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1/13/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Lost Credibility

By Micah Cowan

I had always known about them. They were always there, lurking in the corners of Scripture, waiting for discovery, waiting to become catalysts of ignorant doubt; of the questionings of God and His Word.

Problem passages. Those passages that, at first, and even second glance, seemed to pose real, spiritual problems: doctrinal difficulties, or contradictions of known facts about the world, or even of other passages in scripture! But always, there’s an answer, for those willing to look below “just the surface;” for those with the mustard-seed faith to trust at least enough to ask God: “Lord, show me the answers I’m not seeing.” By responding with the humility to seek God and have faith that there is more to these seeming difficulties than first meets the eye, I allow God to open His vaults of wisdom, to grant me a mere kernel of insight, of greater knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of His Word. Rather than becoming jaded and disillusioned, I will instead become a little stronger, a little more secure, in the knowledge that God’s Word is perfect. God’s Word never fails.

Take a popular example; James’ words in the latter half of the second chapter of his book seem to fly in the face of Paul’s constant assertions that Christians are saved through faith, not by our deeds (Eph 2:8-9): “faith without deeds is useless” (Jas 2:20), “faith without deeds is dead” (2:26), “What good is it… if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (2:14), and fatally, “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (2:24). (The scriptural concept of “justification” is approximately equal to, or at least strongly tied with, salvation.)

Is there any conceivable answer to this? Is it even remotely possible to reconcile these blatant contradictions?

And yet, when one humbles himself before the Lord, and honestly and open-mindedly seeks the answer to this mystery, acknowledging that there is or at least may be one, one is greeted with the clear, sound, answer. A closer scrutiny of James’ second chapter reveals that, in fact, James seems to be quite careful to never actually say what at first glance he seems to be: that salvation is obtained by our deeds, rather than by faith. Even the “inescapable” verse 24 says that “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (emphasis added). The other verses never actually say that faith is useless, or that faith is dead­—only that it is that way when unaccompanied by works. The language in verse 14, “claims to have faith…”, and the previously unmentioned verse 17, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” (both with my emphasis), make it clear that James is in fact arguing that faith must be combined with works, otherwise it isn’t genuine faith at all.

You see what happened? We encountered a scriptural passage that seemed at first to so clearly contradict other scriptures, as to spell certain doom to the concept that the Word of God is inerrant (and therefore entirely consistent); and yet, through trusting in God’s Wisdom, we see that even the impossible is made plainly true. And so I may start to become convinced that no matter the difficulty, a plain and reasonable explanation is available for every apparent scriptural problem.

Less plain, less reasonable

And so, on my faith in the absolute infallibility of the Scripture continues. But, over time, I start to accumulate some other difficult passages. These still have ready answers, easily obtained from spiritually mature, well-versed Christians. Yet some of these answers don’t sit quite as comfortably as I’m accustomed to.

Jesus anointed by a woman

For example, the gospels of Matthew (26:6-16), Mark (14:3-11), Luke (7:36-50), and John (12:1-10) all give stories of a woman who anoints Jesus with expensive perfume from an alabaster jar while he eats at the home of a man named Simon (except John, who doesn’t mention whose house it is). However, in Matthew, Mark, and John’s version,

  • Simon is a Pharisee (Matt. and Mark; not mentioned by John)
  • The event is clearly placed immediately prior to Jesus’ betrayal (a week before, according to John). Jesus declares it as being early burial preparations.
  • The disciples complain about wasting such expensive oil, when it could’ve been sold for charity.

In Luke’s version, however,

  • Simon is a leper
  • The event is clearly placed well before the Last Supper, as Jesus is then described as “[a]fter this” having plenty of time to travel about from village to village, giving sermons and parables.
  • The complaint is from Simon, regarding the character of the woman performing the anointing, and from Simon’s other guests, regarding Jesus’ audacious presumption to forgive the woman of her sins.

Now, of course, the point is immediately made that Simon could have been both a leper and a Pharisee, or could have been a leper in the past and retained the designation after having been healed, which is fair enough. And, of course, it could be true that both Simon and his guests and the disciples were all feeling relatively gripey that evening.

