God and Football, or: Facts Should Matter

For the past few months, my wife and I have been meeting periodically with some family members to discuss our religious differences. The conversations have been interesting.

When we tried this during our deconversion six years ago, it didn’t go well. Emotions were simply way too high. This time around, we’ve all come to accept the status quo, so there’s less pressure on both sides. The conversations have gotten heated at times, but nothing like they used to. Overall, I feel like they’ve been going pretty well, though I don’t think any positions have been changed, and I don’t expect them to.

Most of you know that my wife and I once believed the Bible was completely inerrant, and this was pretty much the consensus of everyone at our congregation. The Bible’s flaws had a lot to do with our leaving Christianity, and I tend to refer to them any time I’m discussing religion with someone. But these family members have reacted to this in a way that I don’t really understand, and that’s what I want to talk through in this post.

Example 1

In one of our meetings, I suggested that we look at an example of something that I think is a contradiction in the Bible, so I pointed their attention to the two different accounts of Judas’s death. I’ll give a brief synopsis of the problems here, but if you’d like to read about it in detail, check out this post.

The gospels tell us that Judas, Jesus’s most infamous disciple, betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. In the Gospel of Matthew, Judas brings that money back to the chief priests, because he regrets what he’s done. They refuse to take it, so he throws it at their feet, leaves, and hangs himself. There’s no indication that the priests ever found out what happened to him, but because the 30 pieces of silver are blood money (a bribe to take Jesus’s life), they decide not to put it back in the treasury. Instead, they buy a field with it and use it as a cemetery for strangers. That field comes to be called “Field of Blood,” because of the money used to buy it.

In Acts, we get a completely different story. There, Judas uses the money to buy a field for himself. Somehow, while he’s in the field, he falls, ruptures his abdomen, and bleeds to death. Again, the field comes to be called “Field of Blood,” but now it’s because Judas bled to death all over it. There’s no indication that it was used to bury strangers.

We talked about a number of the discrepancies between those two accounts, but I mostly focused on Matthew’s claim that all of this fulfilled a prophecy “spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.” The problem is that the prophecy Matthew quotes can’t be found in Jeremiah. The closest passage is in the book of Zechariah. My family members didn’t immediately know how to answer that problem, which is completely fine — it deserves research.

So in the next meeting, one of them said he had read an article where someone argues that Matthew says “spoken by the prophet Jeremiah” because Jeremiah literally spoke it, but didn’t necessarily write it down. I found that explanation really disappointing. First of all, if that were the case, why would Matthew mention it? He shouldn’t have even known about it, but we could get around that by saying that God gave him the information through revelation. The real problem is that it would be meaningless to his audience. Stating that an event fulfills a prophecy is offering a piece of evidence. It’s making the argument that this event falls neatly into God’s plan. But when the prophecy can’t be found, it ceases to be evidence. It ceases to make a point at all, unless it’s the point that I’m making: Matthew made a mistake.

But there’s an even clearer problem. The writer of Matthew didn’t just write this one section, he wrote an entire book. And it turns out that “spoken by the prophet ______” is a pretty common phrase of his. He uses it in Matthew 1:22, but goes on to quote a passage from Isaiah 7:14. In Matthew 2:17, he uses the phrase to refer to Jeremiah 31:15 (the very same prophet he refers to when talking about Judas). In Matthew 3:3, he uses the phrase to refer to Isaiah 40:3. We just found 3 examples within the first 3 chapters of Matthew. When he says “spoken by the prophet,” he still means that it was recorded as a prophecy.

These are the points I presented, but my family remained unconvinced. How is that possible?

Example 2

That same night, I offered another example. I told them that the synoptic gospels claim Jesus was crucified on Passover, but John’s gospel claims that it was the day before. Again, if you’d like more information on this one, check out this post. After we looked at all the passages, they didn’t have anything to say. Again, I get that. It’s surprising stuff to see when you think the Bible is inspired. And I also don’t expect them to suddenly change their minds. They need time to study it and think about it. So that’s how we left it.

We usually try to meet every Friday or so, but we didn’t meet again for 7 weeks. Last Friday, we finally got back together, and when I brought back up how we had left things, they said that they hadn’t had time to look into the issues surrounding the day of Jesus’s death. That simply makes no sense to me.

Again, they attend a congregation where virtually everyone there would say that the Bible is inerrant. So pointing out a potential contradiction should motivate them to go into deep-study mode. But it didn’t. Even if they aren’t bothered by the implications of a contradiction, we are. And since they believe we’re bound for an eternal Hell, you’d think that would inspire them to study the issue.

So I backtracked a bit and told them that I didn’t really understand why they wouldn’t have made time for this in 7 weeks. I suggested that perhaps they didn’t think the Bible needed to be inerrant. If that was the case, then I could see why they wouldn’t be bothered by the two examples I brought up. But they didn’t really commit to a position on inerrancy either way. I’m not sure how much they’ve thought about it before.

What’s behind this?

College football is huge down here, and these members of my family are die-hard Alabama fans. They always have been. But as much as they love Alabama, they wouldn’t pretend that Alabama is objectively the right team to pull for. Sure, they could talk about how well Alabama plays, and they could talk about how great a coach Nick Saban is, but they know that a Tennessee fan isn’t going to be “converted” to Alabama by those arguments. And those aren’t even the reasons why they’re fans to begin with. One’s love for a sports team is a subjective thing. You love them simply because you love them.

But when it comes to religious beliefs, those are truth claims. As such, they should have evidence that shows why they’re objectively true. But I’ve started to realize that many people, like my family, belong to a particular religion for the same reasons that they follow a sports team. It’s just what they know.

In these discussions, my family members only know that my wife and I have to be wrong. When we bring up issues with the Bible or Christianity, they don’t really have a response, but that doesn’t seem to bother them. When we’ve asked if they think the Bible should be inerrant or not, they don’t really say. When we ask why they believe it, they mostly appeal to how it makes them feel personally. If they had more substantial evidence, they would offer it. But they don’t believe for the same reasons that I believed. If I had been asked why I believed the Bible was inspired, I would have begun talking about its prophecies and amazing consistency. I would have been wrong, but only out of ignorance — not because I hadn’t thought about it. Truth claims require evidence.

To be fair…

This is a pretty critical post about some people that I love. While I find their outlook to be confusing and frustrating, I do appreciate that they care enough about us to pursue these discussions. My wife and I didn’t instigate them — our family did. So that’s definitely a point in their favor. I don’t expect for either of our views to change, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Right now, I don’t think they’re considering the possibility that they could be wrong. If they would be open-minded about that, then who knows where things could go? After all, the basic facts are’t all that complicated: the Bible says what it says. On the surface, it’s very clear that it has inconsistencies and inaccuracies. The only question is what that might mean. When someone says they know who the creator of the universe is and that they know his plan, they should have some way to demonstrate it. Facts matter.

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87 thoughts on “God and Football, or: Facts Should Matter”

  1. Nate, we must be related. My family behaves the exact same way ! 🙂 As you have admitted this about yourself, I used to behave the same way they do, until I started to question.

    I have come to the realization there are millions if not a few billion in this world who aren’t the least bit interested in knowing the truth. Many of them feel the same way about politics.

    Great post Nate. It’s good that you and your wife have a relationship with your family again. Accept it for what it is.

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  2. WOW – I can’t believe you put yourself through that. (Or that they do.) Brave people. On both sides. Here’s the gist of it all:

    “It’s just what they know.”

    If your family had been in the Middle East, you all would be arguing over the Koran. It is a simple case of geography. They were born and raised in a part of the world where a dogmatic version of Christianity reigns, so that’s what they know, that’s what they believe. If they have been exposed (and allowed to think for themselves) at an early age, then they may think differently now (not necessarily, but maybe).

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  3. You’re highlighting a lot of stuff I go through when talking with people of faith. A big question I have is: how do you know this is a discussion? I’m not saying this to be particularly mean to anyone of faith, but it seems that the onus is always on the non-believer to believe. When reasons are insufficient, they’re flatly ignored or become treated as if they never were important to begin with.

