Posts Tagged ‘leaving church’

images-183I think I might have lost an old friend this week. We’ve known each other for 25 years. This sucks. And it isn’t the first time this has happened to me in the past couple years.

My buddy’s main complaint, boiled down…I’ve changed.

And I have. He’s correct. The biggest change, of course, and the one that is the most troubling for him, is that I no longer identify myself as a Christian. He, on the other hand, proudly states that he believes the same things today that he believed when he was 21.

Yes, I have changed. A lot, in fact. Including my religious beliefs. And I can understand why this is difficult for many of my old friends. I wasn’t just a back-pew-at-church once-a-week-on-Sunday Christian. I directed Christian ministries, which is where I originally met many, if not most, of my old friends. I led worship. I was an interim pastor at my local church. I taught a thriving Bible study in my home for four years. I counseled people from a Biblical perspective. I prayed with people. God/Jesus was the center of my life, which is still true for these old friends. So I get it. I know how exclusive and all-encompassing the Christian faith is, at least for evangelicals. It’s the defining factor in their lives, like it was for me, and because of this you are either in their club or you’re not. And although these folks have no problem reaching out to non-believers (this is not a group of people who behave like judgmental assholes toward non-Christians), they do find it difficult to be close to people – even long-term good friends – who no longer share these same core beliefs and motivations.

And I have to be honest about this. I’m finding it harder to be their friend, too, but for a very different reason. This buddy of Broken_church_in_the_jungle_by_Linolafettmine mentioned to me this past week that “Satan is deceiving me.” He also made a comment about my “shaky morals,” which I truly don’t get. (I consider myself more morale now than I ever have before.) It’s hard to feel close to people who think these things about me. Does that make sense? I accept this guy…I love him as a brother. We’ve walked with one another through difficult life events and have shared honestly and openly about our deepest struggles and greatest victories. Because of this long-term commitment to one another and the respect and love I have for him, I can handle the fact that we think about things differently. In fact, differences don’t scare me anymore. I celebrate them. I can disagree with someone about things – even important things – and remain committed as a friend. But I have to admit: it’s truly hard to be close to someone who thinks you’re going to hell and who considers you immoral.

Yes, I have changed. This is true. I’m on a great adventure of change, in fact. I have walked away from a faith that was really good for me for many years but that I probably should have walked away from ten years before I finally got up the nerve to do so. And there have been other changes, as well. I like myself better. I’m both more confident as a person AND more gentle with, tolerant of and understanding toward others. I listen better. I’ve become quite a bit more liberal and even progressive in my politics and beliefs. I like rap.

Where I haven’t changed: I’m still committed to social justice and doing whatever I can to help unfuck up the world. In fact, I’m probably more committed to that than I was before. I still love my wife, am faithful to her and plan on being with her for at least another 26 years. I love my four kids and would do anything for them. I consider myself a faithful friend, although not a perfect friend. I still make people laugh. I talk too much. I take risks. I’m not afraid to “come out” about who I am and what I think, and I know I can offend others, which is something I’m still trying to self-monitor. And I still get hurt and feel lonely when people who have been important to me find themselves unable to remain close, and I still feel badly when I’m judgmental and intolerant toward them.

images-184Where I might still change: Who knows? Faith may grow or shrink, ideas may change, opinions may modify. It’s an adventure.

One last thought: I have some really great friends. I am accepted and loved for exactly who I am by some old friends who are still “in” the evangelical world and by old friends who are no longer or never were in that world. I also have some awesome new friends. I am a lucky man.


PS. Click HERE for my “In which I come clean about my faith” story from last year.

UPDATE: The awesome Facebook page and blog “Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented” reposted this story this afternoon, and I received many touching comments. One of them, by Emmett, was a great reminder for me. He said:

I wouldn’t fall too harshly on the Christian friend mentioned in this story. I mean, friendships can fade; people who became very close over something that was the most important thing in the world to both of them can find it difficult to reconcile the loss of that thing. Speaking as someone who is non-religious, it’s easy to say, “(The friend) is not a Christian, then.” But I imagine it must be difficult for him as well. He likely feels like he’s losing a friend as well.