The time presents a larger problem; usually the claim is put forth that the gospels aren’t in chronological order. That’d be fine, except that all four gospels use very specific wording that places it immediately before the next-described event; in the case of Matthew, Mark and John, the betrayal and Last Supper, with Jesus going to Jerusalem for the week of Passover the very next day; and in the case of Luke, a traveling outreach ministry of preaching “from one town and village to another,” specifically using the words “[a]fter this” (referring to the anointing). He couldn’t have done both.

This still leaves the possibility that Luke is referring to an entirely separate incident. This is probably the most promising explanation, but it still smells a lot less plausible than a simple explanation that one or more of the gospel writers simply varied the story a bit (there seem to be several passages in this category within the Bible).

Paul’s sexism

And can Paul really not have been as sexist as he appears to be when in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 he says:

As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Or how about in 1 Timothy 2:11-15?

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

(There are comparatively very few churches, in the US at least, that interpret these passages as literally and as plainly as Paul lays them out. Apparently, this is one of those cases where frequently even Christians’ faith is unequal to the task of taking God’s Word at its word. Note, too, that there are plenty of other places in Paul’s writings where he makes statements that are very depreciative towards women; I’ve simply chosen a couple obvious examples.)

The answers to this one are various, and include justifications from the viewpoint of cultural norms, and explanations that the men and women were segregated in the churches and therefore the women would have to shout questions across at the men or discuss it amongst themselves during the service (which, of course, still fails to address the issue of men who might wish to ask questions—why aren’t they admonished to keep quiet?). This is usually coupled with misdirection in the form of pointing out that the Bible isn’t really sexist, because look at how Jesus went against the cultural grain in how he treated the women he came in contact with! (Of course, the existence of chivalry in one part of the Bible can’t somehow cancel out chauvinism in another part.)

And none of this really deals with the style in which Paul delivers his instructions, which, particularly in the 1 Timothy passage, seems abundantly, clearly, vitriolic and depreciative towards women. I mean, is it just me, or did he just place the bulk of humankind’s greatest supposed calamity squarely on the shoulders of womankind, placing their value at little more than vessels for childbirth, while deriding them as ignorant and gullible in comparison with men? Christians are quick to point out that the pain of childbirth was Eve’s punishment for her part in the fall, and that Paul applauds some specific women elsewhere in his writings; but that does little for me in the way of offsetting the acidity in this passage.

Dead or alive?

Matthew (9:18-26), Mark (5:22-43) and Luke (8:41-56) all tell a story of Jairus, a synagogue ruler, who approaches Jesus and asks him to heal his deathly ill daughter, but en route is interrupted by a woman who avails herself of Jesus’ healing power to cure herself of vaginal bleeding. Many critics of the Bible, when examining this passage, will focus on the fact that Jesus claims the girl is not dead, but only lies sleeping, whereas the mourners “knew her to be dead”; but that argument does not bear close scrutiny particularly well.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the fact that the gospel stories don’t agree on whether Jairus himself believed his daughter to have died or merely still on the point of death. Mark and Luke both clearly describe Jairus as believing that his daughter was or at least might be still alive at the time he came to Jesus. Luke says that Jairus came to him “because his only daughter… was dying,” and Mark specifically says that Jairus said, “My little daughter is dying.” It is then clearly news to him when, after the woman is healed of her bleeding, a messenger arrives to describe his daughter to him as dead, and advise him to leave Jesus alone now as there’s nothing to be done. Jesus then reassures him that He is able to heal her, and continues on to do just that.

Matthew, on the other hand, presents Jairus as already knowing his daughter to be dead, saying to Jesus, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” The story of the bleeding woman is then relayed, and Jesus then goes to Jairus’ house to resurrect the daughter.

Are there answers? Sure, but none of them really fit. You could try to claim that Jairus’ words in Matthew were uttered after he received the news that his daughter was dead… but Mark and Luke both clearly indicate that this news was received after the bleeding woman received her healing, whereas the Matthew account has him saying these words to Jesus before that event. You can fix this by saying there was more than one messenger, one coming after and one coming before the healed woman, and have Jairus say these words after hearing from the first messenger, but then why would Jesus need to reassure Jairus upon hearing the “news” that his daughter was dead (since he already knew that)?

