Watch out. it’s gonna be a long one…
As you might know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I used to be a Christian. A real, true, Bible-believing one. And in very many ways it was very good. In very many ways, Christianity was a beautiful thing in my life.
The central idea of the Christian faith, according to most Christians of my acquaintance, is that the world is broken – we are broken – and God in the form of Jesus Christ came to fix (save) us through his love.
I still believe that in a way. Clearly, the world has problems – big ones – that seem to stem mostly from humanity’s many psychoses. Clearly we need fixing. And I do think that the fixing will depend, ultimately, on love.
But I can’t call myself a Christian any more.
How I ended up here is a long story, involving the discovery and study of a lot of new information. In my search for truth I have gleaned information from numerous academic fields – biology, geology, physics, sociology, archeology, history, psychology, and more – and this information has all played a part in landing me where I am now. But at the end of the day, it is a few simple realizations about The-Way-Things-Are that keep me from believing as I used to.
1.) REASON AND VERIFIABLE FACT, RATHER THAN FAITH, MUST BE THE FOUNDATION FROM WHICH ANY PERSON BEGINS THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH.
The world is full of many religions, many philosophies, many ideas that conflict with each other. Even within Christianity there are diverse and contradictory points of view. They can’t all be true.
There are people in every one of these religions who testify earnestly and whole-heartedly of the truth and power of their beliefs. I know. I have read their testimonies and heard them speak. They share stories of emotional and physical healing, supernatural experiences, profound moments of insight and divine intervention. And they all concede that, when push comes to shove, their particular set of truths must be taken on faith.
And that is a problem. If faith is our basis for rejecting or accepting a philosophy, our likelihood of accepting the one true faith over a false one depends almost entirely on our location in the world and the relative prevalence of the various philosophies.
It is a fact that almost 100% of people die professing the same faith they were born into. And that is understandable.
Growing up as a Christian, I easily discarded the tenets and stories of other religions as mythology, based on their implausibility and departure from my own experience of reality. The main reason I believed the story of Christianity with all of its own implausibilities was that it was asserted to be true by those I loved and trusted. If I had been born into a good and loving Muslim family, all my experiences of goodness and love would be through a Muslim lens. I would love and trust my Muslim parents, just as I did my Christian parents. And I would believe that the truth they proclaim and live by must be true. I would want to be a good Muslim just as I wanted to be a good Christian, and I would have no reason to accept Christianity on faith over Islam.
If faith is the only identifier of truth, then all “truths” are essentially indistinguishable.
If one Truth exists, then, it must be recognizable by any person, from any race or religious background. In other words, we must have a universal “measuring stick” for gauging which philosophy is the most true – i.e. which is the most correct, good, and consistent with the physical reality that we can all see and feel and touch and agree on.
You can’t just accept on faith that the Christian perspective is the correct one, adopt the Christian definition of truth and goodness as your own own, and then turn around and use it as the measuring stick to measure itself.
All you’d be discovering is that Christianity is the most Christian.
To say that Christianity is the most true and the most good, you must appeal to a standard of truth and goodness that is outside of and apart from Christianity, one that is universal among humans. And we DO have such a standard (or close to it), written into the human heart/soul/psyche/mind/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.Whether we realize it or not, the things we human beings nearly unanimously define as “good” and “right” are those that promote and protect life, health, and happiness. Regardless of whether this understanding was imprinted on us by evolution or a god, it is real, and it is the only tool we have.
And since we have this tool, it is not only permissible but IMPERATIVE that we use it. We must hold all philosophies up, side by side, and ask, without prior commitment, which is the most true? Which is the most right and good by a universal definition of right and good?
If there is a god out there who is the ultimate truth, the search for truth and goodness will inevitably lead to him.
While Christianity may be more true/right/good on a number of levels than many other philosophies, it has not turned out, in my investigation, to be the most right.
2.) CHRISTIANITY DOES NOT HAVE A CORNER ON GOODNESS.
There are loving, selfless, generous, upstanding people in every religion, and selfish, violent, abusive people in every religion. And the proportions, if considered across history, don’t show much variability when other factors (i.e. education level, access to information, economics, etc.) are taken into consideration.
