Agnosticism, Atheism, Bible Study, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

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.

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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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).

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 4 people

  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!

    Liked by 2 people

  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?

    Liked by 3 people

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 2 people

  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?

    Liked by 6 people

  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.

    Liked by 2 people

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

    Like

  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!

    Liked by 2 people

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 2 people

  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. :/

    Like

  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…

    Liked by 3 people

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

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