I picked my family up at the church they attend. They go to a modern mega-church based on the Willow Creek concept, with huge attendance. It is all the current rage. And as I was walking in, I see literally 1000’s of people that believe with firm conviction in a God appearing in Human form, born by virgin birth, dying by crucifixion, and raised again from the dead.
I can’t help but be impressed by the idea of how there can be so many that feel so strongly in this truth. What makes them any different than me?
It struck me immediately—the distinguishing characteristic is knowledge and willingness to change.
As I watched various groups break off to pray together, or enter a Bible study, or discuss the most recent sermon, I realize how little most persons attending a Church actually know about the manufacture and creation of the book in which they rest their belief.
In case anyone questions my credentials, I can confirm I have never done a survey in this area. I have not engaged in a 2 year project, attending a different church everyday, creating charts, and quantifying analysis with clever Powerpoint presentations. All I can rely upon is my experience in church.
I started attending Church when I was six weeks old, graduating from nursery, to pre-school to children’s church to Sunday School to Junior High to High School to College Age to Young Married to Not-so-young Married. We were that family that went to Sunday School, Morning Worship, afternoon Bible study, Band/Choir practice, Evening service, Awana, Wednesday Prayer, and weekend activities. I have attended a variety of churches, some with attendances as small as 30, some with over 10,000. I have friends that attend other churches, also with large and small numbers.
I have never heard of a single class, in a church, on the Synoptic Problem. I never even knew of such a thing until I began debating non-believers.
Christians engage in Bible study, not the study of the Bible. Why is that? Because we assumed it to be true, so there was never any reason to review beyond that. But shouldn’t we be willing, and even exuberant in our study of how the book came together? Or the various questions in Christianity?
This is supposed to be an absolute. A religion manufactured by the very creator of truth, logic and the American Way! (Whoops. Sorry. Got carried away with that last one. Strike that.) Christians, I would think, would clamor to obtain knowledge about how Christianity sprang into being. It should only validate the belief. Yet we were surprisingly uninformed.
Oh, sure we all knew about the Epistle of Hebrews. *Snicker* That old chestnut. Silly folks used to believe it was written by Paul, but [b]we[/b] know so much more now. We knew the debate, and how it certainly wasn’t written by Paul.
But no one ever talked about the Pastorals. No one discussed the problem of their authorship, or the varying reasons why Paul would not be the author. No one discussed the complete differences between 1 Peter and 2 Peter, and how they simply could not be written by the same person. Nor that 1 Peter copied Jude. Certainly nothing was discussed about Jude quoting the Book of Enoch!
A year ago, I was talking to a deacon in his late 60’s who had attended church since childhood. I asked him, “Have you ever thought about reading the New Testament in the order in which the books were written?” He paused for a moment and confessed, “You know, I have never even [i]thought[/i] about the order in which they were written.”
There are no classes on textual criticism. On dating of manuscripts. Defining uncials and minuscule writings. We were not taught that the closest documents we have are scraps of papyrus that barely have complete words (let alone a complete verse) dated before 200 C.E. That the earliest documents we have with sections of the New Testament are dated to the Early third Century. More than 150 years after Jesus was supposed to die. More than enough time for legends to develop, for doctrines to be inserted, for copies to be manipulated.
No, we were taught that the KJV only crowd was out-of-date. That’s it.
Oh, we occasionally, for fun, reviewed the “other” books. The ones that didn’t make it in. How silly to believe that Jesus killed a child for running into him. Obvious fakes. No, our books, the ones where Jesus has to take two cracks at curing blindness with spit are clearly far superior!
We certainly did not discuss the archeological findings of the past 30 years. The complete lack of evidence for Joshua’s invasion, the Exodus, the Ten Plagues, and the slavery in Egypt. No classes on the dating of the Flood, and how the other civilizations of the world somehow failed to record it. A pastor or teacher may refer to antiquated research about how the walls of Jericho were found to have fallen outward, or give the urban legend that all societies of the world have a flood myth story, and claim that this confirms every fact from Genesis to Revelation as recorded in the Bible.
But no one was taught to question it. To look it up on their own. To do their own research. Part of every person’s schooling process was teaching how to learn it on your own. It was called “Homework.” No pastor or teacher said, “Here is some homework. Go learn all about archeology and whether it supports or does not support the events recorded in the Tanakh.” Why not? If this is absolute truth, if this is the very basis of the reason we exist, any such testing should be welcomed! Any such research as to the very foundation of one’s belief should be enjoyed and sought out. Not avoided at all costs.
It is not as if Christians are afraid of reason and knowledge. Books by Craig and Strobel and Plantinga and the Intelligent Design crowd fly off the shelves of Christian bookstores. But what is missing? The only knowledge that is sought is confirmation. Not open-ended debate. Christians do not read books written by scientists as to what evolution states, they read books written by creationists that say what evolution states.
Question: If I told Christians that the only way to learn about Christianity is to read what non-believers state, would they hold to this method? Would they only read atheist books, or Muslim tales, or agnostic opinions on Christianity? Most certainly not! Yet when engaged on a course of study as to what non-believers determine, Christians contain themselves to books only written by Christians. If you really want to know about evolution, perhaps reading a book by a scientist on the subject? If you really want to know about the Tanakh, perhaps read a Jewish perspective? They are the ones that wrote it, you know!
