Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Coming to acceptance

As my friend, D'ma, posted on her blog, when you lose your faith you go through the stages of grief, like any other loss. I think I started with Denial, then Terror, then Depression, then Bargaining, and now maybe some sort of Acceptance.

Where am I at now? After 9 months of this process?

I'll never be able to look at the Bible the same way again. Having studied critiques of the Bible in depth, I have become convinced of numerous internal contradictions. Heck, start with Genesis 1 and 2, with very different accounts of what happened at creation; go to the various stories of the resurrection and try to reconcile them. Genesis 1-12 seems to be all mythological stories that strain credulity. I could excuse that, but the rest of the Bible builds on those stories as fact. Having studied how the Bible came to be, it is much more plausible now to see how it could all be a human construction. The JEPD theory of the Old Testament seems to explain very well why there are such different themes and doctrines cobbled together into such an incoherent mess. The God of the Old Testament is an ass. There's no other way around it. If he were a current worldly ruler he would be considered a egomaniacal, petty, despot. How do you worship such a person? The dramatic level of killing and bloodshed in the OT is mind-numbing. Some of the miracles, like the sun standing still for a day, may have seemed plausible to an illiterate person, but with our current knowledge about how the solar system works it seem preposterous. The flood story doesn't "hold water" on so many levels. Talking snakes just seems silly and fanciful. Having studied evolutionary theory in depth, I now see it as much more plausible than I had before; it has much better explanatory power of the evidence than a sudden creation of everything at the same time. We don't know who wrote the gospels, and they were probably written several decades after the events. Jesus was thoroughly Jewish, and never suggested his follower should be anything but; yet his followers have been anything but! Paul seemed to know nothing about Jesus other than his death and resurrection; at least he never mentions any details about his life. Jesus, and his followers, expected an imminent return - years maybe, but not decades, centuries, or millenia. Many Biblical stories have parallels in other myths... creation, flood, angels and humans mating, virgin birth, resurrection, etc. I no longer see morality, or good human relations, as being dependent on the existence of a god. I have come to see any religion that requires "faith" (believing in spite of insufficient evidence) to be absurd on its face; you can't argue with it. I have come to see how psychology can explain how and why most people can be lulled into believing all sorts of invisible, unproveable stuff. The universe, and the earth, are billions of years old. Prayer is no more effective than chance and coincidence. People believing they are led by the Holy Spirit come to remarkably different conclusions. The history of Christianity is a never-ending conflict over what the truth is, even on critical doctrines like the nature of salvation, and how to procure it, or what rules we are supposed to live by as NT Christians. The NT preaches an unhealthy level of pacifism. The teachings on divorce and remarriage are untenable. Christianity, for the most part, has participated in the subjugation of slaves, women, and gays, with Biblical justification. Christianity, for the most part, has resisted several significant scientific advancements. Most people's belief in God is based on what country they were born in. God never reveals anything of practical or scientific value in the Old or New Testament, i.e., antibiotics, or quantum mechanics. Nothing is added that wasn't already commonly known. The cosmology of the Bible is exactly as antiquated and wrong as the beliefs of the time... flat earth, waters above the sky, sun revolving around the earth, etc. Prime Mover does not prove there is a god; as difficult as it is to wrap our minds around what "caused" the first things, positing a god only removes the question one step back... who caused God? It doesn't answer anything; you are still left with the same conundrum. The "God of the Gaps" made a lot of sense in ancient times, when so little about the world was understood. Science, however, continues to chip away at those "unexplainables" at a breakneck pace. Because a belief is comforting and gives meaning and purpose to life does not make it true. Our current concepts of the afterlife - heaven and hell - didn't exist until shortly before Jesus' arrival. The more education someone has, the less likely they are to believe in god or the Bible. The idea of someone going to hell for ANY reason seems ludicrous.

So... at this time, for me to believe in a god, or in the stories of the Bible would merely be wishful thinking. It would be akin to believing in Oz, without being willing to peak behind the curtain. That doesn't mean I have all the answers. It doesn't mean I know what the Truth is about life, the universe, and everything. It just means the explanations I once firmly believed in don't seem to make sense to me any more.

I have studied some of the best Christian apologists. A good apologist will come up with explanations and rationales for each thing I mentioned above... just like there are good Mormon apologists, or apologists for the Flat Earth Society. At some point you have to determine whether the apologists are honestly going wherever the facts lead them, or whether they have already committed to a belief and have become ingenious at defending that belief from all contrary evidence. Sometimes you just have to look at the weight of the evidence. At some point you realize you are having to work harder and harder to explain all the contrary or conflicting evidence. Most people cling tightly to their religious beliefs because of the turbulence usually experienced when changing them.

My Christian faith was very important to me. I loved it. I still do. It's a great story! And I love Christians (although I am increasingly seeing them as "having drunk the kool-aid," unwilling or unable to take a critical look at their faith).

My family and my closest friends know the struggle I've been having in this area and generally have not deserted me. I wish I had more friends, however, where we didn't have this unspoken rift in our relationship. I have come out to some of my counseling clients, and no one has left yet. There are others, though, that I dread telling. yuck.

And so I have been spending my free time with other pursuits lately. Watching movies, writing blogs I have on other topics. I can't think of any more religious topic to pursue that would have the hope of shifting my conclusions; I delved into everything that I had nagging questions about. I still love the academic study of religion... what we believe and why.

I wish I had a more satisfying existential "answer" to life, but I am learning to be ok with the unknowns. What other choice do I have?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Online chat tonight!

Our next online chat will be tonight, June 5th, at 10 pm Eastern time (9pm central, 8pm mountain, 7pm pacific). 

Please tell others you think would be interested in joining us. This is primarily for those who were once sincere evangelicals and are now, well, not that!

Here's the link... And, as always, you can go in the room any time you want and see if anyone else is hanging out there.

Let's do this!


PS I am interested in chatting about the book, "Evolving in Monkey Town," but we can talk about anything you want to talk about!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reading Monkey Town

Well, I finally got my copy of "Evolving in Monkey Town" by Rachel Held Evans and skimmed through it. It has promise.

If you've read it, what did you think?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Next online chat will be Sunday night

Doordonot and I had a great chat this morning! It was  a nice start.

Our next chat will be this Sunday night, June 5th, at 10 pm Eastern time (9pm central, 8pm mountain, 7pm pacific). Hopefully this will be a better time for most folks.

Please pass the word on to those you think would be interested. Like I said before, this is primarily for those who were once sincere evangelicals and are now, well, not that!

Here's the link... And, as always, you can go in the room any time you want and see if anyone else is hanging out there.

Let's do this!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reminder: Online chat Sunday

Our first online chat is tomorrow (Sunday) at 1pm Eastern time. (noon Central, 11am Mountain, 10am Pacific).

Please consider joining us this once and we'll see how it goes! Please pass this message on to other deconverts you know who might be interested. Post it on your blog perhaps.

To join the chat, just go to and choose a user name. That's it!

See you there!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

the last 15 years of my faith journey in a nutshell

(This is an excerpt of an email I sent to a friend.)

