Missing the Point

I got a facebook message that’s been on my mind today. It was from someone very close to me who is still part of the church of Christ — the sect of Christianity of which I was a member. As I’ve said before, my immediate family no longer associates with me or my wife because we left the church. But there’s something in their position that I find really interesting and puzzling.

When I left the church, I was very open about why I was leaving, and I was more than willing to talk to anyone who wanted to convince me I was wrong. I even wrote out my issues with the church, the Bible, and Christianity (almost 60 typed pages) so there could be no question about my reasons. But I was surprised at how many people declined to talk to me. You have to understand that these people think they are the only true version of Christianity. They believe that almost everyone else (even those in denominations who profess to be Christians) are Hell-bound. So to be that certain of their position, they should have some startlingly good reasons for their beliefs — reasons that they should be able to share with others. Not only that, but in Jesus’ Great Commission, Christians are told to spread the word. Shouldn’t they have been pursuing me for a discussion, instead of it being the other way around?

The message I received contained this line:

I’ve read some of the things you’ve written, and even gone to some of the websites you’ve linked in your blog, and I just don’t see enough evidence to ever make me feel comfortable with renouncing my faith.

Normally, that would be fine. I have many Christian friends, and I have no problem with any who feel that way. But when this comes from someone in the church of Christ, it shows that they’re missing the point. They take the position that they are so right, they can’t even associate with me anymore. This isn’t a “live and let live” position. This is saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong, but I’m not going to bother explaining why.” That completely blows my mind. I mean, let’s just roll through that real quick:

  • They believe they are the one true example of Christianity in the world.
  • They believe everyone else is going to Hell.
  • They believe God has told them to teach the lost.
  • They believe God does not show favoritism.
  • They believe the Bible is the inerrantly inspired Word of God.
  • Yet when they’re presented with evidence that questions their position, instead of finding an answer to those questions, they just say they’re not bothered by the issues.

How does that help anyone? They already believe. So if they’re right — if they really do hold ultimate truth — then their response should be to try to convince the skeptic, not just say that they’re not bothered by him.

I used to be in the church of Christ, and I believed (like they do) that baptism was a necessary step in the salvation process. When I studied with friends in denominations, if I had shown them a passage that seems to speak about the necessity of baptism and they had answered with “well, that just doesn’t bother me,” I would have been flabbergasted! It’s not really a question about what bothers you or not, it’s a question of what’s true. If the Bible really does teach that baptism is necessary, then the response of one who values the Bible should be, “I need to study this more closely!” Likewise, if someone claims that the Bible is inerrant and they’re shown evidence that calls that into question, the correct response is “I need to study this more closely!” To simply say “I’m not bothered by it” is a defeatist response that (to me) indicates they already have severe doubts about those issues but are too afraid to examine them.

I know they aren’t arrogant. But to me, it seems like arrogance to say that you know the mind of God to the point that you’re willing to sever relationships over it, yet you won’t try to explain why the other person is wrong.

Look, if God’s standards are really as strict as the CoC believes, then there should be some really solid evidence so that well-meaning people aren’t lost because of ignorance. But if they can’t answer the problems I’ve raised, then something’s not right with the CoC. Either Christianity is true, but many many more people fit into the “saved” category than they believed, or the whole thing is just as wrong as every other religion. It can only be one of those two options, if God is a decent fellow who wants everyone to be saved. So either the answers to my issues should be fairly evident, or their beliefs are wrong. It doesn’t really matter how much they’re bothered by it.

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40 thoughts on “Missing the Point”

  1. G’day, Nate, this is one of those times when I’m pleased to say that I generally agree with what you’re saying. There’s something that doesn’t add up.

    You would know better than I would, but my guess is that they believe that faith is a supernatural gift, a work of the Holy Spirit. If God gives it to you as he has given it to them, then you won’t have any questions, you’ll just believe. The Holy Spirit has the power to do that. And if you don’t believe, they won’t be able to convince you, but can only wait to see if the Spirit softens your heart.

    Now I believe some of that too, but certainly not all of it. The tricky thing is, if they are right, it is all consistent. But if they are wrong they are being terribly misled about something.

    My view is that they are partly right and partly wrong, which still leads them into dangerous error.

    So we are in broad agreement, you and I, not that that is much comfort. : (

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  2. Haha! FINALLY!! 😉

    You would know better than I would, but my guess is that they believe that faith is a supernatural gift, a work of the Holy Spirit. If God gives it to you as he has given it to them, then you won’t have any questions, you’ll just believe.

    Yeah, you’d think that… but it’s not what they believe. They actually think faith is a conviction and not something assigned by God. They are about as anti-predestination as you can get. Free will all the way. So they firmly believe that evidence trumps all else, which is why their stance in this is so peculiar.

    To be fair, not all of them have refused to engage in discussions with me. I have had a number of conversations with people from the CoC, but most of them have resorted to a position similar to this one by the end of our talks. I just don’t understand why they continue to hold such a hard line, even if they remain Christians. I understand your point of view, for instance, much better than I understand theirs.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Nate, I’ve run into similar responses before with the few people I’m “out” to. It can be incredibly frustrating. The Southern Baptist/Free Will Baptist churches I grew up in believe everything on your bullet list as well, but they will “stay away” from sinners because they want to surround themselves with “good Christian people” – aka don’t have close relationships with people who don’t believe the same as you, but still “pray” for them. They are so afraid of having their position questioned and have so many defense mechanisms to keep that from happening.

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  4. My guess as to the reason for their silence: fear. Because the terrible truth justight be that there is a living God and He is *not* good all the time.