Finally, since Matthew never actually names the synagogue ruler as Jairus, as both Mark and Luke do, one could again try to claim that it’s actually a different ruler with a similar story. Of course, one would also have to accept the coincidence of a bleeding woman who touched Jesus’ clothes to obtain instant healing, and Jesus having arrived in the town by crossing the lake in a boat in both instances.

Adding it all up

I’ve already written about the problems with the story of Jesus healing a centurion’s servant.

The thing is, over time a devout student of God’s Word slowly accumulates many different passages like the ones I’ve described. Many of them have easier explanations than some of the ones I’ve presented here, and some of those explanations, perhaps like the problem in James we encountered, can even be resolved to utter satisfaction.

Many others, however, just plain don’t “sit right”. you can explain them away to a sort of uneasy satisfaction, but you have that tiny prick in your conscience that tells you that you’ve just made some major leaps in reasoning. Having been raised in a very loving, caring, and understanding Christian family, and experiencing the rapture of God’s great love every time I sat at the piano to lead the congregation to express through music my adoration and devotion to our Wonderful, Merciful God, there was an intense amount of emotional pressure within myself to find any way to rectify these problems. For that reason, I generally wouldn’t spend an awful lot of energy trying to resolve them; I would get just enough of an answer to satisfy myself that, surely, there was a more complete version of the answer if I’d just take the time to pursue it.

In my field of Software Engineering, though, I am frequently exposed to real exercises in logic and reasoning—though I’m also quite frequently exposed to computer programmers and the like that are extremely poor with logic and reasoning: nerds are a strange breed. However, as one of a particularly eccentric flavor of nerd who enjoys things like reading several-hundred-page programming language specifications, and then debating with other “language lawyers” over some of the fine nuances of what the implications of some small strip of text means, and whether a particular, minor behavioral idiosyncrasy on the part of a language implementation is “conforming” or not, I have over time gained a sharper understanding of just what sorts of arguments are reasonable, and what sorts are clearly fallacious. It is very like arguing theological points, and we use our language specifications as our Bibles.

The difference is, we know our “Bible” to have been written by fallible humans, and when we see something that, after careful reasoning, is either excessively vague or in direct contradiction with other passages in the specification, we acknowledge it to be human error (and lobby the specification committee to resolve the problem).

Over time, in reading the Bible and asking God to explain His wisdom to me, I started to notice more and more acutely that the sorts of reasoning and arguments I was employing to justify scriptural accounts and instructions to myself, or that I was accepting from other, knowledgeable Christians, were precisely the sorts of incredible reasoning and pseudo-logic that I would never actually accept from anyone about anything else. In fact, for the most part, I wouldn’t even accept it in explanation of the very same problem or circumstance, if it were alleged to be happening today. I had become a hypocrite, willing to employ selective judgment as to what varieties of arguments were justifiable, depending on what they were intended to justify.

After encountering the centurion story discrepancies, I became very disturbed, and troubled in my spirit. So, like a mature and obedient Christian, I immediately turned to God for help, in constant prayer and anguish, and meditation on Scripture. I read more Scripture to give God the opportunity to use them to answer my prayers and my questions, but instead of receiving insight and peace, I would immediately encounter more problem passages (I was in Luke at the time, which apparently has several inconsistencies with the other gospels). So then I’d have more questions for God, with no answers. At some point, I had to stop reading as frequently and intensively, as I was already overloaded with difficult passages. And all this time, I never heard God’s voice.

After about six months, I no longer struggled with God’s word; it was clear that at least a few of the problem passages could not be explained away by reason: they were, in fact, bona fide problems. After a lifetime of faith built upon the constancy and inerrancy of the Bible, I accepted the fact that the Bible could not have been inerrant, on the grounds that it wasn’t even internally consistent or reconcilable.

And so began another six months, of possibly deeper anguish. My entire life had been built upon the Bible: was my faith now to be discarded? I still sought the Lord’s answer every day, pleading with Him to give me the answer that would lead me to His peace. I didn’t believe in the Bible any longer; could I yet believe in Jesus as the Son of God, as my Lord and Savior? But what about the clear Scriptural principles of spreading the gospel to all others, and the doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ alone?

