The problem I see in Christianity is it's failure to deal with reality.
|Deal with it. Reality, that is.|
To put it bluntly, the whole religion is off in la-la land. But you're not reading this for me to leave it at that, are you? I will explain. I will also concede that I see some inroads among certain groups to incorporate attention to real-world-type "social justice" issues into their church, and some churches have come out on the right side in terms of human rights (specifically gay rights) and to monitor other secular issues. I'm proud to say that the last church I participated in was progressive when it comes to many of these things. Yet even in such a liberal environment, there is an ignorance that is sustained by both members and leadership that separates them from those outside the walls.
Years ago, there was one time in my church assembly when the floor was open for testimonies. One woman in the church who spoke up used her few minutes to rail against the teaching of evolution to our children. This is a pretty wacko point of view in my mind, but not one of us spoke up to correct her. We just let her craziness remain uncontested.
Now I understand that people can bicker over theology unendingly. Jesus has been gone nearly 2000 years, and Christians can't agree on whether you should be sprinkled or dunked. But evolution is not a theological discussion: there is adequate scientific evidence to confirm it, and there has been for quite some time now. If a believer feels that evolution conflicts with their understanding of the Bible, then it's time that they had a new understanding of the Bible. And if other believers let that believer continue in their folly, they are making themselves look like idiots as well.
Yet churches I see still will not correct their people, even on unassailable matters of fact. It's not as if I don't understand the reason why. If those in the church felt the need to administer a dose of reality to others in their midst, then they would have to take some medicine themselves. Every believer knows that there are ideas they believe geniunely which they would find indefensible if they looked it up. So in general, churchgoers set pretty wide boundaries around the things that they will not bother to question.
But for me, this honest questioning blossomed into an unraveling of my faith. I came by this honestly, and unexpectedly.
I was attending a church where belief in healing is a core doctrine. Indeed, the entire denomination was founded on what they called "Power Evangelism", the idea that God would demonstrate His power through healing, and this would in turn lead people to God. Fortunately, our pastor had a more diverse tradition, and spoke intelligently rather than hammer on the key principles of the denomination. Often he would verbalize things that many would consider off-beat. I still keep up with what he has to say online, since he is everything but mainstream :)
One morning during his second tenure with our congregation, he made an admission that I had never heard before. He confessed, "I have never seen a miracle".
|Not a miracle.|
This may seem like a small thing, and at time I didn't see anyone else in the congregation react. But it hit me like a ton of bricks. Despite all my charismatic blather over the years, I had to think about what healing, what supernatural visions, what prophecy; and what these spiritual phenomenon really amounted to. As I listened to him explain himself, that he was specifically conceding that he had never witnessed a supernatural event that couldn't be reasonably explained as natural, I was instantly faced with the realization that neither had I. I had believed in it, but had never asked myself why I believed. Despite a degree in philosophy that necessitated a familiarity with the writings of Hume, I had persisted in believing something that I knew was not true.
This is how it started for me. Penn and Teller will explain that every magic trick is 100% trick, 0% magic, why should other miracles be any different? I've written in the past that I don't believe in magic. Miracles are magic. Healing is magic. Not in a metaphorical sense, but in the real sense that they violate the physical laws of this world. Newton described the mechanics of our world over 300 years ago, laws we have been testing ever since; we know that the miraculous simply doesn't happen.
|Still inserting images to divert from the heavy subject matter by injecting a little humour. Is it working?|
Healing, of course, is a key part of charismatic churches. Never mind that there is no evidence that people who are prayed for heal better, or that there has never been a documented instance of spontaneous healing via prayer. It is mandatory to believe that God can heal, and if you question this in those circles, your questions are usually dismissed by some anecdote about so-and-so's bad back improving after somebody prayed for them. We have a psychological desire to think God's helping us out, so we associate any improvement with the prayer that preceded it. Never mind that it makes no logical sense for a God to allow us to suffer, and then intermittently choose to alleviate that suffering for some, but not others - seemingly at random. Tim Minchin explains this exceptionally well in his song "Thank You God" (NOTE: If I haven't offended you yet, then watching this video should do the trick).
No one in the church wants to deal with the reality that healing is an imagination, because it will cause them to ask other, deeper questions. In this day and age, if you are willing to ask questions, and humble enough to admit you could have been fooled, there is no dearth of information available to work out the answer to those questions. There are studies on the effectiveness of prayer in healing (spoiler: it doesn't work). There are also lots of stories, as you would expect when people want to believe in something. But no evidence. Of course, if someone is just looking for answers that affirm what he or she has already decided, that can be found too. But for those who are honestly seeking, with a critical eye, the truth is easy to find.
