sent in by Optimist
This summarises the process and reasons through which I lost faith in Christianity. You will probably not find anything new or original in it, but if it helps someone who thinks along the same lines that I do then it will be worth it. I apologize in advance for its length - I have never been able to write concisely.
My initial doubts were caused by the same factors that lead anyone else to have doubts in their faith. These were things like
· The existence of other religions
· The existence of, and conflict between, so many “Christian” denominations
· Why God allows such terrible suffering
· The incongruity between the concept of God’s “unconditional” love for his people, and his damning them to eternal suffering in Hell if they do not love him in return.
· The whole Creation versus Evolution debate
· The errors, inconsistencies and lack of clarity in the Bible which is supposed to be the Word of God.
· The lack of improvement in character and way of life of converted Christians. In fact after conversion they seem to become less forgiving, tolerant, happy and all the other supposed benefits of conversion.
· The obvious fraud and insincerity of the televangelists.
· Why we no longer see the dramatic miracles that occurred in biblical times.
As a Christian the obvious process to follow in attempting to sort out these doubts is to turn to the Bible as the Word of God. This is the process followed by the writers of Christian apologetics, but it has so many rationalizations and questionable interpretations of the Bible that I found it to be of no help. In fact this led me to have serious doubts in the validity of the Bible. When you investigate the accuracy of the Bible you find that there are people who seem to have made it their life’s work to dig out every possible error in the Bible.
I personally do not regard the minor errors in the Bible as sufficient reason to disbelieve it, and I do not believe there is much point in generating whole catalogues of the mistakes. However, there were plenty of serious errors or inconsistencies that I regarded as sufficient proof that the Bible is not the true Word of God. It is simply a collection of history, myths and advice for “pure living” compiled by humans.
The Bible errors that I regard as important are things like the fact that Jesus was supposed to be of the line of David, and born of a virgin. But the genealogy given in Matt 1:1-18 and Luke 3:23-38 are totally different from each other and in any case include Joseph who had nothing to do with Jesus’ birth and therefore Jesus was not of the line of David.
Another major error is that Matt 2:12-14 claims that Joseph took the new-born Jesus to live in Egypt until Herod had died, but Luke 2:21-39 claims that Jesus was taken openly to Jerusalem for circumcision and then to live in Nazareth. Obviously (at least) one of these accounts is wrong.
Similarly the date of Jesus birth traced via the claimed rulers of the time puts an 11 year difference between the calculated dates. If his birth was really heralded by shining stars and massed choirs of angels then the date would have been well known. This means that the gospels were not written by eye-witnesses. I regard this sort of error as sufficient to conclude that the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God.
Perhaps if the Bible is not the Word of God, it still contains a message to us from God. There are so many aspects to the Bible that it is hard to know where to start. After a lot of thinking on this subject I decided that the only way was to examine the core message of Christianity. In my opinion, the whole essence of Christianity is that through the Fall of Adam and Eve humanity lost its right to eternal life with God, and the only way this could be recovered was by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. I believe that if this concept is rejected, then the whole of the Christian message has to be rejected.
On careful consideration, this message made no sense to me. Firstly it is extremely doubtful whether there was ever an Adam and an Eve. If they did not exist where and when did the Fall occur? But even if we assume that they did exist, why would a loving God want to punish their offspring? What was the purpose of the Flood? According to the Bible, it was supposed to eliminate the unrighteous. The Jews before the time of Christ did not see the coming of the Messiah as the solution to the Fall. Current day Jews still do not look forward to the Messiah as a redemption of their sins. They look to the Messiah to re-establish the kingdom of Israel. So from a Jewish viewpoint the Flood could be regarded as the elimination of the unrighteous, but from the Christian viewpoint it seems to be just another cruel act by God to inflict further punishment on people who were already damned to eternity in Hell.
But let’s assume that all this is OK, and look at the actual crucifixion. Who was Jesus sacrificed to? If it was a sacrifice to God the Father it makes no sense. If it was God’s law that was broken, he had the authority and right to forgive the “guilty” without imposing any punishment. If a sacrifice was necessary, it implies that some higher authority than God the Father exists who had actually made the “rules”.
It is useful to consider the crucifixion using the analogy used in the Alpha course. In Alpha the story is used of the magistrate who has to hear a case against a poverty stricken friend of his. He (in his role as the magistrate) finds the friend guilty, and then (in his role as a friend) steps down from the bench to pay the fine on his friend’s behalf. This is supposed to explain God finding us guilty of sinning, and then sending Christ to die as redemption for our sins. Obviously in this story the magistrate is imposing not his own law, but the law of the country which he has no right to change. So he has no option of forgiving his friend and the analogy really has no relevance to the crucifixion of Jesus (unless there is a higher authority than God the Father).
A much more relevant analogy would be to consider a loan shark who has a rule of breaking the knees of defaulters. Now imagine that he wants to forgive a defaulter, but concludes that he cannot do that unless somebody’s knees are broken. So he decides to do the knee job on his own son. This would prove him to simply be cruel and vengeful.
I cannot accept that God could not forgive us without killing his Son first. In fact I cannot accept that he needed to forgive us in the first place because I cannot accept the notion of the Fall imposing original sin on everyone for all time. And without original sin there is nothing that I (and most others) have done that warrants being sent to Hell for an eternity of suffering. And there is nothing that I have done that should require me or anyone else to be crucified.
