This is just to continue comments from the Frustrated post. Carry on! :)
Last night, my friend Matt and I had an opportunity to go to one of the church services that I talked about in my last post. As I mentioned there, this is a series of lessons surrounding the topic “Can We Believe the Bible?” by an evangelist / college professor / apologist that I corresponded with several years ago, named Doy Moyer. I was excited about going, but also nervous. It had been almost 5 years since I was last inside a conservative Church of Christ, and I knew I would probably see a couple of people that I knew. It was really nice having Matt along for the adventure.
Once we came in and got seated (last row, stage left, which I guess placed us firmly in the “goats” section), I noticed my in-laws sitting in the center section as well as the preacher from their congregation — the same one who was there when I attended. Let me state upfront that I still care deeply for all three of them. My wife’s parents are genuinely great people, and I couldn’t have gotten better in-laws. Granted, things aren’t as good now as they once were, but they’re just as hurt by all that as we are. And the preacher is a great guy as well. We were pretty close, once upon a time.
Anyway, while we waited for the service to begin, the PowerPoint was showing the topics that they plan to cover each night:
- 3/30/15 — How Is Bible History to Be Perceived?
- 4/6/15 — Can We Trust the Gospels?
- 4/13/15 — Have the Gospels Been Hopelessly Corrupted?
- 4/20/15 — Can We Use the Bible to Prove the Bible?
- 4/27/15 — What About God and the Slaughter of the Innocents?
- 5/4/15 — How Can the Bible Really Be Understood?
Those are interesting topics. And though there’s no way I’ll be able to make each one of them in person, I plan to listen to them all. But last night was the second topic, “Can We Trust the Gospels?” It more or less went the way I expected it would.
Moyer started by quoting Simon Greenleaf, who once said something to the effect that every witness should be considered credible until proven otherwise. He then spent some time talking about presuppositions — and this is apparently something he talked about at length during the first session as well. He said that atheists (I don’t remember if he implied “all” or “most”) start with the presupposition that miracles are impossible, so of course they don’t accept the Bible. He also said that when examining the Bible we should avoid modern biases. In other words, he implied that some parts of the Bible might look problematic, but that’s only from our modern mindset. He pointed out that the authors of the gospels displayed historical intent and referenced Luke 1:1 as evidence for that. He also mentioned that CS Lewis was convinced that the accounts did not bear the markers of legend. Moyer stated that the authors seemed to know what they were talking about. And he said that their bias was not a reason to discount their testimony, since we all have bias of some kind or another.
All in all, I didn’t disagree with much of his introduction. I wish he had pointed out that presuppositions can run both ways, but I can’t say I was surprised by that omission. Of course, I disagreed with his assertion that the main reason people reject the gospels is because they’ve eliminated the possibility of miracles. But the rest of his points were decent, in my opinion, though I could tell he was going to take some of them in directions I wouldn’t agree with.
He then got into the guts of his presentation, laying out several arguments that supported his belief that the gospels can be trusted. Much of his information came from Lord or Legend?, by Gregory Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, and Can We Trust the Gospels?, by Mark D Roberts. I’ve read the latter, but not the former. The rest of Moyer’s presentation went as follows:
Were the authors in a position to know?
According to Moyer, some of the gospels make eyewitness claims. This was one of the first statements that really stood out to me. Is that true? I don’t really think it is, but I haven’t looked into it for a while and haven’t had a chance to since last night. I’d be interested in anything you readers might have to say about this claim.
Moyer also asked, if the gospels were fabricated, then why were the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John chosen for them? He pointed out that pseudonymous works typically used names that were well known and carried weight: like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, etc. Why would anyone have used Mark and Luke, since neither of them were eyewitnesses or knew Jesus? In fact, Moyer argued, the anonymity of the gospels suggests legitimacy, since they didn’t feel the need to claim the names of well-known disciples.
But I didn’t find this point particularly compelling. First of all, his point would only hold true for Mark and Luke, since Matthew and John were both very well known disciples. Furthermore, he made it sound as though we didn’t really know why the names Mark and Luke were assigned to these, suggesting that the Christians who began using those names must have known something. But we do know why those gospels are named as they are. Mark carries its name, because Papias said (about 100 years after Jesus’ death) that Mark was simply transcribing dictation from Peter. But the majority of modern scholars don’t accept that claim. And the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are said to be written by Luke, because of some pronoun usage in Acts (Luke was a companion to Paul). But again, most modern scholars don’t accept that position, since parts of Acts are not in agreement with statements made in Paul’s epistles.
