In Gospel Disproof #28 we looked at conditional salvation and how bizarre it was to suppose that a loving and self-sufficient Father would create a situation where His beloved children would go to Hell forever unless they met certain rarely-obtained conditions. As a parenting scenario, it just doesn’t work, but by an odd coincidence it works great as a tool for manipulating people and making them think that they have to submit to you and your teachings in order to be saved.
Salvation by faith takes that manipulation one step further: not only does your salvation depend on submitting to some human teacher, but you have to believe that what he tells you is absolutely and infallibly true. It’s not enough to merely try to be good or to behave in ways that make you an asset to the community. You have to believe, even when it makes no sense, and even when it’s in conflict with what you see around you.
To make matters worse, you have to believe even though God Himself does not behave as though He believed everything people say about how much He loves us and wants to be with us and wants us to know Him and so on. Your salvation depends on believing what fallible men say about God, under conditions that are fundamentally inconsistent with their teachings being true.
Psychologically, this is extremely powerful: since your salvation depends on your willingness to prefer the beliefs of men over the evidence of the real world, aggressive gullibility becomes not merely a virtue, but the driving force in one’s life. Suddenly “worldview” is more vital than the world itself. You can make a career out of thinking up clever rationalizations for why reality fails to live up to what preachers say it ought to be. Any time you encounter evidence that your beliefs are wrong, you can make your salvation even more certain by simply choosing to disregard the evidence and cling to your faith anyway. It’s a self-reinforcing, correction-resistant self-deception.
It’s also, by another strange coincidence, very easy to do. The things men want you to believe turn out to be fairly flattering: how important you are to God and how all of history revolves around the story of everything God is going to do to make sure you end up eternally blessed and blissful. Even the negative stuff (about what a wretched sinner you are) turns out not to be so bad because hey, you’re forgiven—unlike those other vile heather sinners who are even worse than you. So you get to claim humility while simultaneously considering yourself better off than everyone else.
This combination makes the Gospel both easy to spread and highly resistant to correction. It is possibly the most effective way to manipulate large groups of people. And yet, from a theological perspective, does salvation by faith really make sense?
The problem theologically is that, by making faith a condition for salvation, we’re effectively turning salvation into something you do, by your own efforts, as opposed to being merely a conclusion you arrive at through observation of the evidence. If salvation were something that happened just by discovering that God is real, He could save us all simply by showing up so that we could all see that, ah, yes, there He is. But that’s not how the Gospel works.
Salvation by faith is a way to earn your salvation by deliberately choosing not to let the evidence deter you from gullibly embracing what the preacher says, just because the preacher says it. The “virtue” in your faith that makes it worthy of saving you is that you had to make a deliberate choice not to accept the real-world evidence, and to accept the words of men instead. It is a conscious, mental effort that you make on your own behalf in order to obtain salvation for yourself.
And yet, the Gospel explicitly teaches that you cannot earn your salvation by any works. Salvation must be passively received. According to some teachers, even faith itself must be passively received as a gift from God. Such a passive gift of faith, however, would be like skeptical, reality-based belief rather than faith-based belief. The best way to to achieve truly passive faith (without programming it into believers like robots) would be for God to show up in person, in real life, consistently and universally enough that we could all see Him and know that He was real. Then we could have a belief that truly required no work or effort on our part.
So there’s an inherent contradiction in the Gospel: God wants us all to be saved by a passive faith that we could easily have if He would only show up in real life, but yet most people, according to Jesus, are not going to be saved. They’re going to go to Hell because of their lack of faith, but since faith must be given to us by God, their lack of faith is a direct result of God’s failure to show up to give it to them, despite His alleged desire to see them all saved.
Meanwhile, the faith that Christians do have, that earns them their place in Heaven, is not a passive faith at all. It’s an active and aggressive pursuit of the words of men, and an active rejection of any evidence that contradicts what men teach about God. It’s a deliberate, conscious, and sometimes strenuous exertion of the will in order to affirm “spiritual truth” and reject an incompatible material reality. If you stop making the effort, if you let material reality dictate what you believe, then you might apostasize, but as long as you keep working at it, your faith will still “save” you.
And it accomplishes all that while simultaneously contradicting the Gospel itself. But that’s what militant gullibility can do for you.