According to Wikipedia, cognitive dissonance is “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.” The more rigid a religion is in its creeds, the more cognitive dissonance can result from clashes with the real world. It is very hard for me to point to just one thing that created enough cognitive dissonance for me to start the questioning process. But perhaps the final straw came from a sermon on the book of Daniel, which for me called the doctrine of inerrancy into question.
The sermon itself was an exposition on the prophesies contained in the book of Daniel, the point being that if God was faithful to answer prophesies then, we ourselves should be able to trust him now. The pastor had waded through a lot of complex material in an attempt to explain what the the prophesies in Daniel were really about and how they had played out in history. While I admired his attempt to grapple with the material, as a history buff the solutions he presented seemed contrived, like they were trying to force the evidence to meet preconceived conclusions. Enough for me to venture onto the Internet in search for more information. A dangerous precedent!
In a nutshell, the book of Daniel is held up as including prophesies of the coming of the Messiah, along with predictions of various kings and kingdoms coming and going. According to this website, “the book itself claims to be the work of an exiled Jew in Babylon, during the period of about 586 to 536 BCE.” Since a number of the prophesies appear to deal with events which transpired around 165 BCE, an early dating of 586 BCE could indeed constitute fulfilled prophesies.
The general consensus of modern biblical scholars however places the writings to around the time period of 165 BCE. One reason for this, as fundamentalists are glad to point out, is that a later dating, after the events “foretold” already transpired, does not depend on a belief in supernaturally fulfilled prophesies . Unfortunately for the fundamentalists, there are other solid literary and historic clues which support this later dating.
Viewed as a later writing, the purposes of the book can be understood a different way:
Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God’s plan for his people.
It didn’t take much reading to realize this view of the book just made more sense to me. I was actually asked about a year later by this same pastor “what was in your heart that made you think this view of Daniel was true?” I replied that I did not think it was anything in my heart making me think that way, it is just where the evidence seemed to lead. I really think it is only a “heart issue” that causes someone to believe in the earlier dating of Daniel, because of a desire to maintain a certain view of the bible rather than more dispassionately considering what is really going on in the book. Of course this is all based on my own limited understanding of the textual issues and historical details at hand, but that is the best I can do. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.
For me faith pretty much fell apart at that point. I felt the advice I received to deal with those doubts and to try to hold on to faith all pointed to returning to a blind trust of the bible. Much of what I read seemed to exhort people to reject their own reason (as human, corrupt, and fallible) and accept the sweet and pure truth of God’s word the bible. Which to me still sounds like a clarion call to shut off your mind and just believe.
Maybe if I had been in a more progressive tradition I would have dealt with those doubts differently. Maybe if I had been surrounded by voices calling me to more flexible view of scripture I would have been able to see a different way. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and faith made more sense discarded than clung to at that point. On one hand it hurt and I responded with a lot of anger. On the other hand it has helped me to think for myself, to form my own opinions, and to read, read, read. And to be honest that has been a pretty good deal for me. I am grateful for a deconstructed faith.