Haven’t Met Jesus?

I didn’t write this blog post, but I wish I would have.  It articulates so well the kind of response one typically gets when they choose to have a faith that doesn’t follow the status-quo.  I’ll have a new blog up sometime this week.  In the meantime, please enjoy this well written post by Chris Attaway:

http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/what-i-think-when-you-say-i-havent-really-met-jesus/

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

For anyone who has ever served on a jury or watched a lot of Law & Order, you know how important the burden of proof is for the prosecution.  They must prove to the jury using evidence and testimony that the facts being presented could not have happened any other way.  The defense’s job to present conflicting evidence and instill doubt the jury’s mind.  It’s not a perfect institution, but I do think it’s a good one.  Being someone who is pretty logical and is skeptical by nature, it definitely resonates with me.

I use this same system in dealing with matters of faith and theology.  I spoke in my last post about deconstructing all of my previously help beliefs and looking at them anew.   When deciding what things should stay, go, or be changed, I put them through a sort of “trial” in my head.  I’d go searching for evidence and ask myself:  How do these ideas stack up against modern thinking?  Can they be proven using science, history, or reason?  Is this helpful or harmful to myself or others?  If the evidence didn’t mount up, if there was sufficient doubt as to the authenticity or authority of any claim; out it does.  The litmus test for any religious claim should be: could I explain this idea or concept to a non-religious person in a way that would makes rational sense?  

This is not to say that things must be proven to be absolute, only that you can be reasonably sure that it is true.  I heard a lawyer explain reasonable doubt as doubt that you act on.  For example, if I leave my house and have a reasonable doubt that I forgot to lock the doors, I will turn around, go back and check.  An unreasonable  doubt would be doubting that Japan really exists just because I haven’t been there personally.

While most would probably agree with my overall assessment, when one takes a look at the long-list of “truths” that are claimed as irrefutable facts by many people of faith, you will quickly see that the burden of proof is not met.  Christians have a whole laundry list of claims that would never hold up in a modern trial.

Creationism is perfect example.  Creationism is the belief, based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, was created in 7 days, and Adam and Eve were two historical figures who birthed all of humanity.  I simply cannot get behind any claim that this story is anything but a mythological story told by an ancient civilization that predates modern science by at least 3,000 years.  There is zero scientific evidence to support Creationism.  Evolution, on the other hand, is a nearly undisputed fact in all science fields across the globe, and has decades worth of scientific research to support it.  On the logical side, the idea of talking snakes, angels with fiery swords, and all of civilization being decedents of two people (incest, anyone?) is just too much to be taken as fact.

Another long-held assertion of the Christian faith is virgin birth of Jesus.  The Apostles Creed states it as Jesus being “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  The idea of a virgin conception contradicts everything we now know about biology, genetics, and human reproduction.  The Bible doesn’t present a solid case for the stories validity either.  The miraculous birth is not recorded in the earliest gospel, Mark, nor does Paul ever mention it.  In fact, Paul refers to Jesus as being “born of a women” (Gal 4:4) and as a “descendant from David according to the flesh”  (Rom 1:3).  The virgin birth narrative first appears in the book of Matthew, where the author quotes Isaiah 7:14,  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).   Many scholars believe the word “virgin” is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word meaning “young women”.  It is also important to note that the verse in Isaiah is taken from a narrative in which God promises a sign to the king of Judah, pledging that his nation would not fall to the enemies(Syria and Judah) that were surrounding Jerusalem in the eighth century BC.  It is not a prophecy about the coming of Jesus some 800 years in the future.  The Gospel of John also makes no reference to the virgin birth story, but refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph (1:45, 6:42).  Does all of this evidence conclusively proof  that the virgin birth of Jesus never happened?  No.  But it certainly casts a reasonable doubt on the authenticity of the story.

Faced with these arguments, people are quick to say, “But what about what it says in the Bible?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?”  My issue is not with what the Bible says, but with how people understand and interpret it.   When the Bible is used as a scientific text book, it’s going to get misconstrued.  When parts of the Bible that were meant to be read allegorically or metaphorically are read literally, you’re going to run into problems.  When instructions for churches written 2,000 years ago are treated as a rule book for modern day living, things get ugly.

“You just need to have faith!” I can here people crying.  This seems to be the go-to declaration anytime Christians run into question that can’t be answered logically.   What some would call faith, I would call blind obedience.  Many long-standing traditions are still around, not because they have proven to be true, but because of people’s blind devotion to upholding them.  Faith should never be absent of reason.   Hebrews 11:1 say that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Notice that it says “not seen,” but doesn’t say “not known.”  Just because I haven’t seen Japan doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s there.

A better way to understand faith is in the context of a marriage.  I have total faith in my wife.  I have never doubted my wife’s devotion or loyalty to me and our marriage.  But, my faith in her is not something I simply chose to believe or excepted without warrant.  My faith in her is based on her character, her integrity, and her moral convictions.  It is based on the trust that we developed over the seven years we’ve been together.  Does this mean that I can be 100% certain that she will never be unfaithful to me?  No.  We are all human and make mistakes.  But I have no reasonable doubt as to her devotion.  What doubts I may have because of my own insecurities do not warrant being acted on.