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  5. Perhaps they (and others of the same ilk) need to read the quote by Thomas Jefferson that is posted on your blog. Especially the first part …

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  6. I would say, based on my experiences with those that defend their Christian faith, that most generally do not understand the full depth of the words written in the Canon. They simply know the doctrinal message that is given to them on a weekly basis. Few study those scriptures as a whole or in the historical context when they were written originally. There is little separation of the Gospels in their mind. They only quote passages. In other words, unless they have spent a lifetime studying the doctrine of their particular congregation, they are usually unable to defend or explain what they believe or why. Great post.

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  7. Nathan,

    Members of the Church of Christ only claim to know what God has revealed. you know this. I don’t think anyone denies that you can point out evidence to support your claims. What I have said to you is that the evidence for the Bible and it’s claims far outweigh evidence against it. Withdrawal from you is not based on personal desire, but on what the Bible teaches. You know this also. If one is to humble themselves and submit to God, then there is no position one can take but to obey what God has commanded.

    There is solid evidence for the Bible. Just because you reject it and choose to put your faith in other places doesn’t make you right. I’m disappointed that you would post this. It shows your intolerance to true believers.

    Dad

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  8. Jim, I hesitate to involve myself in this obviously trying family issue, but after reading and at commenting on this blog for quite sometime now, I’d like to interject here a bit. I do admit that I may be foolish for doing so. My father passed before my deconversion, so I can only imagine what this means to the two of you.

    But you say that the evidence overwhelming supports the bible and the CoC way of viewing it. Can you expand upon that, because I just dont see it?

    Let’s take one small example, the genealogy of Christ from Mathew and Luke. Both claim to be Jesus’ line through Joseph, but neither match up beyond Joseph, and neither completely match up with the OT. To me, that looks like a blatant contradiction. What overwhelming evidence shows that it is something other than what it looks like?

    It seems to me that these are the sort of things that Nate and those like him have left their faiths over. The genealogy issue, and the other issues like it, are like having an equation and then saying that x=10, but then when you check it x=3. x cannot be both 10 and 3, so we can see there is an error, but there seem to be those who want to say that x is 10 and x is 3 at the same time and that is perfectly okay. It just doesnt seem to add up.

    And if the genealogy isnt a contradiction, then what is? And please provide the overwhelming evidence you are referring to. I’ve been looking and havent found it, but if it is there, i’d definitely like to see it.

    William

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  9. First of all, thanks to everyone for your comments.

    Dad, I think William made some excellent points that I hope you’ll address. But I also want to spell out another issue. I don’t understand why people in the CoC will say that the issues I’ve raised aren’t large enough to raise doubts, yet they want to bind other minor details like whether or not to have instrumental music in worship, how often to have Communion, qualifications of elders, restrictions on benevolence, etc. The CoC strains over details until it calls their doctrines into question. Seems inconsistent to me.

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  10. William,

    I would not accuse of being foolish for commenting about this. i probably can’t answer your questions to your satisfaction, as I have not been able to help Nathan over the past 2 years in his search for “truth”. However, there are explanations for the confusion over the genealogy. These explanations may not satisfy every question you have, but they certainly provide adequate reason to not call these things errors or contradictions (in my opinion). Scholars say that it was common practice for the Jews to skip names in a genealogy, as it’s purpose was to show relationship, not necessarily give every single descendant. Also, Luke’s account is thought by most religious scholars to be Mary’s genealogy, which would explain why it is different from Matthew’s account. Now, I realize you may choose to not believe these scholars, and that is your right and choice. However, to ignore this sort of information and claim these accounts are erroneous and contradictory seems to me to be dishonest. Faith has to be involved either way. I choose to put my faith in the Biblical account.

    Jim

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  11. Nathan,

    I have addressed these things that William brought up in private correspondence with you. i know of others who have corresponded with you as well. I guess that is what is disappointing about your last post. You make it sound as if no one has tried to study with you or discuss these things with you, and that is simply false. It is true that some of the issues you have raised don’t bother some people. Often they have been questions that are unanswerable. Things we just have no way of knowing. When looked at in light of what we do know, they are often so minor a question as to not cause one to loose or question their faith. You are basically in the same position with your current views. You have some evidence you can offer to support your view, and your faith in that evidence causes you to not be bothered by evidence that is contrary to your view. How then can you be critical of someone else’s view?

    As far as the other issues you raise, such as insrtumental music, frequency of communion, etc., the Bible addresses these things and, minor detail or not, tells us what we are to do. The bible, as God’s word, is different than an editorial, and should not be looked at in the same way as one would look at some other source where we can be free to interpret things however we want. We have to be more careful with it. Otherwise, we could take your view and ignore all of it. How do you know “well meaning people will be lost because of ignorance”? How do you know they are well meaning? How do you know their ignorance isn’t willful? Do you actually believe that all people will do what’s right if they just know what right is? It doesn’t seem to work that way in my experience.

