Is Faith a Matter of Common Sense?

Is Faith a Matter of Common Sense?

(This post answers question #12 in my “65 Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer” series. Sign up to receive posts via email to make sure you can answer each one!)

One day last week, I had been busy upstairs for an extended period when I realized how suspiciously quiet it had been downstairs. When three kids ages five and under are quiet for too long, you know there’s a problem.

I arrived downstairs to find my 5-year-old twins at the kitchen table making an underwater volcano from their science kit. I was quite surprised because in the past they’ve only used the kit with me instructing them. Before I could ask what was going on, Kenna explained, “Mommy, we can read the instructions on our own now! The parts we don’t understand, we’ll just figure out.”

Both of my twins became confident readers this year, so in a flash of parental ambivalence I agreed to let them continue while I finished laundry.

Fast-forward 15 minutes. I returned to find a floor covered in colored water and crystals – the unfortunate result of “figuring out” a few things on their own.

 

The Limits of Common Sense

 

Like my twins, most people have a tendency to want to figure things out on their own without overthinking it. Precise philosophical definitions aside, we casually refer to this as using our common sense.

Common sense is “sound judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” It’s an important part of our daily lives. For example, common sense tells us to not walk into the street when we see a car coming.

We run into problems, however, when we attempt to make common sense-type judgments about matters that require more understanding than a simple perception of facts.

For example, no one would try to conduct surgery on another person without medical training. We accept that the ability to do surgery requires a deeper knowledge of medical facts and not just simple perceptions about what makes sense when we cut someone open.

Religious belief is in this same category of complex things that require a different type of knowledge than simple common sense. Yet, one of the most frequent attacks on Christianity is that it doesn’t make sense (see this article as an example). These claims can look very compelling to people (especially kids) not well-grounded in their faith. They are typically emotion-laden, out-of-context caricatures that are written to make a person feel utterly stupid for being a Christian.

Inappropriate appeals to common sense don’t only come from extreme atheist positions. More and more people are claiming they are “spiritual but not religious,” and retain the parts of Christianity that happen to make the most sense to them. This is an equally dangerous problem. When our kids feel they can subjectively figure out what does and doesn’t make sense about Christianity, it’s like subjectively figuring out what does and doesn’t make sense when building an underwater volcano – the result doesn’t even resemble what it was intended to be.

 

How “Common Sense” Can Lead People Astray 

 

In case you don’t encounter these issues personally, I wanted to give you an example. I wrote the following commentary from the perspective of a fictitious person, but it’s very representative of the type of thought process I often encounter online. You’ll see why it can be very compelling to a young person. I’ve color-coded these statements about Christianity from green (most people think this makes sense) to red (many people do not think this makes sense).

Common Sense Zones

God loves you.

Yay! This one gives me warm, fuzzy feelings. I love that God loves me. Awesome.

 

God wants you to love others.

Yeah, that totally makes sense. I know it’s important to care for other people. Sure, it can be hard sometimes, but it’s the right thing to do.

 

Humans are sinful by nature.

Hmm. I’m a pretty good person. I mean, I see your point that all humans do bad things once in a while, but overall I would say I’m good. It’s starting to freak me out a little that you want to label me a “sinner.” Let’s not be so dramatic.

 

There must be a consequence for our sins.

Double hmm. I’m sure that a great big God has more important things to be concerned about than whether I yelled at that crazy guy who cut me off on the freeway yesterday. I hope there are some big consequences for people like Hitler, but do I really need to believe that there has to be a consequence for all the day-to-day bad things the average person does?

 

God sent Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins so we can be reconciled to God.

OK, now this is getting weird. Why would God need to send Jesus to die a horrible death on a cross just so He can forgive us? That sounds an awful lot like the ancient human interpretation of Jesus’s death. Talking about sacrifices in 2014 doesn’t make sense to me.

 

Believing in Jesus is the only way to God.

Are you aware that pretty much everyone thinks Christians are intolerant? This is why. You think Jesus is the only way to God! That’s ridiculous. You are arrogant.

 

Those who do not believe in Jesus will be separated from God forever in hell.

I’m done talking now. If you believe the same God who loves everyone is going to torture people forever in the fires of hell, you are hopeless.

 

Ground Your Kids’ Faith the Right Way

 

These arguments from what people appeal to as universal common sense don’t sound very unreasonable on the surface, do they? I’m sure you can see why such judgments are compelling to young minds.

Our kids need to know that our understanding of truth should never be grounded in whatever we happen to think makes sense (whether that is Christianity or anything else). This is why it’s so important for us as parents to equip ourselves with an understanding of apologetics and to train our kids accordingly. When we ground their faith in evidence, they’ll be able to spot nonsense a mile away.

2 Comments

  1. Gerard de Vos on July 10, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    Greetings. I think it is a very good article.
    I looked at the ExChristian blog’s comment, and found it wanting in insight.

    Personally, I believe the following: Atheists will always remark about Jesus dying for our sins. We give them the ammunition by not clearly elucidating the whole Gospel message that begins in Genesis and ends with Revelation. It is about the Kingdom of God. A successful kingdom can only be possible if the citizens obey. The OT proved we cannot obey. Only through Jesus is it possible for us to learn obedience with the help of the Holy Spirit.
    Jesus is central, He is the one who makes possible the plan of God for an eternal Kingdom. However, we cannot focus on Jesus alone, we must fit Him into the whole plan of God (again, from Genesis to Revelation).

    If Christians continue to focus all their attention on Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, atheists will continue to mock God. Once we spread the message of the Kingdom, as Jesus did, it makes perfect sense. We cannot reduce the Bible message from 66 books to 4 (Matthew – John).

    The complete message from Genesis to Revelation makes the Bible a logical, wonderful life changing book.



  2. Heather K on July 10, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Good thoughtful post. I totally agree. But I also think the flip side is true: We run into problems when we over-think and over-examine things that can be understood by simple common sense. I think this is the pit-fall that many atheists and scientists and philosophers fall into.

    It is common sense that if something was created then there must be a Creator. Yet that’s “too simple” for some people to believe or accept, so they over-think it and try to come up with all sorts of other “more intelligent” answers. (And I think they do this so that they do not have to accept that there is a God that they are accountable to and will answer to. They can live “free” from accountability to Anyone.)

    It’s common sense that we should eat things as unprocessed and close-to-nature as possible and that eating fake, processed stuff is bad for us. Yet all sorts of scientists and food companies try to over-examine and rationalize the “benefits” of processed food, GMO’s, fake additives, artificial fertilizers, pesticides, etc, and then try to sell it to the public based on “scientific studies and evidence” when common sense tells us otherwise. Or else they “discover” that eating healthy food is good for you and try to share it as a scientific discovery when plain old common sense would have told you that.

    And I don’t want to sound harsh here to people who disagree, but I think that it’s common sense that abortion, affairs, cheating, lying, stealing, and random sex is wrong (among other things). Yet we try to over-intellectualize and over-rationalize these kinds of things so that we can excuse them, feel okay about doing them, and absolve ourselves of any sense of guilt or responsibility.

    I know this is off-track a little from the topic of this post, but I just wanted to share how the flip-side is also true in some cases.