deconstructing daniel

January 31, 2010 at 11:28 pm 24 comments

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!

Bonus points if you can identify this lion

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.

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Entry filed under: apologetics, belief, fundamentalism, leaving, skepticism. Tags: , , , , , , .

irreducible complexity reconstructing daniel?

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Boz  |  February 1, 2010 at 12:59 am

    That was a very interesting post, your writing style is very engaging.

  • 2. Sabio Lantz  |  February 1, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Nice ! Daniel seems pivotal. But certainly lots of other factors were building up to this. Can you feel your mind re-writing the history of your de-conversion as you talk to different audiences?

    If you were in a liberal church Daniel itself might not have tipped your exit, but I am curious what other things would have been slipping even in a liberal Christian church. We’ll probably never know. Smile !

  • 3. atimetorend  |  February 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    blg rsps
    @Boz, thanks so much, appreciate the encouragement, especially as I was really wondering if the post was even comprehensible.

    @Sabio: You are right, of course my episode with Daniel was just one piece of the puzzle. It was the first concrete pivotal moment I can recognize and as such serves as a marker for me in understanding things. In that way it is almost a literary device in this post, representing a lot of things that were going on in order to concisely communicate them. It would take a whole lot more communication or multiple chapters in a book (which I would never be able to write) to get beyond that.

    Rigid systems of belief tend to shatter dramatically when pressure is applied. My guess is I would still be a happy believer or at least a happy member of a liberal church had that been my background. I’ve wondered about that a lot myself.

  • 4. kansasbob  |  February 1, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    “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 progressive views of scripture I would have been able to see a different way.”

    I get that.. my journey from fundamentalism to a more progressive understanding of the scriptures has helped me to reconcile most of what I once could not.. it has helped me to eat the proverbial meat and spit out the bones.

  • 5. Lorena  |  February 2, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Basically, what pastors say to us is, “Believe because I do. How can you not accept something that I, who knows more than you, have accepted>”

    I find that position patronizing and unacceptable. Pastors are used to people believing just because they say so and have a hard time taking no for an answer.

    I am glad you stood up to him and took your life back from dogmatism.

  • 6. atimetorend  |  February 2, 2010 at 7:49 am

    @kansasbob, thanks for commenting. I am regularly amazed by friends of mine who have made the shift from fundamentalism to a more progressive form of religion. It is a hard lesson to learn I think to eat the proverbial meat and spit out the bones, or as I usually put it, avoid throwing out the biblical baby with the bathwater.

    @Lorena: I don’t think this particular pastor meant what he said in a condescending way, “believe because I do,” but that he had not thought through things in that way and it is what *he* had been taught to believe, that if you believe differently (from biblical inerrancy) it is a heart issue not an intellectual process. Either way though, you are right, it is a condescending attitude, and a convenient argument to state that others are morally culpable if they do not think the same way you do.

  • 7. kansasbob  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I think that faith has gotten healthier for me as I have embraced reading the bible differently. Anymore I simply use the Jesus filter for strange or difficult verses. It has helped me to embrace concepts like grace and mercy.. things I once could define in Greek but had no clue how to live out.. I was once a pretty hard-nosed fundamentalist :)

  • 8. atimetorend  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Bob, personally I don’t see how a person’s faith could not get healthier rejecting fundamentalism (my very strong bias)! Good for you I say. [Aside: Peeked at your blog — Blue Dog (not the Democrats) is cool, we have some fans of his in our family. Basic epistemology in his book?]

  • 9. Mike aka MonolithTMA  |  February 2, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Good stuff. I’ve been considering re-reading the Bible soon and perhaps blogging my way through it. Then again, I have more ideas about blogging that never come to fruition than the ideas that do. ;-)

  • 10. kansasbob  |  February 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I am a bit of a Blue Dog in many areas. I haven’t shared this with many folks but thought I’d pass this link on and get your response to my thoughts on literalism.. it is a bit different.

  • 11. The Woeful Budgie  |  February 3, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    ZOMG it’s the Tawny Scrawny Lion! I’m sure that book is still at my grandma’s somewhere. <3

    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.

    Couldn’ta said it better. My husband said something interesting in a conversation last week, when we were reflecting on our different approaches to understanding the Bible. He said that when he runs into something that he doesn’t understand, or doesn’t sound like “the God he knows”, he doesn’t really pursue any further because “it’s not worth losing my faith over”. That really stood out to me: it almost seems like an oblique admission that the whole thing falls apart if examined too closely.