When I was in seminary I had come to a very similar place as now... finding the intellectual support for biblical inerrancy to be very weak. And once that is gone, well, a lot of things become fuzzy. I drifted aimlessly for awhile, but still wanted a connection with god, whatever he/she might be. It was a traumatic experience to lose my faith. It was horrible. It's not something I wanted to happen. That's when I got into spiritualism. There I seemed to find something that was a real, direct experience with the supernatural. It was experientially-based belief, not dogma-based. It was something to fill the void.

Then when I had an encounter with a hyper-charismatic prophetess woman I suddenly believed that Christianity could be like spiritualism... direct experiential connection with the supernatural. Plus, I could combine it with all the bible knowledge I had and have the "truth" to go along with the experience. It was the complete package. Add to that the fact that I was in a very low point of my life, with the divorce, and mounting debt and poor job/career situation. This is exactly what I needed. I was flying high for awhile, being a true true believer living life in the supernatural realm moment by moment. Disillusionments with that hyper-spiritual approach gradually crept in, as many of the woman's prophecies didn't materialize, and things that I had named and claimed didn't happen.

I left that environment and settled into a mainstream mega-church that my kids liked, got hooked up with a job at new life that i really liked, and just went on my way living a christian life, doing christian things, but with more of a sense of "supercharged" to it all than I had experienced before. I relied on my supernatural direct experience as the foundation of my faith. None of my previous intellectual questions had been answered, but I didn't seem to care. I just "knew," believing that God/Holy Spirit had invaded my life, opened my spiritual eyes, etc. Interestingly, I consistently held to a view that said you can't reason someone into the kingdom, you can't prove it to them... it's something they have to experience... it's something that god has to do to/for them. I didn't think apologetics was of much use.

What led to my faith crisis?

  • Unending financial stress. All the prayer in the world didn't help. It just kept getting worse and worse.
  • Deep depression. All the prayer in the world didn't help, even from the world-acclaimed Christian Healing Ministries. The only thing that has helped is medication.
  • The teachings in the bible about divorce and submission. It was becoming more and more difficult to reconcile what the Bible said with what I thought was best for my clients.

I read the whole New Testament in a month. It did not help. It just increased my questions. I prayed and begged god for help. I asked many people to pray for me. It did not help.

So, when my faith is based on my experience, and my experience falls apart, what do I do? I turned to the more traditional methods for bolstering one's beliefs... apologetics. What we believe and why. But I did not want to have my head in the sand and only look at things that would prop up my faith. I wanted to really know what was true, so I dug deeply into both sides of the faith/Christianity/Bible issue. It did not help. It raised more questions, and gave me less certainty. So, when your experience falls apart, and the traditional intellectual arguments ring hollow, what do you do?

Then I was in that Jewish roots study for 10 weeks. I dug deeply into that issue. This forced me to look at the OT much closer than I had before. If I ever had issues with the OT in the past, I just dismissed it as old covenant... we have a new and improved version now. What was the outcome of looking at the OT more closely?

  • The 613 laws are crazy. They're just weird. If you don't believe me, try living them.
  • The god portrayed in the OT is crazy. He's mean, arbitrary, whimsical, petty, jealous, vain, and bloodthirsty. I'm not saying this because of anything I have heard from others. I'm just looking at what the Bible says he did and how he acted. I imagine a 4 year-old playing with toy soldiers, ordering them around, smacking them if they get out of line, etc.
  • Genesis 1-11 is very mythological. In other words, the stories seem much more like fables than literal history. And they mirror stories in other cultures that pre-dated the Biblical stories. The problem with this is that the rest of the Bible treats Genesis 1-11 as literal, factual history. Since then I have done a lot of study on the origins of the Bible, old and new testaments. 

The upshot of all this is not that I do or don't believe in a god, but I have lost my faith in the Bible as an inspired, infallible, inerrant document. Having lost that, and questioning a lot of my previous experience that I ascribed to the supernatural, has left me in no man's land. Not a fun place to be, but I'd rather be here than somewhere false.

The worst part has been losing the fellowship. All my good friends were Bible-believing evangelical Christians. We can't be close like we used to be. And if I am myself, they are bewildered, or try to convert me, etc. Ugh. I need to find new friends.

I could go into a lot more details, but that's my personal faith story in a nutshell.

How we judge Christians differently than Atheists

I thought this was a pretty good video showing how Christians tend to spin the experience or behavior differently based on whether the person in question is part of the "club" or not. I have had same feelings about this spin problem, but never heard anyone else talk about it. It is truly not fair.

What do you think?

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Deconverts" Chat this Sunday

Ok, I've scheduled the first chat for this Sunday at 1pm Eastern time. (noon Central, 11am Mountain, 10am Pacific).

Please consider joining us this once and we'll see how it goes! Please pass this message on to other deconverts you know who might be interested. Post it on your blog perhaps.

What's this all about?

  • It's for people who at one time were sincere evangelical believers, but now are struggling with doubts.
  • It's meant to give us a forum to be free with our thoughts, finding acceptance and encouragement.
  • It's a small attempt to recreate the "fellowship" that is ever-present in evangelical circles.
  • It may be a way for us to better love one another. (Although there is no such thing as love because we're all just a random collection of atoms, lol.)
I'd love to have you join us! Please help spread the word.

To join the chat, just go to and choose a user name. That's it!

By the way, you can go in the room any time you want, as long as it's used for this general purpose. You may find one of us hanging out in there! You never know.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Try out my chat room

I've created a chat room where we can connect at appointed times. (Thanks for the tip exfundy.)

You can go there any time, but there probably won't be anybody there!

Please see if you can get in. You can remain anonymous. If you get in, leave a message so I know somebody was there.

Click on this link


Thursday, May 19, 2011

I need fellowship

When you take matters of faith seriously and you are a Christian, opportunities for fellowship are abundant!

When you take faith seriously, but you are doubting Christianity, where do you go? The First Church of Skeptics, down the block??

That is why so many of us have found a measure of solace in our little online community. At least we know we're not completely alone in this hell.

But, admittedly, it's not as good as the fellowship we're used to.

I have a proposal.

I have a conference call line. How about we set up a time where we could all talk together by phone. I'm thinking a Sunday would be appropriate! lol.

Here's the criteria for who I would like to join me on the call.

  1. At one point in your life you must have been a sincerely believing and practicing evangelical christian.
  2. At the current time you are questioning many of your previous beliefs.
  3. The questioning you are going through is currently causing you psychological/emotional discomfort.
If that describes you, and you might be interested in an experience like this, leave me a comment and we'll discuss it further.

It may go without saying, but to be a participant I would expect a pledge to complete confidentiality/anonymity. It needs to be a safe place. You don't have to use your real name if you don't want to. And if you call in using the privacy feature on your phone (like *67) your phone number won't show up on the call report I get after the call. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Are evangelicals great at marketing?

A woman in this video makes the comment that everything she learned about marketing she learned from church. She was addressing the fact that evangelicals have become expert at recruitment and indoctrination, starting with children.

What do you think?

Friday, April 8, 2011

I'm no kin to the monkey!

We had a memorial service for my mom last Sunday in the town where I grew up. (She died in January.)

One of the anecdotes that gained a lot of traction was the story of my mom teaching us sunday school kids the song, "I'm no kin to the monkey." Here's how the chorus goes...

