Frustrated

My wife and I had a meeting with one of our family members a couple of nights ago to talk about all these religious issues. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. This entire process has been so frustrating. We seem to be miles apart in how we view things, even though we had the same core beliefs just a couple of years ago.

Though in some ways, I don’t guess that’s a fair statement. When I look back, I can see that my approach to religion was different from many of those around me, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Growing up in the Church of Christ, I firmly believed that there was such a thing as objective truth. I believed that God wanted everyone to follow his word, which I believed was the Bible, and that those who didn’t would go to Hell. I also believed that God showed no favoritism (Acts 10:34). Since he had allowed so many people to be born into cultures that didn’t follow the Bible (or followed it incorrectly), then it only made sense that he would make the Bible so perfect that an objective observer would be able to tell that it was truth. Furthermore, I understood that since the majority of the world’s population was lost (according to my beliefs), it was also possible that I was lost. After all, I knew many people who believed they were doing the right thing, even though my beliefs said they weren’t. If they could be wrong despite their sincerity, then so could I. The only way to guard against that was to study the Bible carefully and make sure I was following it to the best of my ability.

I assumed that’s how almost everyone in the Church of Christ viewed things: that truth should be pretty evident and that it was possible for us to be wrong, even though we didn’t think we were. But now that I look back, I don’t think many others shared that view. For me, those core precepts are still the same. I still think that if God exists and actually wanted something of us, then he would make his message to us plain and evident. Because of that conviction, I now realize that the Bible can’t be that message. It just has too many problems.

Where I really get frustrated with my friends and family is in trying to explain those precepts to them. Those concepts (truth exists, it can be found by objective individuals, it’s possible to think you’re right but be wrong, etc) are so basic to me that I have trouble putting them into words. When I talk to my family about some of the contradictions in the Bible, I’m told that they’re minor issues, or just details. Or I’m told that even though we may not understand them or have all the information, we can’t just assume they’re real contradictions. Maybe there’s an explanation that we just haven’t considered. But when I point out that we don’t treat other religious texts that way, or that people from other faiths wouldn’t be inclined to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt that way, I’m told that they can’t worry about people of other faiths. But they’re missing the point! It’s not about how they feel about those people; the real issue is that God would make his message clear if he really wants people from other cultures and faiths to leave their beliefs and come to Christianity.

If God weren’t omnipotent, then we couldn’t expect him to write a perfect message. If he weren’t omniscient, then he wouldn’t have known that the way he wrote certain things would be confusing to later generations. If Heaven or Hell didn’t hang in the balance, then the Bible wouldn’t have to be perfectly clear because it wouldn’t matter a great deal if you missed it. If God didn’t really care what happened to everyone, then we could understand why he wouldn’t worry too much about having inconsistencies or failed prophecies in his word. But the Bible tells us that he is omnipotent, he is omniscient, Heaven and Hell do hang in the balance, and he does love all of us. That means that his message to us would truly be inerrant. We wouldn’t have to go to great lengths to try to explain why things that look like contradictions aren’t really contradictions (check out the links on the home page if you want specific examples). We wouldn’t have to come to God’s defense.

I understand why my family doesn’t want to believe the Bible is false. They’ve built their lives around a set of beliefs, and that gives them comfort. They have an understanding of the world, and to have that uprooted is frightening and unsettling. But those reasons don’t make their beliefs true. A thousand years ago, people who believed in Thor gained comfort from their understanding of the world. Did that mean Thor existed? And our families don’t get the comfort from their religion that they used to. They now think that my wife and I are headed for Hell and that we’re probably taking our kids with us. So why continue to hang on to such a belief so tightly when evidence that it’s false has been presented to them? I really don’t know. I think it’s still too difficult for them to imagine that the Bible could be wrong. The Bible has provided them with an explanation for why they value morality. It tells them that death really isn’t the end for us. It tells them that even though bad things sometimes happen, someone who loves them actually has the “whole world in his hands.” It’s hard to give that up.