  • 12. atimetorend  |  February 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Bonus points awarded to TWB for correctly identifying the lion! The book has great illustrations, BTW.

    …it almost seems like an oblique admission that the whole thing falls apart if examined too closely.

    Or an admission that it could fall apart if examined too closely? Yeah, from my perspective it is not worth holding onto faith if it cannot bear that kind of scrutiny. I know for a long time I avoided examining things for a long time for that reason. I imagine other things about faith were not working for it to get to that point, I don’t know.

  • 13. Christiana  |  February 4, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    TWB,
    I think I understand what your husband means although I would not have said it exactly that way. I will not necessarily give up believing something just because part of the whole concept concept does not make sense to me. Many things in the Bible have become more clear to me over the years and that is what I love about it. Every time I read it more of the mysteries are unraveled. Just because I come to a part that seems contradictory or wrong at first I will not lose my faith because during the years so many of these mysteries have been clarified throughout the scriptures. For example, my husband is reading through the Bible in 3 months, the fastest he has ever done it. He says that he sees so much more reading it that way than reading it slow. He is making a lot more connections. If something doesn’t make sense at first I just realize that maybe I need to look at it from a different angle or from a different perspective. There have also been things in the bible that history books and scholars used to think were false that recent evidence has shown to be true after all. So no, I would not be afraid of pursuing the mystery for fear of losing my faith, I’ve read many things that contradict what I believe (this blog included) :) I probably read and listen to more counter than pro these days. I think it helps form my own opinions better that way.

    Just to turn the tables……don’t you have things that you don’t understand completely or don’t make sense in parts but you still believe? It reminds me of Richard Dawkins when he was asked how he believed life started in the very beginning and he mumbled something about how maybe it was aliens. Aliens, but not God. Interesting. Hmmmm…..blind faith? At least he’s not a fundamentalist about the aliens though. :)

  • 14. Christiana  |  February 4, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Oh and that “what was in your heart that made you think this way?” question. Ugh. Totally agree with you on that one. That stuff drives me bonkers.

  • 15. atimetorend  |  February 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    re: “what was in your heart…” Since you know who I am talking about, I would be curious as to what your take is on why someone would say that. Just taught that way and hadn’t thought about it? Different way of looking at the world? If you don’t think you can answer that question with integrity (not gossiping) I understand.

    To me it sounds like this: There is only one right way of looking at the bible (one which would require Daniel be written around 586 BC). Any intellectual position which conflicts with that view would not be held if a person was in right relationship with God, therefore it is a heart issue. Or something like that? It’s a guess on my part of course, I wish I would have asked at the time.

  • 16. reconstructing daniel? « a time to rend  |  February 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    […] my previous post I included the quote below, relating a view of the book of Daniel as a later writing rather than as […]

  • 17. atimetorend  |  February 4, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    …don’t you have things that you don’t understand completely or don’t make sense in parts but you still believe?

    Of course, and leaning on consensus opinion does not always lead to true beliefs, as you pointed out. But that is different than not persuing something because you are afraid to lose your faith over it. Or in the case of the book of Daniel, holding a certain viewpoint rigidly which is not necessarily incompatible with faith as a whole, but may be incompatable with a particular understanding of faith.

    It reminds me of Richard Dawkins when he was asked how he believed life started in the very beginning and he mumbled something about how maybe it was aliens.

    I think that was an explaination for what scenario could exists if ID was true, or something like that. He was making the point that if ID was shown to be true it was not necessarily God. I’m not going to defend Dawkins or the quote, but I think the context there is important.

  • 18. Boz  |  February 4, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    I agree with christiana in that it is very important to read articles/videos that counter your current opinions. Our beliefs must always be tested.

    The problem I have is that I sometimes read an article that is so outrageous, that my mind is dominated with thoughts of how retarded the article is. That article is quickly closed and I instinctively return to the reassuring climate at pharyngula.

  • 19. Christiana  |  February 5, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    I just checked and you are right of course about the Dawkins quote. Leave it to you to actually check it out. :) What I find interesting though is that Dawkins will not acknowledge that the God of the Bible exists but would rather choose to believe that IF Intelligent Design was true than it must have been started by some form of aliens. Of course he has absolutely no evidence for this but chooses to believe that possibility rather than believing that God exists. Anyway…..that’s irrelevant so sorry for the rabbit trail.