I'm no kin to the monkey
The monkey's no kin to me
I don't know much about your ancestors
But mine didn't swing from a tree

My mom was a passionate, fervent, unwavering Christian from the day she was born. Unfortunately, her theology didn't get much deeper than that.

If you'd like to get the full effect of this gem of a song, watch this!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A searching teenager

It's hard to believe I struggled with my faith during what should have been blissfully ignorant teen years. But I did. It was the 70's, and I read a fair bit of what was available at that time regarding the creation/evolution debate. Was it Henry Morris? Then there was the apologetics of Josh McDowell. Also read some Francis Schaeffer (sp?).

Anyways, yesterday I found this free-verse poem that I had written as a teenager.


People use many things to look for God.
I was no exception.

First, the magnifying glass came in handy.
I examined many things but always kept my proper distance for fear of distortion.

I wasn't seeing what I wanted to see, so I graduated to binoculars. With both eyes open I would surely see something.
Disappointment raged when, again, all I saw were things.

In desperation I grabbed a telescope. If God was not to be found in the universe, all was in vain.
I finally saw! That there was nothing to see.

I ended my search, pulled the glass from my eye, and found Him!

Under my nose.


What do you think? How does it resonate with your search?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mormon deconversion

What is it like to be a mormon and doubt joseph smith and mormon doctrine? What is the mormon church doing about these doubters? They hold a "Joseph Smith and his critics" conference to figure it out.

Here is an  excerpt from the opening paper presented by Richard Bushman.

Increasingly teachers and church leaders at all levels are approached by Latter-day Saints who have lost confidence in Joseph Smith and the basic miraculous events of church history. They doubt the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, many of Joseph’s revelations, and much besides. They fall into doubt after going on the Internet and finding shocking information about Joseph Smith based on documents and facts they had never heard before. A surprising number had not known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives. They are set back by differences in the various accounts of the First Vision. They find that Egyptologists do not translate the Abraham manuscripts the way Joseph Smith did, making it appear that the Book of Abraham was a fabrication. When they come across this information in a critical book or read it on one of the innumerable critical Internet sites, they feel as if they had been introduced to a Joseph Smith and a Church history they had never known before. They undergo an experience like viewing the famous picture of a beautiful woman who in a blink of an eye turns into an old hag. Everything changes. What are they to believe?

Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.

The troubled person may have been doing all of these things sincerely, perhaps even desperately. He or she feels the world is falling apart. Everything these inquirers put their trust in starts to crumble. They want guidance more than ever in their lives, but they don’t seem to get it. The facts that have been presented to them challenge almost everything they believe. People affected in this way may indeed stop praying; they don’t trust the old methods because they feel betrayed by the old system. Frequently they are furious. On their missions they fervently taught people about Joseph Smith without knowing any of these negative facts. Were they taken advantage of? Was the Church trying to fool them for its own purposes?

These are deeply disturbing questions. They shake up everything. Should I stay in the Church? Should I tell my family? Should I just shut up and try to get along? Who can help me?

At this point, these questioners go off in various directions. Some give up on the Church entirely. They find another religion or, more likely these days, abandon religion altogether. Without their familiar Mormon God, they are not sure there is any God at all. They become atheist or agnostic. Some feel the restrictions they grew up with no longer apply. The strength has been drained out of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and chastity. They partly welcome the new freedom of their agnostic condition. Now they can do anything they please without fear of breaking the old Mormon rules. The results may not be happy for them or their families.

Others piece together a morality and a spiritual attitude that stops them from declining morally, but they are not in an easy place. When they go to church, , they are not comfortable. Sunday School classes and Sacrament meeting talks about Joseph Smith and the early church no longer ring true. How can these people believe these “fairy tales,” the inquirers ask. Those who have absorbed doses of negative material live in two minds: their old church mind which now seems naive and credulous, and their new enlightened mind with its forbidden knowledge learned on the internet and from critical books.

A friend who is in this position described the mindset of the disillusioned member this way:

“Due to the process of learning, which they have gone through, these [two-minded] LDS often no longer accept the church as the only true one (with the only true priesthood authority and the only valid sacred ordinances), but they see it as a Christian church, in which good, inspired programs are found as well as failure and error. They no longer consider inspiration, spiritual and physical healing, personal and global revelation limited to the LDS church. In this context, these saints may attend other churches, too, where they might have spiritual experiences as well. They interpret their old spiritual experiences differently, understanding them as testimonies from God for them personally, as a result of their search and efforts, but these testimonies don’t necessarily have to be seen as a confirmation that the LDS church is the only true one.

“Since the social relationships between them and other ward (or stake) members suffer (avoidance, silence, even mobbing) because of their status as heretics, which is usually known via gossip, and since the extent of active involvement and range of possible callings are reduced because of their nonconformity in various areas, there is a risk that they end up leaving the church after all, because they are simply ignored by the majority of the other members.”

If you read the rest from the link, the presenter goes on with some recommendations about how to work with these doubters, followed by lots of comments from the readers of the blog.

It all seems eerily similar to the phenomenon of evangelical deconversion, doesn't it?

Here's a link to a blog written by a guy who went from initial skepticism about mormonism to final withdrawal from the church and all religion. You can read his whole process. Again, seems eerily similar to what many of us are going through.

How does reading about faith struggles like these in other religions affect your view of your own faith struggle?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Do we need religion to keep us in line?

In response to my post about being sexually starved and feeling horny s-p posted a comment wondering what his sexual behavior would be like without the moral boundaries provided by his Christian faith. The following is my response, a little embellished.


I think the germain issue here is one of "self-control," as in, how does one have a sufficient amount of self-control to keep from ruining their own or others' lives? I've been thinking about this the last couple of days since you posted your comment and here are my thoughts...

1) In my opinion, lack of self-control is largely a matter of maturity, not of religion. In other words, we all are born with radical self-interest. Nothing else really matters. A big part of any growing up process is learning that we can't always get what we want when we want it... either because it will hurt others or hurt ourself. Everyone in every culture has to learn that. Some do it better than others. Some do it earlier than others. Teenagers usually don't do it very well at all. Parents start out by imposing lots of "other control," but ideally do that less and less as their child learns "self control." Most people eventually grow up, and learn what the limits of their behavior needs to be. Life teaches them. It's simply a matter of what works.

2) Many people reach the point of maturity without the need for the "other control" of an invisible all-powerful justice-meting being (god) to keep them in line.

3) Most people throughout history have been able to reach this point of maturity without even knowing about the god of the bible. 

4) Many people who rely on the justice-meting god to keep them in line never seem to grow up. They seem to stay stuck in perpetual adolescence... trying to get away with as much as they can without getting in too much "trouble." They never develp an "inner" morality that is a part of who they "are," vs what they "do."

5) For those of us from our background, when we feel out of control it is very tempting to run back to the safety of the god-pen, where the rules are well defined and the consequences for misbehavior are dire. It feels safer. We are relieved. The chaos dissipates somewhat. From a psychological standpoint, however, this seems to be a retreat from the task of maturity that one had been facing. Obviously, this is preferable to running amuck, but is it the best choice? 