    It also seems that too many times the actual justification for believing is simply no other reason than it makes someone feel better. In the examples you listed, this issue is getting danced around without being directly addressed. I can identify with them because I’ve had similar discussions where the idea gets talked around but not addressed. For me, the frustration comes in because it feels like there’s a double standard. It’s okay for them to feel good about their views, but it’s not okay for me to feel good about mine.

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  4. I’m not saying this to be particularly mean to anyone of faith, but it seems that the onus is always on the non-believer to believe. When reasons are insufficient, they’re flatly ignored or become treated as if they never were important to begin with.

    … For me, the frustration comes in because it feels like there’s a double standard. It’s okay for them to feel good about their views, but it’s not okay for me to feel good about mine.

    Oh, I so identify with these statements. To your last point, I finally mentioned that last week. And my wife’s done a good job of vocalizing it, too. I let one of them finish a long statement about all the benefits they’ve gotten from their beliefs, and I pointed out that I felt the same way about my beliefs — so now who’s right, if either of us? One of them said that the arguments I’ve laid out before are circular, so I asked them to show me where, but got no response.

    I hope that they’re starting to see it a little bit. I’m not holding my breath for it… but really, the basic facts are pretty clear.

    Thanks to all three of you guys for the comments!

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  5. Gosh, they know “His Plan”? I sure would like to know what it is, because it doesn’t say what it is in scripture.

    Also, I’d sure would like to know why God tolerates Satan. God created Satan. He could uncreate him but does not. If someone answers that question with “no one can know the mind of god,” I would then like them to explain how the heck we can know what his plan is. And if we don’t know what a plan is, how can we follow it?

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  6. I don’t know your relatives. But I would guess something similar is happening. They accept some sort of big picture, though probably not the big picture that I once accepted. And they aren’t bothered by apparently contradictory details.

    As another commenter said, make the best of the relationship that still remains and put up with some idiosyncrasies.

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  7. Oops, I missed the first part of that reply.

    The thing is that we see similar discrepancies in ordinary life, where people make up stuff to fill in gaps in memory. That admittedly doesn’t fit a strictly literalistic reading of the Bible.

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  8. Hey Nate – there’s one glaring mistake in your post – you mentioned that Alabama isn’t objectively the right team to pull for!

    I wonder if your family members have decided that intellectual discussions won’t bring you back to belief. Perhaps they’ve concluded that it’s only some power of the god they believe in that could bring you back.

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  9. Nate I still recall the moment my faith shattered. It happened in an instant. It happened the moment I was prepared to consider the possibility that the Bible might not be true.

    Prior to that moment I was aware that there were some difficulties with the Bible (though not the full extent of such difficulties) but I was prepared to accept some of the strained explanations of the apologists as it was an explanation of sorts and surely ‘God’ could not be wrong?

    Looking back I see belief to be more emotional than fact based. It is very hard to argue against a position that is based on emotion rather than fact.

    If your family believes you are destined for Hell then that is perhaps an area where emotionally they will see that such the concept of Hell cannot be reconciled with the idea of a loving and merciful deity. How could anyone enjoy being in heaven knowing those they love are being subject to eternal torture in Hell?

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  10. Nate, your integrity speaks volumes.

    “But I’ve started to realize that many people, like my family, belong to a particular religion for the same reasons that they follow a sports team. It’s just what they know.”

    They prefer the shallow waters. You and your wife are fortunate to have each other for support. Diving into deep waters comes with risks, but without a buddy system, the risks increase substantially.

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  11. Ark that is very well said. It reflects well why I get frustrated trying to have sensible discussions with Young Earth Creationists.

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  12. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think a common part of many deconversion stories is that not much happened until we were willing to consider the possibility that we had been mistaken. That was certainly the case for me – though my faith didn’t crumble immediately then, like Peter – but of course he’d already done a lot more study as a believer…

    I didn’t consider that possibility until I had a reason to. I suspect that may also be common. If anyone’s interested, I described what the reason(s) were for me in this post on my blog, What Started My Questioning. Most people commenting here probably already read that a while ago, though.

    …When I started a similar conversation with my dad months ago, he was rather taken aback by my suggestion that I might convince him that he’s mistaken. He hadn’t yet even considered the possibility that I’d approached the talk as such, let alone that it could happen. He seemed to think that I was “seeking”, and maybe he could explain some things so as to help me see the light…

    Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to hearing how things go!

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  13. Thanks for additional comments!

    Ark, I agree with Peter: that quote is spot-on!

    NeuroNotes (Victoria), thanks. 🙂 Yes, I’m very lucky that my wife was able to see the problems too. So many people just aren’t that fortunate, and it’s scary to think how different my life would be right now if it hadn’t gone that way.

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  14. If your family believes you are destined for Hell then that is perhaps an area where emotionally they will see that such the concept of Hell cannot be reconciled with the idea of a loving and merciful deity. How could anyone enjoy being in heaven knowing those they love are being subject to eternal torture in Hell?

    Peter, this is definitely a good angle to come at it from. We’ve talked about this a bit. Right now, I think their mindset is that if “God” said something, then that’s just how it is, whether they understand it or not. There are lots of problems with this when you get into the details. I do know that they’re bothered by Hell, especially when they think about the people they know who are obviously sincere in their beliefs, but don’t have the “right” set of beliefs. They try to take the “I’m not God, so I can’t judge who’ll be saved and who won’t” tack, but this has it’s limitations too, since they do make that judgment about us. We’ll see where it goes.

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  15. Howie said:

    I wonder if your family members have decided that intellectual discussions won’t bring you back to belief. Perhaps they’ve concluded that it’s only some power of the god they believe in that could bring you back.

    Yeah, there may be some of that going on. It’s funny, in our last meeting, my wife and I realized that at least one of them thought we wanted to come back! I don’t know how they got that impression. Don’t get me wrong, if we became convinced that Christianity was true, we’d definitely go back to it. We actually loved our congregation and enjoyed going to church. But Christians assume we non-believers miss Christianity, or feel some “god-shaped hole” in our hearts. Maybe there are some people who feel that way, but it ain’t us!

    As I told them, we just want to know / do what’s true. That’s it.

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  16. ratamacue — great to hear from you!

    Yeah, you bring up a great point. I know it was that way for me, too. I already felt like something was wrong with my beliefs, so the evidence resonated with me.

    That being said, I was always the kind of Christian who wanted to make sure my beliefs were correct. And I like to think that if someone had shown me real problems with the Bible, even back when I was at my most zealous, that I would have done my own research, even if it was just to “prove them wrong.” And I think my deconversion would have started then.

    But I do agree with you — most people just don’t seem to operate that way. So many of them simply aren’t motivated to look at their beliefs closely. In a way, they assume they’re infallible. My brain just can’t make sense of that.

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  17. nowamfoundatlast — thanks for the comment!

    And yeah, you’re right. I think this is just how the family’s going to be from here on out. :/

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  18. I went through an emotionally draining deconversion after pursuing the “correct” church and view of the bible for 15 years. After changing my theological viewpoint and hopping churches many times (including time in the Orthodox Church), I began to read some modern critical scholarship on the bible. I was disappointed to be sure but I was eager to share what I was learning. My wife left me in part because of this radical change (you are very lucky in this regard).
    I consider myself a great conversationalist and have taught adult bible study. And yet since my deconversion I have received similar reactions from family and friends of faith. I can truly say that in the last 18 years I have convinced not ONE person of faith of a single thing. I was just someone to convert or bring back to Christ in their eyes.
    I think unless you are very curious as to the veracity of the bible, you will not go down that path. That path leads to darkness in the opinion of the superstitious. Don’t bet on them even reading a book you convince them to borrow. I’m pretty sure these meetings are being staged on your behalf, listening on their end is optional…

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  19. Thanks for the comment, aurelius. I’m really sorry to hear that your wife left as a result of your deconversion. I can only imagine how difficult that would have been.