    As to the heart issue thing. I really personally think that it is just something they were taught to believe and have not thought it out for themselves. How could not believing Daniel was written in 586 BC be a heart issue? Can’t you still hold your position and still believe that it was inspired? Are you sinning by questioning a commonly held belief? As I said previously, my views or understanding on many things in the Bible have changed over the years as I have learned more. Am I sinning for questioning my previously held positions? Do they believe Martin Luther had a heart issue because he could not hold to the Catholic church’s’ teachings at the time? To say that anyone who questions your beliefs has a heart issue is ridiculous. Of course I still hold to some fundamentals myself but I can see why fundamentalists drive you batty. :)

    I think many people are confused about what the essentials really are. They will die on the hill of textual dating, marriage roles, politics, clothing, music styles, church polity and organization etc all the while leaving, justice, mercy, faith and love in the dust.

  • 20. atimetorend  |  February 5, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    re: the rabbit trail: I had heard that quote somewhere before, that’s why I looked it up. But, even if life on earth were to have originated with space aliens, that’s only pushing the problem back a level. How did these darwinian-evolved space aliens originate? :^)

    I think many people are confused about what the essentials really are. They will die on the hill of textual dating, marriage roles, politics, clothing, music styles, church polity and organization etc all the while leaving, justice, mercy, faith and love in the dust.

    I agree, that’s a good point.

  • 21. Liberum Credo  |  February 5, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    You know, I had a similar experience. The day after I lost faith in Mormonism (it was a sudden experience) I was back in church and there was this guy teaching a lesson on the fulfilled prophesies of Joseph Smith. Joe essentially said that the North would battle against the South and there would be great trials and tribulations; earthquakes, hurricanes, and the end of the world. He also stated that a certain temple would be built in a certain spot in a certain location “before this generation hath passed away.” The teacher went on to explain that J.S. ‘prophesied’ the coming civil war (was it really that hard to spot coming two years in advance?), and that there was great tribulation, and that there have been earthquakes and hurricanes and that the world is bound to end eventually, so he is dead on with every prophesy! It seemed so ridiculously contrived that I was almost surprised no one said anything, but everyone there was eating it up like cream, and I remembered I too would have been just two days earlier. The teacher then went on to tell us that the temple which was foreseen was even now being build, in our generation as J.S. promised. I almost had to leave the room to keep myself from screaming “He promised that to a bunch of people who died 200 years ago!”

    It amazes me how different things can look from the other side of the wall…

  • 22. the greatest of these is love « a time to rend  |  February 6, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    […] said in the comments of my deconstructing daniel post: I think many people are confused about what the essentials really are. They will die on the […]

  • 23. The Woeful Budgie  |  February 6, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Christiana.
    I think, while you may share similarities, you and my husband are coming from different positions. When you say, “I will not necessarily give up believing something just because part of the whole concept concept does not make sense to me”, it looks to me as though you’re willing to face the difficulty, and not shy away from it, because you’re certain that your faith can withstand. He, however, seems quietly concerned that his faith would not survive the scrutiny. Perhaps because that’s what he saw happen with me. I mean, when I started questioning, I came at it with the approach of bolstering my faith, not tearing it apart. That…sorta backfired on me, you could say. I pulled that one thread, and slowly, bit by bit, the whole thing unraveled. So it seems, at this point, he’s actively doing his best to ignore the snags in his own faith, in order to preserve it. After all, if it could happen to me, who’s to say it couldn’t happen to him? And I certainly know how scary that prospect can be.

    “Just to turn the tables……don’t you have things that you don’t understand completely or don’t make sense in parts but you still believe?”

    Well, sure. I’m still human. ;) OK, here. Just the other week, my husband left for work in the middle of a pretty nasty rainstorm. I felt it was very important to tell him “drive safely” before he got out the door. Of course it’s silly: I knew he’d drive safely anyway, especially in such nasty weather, and for that matter, his safe driving was no guarantee that some other driver wouldn’t do something stupid and take him out. And perhaps “belief” is too strong a word here, because I knew all this in my head—but I did it anyway.

    The difference between that and, say, praying to God to keep him safe (like I used to do), is that I don’t really believe I’m invoking any supernatural protection over him. I’m just letting him know I love him, and calming my own nerves, even if in a goofy, irrational sort of way. :)

    “I think many people are confused about what the essentials really are. They will die on the hill of textual dating, marriage roles, politics, clothing, music styles, church polity and organization etc all the while leaving, justice, mercy, faith and love in the dust.”

    Well said.

  • 24. Divine Origins, Part 4 « Right To Think  |  February 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    […] BCE. There was a good post about Daniel at A Time To Rend recently, so I’ll direct you there for further […]

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