6) When we feel out of control and have made a mess out of our or others' lives the metaphors of the sinful nature, and the war between the flesh and spirit ring very true. However, in my experience, if I sent one person in this out of control state to a pastor to help them learn the dire consequences of their sin, and to help them learn how to be filled with the spirit and crucify the flesh... and sent another person to a psychotherapist to help them learn self-control... my bet is with the psychotherapist. That is, the person I send there will have a much better chance at truly growing and maturing as a person, vs simply "containing" their most extreme behavior via a perpetual dependence on an invisible and difficult to comprehend/access force. 

7) Leaving the god-pen can be very scary. All that freedom. What will we do with it? (Think young adults returning home.) Eric Fromm wrote a book called "Escape from Freedom," wherein he describes the tendency of man to succumb to authoritarian systems (including religion) to escape from the fear and complexities of freedom. But in so doing, they give up a piece of themselves.

8) It may go without saying, but because one finds comfort and relief and less chaos within a punitive religious system does not make it true. 

9) There are reasons for self-control, even in religion, that appeal to something higher than a fear of punishment... a desire to please god, to be like christ, etc. In religious and non-religious environments one can certainly learn "empathy," truly not wanting others to experience any unnecessary pain because of us. Treating others the way we want to be treated is a common teaching in pretty much all religions and is common in societies with no religion at all.

10) Self-control often has to do with delayed gratification. We have the impulse to do or have something, but we many need to wait in order to get it in a way that won't  hurt us or others. It has a long-term perspective on life; not just what makes us feel good in this very moment. Many things that would feel real good right now will lead to destruction down the road. So, a big part of maturity is learning to deal with a certain degree of discomfort now for better rewards later. 

11) In my upbringing the fear of hell was the primary motivation for not doing wrong. In my religious environment one unreprented sin at death would send you straight to the lake of fire. When I got older I encountered this strange breed of Christians who believed in "once saved always saved." That completely flummoxed me. If they're saved, and they know that nothing can change that, why don't they live like the devil?? Well, obviously they found many other reasons to live a moral life other than fear. In actuality, they probably lived better lives than those of us constantly cringing!

So what do you think? Do you need god or religion to help keep you in line? If you absolutely unquestionably came to believe that there was no god, how would that change your behavior?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Revelation vs Reason

I'm currently reading Religion for Dummies. It's a pretty thorough overview of the beliefs and practices of the world's religions. (I had to start somewhere!)

In a section entitled, "Revelation versus Reason" the authors state...

Another way of fitting reason and revelation together is to think of them as two different ways of getting to different parts of the truth. Reason gets us to the religious truths that are universal, the truths that are for everyone whether they are a part of the religion or not. Revelation is a way of getting to universal truths, as well as truths that are deeply felt by the followers of a religion. The Mass is true for Catholics, the Hajj is true for Muslims, and Passover is true for Jews in ways that reason cannot describe. For those that think that the only truth is that which applies to all people all the time, a good dose of yoga or Eucharist or matzo (bread) may help them see the truth in a new way through the eyes of revelation.

Considering that the authors are a Catholic and a Jew (Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Harman, the "God Squad) I knew they would have to address conflicting religious beliefs in some way. This was it, I guess. Kind of a squishy, "If it's true for you" approach. This is not surprising, as it is a pretty popular viewpoint in our culture. We have taken religious truth and put it in a separate category that doesn't have to play by the same rules as regular truth.

This saddens and angers me on several levels.

First, it's such a cop out. All these competing claims, contradictory to each other, can somehow all be "true" for the believer in each of them. Obviously, the person believing them thinks they're true. Duh. But that doesn't make them true. On Christmas morning kids experience the truth of Santa Claus. For them it is true. But because they believe it is true, and even have an ecstatic experience because of their belief, that does not make it reality-based, or factual, or true. So, equating belief with truth is a cop out. It's mixing up terminologies and definitions.

Second, those of us struggling with our faith are wrestling with just this very dilemma... does what we believe to be true correspond to reality, to truth? Most of us are not going to be satisfied with an "It doesn't matter, as long as it's true for you" kind of response.

Third, this kind of distinction between regular truth and religious truth makes rational people scoff at religion. By definition they see it as something non-rational or even irrational.

Fourth, this kind of distinction between regular truth and religious truth gives religion a pass. Religion gets to  make fanciful truth claims with NO responsibility or obligation to back them up with any kind of evidence. Again, rational people just shake their heads.

Fifth, the seeker of religious truth is left afloat on a choppy sea without a compass. Any religious belief system has just as much value as any other one. There is no way to evaluate the relative validity of them. That's just nonsensical.

Sixth, it takes the historical, fact-based religions (such as Christianity) and mixes them in the same pot as Eastern esoteric religions. They are not cut from the same cloth. The God described in the Old and New Testaments, although he is a big promoter of faith, generally speaking encourages faith based on numerous historical events and actions that are supposed to have literally happened... not faith based on what "feels right to you in spite of whether or not there's any evidence." When you take a religion like Christianity and try and change it into this "subjective truth" mentality it quickly loses its character. (Note: This does not mean that Christianity is true. I'm just saying the "genre" of the religion it is doesn't fit well with this mindset.)

Seventh, in most of the areas of our life we rely on truth and facts and evidence in order to base our decisions. Now, when it comes to the MOST important aspect of our lives (whether there is a god, what he is like, what he demands, the ultimate meaning of life and existence), truth and facts and evidence don't matter! Whatever crazy thing you want to believe is fine, as long as it's true for you. It doesn't matter if it lines up with reality or not. It's just such a glaring and ugly dichotomy, which again, makes rational people cringe.

I suppose I need to clarify some of my thought by distinguishing between two types of religious truth claims. For example, was there a man named Jesus that lived in the first century? Did he die on a cross? Was he put in a tomb? Did he resurrect? Was he seen thereafter by hundreds of people? Did he rise bodily into the sky? Did Buhda lie under twin sal trees whereupon the trees burst forth into an abundance of untimely blossoms, which fell upon his body? Did coral tree flowers and divine sandal wood powder fall from the sky, sprinkling his body? Did music and song sound from the sky? These kind of truth claims are physical and material and either did or did not happen. They are NOT subjective to "personal truth." However, was Jesus the incarnate son of the one true god? Was budha's experience an example of what it means to reach the final Nirvana? These truth claims ARE of a different sort. They are interpretations of the data. Reasonable people may differ in how they interpret the same material experience. HOWEVER... that does NOT mean that each person's interpretation is equally true, as long as they believe it enough. Neither does it mean that that particular religion's claims about the meaning of those material events are true.

So, how do we know whether an interpretation of meaning of a particular material event IS the correct meaning or interpretation? Thus begs the question of the difficulty with non-material religious truth claims in general. Can we ever KNOW for sure? One could say that "most reasonable people would say that such and such religious truth claim is true, based on the material events." However, "most reasonable people" can sometimes be wrong. And there will be some individuals who passionately believe it means something else. They KNOW they are right. They know their particular interpretation is "true." And yes, for them it IS "true." But that doesn't mean it is true. Two individuals can have widely different passionate interpretations of the same data.

So, to go back to the original statement by the God Squad... "For Catholics, the Mass is true." By that, I assume they mean that the participants believe that by partaking in the eucharist they are actually eating the flesh and blood of christ and thereby receiving grace to help them live as he wants them to. This is true for them. However, it is a classic example of a non-material truth claim that can neither be proven or dis-proven. It requires an element of "faith" on the part of the believer, which means that they believe it in spite of its unprovability. And even if they are wrong, just for the sake of argument... even if they are in reality NOT eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood, even if grace is actually not being mystically imparted to them... because they believe it they will sometimes experience something that feels like it is happening, which will reinforce their belief, and at some point make it unassailable to critique. Thus explains myriad religious beliefs throughout the world throughout time.

