Religion is when you try to feel better about living in a terrible world.
[Below is a recent email to a friend which I am republishing here with slight modifications for privacy.]
You said something like I need to get back to why I first loved Jesus, not be a Christian for intellectual reasons. I have a hard time understanding that. It’s like you’re telling me, get emotional about Jesus but don’t worry if He’s real or not, or if Christianity makes sense or not. I first became a Christian for an emotional reason, because I felt a need for Jesus. It’s not been until a few years ago that I seriously started investigating my faith and trying to determine how solid the foundation is, and what evidence and reasons I had for being a Christian. So I started challenging my faith by forcing myself to be open-minded and read opposing points of view and listen to criticisms the other side(s) offered. I guess having an open mind started me down the slippery slope in the first place, but it doesn’t help that I had emotional issues with unanswered prayers, inexplicable circumstances in my life in which the context of a sovereign God made sense only by way of faith and mystical thinking, and a realization that my own obscurantism served more as a comforting layer of insulation than a protective coating for truth. It’s not that I don’t want to be a Christian, or that I’m insisting it couldn’t possibly be true. It’s just that I’m trying to resist what my head is telling me after looking at every piece of evidence I can find and reasoning from that instead of “faith-based” assumptions, thoughts that tell me that Christianity even if true is mostly improbable, and I shouldn’t be faulted by God or anyone else for not finding it convincing or feeling obligated for faith without sufficient and convincing evidence (I would consider a personal revelations and/or miracles from God, even if I could not prove them to anyone else, to count as sufficient and convincing evidence also).
This is part of the reason why I do not understand your liberal Christianity, though I like it a lot more than fundamentalism. Simply put, if the Bible contains scientific and historical errors, why trust ANYTHING it has to say? It does not matter if, as you say, the Bible is simply a guide from God for salvation and Christian living, because that is not an acceptable basis for believing in it even as a general guide (you would not treat any other book this way, except perhaps works of fiction or personal opinion pieces, and even then, you would draw upon reasons outside of the text itself for agreement). If the Bible is partially inspired and trustworthy, then which parts? And how do you tell? And if there are no good answers to these questions, then why should the Bible be any more important than any other book, say, for example, some grandmother’s cookbook? I simply need more reasons to believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible than emotional ones, and no, I am not simply trying to reduce everything to an intellectual argument or understanding either. The foundation for most of the faith comes from the miracles and revelation given by God and recorded in the Scriptures. This is why the Bible cannot simply be a guide to salvation or for Christian living, because those same passages about salvation and living for God are directly or indirectly tied to miracles and revelation recorded as Scripture for reference by believers and to witness to unbelievers. The Bible must be more than a collection of good ideas or ways to feel better emotionally about wearing the Christian label. And perhaps it is my fundamentalism that makes me think this way, but how else should I (even could I) think about it?
Well, I wanted to say more, but I hope that explains where my difficulties are. Can you answer these please? I’m not looking for debate, or trying to be argumentative. I just need answers, thanks.
[Edited for a typo.]
Reposted from byroniac.blogspot.com:
Just a quick note. I just finished reading a skeptical (and excellent, in my personal opinion) book, “Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary” by Kenneth Daniels (//link) (sorry, I do not have a page number because I read the Kindle edition and do not know how to determine it). I was alarmed to find that the NIV, which I like, apparently translates Ezekiel 20:25 (//link) incorrectly, compared to the KJV, NASB, and others. The new 2010 NIV has this verse correctly translated, apparently (//link), and I would very much like to get this version in leather-bound. I am disappointed with the 1984 NIV somewhat over this issue, so I will probably focus my efforts on the NASB or ESV, which I prefer over the KJV personally. I’m still happy that the NIV is more popular than the KJV, because even though it’s a good translation, I hate reading in it and from it. Seriously, people, it’s time to move on.
Link #1 to source: http://www.kwdaniels.com/wib/WhyIBelieved.htm#The%20unity%20of%20the%20Bible
Link #2 to source: http://books.google.com/books?id=-Ww3fYhIZ_YC&q=ezekiel+20%3A25#v=snippet&q=ezekiel%2020%3A25&f=false
OK, everyone. I’m no longer Christian, and I’m tired of pretending and sorry for lying. I guess I am agnostic, perhaps Deistic in my thought patterns. I apologize for not telling everyone sooner, especially family, but there were very few people who knew this. Now I wish to make it public. I admire my Christian friends even if I do not share their religion. Best wishes to all, and to everyone a good night I guess.
I’ve been a member of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) since the early 1990’s. I have a fond memory of my Dad, who did not go to church himself, coming to the recognition service at the local Baptist church where I belonged where the church celebrated all of its graduating high school students. That was a long time ago, and I can still remember it like it was almost yesterday. I remember my mom at the high school graduation ceremony itself, and how happy I was to graduate and begin a new phase of my life. I was also very happy to be a Baptist as well, as I felt that of all the Christian denominations out there, Southern Baptist fitted me the best. I felt both happy and comfortable, and believed I truly fit in and always would.