    Love,

    Dad

    Dad

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  12. Jim,
    I appreciate the reply. I would ask which scholars you’re referring to, but I have also heard many claim that Luke’s genealogy is through Mary, which would be easier for me to believe if Luke didn’t say “Joseph,” but it does, and does not say through “Mary.” Now who are we to believe? What the bible says or what man says? The unfortunate thing in this case for the bible, is that if it were taken merely from what the bible says, then there is a contradiction. One has to take man’s word on the matter and ignore what the bible says for itself in order to view this as anything but a contradiction. This is at least how I see it.
    I also wonder that if Luke really meant “Mary” instead of “Joseph,” as it says, then why didn’t he just write “Mary?” It would have been that easy to negate this entire problem. Had Luke done that, no one would ever be talking about the discrepancy between Mathew and Luke, and this issue at least would never enter into the conversation. I have heard the argument that the Jews would not accept a genealogy from a woman, and maybe that is correct, but many of the very same people who use this argument will point to using women like Mary Magdalene as witnesses as some sort of evidence that the bible is from god, because man, at that time, would not have used women as credible witnesses. Maybe that’s true too, but I can’t help but wonder why it’s one way on one instance and another way in separate instance…
    I also wonder why the Jews would have had a problem with a complete genealogy. I doubt that they would have. No one would say, “wait a minute, those genealogies match and are too complete! This means that they must not match and are not complete!” No one would say that – there would be no problem with that; but having said that, this isn’t really with the problem with Mathew’s genealogy. The issue with Mathew is that he makes it out be like his list is complete when he makes a big deal about how many generations there between people within his list, rattling off the number 14 like it’s god’s favorite number, but the problem is that it is not accurate and his counting is questionable. I am really surprised that I even have to explain why this is an issue.
    What seems dishonest about what I have said above? With all respect, I’m not sure that I am the only one with honesty issues here, if you get my meaning.
    I want to address something else that you mentioned in your response. You said, “choose to believe…” I am not entirely sure what you were implying, if anything, but I don’t really understand. I may chose to act on something, but I think what I truly believe depends on how I really take the evidence I have reviewed. I can choose to lie to myself, although that seems silly. I’d like to believe that we weren’t at war and that there was no poverty, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot believe that. There is too much evidence. Making a choice on the matter is impossible. This is how I feel about the bible. I’d like to believe that there is god who loves us and that he would have guided us and comforted us in some way, but I just don’t see how the bible could be it. Are you just choosing to believe that the bible is from God, or are you really convinced based upon the evidence? What evidence is there for the bible that overwhelms the evidence against it? I think that Nate has done a pretty god job of outlining the evidence against. And explanations like the one for the genealogy seem more like excuses, but you have to twist so much and ignore so much of what the bible says for itself.
    And speaking about what man says, I’d like to point out that unless god gave you your copy of the bible personally, or spoke to you directly to tell you that the bible is his word, then your faith in the bible is based only on what man has told you. Something to think about.
    William

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  13. Hi Dad,

    Thanks for the reply. Yes, you and a few others have discussed these issues with me. And that’s something I’ll always be grateful for — I know it wasn’t easy. But by and large, most people in the church have declined the opportunity.

    As far as evidence goes, I would expect the Bible to be accurate in many things — most books are able to achieve that standard. There’s nothing miraculous in that. So just because it gets some things right, that doesn’t absolve the things it gets wrong. It has contradictions and inaccuracies within it, and I’ve written about them in detail in other posts. Those things conclusively show that the Bible is not inerrant.

    To some Christians, inerrancy is not a big deal. But to those in the church of Christ, inerrancy is a necessity. So what I don’t understand is how you can say the genealogy, or the different times of death for Jesus, or the fact that Paul says there were 430 years between the promises and the law, when it was actually more like 600 are minor issues that don’t cause an issue for faith, yet say people who don’t observe Communion every Sunday are wrong and probably in danger of Hell. The notion of taking Communion every Sunday comes from Acts 20:7, and it’s only referred to there as “breaking bread,” which is also a term used for a meal. This is by no means an obvious dictate from God. It’s horribly inconsistent to say that such a throw away line is binding and an issue to divide over, yet also say that the day and time in which Christ died is irrelevant.

    When you’ve studied with people in the past on the subject of instrumental music, for instance, if they had read Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16 and said “well, that’s just a minor detail that God’s not going to care about,” you would have concluded that they were dishonest people who probably deserved whatever judgment they would receive. Yet when shown obvious contradictions in the Bible, you are completely comfortable with saying “well that’s just a minor detail that God’s not going to care about.” It seems hypocritical to me to hold such a position.

    I love you, and I am very sorry that all of this has caused you such heartache. It’s caused it for me too. But I honestly believe you aren’t looking at these issues clearly, and you seem to hold people of every other religious belief to a standard you aren’t willing to meet yourself. I still hope that you’ll one day see things differently.

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  14. “please provide the overwhelming evidence you are referring to. I’ve been looking and havent found it, but if it is there, i’d definitely like to see it.”

    G’day William. I hesitate to re-open issues too, but ….

    You have asked me similar questions several times, and don’t recall it changing your opinion at all, nor even that you presented any argument against what I said. I guess that’s because you weren’t convinced, and didn’t want to be impolite by criticising my ideas.

    It still seems to me that your conclusions and doubts are based on assumptions about what you’d expect to find in the Bible and in the world – and that these assumptions are unjustified.

    I therefore wonder if continuing to (admittedly very politely) questioning believers has any value until you justify the assumptions you make which seem to prevent you coming to a different view, and show you have good reason to reject the somewhat different assumptions (based on the historians) that I make?

    I hope I have been as polite in calling your opinions into question as you are in doing the same!! : ) Best wishes.

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  15. Unklee,

    you’ve been very polite, and I take no offense. I regard to the latest issue i spoke specifically about, i am not sure I understand what assumptions you are referring to.

    Mathew clearly says that Jesus’ genealogy from Joseph goes one way, and Luke says that Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph goes a completely different way. Again, i see that as two completely different answers to a one answer question. When you really review the genealogy and compare the two (three when counting the OT), it presents an impossible scenario.
    It appears to me that the only assumptions being made are those that would say Luke is really talking about Mary instead of Joseph, or really anything else that tries to ignore what the bible has said about about it.

    I hope you take me as being impolite either on this. I am just not seeing assumptions on my part regarding this issue. I mean, the genealogy is by Luke and by Mathew to validate Jesus’ linage as the Messiah. When they contradict one another, I am not sure how that is anything but a contradiction.

    And so far the only explanations I’ve heard that attempt to explain why this discrepancy shouldn’t matter, or isn’t rally a discrepancy are pure conjecture.