Moyer also made it sound like the authorship of the gospels was pretty settled, which is definitely not true, unless he’s only considering the opinions of ultra-conservative scholars.
In all, I didn’t think this point was particularly strong.
Are the copies reasonably close to the originals?
Here, Moyer went through the typical points about the number of manuscripts, how the textual attestation for the Bible is better than any other document from antiquity, etc. These points were pretty accurate, but a little misleading. For instance, while he mentioned that the Greek manuscripts date from about 50 years after the originals to about 1500 years, he didn’t point out that about 94% of those manuscripts date from the 9th century or later, or that the oldest manuscripts are just fragments. Nevertheless, the actual facts he referenced were pretty accurate.
He did point out that he’ll cover this in more detail in the next meeting. And for what it’s worth, I do think that the biblical texts are likely very close to the originals — at least in most cases. In some ways, this is actually a problem for Christianity, in my opinion, since it makes it very hard to claim that all discrepancies are the result of copying errors.
Are the reports consistent with eyewitness testimony?
Here, Moyer referenced things like Aramaisms (the recording of an Aramaic saying in another language, like “Lama, Lama sabacthani”) and references to places and people. Here, he referenced another book, Richard Baukham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
These points have never seemed especially strong to me. Maybe they should, I don’t know. But when a Spider-Man comic references Barack Obama, or Michael Bloomberg, I don’t suddenly think it must be true. And Aramaic was still being spoken at the time the gospels were written — would it be weird for Greek-speaking Christians who were educated enough to write these gospels to know some Aramaic as well?
The gospels contain self-damaging material
Moyer pointed out that if the gospels were being invented, surely the authors would want to portray the protagonists in the best possible light. Yet the gospels talk about the disciples being inadequate at times, they reference some people thinking Jesus was crazy or demon-possessed, and they show his disciples either betraying or abandoning him in the end. On top of that, the first people to find Jesus after his resurrection were women, who were considered unreliable back then.
But I don’t know many skeptics who think the gospels were pure inventions. Most believe (like most scholars) that the gospel story began as oral traditions that circulated among the believers. I think each gospel was written by someone who believed the bulk of what they were writing. And is there really no value in having stories that show the weaknesses of the disciples? It’s a great way to illustrate the supremacy of Jesus’ wisdom, as well as provide a compelling character arc for the disciples.
Do the gospels demonstrate reasonable consistency?
This was probably the one that bugged me the most. You have to remember that this was being presented in a Church of Christ, and every member of the CoC that I know believes in biblical inerrancy. Yet you can see from the wording of this heading that Moyer was playing it safe with phrases like “reasonable consistency.”
Moyer again stressed that the gospels weren’t written from a modern point of view. He also stressed that there was a difference between a “difficulty” and a “contradiction” and that the bar for proving an actual contradiction was extremely high. He referenced the synoptic problem, but complained that when the gospels differ people say they’re contradictory, yet when they agree people claim it’s evidence of collusion. This is a false dichotomy, of course. Otherwise, no one would ever be able to recognize plagiarism. The simple fact is that parts of the synoptics are direct copies of one another, while other portions of the gospels are diametrically opposed.
Moyer also showed his hand on the subject of inerrancy a bit by stressing that “for core historical events, it’s not necessary to prove flawlessness.”
Is there other literary evidence?
Moyer ended things by talking about the references to Christ and Christians in ancient sources like Tacitus, Seutonius, Josephus, Thallus, Pliny, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Talmud. He didn’t go into details, but did acknowledge that none of these sources corroborate things like the resurrection, etc. But he felt that they did demonstrate some basic things, like Jesus being a real individual, that he died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate’s authority, and that Christians believed in the resurrection.
I didn’t have any real problems with his points here.
He didn’t say much in the conclusion, other than again stressing the problem with an a priori position that miracles are impossible.