But there’s a dark side to those beliefs too. There’s the notion that everyone who believes something different is bound for an eternity of torture. And there’s the teaching that any Christians who stop believing must be shunned. Living with those principles is very difficult. It’s also pointless if their beliefs are wrong. So even though questioning the truth of Christianity is painful and frightening, there are good incentives to do it.

Look, I hate it when people assign motives to me. Over the last year and a half, I’ve been accused of all kinds of things: never really believing to begin with, not knowing how to study properly, wanting to live immorally, turning away because of my dislike for Hell, etc. When in reality, I left Christianity primarily because of internal contradictions and false prophecies (and I have frequently given specifics on those things). So I want to be careful about assigning motivations to my family on why they continue to believe. But it’s really been difficult for me to understand it.

I’ve told my wife several times that it’s hard for me to understand how some of our friends and family can still sit through worship services after the conversations we’ve had. Now that they’re aware of the issues in the Bible, I just don’t see how they can keep going. Do they really feel satisfied with some of the weak responses people have offered about the Bible’s problems? Or do they just try not to think about it? I honestly find it very puzzling. I also think it’s hypocritical in that they don’t want to study these things deeply, yet they criticize other religious people for not seeing the problems in their beliefs. I don’t get it.

Well, I’ve probably ranted enough. I just wish we could make some headway on this with our families. We miss the relationships we once had. Our goal really isn’t to make them stop being Christians, we just want some tolerance. They aren’t willing to accept us unless we sign on to their belief system, and that is what I hope will change.

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Frustrated

  1. I was very intrigued by your post, having come across it randomely under Religion tags. You seem to hold some serious convictions about the lack of coherence in the Bible, and the problems you see with inerrancy. I wonder if this is the main reason for your rejection of the Church and faith in God. If so, I can totally understand that, because I went through a similar experience several years ago (while attending seminary, ironically enough). The only difference between your reaction and mine is that after all my wrestling with truth, I found myself still on the side of faith – still claiming to be a Christian.

    You mention conversations you have had with friends and family about the problems you see with certain parts of the biblical text. Are any of these people pastors or ministers or professors? I ask this not because such people are the only ones who might proffer a well-researched answer, but because it seems you may be pondering the scriptures (and to a greater extent, the reality of God himself) on a much deeper level than your friends or family members are willing (or brave enough) to go. Sadly, the intellectual side of Christianity has suffered a bit over the past century, very often replaced by emotionalism in worship. I’m not saying your friends or relatives aren’t intelligent, but perhaps logical argument has taken a backseat in their own lives. However, there are Christians who are interested in loving God with all our “minds” as much as we do with our hearts and souls. However, it takes a willingness to look past traditionalized assumptions.

    I do not mean to be presumptuous or condescending in any way, because I respect the journey you are on. However, if I may be so bold, let me encourage you to keep asking your questions, only to folks who are actually willing to enter into the dialogue – who do not act as if their faith is called into question if they genuinely mull over the hard questions with you. Thankfully, there were people who were willing to do this with me.

    In the meantime, may you experience peace. You’re seeking to live a life that is REAL, just as I am, and that alone is worth applauding.

    Like

  2. Hi Bo,

    What a kind and gracious comment! Yes, the reasons I fell away are primarily due to the inconsistencies that I think are present in the Bible. I’ve written several different posts about them, and you can find them linked in my About section, if you’re interested.

    I never went to seminary, though I’ve always been a good Bible student. But after the studies I’ve gone through over the last two years, I’ve often wondered how seminary students feel when they’re introduced to these things. So I find your story fascinating. It looks like you’ve written more about it at your blog, so I’ll definitely check that out.

    Some of the people I’ve talked to are preachers, elders, and professors (the Church of Christ doesn’t really have pastors in the way that most denominations do). I’ve also read quite a bit about the issues from both a Christian and a skeptical view point. I really admire people who think deeply about spiritual things… because if there is a god out there, and if he does require something of us, then understanding what that is would be the most important thing we could do.