    I think that you’re probably right about the nature of these conversations. Luckily, I enjoy talking about this stuff, so I haven’t gotten tired of them yet. And I find them educational, if for no other reason than it gives me an insight into thought processes that are very different from my own.

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  20. “And I find them educational, if for no other reason than it gives me an insight into thought processes that are very different from my own.”

    I’m curious, Nate. Wouldn’t these thought processes be familiar to you, having once been quite devout?

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  21. Man I’m glad they are coming to talk, I hate they aren’t being receptive….but let’s be honest most of any faith aren’t objective by nature. Good luck friend.

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  22. I’m curious, Nate. Wouldn’t these thought processes be familiar to you, having once been quite devout?

    Well, the beliefs are familiar, but I’m finding that their reasons for believing are very different from the ones I had. Since I was a kid, I’ve known that religious beliefs are beliefs about reality, and as such, they are either objectively true or false. Therefore, evidence is paramount.

    I thought that my beliefs had really good evidence. I wasn’t that interested in the textual history of the Bible or Bible archaeology. And people I trusted who had studied those things claimed that the evidence in support of the Bible was overwhelming. On top of that, I never encountered people who claimed otherwise. Even though I knew a lot of people that I thought had wrong beliefs, they still considered themselves Christians. So while we disagreed over doctrine, none of us were questioning the Bible itself. I thought I was on firm footing.

    I thought most of the other people from my old congregation thought similarly, but I’m finally realizing that many people just don’t think deeply about it. That’s what seems so foreign to me. I was just working from a completely different foundation than they are.

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  23. It may help to take an honest look with them at what evidence and inquiry look like. They probably need to understand what special pleading means, what probably vs possibly mean, etc. It probably won’t get through as long as you’re talking about Christianity. You may have to look at Islam or Mormonism and compare how those faiths talk about themselves vs what you can find from Wikipedia and the historical record. The most fatal thing is for people to see themselves doing exactly what looks stupid coming from someone else. But I don’t think you can get them to see (1) proper examination methods and (2) the errors of their faith, concurrently. You may want to attempt decoupling them.

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  24. BTW, I should say that what you’re doing is commendable, and hard, and I wish you the best of success. I haven’t had much myself in similar situations. I think about what I would do if I had the same opportunity of discussion again. But the opportunity may be an illusion. There may be no actual openness there.

    To my prior point, I thought of a shorter way to say it. If a person isn’t good at math, putting a gun to their head won’t make them better at it. They need to get better at math where the stakes are low, before they tackle math problems on which their life hangs in the scales.

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  25. Hi Nate,

    I really admire you for the attitude you are bringing to these discussions, and I guess I respect your family for the same. As I understand it, they have changed significantly towards you – from separating from you (you said they had a word for the practice, but I have forgotten it) to discussion seems to me to be a positive step.

    Unlike everyone else who has commented, I find myself in a position halfway between both “sides” – agreeing and disagreeing with each. That obviously gives me a different perspective, and while I don’t expect you to agree fully with me (maybe even at all), I think it is worth offering that perspective.

    You know I don’t agree with much of their approach. While you don’t see the evidence as I do, you know that I genuinely believe that the evidence points in the direction of christianity, and I wouldn’t be able to take their approach as you have reported it. And I don’t share their view of many aspects of christianity, especially of the Bible.

    But there is more than one sort of evidence, and some people value one sort more than another. For example, some atheists say they would be convinced if they saw God grow an amputee’s leg back, but others say that even then they would choose to believe they had hallucinated rather than believe God exists and did a miracle.

    So logical proofs, hard facts, personal experience, a trustworthy authority or the coherence of a set of beliefs are all different ways for different people to test a belief or a hypothesis. Perhaps you are discounting a form of evidence that you are not drawn to but they are.

    There are of course possible explanations to the two cases you raise. I won’t bother going into them – you probably know them. And taken alone, many of them are quite possible, even likely. The problem for inerrancy is believing that every last one of those explanations is true. But nevertheless, it makes your case less strong than you think. (And if someone accepts what the historians say, the cases are trivial.)

    There is more than one sort of information in the Bible. Not everything is intended to be historical in the sense that we understand the word. Ancients were inclined to include fanciful elements in stories to get points across, while preserving the historicity of the core of the story. Oral traditions allowed stories to be varied around the edges, again while preserving the core. You and I have talked about this many times before, and you have Peter Enns (and likely others) on this point.

    I realise that an inerrantist would find it difficult to accept what I have just written, but I personally think inerrancy can often be a doctrine strongly held in theory while not strictly applied in all cases.

    I think we have to face the fact that subjectivity is pervasive. It isn’t confined to fundamentalist christians. I have come across many unbelievers who are just as evidence-free in their thinking as you have described. In Australia, I would say a vague non-evidence-based agnosticism is the most common view of God and religion.

    At the risk of being provocative, I have seen it in you. When we have discussed issues like how the universe began, free will and naturalism, and the idea that a non-inerrant Bible throws doubt on christianity, I have felt that you haven’t had answers, but believed the naturalistic and sceptical view on those matters with a similar level of faith as you describe in them (though doubtless you have given them more thought and reading!).

    I recognise that you don’t see it that way, and there are some here who will say the same about me. But that just reinforces my point. Subjectivity is all around us and in us, and if we understand the possibility that we are subjective, we can avoid being quite so critical of those we disagree with.

    Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, if he has been reported correctly, believes that on matters of religion, ethics, politics, etc, we all form our beliefs intuitively and then rationalise our conclusions later. That is a great blow to your comparison of rationality vs football team fandom, and to my view of myself too. I’m not sure if I agree, and doubtless his conclusions are more subtle than that. And doubtless we are sometimes capable of rationalising truthfully and even changing our intuitive conclusions on that basis – as you have reported occurred in your life.

    But it reinforces again that the situation you have described is not, in my view, as black and white as you have suggested. I don’t think that changes the issues you and your family face in discussing these matter, but it may give you some better awareness of the issues from a different perspective, and may help blunt the edge of your response a little.

    Again, I appreciate what you are doing, and the fact that you are reporting this here. Thanks for the opportunity to add a different view. Best wishes.

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  26. Why would your Christian family feel the need to study Christian apologetics regarding alleged contradictions in the Bible when they have all the proof they need: “in their hearts”?

    Jesus speaks to them every day. Jesus makes them feel safe and secure when times are scary. Jesus gives them peace when times are tough. No matter what happens Jesus is there for them. They can feel it. He “talks” to them in a “still, small voice”. He “moves” them. He “leads” them.

    Jesus answers their prayers. Remember when Aunt Beth had a bad case of the flu, everyone prayed, and Aunt Beth was better the next day! Jesus healed her. There is NO other explanation.

    With evidence like that who cares that some smart-ass “scholar” says that there are errors in the story about how Judas died or on which day of the week Jesus died. Jesus is REAL, right here, right now, inside of them. They can feel him.

    That is what you are up against, Nate. That is what many of us are up against with our conservative/evangelical Christian family and friends. Until we find a way to prove to them that the voice/presence inside of them is…THEM…they aren’t going to care about possible errors in the Bible.

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  27. How interesting. UnkleE and I must have been typing at the same time because I did not see his post until after mine had posted.

    When UnkleE talks about “other forms of evidence” I believe that he is referring to what I just mentioned in my previous post. If you believe that an invisible being resides inside your body; communicates with you daily in secret, non-audible ways; and performs miracles on your behalf; it is very hard to accept that your invisible friend exists only in your imagination, and that the “miracles” you have experienced are simply random, rare coincidences that happen to everyone from time to time.

    Your family (nor UnkleE) will ever seriously consider the possibility that Christianity is false until they begin to question the reality of the invisible friend who lives within them.

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  28. Thanks Matt. My wife and I have tried to use other religions as examples, but they haven’t really understood the point we’re making with that yet. It’s hard for me to understand why they seem so mystified by it, but I’m still hopeful that we can find a better way to say it that will be impactful for them. I do think you’re right, though — that seems to be one of the core problems.

