I believe that the Bible is the true and literal Word of God… NOT!
Sigh… I am conflicted. A part of me wants to scream “what’s wrong with you people!! Can’t you see how stupid this belief is? How limiting? How dangerous?” But another part of me remembers (with a flush of embarrassment and regret) that once I thought the very same thing. I feel like maybe I ought to have some insight into what makes someone hold onto completely irrational beliefs despite all evidence against those beliefs – and yet I feel like my memories of faith are someone else’s, like trying to remember a bad dream from last week. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a try.
What makes someone believe in a talking snake despite the fact that we have no evidence that such a creature ever existed? What makes someone believe in Noah and his flood and his Ark, despite the fact that marsupials ended up all living in Australia? What makes someone believe that God heals people in church services when the only ailments that ever get healed are subjective, and never as convincing as a re-grown limb? What makes people believe in Heaven or Hell when we have no photos of these places and no one has ever returned from there with evidence for a CNN interview?
Firstly it’s important to understand that believers are the product of an intensely complicated and convoluted mass of interwoven stories, ideas, myths, poetry, prophecy, culture and history. It’s kind of like an unfolding family drama. Everyone involved in the drama is intensely committed to the relationships and the conflicts and the emotions that are constantly evolving and becoming more layered and complex. It’s almost impossible as one of the stakeholders to step back and ask the simple questions – as a stranger looking in from the outside might do. Family members will spend hours discussing who said what to who and how they feel about the situation, and never once ask whether the events in question were valid or true in the first place.
This level of complexity allows for innumerable contradictions and logical fallacies to emerge, grow and die within the lifecycle of the drama. Individual points of error may be corrected along the way only for new errors to emerge next door. In our family drama, people will say, “was Susan correct to reprimand Bob about…”, but no one will ask, “Does this family matter? Should we be interfering with each other’s lives at all? What’s the point of all of this? Are we following rules and traditions that make no sense?” i.e. the big questions are never engaged with – in fact the surest route to being cast out of the community is to start engaging with the big questions at all.
How does this play out in Evangelical Christianity? Here are some examples:
People will discuss what makes someone “worthy” of preaching behind the pulpit, and never ask whether preaching behind the pulpit is a valid activity to engage with in the first place.
People will debate whether tithing should be 10% of gross or net income without ever asking whether tithing makes any sense at all.
People will talk at length about whether God is speaking through person X or Y without once questioning whether there exists a God to do any talking to start with.
People will debate the revealed meaning of a single sentence of scripture without ever questioning the validity of the bible as the so called “word of God”.
Elaborate rituals and requirements keep believers feeling that their “knowledge” is meaningful and that some biblical “scholar” has worked out all the details so that the core questions never have to be revisited. Their own scripture even backs up this approach, comparing fundamental questions to milk food and elaborate discussions on dispensational theory, tithing or pre, post and mid tribulation… “meat”.
So why do Christians believe in God despite the fact that children are dying in Africa; or that people are being murdered in their homes; or that limbs never grow back; or that very few of their prayers are ever “answered”… because the thought of a world without God terrifies them. They extrapolate that if the world is this bad with God; imagine how bad it would be without him! They have convinced themselves that God acts in mysterious ways and that somehow contrary to all our faulty human logic that God has a loving plan which we simply can’t understand. They have been led to believe that against a backdrop of pain and suffering life only has meaning if that meaning is serving the being that created them.
With God things become clear. With God they have a mechanism to manage their emotions and fear. They can go to bed calmly at night knowing that an asteroid simply won’t ever wipe out life on the planet because that’s not in God’s plan. They can go to work knowing that they are strong in Jesus (whatever that means) even though they feel fragile and incompetent. In a nutshell, ignorance is bliss.
How many of us haven’t walked into our closet hoping against all hope that we’d find Narnia on the other side; or rubbed an antique lamp in a shop when no one was looking just to test out the genie theory? Why? Because it would be AWESOME if something like that happened! Because it would mean that absolutely nothing was impossible and we could treat those pesky laws of physics with contempt. After all, how many times have you put a glass on a counter only for it to be pulled down to a shattering end onto the floor by the ever present gravity of the earth? Christianity is a Narnia that seems real, or real enough, to its adherents. It’s comforting. It’s calming. It creates a framework for meaningfulness and social acceptance.
But it’s wrong.
I enjoy going on the odd virtual journey to Azeroth, the fantastical world of the online game called World of Warcraft. The difference between religious adherence and online gaming of course is that I don’t actually believe anything I’m seeing, and when I leave the game world I understand that I was never actually there, and that I can’t actually turn into a bear, or fly, or resurrect from the dead – and I don’t tell other people to believe any of it either. I’d hate to see people jumping off buildings to test out their brand new cold weather flying license in real life. The problem with religion is that it does just that. Christians make actual real life decisions based on fantasy logic. They go to war based on these ideals. They prevent Africans with AIDS from using contraceptives. They withhold legitimate scientific information from their children at school about the age of the earth and the origins of life on the planet. They insist that poor people pay a tenth of their incomes to a questionable organization… and the list goes on.
Of course, some Christians are able to leave the fantasy at church on Sunday and live pretty rational, reasonable lives for the rest of the week, not unlike a World of Warcraft player, but that’s not the message being preached from thousands of pulpits every Sunday.
Faith (despite evidence) is a trait that is applauded and recognized as the ideal in most Christian organizations. This one thing alone – faith despite evidence – is the single biggest reason I will continue to speak out against religion. When people believe in invisible things despite the fact that the evidence all but removes the probability of those things existing, we have a breeding ground for quack science, superstition, extremism, conspiracy theories and all sorts of other societal ills.