What a great comment. Thanks, Emmett. It renewed my empathy and understanding for this old friend. I will continue to reach out, yet will learn to be satisfied with whatever depth of friendship we end up with.


One of my favorite bloggers, Danika Nash (no relation!) wrote this.  I wish I had written it.  Please read this if you’re young.  Please read this if you’re older.  Please read this if you’re a church-goer.  Please read this if you’re not.  


I got to go to the Macklemore concert on Friday night. If you want to hear about how images-97that went, ask me, seriously, I want to talk about it until I die. The whole thing was great; but the best part was when Macklemore sang “Same Love.” Augustana’s gym was filled to the ceiling with 5,000 people, mostly aged 18-25, and decked out in thrift store gear (American flag bro-tanks, neon Nikes, MC Hammer pants. My Cowboy boyfriend wore Cowboy boots…not ironically….). The arena was brimming with excitement and adrenaline during every song, but when he started to play “Same Love,” the place about collapsed. Why? While the song is popular everywhere, no one, maybe not even Macklemore, feels its true tension like we do in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you’re not familiar, here’s the song:


Stop–did you watch it? Watch it.

Before the song, Macklemore spoke really simple words along the lines of: “Hey, you can all have your own opinions on how we treat gay people in this country, but this is mine.” And I held my breath in anticipation of some kind of uproar or walk-out…but the crowd cheered louder than they had yet. In our red state, in our conservative little city, the 5,000 young people in that arena wanted to hear about marriage equality.

During the song, almost every person at the concert had their hands up and their eyes closed…it reminded me of church. The whole crowd spoke every word with Macklemore. We were thirsty for those words. We want to hear about equality and love in a gentle way. We’re sick of the harsh words of both sides. Say what you want about my generation, but we can smell fake from a mile away. This rapper from Seattle had brought us truth in song form, and we all knew it. I live in such a conservative bubble that I couldn’t believe the crowd’s positive, thankful reaction. But I shouldn’t images-98have been surprised. No one knows the tension of that song like my generation in South Dakota does. So many of us were brought up in churches and Christian homes, and even if we weren’t, we’ve experienced the traditional Christian culture that just resonates from South Dakota’s prairie land. We know conservatism; we know tradition. But we also have Twitter, we watch SNL, we listen to Macklemore, and we read Tina Fey. We’re more in touch with the rest of the country than the Midwest has ever been. Some of us love the church and some of us hate it, but there aren’t too many people for whom it’s irrelevant. So when Macklemore takes on that tension with his poetry, his South Dakota audience listened. We practically yelled with him when he spoke the lyrics:

“When I was at church, they taught me something else: if you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.”

We yelled because we knew that holy water too well. We knew that hateful preaching too well. We had all been hurt by it in one way or another.

My point in writing this isn’t to protect gay people. Things are changing—the world isimages-99 becoming a safer place for my gay friends. They’re going to get equal rights. I’m writing this because I’m worried about the safety of the Church. The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70% of 23-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave. I’m going to offer a pretty candid answer, and it’s going to make some people upset, but I care about the Church too much to be quiet. We’re scared of change. We always have been. When scientists proposed that the Earth could be moving through space, church bishops condemned the teaching, citing Psalm 104:5 to say that God “set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” But the scientific theory continued, and the Church still exists. I’m saying this: we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress. DON’T hear me saying that we can’t fight culture on anything. Lots of things in culture are absolutely contradictory to love and equality, and we should be battling those things. The way culture treats women, or pornography? Get AT that, church. I’ll be right there with you. But my generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment. It’s my generation who is overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, and Church, as a young person and as a theologian, it is not in your best interest to give them that ultimatum.

My whole life, I’ve been told again and again that Christianity is not conducive with homosexuality. It just doesn’t work out. I was forced to choose between the love I had for my gay friends and so-called biblical authority. I chose gay people, and I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one. I said, “If the Bible really says this about gay people, I’m not too keen on trusting what it says about God.” And I left my church. It has only been lately that I have seen evidence that the Bible could be saying something completely different about love and equality.

