We all know the Bible is true…


I’ve recently had a number of people tell me why I became an atheist. Most of the explanations hinge on the core assumption that I know in the back of my mind that God (presumably, the Christian god) is real, but that I’m rejecting him or suppressing him for a variety of reasons (e.g., anger, trendiness, love of sin, etc.). The option that God doesn’t really exist is rarely put on the table; it’s an unquestionable a priori assumption in believers’ minds. These conversations are troubling in two ways.

First, these conversations are troubling because believers think that quoting scripture will be convincing. No matter how many times I point out that it’s circular reasoning to say, “God exists because the Bible says so, and the Bible’s true because God wrote it,” believers still assume that I’ll have some inherent respect for the truth value of their book–to the point where I’ve received emails consisting entirely of copied-and-pasted Bible verses. No matter how many errors, contradictions, falsehoods, and immoral passages I point out in the Bible, believers know that somewhere in the recesses of my rebellious mind, I still recognize that the Bible is the perfect word of a perfect god and that I’ll be “convicted” by what it says. This is best explanation I can come up with for why they think quoting Bible verses will be helpful. Most of the people I’m referring to are aware of the fact that I’ve been immersed in the Bible since before I could walk and have read it cover-to-cover several times.

Second, I find these conversations with believers troubling because they demonstrate a lack of respect for my intellectual honesty. A good friend told me earlier this week that I’ve “been caught up in the popularity of the new atheism.” The implication of this statement is that I know good old-fashioned Bible-believing religion is true, but my desire to try something new or different has just gotten the better of me. Let me ask you a question: if you knew that you would be tortured for eternity if you hopped on a popular bandwagon, would you do it? Isn’t this a no-brainer? Hhmmm…eternal torture looks a lot better when combined with the possibility of looking trendy for the next few years….

The same case applies to the argument that I chose atheism because I fell in love with sin. Let’s think about this. What sins am I currently committing that I was previously restrained from committing when I was religious? I don’t steal, I don’t litter, I don’t treat strangers or my friends badly…well, I do support gay marriage, but I’ve always done that, even when I was religious. I can’t really think of anything else. I’m not the best guy in the world, but there’s no huge rush of sinful lifestyle changes that I was really able to dig my greedy fingers into when I abandoned Christianity. Most of the atheists I know are the same way. Even if there had been a ton of fun new sins available to me after my deconversion, however, would any of them have outweighed the assurance of eternal torment? Seriously? I don’t think so.

If I can move into subjective territory here, it’s also worth noting that atheism for me doesn’t really fit the basic requirements of “popularity.” As the least trusted minority in America, a lot of atheists stay “in the closet” to prevent isolation from their believing communities or even to keep from losing their jobs. To this day, nearly all of my oldest and closest friends are strongly religious. Without exception (or with one exception), my entire family is religious. They think I’m going to hell to be tortured eternally, and they’re on the side of the guy who hates me enough (love the sinner, hate the sin, still send the sinner to hell?) to send me there for not seeing a difference between the mutually exclusive god-claims of all religious groups. Unless you’re in what would currently have to be termed “unique” circumstances, the popularity of atheism argument doesn’t fly.

At least start out by giving me the benefit of the doubt. If, after a few conversations, you realize that I’ve aligned myself with atheism for superficial reasons that don’t have rational support, then you can start talking along the “deep-down he really knows the Bible is true” lines. But until that time, have enough respect for my intellectual integrity to assume that I’ve chosen atheism because it makes the most sense. In fact, in light of the stunning lack of evidential support for any religion, atheism is the safe bet. One of the deepest flaws in Pascal’s Wager is that it ignores the existence of other religions that would send you to hell for betting on whichever one you randomly chose in order to hedge your bets. Isn’t skepticism until evidence emerges the safest possible place–especially in light of different religions that all rely on the same “just believe” and “old books” stuff to make their cases?

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5 Responses to We all know the Bible is true…

  1. Niki says:

    Well Rob,
    :)

    Let’s see, depending on your relationship with your mother, it could all go very well and she would say something along the lines of “Hunny, I wish somehow this wasn’t the road you were choosing and I will still keep you in my prayers and always love you…” or it could result in something you’re considering will most likely take place: “You are so dumb, you idiot, I wasted my life trying to get you to know God and this is the respect you pay me?!” (No intentions from my heart there but trying to put my feet in someone else’s shoes; let alone a mothers’.)

