So here’s what’s been going on lately. Most of you who read this blog already know that when my wife and I left Christianity, it wrecked most of our family relationships. My wife’s parents and siblings, as well as my own, felt that they could no longer interact with us socially after our deconversion. We were no longer invited to any family functions, and our communication with them all but disappeared. We would speak if it was about religious issues, or if there were logistic issues that needed to be worked out in letting them see our kids, etc.
Over the years, things have gotten a little better, especially with my wife’s parents. Things are by no means back to normal, but at least our infrequent interactions have become more civil and more comfortable. A few weeks ago, I even had a phone conversation with my father that lasted about half an hour and had no references to religion whatsoever. It was nice.
Nevertheless, the awkwardness is still there, just under the surface. And we’re still blacklisted from all the family functions.
Throughout this time, I’ve occasionally reached out to my side of the family with phone calls, letters, facebook messages, etc, in an effort to discuss the issues that divide us. I don’t get much response. I’ve always been puzzled by that, since I know they think I’m completely wrong. If their position is right, why aren’t they willing to discuss it?
In the last five years, I’ve also been sent books and articles and even been asked to speak to certain individuals, and I’ve complied with every request. Why not? How could more information hurt? But when I’ve suggested certain books to them, or written letters, they aren’t read. When I finally realized that my problems with Christianity weren’t going to be resolved, I wrote a 57-page paper to my family and close friends, explaining why I could no longer call myself a Christian. As far as I know, none of them ever read the whole thing. And sure, 57 pages is quite a commitment. But they say this is the most important subject in their lives…
This past week, the topic has started to come back around. A local church kicked off a new series on Monday entitled “Can We Believe the Bible?” It’s being led by an evangelist/professor/apologist that was kind enough to take time to correspond with me for several weeks in the summer of 2010. I’ve never met him in person, but a mutual friend connected us, since he was someone who was knowledgeable about the kinds of questions I was asking. Obviously, we didn’t wind up on the same page.
My wife’s parents invited us to attend the series, but it happens to be at a time that I’m coaching my oldest daughter’s soccer team. So unless we get rained out at some point, there’s no way we can attend. However, we did tell them that if practice is ever cancelled, we’ll go. I also contacted the church and asked if the sermons (if that’s the right word?) will be recorded, and they said that they should be.
Monday night, the weather was fine, so we weren’t able to attend. And so far, the recording isn’t available on their website. However, they do have a recording of Sunday night’s service available, which is entitled “Question & Answer Night.” I just finished listening to it, and that’s where the bulk of my frustration comes from.
It’s essentially a prep for the series that kicked off Monday night. They’re discussing why such a study is important, as well as the kinds of things they plan to cover. What’s so frustrating to me is that I don’t understand the mindset of evangelists like this. I mean, they’ve studied enough to know what the major objections to fundamentalist Christianity are, yet they continue on as if there’s no problem. And when they do talk about atheists and skeptics, they misrepresent our position. I can’t tell if they honestly believe the version they’re peddling, or if they’re purposefully creating straw men.
A couple of times, they mentioned that one of the main reasons people reject the Bible comes down to a preconception that miracles are impossible. “And if you start from that position, then you’ll naturally reject the Bible.” But that’s a load of crap. Most atheists were once theists, so their starting position was one that believed in miracles.
They also mentioned that so many of these secular articles and documentaries “only show one side.” I thought my head was going to explode.
And they referred to the common complaints against the Bible as “the same tired old arguments that have been answered long ago.” It’s just so infuriating. If the congregants had any knowledge of the details of these “tired old arguments,” I doubt they’d unanimously find the “answers” satisfactory. But the danger with a series like this is that it almost works like a vaccination. The members of the congregation are sitting in a safe environment, listening to trusted “experts,” and they’re injected with a watered down strain of an argument. And it’s that watered down version that’s eradicated by the preacher’s message. So whenever the individual encounters the real thing, they think it’s already been dealt with, and the main point of the argument is completely lost on them.
For example, most Christians would be bothered to find out that the texts of the Bible are not as reliable as were always led to believe. Even a beloved story like the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus writes on the ground, we’ve discovered that it was not originally part of the gospel of John. It’s a later addition from some unknown author. To a Christian who’s never heard that before, it’s unthinkable! But if they’ve gone through classes where they’ve been told that skeptics exaggerate the textual issues in the Bible, and that the few changes or uncertainties deal with only very minor things, and that none of the changes affect any doctrinal points about the gospel, then it’s suddenly easier for them to swallow “minor” issues like the insertion of an entire story into the gospel narrative.
I’m going to either attend these sessions, or I’ll watch/listen to them once they’re available online. I may need to keep some blood pressure medication handy, though.