This post is a long one, which is why it has taken me so long to write it. Please bear with me.
Atheism and Christianity are often viewed as being at odds in the west. They are seen as at war with one another. A lot of this seems to be caused by the theists’ inability to imagine how anyone could not believe in their god, and a lot of it comes from the fact that atheists are actively fighting to create a place for themselves in Western society. However, some of it is caused by how atheists view the Bible.
It is not uncommon for atheists to hear comments like this:
“Recently, I have had a lot of conversations with atheists. Many express a strong hatred of God. I have been at a loss to explain this. How can you hate someone you don’t believe in? Why the hostility? If God does not exist, shouldn’t atheists just relax and seek a good time before they become plant food? Why should it matter if people believe in God? Nothing matters if atheism is true.”
This is a gross misunderstanding of how atheists view the Christian God. For one, criticizing God is not the same as hating God. It is merely saying that the things this God does are not good things. For another, it is possible to criticize someone who you do not believe to be real. For example, In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel’s favorite author turns out to be a very rude and cynical man. It is perfectly fine to criticize him for being a jerk to two teenagers who are dying. However, saying that he’s a jerk does not mean that you believe he exists. The same can be said of God. I can say that the things God does in the Bible are terrible without actually believing that he exists. There is also the misunderstanding of how much Christianity actually affects the atheists who are criticizing God. There seems to be this assumption that we are just looking for reasons to hate Christianity. This is not the case. Atheists don’t just “relax and seek a good time” because we do not live in a vacuum. Believe it or not, your actions affect us. And your actions are influenced by your beliefs. You think the Bible is against homosexuality? That affects your belief that homosexuality should be illegal. That means that you believe that your religious views should be imposed on everybody regardless of whether or not they are a member of your religion. Same with the view that abortion is wrong that is caused by your belief that all people are made in the image of God. If your actions come from your religious views, and your actions involve imposing your beliefs on others through the creation of laws, then you are affecting the lives of others. As a result, we must fight to hold on to the right to be free from your religion. And no, atheists do not believe that nothing matters. Atheism is not synonymous with nihilism (more on this later).
A lot of Christians are curious about how to convince an atheist that God exists. They will ask questions like “What if I can logically prove that God exists?” The biggest problem with these logical proofs is that you must come up with a clear definition of exactly what you mean by “God” before you can go anywhere. A lot of philosophical arguments that go out to prove that God exists assert that they show the Christian God exists, but, in reality, they can only show that a god exists. That is, provided you find them convincing. Some Christians may reply to this by saying “Everyone already knows that when I say ‘God’ I mean the Christian God!” But this is definitely not the case. There are many different religions that exist that have very different ideas of what a god is. And even how many gods there are. And even if everybody did know that you meant the Christian God, that doesn’t mean that they know what you mean when you say “God.” Christians often disagree about what God’s personality is. Is he wrathful or loving? Does he hate homosexuality or does he not care? Does he send people to hell for not believing in him or not? How is your God defined? An atheist might not know what you mean when you talk about God because they may have a very different conception of God than you do. At this point, it is necessary to define what “God” means. I find that a lot of people ask us what we mean when we say “God.” As atheists, this is a difficult thing to define. There are many different types of gods, and I don’t believe in any of them. So what do I mean? I mean a large number of things: creator of the universe, omnipotent, omniscient creature, intelligent cause of morality above humans, superhuman agent with magical powers, etc. Really, my definition changes depending on who I’m talking to. But atheists aren’t the only ones who need to define what they mean by “God.” Just because you say you’re a Christian, that does not mean that I know what your definition of “God” is. You too must define your terms before we can take the discussion any farther. Once we have our definitions known, then a person can attempt to logically prove that God exists. Many of the current logical arguments for God do not define what they mean by God, so, even if they could logically prove that a god existed, they wouldn’t be proving that their god existed. Take the Kalam Cosmological argument, for example. This argument does not define which god exists, so, even if you take the argument as true, we’re still left with the question “which god?” As far as I’m concerned, even after centuries of philosophical arguments, there are no convincing logical arguments for any god’s existence. This leads a number of theists to conclude that we could never be convinced that gods exist, and that we are just determined to not believe. This is not true. Our having not yet been convinced does not mean that we can never been convinced. However, being as we think we’re right, we don’t think we will ever be convinced. However, this is irrelevant to the Bible itself.