The whole link from the Fall through to the Crucifixion was just the rationalizing by Jesus’ followers at the time to explain his tragic death. They saw him as their Messiah, but when he disappointed them by dying before re-establishing the Kingdom of Israel they had to find a way of explaining it all. The exact same thing happened in 1676 when Sabbetai Zevi was acknowledged as the Messiah by a very wide audience of Jews. When he disappointed them by converting to Islam their only way out was either to reject him as Messiah, or to explain it away by claiming that it was necessary to experience the “ultimate evil” before they could be free and therefore they also had to convert to Islam. The majority of his followers then rejected him, but many did convert to Islam waiting for his “next move”, which of course never came. When Jesus died his followers rationalized it away by arguing that it was necessary for him to die for their salvation, and we are still waiting for the “second coming” which was promised to occur within the lifetimes of his followers. Sacrifice of the first born son was just a popular belief at the time (e.g. the worshippers of Baal), which thankfully has gone away (BTW, I am a first son).
Once we have seen that the Bible is just a collection of man-made stories, and that the central Christian message of the Fall to Crucifixion link is just an “after-the-event” rationalization, the whole of Christianity can be easily seen as a delusion. It was initially quite painful for me to have this belief destroyed. I suppose it is something like a child discovering that Father Christmas is only a myth, but worse because I realized that I had believed in it as a supposedly intelligent and rational adult.
In fact, understanding and accepting that the Bible is just a collection of myths is the only way to make sense of it. How else do we accept plainly ridiculous stories like the creation of Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark (that delivered kangaroos to Australia, bison to America and polar bears to Greenland), the Tower of Babel, Jonah and the whale, the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the walls of Jericho? And when you accept god as mythological, you can understand the stories of why he created Hell for the people he loved, how he could negotiate with Satan the wanton slaughter of Job’s children, servants and livestock simply to test Job’s faith, how he answered Elisha’s prayer by sending bears to tear apart 42 children who teased him for being bald (II Kings 2:24), why he would instruct the Israelites to slaughter all the Midianites except the virgin girls who were allowed to be kept as plunder (Numbers 31). Even the hard-to-understand sections of the new testament make sense when they are seen simply as stories or legends. Why would Jesus curse a fig tree and cause it to whither away because it was not bearing fruit out of season, why would the man who taught that we should love our enemies as ourselves say that unless we hate our fathers and wives we cannot be his disciples (Luke 14:26), why would the “Prince of Peace” say “I came not to send peace, but a sword”, why would a god who taught that we should “turn the other cheek” lose his temper and become violent against the vendors in the temple, how did Jesus’ disciples know of his 40 day temptation when nobody was with him – did he boast of it? The bible is not the word of god.
The inbred indoctrination of the fear of hell also troubled me initially, but fortunately it quickly evaporated. This was aided by the realization that Christians reject hundreds of supposed gods, and adding one more to the list isn’t really that hard. Also it wasn’t so bad being “dead” before I was born, so death shouldn’t be too bad when it comes.
Another reason not to get too hung up on the concepts of heaven and hell is to realize that at the time of Creation, Adam and Eve were created “perfect”, and it was their disobedience that led to them being expelled from the Garden of Eden and to be subject to death and doomed to hell. If the very first humans on earth broke the law, there is a very real probability that of all the millions of people who could potentially have gone to heaven, someone has broken the law “up there” and now we are all doomed again while waiting for God to forgive us and sacrifice Jesus (or another son?) to save us once more. This sounds crazy, but it’s no different from the crazy story of Adam and Eve’s temptation and disobedience.
On re-reading what I have written above, I realise that it tries to explain everything through the use of logic. Many people would say that you cannot understand God through logic, only by experience and the much vaunted “personal relationship with Jesus”. But this “experience” of God is the most powerful argument against Christianity. Adherents of every religion will claim a personal experience of God, whether they are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Agers, Shembes or anything else. I believe this “experience” of God only shows that some people are more disposed towards religious feelings than others. Some people are left-handed, some have blue eyes, some are tall and some are religious. It’s just the way they are. When people like Nicky Gumble and CS Lewis try to prove Christianity by logic all they are doing is trying to rationalize their inner feelings, and they have made their conclusions long before applying their “logic”.
I suppose someone might ask me what “label” I would give myself now. To call myself agnostic sounds wishy-washy – it seems like trying to avoid the question of whether there is a God or not. But I do not believe it is possible to prove either that there is, or is not, a God so in this respect I would call myself agnostic. To call myself an atheist involves a whole lot of emotionalism because Christians regard atheists as “bad” people who hate their God. But in the sense that an atheist is an a-theist or non-theist who does not regard God as an integral part of their life, I am an atheist.
The term I like best is “humanist”. I have huge faith in the good of humans. It is true that some humans are bad, and there have been times that humans have let me down and disappointed me. But there are many humans who have performed heroic deeds for their fellow humans, and in my own experience I have been let down and disappointed by humans far less frequently than I have been disappointed by God. How many people have called out to God in times of dire need and been ignored? How many have called out to God and been saved? The ratio leans heavily against God. Yes, I would call myself a humanist.
After having lived quite a few months in the “post-Christian” era I can only say that I feel so much freer and happier than ever before. It is great to drop the concept of humans as “unworthy to gather up the crumbs under Your table”. It is sad to see Christians believing that not only are they too weak to do any good without the intervention of God, they are so useless that they cannot even do bad without the Devil or one of his minions possessing them. It is so much better to humbly acknowledge the good we do, and to accept responsibility for the bad we do, while attempting to put it right.
I was born into Christianity.
I left it at age 45.
I was an Anglican (Episcopalian).
Now I am a Humanist.
I finally left because when I eventually got around to thinking about it, it made no sense.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)