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  29. UnkleE,

    Thanks for the comment. I definitely appreciate your perspective on it. I think you make some really valid points, and I’m going to let them simmer for a bit.

    The one thing I can go ahead and comment on is that I did think of you a bit during these conversations. Because of you and some of the other Christians I’ve interacted with on here, I made sure to tell these family members that the direction of our conversations depended on what they thought about inerrancy. If they don’t think inerrancy is necessary, then there’s not much point in going through the kinds of details I was bringing up.

    To be clear, I actually do think they lean toward inerrancy, but they might be afraid of getting painted into a corner. I really don’t want them to feel that way. It’s a shame that these discussions usually devolve into “us vs them,” when they should really be a team exercise in discovery. I didn’t write the Bible, and no one in my family did either. None of us should really feel the need to defend it — let’s just look at it closely and consider the different possibilities. But instead, we all stake out our positions and argue.

    Granted, I know more about the subject at this point than they do. And while they don’t really want to acknowledge that, I know they’re aware of it, and that probably encourages them to keep their guard up even more. I wish it inspired them to learn more about it for themselves, but they seem reluctant to do that, too.

    Anyway, like I said, a lot of what you said resonates with me. Throughout all our conversations, I’ve been trying to find out more about the reasons behind their belief, because I know they’re probably very different from the ones I had. I just don’t feel like they’ve really been able to answer that yet. We’ll see where it goes.

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  30. Hey Gary,

    Thanks for weighing in.

    I do think there’s an element of that going on with my family, but the brand of Christianity I came from tends to minimize those personal aspects of the religion. That’s why I’ve always been so surprised that showing them problems with the Bible wasn’t more impactful. We all knew lots of people who claimed to be Christians but “got it wrong,” and those individuals largely didn’t know what the Bible actually taught. They all felt they had some personal connection, but since they couldn’t all be right about that, it made us skeptical of the personal connection stuff. But I guess when my family is faced with seeing the problems for what they are, or backpedaling on the personal stuff, they choose the latter.

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  31. Beliefs are rarely discrete decisions. Beliefs are a framework. People can change beliefs relatively easily if it does not affect the overall framework. But when a belief affects the coherence of the framework, then changing the belief requires a great deal of cognitive reorganization.

    Sometimes people put in a great deal of effort to rationalize their current framework (e.g., apologetics). Other times, they just avoid resolving the question. They put it “on the shelf”, as Mormons say. And sometimes, people (especially in cults) try to avoid anything at all that might cause cognitive dissonance.

    But people can and do change their frameworks. Sometimes it happens suddenly and painfully, but I think it usually happens slowly, as people gradually figure out how to reengineer their framework to accommodate a new fact. Hopefully, your family can do that, at least to some extent, but….

    I would bet you don’t really want your family to change their beliefs so much as you want them to understand yours. If they choose to go on believing, that’s fine. People disagree about stuff all the time. But because you have been where they are, you understand how much their religious beliefs are a core part of who they are and how they see the world. You want them to understand why you do not believe because you want your family to understand who you are.

    I totally understand that because that’s where I am with my family. Unfortunately, I get the impression that most of my family only ways to talk about these things in order to persuade me, not in order to understand me. So we don’t talk about it very much. In fact, nobody in my family has ever asked me WHY I came to believe what I believe. That is frustrating and a little bit hurtful. But I have to admit that younger Christian me never asked any atheists why they were atheists, either. So, I guess I understand a little bit.

    Ultimately, you may never get what you want from them. It may be that they don’t have the cognitive or emotional time, strength or desire to rearrange the whole framework. But that’s ok. The fact that your family is willing to sit down and talk to you about these things is vastly more important than whether they understand or agree with you. It means they love you.

    After reading almost everything you’ve written here, I know that you know and appreciate that. I have enjoyed reading about your journey. I hope you can help them reorganize their own framework, but I’m mostly just glad that they have decided their framework is not incompatible with your family’s framework. Love covers up a lot of engineering problems.

    Liked by 3 people

  32. “but I’m finally realizing that many people just don’t think deeply about it. That’s what seems so foreign to me.

    I see. Thank you for the clarification. I also think that many people don’t think deeply about why they believe — their motives.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Anyone miss it: Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States; leader of the Free World; commander in chief of the most powerful military on earth; and, in sole control of the American nuclear codes.

    I’m still waiting to hear from UnkleE about available properties in Australia for my American family of four. How’s New Zealand compare to Australia in the standard of living and ease of emigration?

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Sounds good, William.

    In all seriousness. I am horrified. I love the USA but if Trump starts doing really crazy things, I’m leaving. I hope he was just blowing hot air during the campaign and will be more of a moderate once in office.

    Time will tell…

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  35. Honestly, I’m really sick about the election. I’ve been avoiding the news pretty heavily since Tuesday. It’s just too depressing. I’m filling my days with work, Netflix, and Star Wars podcasts.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Nate, I so wish you could get everyone who comments on your blog together to join you and your wife for a week-long retreat. It would be priceless! I find all of you so refreshing in a world of sleep walkers. I do not have the benefit of having any Christians who are willing to confront these issues with me. There have been brief moments when they acted like they would but it would never last long. A few discussions and they found that I just wasn’t worth their effort. So, Nate, these people who spend time with you regularly must truly love you. Those who are not inclined to think about or question their beliefs find people like us exhausting. But I have begun to believe that, more than anything, deep down, they’re scared. Scared of damaging their faith. It seems Gary may have had first-hand experience with this because his comment is spot on:

    “Jesus speaks to them every day. Jesus makes them feel safe and secure when times are scary. Jesus gives them peace when times are tough. No matter what happens Jesus is there for them. They can feel it. He “talks” to them in a “still, small voice”. He “moves” them. He “leads” them.”

    I sincerely wish that I could turn off my mind the way others do and just be at peace, just have unshakable faith. As I continue to seek the reasons why God chooses to be elusive and that His Word is seemingly contradictory and erroneous, at least to me, the worst part is not the possibility that I might be wrong. It is the idea of losing my best friend. The only one who loved me unconditionally. The only one who could change those things in me I couldn’t change on my own. The one who I can lean on, who is in control, who heals me. The one who teaches me right from wrong and empowers me to live righteously and helps me to love others. I feel like I cannot live without him. This pull continues to draw me toward him no matter what I hear that I find confusing. I hope that pull is my faith but often I fear that it is reluctance to face the truth. I keep saying to myself, yes, this is weird and this looks like a mistake but it’s just because I don’t understand. It is arrogant of me to think I’ll grasp and of these things until or unless he allows me to.

    Nate, I love how you wrote that you and your wife just want to know/live truth. That has been the goal of my life for over 20 years. But I am terrified that truth is not the solid ground I once thought it was. It is fickle and changes with our perception and experience. Instead of truth being the object and goal, truth is instead the fruit of our own minds. At least, that’s the only truth that matters, isn’t it? The truth we each cling to.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. I feel amazed and apprehensive about Trump as many of you do. I have been in the US this last week or so, and so have seen the election first hand instead of from my usual safe distance in the antipodes, and that makes it slightly worse.

    Gary, properties are more expensive in Australia than in the US generally. Here in Houston where I am currently, you could get a decent house for under $200,000 that would cost maybe 4 times that in Sydney, a city of comparable size where i live. New Zealand may be cheaper, and the people there are nicer and the lifestyle more laid back, but there be earthquakes! Nowhere is safe!!

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  38. “I do not have the benefit of having any Christians who are willing to confront these issues with me.”

    Hi Julie, I’m sorry about the way you are finding things. There are plenty of people here willing to discuss issues like I guess you would want to raise, and I am at least one christian who is happy to have a go at any question. I think there are answers that are based on evidence and lead to faith, and don’t require pretending, but the truth may not turn out to be what you have always been taught.