So why don’t atheists agree with the Bible. I find this to be the most important question to focus on, because this seems to be what confuses Christians the most where the Bible is concerned. The reasons why we don’t agree with the Bible is because we don’t think it’s accurate. In Genesis 1:16 it said that God made two great lights. The greater light is said to govern the day and the lesser light is said to govern the night. God is then said to have made the stars. God apparently set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth. However, we know that the stars would have given light to the earth immediately, even though the closest star beyond our sun, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. The light we see from the nearest galaxy to our own, Andromeda Galaxy, takes 2.2 million years to reach earth. That fact alone debunks the argument that the earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old (assuming you’re a creationist). It doesn’t take much to realise that this bit of the Bible is not accurate. But the scientific inaccuracies aren’t the only reason why atheists do not agree with the Bible. In Genesis 1:11-12 and 1:26-27 the trees are said to have come before Adam, but Genesis 2:4-9 says that the trees came after Adam. If the Bible is simply a metaphor, then this bit can be explained away as holding some deeper meaning. But if it’s not, if this was actually meant to have happened, then these inconsistencies are a real problem. Did the trees come before or after Adam? Genesis 1:20-21 and 26-27 says that the birds were created before Adam, but Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 says they were created after him. Genesis 1:24-27 says that the animals were created before Adam (because apparently birds aren’t animals?), but Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 says that the animals were created after Adam. Genesis 1:26-27 says that Adam and Eve were created at the same time, but Genesis 2:7 and 2:21-22 says that Adam was created first and Eve came sometime later. As a kid, I never learned the “they came at the same time” story. We were only ever taught that Adam came first and Eve was created from his rib because Adam felt lonely. This is a problem to me. Ignoring the inconsistency seems more problematic than addressing it, because it comes across as dishonest. And why go with that narrative. The “created at the same time” narrative seems far less problematic. Than again, if you want to tell women that they aren’t the equals of men, it makes far more sense to go with the story where women were only created to support men. On top of inconsistencies, there are also bit within Genesis that simply don’t make sense. In Genesis 1:31 God is said to be pleased with his creation but at Genesis 6:5-6 God was not pleased with his creation. So which is it? And how can an all knowing, all powerful God create something that they aren’t pleased with? And at Genesis 2:3 God is said to have blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. But in the Christian religion, God is generally said to be omnipotent. What did an omnipotent being require rest for? Genesis 2:16-17 says that God said to Adam that he was free to eat from any tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why would God place temptation in front of two essentially naïve children? And why would he allow them to be tempted by the serpent? If God is all knowing, then he would have to know about the serpent and what it was planning or doing.
Genesis 3:1 says that the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals, and he told Eve that she could eat from any tree in the garden, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A talking snake is bad enough. But why would God bother creating the snake to be clever enough to trick the humans? Was he intending for the snake to trick them?
The Noah’s Ark story has its own set of problems. To begin with, according to Genesis 7:6, Noah was six hundred years old when the flood waters came down. And Noah entered the Ark with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives to escape the waters of the flood. So…eight people who were hundred of years old in the Bronze-Age built a ship the size of a football stadium with only felled trees and pitch? And they fit two of all the worlds animals on it? How did that work? In Genesis 6:19 it says that Noah was to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Genesis 7:19-20 states that the waters covered all the high mountains under the entire heavens. The waters apparently rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. According to science, constant, planet-wide, rainfall at the rate of 6 inches per minute or 360 inches an hour for 40 days and 40 nights would be required to cover Mount Everest under 22 feet of water. How did Noah even measure this for the record? And where has all of the water gone since? Then, in Genesis 8:8, Noah is said to have sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. Why did Noah require a dove to find land if he were able to speak to God to find out the state of the planet? At Genesis 8:15-16 God ordered Noah to leave the ark with the animals so they could multiply on the earth. When the ark landed, what did the carnivores eat? Creationists often tell us that the animals were all herbivores in the garden, but, after the fall, the meat eaters began to eat meat. This suggests that they must have been carnivores before they got on the ark. So what did they eat? And vegetation would have been destroyed by the flood, so what did the herbivores eat when they landed? God then tells Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis 9:1. So…eight people of middle-eastern descent had children through incest and produced over 5,000 of today’s ethnic groups in a few hundred generations? How did that work? Later, in Genesis 9:20, Noah is said to have planted a vineyard, then he drank some of the wine and became drunk and lay naked inside his tent. Why would the supposedly only guy worth saving spend his latter days drunk and naked? And why would this be worth cursing his son’s family over.
The Old Testament isn’t the only part of the Bible with problems. According to Matthew 1:20, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This sounds like Joseph and Mary got married and had sex, then Mary got pregnant. It’s not so much that Mary was a virgin as it is that God blessed their child. But in Luke 1:28 it says that in the sixth month, God sent Gabriel to Nazareth to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin was Mary. Gabriel went said to Mary “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” So, in this scenario, Mary is a virgin who is not yet married, and the angle speaks to her directly. So who did the angle speak to first? And was Mary an unmarried virgin or not? The virgin bit is further confused when Isaiah 7:14 says that God will give a sign in the form of a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a son named Immanuel. And Matthew 1:23 says the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son named Immanuel. This is interesting because the Greek Septuagint, which Matthew used, translates as “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,” but the Hebrew word “almah” means “young woman of marriageable age,” not a virgin. So was Mary a virgin or just a young woman about to marry?
And what about the trip to Bethleham? Luke 2:1-3 says that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. Why would the Emperor bother with a census? And why would they make everyone go back to their home towns if they didn’t still live in them? And why doesn’t Matthew mention the census Jesus’ birth is also questionable. In Matthew 2:11, it says that upon coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But Luke 2:7 says she gave birth to her first-born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Which is it? Was Jesus born in a house or a barn? In Matthew 2:1-2 it says that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” But Luke 2:15 says as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. So was it magi or shepherds who went to meet the baby Jesus?