What I don’t doubt, though, is Jesus.  Historically speaking, along with the four gospels in the Bible, there are some 20 gospels that account the life of Jesus.  Historical writers from the 1st century, such as Josephus, also make mention of Jesus.  The movement that was started by Jesus is well documented.  This movement didn’t start from nothing, someone had to influence these people in such a way that they were willing to face hardships and persecution in order to follow his ways.  Jesus is represented in nearly every major religion on earth and is well respected even among unbelievers.  While some have argued over Jesus’s earthly existence, his teachings have stood the test of time.  Men such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have made revolutionary changes in their countries by following the philosophies of Jesus on non-violent resistance.  Jesus and his teachings have a good track record and I haven’t found a better example of how to life a meaningful, fulfilling life.

I encourage everyone to take stock of their faith and their belief system.  Unpack it all, run it through a trial, and see how it stack up against logic and facts of our modern world view.  See if it’s worth hanging on to, and don’t be afraid to let it go if it’s found faulty.   I can tell you from personal experience that shedding all the baggage of my earlier faith life has given me so much freedom and peace.  No longer do faith and reason have to be disconnected.

 

 

Why I Write

I used to see friends and acquaintances posting their latest blog entries on Facebook and think to myself, “Do these people really think anyone gives a shit about their life?”  Ironic, that here I am now, starting my blog.  Truthfully, I never considered starting a blog because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say.  I’m too private about my family to blog about my kids, none of my hobbies I deem worthy of a literary narrative, and while the greatness of beer is truly worthy of proclamation from the rooftops, there are far too many already doing so.

Over the last couple years I have found myself on what Brennan Manning refers to as a “second journey;”  a spiritual and intellectual journey of rediscovering ones faith.  This journey has been a time of taking every  idea or belief I’ve ever had regarding God, faith, the Bible, Jesus, and how to live in this world, deconstructing it all, and starting over from scratch.  It has been on this journey that I have found my “voice” and have ideas I feel are worth expressing.   So, why bother taking these ideas into the public realm?

1) It’s cheaper then therapy

Writing is therapeutic.  I’ve got a lot of shit rolling around in my brain and I need a place to dump it all out from time to time.  It’s not uncommon for my thoughts on faith to be the thing that keeps me up late at night and be the first thing I’m dwelling on when I wake up in the morning.   This journey of mine has been the source of much anxiety and stress in my life.  Perhaps journaling will help alleviate some of that.  And hopefully my poor wife will be spared from long tirades about how F. Graham is an antichrist or how the Baha’i faith is tempting except for the whole “no alcohol” policy.

2) This will be me “coming out” about my faith

My pastor often says that when dealing with doubt it’s best to face it head on and do what’s necessary to find the answers.  I’ve done that myself, but many of the answers I’ve found aren’t the ones that fit into the dogmas of Evangelical Christianity.  Living in the midwest is not conducive to free thought or expression.  There is unspoken expectation withing the religious community of upholding the status-quo, towing the party line,  and defending the man-made belief system that defines conservative, right-wing Christianity.  These beliefs are the line-in-the-sand that Evangelicals draw to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s “saved” and who’s not.

Over the last few years I’ve been finding myself increasingly falling  on the wrong side of the line.  Being one who has always marched to the beat of my own drum, I’m comfortable with being on the path less traveled, but it’s not in my nature to pretend to be someone I’m not.  So, this blog will be me coming clean on who I really am and what I believe.  It’s time to stop pretending, to stop going along just to get along.  It’s time to start speaking out a little more, regardless of what others may say or think.

3) Practice makes perfect

I have aspirations of writing a book someday about everything I’ve learned regarding the whole debate of homosexuality and the Bible.  I figure a blog will help me sharpen up my writing skills a bit before I set off on that endeavor.

4) That others might feel alone

There was a time when I felt that I was going crazy and that I must be the only one out there who feels the way I do.  I used to wonder, “Am I the only one who sees how f***ed up the Church has become?”  Christianity was leaving a bad taste in my mouth and I was wanting nothing to do with it.    If what I was seeing was the mark of a “True Christian”, then count me out.  But then I started coming across people on the internet who were writing these awesome blogs that spoke to me.   I found a small, underground group of revolutionaries who were asking all the same questions I was and who had all the same doubts I did.   Suddenly, I no longer felt alone or crazy.  For the first time, I felt hope.  Hope that things can be different,  that there’s a better way out there.  These bloggers were on the same journey I was, and suddenly the path didn’t seem so small.  If it wasn’t for these bloggers on the internet, I would have walked away from my faith a long time ago.

I make no pretense that I write this blog for for anything but selfish reasons, but if it can help someone out there not feel alone, not feel like they’re going crazy; all the better.  I have no intentions of trying to change peoples’ minds, but hopefully it will give people something to think about, maybe expand their horizons a little.

So, there you have it.  Hope some of you will want to come along for the ride.  I have no doubt that I’ll ruffle some feathers and kick a few sacred cows along the way, but just maybe a few of you out there will who will say, “This guy is saying all the things I’ve been to scared to!”

Reflections along the journey from faith to reason.

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