So I can't believe that God heals. I've seen no evidence of it, and it wouldn't make sense anyway. But this is really only one item of many where believers are expected to ignore their better judgement. Evangelicals think they needs to tell everyone about Jesus, despite the fact that any useful God should be able to administer his own communications, especially with a matter as important as eternity. Catholics believe that bread and wine turn into flesh and blood (or they are supposed to). There's a whole lot of nonsense that just gets accepted without hesitation. There are often convoluted explanations to back these ideas up, but they are generally more difficult to defend than the initial proposition. In the end, it all comes back to the Bible.
It's not even what the Bible really says, it's what everyone thinks it says. Those who are in the church seem to only use a small selection of phrases from the Bible. Ever. If they spent too much time on some other verses, they would have to be confronted another problem with their faith: there are lots of things in the Bible that God could not have possibly written or inspired. These writing are flatly wrong, and it is not a matter of interpretation. When a writing contradicts known history, known archaeology, known science, and even itself, yet is still being held up as the word of omniscient, all-powerful god; there has to be an intellectual disconnect. But this information doesn't seem to have gotten back into our churches. I could write a whole series about how the church misunderstands the Bible - maybe a part three will be pending.
|Maybe I do this to a Bible next. Who knows?|
To be fair, it's not like the general populace is immune to accepting wrong ideas as fact. Far from it. I see unreasonable stuff whizzing by on my Facebook feed from all kinds of people daily. Not everyone is a good researcher. Not everyone is a skeptic. There are even non-religious people who still think God wrote the Bible (which blows my mind!) For my part, it would be naive to claim that I am not in the trance of any illusions myself - I'm sure I must be. But at least outsiders don't have a built-in reason to deny reality like the church does in the Bible. I personally want to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things. When there is a book that claims to be the truth and all are discouraged from questioning it; this is a recipe for willful ignorance.
I hate writing this. It was painful for me to come through this process myself, and I know that just describing my own changes to others is going to seem like a personal attack on people in the church. Please believe me, it is not. Remember that I am talking about myself here, because for many years I was there too. The church is an institution with a set of beliefs that will not be questioned. When I was a part of the church I lied to myself, I ignored things that I knew were true, all because that is what was required to take part. That was easy to do when my experience of the world was smaller, but I couldn't keep it up in the information age, and neither can many others. These are the people that the church is losing and who they will never see again.
|Another former believer, riding off into the sunset.|
I went through a period where I felt like a hypocrite, standing in front of my dearest friends and playing in the church band, sing songs of praise to a Jesus who I didn't believe was a god, if he ever even existed at all. For a while I kept playing and simply stopped singing along. I couldn't tell anyone how I was feeling about it. There are prepared words that they have in the church for those who have doubts, but not for those who simply reject the message - they don't know what to say to those people; it's keep your mouth shut or get out. In the end, I quietly left. I was forced to keep either my beliefs, my standing, and my social network, or my intellectual honesty. I chose the latter, and I do not regret it.
I still maintain close friendships with many people from my church family. But I have avoided discussing any of these things with them. It's a shame, because I love to talk about the Bible. It is a fascinating book, and so misunderstood. I revel in debating philosophy and morality and science and history, and for better or worse the Bible is a source on all of these subjects. There are so many smart people that I know from the church but they won't be able to have an honest discussion on those subjects, because they are required to pay tribute to a book above their better judgement. Maybe by publishing this I will be making myself visible to church people who are open to examining these things. I hope so. Either way, I will continue to write about these topics, because it's what I love. Now that I'm laying it all out, perhaps it will be easier for me to share more of what I think.
|You have been warned.|
I think it is possible to be honest about the nature of the Bible and the nature of our world, and still have a faith of some kind. Bishop Shelby Spong seems to be a teacher who is willing to cope with the Bible honestly, and I know that there are others. My friend David Hayward is someone who manages to reconcile these ideas and who helps others to do the same. But I don't know how to do it myself. For the most part, whenever I find a Christian author or blogger that appears to "get it" (and I have tried), I find myself waiting until they open their mouth and insert their foot so far they could kick their own behind. To be honest, I am simply no longer interested in belief in Christian theology. I am certainly interested in it in an academic sense - it is part of my culture, and do and will always find it fulfilling to unpack the different components that make it up. But I am not looking for something to believe, because I am happier when I am dealing in reality.
Some of us just want to know what's real more than we want to believe what might be.