    I guess, the first part would be to really consider how you are going to go about this. Whether it be in front of the whole family- I would not advise, they can know at a later time- or with her one on one. My mother again is a Communications Instructor and from attending her classes I would say that speaking to her one on one is the best way to go about it. She will feel respected and not embarrassed; hurt but not afraid and will still be able to show her emotions because there will not be the fear of feeling others’ eyes glued to her for her every reaction.

    Words. There are never the “right” words. In my opinion however, you can strive to say the most respectful thing with the knowledge of “Hey, this could hurt you, and those are not my intentions, but here is how I feel…” Just say what’s on you’re heart. This will also make you feel more relaxed once you have released this burden, if you will, and you are more likely to become more at peace.

    Aftermath. Give her time, and no pushing around. Love her, and whatever she has to say, respect it. Because she heard you out, now you hear her out. The only thing is a matter of opinion. Be humble and respectful and hey, she’s your mom, whether she likes you or not she has to love you :)

    Hope that helped,
    Love,
    Niki

  2. Rob McWhirter says:

    Great posts and comments all! I feel like a preschooler with crayons compared to you but here goes some random musings…

    Niki, congratulations on finding some peace in your life and a better relationship with your sister. Also props for the honesty of your post. I come from a very religious Catholic upbringing and have had a similar struggle as you but ultimately ended up on the other side of the fence, atheism. Believe me my family life would be easier if I was a believer. Here are a few retorts to your comments. I’m still trying to figure out how to tell my parents.

    1) Things that seem impossible were “designed” by God
    Before modern science there was very little that man could explain and a lot attributed to God(s). God and design are not a default answer where there is a lack of evidence. This applies whether the question is why it rains, the origin of life, or the “start” of the universe (if there is such a thing). I don’t know how my watch works but I’m pretty sure there is an explanation. How can you even argue a theory where any gaps prove it’s validity by default and without reason? Simple, you can’t. Proof is the responsibility of the believer.

    2) Stories of miracles prove God’s existence
    There are people who believe trees come to life, witches exist, Santa delivers presents, not shaving during football season is good luck (me), and bread turns to flesh before they eat it. The human mind is a powerful thing. There is 0% provable evidence that a supernatural miracle has ever occurred; even once. Note saying “I saw it with my own eyes” is not proof. My father swears a candle flew across the room because a demon threw it. No kidding!

    Remember you are an atheist to 3999 of the 4000 religions in the world. I just go one more. :-) Serious though if you found peace, enjoy it. Life is short and peace of mind isn’t easy to come by. I’m beginning to find my peace in atheism. Now how do I tell Mom? lol

    Take care!

  3. mikhailovich says:

    Niki,

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t doubt in the least that you have a “true, caring heart.” I read your story, and I thank you for sharing it. If you reply to this comment and wish to talk further, I’ll be happy to e-mail you directly and continue the conversation off this message board.

    I am sure that you really believe in God/Jesus and that this belief has improved the quality of your life. I have also talked with a number of people (including my cousin) who have lacked faith during difficult times in their lives, and who have regained faith when things got better. Most of the people I’ve talked to, perhaps like yourself, have been helped out of difficult times by religious people, and therefore tend to align themselves with that religion as things get better. I happened to lose my faith apart from any negative life circumstances (it was more of an investigation than an experience), but ultimately, I don’t wish to obscure the the truth value of a claim with emotional appeals–one way or the other.

    It seems like the primary point of your letter (and please correct me if I’m wrong) is that a step of faith is necessary, and that Christianity is the ultimate “safe bet.” This is Pascal’s Wager. I have a number of problems with this line of thinking, and I’ll enumerate a few of them here.

    1. Do you think I could fool God and tell him that I believe when I really don’t? Is he that gullible? One thing I remember strongly from the gospels (to keep the focus on Christianity for the time being) is that Jesus seems to put a lot of emphasis on true, real faith. Belief is not subject to the will; I can’t flip a switch and force myself to believe something exists when it doesn’t. For example, if I told you that right now, as you’re reading this on your computer screen, that a large dragon was sitting behind you in the room, you wouldn’t be able to believe it, no matter how hard you tried. Right? It’s just not a decision you can make.

