Why did you become a Christian?

Perhaps you answered, “I was convinced by evidence and argument that it was true.”

For most people, though, the answer is closer to “because it met my needs.” But what needs does Christianity meet?

That’s the question Williams answers in chapter 2 of Existential Reasons for Belief in God; A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, a book that argues for Christian faith on the basis of the number of basic human needs that it meets.

Before listing thirteen of them, he makes two qualifications. First, he is not claiming that everyone feels all thirteen of the needs (feeling only one of the needs is all that’s required to make the needs-based argument relevant). Second, he demonstrates that not all these needs are purely self-centered by dividing the thirteen needs into two categories.

  • Self-directed needs: Aimed at getting something for ourselves.
  • Other-directed needs: aimed at the good of others or is what is good (which incidentally and unintentionally gives us something too).

Williams’s description of these needs can be summarized as follows:

Self-directed Needs

  • Cosmic security: We want to feel protected from difficulties and suffering; but if these do come, we want to be sure that all will still be well with us.
  • Hope of life beyond the grave: That we will keep on being conscious even after we die.
  • Heaven: This goes beyond just existing after death, and describes the kind of blessed existence we crave.
  • Goodness: Despite the imperfection of this life, we still crave a good and virtuous life, and not just for ourselves, but for others too.
  • A larger life: We want new experiences of things, people, and places, that we may experience amazement, exhilaration, and moral awe (i.e. the admiration of others’ goodness).
  • To be loved: For emotional security, we want to be known, loved, trusted, and enjoyed by our parents, by friends, by a spouse, by our children, and by others.
  • Meaning: A sense of significance, purpose, and destiny.
  • Forgiveness: For going astray, and especially for transgressing in our pursuit of love and meaning.

Other-directed Needs

Surely “other-directed needs” is an oxymoron. How can needs be other-directed? Don’t needs spring from self-concern? Williams admits the seeming contradiction, but insists that these desires are both other-directed and self-satisfying.

  • To love: We want to love others.
  • Awe: Experienced through encounters with a magnificent landscape, powerful people, or moral heroism, and especially when we encounter God.
  • Delighting in goodness: We rejoice in the moral qualities of others.
  • Being present: Enjoying being with those we love.
  • Justice and fairness: Pursuing justice for others.

At this point Clifford briefly explores how other apologists have described existential needs. For example, in Simply Christian, N. T. Wright listed four basic human needs:

  • The longing for justice.
  • The quest for spirituality.
  • The hunger for relationships.
  • The delight in beauty.

Regardless of how we categorize these basic existential needs, Williams’s basic point is that the more needs that are recognized, and the more deeply they are felt, the more powerful and persuasive needs-based reasoning becomes.

He admits that if these feelings never progress much beyond mere “I’d like that,” then they will be much less compelling as arguments to believe in God than if the feeling rises to a level of “I desperately need that and I must have it.” However, he also argues that what’s most relevant is not the number or the intensity of the desires but the essential nature of the desires and the immensity of the object of the desire – God.

Isn’t it truly amazing how Christianity meets every basic human need so well!