big myths about religion

The last time I went to church was almost a year ago. At the time I was inches away from becoming a pastor at a large mega-church. I guess it’s fairly obvious that is it has been a strange and unusual journey since then. And now that I am an evangelical exile, I frequently hear people describe reasons explaining why young people like me have left the church (or religion in general). Unfortunately, none of the reasons I’ve heard reflected even one element in my own journey.

In the last year I have had the pleasure of meeting about a hundred people who have similar journeys that expelled them outside of religious orthodoxy, and after lengthy interaction with about half of them I discovered that, they too did not fit any bullet points on the usual list of motives. This group of drop-outs includes everyone from philosophical atheists, to agnostic seekers, and even some Christian deists, so it’s rather difficult to give accurate generalizations, but I will try nonetheless. (I will note that this is a sloppy qualitative/anecdotal survey based on a small personal sample, not a rigorous study, that said these answers are consistent with what large scale quantitative studies have shown).

Here is why we did not leave our religion

1. Think it’s true but are looking for freedom

The great irony here is that the Christian motto is that Jesus gives freedom. In fact, there is even a New Testament verse that states “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Thus if one has to leave the church in search of freedom, what does that say about the church not living up to it’s claims? Usually the “freedom” motive is proposed by people who are involved in a very authoritarian church culture (perhaps in some cases, an almost cult-like church) that tries to control every element of their members lives. Yet I have never met a person who completely abandoned Christianity because of one authoritarian church, but I know many deeply committed Christians who simply found a less totalitarian church. In any case, only a fool would wholly abandon a religion he was convinced was true, simply because there were too many rules among one group of followers of that religion.

2. Think it’s true but want to sin

Of the many dozen church-dropouts I’ve spoken with, none have become the depraved, morally nihilistic, preachers of debauchery they are purported to be. Certainly, some people follow moderately different lifestyles, a few now drink alcohol in moderation, have married people they were not formerly permitted to marry, and etc, but none have shown a radical change. Nobody divorced their wife and went on a drug induced romp through the Nevada brothels.  No one has yet become a serial murderer, alcoholic, or pedophile. If these people left the church in order to sin, they certainly aren’t doing it very much. Even my anecdotal evidence aside, the very idea is nothing short of stupid. What person in their right mind would rebel against a God they know exists, by pretending he doesn’t exist, in order to justify their sin, for which they know they will pay dearly? That would be like a burglar, who is utterly certain the police are around the corner, telling himself “there is no police” in order to justify a theft that he knows will lead to his arrest and incarceration. It’s absurd! If a person merely wants to sin, they would do far better to stay the church and utilize free grace, after all, God forgives an infinite multitude of sins if you just ask.

3. Think its true but hate your particular version of God

I have been accused of this a thousand times. Usually their eyes roll around in circles, as though they are grasping for some logic to explain everything. Then, it’s as though a bright light appears, their eyes widen, they lower their voice, and out it comes. “You just hate God! You hate him and want to be your own God! That’s why you don’t believe!” Sigh. Yes, because everybody who claims to not believe in Santa Claus actually knows, deep down, that Santa is real and vehemently hates him. Because everybody who claims to not believe in Allah actually knows of his existence, but hates him desperately and is only pretending to not believe. All that aside, many of the people I’ve met told stories of deep sorrow and much weeping at the loss of faith, as though mourning for an old friend who died. As Chuck Templeton, who once was Billy Graham’s best friend and fellow evangelist, said after losing his religion, “I miss Jesus.” That’s right, some of us still miss Jesus, we wish the good parts of the story could be real, and only reluctantly admit that we don’t think they are. There is no hatred. When asked “if there was a good and loving God who revealed himself to humanity, would you rebel and hate him?” every single church drop out I’ve met says “never, what on earth for?! I’d like to meet him, but where is he?”

4. Think it’s true but are just too lazy

This whole argument rests on the premise that anyone who leaves the church or the faith is simply “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” because they couldn’t handle it. It’s similar to thinking that someone can stop believing that gravity works because their physics class was too hard. It’s utterly preposterous, and generally comes from someone sporting a holier-than-thou attitude, who just knows that you can’t have tried as hard as they have, because they have all their answer figured out. Surely if you were as committed as they, you would agree with them on everything. Alas, not only is the theory behind this premise severely lacking, so too is any real evidence of it from my experience as an exile in the post-evangelical wasteland. Nobody that I have spoken with had a faith crisis because they just didn’t try hard enough.