What about righteousness? In Genesis 7:1 it says that God said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.” And Job 2:3 says that God said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” Likewise, Luke 1:6 says that both of them [Zachariah and Elizabeth] were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. James 5:16 says confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 1 John 3:7 says do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. But Romans 3:10 says “There is no one righteous, not even one.” So there are righteous people, but no one is righteous? What about Jesus’ crucifixion? Mark 15:25 says it was the third hour, and they crucified him. But John 19:14-16 says it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour: and he [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. So when was he killed?
These aren’t the only Biblical passages that lead people to question the Bible, but, as you can see, the accuracy of the Bible is questionable. You could argue that the inconsistencies are some kind of metaphor, but what is the metaphor? And why use a metaphor? But, if you think that the Bible is truly the inerrant word of God, how do you explain these inconsistencies? And why should I believe that the Bible was written as anything other than a fable created by people given the evidence that I have?
According to an article written by Chris Hallquist:
“One place where it’s worth saying a little more, though, is the issue of the historical reliability of the Bible. Or at least the New Testament. It seems that most people have gotten the word that the books of the Old Testament…may well have been written centuries after the events in them supposedly happened, so they’re not really historically trustworthy.
Many Christians, though, seem to just assume that the New Testament is historically reliable…It’s as if they expect atheists to agree, without any argument, that the Bible can be trusted.
“So let me say this very clearly: the vast majority of non-Christians…don’t regard the Bible as historically reliable…
“The Bible is divided into books. The majority of these books were actually inherited by Christianity from Judaism, and Christians call them the ‘Old Testament,’ though Jews don’t like that term. The books specific to Christianity are called the ‘New Testament.’
Different groups of Christians disagree about which Jewish books should be accepted into the Bible, but pretty much all Christians agree on the same twenty-seven books for the New Testament. The first four of these are the gospels, accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The next book is the book of Acts, an account of the early Christian church. After Acts are twenty-one letters, or epistles, attributed to leaders of the early church. And finally, there’s the famously weird book of Revelation.
“Nobody knows exactly when these books were written, but they’re generally dated to the first century A.D. on the Christian calendar. Since some people have misconceptions about the Christian calendar, here’s how it’s supposed to work: the year 1 B.C. was supposed to be the last year before Jesus’ birth, while the year 1 A.D. was supposed to be the first year after Jesus’ birth. There was no year 0…
“There are some problems with this. First, it’s generally thought that Dionysius Exiguus, the monk who came up with the B.C./A.D. system in the 6th century, he was a bit off in adding up the years. Second, outside of conservative Christian circles, it’s generally recognized that the gospels give inconsistent information about when Jesus was born. Still, it’s generally thought that Jesus was born within a few years of 1 B.C/1 A.D. So to say the books of the New Testament were written in the first century A.D. is to say they were written within 100 years or so of Jesus’ birth…
“It’s generally thought the books of the New Testament, in addition to having been written in the first century A.D., are the oldest surviving Christian writings. That is not to say Christians wrote nothing else in the first century, just that none of those other writings survived. Now that may not be quite right—there may be a little overlap between when the last books of the New Testament were written, and when the earliest surviving non-Biblical Christian writings were written—but it’s probably at least close to being right, close enough for our purposes.
“In addition to not knowing exactly when the books of the New Testament were written, we don’t know who wrote most of them. Certainly they were not all written by the same person. The gospels were traditionally attributed to apostles or companions of apostles, but this is widely doubted among mainstream scholars today. The authorship of most of the epistles is seriously doubted by mainstream scholars, but most scholars are confident that a number of the epistles attributed to the apostle Paul really were written by him.
“A final important point about basic New Testament scholarship is that the books of the New Testament were almost certainly not written in the order in which they appear in modern Bibles. In particular, even though the gospels appear first, they were very likely written after Paul’s (authentic) epistles: Paul’s maybe wrote in the 50′s, while there’s a good chance the gospels weren’t written until the 70′s or later (but again, we don’t really know).
“Now, in Christianity, usually when you hear someone called an “apostle” it means they were a follower of Jesus during his life. But Paul claimed the status of apostle based on his claim that Jesus had appeared to him after his death and supposed resurrection.
“So Paul’s (authentic) letters may be a good source of information about the early church as Paul knew it, if you take into account that Paul was taking a side in fights within the early church and that may have distorted his reporting. But Paul was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, and in fact says very little about the life of Jesus. That means that, in the eyes of almost all informed non-Christians, and may more liberal Christian Biblical scholars, the Bible contains no eyewitness reporting on Jesus’ life…
“The authors of the New Testament could easily have been just writing down legends about Jesus, and there’s good reason to think in many cases they were. The accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, for example, are both outlandish and hard if not impossible to reconcile with each other.
If you want a good introduction to how informed non-Christians, as well as many Christians, view the Bible, I strongly recommend Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman’s book Jesus, Interrupted. (Ehrman has written many excellent popular books on the Bible, but I’d start there.) But here, my goal is just to get you to understand that when Christian apologist Josh McDowell calls it an “obvious observation” that the New Testament is historically reliable, he looks completely ridiculous to anyone with a basic knowledge of Biblical scholarship.”