He opened the floor up for questions, and he got a few. Nothing major. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump in. I didn’t want to be a jerk — that would have been the wrong move with my in-laws, and they were the only real reason I was there. At the same time, I figured that most people in the audience hadn’t realized how soft Moyer’s position on inerrancy is. And while I think that’s appropriate for a Christian who’s aware of all the information, I knew that he was essentially pulling one over on everyone there. Most of them view inerrancy as a major piece of evidence for Christianity, but that’s not how Moyer sees it.
So I raised my hand (I was pretty nervous, I have to admit), and when he called on me, I asked, “It seems like the authors you’re quoting from imply that inerrancy isn’t very supportable… am I understanding that correctly?”
To me, he seemed uncomfortable, and he didn’t really answer the question. He talked about first needing to determine what the gospels were trying to say. Then, based on their historical reliability, one could think more about things like inerrancy. As a Jesus follower, he would need to establish what Jesus thought about scripture and inerrancy and then follow that.
As you can see, he didn’t really say what he believed Jesus’ position on that was. He was trying his very best to be noncommittal on the subject of inerrancy. I’m not sure how noticeable that was to everyone else, but maybe they picked up on it.
After the service, Matt and I walked over and spoke to my in-laws and the preacher from my old congregation. Matt knows all of them as well. The interaction was friendly — a little awkward maybe, but still friendly. I also introduced myself to Moyer, but I don’t think he remembered me from our previous correspondence.
All in all, I’m glad I went. My in-laws are obviously attending all of these, and I want to know what they’re hearing. We should get an opportunity to discuss all of it at some point, and I’m looking forward to that. It was still weird being in a church, though. :/
So here’s what’s been going on lately. Most of you who read this blog already know that when my wife and I left Christianity, it wrecked most of our family relationships. My wife’s parents and siblings, as well as my own, felt that they could no longer interact with us socially after our deconversion. We were no longer invited to any family functions, and our communication with them all but disappeared. We would speak if it was about religious issues, or if there were logistic issues that needed to be worked out in letting them see our kids, etc.
Over the years, things have gotten a little better, especially with my wife’s parents. Things are by no means back to normal, but at least our infrequent interactions have become more civil and more comfortable. A few weeks ago, I even had a phone conversation with my father that lasted about half an hour and had no references to religion whatsoever. It was nice.
Nevertheless, the awkwardness is still there, just under the surface. And we’re still blacklisted from all the family functions.
Throughout this time, I’ve occasionally reached out to my side of the family with phone calls, letters, facebook messages, etc, in an effort to discuss the issues that divide us. I don’t get much response. I’ve always been puzzled by that, since I know they think I’m completely wrong. If their position is right, why aren’t they willing to discuss it?
In the last five years, I’ve also been sent books and articles and even been asked to speak to certain individuals, and I’ve complied with every request. Why not? How could more information hurt? But when I’ve suggested certain books to them, or written letters, they aren’t read. When I finally realized that my problems with Christianity weren’t going to be resolved, I wrote a 57-page paper to my family and close friends, explaining why I could no longer call myself a Christian. As far as I know, none of them ever read the whole thing. And sure, 57 pages is quite a commitment. But they say this is the most important subject in their lives…
This past week, the topic has started to come back around. A local church kicked off a new series on Monday entitled “Can We Believe the Bible?” It’s being led by an evangelist/professor/apologist that was kind enough to take time to correspond with me for several weeks in the summer of 2010. I’ve never met him in person, but a mutual friend connected us, since he was someone who was knowledgeable about the kinds of questions I was asking. Obviously, we didn’t wind up on the same page.
My wife’s parents invited us to attend the series, but it happens to be at a time that I’m coaching my oldest daughter’s soccer team. So unless we get rained out at some point, there’s no way we can attend. However, we did tell them that if practice is ever cancelled, we’ll go. I also contacted the church and asked if the sermons (if that’s the right word?) will be recorded, and they said that they should be.
Monday night, the weather was fine, so we weren’t able to attend. And so far, the recording isn’t available on their website. However, they do have a recording of Sunday night’s service available, which is entitled “Question & Answer Night.” I just finished listening to it, and that’s where the bulk of my frustration comes from.