    So at this point, i still just disagree. This appears to be a classic example of a contradiction. If it is not, could you provide an example of what is? Because I really think that any contradiction could be explained away just as easily (and unsatisfactorily) as this one here.

    William

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  16. Proof reading. I hope you DONT take me as being impolite… and of course the others errors. sorry.

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  17. I think unklee is talking about the assumption that the Bible should be inerrant. In fact, he very well may agree that the genealogy is a good example of contradiction, or inconsistency, or difficulty, or whatever label one would like to put on it.

    unklee, not to speak for William, but the inerrancy issue is one that people can go either way on. You, for instance, don’t believe God would be that concerned with inerrancy. But people like William and I do. I’ve never experienced anything supernatural, so I find the overall claims of Christianity to be unlikely. So when the book that is supposed to contain God’s will has the same kind of errors that any other book could have, I just don’t see a reason to still believe it’s connected to God. I think William feels about the same (correct me if I’m wrong).

    So it may be an assumption to think that God’s message would need to be inerrant. But I don’t think it’s a ridiculous notion. The Bible says that God is perfect, and throughout both testaments, his messages to people were accompanied by signs and evidences to encourage belief. So it seems to me that the Bible must contain some evidences too, if I’m to believe it’s a true message from God. But I think its imperfections really call it into question.

    I think it’s just as much an assumption to say that the reliability of the Bible is not a major factor. I know that you believe you’ve witnessed miracles, which would be great evidence for you. But many of us haven’t had those experiences, so it’s unlikely that we would come to the same conclusions you have. I’m not trying to convince you of my position, but just explain why I feel the way I do — and if I’m not mistaken, William feels similarly.

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  18. “i am not sure I understand what assumptions you are referring to”

    William, Nate is correct. I am not talking about the genealogies. (They may be inconsistent to our literal minds, but the writers’ intentions appear not to have been so literal – Matthew uses a stylised pattern of 3 groups of 14, which looks more symbolic than literal. We must judge them by their intentions, not what we would do in the same circumstances.)

    I was questioning two things.

    1. You make an assumption that if God exists, the Bible would be inerrant, or at least much more “perfect” than it is. That is no more than an assumption, and you seem unwilling to consider seriously other assumptions, such as the (I would have thought) no-brainer that we start with what the historical scholars tell us. Nor do you ever argue (as I recall) why your assumption should be the preferred one.

    2. On this basis, you then ask polite questions (to me as well as to Jim) stating that you really want to know the truth.

    I have difficulty seeing how these two fit together. If you really want to know the truth, wouldn’t you be willing to consider a different assumption about the Bible – in fact consider all assumptions about the Bible?

    In fact I would like to suggest a friendly challenge to you and Nate. Let’s have a discussion of why you both hold the assumptions that you do, and whether the evidence suggests those assumptions are good ones, or whether other ones are more plausible. What do you say?

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  19. I guess I’m up for it, though I think I’ve already done much of that with you. You and I have both written our positions on inerrancy, as well as most of the other topics. But I’m interested if you feel there’s more ground to cover.

    I’d like to make one caveat though — if you’re suggesting our assumptions are bad because they don’t match the evidence we’re given (history, the Bible, etc), that’s not necessarily a problem with our assumptions. It may just show that we’re right in dismissing the Bible as a divine guide.

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  20. Nate,

    I understand what you are saying, but I think you are presenting the matter in too black-and-white a way.

    “You, for instance, don’t believe God would be that concerned with inerrancy. …. So it may be an assumption to think that God’s message would need to be inerrant. But I don’t think it’s a ridiculous notion. …. I think it’s just as much an assumption to say that the reliability of the Bible is not a major factor.”

    It’s not that I make an assumption about non-inerrancy. I think the logical thing is to spell out the various options, and look at the evidence for each. Here’s how I think it goes ….

    1. Here are some broad alternatives for the New Testament (in order of decreasing claim):

    (i) it was dictated by God and is 100% accurate
    (ii) it was inspired by God but written by humans with all that entails;
    (iii) it is a human document (like newspapers) but reasonably accurate history;
    (iv) it is a human document, inaccurate, perhaps even myth.

    2. It doesn’t appear to be (i), and the historians tell us it is better than (iv). So logic tells us that it is most likely somewhere between (iii) & (iv) at worst, and perhaps even (ii). Historically, these are all much the same, the main difference is in the degree of divine inspiration, or not.

    3. When we look at the world, we find (a) reasons to believe God is behind it, and (b) reasons to doubt God is behind it. If God is behind it, he seems to favour indirect methods (big bang, evolution, sexual reproduction, coming as a baby in a manger and a crucified king rather than as a dictator, etc). We can conclude that (a) if God exists, he hasn’t made himself over-obvious but works indirectly, and (b) if God doesn’t exist there are things which are difficult to explain.

    Conclusions:

    (1) There is no reason to assume that the Bible must be inerrant or else God doesn’t exist. The middle options are feasible, and in fact, the evidence seems to point to them.

    (2) Honest inquirers should carefully consider the middle options.

    Those are the reasons why I think you and William, who I regard as honest inquirers, are not being logical. As I said above to William, I’d like to discuss further. Best wishes.

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  21. I think you’ve laid out the options really well.

    So logic tells us that it is most likely somewhere between (iii) & (iv) at worst, and perhaps even (ii).

    I agree with this. But I lean toward iii and iv for several reasons. First of all, I think the most difficult thing to explain is why anything exists at all. But that includes God, in my opinion. We live in the natural world, and while the supernatural may exist, I’ve never experienced it. So I find the God explanation just as cumbersome as every other explanation.

    Aside from that, I do concede that God may exist. The observations you made in point # 3 are pretty good. You may be right. But I feel that even if God exists, it’s very unlikely that it/he/she is the God of the Bible. The depiction of God’s morality in the OT is quite horrible, and if we consider the doctrine of Hell to be literal, then the morality of God in the NT isn’t very good either. Essentially everything we know about that God comes from the Bible, and I just see no reason to think it contains any accurate information when it comes to divine issues.