At this point in my life, I have friends who are Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, Universalist and “spiritual” and I have not found any higher rates of integrity, generosity, love, or wisdom among any one group. Those friends who do exhibit higher rates of these traits tend to take their beliefs, whatever they be, more seriously. In other words, they spend more time thinking about life and how it should be lived, and they clearly come to similar conclusions, just not within the same religious framework.
If one group of people was in possession of the ultimate truth, we would be able to see a clearly defined difference in their lives, don’t you think?
3.) THE BIBLE AS THE INSPIRED WORD OF GOD SEEMS VERY, VERY UNLIKELY.
When I began reading the Bible objectively (in other words, not assuming it was ultimate truth but asking if it could be), I ran into a LOT of problems.
For one, it is not understandable by the average human being. I am decently educated, and there are many parts of it that are confusing and meaningless to me, that were clearly written to one certain group of people in one time and place. Why would God include all of that in his book of ultimate truth, addressed to all of humanity, knowing that it would cause confusion and division?
Even theologians who have dedicated their lives to studying Greek and Hebrew and understanding this book, and who are seeking God earnestly, come down on every side of every practical issue. So, as a guide for living life, it is basically unusable.
I suspect that many human beings I know personally, even in their relatively limited, finite states, could write a better, clearer, more concise, direct, and less “abusable” explanation of God and what-it-all-means than what we have in the Bible.
In addition to its prolific incoherency, it is full of horror. While some parts of it promote love and grace and forgiveness, other parts of it have God condoning and commanding murder and rape, and glorying in the punishment and destruction of human beings (not to mention animals). Why would violence ever need to be God’s method of operation? He is God. The number of other possible solutions available to him are infinite.
Even the parts that are more focused on love and grace are laced with the idea of Hell. Jesus himself mentions Hell numerous times. There is no question in my mind that to be a Christian (i.e. follower of Christ) is to accept the idea that billions of people will be suffering pain and torment for eternity. There is just no reasonable way around it, based on what is written in the Bible (I know there are denominations of Christianity that do not believe in Hell or believe that it is only temporary, but to get there you have to do a lot of creative “interpreting”.)
And there are some major things wrong with the idea of Hell.
While I do believe there is a place for justice in a healthy world, Hell is not justice. How is it just that failing to figure out the right answer during this one brief, crazy, messed-up moment in time deserves an eternity of torture? And for God to create a feeling, thinking, sentient being in the first place, knowing he/she would end up in Hell – that would be an evil act. And God is supposed to the the antithesis of evil. He is supposed to be Good.
Or if, perhaps, God somehow did not know the future (which, really, would make him not God at all), why would he create the system he created? He could have created ANY system he chose! Why would he not just blink people out of existence rather than allowing them to suffer forever? He didn’t need them before. He doesn’t need them after. If he keeps them around to suffer as a testament to his justice and power and glory, he is not good and he is not God. He is an evil, selfish, masochistic narcissist.
And why must it be a death (the death of someone supposedly sinless, no less) that somehow puts all to rights? That is completely arbitrary and makes no logical sense. I, in my limited finite humanity, can come up with a number of other ideas/scenarios/solutions for dealing with humans and their imperfections that are far more just and loving than The Cross. If there was a god out there, he would be infinitely smarter and more loving than I.
4.) IF GOD WAS THERE AND WANTED ME TO KNOW HIM, HE WOULD TELL ME.
God could easily show up in my bedroom right now and sit down beside me and introduce himself. There is nothing stopping him from doing that for every person. If he is God he has all the time in the world and can be everywhere at once.
Christians will say it would violate my free will, but that is not true. Having all the information does not violate a person’s free will – it simply leaves her more capable of making a better decision.
And according to most Christian doctrine, that is what God wants – what he MUST want if he is good. He wants ALL of us to make the right decision. He wants all of us to know him, all of us to be saved. If God came and showed himself to me in a real, tangible way, I would still be free to choose my self over him, just as Lucifer and a third of the angels did according to scripture.
In fact, it would be unfair and unjust for a god to provide us with only very vague, conflicting, incomplete, second-hand information and then hold us accountable (with Hell as a possible consequence) for coming to the correct conclusion.
To Be Continued…