It’s essentially a prep for the series that kicked off Monday night. They’re discussing why such a study is important, as well as the kinds of things they plan to cover. What’s so frustrating to me is that I don’t understand the mindset of evangelists like this. I mean, they’ve studied enough to know what the major objections to fundamentalist Christianity are, yet they continue on as if there’s no problem. And when they do talk about atheists and skeptics, they misrepresent our position. I can’t tell if they honestly believe the version they’re peddling, or if they’re purposefully creating straw men.
A couple of times, they mentioned that one of the main reasons people reject the Bible comes down to a preconception that miracles are impossible. “And if you start from that position, then you’ll naturally reject the Bible.” But that’s a load of crap. Most atheists were once theists, so their starting position was one that believed in miracles.
They also mentioned that so many of these secular articles and documentaries “only show one side.” I thought my head was going to explode.
And they referred to the common complaints against the Bible as “the same tired old arguments that have been answered long ago.” It’s just so infuriating. If the congregants had any knowledge of the details of these “tired old arguments,” I doubt they’d unanimously find the “answers” satisfactory. But the danger with a series like this is that it almost works like a vaccination. The members of the congregation are sitting in a safe environment, listening to trusted “experts,” and they’re injected with a watered down strain of an argument. And it’s that watered down version that’s eradicated by the preacher’s message. So whenever the individual encounters the real thing, they think it’s already been dealt with, and the main point of the argument is completely lost on them.
For example, most Christians would be bothered to find out that the texts of the Bible are not as reliable as were always led to believe. Even a beloved story like the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus writes on the ground, we’ve discovered that it was not originally part of the gospel of John. It’s a later addition from some unknown author. To a Christian who’s never heard that before, it’s unthinkable! But if they’ve gone through classes where they’ve been told that skeptics exaggerate the textual issues in the Bible, and that the few changes or uncertainties deal with only very minor things, and that none of the changes affect any doctrinal points about the gospel, then it’s suddenly easier for them to swallow “minor” issues like the insertion of an entire story into the gospel narrative.
I’m going to either attend these sessions, or I’ll watch/listen to them once they’re available online. I may need to keep some blood pressure medication handy, though.
As I’ve mentioned before, my home state of Alabama has recently been wrangling over the subject of gay marriage. A federal judge in the city of Mobile ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, which made us the 37th state legalizing it. Even though the state was dragged into this position, I couldn’t help being a little proud that gay marriage became legal here before the Supreme Court’s ruling.
But of course, a couple of weeks after the federal judge’s ruling went into effect, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (of 10 Commandments monument fame) finally ordered all probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, oddly claiming, “This is a case of dual sovereignty of federal and state authorities. The United States Supreme Court is very clear in recognizing that federal courts do not bind state courts.”
It’s hard to understand his position, considering past precedent. As Ruthann Robson (a law professor at the City University of New York) states, “If what Moore says is true, then no federal court could ever hold a state law, regulation or policy unconstitutional. And the 14th Amendment, then, would be essentially meaningless.”
The county probate judges have now been put in a difficult position between following a federal judge ruling (which applied to a specific case in Mobile County) and a direct order from the state supreme court. Last I checked, all counties in Alabama had stopped issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and I think Mobile County simply stopped issuing them to anyone after being trapped in a catch 22.
So that’s the background. Today, someone pointed me to a lengthy blog post by a Christian here in Alabama entitled Same Sex Marriage: Where Do We Draw the Line? As you might imagine, it explores the recent events and asks “how should a Christian feel about this, and what should he or she do in response?” It won’t surprise most of you to find out that I disagreed with quite a lot of what she had to say. And not just from my differing religious and political views — I also think she makes some factual errors, and I even think her reasoning is flawed from the Christian perspective. I left a comment, and since I don’t know if she’ll approve it or not, I decided to repost it here for consideration and discussion:
So there are a number of areas in which you and I disagree.