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  39. unkleE, It isn’t as though I have a specific question I’m asking you or anyone else to”answer.” It’s everything. It’s every one of the issues Nate has raised on the blog. It’s every time scripture contradicts itself. It’s every time God of the ot is different than God/Jesus of the nt. It’s the lack of love, power and unity among “christians.” It’s every law of the ot that Christians ignore while upholding others with fervor. It’s the treatment of women in the ot (David’s concubine, rape and forced marriage of virgin prisoners of war), it’s the confusing message of the gospel and salvation (faith comes from God but we must have faith to be saved)….It goes on and on. The questions never stop. Ever. It’s emotional torture.

    So here’s a question. Why is someone who wants to believe with all their heart and has sought after him all their life still struggling with doubt and still unable to find peace? Why wouldn’t he speak to their heart and surround then with loving brethren? Why wouldn’t he reveal himself to that person and comfort them with his unfailing truth? Why wouldn’t he help them understand the scriptures and resolve the problems, or otherwise give them peace about those things they can’t understand? And please don’t suggest that I need to surrender or that I’m not humble or I’m stubborn etc…

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  40. Hi Julie

    Those were very heartfelt comments you made. I am sure that those of us who have struggled with faith would emphasise with you.

    Indeed I continued in an assistant pastor role for two and half months after my faith was shattered. In that time I tried not to damage the faith of those in my church. The last sermon I preached was on doubting Thomas. I cast him in a very sympathetic light given my own struggles at that time. I was interested to note how many folk came up to me after the service saying how much they appreciated my words which were in essence ‘it is OK to doubt’.

    Now one and a half years after that time I still have not told most people why I left the church. The congregation think I had a nervous breakdown. I decided it was best to let them think that rather than damage their faith as they looked up to me as the person ‘with all the answers’.

    I found the process of losing and leaving faith very painful. But I realised I could not minister to others if I did have any personal conviction. I am convinced that many people of faith have real doubts but suppress them.

    I did know some folk who said they had no doubts. Indeed they were convinced ‘God’ spoke to them. However overtime their prophecy was proved false so I concluded that whatever voices they were hearing it was not a god.

    unklee and I have reached different conclusions, but I will say in unklee’s defense he does at least try to address with the concerns of those people of faith who are struggling. You will most that most of the folk that comment on Nate’s site are not particularly sympathetic to unklee’s contributions.

    Anyway I wish you the best in your search.

    Liked by 2 people

  41. Hi Julie,

    Many of us who comment on Nate’s blog have been where you are, struggling to keep hold of our cherished Christian belief system as we watch it slip through our fingers. I desperately attempted to hold onto my faith for four months. During that time I desperately reached out to multiple pastors for help. Many tried. But it was too late.

    Before you go down this road any further, I would suggest the following: Ask yourself which is more important to you: the comfort and security of your Christian belief system, or, the truth; no matter how cold, scary, and painful it may be. We are all different. What is right for me may not be right for you.

    My father is a (very) liberal Christian. He is a universalist (everyone will be saved in the end), I have tried to discuss the evidence against Christianity with my father, but he refuses to discuss it. I once asked him if the truth is important to him. He replied, “I’m old. My faith gives me comfort and peace. I want to continue to hold onto the hope that when I die I will see your mother and my parents once again in heaven. I can’t imagine giving that up.”

    As a liberal, universalist Christian, my father’s supernatural belief system is harmless. So I no longer try to “deconvert” my father. My view of conservative and moderate Christians is different, however. I believe that their supernatural beliefs are dangerous to society as a whole and must be opposed.

    So even though I believe that the “person” that Christians believe speaks to them and comforts them in their heart is none other than themselves talking to an imaginary friend, I think in some circumstances it is ok for some people to maintain a belief in “Jesus in their hearts”…as long as you are not using your (imaginary?) friend to discriminate against others. You can be a follower of Jesus without adhering to all the negative conservative stuff.

    I wish you peace and happiness whatever you choose.

    Liked by 3 people

  42. Gary, your father summed it up perfectly when he shared this with you: My faith gives me comfort and peace. I want to continue to hold onto the hope that when I die I will see your mother and my parents once again in heaven. I can’t imagine giving that up.

    IMO, this is why so many cling to their faith. Death is a VERY scary thing and if the feelings about it can be alleviated in some way, that’s what people are going to latch onto.

    Liked by 2 people

  43. Thanks for the info, UnkleE.

    I live in San Diego. The average home price here is 450K to 500K so Australia looks similar to what we see here. New Zealand looks attractive…but they just had a 7.8 earthquake last night.

    I hope I’m exaggerating but is it 1933 all over again? If so, the best time to leave is now.

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  44. Peter, I’ve often thought that pastors have it especially hard. By virtue of their role and responsibility to be strong for their flock, they don’t have the liberty to think freely or allow themselves to ask honest questions. They have way too much to lose and way too far to fall. I can’t imagine how hard the experience of deconversion has been for you. Do you have a blog where you share your story? Do you have a spouse or children that supported you during that time of spiritual transition?

    Gary, I find your dad’s defense of his faith to be brave and honest. While my parents and I have always been very close all my life and we used to have great conversations, I no longer share any of these concerns or doubts with them. I don’t want to stress them out or harm their faith. They find comfort in it. I love them so why would I do anything that would hurt them? But I think it was Nate that mentioned something about that line of harmlessness being crossed when beliefs are imposed upon others. That’s why having 2 teenagers during all of this is especially challenging. Since I started this process over 20 years ago, I really thought I’d be in a more stable position by now!

    I also want to make sure I clearly thank uncleE for his response to my post. Though it is probably clear that I’m a bit jaded (and worn out), I do appreciate his attempt to help. Sadly, his attitude and consideration of others who are struggling is the exception in Christian circles, at least in my experience. But just reading through old blogs and the comments on this site has been so therapeutic. I’m so grateful to be able to see so many points of view being represented in a cordial, respectful manner.

    Liked by 2 people

  45. I realize it was you, Gary, who mentioned the dangers of belief causing discrimination. Just wanted to give you credit for your words of wisdom 🙂

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  46. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for your kind words. I see a lot of grief in what you have said, and it is hard to know how to respond. Trying to answer some of your questions and doubts could just seem cold and mechanical, but I don’t think your “emotional torture” is likely to be resolved until you have answers, one way or the other. So I will just make a few comments and see if you want to discuss further, or not.

    We live in a tough world where both beautiful and ugly things happen every day. I don’t know why God has created a world like this, and if I focused on the ugly, I would never believe in a good God. But I think the evidence and the beauty both point to God more strongly (for me) than the ugly points away, so logically I continue to believe.

    So I don’t know why God hasn’t helped you resolve your questions and doubts. I do know that God mostly works through people, that’s the way the world is, and maybe he wants you to work your way through to the answers. It may even be that making your previous comment here is part of that process.

    I have known several other people for whom it has worked that way. They were asking questions that their churches and christian friends weren’t able to answer – because of assumptions about the Bible that didn’t stand up. But they found answers that were more reasonable when they were willing start again without those assumptions.

    So I think there are indeed good answers to your questions about scripture – contradictions, nasty things in the OT, hell, etc – but they are found only when we let go of doctrines about inerrancy, etc, and start again with the Bible as the historians see it, and work our way from there. If we do that, we see that the OT began with some primitive beliefs that were gradually refined, which explains a lot of the apparent problems you have mentioned.

    I think that is as much as I should say just now, but I’d be happy to discuss any of these matters further. I do hope this helps in some way, and that you find your way to peace as well as truth. Best wishes.

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  47. @ Julie.

    When a person such as unkleE uses the term ‘God’ the very first thing that springs to my mind is always, ‘Which god?’
    There is no more evidence for his god than any of the gods of every other religion on the entire planet.
    None at all.
    And there are an awful lot of gods!

    So maybe it is simply a case of which country or culture one is born into?

    The reality is that, people like unkleE are simply living out the delusion that has been indoctrinated into them and reinforced on an ongoing basis.

    The most difficult and oft times painful thing one is forced to come to terms with is that you have been ( unintentionally ) lied to. Usually by those you love and trust.