So, my advice to you, the Church: if you’re looking for some intelligent biblical liberal opinions on the subject, have a little coffee chat with your local Methodist or Episcopal pastor. Christians can beall about gay people, it’s possible. People do it every day with a clear biblical conscience. Find out if you think there’s truth in that view before you sweep us under the rug. You CAN have a conservative view on gay marriage, or gay ordination. You can. But I want you to have some serious conversations with God, your friends that disagree with you, and maybe even some gay people, Christians or not, before you decide that this one view is worth marginalizing my generation. Weigh those politics against what you’re giving up: us. We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends). Help us find love in the church before we look for it outside.

Oh, and can we please please PLEASE stop changing our Facebook profile pictures to crosses in a protest against gay marriage? You are taking a symbol of hope and redemption and using it to make a political point. No matter what you think, that has to stop. It’s a misrepresentation of what that symbol means.


A College Kid Who Misses You

Click here for this beautiful article written by Rachel Evans (or read below):

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. 

– John Piper

Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man. 

– Thomas Paine

images-19It’s strange to think that doubt has been a part of my life for more than ten years now.

I remember when it first showed up—a dark grotesque with a terrifying smile that took up so much space, catching every payer in its gravitational pull. That I could grow accustomed to its presence seemed impossible at the time, and yet I have. It  hasn’t changed in size, but somehow it occupies less space. I smile back at it now.

A lot of people, when they catch pieces of my story, assume my doubts are of the intellectual variety. They assume I’m just a smart girl stuck in the Bible Belt asking pesky questions about science, history and politics that my conservative evangelical culture, with a bent toward anti-intellectualism, simply cannot answer.

This is true to an extent. I’ve wrestled with a lot of questions related to science and faith, especially given my location a mere two miles from the famous Rhea County Courthouse where John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school.  While I no longer believe the earth is just 6,000 years old, I still live in the tension of unanswered questions about the universe, and death, and brains, and Neanderthals, and whatever Neil deGrasse Tyson’s got to say on public television about the earth getting burned up by the sun or our species going extinct after an asteroid hits.  I have questions too about history and Christianity’s emergence from it, questions about the Bible, questions about miracles.

But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart.

If you’ve read Evolving in Monkey Town, you know that the public execution of a woman named Zarmina in Afghanistan marked a turning point in my faith journey. The injustice of the situation was troublesome enough, but when my friends insisted that Zarmina went to hell because she was a Muslim, I began wrestling with some serious questions about heaven, hell, predestination, free will, God’s goodness, and religious pluralism.

Evangelical apologists were quick to respond. And while their answers made enough sense in my head; they never sat right with my soul.

Why would God fashion a person in her mother’ s womb, number the hairs on her head, and then leave her without any hope of salvation? Can salvation be boiled down to luck of the draw? How is that just? Shouldn’t  God be more loving and compassionate than I?

Oh, the Calvinists could make perfect sense of it all with a wave of a hand and a swift, confident explanation about how Zarmina had been born in sin and likely predestined to spend eternity in hell to the glory of an angry God (they called her a “vessel of destruction”); about how I should just be thankful to be spared the same fate since it’s what I deserve anyway; about how the Asian tsunami was just another one of God’s temper tantrums sent to remind us all of His rage at our sin; about how I need not worry because “there is not one maverick molecule in the universe” so every hurricane, every earthquake, every war, every execution, every transaction in the slave trade, every rape of a child is part of God’s sovereign plan, even God’s idea; about how my objections to this paradigm represented unrepentant pride and a capitulation to humanism that placed too much inherent value on my fellow human beings; about how my intuitive sense of love and morality and right and wrong is so corrupted by my sin nature I cannot trust it.

They said all of this without so much of a glimmer of a tear, and it scared me to death.  It nearly scared me out of the Church.

For what makes the Church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority?  What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice?

Perhaps in reaction to the “scandal of the evangelical mind,” evangelicalism of late has developed a general distrust of emotion when it comes to theology. So long as an idea seems logical, so long as it fits consistently with the favored theological paradigm, it seems to matter not whether it is morally reprehensible at an intuitive level. I suspect this is why this new breed of rigid Calvinism that follows the “five points” to their most logical conclusion, without regard to the moral implications of them, has flourished in the past twenty years.  (I heard a theology professor explain the other day that he had no problem whatsoever with God orchestrating evil acts to accomplish God’s will, for that is what is required for God to be fully sovereign! When asked if this does not make God something of a monster, he responded that it didn’t matter; God is God—end of story.) And I suspect this explains why, in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, so many evangelical leaders responded like Job’s friends, eager to offer theological explanations for what happened instead of simply sitting down in the ashes and weeping with their brothers and sisters.