First, you seem to suggest that the United States is a theocracy in the same way that the Israelites were under the Law of Moses. Is that what you believe? Because in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples that he didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom (like the Jews had expected of their Messiah), but a spiritual one. Later NT books back this up by saying that there is no more Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free — instead, all have access to God. Instead of “God’s people” being a particular nation, as it was in the OT, it now simply means those who serve him, regardless of race or nationality. Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews in particular explain that Christians are not bound by the Law of Moses. Therefore, using 2 Chronicles to state that God is going to judge us as a nation is reaching quite a bit. That applied to Israel and Judah — nations that were actual theocracies.
One of the founding principles of the United States was freedom of religion. That means citizens are free to practice whatever religion they believe in (or practice no religion at all) without fear of government intrusion. That means that if someone like Governor Bentley or Chief Justice Moore take on public office, they are promising to uphold the laws of this secular government, not whatever religious rules they believe in. They should certainly exercise the same rights we all have in living their personal lives according to their religious convictions. But in their role as a public official, they can’t bind other citizens to their own religious beliefs. If that’s a problem for them, then they should step down. In your article, you seem to conflate public office with political and social activism. The two just don’t mix. If Moore wants to lobby against homosexual marriage, then he should step down from the state supreme court and do just that.
As to whether or not this is a civil rights issue, I think you’re mistaken. Civil rights applies to more than just race. When Christians are targeted in other parts of the world, is that totally fine? Or in order to see a problem with it, must one also be a Christian? No, I think it’s obvious that discriminating against a person because of their religious beliefs definitely falls under civil rights. The same goes for sexual orientation.
You may feel from personally knowing a few gay people that you understand them very well, but I tend to think they understand themselves a bit better. I am personally heterosexual, and I know it would be very difficult for me to choose to be anything different. Is that how you view your own sexuality as well, or do you feel that you could very easily be attracted to other women if you simply changed your mind about what’s attractive?
Now instead of arguing that homosexuality is a choice, if you were simply arguing that it’s a personal manner in which some people are tempted, just as others are tempted by gambling, others by alcohol, etc, then I could accept that premise. Then the problem of homosexuality would just be its indulgence, instead of the thought-crime route you’re currently running with.
Regardless, what does it really matter? Maybe God has a problem with homosexuality, but it’s also claimed that he has a problem with divorce, gossip, lying, etc. Does that mean that we, as other individuals, have a right to judge those people, or that we should legislate against their right to live as they choose? God’s not going to hold you accountable for the actions of two other consenting adults who happen to live in your state. What they do is between them and God.
Therefore, since we do live in a secular society that respects all religions equally, as well as the right to have no religion at all, how can we deny people the right to marry under religious grounds? If this country ever became majority Muslim, but still had no established religion, should you be required to wear a hijab just because others want you to? Or should you be allowed to make that decision for yourself?
Finally, the last point I want to make, is that the biological argument against homosexuality is a bit silly. Do people only have sex to procreate? Or if procreation should be a requirement of marriage, what do we do about people who are sterile? Or what about two people who are past childbearing years, yet want to marry? The percentage of homosexuals in any population is always a minority, and it always has been. It truly is an “alternate lifestyle.” Also, homosexuality is not contagious. So we don’t have to worry about the human population dropping to 0 because everyone becomes gay.
Look, tell people why you think homosexuality is wrong. If that’s part of the “good news” of the gospel, then by all means preach it. Our country protects the right to free speech, so go for it. But don’t try to legislate morality. What good does that really do? Does it suddenly make a homosexual couple no longer want to get married? Does it make them stop being gay? Does it even keep them from having sex? People have to make their own choices about that, and if they don’t share your personal beliefs, let them live how they want. Isn’t that what you would want people to do for you? Or should we start fitting you for a hijab? ;)
I started to leave this post as a comment on ratamacue0‘s recent post, What Started My Questioning? but decided to post it instead. Fellow blogger (and friend) unkleE left this comment as part of a conversation that he and ratamacue0 were having:
…most non-believers seem not to recognise that there isn’t one consistent portrait of God in the Bible – it changes through both Testaments – and then to choose the worst picture (which is often the earliest one) to critique. But if the claimed revelation of God is progressive, it would surely be fairer to choose a later picture.
I think most non-believers do recognize the difference; it’s just hard to forget that first impression given in the OT.