    I do still enjoy discussing these things, and I’m open to discussing them with anyone who is willing. I agree that most of the family members I’ve spoken to aren’t open to considering other points of view. However, I feel like I have to try to talk to them about these things as much as I can because they’ve currently withdrawn themselves from me and my wife. I’ll actually be posting about that experience this week.

    I’ve always tried to be open-minded, and I still try to be. If Christianity is true, then I think I’ll find it believable again at some point, because my goal has always been to find truth.

    Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll comment again!

    Like

  3. I enjoyed reading this post. You’ve got me thinking about a few things lately:

    1 – The fact that my reasoning hasn’t really changed from when I was a Christian to now as an atheist – it’s just that I realized the sources I was trusting for information/truth weren’t trustworthy so I had to look elsewhere.

    2 – People will rationalize away any issues with their worldview because it’s too scary to do otherwise. There’s that saying that you can’t reason people out of what they weren’t reasoned into in the first place. You and I prove that wrong – but we’re probably in the minority.

    Like

  4. Yeah, I’ve come to see that too. I naively thought at the beginning of this that the rest of my family would recognize the problems too. Instead, they’ve just kind of moved the goal post. When they can’t answer some contradictions, they say that those are little, insignificant things. Though I don’t remember them ever thinking parts of the Bible were insignificant before. Or they’ll say that copy errors are bound to have crept into the Bible over time, but I don’t remember them EVER thinking this way before. In fact, we used to say if God can create the Universe in 6 days, then I think he can get a message to us without people messing it up.

    Like

  5. Nate,

    People continue on in religion because there are ALWAYS excuses to do so: ancient laws and culture, as well as differing translations and opinions of the Bible. I would know, I explained those doubts away with such arguments for at least two decades (all through my adult years). I tried my best to “press through” with more prayer, fasting and studying Bibles, dictionaries and concordances. My last half a year as a Christian was pretty intense, my husband, who was a Christian at the time as well, called me a prude. I kept my nose in the carpet to meditate on the Lord, I renewed my interest in Church and Bible studies and I prayed for God to bless my hateful neighbors and to help me love them. I don’t know how many times I went through periods of my life like this, they were much more consistent than not. Instead of answers I came in to more questions and my doubt grew by leaps and bounds my last couple of years of “salvation”. I remember getting this huge Jewish Bible from a Messianic televangelist who continually spoke of the supernatural. Like all my past Bibles, I marked it up right away. One of the last things I did as a Christian was take that Bible and studied (yet again) all the scriptures about love and compassion. I actually drew a heart around those two words every time I saw them in the Bible. This time was different than my studies on love in the past, I couldn’t help but notice all the murder, rape and threats surrounding those scriptures about love. It was ugly and all I could see was the two face quality the Abrahamic God possessed. For the first time, those scriptures that always bugged me didn’t seem to be so few in number anymore, they were everywhere! As a human, I was offended. As a woman, I was repulsed to see what the Almighty thought of me.

    Love was my last grip on the idea of God, when all I found was air I had nothing to hold onto. Maybe your religious friends hold on seeking for love, a father or even a spiritual husband. Then again, maybe it’s nothing more than tradition. Some people are creatures of habit no matter what they see, hear or have gone through. The fantasy makes them feel good, it helps them to explain away the actuality of the reality surrounding them.

    Like

  6. laurie

    Nate,
    I hit some water pipe with the excavator yesterday, and won’t be able to get to a computer now till next week. But when I do, I would like to try and answer some of your more real concerns, while I am posting some links to things previously discussed. I know you wrote about these in several other posts, and I will read them eventually, but I can’t right now. I remember you saying: the rabbit doesn’t chew the cud, and you believe Tyre was a false prophecy, and hell,was their something else substantial? Hope all is well!