    2. If the key is stepping out in faith, apart from evidence, on what basis are you choosing Christianity over another religion? This is one of the major problems with the entire idea of “faith.” Pascal’s Wager works just as well for Islam as Christianity, etc., because it’s all based on this idea of “just believe, you’ll feel better, and don’t worry about the facts.” Sorry, can’t buy it. If the reason for choosing one religion is identical to the reason for choosing a different, mutually exclusive one, there’s a big problem with the Wager.

    3. I don’t think there’s “nothing to loose and everything to gain” by choosing, for example, Christianity. Besides losing tithe money, time, and personal integrity (believing a lie), I would go through life thinking that a LOT of people (including friends) are destined for hell. I would have to go through life thinking that my gay friends are an abomination. And I would have to think that everyone, no matter how good they are, deserve nothing but punishment outside the undeserved grace of Jesus. I don’t find any of that very attractive. Granted: if Christianity were true, I would believe it, despite these discomforts. My main concern is with truth. But I’m bringing these things up to say that it’s not a simple “nothing to lose and everything to gain” equation.

    4. If your request is just that I “try it,” then I’ll be happy to discuss at length the details of my 20+ years as a committed evangelical Christian. I have prayed at length (literally every day for over a year, in fact) for God/Jesus to reveal himself to me and strengthen my faith. I’ve prayed in faith, with other Christians, for small miracles that I thought were definitely within God’s scriptural will. I’ve attended a wide variety of denominations, from Episcopalians and Lutherans to Baptists and Methodists to Pentecostals and Charismatics to Catholics and Orthodox believers. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover two times, and most parts of it more than I can count. I’ve tried it. I’ve thought about it. I’ve prayed about it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simply not true.

    I have more to say about Pascal’s Wager, but that will do for now, I guess. Ultimately, I’m not going to answer a question for which I don’t know the answer with “God did it.” I’m not going to replace a mystery with another mystery. I’m going to tell you that I don’t know. And I’m probably going to tell you that you don’t know, either, depending on what direction you take the conversation. There are a lot of comforting stories I could make up to make myself feel better about life (e.g., that I’m going to get $500 in the mail every day for the rest of my life). But just because a belief makes me feel good doesn’t mean it’s true.

    As tough as it might be to stare into the cold face of a cosmos that is all but indifferent to our existence, and make our own meaning in life apart from a “divine plan,” I am too committed to facing reality and seeking truth to make up a supernatural answer for my own comfort.

  4. Niki Wegener says:

    Hello! :) God Bless the eyes and ears who find this:

    First off, I must commend you on your writings. No matter the subject or purpose of it, they are all very beautifully written, and I am impressed.

    As I was reading I came across “circular reasoning” which I relate to on many levels. My mom is going back to college to get her Phd in Conflict Resolution and uses circular reasoning whenever she possibly can.

    I am a “Jesus-Freak, believin’ follower” if you will, and I have been for about three years. My life started out very rough and you can email me about it for any questions if you care to take this further, but I found myself in miserable places that were so surreal to me. I at one point questioned my being and my “purpose or place” which lead me to a very long depressed road. In 2006, I was hospitalized for cutting, drinking problems, and depression. (I understand you may or may not be interested in my life soap opera but there is a valid point to it.) After this, I was desperate. Yes, desperate. I found myself being at the lowest of lows. Completely fallen on the ground with absolutely minimal strength to pick myself up and go, who knows where.

    For a year, I went on a very deep journey, reaching out to people and things to fill my depressed hole in my very being. I continued to try new things and find what could really fill it. From pills, to girls/guys, to drugs, alcohol, borderline agnosticism to denial in all things. All of those worked well for a time. They were pleasing and fulfilling for a while, and eventually the high would dim down and leave me back at square one. Meanwhile, doing this to please my mother, I would attend church with her every Sunday (with emphasis on the “every”) and always falling asleep on her shoulder I ignored the words that could have been the answer and solution I was seeking.

    Well, I didn’t care at this point. I was done, I had searched for something, ANYTHING, to remove this emptiness. Now, you maybe saying if this “God” I believe in is omnipresent, why if I were searching so fervently in every place did I not find Him? Well, I believe it is because I was not opening my eyes, or listening carefully. Keep on indulging the rest is coming.