Clearly, I could no longer attempt to convince those I met that Christianity was the only way to escape eternal damnation, when the very foundation of that belief had crumbled away. The best I could hope for was the sort of liberal Christianity I’d been raised to disdain. A Christianity that held the Bible as a book of stories and guidelines, but not as Gospel Truth; that held Jesus to be a not-necessarily-historical figure but an excellent model nonetheless. But I still clamored for the Christianity I wanted: a conservative Evangelical Christianity.

So, another six months, spent every day with total uncertainty of what I believed, what I could live for—my very identity. I made no progress at all in that time; in the meantime, I was still in a position of some leadership in my church, leading praise songs for God, still heartfelt—in fact, in some ways, more heartfelt than ever before, as I was also crying out to God for His spiritual healing. I would still waver back and forth in my own mind as to what I believed, whether Jesus could be my Savior. I wanted to step down from my position, as I felt like such a hypocrite; and yet, I would frequently lapse into temporary confidence and assurance that I could yet trust Jesus, and God, and that perhaps there was even still hope for resolution of the scriptural problems I’d seen.

But after six months of this anguishing, of laying awake at night in mental and emotional battle for my spiritual wellfare, I realized: enough is enough. After half a year of day-to-day madness, I can, at the very least, no longer pretend to myself, and to everyone else, that I believe in Jesus. I didn’t yet disbelieve Him, and yet, I clearly didn’t have a strong and substantial belief in Him.

So, just before Easter of 2006, I withdrew from my position, and from participation, at the church I had been attending. I announced my lack of faith to the people at the church with whom I had regular contact, and to my family. Even as I announced my loss of faith, I had hoped that God, if He was real, would take it as the cue to reveal Himself to me anew, and my tumultuous period of doubt and disbelief would serve as an exercise in character-strengthening. But the release was palpable. I felt my spirit at peace again, my burden lifted from me. I even experienced the familiar signs of God’s guidance (or so I’d always interpreted it before), a “peace” about the step I was about to take.

And, although I didn’t, on that day, actually disbelieve in Jesus and the teachings of the Bible (as opposed to the details of some accounts within the Bible), yet the action of making myself plain, of shedding the façade of faith that I’d been wearing, and of publicly acknowledging that I didn’t have an actual faith in these things, freed me to admit to myself the self-deception I had put myself through regarding what I had previously interpreted as God’s interventions, of miraculous more-than-coincidences, and God’s teaching and guiding voice that I’d always “heard” so clearly. In a matter of a handful of days, I could no longer even really claim a lack of disbelief in Jesus. I had become firmly convinced that the God of Christianity was not real.

So, what if I’m wrong? What if God is real, He’s the God the Bible says he is, and the minor discrepancies in the Bible are really just minor discrepancies? What if, upon shedding my mortal coil upon this earth, I am confronted with the prospect of eternal suffering in the unending fires of Hell?

If that’s the case, then how can God claim to be good? I desperately wanted to believe, to continue having a relationship with Almighty God as my Daddy. If He gave me the gift of faith (Eph 2:8), then He also took it away from me, and despite every indication in the Scriptures to the contrary, refused to hear my cry, answer my call, or respond to my prayers. I did not choose to become an unbeliever, because I did not choose to stop believing. What I chose to do was look a little too closely at Biblical passages that do not bear such scrutiny, and lost the evidence upon which I might have based faith. Without any foundation for belief, it ceased to be a matter of choice: no matter how desperately I desired it, I could not choose to believe in something without a basis for belief.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

The loss of an old friend, even an imaginary one, hurts.

My sympathies for your loss, even if it's not 'real' in an objective sense.

Welcome to the real world...

Grandpa

Anonymous said...

Faith: an insidious mixture of insanity and ignorance. Welcome to planet earth, your gonna like it here, especially with your head out of your a8s.

Anonymous said...

Michah,

What can I say. Such a moving story, you've come so far and now you've come out the other side. You've had the courage to look closer and see what needs to be seen.

This site is an absolute haven for people who have been Christians and then woken up to realise that faith was just that - faith.

People (as far as I'm concerned) can believe what they like but there is this attitude with Christianity that its' write because my book says so!

I'd always heard of people converting to Christianity but never had I come across people who were devout and who abandoned their beliefs.

