient and comfortable to believe it? Or does social stigma and fear of rejection keep you from becoming a follower of Christ? Do you like the independence and self-control of, say, atheism? Are you afraid of submitting your life to the Authority and Lordship of Jesus?
If part of your psychological avoidance of Christianity seems to be, “Its just too good to be true,” examine yourself. Is the real problem that it is too bad for you to believe it?
What If This Is A Good World?
The Christian promise of a wonderful life after death is indeed comforting. But don’t we all have longings for hope and purpose? Don’t we dream of eternity? Isn’t this what motivates our search for fame, money, and success? If these motivations so powerfully drive us at work and at home, why not see that ultimately, they are pointing us to God?
The Christian worldview says that our longing for hope and purpose is genuine and real. This is a rational reason, related to the explanatory power of a worldview. Namely, if Christianity is true, then there are deep and profound connections between who we are as human beings and what kind of world we live in.
C.S. Lewis spoke well to this issue:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: A fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
These ideas, e.g., that con men are doing wrong – or our hope that there is a loving God – are all signs pointing in the direction of Christianity. In other words, there are rational considerations that lead us to optimism instead of pessimism.
Don’t let your perception that “Christianity is too good to be true” keep you from investigating the evidence and reasons in favor of the Christian worldview. Maybe you’ve had bad experiences with preachers passing the collection baskets a few too many times. Maybe you have a habitually skeptical or pessimistic personality.
Fair enough. But when we look at these issues critically and specifically, there’s no good reason to maintain doubt about Christianity just because it offers some amazing benefits to its adherents. To summarize:
- The benefits of a belief are logically independent of the truth of a belief.
- A global skepticism towards beliefs that promise good benefits is irrational.
- The actions of con men can psychologically harden us to miss out on true beliefs that are to our benefit.
- Don’t fool yourself: perhaps the real reason for avoiding Christianity is the cost of following Jesus.
- What if your longings for hope, meaning, eternal life, and God’s love are there because God wanted you to have powerful motivations to seek after and find faith in Christ? The explanatory power and coherence of Christianity deserves your rational consideration.
I hope that you’ll find that Christianity isn’t too good to be true, but rather, that it is true, and that is very good news.