Why do we believe what we believe? Answers to this question are legion. However, the most basic human motivations that lie behind belief and practice may be identified in light of Bible teaching. Here are a few:
Greed/Materialism—“I can make money by believing this viewpoint.”
Jealousy—“If I hold this viewpoint I will be held in higher esteem than others.”
Loyalty—“I believe this viewpoint because my parents did.”
Ambition—“I will advance in my career if I believe this viewpoint.”
Selfishness—“I want to believe this viewpoint because it makes me feel better.”
Sensualism—“I believe this viewpoint because I can indulge myself sexually.”
Ignorance—“I’m not sure why I believe this viewpoint, but I do.”
Bias/Prejudice—“I don’t believe that viewpoint because of who else believes it.”
Indifference—“I hold this viewpoint, but it really doesn’t matter much to me.”
Foolish Pride—“The smart people don’t believe that viewpoint.”
If God exists and the Bible is His Word, then what we believe and why we believe it are crucial and eternally significant.
Intellectuals throughout history have considered themselves superior to others based on their alleged intellectual prowess. The atheistic elite of our day ooze arrogance in their condescending dismissal of those who believe in God. They seek to give the impression that they believe what they believe due solely to a rational, unbiased, sensible analysis of facts that have, in turn, led them to the beliefs that they hold. On the other hand, those who do not consent to their infidelity are depicted as ignorant, biased, and stupid. Consider the frantic judgment leveled by prominent evolutionist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).”1
Despite such high and holy self-righteous declarations, the fact is that the very nature of error is such that a person can continue to embrace it only by means of impure motives. If an honest atheist is willing to examine the facts, he will either cease being an atheist or he will cease being honest. Hence, those who have distinguished themselves for their ongoing vociferous defense of their infidelity most assuredly possess one or more motives deep down in their hearts that enable them to dismiss the actual evidence that disproves their viewpoint.
Interestingly, atheists occasionally divulge their inner motives without particularly intending to do so. For example, in a makeshift “debate” conducted in 2010 on the campus of Caltech between atheists Sam Harris and Michael Shermer on the one hand, and Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston on the other, Sam Harris made the following observations:
Most of our neighbors believe in…a personal God who hears our prayers and occasionally answers them…. The God that our neighbors believe in is essentially an invisible person. It’s a Creator deity who created the universe to have a relationship with one species of primates. Lucky us. And He’s got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to, but he’s especially concerned with what we do, and he’s especially concerned with what we do while naked. He almost certainly disapproves of homosexuality.2
While we humans often constitute a hodge-podge of conflicting motives and inclinations, nevertheless, in our conversations we often unwittingly expose one or more of our hidden motives for believing what we believe. To ridicule Christians for holding to an ethical framework that was authored by the Creator of the Universe (Who created human sexuality) implies that the accuser disagrees with those restrictions on sexual behavior. But notice further that Harris implied something else: his belief in atheism enables him to not be concerned about his sexual behavior. The same motives that infected pagans throughout history in which their heathenism enabled them to be released from sexual inhibitions—from the Moabites3 in 1500 B.C. to the Ephesians4 in A.D. 60—are the same for atheists. Unbelief allows a person to be free to engage in whatever sexual activity he desires, whenever and with whomever. The intellectual sophistication and academic elitism that accompanies modern atheism is nothing more than a smokescreen to indulge the flesh. The reason Hollywood hates Christianity is because they want to be able to give full vent to their illicit fleshly appetites without feeling the guilt that comes from flaunting the moral restraints given by the Creator. Christians in Ephesus in the first century fully understood these ulterior motives that underlie one’s belief system. They lived in a city that hosted one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the Temple of Artemis—dedicated to the goddess with her vulgar adornments.5 Paul spoke right to the soul of the population when he penned the following inspired words to the church—an apt evaluation of the unbelief that grips both atheism and much of the religious error of the world:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! (Ephesians 4:17-20, ESV, emp. added).
1 Richard Dawkins (1989), “Book Review” (of Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey’s Blueprint), The New York Times, section 7, April 9, p. 3, emp. added.
2 Sam Harris (2010), “The Future of God Debate: Sam Harris and Michael Shermer vs. Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston,” Nightline Faceoff, ABC News, March 14, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E99BdOfxAE; See also Dan Harris and Ely Brown (2010), “‘Nightline’ ‘Face-Off’: Does God Have a Future?” March 23, http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaceOff/nightline-face-off-god-future/story?id=10170505.
3 Numbers 25:1-2.
4 Acts 19.
5 James Edwards (2016), “Archaeology Gives New Reality to Paul’s Ephesus Riot,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 42:28-30, July/August.