Richard Beck has also observed this phenomenon and refers to it as “orthodox alexithymia”:

When theology and doctrine become separated from emotion we end up with something dysfunctional and even monstrous.  A theology or doctrinal system that has become decoupled from emotion is going to look emotionally stunted and even inhuman.  What I’m describing here might be captured by the tag “orthodox alexithymia.” By “orthodox” I mean the intellectual pursuit of right belief. And by “alexithymia” I mean someone who is, theologically speaking, emotionally and socially deaf and dumb. Even theologically sociopathic.  Alexithymia–etymologically “without words for emotions”–is a symptom characteristic of individuals who have difficulty understanding their own and others’ emotions. You can think of alexithymia as being the opposite of what is called emotional intelligence.  Orthodox alexithymia is produced when the intellectual facets of Christian theology, in the pursuit of correct and right belief, become decoupled from emotion, empathy, and fellow-feeling. Orthodox alexithymics are like patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex brain damage. Their reasoning may be sophisticated and internally consistent but it is disconnected from human emotion. And without Christ-shaped caring to guide the chain of calculation we wind up with the theological equivalent of preferring to scratch a doctrinal finger over preventing destruction of the whole world. Logically and doctrinally such preferences can be justified. They are not “contrary to reason.” But they are inhuman and monstrous. Emotion, not reason, is what has gone missing. Read the entire post.

I encountered this recently after I spoke to a group of youth about doubt. In the presentation, I mentioned that upon reading the story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho for myself, I realized it was a story about genocide, with God commanding Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in the city for the sole purpose of acquiring land. I explained that this seemed contrary to what Jesus taught about loving our enemies.

Afterwards, a youth leader informed me that when it came to Joshua and Jericho, I had nothing to worry about…and had no business getting his students worried either.

“I don’t know why you had to bring up the Jericho thing,” he said.

“Doesn’t that story bother you?” I asked. “Don’t you find the slaughter of men, women, and children horrific?”

“Not if it’s in the Bible.”

“Genocide doesn’t bother you if it’s in the Bible?”


He crossed his arms and a self-satisfied smile spread across his face. He was proud of his detachment, I realized. He seemed to think it represented some kind of spiritual strength.

“But genocide always bothers me,” I finally said, “especially when it’s in the Bible. And I get the idea that maybe it’s supposed to. I get the idea that maybe God created me to be bothered by evil like that, even when it’s said to have been orchestrated by God.”

I’m not sure he and I will ever understand one another, but I’ve decided to quit apologizing for my questions.  It’s not enough for me to maintain my intellectual integrity as a Christian; I also want to maintain my emotional integrity as a Christian. And I don’t need answers to all of my questions to do that. I need only the courage to be honest about my questions and doubts, and the patience to keep exploring and trusting in spite of them.

The bravest decision I’ll ever make is the decision to follow Jesus with both my head and heart engaged—no checking out, no pretending.

It’s a decision I make every day, and it’s a decision that’s made my faith journey a heck of a lot more hazardous and a heck of a lot more fun.  It means that grinning monster, doubt, is likely to stick around for a while, for I know now that closing my eyes won’t make him go away. It means each day is a risk, a gamble, an adventure in vulnerability and trust, as I figure out what it means to follow Jesus as me, Rachel Grace—the girl who cried for Zarmina, the girl who inherited her mama’s bleeding heart and her daddy’s stubborn grace, the girl who digs in her heels, the girl who makes mistakes, the girl who is intent on breaking up patriarchy, the girl who thought to raise her hand in Sunday school at age five and ask why God would drown innocent animals in Noah’s flood, the girl who could be wrong.

It means I’ve got a long race ahead of me, but I’m going to run it with abandon. I’m going to run it as me. Because I think that’s what God wants—all of me, surrendered and transformed, head and heart engaged.