God took all of that away.
I am still trying to figure out the how and the why. My life is vastly different now. My theological beliefs have changed. And though the struggle is sometimes difficult, I am grateful to God for removing hindrances to my personal walk with Christ. Don’t let anyone fool you; pruning is difficult! But I look forward to the blossoms of the flowers that will come in due time.
First, let me state what I am not. I am not an agnostic, or an atheist, or a heretic, or anything of that sort (as if you could not tell from my previous paragraph). My basic beliefs on the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, sinless life, resurrection from the dead, inerrancy of the Bible, and His certain return in judgment have not changed. My ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) has changed. So has my eschatology (doctrine of the end times and judgment). So has my pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit and spiritual relationship to God). Underneath all of these changes has been the foundational catalyst of a changing soteriology (doctrine of salvation) in how I view God’s salvation of unworthy mankind. To put it simply, I discovered that God really does save people, as He pleases to do so, and their very desires for Him, for His salvation, and prayers for mercy and grace all find themselves rooted in God in whom they originate. Salvation is of the Lord! (Jonah 2:9, partial quote).
A lot of things in my religious thinking have changed. Denominational constructs are primarily mental vanities. They exist only because true believers operate at differing levels and understandings of spiritual maturity, so that disagreements are not only a given, but unavoidable. I do not believe that denominations themselves are inherently wrong, but that without proper care such can be elevated above Christ, as an idol. I believe paper membership to a physical building for a fixed weekly schedule is mainly worthless. The Holy Spirit does not need it, and church secretaries accomplish nothing in the spiritual realm by producing, organizing, and approving of all the required religious paperwork it takes to properly attend to worship in physical buildings dedicated to the ongoing practice of human religion. I do not believe that tithing is mandated for the New Testament New Covenant church. And though I believe the Presbyterian paedobaptism (infant baptism) to be in serious error as opposed to the proper mode of credobaptism (believer’s baptism), I am pleased to count many as brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I honestly count as unintentionally disobedient to the commands of Christ in this regard but cheerfully obedient to His other commands beyond any mere sense of duty. Though I primarily vote Republican, I no longer have the confidence I once did in politics especially in the work of social redemption of our current American culture. Perhaps I still retain too much confidence here, and too little in Christ, and this should be my familiar self-rebuke to rely solely on Christ. So, I am no longer impressed with a paper pedigree to a physical building set aside purely for religious purposes perhaps two (one and a half?) days a week, and I feel neither should you, if you are truly a believer.
Sheep sanctification is far better than goat religion. Christ is our Redeemer, Savior, and Judge. Rather than offering up to Him empty religion, let us take up our cross daily, die to ourselves, and follow Him.
Help me, O God and Savior Jesus Christ!
OK, back to Google Blogs for now. No reason needed, none given. WordPress is great, and if I remember, I’ll try to post (if anything) in both places. Sorry, guess I have blogging ADD.
(Rant mode activated. Beware. Insincere apologies forthcoming.)
Happily, this does not apply to all fundamentalists, just most of them. There are no specific methods to identify in advance who these fundamentalists will be (that I currently can see), other than to engage in conversation first and the scenario just described will usually become obvious. You will probably not need any help in this area, unless you are one already.
2. Don’t always expect any interest on their part, or even the courtesy of a reply.
There are multiple reasons for this. Usually it boils down to the idea that said fundamentalists find themselves entrusted as the sole guardians of truth, which must be defended at all costs, remaining impervious to mere human reasoning and the inherent deception of a secular (to them) point of view. Please understand, the humility of the fundamentalists compels him or her to share the portion of truth entrusted to his or her own care, and when resisted, to patiently give one or two admonitions to repentance before whipping out the trustworthy all-purpose Stamp of Heresy TM. Also understand that such stamping need not occur publicly, but can be accomplished virtually in the fundamentalist’s mind without manifesting any physical evidence of its occurrence.
3. Don’t necessarily expect much engagement with ideas or even the Scriptural texts themselves, beyond the casual copy and paste prooftexting which has proven so popular and effective in terms of expressing majority opinion and reticence to any minority viewpoints. A text without a context is a prooftext, as someone has foolishly said, because prooftexts are self-evident, context is irrelevant, and why do we really need to discuss the text anyway? At these points, I typically try to interject the concept of the sacredness of tradition, without much success but no small amount of personal frustration.
REMEMBER: If you are NOT a Fundamentalist, then my good sir or madam, you are simply MISTAKEN.
Please take the time to read this excellent four-part article if you are interested found at Word of His Grace.
Also, on an unrelated note, you can find the latest article (Secret Sins) from Free Grace Broadcaster below. I have not read this article yet. However, I can easily endorse this site and its contents so far.