I added this large section of Chris’s work because I hear quite regularly that the Bible is historically accurate, and that no historians question the accuracy of the Bible. I also hear that the Jesus story is historically accurate (which is funny given that history classes don’t teach about miracles). I don’t know where the apologists who make these claims get them, though I’d imagine that they get them from something not made for thinking. However, I can guarantee that it is a lie. There is no historical event from ancient history that all historians are in agreement on. To suggest that all historians agree on the accuracy of the Bible is the first clue that the claim is a lie. The second clue is that it isn’t one typically made by historians (I know of an “historian” who has made this claim, but he has also been discredited as a historian for plagiarism). This is the second clue that the claim is a lie. In fact, as a history student, I’ve heard more historians, including Christian ones, discuss the inaccuracies of the Bible then I have heard making claims about the accuracy of it. So, before you go claiming that all historians accept the Bible as historically accurate, please do some research. The book listed above is a good place to start. As are some of Bart’s other books. And you can also look into Richard Carrier, another historian who focuses on the historicity of Jesus. Thomas L. Thompson, Kathleen Kenyon, John Dominic Crossan, Ed Parish Sanders, all of whom are Christians and Biblical Scolars, and William G. Dever.
Before I finish this very long post, I have one more bit to add. While doing the research for this post, I came across an awesome plea from a young atheist to Christians. Here it is:
“I have read the bible from cover to cover. How many people can actually say that? I will admit that I have forgotten many of the small details and even some of the major events, but at one time my eyes did glaze over the entire thing.
“At school, I once had a girl in my class ask why I knew so much about Christianity. When I told her, she was astounded that an Atheist knew anything about her precious little religion, and could not bring herself to find any reason at all that I could be capable of not believing in her god, had I read all of his wondrous miracles in the bible.
“What is considered a wondrous miracle anyway? I’ll admit that the ability to turn water into wine is pretty cool, but it seems like that should be a magical spell in some Harry Potter type book with an alcoholic wizard.
“And then there is Kings 2: 23-24 ‘And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.’
“I guess if you are the bald man, the death of those who made fun of you for something you can’t help is a miracle, but it really isn’t fair to the kids. The reason we cannot even legally drink until we 21 is because children’s brains are not even totally developed until they are 21. God made us right? He is all knowing… so doesn’t he know they were just using their underdeveloped child brains to make the stupid decision of making fun of a chosen one of God? I mean, if anything, it is God’s fault that they made fun of the man. He made them to have underdeveloped brains!
“This is just one example of the many absolutely insane things that are written in the bible. I promise you that the language the bible is written in was made to bore, but if you want a violent story or just a little comedy, you can find it in your bible.
“But back to the original question of how I can read about the wondrous miracles of God and be an Atheist. It’s easy, all I had to do was actually read the miracles, and after reading them I don’t know how anyone could be Christian knowing what they say they think is true.
“So I encourage you to go out, whoever you are, whatever religion you are: read about your own religion, and read about someone else’s too. Maybe you will realize that you have wasted years listening to someone scam for your money, or maybe you become convinced that you have found the true answer. But at the very least, you will know a little more about the world. As the motto goes, knowledge is power.”
Atheists are often accused of not reading the Bible and of not understanding it. This gets very annoying very quickly. No, not all atheists read the Bible. In fact, most don’t. But most Christians don’t either. So accusing atheists of not doing something that most Christians don’t do is hypocritical. If I can’t know that I don’t believe in God until I’ve read the Bible, how can a Christian know that they do believe in God if they haven’t read the Bible? But it’s also a silly assumption to make. After all, a lot of atheists read the Bible despite the fact that they aren’t Christians and it makes no difference to their lives. This trend is why I added this last bit to my post. First, I want to point out that, yes, I can know I’m an atheist without reading the Bible. Second, it is hypocritical to charge atheists with not reading a book most Christians don’t read, especially when it is a book that has more relevance to Christians then to atheists. And third, the fact that I interpret the Bible differently than you do doesn’t mean my interpretation is less valid than yours. Please stop telling me that “I just don’t understand.” Maybe I understand better than you do. Or maybe we’re both wrong. Your assumption that you are right is not proof that you’re right, and the fact that you think it’s true and I disagree isn’t proof that I’m wrong.
March 16th, 2015 at 5:09 pm
Since I don’t feel led to write a huge response, I’ll just tackle one of the points above. “How do we know Mary was a virgin?” Two reason: 1) The word for for virgin in both Hebrew and Greek was understood as meaning both unmarried girl and virgin, since the two were virtually synonymous concepts (there was no other word to use). If, on the girl were not a virgin, this word would not have been used; the word for harlot or adulterer would have been used; 2) When Mary is told she’ll give birth, she says, “How can this be since I have not known a man?” (Luke 1:34). The Greek here means, “have not been with a man (sexually).” This definition is not in dispute among linguists.
March 17th, 2015 at 2:09 pm
Except almah and betulah are different words and the writer of Mathew simply used parthenos – the Greek.
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March 16th, 2015 at 5:21 am
Cool, I like your post. It’s interesting. I like the questions you ask. It sounds like you would genuinely like answers to them…is that fair to say? It might just be that you think they are all too ridiculous to even begin to understand…and you could be just trying to point it out. But part of me senses you are frustrated that so many people believe this stuff but have never given you any reasonable answers to your questions.