I’m growing more confident in my stride, and I am running faster now, breathless, kicking up dust, tripping over roots and skinning my knees, cursing now and then, but always getting up and gaining ground on that bend in the path where I think I can see Jesus up ahead.

creative_soul_canvas2I’ve written about my spiritual journey here – about doubt and enlightenment and change.   And as I’ve wrestled with these things over the past 10 years, I’ve learned to relax – my “crisis of faith” has slowly become part of who I am, and, I believe, has made me a better (and happier) man.

Rachel Evans writes about these same things…but in a way that’s so beautiful, so compelling that I had to share it with you.   She’s one of my spiritual journey heroes.

“But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart…

I heard a theology professor explain the other day that he had no problem whatsoever with God orchestrating evil acts to accomplish God’s will, for that is what is required for God to be fully sovereign! When asked if this does not make God something of a monster, he responded that it didn’t matter; God is God—end of story.”

Read Rachel’s article “The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart” HERE

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”   – John Piper

“Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.”    – Thomas Paine

The rise of the ‘Nones’

Posted: January 14, 2013 in believing

article_images_leaving_988893440Thanks to Ron Skylstad for bringing this article to my attention this morning.   The most interesting sentence (in my opinion):  I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.

(Sign up for my blog…look over there to the left…click on “follow blog via email.”   C’mon, do it.  You’ll like it, I promise.)   🙂


This week, Morning Edition explores the “nones” — Americans who say they don’t identify with any religion. Demographers have given them this name because when asked to identify their religion, that’s their answer: “none.”

In October, the Pew Research Center released a study, ‘Nones’ on the Rise, that takes a closer look at the 46 million people who answered none to the religion question in 2012. According to Pew, one-fifth of American adults have no religious affiliation, a trend that has for years been on the rise. (A more recent Gallup pollshows the uptick in religious nones slowed a bit from 2011 to 2012.)

Percentage Reporting In a nutshell, the group:
  • comprises atheists and agnostics as well as those who ally themselves with “nothing in particular”
  • includes many who say they are spiritual or religious in some way and pray every day
  • overwhelmingly says they are not looking to find an organized religion that would be right for them
  • is socially liberal, with three-quarters favoring same-sex marriage and legal abortion

Perhaps most striking is that one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. When comparing this with previous generations under 30, there’s a new wrinkle, says Greg Smith, a senior research at Pew.

Percentage Reporting No Religious Affiliation, By Age

“Young people today are not only more religiously unaffiliated than their elders; they are also more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people ever have been as far back as we can tell,” Smith tells NPRMorning Edition co-host David Greene. “This really is something new.”

But why?

According to Harvard professor Robert Putnam, who writes about religion, this young generation has been distancing itself from community institutions and from institutions in general.

“They’re the same people who are also not joining the Elks Club or the Rotary Club,” Putnam tells Greene. “I don’t mean to be casting that as a critique of them, but this same younger generation is much less involved in many of the main institutions of our society than previous younger generations were.”

The trend, Putnam says, is borne out of rebellion of sorts.

“It begins to jump at around 1990,” he says. “These were the kids who were coming of age in the America of the culture wars, in the America in which religion publicly became associated with a particular brand of politics, and so I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.

And the rise of the nones has had a significant political impact. As NPR’s Liz Halloran detailed last month, the voting nones helped give President Obama a second-term victory and have become, as Smith says in the story, a “very important, politically consequential group.” Halloran writes:

The religiously unaffiliated voters are almost as strongly Democratic as white evangelicals are Republican, polls show.

Percentage Reporting No Religious Affiliation, By Gender

So far, the trend has not translated to more nones in Congress, according to Pew. Only one member of the new Congress — Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — identifies as a none. Democrat Pete Stark had been Congress’ sole atheist, but he was defeated in November.

Still, religion still rules in America, as Putnam tells Greene.

“Even with these recent changes the American religious commitments are incredibly stronger than in most other advanced countries in the world,” Putnam says. “The average American is slightly more religious than the average Iranian, so we are a very religious country even today.”

Original Article:  NPR News.   (Click HERE)


(Note:  This is a sort of epilogue to a series…see links at the end of this article.)