No wonder the God Squad felt compelled to say something as stupid as "For those that think that the only truth is that which applies to all people all the time, a good dose of yoga or Eucharist or matzo (bread) may help them see the truth in a new way through the eyes of revelation."

Friday, March 25, 2011

The devil made me doubt

I was talking about my doubt with the guy who has been my prayer partner for the last few years.

One of the things I was trying to explain to him was the loss of fellowship I was experiencing because of my doubt. I said, "Like, if I was Mormon, and all my friends were Mormon, and then I started questioning Mormon doctrine, my social support network would disintegrate."

He said, "Well, the devil gets us to doubt, and that's why I surround myself with other believers, and Christian activities, to fight off that doubt."

I said, "Does the devil cause Mormons to doubt?"

"No," he said confidently.  "He already got to them."

Sex starved

For 10 years I haven't touched a woman. I have also done my best to abstain from masturbation and pornography. Since I haven't been married during these 10 years, I did my best to abide by what I thought God wanted.

I love sex. I love women. I love women's bodies. I love making love. It's part of my nature. In a way, it's kind of who I am. I know you're thinking most guys are sex crazy. But most guys I know would not be interested in 2-3 hours of sex a day. They want to bang and go. For me, it's the far most "spiritual" experience I have ever had. If I have denied myself these 10 year for what turns out to be a delusion, I'm gonna be pissed!

At the moment I'm about ready to bang anything that moves.

And it does raise interesting questions. Like, if I don't have to abide by the bible's sex rules, does anything  go? Will I simply feed this passion of mine unabated until it consumes me? In some ways I am afraid of myself. Afraid of that freedom. Insecure about my self-control. I had a period of wanton promiscuity about 15 years ago and I'm not sure I want a repeat performance.

But it sure would be nice to have a sensual night with a good woman.

Some would say, aha, you are abandoning your faith so you can get laid. I swear it didn't happen that way. However, if I abandon my version of the faith, it certainly opens up the possibilities.

Speaking of possibilities, one thing I thought about but never did (during that period of wanton promiscuity) was sexual exploration with a guy. I'm not gay. I have no interest in men romantically. I don't want to make love to a man. But damn, I'm curious what a penis feels like. Sue me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Snake Oil

My friend kept bugging me to go this place to get free massages, so I finally went.

The massage was good. They put you on a bed and it sends hot rollers up and down your spine for 40 minutes.

(Stay with me... There will be theological implications!)

For almost the whole time the dude there told me about all the wonderful products they have there to heal just about anything. One that particularly got my interest was the "Foot Detox."

I had seen large signs out front showing pictures of a foot bath that had started out as "clear water" and that had become a disgustingly colored mass of something. The promise was that it would draw the toxins out of your body through some kind of ionic osmosis.

Who wouldn't want to rid their body of toxins?? I was all for it. Plus, I wanted to see this amazing change in the water that would come from all the gunk in my body. I was intrigued. I asked him specifically what toxins it would draw out, and he was like, "You know, all the stuff we breathe and eat."

Part of me thought I should go home and do some research first, but I sprung for the $30 to see for myself what this was all about.

I sat in a chair and put my feet in the clear water. He hooked up some kind of electrode to my wrist. And then he put an "array" in the water. It was some kind of coil, attached to a cord that was plugged back into the detoxification machine.

He told me to sit still, and try not to move my feet. Then he turned it on.

Within seconds I could see the water starting to change color, particularly around the array. He said, "It's orange, which means it's starting by pulling the toxins from your joints."

As I sat there I read the pamphlet they had about it. One side showed about 8 different colors, and what each of those colors meant... each one representing a different part of the body or medical condition being treated.

The color in the water became darker, and shifted from one color to another to another. With each color change I checked the chart... yup, I have immune problems, muscle problems, obesity, etc. I started to believe. How does it know that's the problems I have?? The dude would come over periodically and look at the colored water and exclain, "That's so cool, isn't it?"

By the end of the 40 minutes it was a dark brown/black mess, with lots of particles floating around. He took out the array, took the strap off my arm, took my feet out of the water, one at a time, cleaned them off (from all that gunk), and massaged them with lotion (part of the "service").

He told me to pay attention to how I felt the rest of the day, and I left, hopeful.

Of course, in the skeptical phase I'm in right now, I went home and immediately jumped on the internet to do the research I should have done before shelling out the bucks. I quickly found out that this is a scam... This site explains that the discoloration and gunk is rust that happens quickly when the current reacts with the salt water and iron in the array. If I had taken a sample of the water with me and had it analyzed I would have gotten water, salt, and iron.

Stay with me.

If I had been less skeptical, I might have remained fairly amazed at the experience, begun to tell my friends about it, and begun looking for any improvement to my health. I would have begun budgeting for how many treatments I could get, since they recommend a treatment every other day for the first month. Or, I would have taken the plunge and spent $270 for the machine so I could do it at home. Wouldn't it be smart to save money, be able to use it for years, and let my family get the benefits as well?

The longer I invested in the experience, the more likely I would have been to find some positive health benefits. I would have joined the community of other true believers who had gone to Ceragem and experienced the miracle of foot detox. Our positive anecdotes would have reinforced each other's belief in this wondrous treatment. We would be the "in club," we would "get it." I would be grateful for having found something so amazing, that not even my doctor knew about.

I would have looked askance at anyone or anything suggesting that this had no scientific basis, and was nothing but snake oil and sugar pills. "They don't know, like I know. If they would only try it, they would believe." If I did have doubts from time to time, I would fight those doubts... "I've already invested so much money. I've already told my friends how great it is. I'll be embarrassed." I would look for anecdotal stories to confirm my belief that this works and is worth the investment. I would try to have "faith," and keep a positive mental attitude about it. I WANT to believe. I WANT to get the toxins out of my body. It MUST get rid of at least SOME toxins. I DO feel better. The people at Ceragem are SO nice. And, by golly, look at that colored water!!! You can't deny that.

As disconcerting as it may be to think about, is this not way too much like religious faith and church?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Who Stole my Hebrew Heaven?

I was listening to a podcast about heaven today where the author of a book about heaven said that until 167 BCE there was no concept of a heaven where the dead went to experience conscious eternal life in ANY religion, including the Hebrew religion.

A quote describing Hebrew thought on the afterlife... "...if you were dead, you slept in a cave with your ancestors. If you were good like Abraham you rested comfortably. If you were bad, you might wander restlessly." Transcript of podcast

I'm so embarrassed to say that having been in church most of my life, reading the bible consistently for decades, having gone to bible college and seminary, and even having been a pastor... this struck me as NEW information!

Where have I been?

Wow, it gets me thinking, or rethinking, many of my views on heaven and hell, salvation, and Jesus' teachings on the subjects. Even though the notion of eternal conscious existence after death became quite popular in those 2 centuries before Christ, it was still an unsettled matter... as we see in the conflicts about it between the pharisees and saducees.