    If a God exists, then it seems to me that he is more concerned with our morality than with particular religious doctrines. After all, simply going off what someone believes about a particular invisible being seems a rather nebulous way to make judgments (if judgments are even necessary). Plus, not all people have access to knowledge about this particular deity, depending on the time and place of their birth. However, almost all of us possess a conscience. That could easily be a product of evolution, but perhaps it was programmed into us by God. If it’s the latter, then I think that’s the main standard he would use in analyzing us. In other words, how we treat one another.

    In short, I just think if God were actually the god of the Bible, then the Bible would need some very good evidence to convince people — especially people born into a different faith tradition. And when I look at the Bible, I just don’t see that evidence. I feel like I’ve honestly and logically considered the different options, and it’s my goal to continue considering them as long as I live.

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  22. Unklee,
    I’m always up for a discussion, although I am just a visitor here. Perhaps this discussion can better help me understand your position, though, even if it is between you and Nate, and I as an occasional contributor, and faithful reader. It is always likely that I am mistaken, but at the moment I really think this shoe is on the other foot.

    I guess we’ll continue our discussion with your beginning:
    “1. You make an assumption that if God exists, the Bible would be inerrant, or at least much more “perfect” than it is. That is no more than an assumption, and you seem unwilling to consider seriously other assumptions, such as the (I would have thought) no-brainer that we start with what the historical scholars tell us. Nor do you ever argue (as I recall) why your assumption should be the preferred one.”

    I am not sure that it is so much an assumption as it is inference. I suppose that I do not start with history or scholars but with the book I am reading and considering, which in this case is the bible. It makes some pretty big claims; claims of divine inspiration, raising the dead, and other miracles. 2 Tim 3:16-17 say that all scripture is by inspiration of God, but this could be referring to the OT and not the NT, which could mean that the NT is merely “suggested” or somewhat “influenced” by God. Of course there are other passages that are similar, which I am sure that you’re aware of, that indicate the bible is from God. Of course there are other passages that seem to indicate that we should “try the spirits,” and if what a prophet says doesn’t come to be, then he is a false prophet. Of course, to be fair, I think there are many truths within the book as well. Many of the moral truths seem to be dependable and much of the history seems accurate as well (although some does not).
    I begin with the book, look at what it claims to be and what it claims to be useful for, and at least attempt to consider it objectively. With the bible, I just don’t see it adding up for many of the reasons that Nate has posted about, which is one of the reasons I come back to his blog from time to time. I feel like this is a logical approach.
    How do you know which parts of the bible to trust and which to count as erroneous? And who do you consider scholarly? Theologians?

    “1. Here are some broad alternatives for the New Testament (in order of decreasing claim):
    (i) it was dictated by God and is 100% accurate
    (ii) it was inspired by God but written by humans with all that entails;
    (iii) it is a human document (like newspapers) but reasonably accurate history;
    (iv) it is a human document, inaccurate, perhaps even myth.”

    I’m not sure that the list is complete. I personally think that it is most likely a combination of iii and iv. An interesting and entertaining mythology woven into reasonably accurate (at least at times) history, or historical commentary. But because there is some accuracy doesn’t mean that everything is accurate. The parts that check out only prove that those parts check out, and that’s the same with anything.
    And I have considered the alternative. I lived devoutly for many, many years. I even tried to ignore these problems for a while but they kept nagging at me. I prayed and prayed for help to see the truth, that god would help not to believe a lie. The more I prayed for that, it became all the more clear that the bible was not of god. My prayer and the resulting conclusion prove nothing, but show that I most certainly considered the alternative. My position changed as I considered more and more of the actual evidence and what the bible actually said for itself.
    And this discussion should be about the bible, whether it’s from god or not. The two are not synonymous. God can exist and the bible could have nothing to do with him. Too often people combine the two and I think that muddies these waters. “Does god exist,” is another question, than “is the bible from god.”

    William

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  23. Nate, I appreciate the ongoing opportunity to comment and critique. I’ll try not to go over too much old ground.

    “I think the most difficult thing to explain is why anything exists at all. But that includes God, in my opinion”
    Logically, if we look backwards along the chain of cause and effect, either there is an endless chain, or it has to stop at something that doesn’t need a cause. It is possible to believe that God didn’t have a cause (he is eternal and necessarily exists), but I can’t think of anything else that could be eternal, necessary and therefore not in need of an explanation. Certainly not the universe we know.

    “The depiction of God’s morality in the OT is quite horrible, and if we consider the doctrine of Hell to be literal, then the morality of God in the NT isn’t very good either.”
    I understand your problems and share some of them, but why do you treat the Bible as one book when it is many? Why should our conclusions about Jesus be determined by what was written centuries before him? And Jesus’ teachings on hell are not as generally depicted.

    “Essentially everything we know about that God comes from the Bible”
    I would contest this vigorously. I have two friends who are Quakers. They weren’t brought up christians, and married as non-believers. But somewhere down the track they began to experience things that made them think that God was communicating with them. So they read up on the main religions and decided that it was the God of christianity who was communicating to them. There are literally millions of people who learn of God not from the Bible, but from visions, dreams, healings and other forms of communication. I reference some of them on my website – see e.g. Visions of Jesus?.

    “If a God exists, then it seems to me that he is more concerned with our morality than with particular religious doctrines.”
    I actually agree with this as written, but I think if we explored a little more we would find we disagreed. : ( I think our attitude matters more than doctrine – not just attitude to each other but to God – we have to recognise our need of God’s forgiveness.