For a limited time only, if you act now, you can have the best of two worlds! You can retain your intellect and your capacity for logical analysis AND hold on to the truths and the beauty and the blueprint for living that is the Bible. Millions have done it, and you can too!

I know what you’re thinking. “Why in the hell is he writing about this again?” Good question. My three-part article on “truth” addresses this, so why get in the ring again? Live and let live, right? If someone wants to believe that the Bible is a supernatural book that gets absolutely everything right, then what’s that to me?

I wish I felt that way. But here’s why it matters. Maybe for most evangelicals who hold to the “Magic Book” view of the Bible, there is no downside to the “Incredible Supernatural One Stop Book Of 100% Accurate and Infallible Facts That Are Always And In Every Situation And Time Absolutely True” belief system. It is a comforting way to organize their lives and an easier, more black and white way to view the world around them, and it does little to no harm to themselves or others.

Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case. As I’ve previously written (see links below), I believe there is actually some danger in the belief that the Bible (a collection of writings from thousands of years ago, based on bronze-age morality, ethics, and scientific understandings) is 100% right, accurate and true. This sort of belief-ism is not always a neutral and harmless approach to theology. True Believers, from any religion, can do and have done damage to others in the name of Truth. Much pain has been inflicted, many relationships have been destroyed, lives have been lost, stunted and/or limited, all in the service of “Biblical truth.” And to a lesser degree, I think we can miss out on much beauty and adventure when we choose certainty over mystery. Furthermore, when we put all our eggs in a proscribed belief system basket, we risk losing everything when that basket turns out to be less-than-sturdy.

The problem: The inability to differentiate between the various “degrees of truth” found in scripture.

The main roadblock: The “slippery slope” argument. I understand this argument all too well – it’s why I spent so many years doing intellectual gymnastics trying to make the obvious inaccuracies of the Bible disappear through creative interpretation. The thinking goes like this: “If just one sentence in the Bible turns out to be wrong or untrue, then the whole thing becomes invalid, every statement becomes suspect, the foundation on which I’ve built my life crumbles to dust, and I’m left with nothing solid to believe in.” Stepping away from Bible-worship was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was like jumping off a solid and safe ledge into the unknown…and trusting that I’d fly rather than be smashed to bits on the rocks below.

The solution:  I discovered something wonderful. You can follow Jesus without having to give up your ability to reason and think and differentiate. You can gain wisdom and direction from scripture, you can discover ways to live a life of peace and joy, you can even join with others in a “religion” if you so choose (or not, as I’ve chosen) – and NOT be obligated to believe in a 6,000 year-old earth or that women should shut up in church or that homosexuals are going to hell or that the “Left Behind” series is even remotely prophetic or any number of other moral/ethical/logical sticking points. In fact, the Bible becomes more alive, more relevant, more life-giving when approached without absolutism…not less.

I’m not trying to tear down anyone’s faith. Faith can be beautiful and life-giving and brings much good to this world and to individual lives.   What I do hope is that people might loosen their grip on certainty, even slightly, and learn to read the Bible with more of an open mind, and find the joy that comes with embracing more mystery. That was really difficult for me at first. My long-held and sacred assumption was that “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” So everything else was measured against this “Truth,” and when “facts” contradicted the Bible, those “facts” were just wrong.

Faith in the “Magic Book” version of the Bible is a powerful insulation against seeing the world for what it is. The Bible contradicts an established scientific fact? No problem: the scientists are wrong (about cosmology, evolution, embryology, neurophysiology, climate change, etc.), and the Bible is right; or Jesus (or Paul, or whomever) didn’t really mean it (for example, regarding the mustard seed being the smallest seed). The Bible contradicts modern understandings of ethics and morals? No worries: we’ve misinterpreted the Bible (examples: slavery, women not being allowed to speak on church); or today’s ethics are wrong (example: homosexuality). A command we don’t especially love? No big deal: it was symbolism or analogy or poetic hyperbole or whatever (i.e., Jesus’ requirement that we sell everything we own and donate the proceeds to the poor). Or if we find it impossible to re-interpret using one of these methods, we can do what we want to anyway, then live with guilt (for example, in the case of the millions of divorced Christians who have chosen to remarry despite Jesus’ prohibition on such).