    Like

  7. Hi Laurie!

    If you’ll check out my about section, you’ll see links to two series of posts I did on what I think are the biggest problems with the Bible: Prophecies and Contradictions. I also have a couple of articles that deal with Hell. Those would be the best places to start if you’d like to dig into specifics.

    Thanks!

    Like

  8. @CHope — thanks so much for sharing your story. Struggling with doubts is so tough, and the fear of getting it wrong only further complicates it. I don’t know about you, but when I look back on my time as a believer now, I wonder how I stayed with it for so long.

    Like

  9. @Nate, my husband and I often ask ourselves “Why didn’t we just leave years ago?” It’s not as though we had good experiences with ministries, and Churches either, most of what we went through with Christians was pretty horrible. This is the issue I have with Christianity, many Christians will tell you that you are having issues with everyone because you’re the common denominator. That’s not true. Speaking from personal experiences and what I’ve studied over the years, I know that an abused person continually seeks love and acceptance from abusers. That’s what I did for much of the first 40 years of my life. It’s as though it’s all a wounded person knows, so, he/she continues to look for solace in abusers.

    Like

  10. You know, my wife and I were lucky in that the congregation we spent most of our time in was great. It was a small group, and everyone was really like family. There were some low moments, of course, and there were occasional disagreements. But overall, they were great.

    What sticks out to me now are all the problems with my prior beliefs that I just didn’t see at the time. For some reason, I often have trouble understanding why people believe it, even though I earnestly believed it for so long. It’s inconsistent and surprising, but it’s how I often feel.

    Like

  11. William

    The group that I grew up in, and eventually deconverted from, was also mostly good and kind people – as long as you agreed with them.

    One thing that always gnawed at me, even when I was a fervent believer, was the bad and the inaccurate arguments against other denominations or religions. Many times it was just the condescending tone that annoyed me – because if people were that way toward us, we’d say it was “persecution.”

    But they almost seemed to make things up about the other’s beliefs they were refuting. Many times the arguments were just absurd, and if you pointed out the error (although you may still agree with the final conclusion) they acted as if you were either weak in the faith or the enemy.

    When making a case for something or presenting an argument against something I always felt like you should put the opponent’s best foot forward (not a dumbed down straw man) because if not, it makes your own position look weaker to someone who knows the subject. Plus, I want my best argument to beat their best argument – otherwise it’s like Mike Tyson trouncing a middle schooler; nothing impressive about such a win.

    And if I cannot adequately refute their argument, then that means there’s a problem with mine – which I eventually realized there was, prompting my own exodus from religion.

    Like

  12. @CHope
    My ex-wife and I had several horrible experiences as well . We were quite willing to roll up our sleeves and put our faith to work in “The Church”. “Upper Church Management” would notice this and bring us into their inner circle because they felt we could be trusted and depended on. Unfortunately we would be exposed to the “Dirty Business” of the Church. Even after our divorce, I was active in several Churches as Sunday School Teacher and various boards and committees. What I learned from these almost 40 years of Church experiences is this. 1.) Church Business is dirty business no matter where you attend. 2.) The Christian Army are the only ones who “Shoot their wounded” 3.) If you feel the need to go to Church, NEVER get involved. Have your little “come to meeting with God” and go home. 🙂 Since becoming a Deist, I no longer am bothered by these things . 🙂

    Like

  13. @kcchief1

    Thank you very much for your kindness. I understand what you are saying and I tried your approach off and on throughout my time as a believer. Ultimately, I realized that the whole idea of God was not for me.

