The Authenticity of Faith: Part 2, A New Apologetics

When my editor read the first chapter of The Authenticity of Faith he pushed back on my claim that I was calling for and attempting a "new apologetics." That's a bold, ambitious claim.

Was I being serious?

I was being serious.

The first big move of The Authenticity of Faith is that with the rise of thinkers like Darwin, Marx and Freud, among others, the debates about religious belief had shifted in a way that effectively shelved classical apologetics.

In classical apologetics the focus is upon the truth of religious propositions. For example: Does God exist? True or false?

By contrast, with thinkers like Freud the question shifted away from the truth of religious propositions toward the social and psychological functions of religious belief.

Freud's answer was clear, and his answer still packs a punch: The function of religious belief is to provide us existential consolation. Life is terrifying and full of suffering. Life can also seem meaningless, especially with the prospect of death and non-existence. So, according to Freud, religion steps in as an existential narcotic. Religious belief is an anti-anxiety medication.

The task of of apologetics--defending the faith--is changed by accounts like Freud's. We are no longer talking about truth and evidence, we are talking about psychology, about motivation and anxiety. Consequently, if you want to determine if Freud was right, you have to take up the task of assessing the psychological dynamics at work in religious belief: Was Freud correct, is religious belief being driven by fear?

Questions like these have changed the game. When it comes to mapping the inner terrain of religious psychology the experts of classical apologetics--theologians, logicians, philosophers, historians, archaeologists and Bible scholars--are useless.

Freud's claims where about psychology, so you need psychology to test them.

So, yes, I told my editor. We need a new apologetics.

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