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.