    “I feel like I’ve honestly and logically considered the different options, and it’s my goal to continue considering them as long as I live.”
    I agree with you and I admire you. I just think you’ve not properly considered some of the options. Your disbelief seems more based on OT than NT, it’s based on your view of the Bible more than of Jesus, and it doesn’t consider enough what the historians say (IMO).

    But perhaps I’m becoming too insistent, perhaps I should ease off. Thanks again for the opportunity.

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  24. William, thanks again for your comments. LIke I said to Nate, I’ll try not to keep saying the same thing.

    <"It makes some pretty big claims; claims of divine inspiration, raising the dead, and other miracles. 2 Tim 3:16-17 say that all scripture is by inspiration of God"
    To start with, the Bible isn’t one book, but many, compiled together. Surely the starting point is to consider each book and each author in their historical context? Only if it seems right should you assume it is a unity. So yes, there are some big claims in there, but if they are too big to swallow, why not start with what the historians say, and go from there?

    “An interesting and entertaining mythology woven into reasonably accurate (at least at times) history, or historical commentary.”
    If this is what you think, I don’t think I will argue with you. Once we accept what the historians tell us, it seems clear to me that the gospel authors were genuine and the person they describe was genuine. I can’t see why they’d tell lies, and they’re too close to the events to have believed and repeated legends. If you really think they were weaving together false stories, then I think you have misjudged them. But I won’t argue with you – either you see it or you don’t.

    “I begin with the book, look at what it claims to be and what it claims to be useful for, and at least attempt to consider it objectively.”
    Here I will repeat myself – I think beginning with the book means you have prejudged the issue. I think we should begin as above, with the gospels. But since you don’t think they are reliable, then it doesn’t matter I guess.

    I think that, sadly, you have allowed scepticism to lead you to view the gospels through a lens that distorts their truth, by adopting approaches to knowing truth that are pre-disposed to a sceptical answer. But I think that is all I should say.

    “I prayed and prayed for help to see the truth, that god would help not to believe a lie.”
    CS Lewis once said (words to the effect that) if God and truth seem to diverge, then follow truth – and you’ll find that was where God was all along. I’ll have to be content with that.

    Best wishes.

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  25. Thanks for the comments, unklee. It seems to me that we mostly diverge over the gospels. I don’t believe they were written by people who actually knew Jesus, but by Christian converts a generation or two removed from him. I think they were honestly relaying his history as they knew it, but I don’t view it as accurate enough to believe the fantastical elements. I know people sometimes say that regardless of who wrote the gospels, they were written too close to the time of Christ for legends to have been developed. But that’s a claim I just don’t agree with.

    For instance, several parts of the US were struck with severe tornadoes last year, including my state of Alabama. In the immediate aftermath of the storms, all kinds of rumors began circulating — you can find a nice collection of them here. One of them was a story about a toddler found in a freezer a couple of days after the storm. The toddler supposedly said that a “man with wings” put him in the freezer. Snopes has an article on that rumor here.

    There’s no discernible reason as to why someone would start any of these rumors, but so many of them sprang up in such a short time. So it’s easy for me to believe that within 20 or 30 years of Jesus’ death rumors about his life and death had begun circulating.

    However, I understand that you disagree. I don’t really want to change your mind. At the same time, there are still many Christians (at least in my part of the world) who are fundamentalists that believe in Biblical inerrancy. Their brand of faith often leads to unfortunate consequences, in my opinion. That’s why I continue to write about it as an important issue, if that makes any sense.

    Thanks again for all the great discussions. 🙂

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  26. Unklee,

    I don’t think that the writers of the gospels were either lying or telling the absolute truth. I have witnessed many times in my own life, and read of other instances, where people can create false memories, or misinterpret what they witnessed or experienced, and create (lack of a better word) scenarios that resolve what they saw or what they thought they saw. I am sure you have knowledge of the same. I don’t think that this is very outlandish, and I do think it is very likely for a time and place that leaned heavily toward the superstitious.
    I don’t really know and would not dare claim that I did know what the writers of the gospels, or any of the other texts in the bible cannon, were trying to be dishonest or perfectly and completely accurate. Like you, I look at the evidence.
    I get the impression that you have consulted more external source than I have. I am realizing that I have much more study to do, and I also plan on reading through more of your own blog to try to understand your position better. When I was a believer, I felt that the bible (its 66 books) was its best commentary. Indeed, I guess I do tend to refer to the bible a single book, although I am quite aware that it is a collection. Most of the Christians I have known do indeed believe that God preserved the individual books and fated their canonization – so I may just be stuck in that habit, but I can understand that tendency. If god had a plan for us, and wanted us to know that plan, and would deal out either a reward or a punishment based upon our understanding or adherence to that plan, then it Is not a difficult conclusion to determine that god’s plan would be obvious, understandable and if not provable then highly cohesive with itself, with logic, and with known science and history. If a single book appears to be canonized by mistake, then it brings everything into question.
    How can we determine which book is a good one? How can we know which points to find believable? It makes it harder when there are blatant issues present in several of its book, when even the gospels appear to contradict one another? To me, if I see one flaw, and much less a multitude of flaws, I have trouble ascribing that to a being that is supposedly Perfect and wants nothing more than to help us.
    And again, I’m sure this discussion should involve equating god to the bible. God could exist, and the bible could still be an independent creation of man. I think the question we are focusing on is, “is the bible divinely inspired; if so, how do we know? To what degree is it inspired? And, to what degree should we considerate literal?

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  27. Dear Nate and William,

    My main purpose when commenting on blogs is to point out what I regard as errors of fact or failures to consider options. I am not so interested in arguing opinions after that, as I feel each person has to decide themselves. So having argued that the ‘battleground’ should not be inerrancy, but the historical Jesus, and seeing you both focus on this, I think I should ease off. But I will contest one matter which I believe is not quite according to how the historians see it.