As someone who is a pagan and has been a christian (not baptised but a believer never the less) I was always disheartened when I read stories about pagans who had converted to Christianity. Why was this, was there something in the bible that was true. Maybe I thought, after all you rarely (if ever) here of someone who left the 'true' christian religion.

But after coming across this and other websites, my heart was gladdened once more. People do leave the Christian religion but perhaps they feel they wouldn't be taken seriously, so they keep quiet and try to struggle with friends and relatives who are believers. They should stand up and be counted. They should read people accounts here and come to realise that there's nothing wrong with abandoning you beliefs - no matter how fundamentally they felt about them.

Thank you for all of your contributions, and thanks goodness for this website, and common sense which rules here in!

Anonymous said...

Yes, your story was touching, and welcome to the world of reason and fact.

What struck me as I read it, is that you were suffering from what many Christians suffer from. The notion that there is only one holy book in the world. You struggled so hard to reconcile the conflicts within the Bible, but what about how the Bible conflicts with the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita? What about all the other sacred texts in the world? Most of these followers of these other religions also believe that their sacred writings are the revealed word of their god or gods. How do you know they aren't right and the Bible is wrong?

This is what led me to reject Christianity, and then finally all belief in myth and superstition, is the realization that all these religions can't be right, so maybe none of them are right.

Sarge said...

I started to wonder when I was five, things didn't add up. An omniscient,omnipotent entity makes everything and it is "good", even putting a tree, the fruit of which will allegedly kill, right in the middle of where it's 'cherished' creatures live. Tells them, leave it alone, BUT one of it's ropy creations somehow gets into a serpent and temps Eve. They eat, Don't die, but wise up...well, sort of, I think, by looking around me. For this they lose paradise, feel pain and suffering enters the world, mankind is tainted forever. So, how does a 'perfect' entity do such sloppy work, not know what's gong to happen? How does it come about that a 'good god' lies to its creation and the 'father of lies' tells the truth?

We have one David who is described as a 'man after gods heart.' Hmmm. Traitor, usurper, oath breaker, womaniser, lecher, murderer, liar, possible buggerer. Well, you're known by the company you keep, I guess.

Then we have Jesus and the 'sacrifice'. Mithra, Tamuz, Baldir, a few others are born of virgins, die for three days, have twelve associates in some form or another but take no notice. Also don't look at the moon or lunar cycle for similarities. There aren't any. There aren't, and stop looking!(in my experience followed by a slap)Anyway, this was done to save man. Job done. (No mention of what the interest rate is pewr anum) But wait! You have to believe! You have to adhere to certain rituals and do certain ways! There's more rigamarole added and added. And the people who facilitaed this sacrifice are to be despised and injured for it! Yeah, that makes sense.

The 'bible' is the word of god, written by him, and clear as a bell.
No one seems to have an autographed copy, and by the many versions of the same religeon, it doesn't seem clear at all.

So, why no talking snakes or donkies today? Why no walking on water, etc? I'm told the Age of Miracles are past, now is the Age of Faith. When I ask to see the schedule (I mean, surely one must exist to keep these ages straight, can't have the twice born expecting miriacles at the wrong time, now, can we?) none is produced.

I am told that 'men of faith' prayed about these things and were 'moved' to an answer. In other words, it's a bunch of horse shit that they keep adding to. And I'm called a fool for not buying any of it.

Gshand said...

Such a wonderful, well researched and honest article! As an atheist I do belive that there was such a person as Jesus who travelled his limited land to preach things that would benefit his limited flock. Son of god---ne. Born of virgin birth---impossible. Is the bible the literative word of god---no. It is a collection of stories and parables written over centuries in an effort to control the behavior of social beings? Yes. You have come to a good place through your ability to think logically. Enjoy the rest of your life without hypocracy, guilt or question. You are a human being, responsible for your actions (deeds) and when you die sooner or later the worms will thank you

Anonymous said...

Your story is so moving. I can feel the anguish along with you as I read your story. I am feeling the very same way right now. I too have left the faith after holding it so strongly. My break came this past summer of 2006, while enrolled in Seminary at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. What an emotional and heart-wrenching experience it is. And you're correct, true peace is found on the other side. I was excommunicated from my church for my change in beliefs. But we cannot make our hearts believe what our minds will not accept. Now it's time to grow and become the person we are capable of becoming. Take care, and continue in your courage.

eel_shepherd said...