And really, how progressive is the picture the Bible paints? The NT points out that God doesn’t change, so those harsh characteristics he possessed in the OT are still being claimed by NT writers. The NT also repeats some things like “vengenance is mine, I will repay.” And it tells us not to fear those who can destroy the body, but he who can destroy both body and soul. The NT also gives us the doctrine of Hell, regardless of what that might mean.
I think some of the NT writers, like Paul and the author of Hebrews, are arguing that the method of salvation and the specific requirements God has for people are changing, and in that way the message becomes more progressive. More emphasis is placed on the mind and not just physical acts, for instance. But as to who God is, I don’t think that image really progresses from OT to NT. The same God that killed Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, condemns anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, even though it’s hard to blame many of the Jews for saying Jesus was a blasphemer, considering the teachings in the Old Law.
Such a God is irrational. Many Christians seem to agree, which is why they don’t believe in parts of the OT. But since the NT still claims the same irrational God, I see no reason to believe in him at all. And to me, that seems much more consistent than trying to hold onto parts of the mythology, while rejecting the unsavory parts. If that god were real, and he wanted people to know about him, I think he’d keep the one source of information about him pure. Since that obviously didn’t happen with the Bible, why continue to hold to it at all? Why not put faith in a god who isn’t concerned with petty dogmas, one who simply set things in motion for us? One that may inspire people from time to time, but is largely content to let us live our lives without interference? To me, that seems to fit the evidence far better… and while I don’t have any actual belief in such a deity, I can see why some would. Why mesh it with Christianity, when it seems so superfluous?
First of all, sorry for the lack of posts latey. Just been busy with life — you know how that goes. I have a couple of ideas rattling around in my head right now, so I’ll hopefully shake one of them out into a blog post soon.
In the meantime, I wanted to post this article that a friend pointed me toward today. Many of you probably don’t know, but last week, a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama struck down a state ban on gay marriage, which made us the 37th state to legalize gay marriage. It was great news! However, to no one’s surprise, there’s been a huge outcry about it, and many of the state politicians are pushing hard against it. This article brilliantly captures the way I feel about it:
Here's an excerpt from the 2014 annual report for this blog:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 98,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.
Not too long ago, I got a “like” on one of my posts from a blogger I hadn’t run across before. Out of curiosity, I jumped over to her blog to see what she liked to write about. Turns out she’s a Christian. Which is fine — I certainly have many Christian friends, and several of them even “like” my posts from time to time. But I understand why they do it. With this person, I didn’t get it.
I still don’t know what caused her to hit the “like” button, but I’ve started to get suspicious of that kind of thing. I’ve noticed that there are number of people who seem to blog simply to see how many followers they can attract. I’ve been amazed at how many followers some blogs get, especially since many of them are pretty new. How do they get such high readership? And then, I’ll often see that their posts have almost no comments on them. What’s up with that?
I assume that many of them scour the internet for blogs that they can follow, whether they blog on similar topics or not, just hoping that they’ll be followed in return. But what does this really accomplish? Does it really get quality readers? I’m not so sure…
And while I’d love to have thousands of followers, I’m much happier having actual dialog on my blog. I’ve never gone out looking for readers. The people who have come here have usually found me in WordPress or Google searches, or I’ve made an actually substantive comment on their blog, and they’ve come over here in response. This has made the growth of my blog a very slow process, but it feels more genuine to me. I’ve gotten this audience for the right reasons.
I was glad to read two other blog posts in the last two days that kind of echo what I’m driving at here. My friend Nila wrote this post about the merits of having something worthwhile to say, rather than focusing on a writing schedule. And someone in the comments section of that post linked to this article on “slow blogging.” In other words, thinking about what you want to say before you rush to say it. It’s refreshing (to me) to see that not everyone is being swept away by all the meta reasons to have a blog, but are still interested in conversation.
The other day I started thinking about what would have happened if I had stopped looking critically at Christianity after reading those articles that first made me question the Bible’s legitimacy. What if I had turned from them and decided to never look at anything else that might cause me to doubt my faith? If I had, I’m sure I’d still be a Christian today.
But would that really be good enough? Obviously, the things my faith were built upon weren’t solid enough to withstand scrutiny. So if I had maintained faith only by refusing to investigate my reasons, would that kind of faith be pleasing to God? I think that’s a question believers should consider. If that level of faith is good enough, we’re essentially saying, “oh, if only you hadn’t taken your faith so seriously!” But that seems crazy.