    There weren’t several horrible experiences for me, there were a ton of them. As a child, teenager and as a woman, especially during my single years, I was OFTEN humiliated. You can say it’s church politics, but it honestly seems to me to be the way of an Abrahamic God, the Bible, the Torah, the Koran and the Talmud. Those religious books ooze with hate for children and women. I went to Church like an addict. Like meth, it was horribly bad for me, but I kept going because I continually thought that I was the issue and I needed to change. Between regular Church attendance, NON STOP PRAYER and studying the Bible bit by bit for many years, I saw that there was no place for me with God. I was like a puzzle piece trying to fit into the picture of the kingdom of God for so long and no matter what, my colors, style and shape just didn’t belong anywhere in that puzzle. That’s why I have referred to myself as an atheist for a year and a half now. I NEVER, EVER thought I would be on this side of religion. I very rarely talk about this in real life because I’m in west Tennessee and have my husband and kids’ security to consider.

    I tend to agree with @William…if you play by other Christians (or a Church’s) rules people MIGHT be nice, but the moment you question anything, ESPECIALLY as woman (single, married and otherwise), the claws come out and you’re suddenly rebellious and a trouble maker. This is what holier than thous call a Jezebel spirit. Yet, further proof of how sexist the Church can be, no one calls it an Ahab spirit. There’s many more Churches out there like this than what people realize. People shouldn’t be fooled by those seeker friendly churches who don’t like to make waves either. You’ll see how “modern” and “accepting” they are when a woman asks the preacher questions herself. Been there, done that, not doing it again.

    @Nate, I have an amazing amount of respect for you. Thank you for not succumbing to personally belittling any of the people who comment on your blog, regardless of their belief system, opinions or lack thereof.

    Hope you all have a healthy and safe weekend.

    Like

  14. @CHope
    I totally agree with everything you said. I was much like you only I didn’t suffer the female humiliation you describe but witnessed it at the top levels of several churches I belonged to. I did receive personal attacks when I began questioning things about the Christian Religion publicly.

    My ah ha moment came at my home when I was hosting a men’s bible study 8 yrs ago. We were studying 2nd Samuel 12:11,12 where Nathan is telling David what God was going to do to him for sleeping with Bathsheba. “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.”

    It hit me like a ton of bricks. I asked the other men how a loving just God could do such a thing. They all tried to explain it away and I came to a different conclusion. I never held a bible study again. I discussed this scripture with my own Mother who glossed it over by saying we don’t always understand God’s ways. I still read the bible frequently but all it does now is confirm my decision not to believe .

    Thank you for sharing your stories with the rest of the group. I can’t possibly know the torment you have gone through but respect you for your decisions you have had to make. The best to you in your journey !

    Like

  15. Julie

    How refreshing. Your blog is like an oasis for me, a struggling Christian. this intense struggle has gone on for 20 years. 20 years of searching, praying, agonizing, studying, still reluctant to let go of the God of my youth. The God who I’ve loved so deeply and who has promised to love and guide me.
    Sadly, I seem to be the only one in my circle (which consists mostly of born again believers) who is brave enough or maybe crazy enough) to study the scriptures. That is, truly study, putting aside preconceived notions or conveniently dismissing objectionable concepts or passages.

    I just discovered your blog and I look forward to reading about your journey. At a glance, it seems to be very similar to mine with the exception that my husband isn’t much of a deep thinker, lucky guy! 🙂 and my kids are 15 and 16 so I keep a pretty low profile. I am careful to provide them with information but encourage them to study on their own so they may come to their own conclusions about God and life. So needless to say, I feel very much alone. I appreciate your insights and thank you for spending the time to share them with all of us on the web. It has already brought me much comfort!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Thanks Julie! I appreciate the very kind comment!

    I can sympathize with how lonely it can feel to struggle with these things on your own. I hope you’ll stick around and get to know all of us here. If you’ve had a chance to read some of my other posts, you may have noticed that the comment sections can get quite long at times, and that’s because of the excellent community we’ve built around some of these WordPress blogs. We’re spread all over the globe, but I think most of us would describe each another as friends. It makes for a great support network.

    As an illustration of what I mean, the post I made this morning is about a friend of ours who recently passed away. If you read it and the ones that are linked at the bottom of it, you’ll get a good feel for how much we mean to each other.

    Anyway, thanks again for the comment, and I hope to hear from you again sometime!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s