A few blogs ago I outed myself and let the world know: I no longer feel comfortable calling myself a Christian. A few friends asked me to share how exactly I’ve come to this conclusion, so for the next few months I hope to tease apart how exactly my foundation fell apart, and then tell you why I have no interest in putting it back together.
It’s hard to know where to start, so I thought it would be best to look at the set of beliefs from the evangelical church I spent most of my adolescents attending.
A few notes:
- I don’t plan on mentioning the church by name, so don’t bother asking. From here on, I will simply call my old church “the church.”
- I will be copying and pasting their beliefs from their website sans hyperlinks, mostly because I don’t think it’s worth being an asshole to them just because they taught me something that I now believe is untrue.
- If it is in your nature to try to dispute my journey thus far, I ask you to refrain from commenting. This is not a forum for theological banter, but instead a forum to share our experiences. There is no room here for anyone to try to prove each other wrong or right. With that said, choose your tone wisely when you comment.
Not to my surprise, when I went to the churches website, at the top of their list of beliefs was the heading “The Bible” which read:
We recognize that the Bible is the Word of God. We view the Scriptures as an accurate source of God’s perspective on human events throughout history and an inerrant source of His wisdom and will, delivered through chosen men who were directly inspired by the Holy Spirit. This means that the Bible is the final authority regarding matters of faith and life and is not superseded by any other source.
Whoa. That is a seriously assertive statement right there, and such assertions are the reason why I have such a strong reaction to Christianity (and all other ideologies) to begin with. It’s like saying, “I have the key, and all of the rest of the world—the traditions and ideas—are wrong. But I am right.”
Here’s the thing: I believed all of this. I believed that I was right, that I had the key, that every other religion was wrong, and that the Bible was the only way to ‘get at’ the truth. I believed that the Bible was completely without error, and that God literally came down through “his” Holy Spirit and possessed each author to write what they did. I believed that the Bible was the only place to draw my knowledge from, that anything else was not worthy.
Talk about a superiority complex. A “I’m the king of the hill” complex.
So where did this break down for me? I can’t remember if it was while I was in class, or maybe I was doing some reading on Socrates. Either way, I came across his paraphrased quote: “All I know is that I know nothing.” It was like ripping a muscle to make you stronger: it hurt like hell when I read it, but I knew, in all of its humility, that there was something there, it was burning and ripping something new in me. If there was one assertion that could ever be made, it was that we can’t fully ‘get at’ anything, except admitting that we can’t.
This Socratic concept was an act of grace and humility for me. I began to accept that my worldview was but a speck in the great cosmos. In this I had to admit to myself that maybe, just maybe my understanding of the Bible as I knew it was wrong, or at least not right. My foundation was crumbling, and next I had to ask myself, ‘how then do you view the Bible?’
Upon a lot of introspection and critical thinking, I’ve now learned that most of what I am reacting to is bad theology. The theology of the Bible that my old church is using, where they say the Bible is without error, etc., is actually a Evangelical trend that started in the 1970’s through the signing of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI). The authors of the CSBI do a good job of covering their bases, with statements like this:
Since the Renaissance, and more particularly since the Enlightenment, world-views have been developed which involve skepticism about basic Christian tenets. Such are the agnosticism which denies that -God is knowable, the rationalism which denies that He is incomprehensible, the idealism which denies that He is transcendent, and the existentialism which denies rationality in His relationships with us. When these un- and anti-biblical principles seep into men’s theologies at presuppositional level, as today they frequently do, faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture becomes impossible.
The writers of the CSBI thought that they had a heads up on Biblical understanding, interpretation, and revelation. They decided to fully trust their tradition and not ask questions. I can’t fathom this. Attempting to read the wikipedia page about canonization (and yes, I know wikipedia is not a scholarly resource) makes my head spin, but it shows us one important thing: every tradition has their own interpretation of scripture, and every tradition has decided by some set of rules (where these rules have come from is news to me), what is true, what is false, what belongs, and what does not. Forget that all of these men were run by their personal agendas, as all humans are. Forget that there was a political climate, where Christianity was becoming the law, that war was being wagged against anything that didn’t “fall in line.”
Everything is so much more complicated than we understand, how can any of us can say we’ve got it figured out? The best my logic can tell me is that the Bible was written by humans, interpreted by humans, and reinterpreted by humans. It is thought that parts were added and subtracted to create power and control, people became divided, there were schisms and sects and blood and lust. And the one similarity is this: all religions have this, a yearning to be right. When we look across the landscape of religion anthropologically, we see that most every religion is making the same claim, that they have the upper hand on the divine.
And thus, I’m skeptical. How can any church, any theologian, any religion think that they are right, and everyone else is wrong?
All I know is that I know nothing.
Aside from my great skepticism which was born upon reading those simple and piercing words from Socrates, my foray into hermeneutics was another step into my great doubt. I’ll write more on that soon.