    What you MUST understand is you are not a sinner, are most certainly not going to any made up Hell and no matter how well – meaning people like unkleE might come across as they are WRONG.
    And the evidence will show you how wrong every single time, without exception.

    .

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  48. I can completely understand the desire to see loved ones who’ve passed on before us, and those who will pass on after us, again in some paradise – and this yearning may have even been enough to keep me hanging on, despite the many questions I had which resemble Julie’s.

    It just wasn’t enough, because along with that hope, for me, comes the next question, what if those loved ones do not make it to Heaven? What if I am in Heaven, but my wife or my children end up in Hell? How could I be happy? How could heaven be paradise, knowing that they will suffer for eternity?

    And should God spare me the torment of knowing the hellish plight of my loved ones, by either creating fake ones for me to interact with in Heaven or by erasing all memory of them from by brain (whatever memory organ one would have in the eternal spirit), then the thought of that makes me sad now – whether I know I am being fooled or not, or that my loved ones are suffering or not, doesn’t change the fact that no one wants that. Who want’s to forget their children? Who wants to have a robot loved one in the place of the real person?

    It makes me think of Job, where all of his children were destroyed for the benefit of a bet made by immortals, but it was okay in the end, since God gave Job prettier children to replace the ones he lost… It’s really pretty sick – and I don’t even say that in the overly dramatic way, but in the sense that when I try to imagine losing one of my children, and the deep devastating void that would be, and then to imagine someone, much less a divine and all powerful “benevolent” creator, suggesting that it will all be okay, because I was going to get a better looking child to replace them – what an insult… how vile…. If that’s heaven, then I don’t want to be there. If Heaven is ruled by such a twisted despot, what kind of person would we have to be to bend our knee to him?

    And even if we made it heaven, would we stay there long? Didn’t Satan and his angels sin in Heaven, causing them to be cast out? If freewill means there’ll be sin, and if God can’t be around sin, then is it only a matter of time before all those who make it to heaven get tossed out?

    Perhaps it’s that we don’t understand. Maybe it’s that I am judging God with limited knowledge, and without knowing all the facts…. But God placed those limits, if he’s real. God, if he’s real, would have written the Bible, with all the instructions on what is good and loving and merciful, and then it would also be God who decided to act counter those teachings. If the Bible God is real, then everything is on him. he sacrificed his Son because he made the rule that made it necessary. He made the Hell that he needed to save us from… I think the more we look at this critically, we’ll see it the way we see every other religion and every other myth…

    Julie, maybe we’re all reluctant to let go because we sincerely want to be good and righteous, and maybe if we’re really being honest with ourselves, we already see the Bible the way we see all the others – silly stories that were created in superstitious times.

    Liked by 5 people

  49. Julie

    In answer to your questions I don’t have a blog and I don’t have a family.

    My first comment in the blogsphere was over at ratamacue0’s blog, here:
    https://aspiretofindtruth.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/what-started-my-questioning/#comment-414

    If you scroll down you will see that in subsequent comments I discuss in more detail my views/position.

    Interestingly a lot of the folk involved in the discussion are those involved in the discussion on this blog post. A small insular world?

    Liked by 1 person

  50. I suspect that those who are at peace with the God described in Job either 1) study the Bible but accept that parts are flawed (unkleE); 2) do not have a literal view of scripture or 3) do not study the Bible academically with an open mind and, if they do, they do not allow their thoughts to linger in dangerous territory. The common thread among those of us who doubt is that our minds just won’t allow us to do any of the above. But rather than feel enlightened, I feel less valuable. As a person who spent my entire life seeped in Bible teaching (including Bible college), it is almost unfathomable to acknowledge that this book is flawed. It MUST be me who is flawed.

    So here is where I risk being laughed out of this blog…

    Have any of you ever considered that we just aren’t His chosen? That the truth is being hidden from us? Most of you may think I’m a flake for asking this but this is one of the core concepts in the Bible. “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Rom 9:18) And then of course there is “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa 6:9-10) And the most sobering in my opinion, Rom 9:11-23 which basically states that he is the potter and we are the clay and some of us are just doomed to be a dishonorable lump.

    Have any of you considered this possibility? I know it really doesn’t matter. If the Bible is true and this is what he thinks of us, what can we do about it, right? Since after all, I’m a prime example of one who has for so many years wept, pleaded, begged, agonized in my prayer, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Yet here I am…

    Liked by 2 people

  51. Julie what you raise about ‘not being his chosen’ is a very good point if one subscribes to Calvinist theology.

    Though if that is the case and there really is a Hell, then it makes a nonsense of the idea of God being either good or loving. It also contradicts the part of the Bible where God says he plays no favourites.

    The idea that God chooses some like Jacob and rejects other like Esau before they are born is taught in the Bible. But it is horrific theology. When I studied theology I thought long and hard about the idea of God choosing some before they were born and rejecting others. I could only make sense of it if there was no Hell and those not chosen ceased to exist on death.

    But if there is a Hell with eternal torture after death, then it makes God a worse creature than Hitler if many are born with only ever the prospect of eternal torture after death, no matter what they do. I did not ask to be born.

    The thing is the Bible is full of contradictions because elsewhere it says everyone who seeks will find. People like you, me, Nate and Gary have spent many years seeking.

    An arch Calvinist who comments from time to time on Ark’s blog, did wonder why ‘God had not chosen’ me for salvation after our lengthy discussions. It was a mystery to him. But he still felt God was good and loving and sovereign.

    So if God does exist I would suggest that only the arminian theology espoused by the likes of John Wesley makes moral sense.

    Liked by 2 people

  52. I would bet that many of us ex-Christians have been told by conservative Christians, “You allowed sin to blind you to the truth. Only if you repent and return to Jesus as your Lord and Savior (your Master) will you be able to see the REAL truth. Sinners (everyone) can never see the truth of Christianity without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

    In other words, “Submit to our supernatural belief system FIRST, understand it later.”

    Sorry. Whoever the Creator is, he/she/they/it gave me a brain, and my brain tells me that Christianity is no different than any other fear based superstition. It appears to be contradictory and immoral…because…it is!

    Liked by 3 people

  53. Hi Julie,

    If I may… (I hope I’m not too bold or long-winded here – especially on my first comment to you. Let me know if so; I can rein it in going forward.)

    But rather than feel enlightened, I feel less valuable. As a person who spent my entire life seeped in Bible teaching (including Bible college), it is almost unfathomable to acknowledge that this book is flawed.

    I don’t think I spent as much time “seeped in Bible teaching” as it sounds like you did, but I did spend several years in it, by choice. I made some big life decisions based on it, and let other opportunities pass me by. If you do conclude as we did that the supernatural/religious claims of Christianity are not true, I think it is fair to mourn losses like that – hopefully with a view toward moving on, and making the most of the life you have going forward. I know – easier said than done. I can’t say I feel like I’m very good at it.

    It MUST be me who is flawed.

    As far as I can tell, you’re using your brain, and seeking truth. If humanity was created by a “G/god”, then he/she/it should be pleased that you’re using the resources at your disposal – presumably provided by the same. So with all due respect: NO, that does NOT make you flawed!

    Also, even if you are mistaken about a belief, or temporarily confused about something, that doesn’t make YOU flawed – it doesn’t make you bad or worthless or stupid – it just makes you mistaken about one thing. That’s it.

    …If it’s any consolation, I think many/most of us deconverts find the tall claims and many of the underlying ideas of Christianity to be rather ridiculous in hindsight. It does get easier.

    So here is where I risk being laughed out of this blog…

    I doubt it. I think most (if not all) of us understand that the search is a process. The more you have invested in the worldview (time, emotion, identity, relationships, apologetics, and thought put into the framework of beliefs), the more work and the longer it takes to unpack, and to potentially accept that you were mistaken, and reject those beliefs.

    I think Jon explained this well above when he said:

    Beliefs are rarely discrete decisions. Beliefs are a framework. People can change beliefs relatively easily if it does not affect the overall framework. But when a belief affects the coherence of the framework, then changing the belief requires a great deal of cognitive reorganization.