If this new doctrine had not developed, it leads one to wonder what Jesus would have taught on these subjects, or whether he would have brought them up at all...

Also, If "heavan and hell" were not such a big deal for the 2,000 years of Hebrew history, why has Christianity made it the ONLY deal?

And what was the motivation for the Israelites to obey the covenant? Was it solely for the this-worldly benefits??

I continue to be surprised by how much my biblical education has primarily served to reinforce previously held beliefs. (Like recently studying annihilationism and finding very strong biblical support for it. I was shocked.)  I'm definitely in a state of "humility" about my so-called bible knowledge. So much to learn, so little time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I want to believe

I loved the X-files when it was on.

One of the interesting dialectics was the difference in approach to mystery between Mulder and Scully. Scully was the perennial scientist/skeptic, always believing that a rational explanation could be found. Mulder, on the other hand, was always open to the supernatural, otherworldly, irrational explanation. (And we all know who was right!!)

Although I admire people like Scully, at heart I'm a Mulder. I WANT to believe in the unseen, the supernatural, the REALLY big picture. Ultimate reality.

That's why when I enter a significant period of doubt, when the foundations of my supernatural worldview are being shaken to the core, it's horrible. I hate it. I despise it. I don't like it. It's unwanted and unwelcome. It's nothing I've asked or wished for. It's alien and foreign to my very being.

Must be the devil.

Who do I thank?

In my current spiritual malaise I'm finding an automatic reflex troubling. Thanking God.

When good stuff happens, or even just when I hit the cool sheets of my bed, my first instinct is to whisper, "Thank you, God."

But what if there is no God? or I don't know who he is?

I WANT to thank somebody. And to have that option removed would be a big loss. What do I do with that impulse? Thank the "universe?" Thank random chance?

Sometimes I am really grateful. But who am I grateful to?

I  don't know if I'm making myself clear. Do you understand what I'm struggling with?

It reminds me of the zealots who emphasize the Christian foundation of the United States. They will speak about the institution of "Thanksgiving Day," and say, "Who do you think they were thanking?" (God, of course.) They have a point.

I'm frustrated with this post because I don't think I have expressed myself well. So, to beat a dead horse... I have strong gratitude impulses. What do I do with them???? What do atheists do with them?? It's hard to imagine a satisfactory answer that doesn't involve god.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Of course the earth's not flat, silly!

The "Dean of Cincinnati" raised a point in this post that I have thought about quite a bit in the last few months.

Evangelical, bible-loving Christians, dismiss evolution out of hand despite any evidence, because "we believe the bible." In other words, the bible trumps "so called" science. And, if they were to accept evolution as true, it would put a major crimp in their ability to trust the bible in other areas.

HOWEVER... a few hundred years ago, a similar phenomenon happened. Science began to discover that the earth was round and not flat. It also discovered that we revolved around the sun, not vice versa. In the day, this caused as much stir and controversy in the church as evolution does today. The scientists who heralded the new truth were figuratively burned at the stake as infidels. This was serious business. A lot was at stake for the church.

So... what's my point? Well, science won. And somehow the church was able to reinterpret all the scripture passages to fit with this new worldview, and life went on.

I speculate about whether the church will be able to do the same thing with evolution. IF it gathers increasing scientific support to the point where it's as undeniable/irrefutable as the Copernican revolution, while the church adjust? Will it successfully reinterpret all the relevant passages in a satisfactory way, and move on? Or will this be a death nail in the coffin of bible-based Christianity? How elastic is evangelicalism? How much of the veracity of the bible can be chipped away at and still retain its aura of inspiration/infallibility/inerrancy?

These are good questions. Important questions.

In my opinion, the Darwinian revolution is more significant than the Copernican one. Why? Well, it's not too difficult to understand that when the biblical authors described the world, heavens, etc., they used metaphors that they could understand. For example, they might say "the four corners of the earth" to mean the whole earth. It's easy to understand what they were getting at. It does not seem to strike at the core of any important doctrine.

However, if there was no literal adam and eve, there was no literal fall, there was no serpent, there was no cain and abel, etc. etc. The whole foundation  of what the rest of the bible addresses starts to disentegrate.

I think that will be a much bigger challenge for the church to adjust to than the Copernican one.

How do you think it will turn out?

a belief in we know not what

I resonated with a thought from this blog.

After talking about how poorly americans do on simple biblical literacy tests, he made the comment that we don't believe the bible... rather, we believe in believing the bible.

Well said.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What would Jesus NOT do?

This video is an interesting take on a pre-incarnation discussion between Jesus and the angels about what sorts of things he would do when he got to earth.

What did you think?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

To Divorce or Not to Divorce. That is the question.

I was reading a post about divorce by Gullible's Travels. It reminded me of what prompted my most recent faith crisis. (Yes, I've had a number in my life!)

I've been a Christian counselor for several years, and have done a lot of marriage counseling. I consider my approach to be very Christian, faith-based. My general tack with marriage has been to do whatever we can to strengthen the relationship and have a good marriage, including strong boundaries and stuff; but if it's still broken or abusive or neglectful, go ahead and divorce. You're not honoring God to stay in a loveless marriage. As I would say, "This marriage is dead. Let's give it a proper burial." Keeping it alive on paper did not seem God-honoring to me.

Then one of my clients challenged me on it. He said, "I'm not sure I can continue with you. Ultimately, we have different views of God's will in this matter."

And so I read the new testament cover to cover in a month. And it couldn't be more clear. ONE exception for divorce; sexual immorality committed by your spouse. THAT'S IT!! It couldn't be more clear by Jesus or Paul. (Some construe porneia to mean lust or pornography or sexual abuse or workaholism or whatever. I'm pretty sure that the people who heard Jesus and Paul understood exactly what they meant. Knocking boots with someone other than your spouse.)

To go even further, if you divorce for ANY other reason, and then get remarried, you're committing adultery. ANDDD... you are causing your spouse to commit adultery if he/she gets remarried... even if he/she had been completely innocent in the original divorce. The only out in those circumstances was if your former spouse died. Then you were released. (Not if they got remarried. Only if they died. Dead. No longer breathing.)

And there was no way I could intellectually chalk this up to being a "cultural" teaching. The reasons given in the bible for this teaching had nothing to do with culture. They had to do with Adam and Eve and Christ and the Church and the overall sanctity of the marriage covenant.

I had to finally admit it. I either had to follow and teach this line of instruction, or ignore it and continue with my "principles," or reinterpret it to be more palatable, or question whether the bible is the inspired/inerrant "word of God."

I couldn't quite come to direct my clients to follow this instruction... it is repulsive to me... especially when there is abuse, neglect, addiction, etc. etc. I still don't see how it honors God for the spouse to stay married in those cases. Unless you're going to say "stay married, but live separate lives?" But again, how does that honor God? And is that a just sentence to impose on an innocent spouse? What if they are "burning with lust?" No wonder the text records Jesus saying, "This is a hard teaching, and not all can accept it."

So, for this reason and a couple other similar New Testament teachings (which I'll address in a future post), I am tapering off my clients, as I really don't know what to tell them anymore, while I reevaluate my faith; to wit, is the bible really the inspired/inerrant word of God; and, if it is, what does it say, and how does one correctly apply it to life today.

