unexamined faith

March 26, 2009 at 10:48 am 8 comments

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A note I wrote to capture the thoughts, but probably will not send:

If you feel it is important to live a life of biblical christianity, then it should be important for you to examine what the bible says. And if that is important, it should also be important to examine what the bible is; how it came to be written, who wrote it, why it was written. When you accuse me of elitism in this, and ask what I think of people who are not able to do that, study the bible critically and analytically, what about faith like a child, etc., I completely agree that not everyone can do that. But think, not everyone can study Greek and Hebrew either, not everyone can study John Calvin’s Institutes, or even read Pilgrim’s Progress in its unabridged forms. Yes, we all have different abilities. And we depend on others to do this work for us to the extent that we can’t. But to the extent that we can, in something important to how we live our lives, it is important to study it as well as we can, at least to a degree commensurate with how important it is and how able we are to pursue that knowledge (time, education, etc.).

Do conservative christians believe you should not examine the bible? Of course not. But I would venture to say that many feel you should not examine the bible unless you are finding it to be authentic and true. Or maybe it is that they welcome it being examined because they know it is true, and you will find that as well. And that if you don’t, it is because you are wrong. So it is OK to examine it, but only if you reach the same conclusion they do. I guess that is what having certainty in your religion means. And maybe people are entitled to have certainly about things if they want to, even if it is misguided. But it can be a terrible way to go about understanding the world we live in, and to understand ourselves, and even to understand God.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cecil  |  March 26, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Speaking as a Christian, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I think that what most people learn as believers is doctrine and theology, not the nuts and bolts of the spiritual teachings themselves. Catholic CCD teaches straight from the catechism. Children in Protestant sunday school learn doctrine in much the same way. In fact, much of the disunity of Christianity is based on differences over doctrine, rather than Jesus’ message and teachings.

    My own path has taken me far from any orthodoxy. I grew up in an evangelical, fundamentalist church, but as a teen became very dissatisfied with it. Instead of rejecting it outright, I began this historical/critical examination of the scriptures and church history. My life has been quite enlivened by this quest. I’ve even grown to cast some doubts on those who are most critical of scripture. I’ve come to believe that Jesus’ message, and most of the Christian Bible, is centered around an ethical message, NOT scientific or historical truth, and that we make that message relevant by living it, not just talking about it.

    While I have a college education, it doesn’t seem beyond the reach of most people to undertake the kind of examination you are considering. With time and encouragement from others, it is very possible.

    (I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and find it very thoughtful. Keep up the good work.)

  • 2. atimetorend  |  March 26, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks so much for commenting Cecil, you are my hero for the day.

    So far, I have lost more faith than you did in my departure from conservative evangelicalism, but I really appreciate your description of the quest. I find that wherever my faith is, as you said, my life is quite enlivened by the quest. And that is so much more real to me than holding to belief in certain set of tenets.

  • 3. Cecil  |  March 26, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    You’re welcome.

    I lost faith for a long time after my departure. I considered myself an atheist; Friedrich Nietzsche was a touchstone for a long time. I was merciless on the beliefs of my upbringing. And my “return,” if that’s what it is, is more based on experience than on a creed. No religion lives with some personal experience of it; I think much of contemporary Christianity, of whatever stripe, is essentially “dead faith” and blind belief, to which people cling out of fear and need. To me there seems to be a necessary give and take between faith and experience, if that makes any sense.

  • 4. atimetorend  |  March 26, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    Cecil, I can definitely relate to that, that does make sense to me about the connection between faith and experience. Something has to make it real, and I have come to the same conclusion about contemporary Christianity. It is in learning more about what exactly makes it dead, why people feel about it the way they do, learning the history of the church, and about the bible that I am able to more and more have a peace about it, not railing against the nonsensical aspects.

    I poked around your journal today and enjoyed my time there.

  • 5. The Rambling Taoist  |  March 27, 2009 at 1:37 am

    Speaking as a non-Christian, I’ve found that most conservative Christians seem wholly disinterested in examining the bible and how it came to be. Whenever I point out the great political intrigue surrounding the canonization process, most of them act like little children by placing their hands over their ears and going “lalalalalala — I’m not listening”.

  • 6. atimetorend  |  March 27, 2009 at 2:06 am

    Ha! That is a great picture, and it is so true. One of the amazing things to me is that I did that myself not too long ago, I just have a really hard time trying to put myself in my own shoes and understanding that I really did. Some other me I guess… ;^)

    I think at the point where I was challenged to think about it, and other things like it, I just decided to focus on other things. Which intellectually is exactly the hands over the ears mechanism.

  • 7. DagoodS  |  March 27, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I enjoyed studying the Bible. I liked classes with engaging discussion, informative tidbits, and coming out with a new perspective.

    When I initially began engaging skeptics, it was both exhilarating and a bit disconcerting how much they knew about the Bible. Sure, we had our fun little “debates” over who wrote Hebrews—these people had discussions over who wrote almost every book in the Bible! (What? Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch? John didn’t write “John”? But if John didn’t write it, why is it called, “The Gospel according to John”?)

    It was daunting to be a life-long Christian, with my puffed-up pride as to how well I knew the Bible, when I was reading people who did not believe it to be the inspired word of God, but knew Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Coptic. (I don’t know one of those languages, let alone two or three.)

    While the conversations with skeptics were troubling from a personal-faith issue, it was very exciting from an intellectual standpoint—I LOVED learning all this new information.

    After deconverting, I went to many of my friends and family to share just an inkling of what I had learned. These are intelligent, college degreed and graduate degreed people. They were also lifelong Christians who has studied the Bible along side me for decades. I figured since I was interested in this new information—they would be too.

    Boy, was I wrong! *grin* I was flatly told they weren’t interested. As one person brilliantly claimed, “Christians do Bible Study; they don’t study the Bible.”

    To give you an idea of how minor and uncontroversial item I mean—I had the following conversation with my father. A Christian for 65 years, deacon, elder, etc.

    Me: You’ve read through the New Testament many times, true?
    Him: Of course.

    Me: Have you ever read through the Epistles of Paul in the order they were written?
    Him: You know—I never have.

    Me: You ought to—you can see how his theology and doctrines vary and mature over time.
    Him: We’ll see.

    As far as I know, he hasn’t done so to date. C’mon, Christians—you read it anyway—how harmful can it possibly be to read Paul in the order his letters were written? Yet, because it was suggested by a skeptic—it is immediately assumed to be “bad” to do so.

    I find most Christians I associated with don’t even know 4% of the controversial issues (authorship, dating, textual criticism, synoptic problem, culture, etc.) let alone what each side of the issue claims. Yet they are assured the “other” side is wrong.

    Pitiful.

  • 8. atimetorend  |  March 30, 2009 at 1:29 am

    DagoodS: I have felt the same way, loving learning all the new information. At some point my interest in Christian literature waned a few years ago, I didn’t really believe in the magic world it lived in, but I wasn’t reading anything new. Skeptical literature and biblical history and textual criticism was such a new world! It is hard not being able to share that with those I am closest with. It’s exciting and important, I feel they should think so too. I do hope that small interactions like the one you described have an effect over time, as even during the interchange that was rejected, a little bit of information was passed along and considered.

    Yes, considered “bad” coming from a skeptic. I think also considered a waste of time while being potentially dangerous. “Does it deepen my experiencing of Jesus? No, well, not worth considering then. And must be wrong, somehow in the big picture, even if not in this little detail.” Frustrating.

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