    Sometimes people put in a great deal of effort to rationalize their current framework (e.g., apologetics). Other times, they just avoid resolving the question. They put it “on the shelf”, as Mormons say. And sometimes, people (especially in cults) try to avoid anything at all that might cause cognitive dissonance.

    But people can and do change their frameworks. Sometimes it happens suddenly and painfully, but I think it usually happens slowly, as people gradually figure out how to reengineer their framework to accommodate a new fact…

    I responded to his comment with a link to a video series by a Youtuber (Evid3nc3), in which I found a lot that resonated with me when I was doing the research that led to my deconversion.

    Back to you:

    Have any of you ever considered that we just aren’t His chosen? That the truth is being hidden from us? Most of you may think I’m a flake for asking this but this is one of the core concepts in the Bible. “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills and he hardens whomever he wills.” (Rom 9:18) And then of course there is “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isa 6:9-10) And the most sobering in my opinion, Rom 9:11-23 which basically states that he is the potter and we are the clay and some of us are just doomed to be a dishonorable lump.

    Have any of you considered this possibility? I know it really doesn’t matter. If the Bible is true and this is what he thinks of us, what can we do about it, right? Since after all, I’m a prime example of one who has for so many years wept, pleaded, begged, agonized in my prayer, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Yet here I am…

    I absolutely don’t think you’re a flake.

    In short, I think that the following statements cannot all be true:
    The Christian God exists
    God is good (for any sensible definition of “good”)
    All you wrote above (God hardening people’s hearts, etc.)

    If he existed, and did those things, then we’d be better (more moral) people than he – and on account of that, he wouldn’t be worthy of our service, either.

    Your questions and quoted verses here demonstrate what stands out to me as a harmful effect of at least the fundamentalist/evangelical flavors of Christianity – it makes people slaves to an imaginary deity, and prevents them from thinking for themselves. It’s baked right in. Consider Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust Yahweh with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths smooth.” (Names of God Bible) Trust the book. When the book contradicts logic or reason or itself, don’t think for yourself. Don’t question the book or its claims of “God”. Trust us; it’s what’s best for you.

    I think Neil Carter did a good job of explaining in this old post of his: Anti-intellectualism and the Bible.

    Lastly, speaking of thinking for yourself, let me say – don’t just take our word for it. Listen to all sides (Christians included), think for yourself, and make up your own mind.

    Thanks for commenting, and best wishes in your search. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  54. Julie,

    I can’t really add much to what the others have offered, but I can relate the questions you have regarding us being blinded by sin or simply not chosen by God Almighty.

    For me, I guess a few things helped me get by those thoughts:

    1) Anyone, from any religion, could feel that way or say those things. Indeed, even if we felt secure in one religion, it could be that God or Sin has blinded us to the real truth of an opposing religion. There’s so many possibilities out there, each with so little support, that it quickly becomes untenable.

    2) When God is capable of anything, even the absurd and impossible, then anything could the case. It could be that we’re mistaken and that the bible doesn’t make sense to us because we’re blinded by sin, or given over to a lie, but then anything and everything else is also possible. But if we realize that in every other aspect of our lives, logic and reason rule the day, then we can ask ourselves, “what makes the most sense here?” or, “When comparing all the possibilities, which seem reasonable, which seem less than reasonable?” And then ask yourself what other things in life are best determined by abandoning reason and logic in favor of something else?

    3) Our faith in the Biblical God is, and could only be, originating first from a faith in man. Men wrote the bible, translated the bible, told us about the bible. The God in that Bible is composed of claims by these men – so then how could our faith first be in God? We can only have faith in the God these men write about after we have faith that these men are writing absolute history and accurate truth. So, “we ought to obey God rather than man”? really? We only know what God says based on what men have said that God said,,,

    4) can we do more than our best? If God is real and just, and he sees it fitting that you or I burn in hell, despite our best effort to find truth and not be deceived, then fine. What else are we supposed to do? Is it better to reach a conclusion after making our best effort, but then going against that conclusion because of a “what if?”

    Anyhow, none of this may be helpful, but it’s just my thoughts on it.

    Liked by 5 people

  55. William, loved what you wrote in #3 — Our faith in the Biblical God is, and could only be, originating first from a faith in man. Men wrote the bible, translated the bible, told us about the bible.

    I’d never thought of it quite that way. Superb!

    Liked by 1 person

  56. Well Julie, you’ve already noted how fantastic our community is here, and I think these comments have further illustrated that. Sorry I didn’t have a chance to comment sooner, but there’s no way I could improve on anything that’s already been said, anyway. Just know that I can identify a bit with how you feel, because those are the same anguished questions I was asking myself during my deconversion. As some of the other folks have mentioned, things get better. I’m just glad that you’ve decided to use us as a sounding board.

    Like

  57. Hi Julie,

    Reading your comments reminded me so much of my own thought processes when I really started questioning after 4 decades of being a Christian. Two of those decades were spent in complete devotion and study. My goal was to die to myself (I must decrease so that he can increase) and let god work through me. I made a lot of sacrifices — I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I went the distance, but that did take time for me to realize. I kept spinning my wheels, only to find myself in the same place. I also felt the way you did, that it must be me, and perhaps that’s why I held on to my faith longer than I would have.

    There were several reasons why I ended up accepting that it wasn’t me, and questions the character of this god, and you’ve named most of them. However, in my search to understand my late husband’s neurological disorder, it became quite apparent to me that the god of the bible knew little about his own creation. If he did, then why wouldn’t he educate us about the root causes of behavior that is condemned in the bible, and even promoted, and condoned if god says so.

    So, in my sincere search to find answers, I spent more and more time studying neuroscience, and other fields in science, and I realized that the god of the bible never addressed any of the actual causes of social ills. The god of the bible only addressed the symptoms, and blamed it on disobedience and rebellion towards him. It became quite apparent to me that this god had the knowledge of the age he was invented in.

    Those feelings you have inside — the desire to cooperate, the desire to love and be loved — empathy — those are qualities that are innate, and necessary for our survival as a species. There’s nothing magical or godly about these qualities. Without them, we would die out as a species. We are self-aware and can anticipate the future, although we are discovering that we may not be the only species who is. For the most part, these are highly beneficial cognitive adaptations because they allow us to formulate plans and foresee the consequences of our actions. But they also make us realize that death is inevitable and unpredictable. Enter religion and god belief. The brain has evolved to delude itself.

    The need to delude ourselves about our impending fate is powerful, and not at all easy to overcome.

    Abstract:Two studies were conducted to establish that existential concerns contribute to anti-atheist sentiments. Experiment 1 found that a subtle reminder of death increased disparagement, social distancing, and distrust of atheists.

    Experiment 2 found that asking people to think about atheism increased the accessibility of implicit death thoughts. These studies provide the first empirical link between existential concerns and anti-atheist prejudices.

    http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/04/27/1948550615584200.abstract

    Like others have said here, it will take time, and I know that’s not really comforting for you right now. I have had to do a lot of introspection as to why I experienced anger during my deconversion, and it occurred to me that I was going through the 5 stages of grief. Losing my faith was like losing a loved one. I came to realize that the reason for getting angry at times was because when I realized that it wasn’t true, that I had been mislead, I felt betrayed by those I trusted and by my culture. I fell hard, really hard. It hurt really bad, which is why, in an age of information, I think it’s best to let children explore, rather than indoctrinate. Children are especially trusting. They need to trust their caregivers, or others, in order to survive, and whether deliberate or not, that trust can be exploited.

    At the same time, however, I also understand that people really do battle with death anxiety, whether they are conscious of it or not, which is why I don’t talk about my lack of belief around others in my offline world — not unless I’m backed into a corner. I know the consequences (personally) — but I also know that some people can’t or think they can’t survive reality without the belief of a supernatural caregiver, and the promise of an afterlife. Most deconvertees here are proof that it can be done, and peace does eventually come. Life is far more meaningful to me now. This life is most likely the only life we will have, and that is quite sobering. This awareness has made me far more appreciative of life, and helped me become fully in touch with my humanity.

