“The social intuitionist model offers an explanation of why moral and political arguments are so frustrating: ‘because moral reasons are the tail wagged by the intuitive dog.’ A dog’s tail wags to communicate. You can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail. And you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.”
This is a quote that was read aloud by one of the lecturers at the National Christian Law Student Conference, and it really struck me.
I have always been deeply skeptical about organized religion because of its potentially exploitative nature, especially when left in the hands of tyrants and evil-doers. After all, in my youth (after I lost faith while attending a youth group when I was 16), I always presented an argument against organized religion based on an old Rodney Dangerfield joke: “What do you think happened in the Crusades? Basically, Christians, Muslims, and Jews were running around killing each other because God told them to.”
However, I’ve grown up considerably since then, and have had a number of positive experiences with Christianity over the years.
Now that I have recently joined the Osgoode Christian Legal Fellowship, I’m similarly glad. I may have been deeply skeptical since I was a kid, but I’ve also been seeking God and light since I was very young as well, I just didn’t know it consciously. Instead, it was all in my unconscious mind. Going to this conference and hearing academic arguments (rather than preachy or ministerial arguments) about ways to integrate my faith with the study and practice of law really cemented these facts in my head.
Initially, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in with this Christian crowd. After all, I haven’t been to church in many years, and I’ve spent a lifetime teasing people who I felt were overzealous in their religious and moral beliefs. For example, over the course of my undergraduate career, I took most of my classes with one of the most devout Christians I’ve ever met in my life. Seriously, this guy wouldn’t buy a cell phone for years and didn’t even have a beer on his wedding night. I always respected him and wanted that unshakeable and immovable faith in God he had, but I never understood how he maintained it when things got rough.
Alas, my mind wasn’t that righteous at the time. I found my friend’s moral arguments to be extremely frustrating, and I constantly attempted to refute any and all of his arguments. After all, we took courses like writing and informal logic together, and I was sure if I learned enough argumentation theory I would ultimately best him. I considered myself to be the unstoppable force and always thought of him as the immovable object. But just as the Joker used the same terms when describing his relationship with Batman in The Dark Knight, I could never get my devout friend to break his “one rule.”
I now see the funny side of things; even my endless desire to beat my buddy in arguments about religion was itself a misguided attempt to seek God. In trying to win, I ended up making my knowledge about the historical rise of Christianity very well-rounded. I just argued so much with my friend on a daily basis that by the time we both graduated, I could probably give well-known atheist author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins a run for his money.
Interestingly, my unfettered skepticism only made my friend’s faith stronger and he now has a good appreciation of atheist arguments. For myself, I have come to realize even the strongest believers of God’s light need to have their faith tested.
Honestly, I respect people who go to great lengths to try to justify their belief that there is no God because I’ve been there, and gone similarly far. Indeed, this is why I was able to ask so many questions at the conference (about issues relating to abortion, euthanasia, mental health, etc.), and asked to give a brief speech at the banquet dinner on law and ministry.
In the end, I told everyone at the conference I believe in Christ because I don’t believe in coincidences; instead, I think they are “God-incidences.” I view it as no coincidence that my parents chose to put me in Catholic school from kindergarten to Grade 3; or that I went back to youth group for a year when I was 16; or that I spent most of my undergraduate career relentlessly teasing one of the most devout Christians I know. Eventually, considering that hindsight is 20/20, if you keep staring back at your life long enough, patterns will arise.
Harjot Atwal is a second-year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School.