"...In a matter of a handful of days, I could no longer even really claim a lack of disbelief in Jesus..."

Reminds me of a quip popular in computer programming circles: "That's not right --- that's not even wrong."

Add me to the list of posters who thought that was a compelling, honest testimonial. A hard ride for you, but you did it. Things are looking up.

Also, I notice that right near the end of your story, you clearly point out the problem with what most people are familiar with as "Pascal's Wager", namely that a person can't simply _choose_ to believe this or that article of faith for utilitarian reasons. A person believes what he/she believes, over and out. Requiring a Pascal's Wager change of mind is the same as saying to a person, "Don't be you." Wouldn't be worth much on Judgement Day even if such a day existed, which it doesn't.

Billy Bee said...

One of the things that I found amazing (during my deconversion) was how the least qualified people suddenly became my biggest critics.These were the fellow christians who had not bothered to do any questioning at all regarding the accuracy of the book they believed to be perfect.
I love hearing that you worked hard to try to hang on to the faith. It's awesome that your effort was rewarded with clarity of mind.
Now comes what can be the harder part...maintaining your patience with some of the well wishing believers who now look at you with pity and horror.
It's great to have a fellow like yourself make it through the dark age....it show that anyone who can be honest will eventually make it to real freedom.

ficino said...

Micah, amazing story. I admire what you say about using reason and logic to evaluate truth claims.

Now, how would you reply to someone from the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox tradition who may say that the faith comes to us via tradition and the church's teaching charism as a whole, of which the bible is a major but not only part? Theologians in that tradition often notice contradictions among factual elements of the biblical narratives, but they say they are not of theological significance because it's precisely the doctrinal message, not the historical details, that are significant. They'd say the resurrection is non-negotiable, but details about what time of morning it was and who saw the risen Jesus at what point are significant only as part of the religious message. They'd appeal to miracles and lots of other stuff to buttress their claim that their movement is guided by God. I think they'd say that your crisis of realizing the Bible is not historically inerrant is a crisis that a Protestant fundamentalist would have but not a believer who knows the "fullness" of the faith via the sacraments, tradition, community of saints and everything else that the protestants threw out with the bath water centuries ago.

They'd also have lots of ways of harmonizing James and Paul - see for example the Council of Trent on justification, which differs a lot from the Lutheran take.

Note: I am an atheist and an ex-catholic. But I still find it valuable to hear how ex-protestants deal with the attempts by catholics and others to downplay the consequences of biblical contradictions. I remember as a protestant being challenged by a catholic who explicitly demanded that I account for the fact that the bible has contradictions - that guy was a defender of traditional catholic doctrine. (Some traditional catholics do defend historical biblical inerrancy but it still doesn't matter in their system the way it does for protestants.)

cheers

Micah Cowan said...

@ eel_shepherd

Thanks for your kind words.

With regard to Pascal; the "wager" inspired part of a separate article on my blog a few months ago titled The Urgency of Faith, where I discussed that sort of reasoning in as conclusion-neutral a manner as I could manage, trying simply to make the point that the wager is not as one-sided as Pascal would have us believe.

If you read fragments 229 & 230 of Pascal's Pensées, you find:

"If I saw nothing there which revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But, seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied; wherefore I have a hundred times wished that if a God maintains Nature, she should testify to Him unequivocally, and that, if the signs she gives are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether; that she should say everything or nothing, that I might see which cause I ought to follow."

Which is why he then argues that we should decide the wager based on the stakes. :)

Pascal also makes it clear in fragment 684 that he realizes the Bible contains contradictions.

Micah Cowan said...

@ ficino,

Excellent question. And I do have some answers to it, but I'm afraid it would take another lengthy article to address it properly. As you point out, people in the Catholic tradition (such as, as I just mentioned in a previous comment, Blaise Pascal) have much less of a difficult time accepting scriptural error. As do more liberal, non-Evangelical Christians.