I should have that all figured out in a week or so.

Oh, there's this woman that I grew up with. Her husband left her for another woman several years ago. She has hung in there, praying for a turnaround, etc. But New York finally got no-fault divorce, and he is currently divorcing her. (He tried before and she wouldn't let him!) I have been waiting (hoping) for this divorce to happen, cuz I like her! But then I got thinking... He's divorcing her and she was never sexually immoral. He's divorcing for the WRONG REASON! So... she can't get remarried or she'll be committing adultery! And if I marry her I'll be committing adultery as well. Might be enough to abandon my faith for I guess....

Funny thing... 50-100 years ago this was not a difficult teaching to believe/accept by the church. It was par for the course. Divorce was unthinkable, even if there was sexual immorality! And remarriage was clearly only practiced by degenerate Hollywood movie stars. Amazing how dramatically the attitude in the church has changed about such a pivotal topic in such a short time. That in itself should lead one to question whether any and all of our current beliefs/practices aren't 98.3% culturally biased.

Lastly, in my personal situation, after 15 years of a miserable marriage, during which I had lapsed into agnosticism I suggested to my wife that we try an open marriage. We would still try to work on our relationship, but we would also be free to date others, as long as we were up front about it. We did that for about 6 months. (What an interesting experience.) Ultimately, she found someone that she had the feelings for that she never did with me, and is married to him today. Our divorce was mutual and amiable. Several years later I "came back to the Lord," and for the sake of argument, lets say I still am with Him. So, according to scripture, am I free to remarry?? Try to figure out that boondoggle. I remember Jay Adams had a book out about divorce and remarriage that outlined with engineering precision when and if divorce or remarriage were permissible or not. I'll have to look that up and see if it addresses my situation.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Giving God props

One of my kids recently had a common illness that progressed to the point where he had to be admitted to the hospital. He didn't get better, so he had to have major surgery. When they opened him up it was worse than they thought, so the surgery was even more major. I posted updates on facebook and, of course, many people said they were praying.

When I finally posted that he was coming home from the hospital there were hallelujahs. Good still heals! God still answers prayer!

Even though I'm in this questioning mode right now, I pretty much believe there is a God, and I pretty much believe that he hears our prayers, and I pretty much believe that he can and does answer. I'm just not sure I would hold this up as an example.

"If you pray, God will allow you to get sick. Then he'll allow it to get worse. Then he'll allow you to have surgery. Then he'll allow you to have even more serious surgery. Then he'll allow you to go home after a few days to recover for 6 weeks."

If that is supposed to be an example of God's miraculous healing ability, it's a good thing he had help! I'm sure those that said these things were trying to bolster my (or their, or others') faith, but I think that kind of cheer leading backfires.

It seems that we're all too quick to give God props for the most mundane of things. Calling the natural order of things supernatural. Albeit, you can call natural processes supernatural, in that they were created by God, and upheld by him. But that's not what these folks are referring to. They are claiming divine, special intervention, because of their prayer.

When unbelievers or skeptics hear this kind of cheer leading, they just roll their eyes. They do not take it as proof that there is a God, or that he intervenes in the life of man. They take it as self-deluded fanatics who are so unsure of their faith that they have to prop it up artificially.

So, is giving God props a prop? Does he need us to tell him and everyone else what a great job he did, when he didn't do anything? Do we need to prop up his reputation artificially? Honestly, I see that as almost as bad as blaspheming the holy spirit (calling the work of the holy spirit the work of the devil). I think we're supposed to call a spade a spade.

When I look at healing anywhere in the bible, old or new testament, it doesn't look anything like what my son went through. It was immediate. It was without medical intervention. My son's situation was far from immediate, and required lots of medical intervention. By any rational criteria he is very fortunate to have had the advanced medical science we have available today. And lucky he had good health insurance.

Now, one could posit that it was God who helped human beings discover medical science, and God who helped his parents make the money to afford the quality insurance that covered the procedures. But I truly see these possibilities, even if true, as very different from what we normally consider to be a miracle, answer to prayer, or healing. They just are. I applaud the Catholic Church in their efforts to authenticate a miracle (or a demon, for that matter). They do their best to rule out naturalistic explanations.

What's the harm in ascribing God's miraculous intervention to seemingly natural events?
  • It makes an idol out of our "conception of God" vs God himself.
  • It makes skeptics and unbelievers even more convinced that religion is the opiate of the masses.
  • It keeps us from confronting our real feelings about God... anger, sadness, disappointment, confusion.
  • It may inoculate us from the real thing. If everything is a miracle, eventually nothing is. It would be better to wait, and fully celebrate the real miracles, should they happen.
  • It keeps us stuck in an infantile view of God, wherein he really needs a lot of our PR.
  • It keeps us stuck in infantile faith, wherein we can only have a relationship with God if he is demonstrably proving his existence and care at every moment of every day.
  • This may be a summary of several of the above points, but it keeps us from a true and real relationship with a real person (God). If we are constantly reinterpreting situations to fit our conception of the way we think God is (or should be) acting, it is difficult to see clearly what he actually is or is not doing. And how do you have a relationship with someone if you don't have a good handle on what he is or isn't doing?
It must be frustrating for God. He must be like, "You think THAT was me?? geez... What were you thinking? Wait till I show you some real stuff!"

Tainted Perfection

When I consider the big picture of the universe and science I see...
  • majesty and awe-inspiring beauty and coherence and intricacy from the macro to the micro
  • ample scientific and intuitive evidence (for me) of an extra-universe creator/designer
  • Lots of particulars evidencing imperfections and natural processes
When I consider the big picture of human beings I see...
  • a majestic and remarkable phenomenon, biologically, socially, intellectually, etc. "God-like" to some extent. A stamp of the "divine."
  • a remarkable likeness to the animal kingdom. A stamp of the "natural."
  • pervasive dysfunction. Something has gone wrong.
When I consider the big picture of the 66 books known as the bible I see...
  • grandeur, majesty, truth, revelation, a coherent story. "Inspired," if you will.
  • particulars evidencing contradictions, inaccuracies, cultural influences, human fingerprints
As an evangelical, I was allowed to believe that human beings were tainted perfection; I was allowed to believe in a universe that revealed God, but was marred; but when it came to the bible I was to see it as perfect and without taint, and to see it otherwise would obviate its ability to reveal meaningful truth about God.

Is it not possible to believe that the universe can reveal to us a lot about God without needing to be a perfect revelation? Is it not possible to believe that the bible can teach us a lot about God without needing to be a perfect revelation?

Oh, but once you give up the 100% verbal inspiration of the bible, and its necessary follow-on of inerrancy... you open the flood gates to liberalism, you start down the slippery slope toward atheism.

That may be true. But do we hang on to a belief that is not true in order to protect ourselves from falsehood?

This is a revolution going on in my own life right now. I have either believed unquestionably in the bible, or I have jettisoned it completely. I seem to be pulled in the third way lately... the bible "contains" truth.

This is at once liberating, exciting, challenging, and scary. It's a lot easier to just say it's all true, and then ignore or try to resolve the "apparent contradictions" and "apparent scientific inaccuracies." But in some ways I feel like I'm liberating God from the box he's been shoved into. I'm free to explore and discover who he really is!