See how slippery it is? You can’t really demonstrate that anything in the Bible is untrue, because the standard of measurement is a moving target.

Maybe the only way to get a foot in the door is to discuss just a few of the hundreds of examples in which the Bible contradicts itself – where two things, both proclaimed as true, can’t both be true. Frivolous stuff, actually. But it might be enough to pry lose the death grip some have on inerrancy and infallibility. images-7

On how many donkeys did Jesus ride into Jerusalem? Mark, Luke and John all describe him riding a single animal. However, Matthew, attempting to fulfill Old Testament prophecy, has Jesus riding two donkeys. (By the way, this is a common theme in Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus. More than two dozen times he provides “proof” of Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy by adding in creative and usually contradictory “facts” about Jesus’ life.) Zechariah 9:9 says that the king would come “riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The repetition here is typical of Hebrew poesy, with the donkey being described twice in different words. Matthew, though, appears not to have understood this. He seems to have thought that the prophecy described Jesus riding both a donkey and a colt and so awkwardly introduces a second donkey into the triumphal entry: “When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.’ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their clothes on them, and he sat on them. (Matthew 21:1-7) Mark, Luke and John apparently understood the Hebrew stylistic method, and were content to limit Jesus choice of transportation to something less bizarre.

How did Judas die? Did he hang himself (Matthew 27:3-8), or did he fall down and crack his head open (Acts 1:16-19)? It verges on the comedic to hear some evangelicals go through gyrations trying to have it both ways. A quite common solution to this apparent contradiction in scripture is, no kidding, Judas hung himself, but the rope broke, and he fell down and cracked his head open.

How many demon-possessed men were in the graveyard? There are three passages that describe this event (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39.) The Matthew account mentions two demon-possessed men, while Mark and Luke only mention one. What gives? I looked this up this morning on a “Bible Answer” web site. I want to quote it here directly, because I think it’s so silly:

Is there a discrepancy in these accounts, and do the Gospel writers contradict one another? 

The first thing to determine is whether the three writers are describing the same event. The timing of the event in all three accounts—immediately following the calming of the storm on the sea of Galilee—as well as other similarities all give credence to Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describing the same event. The question remains, then, whether there was one demoniac or two. 

Matthew tells us there were two demoniacs, while Mark and Luke only mention one of the two. It is unclear why they chose to mention only one, but that does not negate the possibility of a second demoniac being present. Mark and Luke do not say there was “only one” demon-possessed man. For whatever reason, Matthew simply gives us more information than Mark and Luke. 

In any case, no contradiction exists. A contradiction occurs only if one statement makes the other impossible and there is absolutely no way for them to be reconciled. For example, let’s say we put two apples on a table. Statement 1: There are two apples on the table. Statement 2: There is only one apple on the table. These two statements contradict each other. Now read these two statements: Statement 1: There are two apples on the table. Statement 2: There is an apple on the table. These two statements do not contradict each other. In the same way, the biblical accounts do not represent a contradiction. All three affirm that there was at least one man who was plagued by demons.

Seriously? If I were holding two apples in my hand, and said to you, “I am holding an apple in my hand,” you wouldn’t think I was an idiot?

All this to say: Do you see how hard you have to work in order to believe that every word of the Bible is “Truth?” And the good news, again, is that it’s not necessary! In fact, Jesus himself engaged in a fair amount of picking and choosing in what to pay attention to Biblically and what to ignore, and often got in trouble with the religious folks because of it. He reserved his harshest words for the religious people of his day who “upheld the letter of the law over the spirit of the law,” and who chose strict adherence to the written word over what he called “the weightier matters of the law: mercy, justice and faithfulness.” He told them that they “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24). Let’s not make that mistake.

And now my New Year’s Resolution: No more articles on “truth!” We’ll make this the epilogue to the series referenced below, and call it good. Back to other “stuff that matters” soon!    Happy New Year!

Prequel (in which I come clean about my faith) CLICK HERE

Part 1 (true? Truth? not true? just true-ish?) CLICK HERE



desmond-tutu-GOD-is-not-a-christianDesmond Tutu writes:  We should in humility and joyfulness acknowledge that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or other transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the divine — however named, however apprehended or conceived — is infinite and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend the divine completely.

Read the full article here