However, I personally feel that an argument against the Bible suffices: any religious tradition that affirms that the Bible is the inspired Word of God should at least tremble at the thought that God's message to us could be allowed to become so corrupt. Were I to take the time to write an article on this subject, I'd probably also use similar reasoning wrt the corruption of the Church, especially during certain well-known periods in history. I mean, it is because of such corruption in the leadership of the Church that Protestantism was made necessary in the first place.

The Roman Catholic church, of course, has the birthright to claim roots as the original Church. It is not the only Church to be able to do so, however, and it is quite illuminating to compare it against the other Orthodox traditions, especially when you realize they don't all even agree on which books constitute the Bible.

Lost Credibility is written primarily as an appeal to my friends and family, who come from a strong fundamentalist (but not ultra-fundamentalist), Calvary Chapel tradition. Not that I expect to convince anyone, but I at least desire to show them that my own convictions are not without basis. As such, it is somewhat less effective in arguing against other Christian denominations.

Nvrgoingbk said...

First of all, Micah, I know personally, the mental torment experienced when going through the process of deconversion. I began the process last summer '06, and submitted my own testimony in July, so I am fairly new to a life of unbelief. I am continually made privy to information that reaffirms my departure from once cherished beliefs.

With that said, I have to agree with Pascal who was frustrated by a lack of evidence one way or another, as to the existence of God. His conclusion is what went south, because it has a black hole running through the middle of it, which is obviously that he too might be in err for not believing in one of the world's other religious founders such as Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, or L. Ron Hubbard. Regardless of his faulty conclusion, I definitely relate to the conundrum we are all faced with regarding the possible existence of God.

That is precisely the stage I am at now. We here, at Ex-C are all at different places of belief about how we got here and where we are going. There are some of us on this site that truely believe the universe is an accident with no designer or purpose behind it and that when we die, we are completely detached from life and conscience forever. There are some who believe in an afterlife, Karma, and/or alien abduction (nod if you do :-). There are some of us who just don't know and figure that there's nothing they can do about it one way or another. One thing we all share in common however, is that we have survived the brain washing of religion, namely Christianity, and have emerged on the other side with a sense of peace for the first time in our lives. Welcome to the ranks of men and women who are, in my opinion, braver than most people on the planet, because they face their future unsure of the outcome, but with integrity intact.

Now: I would like to respond to Ficino

You are right about Catholics (and some Protestant faiths) who find little problem with the "minor" scriptural errors and contradictions in the Bible. They are able to justify such errors, but there are also some pretty big WHOPPER contradictions in the "Word of God" that can not be easily explained away and which should make Christians very uncomfortable. THese particular contradiction regard the very nature of God himself, and the very commandments of said deity. I will give one example: THe New Testament equates God with Love. It explicitly states that "God IS love." In 1 Corinthians, love is defined. It claims that love is not jealous. If we refer back to the Old Testament, we will remember a particular verse in which God is recorded as saying: "I the Lord your God, am a jealous God.'

Now, this is only one example of continuing contradictions regarding Yahweh's character and commandments from Genesis to Revelation. THe example cited above is one of grave concern for me and should be for all who believe in the inerrant Word of God. Is he jealous or not? Is he Love or not? According to scripture, you can't have it both ways. A contradcition such as this is impassable, as far as I'm concerned, but Christians choose to disregard the obvious. Even when confronted with such glaring contradictions, most will pray for God to reveal the truth to us apostates.

Piprus said...

Micah,

This was a great reading, thank you for posting it here. There is so very much in the bible that simply cannot be reconciled with the fundamentals of christianity, in light of common sense and reason. You're on a journey that will certainly enlighten you. The more you read of ancient history, pagan traditions, and how those traditions came to be syncretized into the jewish and, later, christian religious traditions, the stronger will become your disbelief in christianity as no more than the religion of our culture, just as the worship of Marduk was to the Babylonians. Certainly not the path to any kind of mythical eternal life.

Congratulations on your exit from chritianity, and welcome. I hope you'll stay with the community here.

xrayman said...

Annonymous said,

"But we cannot make our hearts believe what our minds will not accept."

Amen brother. I need to start a new sub group called ex-wishy washy Christians. My mind would never fully accept the Christian religon. I went through many years of faking it real well, but in the end I found this site and others like it, and now I couldn't believe unless of course we get some sort of proof.