I have a lot of atheist friends, and I don’t think I could ever see myself as being at war with them. Sometimes I feel like my atheist friends and I have more in common than not. We tend to agree on a lot of stuff when we are able to have civil conversations, and not try and debunk each other with straw men to make cheap shots. It sounds like it gets pretty intense over there in America though? So maybe its harder to do over there?.
I think it is great having friends with such opposing view points and perspectives, it make conversations challenging, and interesting. I don’t think different opinions needs to mean wars though.
Do you have Christian friends you get along with? Who you would at least say you weren’t “at war with”?
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March 16th, 2015 at 8:02 pm
Yes we do have some Christian freinds we get along with. We are actually part of our univeristies interfaith orginizations (Also we are Canadian, though we are influenced by the disscussions in the USA).
We try not to be at war with anyone, if we are at war with anything it’s bad arguments (including our own when at all possible).
The kind of people we get along with have three imporant traits. They are willing to be self-critical, open to learning about others, and honest about which topics they don’t wish to be critical about.
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March 16th, 2015 at 8:59 pm
Oh sorry, I should have read that. I can see there are two of you and that you are Canadian now.
Yes I find the same thing. I can usually get to the point where we almost agree on every single thing, except for the existence of God. (…but even then…sometimes my atheist friends have revealed that they do believe that there is something, they would just rather not restrict themselves to the Christian definition).
I had a conversation with my buddhist/atheist friend a while back, who although we started off the conversation with her firmly stating that there wasn’t a God…we ended up discussing more, and she changed her mind. We were reading through a book by the Dalai Lama, and we were able to see from a passage he had written that he actually believed there was a god, but it was just unknowable. She admitted she felt the same way. She believed there was something, she just felt it was arrogant to claim whatever it was could be known. It was interesting because if I felt that I had been “at war” with her based on her atheist stance, I would have been tempted to get all haughty and be like “Aha!!! but you said that there wasn’t a god at all to start with”. But I honestly didn’t feel like it. It was just a really good conversation…and helpful for me to understand her point of view because I was able to see for the first time how claiming to know God in the christian sense CAN appear very arrogant.
The awesome thing was that we could both just be honest about each others views and no one attacked the other one. We could challenge each other and say “but don’t you kind of think…..?” about different things we disagreed with each other about. But things never got nasty, the atmosphere never got hostile at all. And it was mainly because of what you have said about being open to self-criticism. I think that is key, neither of us were defensive enough to start fights. Defensiveness and attacks from that place, are usually what causes the “war”
There are times when I feel like I can very much sympathise (may not be the right word…maybe understand?) with the atheist world view, and my christian friends have difficulty relating to where I am coming from when I’m in this place. It can be tricky because I’m not a liberal in any sense, but I tend to appear that way to people in person, because I am rarely dogmatic unless it is something like abortion (and usually then its not really seen as a division between myself and atheists because I have passionate pro life atheist friends), or hypocritically condemning something while accepting it in other forms.
Then there are time where my atheist friends can really relate and empathise with my point of view better than my christian friends can. I have had really awesome conversations with my atheist friends where they have actually explained biblical concepts (that they agree with) to me in a way that makes sense, when I have been ready to throw it out as silly or nonsensical. They have done it in a way that is fresh and new because it comes from a entirely different perspective to me. They can sometimes argue points and positions on things that support the bible better than I can or any commentaries (but that’s not saying much because most commentaries are rubbish). Christians can get very set with pre conceived ideas that mean we can miss what the bible is actually saying. My atheist friends have given me some of my best understanding of biblical concepts. And probably done more to affirm my faith and keep me solid in it, than my whole church combined sometimes!
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March 14th, 2015 at 10:12 am
I will never understand why people like you find it so necessary to attack the Bible and Christianity if you do not believe in it nor understand it in the sense of actually looking at the Bible and scripture in context. For example, the portion of this blog post that talked of Mary being a virgin or not is so completely ignorant and disrespectful to the Christian faith that I can hardly contain myself. Scripture is very clear that Mary was unblemished and pure regarding sexual intercourse at the time of Christ’s birth. God chose her and her pure state for the very reason of bringing forth Christ through her. She most certainly did not have sexual relations with Joseph until after the birth of Christ. Try reading Matthew chapters 1 and 2 again. There is no need to defend the scripture with scripture to you however, because I know that it is in vain. Are there many confusing things within the Bible? Yes, especially in the Old Testament. Does that mean that people are to disregard it? No. Men and women around the world have and will continue to devote their lives to Christ because we have been given grace and mercy and we can feel the presence of God in our lives. The Bible is full of information that we don’t fully understand, but we trust God and continue trying to learn as much as we can while spreading the good news of the gospel. We can see the power of God all around us. And we witness the depravity and wickedness of human beings, including ourselves, all around us everyday. I’m afraid that I simply can’t follow this blog anymore because of the absolute ignorance that is displayed and the many false accusations of the Bible that are posted. If you don’t agree with the Bible or the Christian God, who happens to be the only God, don’t publicize to the world about how the Bible doesn’t make sense when you have such a lack of understanding of the Bible and scripture. I will admit, many Christians do the same toward atheism and science and for that I apologize. Christians are to preach what God has revealed to us in His word and the love that He has bestowed on us. I genuinely will pray that you and your household find peace with God someday and that you will be blessed with God’s grace and mercy.