    Apologies for this turning out to be so long. Julie, your comments struck a cord with me, and you touched me with your sincerity and integrity. I wish you all the best, and I feel certain that you will do what’s best for you to help you cope in an uncertain world.

    *hug*

    Liked by 3 people

  58. One thought that helped me deal with the (imaginary) loss of never seeing my deceased loved ones again in heaven, was to realize that billions of other human beings and their loved ones will never burn for all eternity in hell.

    In comparison, it is a small loss for me and an enormous gain for all of humanity!

    Liked by 4 people

  59. That is a very good point, Gary. I remember when you were really struggling with the fear of hell, and I think most of us did have that fear once we started questioning. But when we do eventually overcome that fear, it is quite amazing the liberation and relief we feel when it comes to our loved ones. Since my deconversion which was almost 17 years ago, I make it a point to say “I love you”, and it is me, not someone I think is inside of me, who is saying it. I also love deeper, and it’s different than when I was a believer. It feels more authentic.

    Liked by 2 people

  60. Thank you, nan. I recall waffling over my faith pretty strongly, even after seeing all the problems, but when that dawned on me, I was able to shrug it off like an old coat, and haven’t been able to put it back on.

    Liked by 2 people

  61. Yes, Nan, if you grew up fundamentalist Christian, the concept of burning forever in Hell is a hard concept to get out of your subconscious. That is why I blog. It is my therapy. It is my therapy as a former member of a fear-based cult. It has really helped…and is a hell of a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist!

    Liked by 3 people

  62. I was a fundamentalist Christian for nearly 50 years. I wasn’t a 100% de-convert when I started following this blog almost 4 years ago. What helped me to reach that point was the thoughtful challenges to my beliefs. No one called me names or made me feel stupid or inferior. Thanks Nate and to the many people I have met here who I consider friends.

    Liked by 5 people

  63. “It has really helped…and is a hell of a lot cheaper than a psychiatrist!”

    Isn’t that the truth, I found it to be a beneficial tool, although some people do benefit from professional counseling, if they can find a secular therapist who understands the complexities of religious indoctrination and deconversion.

    Liked by 1 person

  64. The other doctrine I found hard to eliminate, Gary, was the one about Satan (the two sort of go together). Fortunately, I did a LOT of research for my book and discovered things that finally helped me get past my fears. Here is a post that I wrote earlier this year in which I debunk the belief.

    Liked by 1 person

  65. Nan I was reading through your Satan posts and noticed many comments from our dear departed, and sadly missed, friend Arch.

    It is a bit like Ark mentioned above, a bit surreal reading his comments on earlier blog posts.

    As Arch would say when some people confused him and Ark:

    “Remember, I am the good one”

    The sad thing is that shortly before he died Arch had agreed to put back up his website, which so many of us had been asking for.

    I was just thinking, surely it was not God striking him dead before he could do this, as his website apparently contained detailed evidence against religion. {by the way I am joking in regard to this last paragraph}

    Having said all this I don’t miss the dickhead song.

    Liked by 1 person

  66. Nate that is a wonderful tribute by you and Mak.

    I had a look seemed like there were currently 6 posts on the site. Would that be correct?

    Like

  67. Yeah, that’s it so far. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted one. I’ll try to get a couple more up before Thanksgiving.

    I’ve thought about writing a “screen-scraper” application to get all the old content and post it for me, but I’m not sure how much time it would save me in the end. There are a lot of parameters I’d have to account for to make sure it worked as thoroughly as I would need it to.

    Like

  68. I hope it’s okay to chime in this late in the conversation, but these are questions that do not go away, and it makes me so happy and hopeful to see people taking them on so unflinchingly.

    Back when I followed Christianity, and, more specifically, evangelicalism, these questions would pop up pretty regularly only to be quickly dismissed. It’s what you have to do to stay the course, so to speak. Even as a “believer” I had trouble with that exact point that you bring up: How could I possibly be happy in heaven knowing that people I know and love are being endlessly tormented in hell? Being unable to reconcile this – along with the endless string of other discrepancies – the day came when the only thing to do was throw up my hands, walk away, and begin the process of learning to make peace with being unable to, in all good conscience, continue to identify as a Christian.

    To some degree, I have come to accept that, for the remainder of my life, there will always be a great portion of people who have no problem with what I found to be cognitive dissonance. It’s like that good friend who got in a bad relationship and refuses to see that it’s unhealthy. All of the efforts to convince the person of it seem to be wasted breath and energy. It’s heartbreaking and disappointing to see what’s becoming of a dear friend, but it seems they are in it because it’s familiar, it’s what they know and have come to expect out of life. There’s nothing that anybody else can do for that person so long as he/she is allowing that situation to be found as satisfactory. They’ll either continue to stay satisfied in it, no matter how incredulous it may be that they find it so, or they’ll begin to wonder if there could be something else, something more, and then the process begins to unfold of exploring the possibilities.

    Walking away has been a lonely and often sad road, but once the genie is out of the bottle, as they say, there’s no putting it back in.

    Liked by 1 person

  69. “I was just someone to convert or bring back to Christ in their eyes.” Ugh! That was one of the suckiest things about being a Christian: only being able to see people through the filter of whether saved or unsaved, and if saved, whether the right kind of saved. I missed so much of the beauty that humanity as to offer. Sad.

    Like

  70. Hi Julie. I hope you don’t mind a complete stranger jumping in, especially so long after this conversation was started, but I just found this blog today.

    I so relate to what you’re going through!! Even though I’ve decided that the bible is merely a human book of very human experiences with a myriad of ways to approach situations and make sense of them, the notion that there is a God or otherness or just something other than myself and my fellow humans persists and will not let go. I have no way to prove is disprove the existence or non-existence of God – and neither does anyone else that I’ve come across.

    At this juncture, what I’ve come to decide is to explore is the possibility that whatever it is that God is or isn’t cannot be defined in the way that the Judeo/Christian tradition has attempted. If God does exist, somebody got it wrong as to what we can reasonably expect of him/her/it/all/nothing/what-have-you. Man has created God in his own image: “I said it and God agrees, so that settles it.” …. Except, so far as I’ve found, God isn’t any of those things that pretty much anybody has said he/she/it/what-have-you is. So that changes the game. Suddenly, God is not obligated to reveal himself/herself/etc. God is like me. It’s my prerogative to reveal myself to others or not to reveal myself – and it’s my prerogative to decide who I will reveal myself to and who I absolutely will not – and I reserve the right to change my mind, even if that means I’ll change it one thousand times in a day! It’s my prerogative to interact with people or not to interact, and it’s my prerogative to decide exactly how I will interact. I’ll do what I like, when I like, how I like…that much I’ve been able to pretty well count on for as long as I’ve been alive, lol. Why shouldn’t God be given freewill too? If God does exist, we’ve been mighty unfair in all that we’ve demanded of him/her/it/what-have-you.

    So, anyway, that’s just a little bit of where I am in my journey. I wish you all good things in yours, your journey, that is.

    Liked by 2 people

  71. Hi Nate! I found your blog tonight and am a little late to the party, but I guess you’ll be noticing various replies I’ve left to people’s comments. I, like you, have decided to seek truth and to be as honest as possible about where that search leads. Most of what I’ve done thus far is sort through what I don’t believe. I haven’t sorted through enough of it to really see what’s left, but I am embracing the process. I got a little over halfway through the comments to this post and am looking forward to finishing the rest after I’ve had a chance to get some sleep. I’ve been up all night reading and reacting, and it’s time to let my brain rest.

    Thank you for this blog.

    Liked by 3 people

  72. Thanks facebookbyebye! I really appreciate your comments, and I look forward to seeing you around here! Feel free to comment on any posts whenever you like — no comment thread is too old. Well, let me give a caveat: when I first started this blog, I was a Christian, so my earliest posts reflect that. I’ve closed comments on those, because I no longer believe what I wrote then anyway. But any posts you see on here from 2011 on are open for discussion. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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