    “I don’t believe they were written by people who actually knew Jesus, but by Christian converts a generation or two removed from him. I think they were honestly relaying his history as they knew it, but I don’t view it as accurate enough to believe the fantastical elements.”

    I think this is a reasonable view, but I think you don’t take sufficient account of the following:

    * In an oral society, people (especially disciples of a Rabbi) were trained to remember things accurately. Thus the gospels are not as removed as you imply from the actual events. They are somewhat like a group of written memories edited into a compendium.
    * There are some clear indications that they preserve the memories of eye-witnesses – the accurate geographical detail in John of things which were no longer in existence within decades of Jesus’ life, the clear Aramaisms, etc.
    * The fact that there are several independent sources for the stories, much more than we have for most history, makes it harder to believe they are urban myths.

    I could go on, but I won’t. I still find it surprising that the two of you could walk away from your previous faith without (if I understand you correctly) feeling any great loss of your ‘relationship’ with Jesus. I am not a very ‘touchy-feely’ christian, yet that would be an enormous emotional loss to me. So I feel something was missing before, and I can only hope and pray that your leaving the faith you once knew will pave the way eventually for a return to a more robust and (hopefully) truer version. It happens to some, perhaps many, people.

    I will probably ease up on the ‘argument’ for a while, I think I have probably said enough, though I will continue to read and comment a little. Best wishes to both of you.

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  28. “I still find it surprising that the two of you could walk away from your previous faith without (if I understand you correctly) feeling any great loss of your ‘relationship’ with Jesus.”
    Speaking from my own experience, it was not a matter of losing my relationship with Jesus. It was more that I began to see the fallacies and inconsistencies within the Christian faith. The ‘supporting evidence’ offered by Christian leaders just didn’t have enough substance to overcome what I had discovered through my own research _outside_ church teachings.
    For the past five years, I have been writing a book about what most Christians do not know about their faith. I hope to have it in eBook format (followed by hardcopy) within the next six weeks. I think some of Nate’s readers will find it fascinating — provided they can look beyond the teachings of the church. If Nate allows, I’ll post when it’s ready for purchase.

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  29. Explains much to me. I am from the south and so I know the church of christ. I love the guy who sits right next to me at work who is coc. But, I don’t have the same view of the world or of Jesus as the coc. I know that his is his divine grace and mercy that pardons and is based only in His work in His life and death. None of me. Even the faith I have is a gift from Him. I do nothing to earn. I can only receive–receive in faith which He gave.

    Glad they persevered with you as in your other comment. However, I’d wonder about the apologetic resource available to anyone in the coc because as you say–they are the only way so they can’t listen to anyone outside coc and still be orthodox.

    My resources are wide ranging and span much more than my little group or denomination. That helps tremendeously.

    I hope you are in a better place.

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  30. G’day Nan, thanks for interacting.

    “Speaking from my own experience, it was not a matter of losing my relationship with Jesus. It was more that I began to see the fallacies and inconsistencies within the Christian faith. “

    I probably didn’t explain myself well because I was trying to be brief. Let’s take an analogy. Suppose I was in love and engaged to be married, then found out that my fiancee was having an affair. I might well decide to end the relationship because of the fact of the affair, but I would still grieve because I had loved that person.

    I think it would be similar with the christian faith. If the evidence pointed to Jesus not being historically true, I might choose to give up faith, but I would still grieve because that relationship was important to me. But when I read what Nate and William say, I don’t see any evidence of that grief that I would expect. They seem to have had their difficulties, but not any sense of loss of that relationship.

    I can only conclude that they had no such relationship, or it wasn’t very personal or very real – i.e. their belief never got beyond intellectual acceptance. This is no disrespect for them, just an observation. (My belief is more intellectual than personal, but the personal is still there and still important to me.)

    Best wishes.

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  31. Unklee,

    That’s a good question / point. Let me ask you this, if you knew a man who one day found out that his wife of many years had cheated on him and he didn’t show the expected amount of grief or heartache, would you assume that he had never been married?

    I wonder how a man would act who had never met his wife; a man who had been told that he was married to a woman who never contacted him, herself. He only received letters that were written by other people, who claimed to be writing on her behalf. No pictures to look at. I wonder how that man would act, if learned on day that there never was a woman that he was married to. I don’t guess I know, but, boy, that sounds crazy.

    I did have a feeling of betrayal, but not by Jesus (because he hadn’t really done anything to me), but I felt taken in by the entire machine. It left me feeling foolish for having believed it at all. And this falling away didn’t happen instantaneously. I desperately held on for as long as I could, frantically searching for a resolution, looking for some way to have it all work out again – but gradually, as I learned more, and saw more and finally took a step back to try and look at everything with even eyes, everything felt like it became clear.

    You a reaching me some time after my struggle with all of this, and I have seen no point in laying out the emotional aspects of it all, when emotion can cloud sound judgment.

    William

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  32. William,

    I hope you don’t think I am trying to say that you, or Nate, were not ‘true christians’, and thereby minimise your deconversions. I don’t know if I can define what a ‘true christian’ is, and I certainly don’t have any magical powers to make such a judgment. I am merely trying to understand and question.

    “if you knew a man who one day found out that his wife of many years had cheated on him and he didn’t show the expected amount of grief or heartache, would you assume that he had never been married?”
    I have learnt not to expect any particular reaction from myself or other people. But if I was discussing his marriage and observed his lack of emotion, I would surely wonder ….

    “I wonder how a man would act who had never met his wife”
    The hiddenness of God is an argument against his existence, but we are not arguing that here. You were a believer despite God’s hiddenness, but you seem not to have had much of a relationship with him. My faith is about 90% based on reason, and I often jokingly call myself a ‘spiritual cripple’, but nevertheless I feel I do have a relationship with God. So it seems your faith was different to mine in some way. I’m just trying to understand that apparent fact.