March 14th, 2015 at 2:59 pm
Well I’m not going to go about defending Hessian’s positions on the bible that’s her task. Though I will say that it’s not our task to read the bible in a way you find acceptable, nor does this mean either one of us are necessarily right.
Now I can tell you have a lot invested in the bible given how angry you are. You how ever seem to not realize that Hessian and I only bring up the bible because passages in it are so regularly presented in arguments and we are told to read it. This set of texts may be holy to you, but we do not hold it in any special regard, so we end up treating it like any text. This should explain to you why when (generally) Christians tell us that the inconsistencies and poor clarity of the bible in its meanings and in how you ought to interpret it, is actually proof that it is divinely inspired. Well that argument wouldn’t fly in any other context other then holy books, and sounds little more than an ad hoc argument. Though for the most part people don’t recognize this because it’s such an old argument and so many people just accept it for the bible why they wouldn’t necessarily accept it for any other text.
Now comments like this: “If you don’t agree with the Bible or the Christian God, who happens to be the only God, don’t publicize to the world about how the Bible doesn’t make sense when you have such a lack of understanding of the Bible and scripture.”
Well you just keep huffing and puffing about your one any only god, come back when you have evidence for your claim, and have shown all the other gods to be false. We do not need your understanding of the bible to have an acceptable understanding of the bible, but given how much you seem to personally invest into your interpretation of the bible I can only assume you’re heavily biased, so it’s even harder to tell if your anger is really justified. Or is it’s that you don’t think your bible can stand up to outside scrutiny.
But Yes I can tell from your comments and the interpretation you’ve shared that you come from a biased perspective and are not fully aware of the massive body of work around the bible. You are likely aware of much of the christen scholars looks at the bible, but you probably avoid or don’t bother with non-Christian examiners. That’s an excellent way to cementing a belief, but not a good way of testing it’s strength.
I would be sorry that your upset, but you haven’t really added to dialogue on our blog, not have you forwarded more than bold assertions here. You can go on pretending that everyone feels the glory of your God or whatever, but I keep on not feeling the presences or your god (or any other for that matter) and examining the world and the arguments I’m presented with (including mine own).
March 15th, 2015 at 3:17 pm
“Christians are to preach what God has revealed to us in His word and the love that He has bestowed on us. I genuinely will pray that you and your household find peace with God someday and that you will be blessed with God’s grace and mercy.”
EB, it seems you are one more person who believes that his version of his religion is the only true one. It’s a shame that you don’t appear to have actually read the original post, which does go into saying that Christians themselves don’t even agree with what their god really wants or really said.
So what are you praying for, EB? I’m not sure what non-genuine prayer might be. I’ve had many TrueChristians claim to be praying for me to become a Christian. it’ been a couple of decades, and nothing has happened. If no one accepts your god because of your prayer, what excuses will you offer? Is it that your god doesn’t like you or your prayers? Are you praying in the wrong way? Does your god love an honest atheist more than you? Am I damned anyway, which really shoots the nonsensical Christian claims of free will in the foot? Or is it that your god doesn’t exist?
March 15th, 2015 at 8:53 pm
I pray because I am commanded and convicted to pray. God never promised me that my prayers would be answered according to how I want my prayers answered. And, I do not follow my own version of my religion. I read the Bible, I study the Bible, and I speak what God has given me to speak about. My God exists. He is very much alive and well. All I can do is pray and speak of my Lord. It sounds lame, I know. It’s true, however, and I can do nothing but speak of Him and place my faith in Him. I have discovered that I have no say so about the God that I actually place my faith in and believe in regarding the comments on this blog. The authors of this blog have made that quite clear over and over. Once again, I am sorry that we cannot agree on Christianity. When I say that i will pray for you, that means that I will pray for you.
March 16th, 2015 at 5:36 pm
You pray because you think you are commanded to. God has promised your prayers would be answered immediately, positively and not exchanged for a non-requested outcome. I suspect you will refuse to believe this so let me show you the scripture that you are either unaware of, have come up with your own “interpretation” or have decided to ignore since it doesn’t fit with your version of Christianity. Prayers answered immediately: Matthew 17 and 21 where if you have faith the size of a mustard seed a mountain will move immediately; prayers answered positively: Matthew 7, where one is to ask and it will be given, with no exceptions mentioned; and getting what you asked for: again in Matthew 7. Now, I suspect you’ll claim that all of this depends on this god’s will. However, that is not mentioned as a qualifier in any of these promises, and if this god’s will is absolute and nothing happens without it, humans have no free will. Some Christians espouse free will, and some don’t. Prayer without free will is rather pointless.
I have read the bible and I have studied it. Every Christian claims to have studied the bible and read the bible. So? How can we tell which of you is relating the “true” message, if any of you? You only claim to speak for you god, just like millions of Christians who disagree with you. Your god is just like you, your hates and desires writ large, just like everyone else’s god.
It seems that you have already created excuses for why your god doesn’t answer your prayers as it has promised. For all of the claims of Christians, their prayers fail in every case. At best, you claim coincidence and parlour tricks for your god. You cannot do the things promised and one must wonder: is this because you really don’t have faith, not even a “mustard seed” worth and that no Christian does, or that this god doesn’t exist at all. I’m still waiting for the phalanx of Christians who can heal like JC promises in Mark. I’m looking for the elders who can cure injury and disease with an anointing with oils.