This is where evangelicals will say it all goes wrong... because once you lose the bible as inerrant truth, you end up believing anything, or nothing.

That's a valid point. When people abandon the inerrancy of the scripture, they do tend to come up with some pretty whacky stuff! On the other hand, people who believe in the inerrancy of scripture have come up with lots of whacky stuff too.

The metaphor of forensics just came to me. For the most part, people described in the bible lived out their relationship to God existentially. The scriptures are the forensic evidence left over. An attempt to record God's dealing with man. Forensic evidence is often tainted. And it can be easily misinterpreted. But you can generally use it to help point you to truth. The truth is there. It is "perfect." The evidence you bring may not be perfect, even when it substantiates the truth. Some evidence is found to be unreliable, and needs to be chucked. Some evidence is incontrovertible. Is it possible that the bible is a huge collection of forensic evidence? Some incontrovertible, some imperfect but helpful, and some just not true? How does one determine?

The creation of the "canon," of course, was a human attempt to do just that... separate the reliable evidence from the unreliable. There's nothing wrong with that process, right? And to my knowledge, God never told us, "These are the 66 books that are to be believed; reject the rest." It was a human process. Some books made it, others didn't, and some were on the fringe. Each group tries to identify that which is reliable from that which isn't. And so, if you ask Jews, Catholics, protestants, Muslims, Mormons, Christian Scientists, etc., which books belong within the circle, they would all give you different lists. Heck, even Luther wanted to exclude the book of James! My point is that it is an inherently human process (although each group claims, of course, that it was a process superintended by God). Once the process is completed, you can admit that books outside the circle contain truth, or substantiate what the books inside the circle claim; however, you can't admit that the books inside the circle contain any error. This leads to a transition of belief about these books... Accepting what they say becomes a "matter of faith," no longer subject to intellectual scrutiny. What's up with that?? By accepting them on faith, what you are in effect doing is trusting a previous generation's intellectual scrutiny. And they may have never originally intended to mean that by including them within the circle they were affirming that everything within them was 100% true... but it is almost inevitably what happens with subsequent generations.

Sorting out the wheat from the chaff... It would be safe to say that the literary, textual, philosophical, and scientific criticism of the bible over the last few centuries has been an attempt to do just that. When you take off the inspired/inerrant goggles and examine the bible fairly, like you would any other book... it's pretty messy. Tainted perfection.

"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4)

Paul was certainly not referring to the scriptures in this passage, but I like the picture. The picture of us, being jars of clay, imperfect, human, cracked... but through whom the light of God shows through. Can we not view the scriptures that way? Like jars of clay? But through whom the glory of God shines through??

The question that remains, however, is not "Is all the evidence that has been brought to the table 100% reliable and inerrant?", but rather, "When you give proper weight and credit to each piece of evidence submitted, what truth does it point to?" To me, this is a much more fruitful question and process.

Let's stop deifying the bible!!

But in my tradition, to give up inerrancy is to give up God. So it's a scary proposition for me. I want to believe. (I identify with Mulder.) But I no longer want to idoloize the bible. It is grand, majestic, without equal. But it is tainted. As are we. Can't we just admit that?? I think the focus on inerrancy has caused way more heat than light; it clouds the issues. Maybe inerrancy was a doctrine cooked up by the devil to distract us??

I love truth. And since I was little, I've wanted nothing more than to know God, and the truth about God. (Whoops, I just slipped and typed dog by mistake. I'm not inerrant.) And, as I mentioned before, on this pursuit of truth, the truth about God, I have either accepted the bible carte blanche, or I have likewise set it aside carte blanche. And this time it's the middle way. I CAN'T set it aside. There's something real there. But neither can I accept it unquestioningly anymore. It's friggin' messy.

The biggest intellectual challenge I have with setting aside inerrancy is the bible's statements about itself. For example, when someone says, "I believe that Jesus was a great moral teacher," and you respond, "Yes, but he CLAIMED to be God. Was he wrong about that??", it is somewhat similar to me saying that the Scriptures contain very important truth about God, and someone responding, "But it CLAIMS to be Truth/the Word of God. Is it wrong about that??" It's a complicated problem, to be sure. You might say that once you dismiss inerrancy then what the bibles claims about itself becomes irrelevant; it's just circular reasoning. You might also say that in validating itself as the Word of God, it isn't necessarily making the case for inerrancy. However, you have to explain the following:
  • The gospels (including Jesus) and epistles refer to many events in the OT as literal, factual events... creation, adam, the flood, cain and abel, abraham/isaac/jacob, the exodus, sinai, david, etc. etc.
  • The NT says that Paul wrote that all scripture (referring to the old testament) is inspired by God and useful for, etc.
  • The NT says that Peter mentioned Paul's letters alongside of "other scriptures."
  • The gospels record Jesus rebuffing satan using scriptural quotations.
  • The gospels record Jesus saying "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:18)
  • The gospels record that Jesus often taught from the law, prophets, and writings... before and after his crucifixion/resurrection. It never mentions him saying, "Don't believe this part."
  • The Old Testament is replete with praise for the law, word of God, etc. (See Psalm 119). This would seem to be speaking primarily of the Pentateuch, or more specifically the covenant at Sinai. (This DOES seem to be an example of "idolizing the bible," in a sense.)
These are not easy data to explain. It does cause me to lose sleep. However, when forced to choose between the challenges of inerrancy and the challenges just mentioned, I choose the latter. The claim to inerrancy is such a grand claim that it demands equally grand proof; and I just don't think it's there. In fact, it only takes ONE disproof to take down the whole edifice. ONE.

I think it's possible to have a "high" view of scripture, without subscribing to inerrancy. And I suppose that is what I have been advocating for in this post... a high view of scripture. It is wonderful, life-giving, revealing, imperfect. It is like us. It is like the creation. The image of the divine all over it, with many natural/human fingerprints.

As an aside, those who take a low view of scripture will often say that Jesus was the only true, real, accurate expression of the divine "word." They then for certain need to have a low view of what the Scripture teaches about Jesus, for it paints him as one who had a high view of scripture!

So, I am being challenged to pursue God, the God of the bible, without the presupposition of inerrancy. It's tough. I would liken it to a devout Catholic who finally admits that the pope is not infallible. Can he continue to believe in the God taught about by the Catholic Church when he doesn't believe what the church teaches about itself? It's a dilemma. However, I believe he can come to the place where he says, "The church contains truth about God, but it is not 100% infallible in all things at all times." Likewise, I, must walk a more mature path.

The other thing I think I'm being called to is parallel tracks. In the past, when I have seriously studied theology, I have set aside my "personal" walk with God. I have always found it difficult to have a one-on-one "walk with God," when I am in the midst of authentically scrutinizing my beliefs. I mean, how do you talk to God, when you are questioning whether he is even there, or what he's about?? However, how can you claim to be pursuing the truth about God, when you have effectively banished him from your life? So, this time, I am seeking the both/and way... academically and intellectually pursuing truth about God, and devotionally seeking connection with God. It's a challenge!

In case you have not been steeped in inerrancy teaching, here is a summary of the doctrine, taken from the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy." (

A Short Statement
[on biblical inerrancy]

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms: obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

PS - Every time I write "inerrancy," blogger gives it a squiggly red underline, not recognizing the word. Damn liberals!

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