    So, my sister, she is a leader at the youth department of my church and she calls me and says “Hey, Niki you doing anything tonight? (My response a huge resounding no) Okay, well ya want to come to church?” So because I really never had a relationship with my sister, my intentions to go were to maybe stir up a way of having a relationship with her. So I go, and there was really just huge gathering of people my age and we all just hung out. I thought, “wow, okay this is pretty sweet, nothing condemning or finger-pointing about this..” I went the following week, the next one there after, and continuously to this very day.

    I began to have an actual relationship with not only my sister, but God. I was skeptical about it with the whole “evidence” thing, but I believe that is what we all miss out on. We never really take that step of faith (Revelation 4:1) to see what could come after this. (I only put that in because it correlates to what I am saying, not because I am repeating it hoping that the repetitiveness of it will have a bigger impact.) We always want the evidence up front, well there is evidence. A building cannot become a building without it’s contractor or architect. Yes, evolution could very well be true, lets say for the sake of the
    case it’s true. Even then, something would have to have been made. Or the Big Bang theory, that everything came to be from a primeval atom, well that atom was just there, it had to be made. To go further, atoms are comprised of different elements and if we imagined of a maker or “God” just sitting pondering what to do, He sits in front a blank piece of paper. The boron, or hydrogen isn’t just there, it had to be made. Gases don’t just appear they are products of the reactions. We know the products but how they came to be is the answer. They had to be created.

    Back to my point is that we want to feel or see or hear any type of evidence before we dare go further. In my experience and many others’ its quite the opposite. I took the step because I had no other option. There was nothing else that I hadn’t tried. I just took all of what I had put it forth with hopes and dreams of finding a result that would complete me. I think of an orphan and she wanders through life, though it maybe quite a wonderful one with all the materialistic things she may want or with the right job and friends and life she could dream of, but no matter what she will still have a little emptiness in her from wanting to know or go back to where she came from. Her parents gave her life and if she doesn’t go back to it a little hole with subside there until she finds them.

    I have a friend who was alone by herself up in the balcony at church and she was just praising God and singing to Him, and her eyes were closed, and again no one was there with her, but she felt the brush of feathers on her shoulder.

    At a revival, a women went up to the man leading the revival and had metal plates in her back from surgery and she went up and got prayed for and was just doused in the Holy Spirit and she went back to the doctor and had him take x-rays of her back to see about the plates. They were not anywhere to be found. I was there. It happened.

    God is not a God to point Finger at you and say you are wrong your going to hell. He is a loving God that just wants to lend a hand to you. He has helped me in so many situations. I am blessed by the many things He has taught me.

    We must take the step of faith and just believe that something anything will happen or take place at the occurrence of our belief. God’s Word is not void and not faulty, so try it. He won’t let you down.

    Patience is key with this though, He wants to know He can trust you and that you trust Him. I have prayed for answers that I didn’t receive for six months after the prayer. But on His timing they came through at such a precise and correct time.

    You said that atheism is a safe bet. I figure eh, yeah for a time it is. But what about this: if Heaven and Hell are in fact real, then your belief in unbelief of God, would then result in damnation to hell. So why not make an actual safe bet and claim Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and be privileged with the “okay” to enter in His kingdom of Heaven. And if somehow, in my opinion this is not true, but if somehow this whole thing is not real, at least you had a better time with God than doing things alone and without a helping hand.

    Please email me at sismooch777@yahoo.com.

    Thank you and you are again an amazing writer, and it will take you far. It already has.

    With Love and a true caring heart,
    Niki

    God Bless the eyes to read this.

  5. Brandon says:

    I was recently talking to an East-Germany expatriate, retired-pastor turned “non-fiction” writer from Canada, who said that he prescribed to “the wager of Pascal.”

    It was a very bizarre conversation, but it got me thinking do believers honestly believe god isn’t going to see through people who follow just because it seems like a good bet. At the same time, might god look more fondly upon people who deep-down believe but superficially reject, than he does followers that don’t truly believe and are just onboard for the perceived benefits.

    Your friends might buy into the he’s-saved-because-deep-down-he-believes argument. They might be telling you they think you believe because it makes them fell better. Not because they think it’s a persuasive argument for re-conversion.

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