Few Christians can agree on what Christianity is supposed to mean. You and a thousand others have claimed to pray for me, and guess what? Nothing has happened. Why do your prayers fail, EP? Where is the evidence for it? Why is there an entire industry of apologetics built up over time to excuse this god for its inaction? Why should I accept your claims of being the True Christian?
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March 15th, 2015 at 8:57 pm
And I am praying that God will grant mercy to you and show you His truth. That is what I’m praying for. I’m praying that God will break down your pride and selfishness and unbelief and show you His truth. That sounds harsh, but that is exactly what every Christian has gone through. We are broken down until we realize our need for God and His love and truth and salvation. That is what I’m praying for.
March 16th, 2015 at 5:47 pm
So, you are asking your god to show me the truth. Funny, that’s what I prayed as I was losing my faith. Nothing happened. Many other Christians have claimed the same prayer. Why didn’t their prayers get answered? Did they do it “wrong”? It also sounds like you want your god to force itself on me. I guess there goes the idea of free will and your god wanting freely given love. Or perhaps you aren’t that kindn of Christian?
What happens if your god ignores you as it has ignored many Christians before you who have said the same prayer? What excuses will you give? I’ve shown that the bible says that prayers are answered, quickly, positively and not screwed around with like a genie. Will you say your god has “other plans” for me? Will you claim that it’s my fault, and ignore how silly that sounds with an omnipotent deity? Will you go with the predestinationalists who are sure that there are “elect” and the rest of us will be damned for no fault of our own? I know you’ll not respond to these questions, but I’ve heard everyone of those and more from Christians who prayers fail.
It’s also mildly amusing that you intentionally tell falsehoods about me in your claims that I am selfish and prideful . I certainly do have a lot of unbelief because there is not one scrap of any of the essential bible events. I’ve been waiting for this god of yours to show me his truth, just like Thomas. If one man can supposedly have a poke, why not another? If this god of yours is the good shepherd that will do anything for a lost sheep, this god knows exactly what it would require for me to believe in it.
You are also trying your best to define who the “True Christians” are. Not all Christians have been “broken down”. Now, I know you’ll insist that then they are “True Christians”, and again, where’s your evidence that you are any more correct than they are?
March 14th, 2015 at 8:03 am
The one, good phrase in this essay is….”I’d imagine that they get them from something not made for thinking.” It is the one phrase I would agree with, and that’s why there are people who do not and cannot have a relationship with God (of no religion, but important enough for me to capitalize the word).
Well researched essay, but too assumptive.
March 13th, 2015 at 10:57 am
“The Old Testament isn’t the only part of the Bible with problems. According to Matthew 1:20, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This sounds like Joseph and Mary got married and had sex, then Mary got pregnant. It’s not so much that Mary was a virgin as it is that God blessed their child.”
Okay, I know the Bible has plenty of contradictions, and a number of places where it doesn’t really say what Christians seem to think it does, but this isn’t one of them.
What it’s actually saying is that Joseph and Mary got married and probably had sex while she was pregnant. The fact that she was already pregnant (and not by him) was the reason why Joseph would be reluctant in the first place.
March 15th, 2015 at 3:18 pm
and is this an assumption on your part? What do you have to support this invention?
March 16th, 2015 at 11:58 am
Actually, I was partially wrong, I didn’t look at the surrounding context before posting that. Matthew 1:24-25 actually outright say that Joseph and Mary did get married but didn’t have sex before Jesus was born.
March 16th, 2015 at 5:54 pm
Yes, I know, that’s why I called you on it for embroidering a bad story to begin with. Mark doesn’t even mention JC’s “origin story”. Luke is not very clear on the matter. John leaves it out entirely which I find very odd since this gospel is the one that really tries to make JC seem magical.
March 12th, 2015 at 7:00 pm
I will freely admit that Christians (yes, I’m one of them) paint themselves into a corner with slavishly literal interpretations of the Bible. Creationism is one of those wedge issues that make me want to lovingly crack some Christian heads together.
As a believer in an omnipotent God, I have to leave some room for His omnipotence, including some supernatural stuff, if that’s how He chooses to operate. So I can’t rule out the Genesis account being literally true; in that case it’s simply beyond human understanding, and again, that comes with the territory. But I do allow for other ways to understand the creation.
Even at the farthest fundamentalist fringes, you won’t find many people who take the entire book of Revelation literally. It is teeming with symbol and allegory. So what if Genesis and Revelation form allegorical bookends to the Bible? This would put a literary wrapper on concepts that the Bronze Age mind couldn’t handle directly–in the case of Genesis, a whole lot of science, and in Revelation, the world as it would exist thousands of years after John got his extended stay on Patmos.
More here, if you’re interested: http://wp.me/p2ix1i-c
March 15th, 2015 at 3:36 pm
Having been a Christian myself (Presbyterian), I know that your claim that few Christians take Revelation literally is very untrue. One just needs to watch Christian television shows and listen to Christian radio shows to know this.