    “I felt taken in by the entire machine”
    I think this is a key point. I agree that religion and church can be very ‘machine-like’, self-serving and counter-productive. The difference is that I have long since seen through that, and therefore I’m not taken in by it. I feel sorry that you were affected in that way. For whatever reasons therefore, you gave up faith in both the church and Jesus, whereas I gave up faith in the church but still trust Jesus.

    I’m sorry if it is in any way painful for you to go over these things, but I do think we can better understand how different our respective reactions and beliefs have been. Thanks.

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  33. Hi everyone — sorry I’ve been away from comments the last few days. I always appreciate everyone’s contribution. And Nan, yes, please let us know when your book is ready! 🙂

    unklee,
    I think you raise an excellent question. I was never a “touchy-feely” Christian. I believed that while our emotions played an important part, if Christianity were true it would need to be intellectually and logically defensible. Much of that came from my stance on biblical inerrancy — something you and I differ on. But I know you are a logical individual, and I think you probably understand what I’m trying to say about the veracity of the Christian message.

    As I’ve said, once I realized the Bible was not inerrant, I had trouble finding a way to believe that Christianity could still be true. This was a horrible time for me. Even though I didn’t believe that God literally held the world in place, losing my faith in Christianity made me wonder why we didn’t just hurtle off into space. Or why some gigantic meteor hadn’t pulverized us yet. Or any number of horrible things. I felt very, very small.

    I grieved for that part of my life. It was a grief that encompassed every facet of Christianity — God, Jesus, Heaven, family members that have already passed on. I also grieved for the biblical heroes I’d always loved: Joseph, Ehud, David, Josiah, Paul, Timothy, etc. I really didn’t know how to feel about any of it.

    But I also became a little angry. I tried not to, because I realized that it wasn’t the Bible’s fault that false religions (as I believe them to be) have engulfed the world because of what it says. It’s really just a repository of culture, history, and mythology. It’s actually a tremendous treasure, culturally speaking. But I also felt burned by it. As you’ve seen, I was brought up in a very conservative, fundamentalist version of Christianity. It was just hard to come away from that without a little bitterness.

    So, that’s a very long-winded way of saying that my former beliefs were very important and dear to me. Losing them was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. But because I always believed the intellectual portion was more important than the emotional, and because there’s still a little bitterness there, that probably helps form the impression you’ve received about a lack of emotional connection to Christianity. Of course, there’s also the fact that I didn’t blog about any of this when it was going on, but began writing about a year after I started losing my faith.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I hope that helps explain things a little better.

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  34. Thanks Nate, I’m sympathetic to the difficulties you’ve experienced, and it helps to understand them a little better. My observation on what you say is that your pain was about loss of a worldview and loss of some culture, but not loss of a relationship. I still find that a little surprising, but you can only report what happened. Thanks and best wishes.

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  35. I’m visiting after reading “The way we treat deserters” by Unklee. As a committed follower of the Christian FAITH who has been outside the walls of ‘traditional’ Christianity for some 40 years I have a lot of empathy with all of the views being expressed, maybe especially by Dad.

    I’m in the UK and was for some 20 years a member of a Sabbath keeping church that were absolutely convinced that they were the one and only true church – although most of us recognised that there were genuinely committed Christians in other churches who were deceived to one extent or another.

    Try and imagine the situation when the leadership of the church in 1995 announced that much of their theology was misguided! This was a very traumatic experience. We were part of a family of 14 related by marriage that was torn apart. My daughter and her husband were youth leaders. His parents went one way; we went another. No wonder my children are atheists!

    It was in June that Bob, an internet acquaintance wrote a lengthy article entitled, “What I actually believe”. When my closest friend (who subsequently died suddenly of a heart attack) saw it he suggested, “it’s almost as if Bob has crawled into your heart and communicated the essence of your faith”.

    Bob uses the name, “The Unconventional Pastor”. I have since rewritten the introduction to my own blog and entitled it, “An Unconventional Believer”.

    I’d be interested in what thoughts any of you might have.

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  36. There has been so many goog comments posted on this blog, I wish I had time to respond to them all. I will take the time to say that I’ve especially enjoyed unklee’s posts and his world view.

    The CoC is a funny animal, theologically I believe they get more right than they get wrong; however where they error, boy do they do so with gusto. I’ll always be thankful for my short time spent in the CoC, it really solidified my personal faith and spiritual relationship with Christ. My faith was challenged and my scriptural knowledge really encouraged to grow past the level of complacency most denominattions tend to have. However, they cruelity they treat others within their own denomination, let alone ‘lost souls’ outside of the CoC with is sickening for those claiming to be Christ followers.

    Nathan you are a good man, a honorable man. One who grew up in a faith system that focused on rules and regulations more than a relationship with a living breathing God. I believe this is the reason you have gone down the spiritual path you have. I hope to be able to one day convince you that the god of the Bible does exist, and that He died to have a real relationship with you. I know at this point that seems about as likely as Auburn winning the National championship this year 😉 but that is what faith is about after all. I’ve also came to the point to where I am ‘ok’ if that doesn’t happen. We have to live our own lives and make our own choices, like I said before, you’re a good man and I value our friendship.

    Thank you for continuing to be ‘out there’ discussing the hard topics and living out your faith. You faith just happens to be that of ‘no faith’. In the end it is our own selves that we must be true to and while others may not like it, you are doing just that.

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  37. Matt — great to hear from you! I’m glad that you feel that your time in the CoC was helpful in some way. I felt bad about that whole thing, but it helps to know you got some benefit from it.

    Peter — thanks for your comment! I’ll check out your blog when I have some time. Take care…

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