I used to think I was missing something within that wouldn't allow me to experience God, where as now I realize I had the gift of inner knowledge to realize it was total bullshit all along.

Billy Bee said,

"One of the things that I found amazing (during my deconversion) was how the least qualified people suddenly became my biggest critics."

I told an aquintance at work about my freedom from God belief due to lack of evidence, and he looked at me smugly like I was a two year old and gave me the old, "You can't see the wind can you? But we know it is there." That's a real thinking relgionist's line.

christuffer said...

Just look at the way the Bible translators 'code' references to sexual organs.

How long before the problem passages are 'coded' too.

And how long before they are quietly dropped forever ...?


A scary thought.

christuffer said...

Just look at the way the Bible translators 'code' references to sexual organs.

How long before the problem passages are 'coded' too.

And how long before they are quietly dropped forever ...?


A scary thought.

Micah Cowan said...

@ christuffer,

I'm not entirely sure I know what you're referring to, but AFAIK the Bible translators didn't "code" references to sexual organs, as you've described; unless you want to come up with some specific examples of discrepancies between the original version and a translation.

It was actually the original writers who tended to use euphemisms for such things; often languages from that time didn't even possess a non-euphemistic word to describe either the organs or the act itself. Hebrew writers would use phrases like "he knew her" or "he laid with her" (as we still do today); "rod" was frequently used to refer to the male organ. None of these have anything to do with translation, and everything to do with the culture and language of the time it was written.

"Dropping" passages from the Bible is practically impossible these days, owing to its ubiquity, as well as its variety in translations. Even when we realize that a currently-included passage is an addition or modification to the original text, we merely annotate it, rather than re-remove it.

Remember, skepticism is important to apply to anti-Christian as well as Christian arguments...

Anonymous said...

I am addressing what the apostles in the bible were talking about when it comes to “Faith”. A christian will inevitably produce good works if they are truly in Christ.
God will bless those who follow him and trust in him. So it’s not a contradiction at all. It’s common sense really.

Jesus sent his apostles off town to town to spread the news of
Christ and told them that if they didn't believe or welcome them to shake the dust
off their feet from that town. That's what I have done with people in my life.
Have you ever read the entire bible in entirety? I find so many people who claim to be authorities on it but never have actually read it from front to back. Would you comment on the Iliad and the Odyssey or Hamlet without actually reading the book front to back?
The bible is the oldest book in our history and if you’re evaluating a translation, you should go to its original translation which is Hebrew and Greek. Especially if you’re using “wordplay” in the English translations. You might find something interesting. I find it very sad for all of you who once believed in Jesus Christ and now do not. I will pray that you find Him again because he will welcome you with open arms. Aside from your “wordplay” theories which I think are way off base… what about all the prophecies fulfilled in the bible? Why don’t you research the odds of the prophecies in the bible actually being fulfilled? Nothing has been proven untrue in the bible. In fact it’s the most accurate historical document ever written when it comes to our human history.


I believe Jesus said in Proverbs 8 in the OLD testament, please put emphasis on the HE:
:
22 “The Lord formed me from the beginning,
before HE created anything else.
23 I was appointed in ages past,
at the very first, before the earth began.
24 I was born before the oceans were created,
before the springs bubbled forth their waters.
25 Before the mountains were formed,
before the hills, I was born—
26 before HE had made the earth and fields
and the first handfuls of soil.
27 I was there when he established the heavens,
when HE drew the horizon on the oceans.
28 I was there when HE set the clouds above,
when HE established springs deep in the earth.
29 I was there when HE set the limits of the seas,
so they would not spread beyond their boundaries.
And when HE marked off the earth’s foundations,
30 I was the architect at his side.
I was his constant delight,
rejoicing always in his presence.
31 And how happy I was with the world HE created;
how I rejoiced with the human family!

32 “And so, my children,[a] listen to me,
for all who follow my ways are joyful.
33 Listen to my instruction and be wise.
Don’t ignore it.
34 Joyful are those who listen to me,
watching for me daily at my gates,
waiting for me outside my home!
35 For whoever finds ME finds life
and receives favor from the Lord.
36 But those who miss me injure themselves.
All who hate me love death.”

I pray you find life and find it from Jesus who died for you.
All you have to do is believe.
GOD BLESS,
Angelica