Each Christian uses what amounts to a magic decoder ring to declare what parts are symbolic and what parts are literal. All of the silly stuff like the two stories in Genesis, the world wide flood that left no evidence at all, the tower of babel, angels bearing scrolls, a being with a sword in its mouth, that’s all symbolic if the Christian isn’t a creationist or a literalist. But when it comes to a being coming up with original sin , giving laws, and then deciding that it needs to kill itself for itself to “forgive” the sins that it declared, doing miracles, being born of a virgin, and dying in a blood sacrifice and rising from the dead and running around doing more things after he was dead than before, that has to be literal.
If one looks at all of the essential claims of the bible, both OT and NT, they are all equally baseless.
March 12th, 2015 at 7:02 am
Your arguments against the bible are sound and I don’t think an atheist needs to have read the whole thing to realize it’s a bunch of crap. However, I’m not sure you have the correct idea about christians not reading their own holy book. You may make some christians very angry if you imply such a thing, as the bible is what they’ve based their whole lives on. I’ve read the entire bible many, many times and so have all the other religious people I personally know (which is a lot). So be careful with the remark that christians are ignorant of the bible.
March 12th, 2015 at 1:33 pm
I’m not saying no Christians read the Bible, but it is true that most don’t. I don’t really care if some Christians are hurt by the claim, but I doubt many will be: many Christians don’t actually think reading the Bible is all that important.
March 12th, 2015 at 3:07 pm
I’m concerned about you hurting their feelings.
I’m saying if you want to have a dialogue with christians about their faith or other atheist matters, check your assumptions at the door. Saying they’re ignorant of their own holy book is going to be inflammatory and nothing else you say will be heard. Of course if you want to be as militant and as judgemental as Christians are, feel free to assume things and call them ignorant.
Where exactly are you getting this information that Christians don’t read the bible?
March 12th, 2015 at 10:19 pm
Um, these aren’t assumptions: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2013/june/surprising-stats-on-who-reads-bible-from-start-to-finish.html?paging=off, http://poncefoundation.com/project/christians-dont-read-their-bible/, http://www.religionnews.com/2013/04/04/poll-americans-love-the-bible-but-dont-read-it-much/, http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2012/September/Most-Christians-Dont-Read-the-Bible-Much/, http://www.canadianlutheran.ca/most-canadian-christians-never-read-the-bible/, http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/
You, however, were assuming that I was making assumptions. Also, I never said they were ignorant of the Bible, I merely said that people on average don’t read it. It’s kinda hard to be fully ignorant of the Bible in the west, even if you never read it. But that doesn’t make it any less hypocritical to demand an atheist read a book that you yourself never have.
So, now that I’ve shown you where my “assumption” that Christians on average do not read the Bible, why don’t you show me where your assumption that they do comes from since you are so willing to make that claim.
March 13th, 2015 at 7:54 am
So then, how will you know which ones HAVE read the bible and which ones haven’t? You’re just going to throw around inflammatory statements to everyone, ASSUMING they all fall into the category of people who don’t read the bible? Tsk Tsk.
I don’t think atheists need to read the bible to know it’s questionable…you can tell it’s questionable from the first page of genesis.
Hess, I have a lot of respect for you. You have logic and reason down pat and can make excellent arguments. The problem is your people skills…they just need a little work.
Good luck on your journey.
March 13th, 2015 at 1:29 pm
I don’t recall telling any individual person that they didn’t read the bible. I’m not making any claims about who has or hasn’t read the bible. I said that it is hypocritical to demand atheists to read the bible when you don’t make the same demand of christians. I don’t know why you feel the need to accuse me of things I didn’t say, but you seem to be looking for reasons to get offended.
And it’s hessian or HWT, not Hess.
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March 12th, 2015 at 3:08 pm
Sorry for the typo…I was trying to say I’m NOT concerned about you hurting a christian’s feelings.
March 12th, 2015 at 5:06 am
My response to that is “You can’t. You can’t argue a god into existing. Give it up.” The only way a believer could convincingly show me that a god exists is through evidence, not arguments. The believer’s religion makes certain truth claims, and says that believers will be able to do particular things. Solid real-world evidence is what is needed. Your bible says that with faith you can move mountains? Go move Vesuvius and then come talk to me. You can raise the dead? Great, start with my Dad.
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March 12th, 2015 at 5:05 am
Very informative and well said
March 12th, 2015 at 4:55 am
I am intrigued. Your effort here is obvious. I don’t define myself as atheist (or Christian, or Pagan), but I went to the Bible and found similar truths. Not the truths the Christians hoped I’d find, but things that felt wrong, such as God commanding the slaughter of women and children. I wondered if fish were on the ark or how they were spared. An excellent read this morning. You did a wonderful job word-weaving to make your point.
March 12th, 2015 at 2:50 am
Wow, this is was very informative. Islam is way different than Christianity but there are some things, like some religious books that contain things that aren’t accurate or consistent or almost unbelievable. So, I almost have the same issues with Islam. And there are always people who would want you to blindly follow the religion you were born into but there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t convince them to be atheist and neither can they convince you.
Also, I know a bit about Christianity, but I particularly liked this post because a) it was extremely informative and I learned quite a bit and b) because it gave me a clear understanding of why atheists don’t believe in God.
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