The alternative is that my faith might have been good enough until the day I ran across things that made me doubt. At that point, the only way to remain pleasing to God would be to investigate the claims and come out the other side with a stronger faith. Of course, that’s not how it worked out for me. If God’s real and Christianity’s true, then I think this view makes the most sense. However, it causes problems for those Christians who have refused to look at any evidence that might call their beliefs into question. I’ve had several tell me that they won’t read anything an atheist has written, or don’t want me to point out the passages that I found problematic because they don’t want to lose their faith. How does that make sense? If their faith is worth keeping — if it’s true — then further investigation should only support their beliefs, not call them into question.
I’m not trying to pick on Christians here, we can all be guilty of this from time to time. It’s essentially an extreme case of confirmation bias — one in which we realize we’re being biased and we even think of it as a good thing. In fact, it’s extremely dangerous, and if we feel ourselves thinking along those lines, it should be a red flag. What’s wrong with our current position if we have to hide from information in order to keep it?
And in the end, I’m glad I didn’t stop looking. The journey out wasn’t easy, but I feel like things make so much more sense with my current worldview. Even if I’m still wrong, I’m closer to the truth than I was before, because I’ve learned new information and corrected some past misunderstandings. That can only be a good thing.
So today marks 8 years that I’ve been doing this blog. That’s a pretty big milestone! I had two posts on November 14, 2006, and I thought it would be fun to repost them here (along with a little commentary).
Here’s the first:
Wish me luck… :)
So that was innocuous enough. Now here’s post number 2:
I think 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 best explains the way in which Christ’s gospel was/is a mystery. As vs 18 says:
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
We can see from this passage that God’s plan of salvation makes no sense to those who refuse to believe it, but to those of us who accept it, it’s brilliant! Verse 21 goes on to say:
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
See, because the world is so “wise,” it views the concept of God as foolishness. They have been blinded by their own pretensions. For the Jews and Greeks of the day, it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the supernatural; it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in deities. Their problem was that they thought they already knew what God would do. The Jews already had a fixed idea of what the Messiah would be, so when Christ appeared and didn’t lead them to victory against the Romans, they refused to accept him. The Greeks didn’t accept Christ because they couldn’t conceive of a god allowing himself to be put to death by his own creation. And because they already had things “figured out,” they missed their chance.
Today, people do the same thing. They would rather put faith in scientific theories that have not been proven. They would rather believe that all of the order we see in our universe (the fragile food chain, vast differences throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, the very specific orbits of planets, etc) was created through a giant explosion (something that, in all practical applications, has only been shown to destroy, not create). Have they been blinded by their own “wisdom?”
Too often, even those who profess to be religious only listen to their own ideas about what God wants. Many times they view the Bible as a collection of stories or suggestions, and not the “wisdom of God that leads to salvation” that 1 Corinthians purports it to be. How is that different from what the Jews and Greeks were condemned for?
Throughout the Bible, passages talk about truth and understanding. I firmly believe that God gave us understanding and intellect for a reason. We are supposed to be able to understand God’s message for us. It’s not supposed to be “mysterious” any longer. It’s not supposed to be some “better felt than told” experience. No, God’s word is supposed to be powerful and undeniable. It’s supposed to move us and touch us in a way that nothing else can. But for it to do that, we have to read it, study it, know it.
It’s a little painful to read through that. I cringe when I read how badly I understood things about evolution and the Big Bang back then, or when I alluded to non-Christians as just being those who “refuse to believe it”. It’s kind of funny, but I was guilty of the same thing I was accusing others of. I thought I had the answers, but I had never taken time to really examine any other point of view.
The one decent thing from the post that serves as a bit of foreshadowing about where I would eventually wind up is the last paragraph. You can see that while I was firmly ensnared in Christianity, I believed that it was not supposed to be utterly mysterious. It was supposed to be consistent and “undeniable.” It took a while, but I finally realized that Christianity just didn’t deliver in that regard.
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt down memory lane. Someone suggested to me recently that I should think about doing this kind of review with more of my old posts. I’ve been considering it… Thoughts?