I am sure many reading this are saying, “Not me! I know many of these subjects and more!” I am sure you do. The fact that you are on-line and even daring to read a site such as this displays at least an openness to learn. O.K. Are you teaching a class in your church? Are you explaining the various ways to resolve the Synoptic problem? Are you explaining that in some way Matthew, Mark and Luke borrowed from each other, or another source, and that we do not have three independent witnesses, but one or two basic sources? Are you explaining the problems with aligning the birth narratives, the issue of the virgin prophecy, and the inability to coordinate the resurrection appearances without an almost Keystone Cops comedy of errors?
Almost universally, deconverts will state that it was the gaining of more and more knowledge that made Christianity less and less viable. Why is that? Why is a church more than happy to invite an evangelist to speak for a week, but is concerned about my speaking for an hour? If Christians hold truth, they should invite the atheists to come and speak. Let the facts be displayed. They have God, and truth on their side. We should be laughed out of the building. Our facts demonstrated as utter nonsense. Yet this is not the case.
Somehow I doubt my invitation is in the mail.
It is not just lack of knowledge. Even when the knowledge is provided, it is rejected, due to a refusal to modify one’s beliefs.
An axiom of scientific methodology is that a hypothesis must answer the data as we know it. Upon learning new information the conflicts with the old hypothesis, a new one is proposed. The new hypothesis must answer the new data as well as answer the same data the old hypothesis did.
A simple example of one’s automobile not starting. Our first hypothesis is that the key is not in the ignition. We see the key is in the ignition. Now we need a new hypothesis. We propose the car is not in “Park.” The new hypothesis answers the same data the old one did (the car not starting) as well as the new data (a key can be in the ignition, but if the car is not in “park” it will not start.) We see the car is in park. A new hypothesis is there is no gasoline in the tank. This new hypothesis answers the old data (car not start, key in ignition, car in park) as well as answering new data. We then go through the process of learning new information as to gasoline, gas pump, battery, starter and as each new item of data is provided, our hypothesis is modified to incorporate this new information.
Can Christians modify their belief; modify their hypothesis, upon learning new information? Upon learning that the earth, according to geologists, is 4-5 Billion years old, can a Christian modify their determination of a 6000 year old earth? Indicate that Genesis is an allegory, not a literal dating system? Upon learning there was no global deluge, can a Christian modify that? That archeology contradicts Exodus, Joshua and Judges, can a Christian modify their belief?
What I see is dogged determination. Almost a fear that if any one point is ever conceded, the whole system will collapse. As if they have an old owner’s manual that says the car will not start, because the battery is disconnected. We can point out the key is not in the ignition, the car is not in park, there is no gasoline, and even the entire engine is missing, and it will not matter. The Christian is unyielding that the reason and the only reason that car will not start is the reason stated in the old owner’s manual—the battery is not connected.
As I looked at the people milling about me, I thought of two scenarios:
1) I start talking to someone about new information I have learned about the stock market, in which, by using this information, we can invest wisely, and generate income. It doesn’t matter to whom I begin this speech; soon there would be a crowd about, discussing, learning, investigating as to this new system of making money.
And out of that crowd, at least one, if not more would go home and googelwhack the things I said, do some research on their own to test the validity. Some would walk away with a new understanding, and may even modify their lives, to incorporate what I just said.
2) I begin to talk about how Paul did not seem to know the Jesus of the Gospels. How Paul’s writing never records a miracle performed by Jesus, nor does he quote Jesus when it would be supportive of his position. (Yes, I know about the Eucharist. If Paul is willing to quote Jesus on that, why not quote him on something like…..I don’t know……say “Love your neighbor”?)
I begin to discuss the problems with a historical Jesus, in light of this information. Does a crowd develop? Maybe with pitchforks and torches! Does anyone got out and do some research on their own? Absolutely not! About the best I could hope for was a comment later about a raving lunatic that appeared, saying the most insane things like Paul not knowing Jesus’ history. Does anyone modify their beliefs? Of course not.
While this is a bit extreme, it does demonstrate the difference between me and the crowd I found about me. Would I have researched those claims? Would I have done my homework? I guess the only point that would support that I did, is where I am today.
We see people respond to the blogs here. (Thank you, by the way, to all who do, believer or non-believer. Dialogue is mature discussion.) One of the common claims is “You guys make all the same responses.” Yes, Christianity, while a fairly broad belief, is limited. There is only so much information available. Yet these “same responses” are not discussed in churches. They are not being addressed, talked about, discussed, and openly shared.
There are no Sunday School classes for atheists to present their views to inquiring minds. There is no encouragement to view the other side, read a countering position, research on one’s own. There is no investigation into the First Century Greek world, Hellenization, Palestine, or early Jewish beliefs. We see the party line given over and over.
While to many, these may be the “same responses” they have seen elsewhere. But they haven’t seen them in church.
I find it demonstrative that the very first Christian book preserved says, “Test everything. Hold on to what is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21) I wonder if immediately after that, Paul found out that was a bad idea, and dropped it like a hot potato.