5. Think its true but are too hurt by people in the church

This is the most common motive I have heard ascribed, it’s as if some people simply must label me with something, lest they accidentally believe my real story. In any case, I will admit that certainly there are people in churches (as well as outside) that can be rude, unkind, and hurtful. And of course that can influence people to leave one church for another. That said, it’s highly unlikely that someone would abandon a religion they believe to be the ultimate truth because some (or even many) people in that religion are rude. To do so, a person would have be at the height of insanity, for they would have to knowingly accept the eternal torture of hell, forever, just because people were rude to them. Another variation of this (one I’ve heard quite a few times) is “you’re just upset because they didn’t give you a role.” I honestly cannot fathom how deranged a person would have to be to knowingly reject a religion they believed was true (and thereby sign up for eternal hell) because they didn’t get to lead Sunday school.

Here is why we did leave our religion

1. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with disillusionment by the dogmatic structure

In my conversations some said they began to question their faith after seeing that the structure of the church is very antithetical to questions. They saw religious people were very hostile to those asking the kinds of questions that curious skeptics and seekers like to ask, and in fact church authorities seemed overly aggressive in denouncing those who think differently. Wondering about why these authorities were so harsh and could not handle uncertainty began a journey of questioning those dogmatic answers, which culminated in reluctantly finding insurmountable problems in the traditional religious narrative.

2. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with disappointment in people

A small number (this is by far the smallest group) mentioned that it was seeing the actions of people who claimed to be devout believers that started sowing doubt about the whole endeavor. Though not even one person said they specifically left religion simply because Christians were disappointing, but rather that this began the process of critical thinking in their minds. Seeing the hypocrisy of believers made them wonder “if these people claim so loudly to be perfectly right about religion, but act so wrong, can I really trust them?” As a result these people began to inquire into their religious history,reading books, and critically examining what was taught to them.

3. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with higher education

The largest group of people (probably 1/3 to 1/2) said it was pursuing higher education that started their journey. Interestingly, for a handful it was actually education at various Christian colleges. This in fact correlates very well with large scale statistics that have shown that each year of schooling “reduces the propensity to attend religious services at least once a month by about 14 percentage points” (1). While this certainly does not prove the validity of any belief, it shows that somehow modern education reduces religiosity, take that as you will. In my personal experiences, the people who left the church because of education stated that what they were learning created cognitive dissonance with their religious views, they had to pick some theological dogma versus an empirical observation (i.e. biological evolution, geology/age of the earth, psychology, history, etc) and that made them start asking difficult questions about their faith.

4. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with the Bible

Reading the Bible is my personal reason for leaving the church. Close to a dozen people that I have talked with have also reported this as being the most important and influential factor in their journey.  In my purely anecdotal experience, it seems that most of these people, including myself, were overly devout (many were or wanted to be preachers/pastors/etc). For us, it was reading the biblical texts with extreme reverence and dedication, especially those passages that people really tend to avoid spurred our critical analysis of the religion we held very dear. In my own case, reading the Bible and noticing numerous contradictions, scientific errors, and morally reprehensible actions and commands that pulled the rug out from underneath me. I very reluctantly gave up my dearest friend, my faith, only when I exerted every attempt in apologetics to defend the things I was reading in the Bible. I simply could not dishonestly placate my emotions by fallacious apologetic arguments; I sincerely love truth, and would be willing to believe in anything, as long as there is good justification and evidence, but not without it, and especially not against it.

5. Sincerely don’t think it’s true, started with critical thinking

The four groups above are composed of people whose first step was a catalyst for intellectual examination of religion, yet for a moderately sized group this was the starting point. This group includes some people who have been irreligious for a very long time and made their decisions from a fairly young age. Some mentioned that as far back as they can think, they have always been skeptical because the stories they heard of things that can’t be seen, never made sense. Others started down this journey only in their mid-twenties and thirties after beginning read and think about philosophy. Overall this group of people have the most “organic” story with nothing besides rational reflection sparking their critical examination of religion.

Top ten posts

Last year was probably the most interesting blogging year I’ve experienced. Having lost my conservative evangelical theology over a year and a half ago, I tried to maintain appearances and hang in there – just in case, but this year realized I was not likely to go back, so I began writing a bit more honestly about what I was experiencing and working through.

  • The blog saw about 50,000 unique visitors, per Googles analytics platform.
  • Though I slowed down writing this year, I managed to output about 93,000 words, which is just about as long as the first Hobbit novel by J.R.R. Tolkein.

 

1. Why I Changed Series

I have underwent a lot of theological changes, to the point where I’ve fully jettisoned my conservative evangelical dogmas and ministry, this blog series tells that story. Part 1 – The psychology of demon possession, Part 2 – Signs and wonders are emotionalist blunders, Part 3 – Preachers know less than science teachers, Part 4  –  Pentecostalism is as clear as glossolalia, Part 5 – Biblical studies scares my buddies

 

2. Twenty things you should do in your twenties

All the life advice I have learned from my own mistakes, you are welcome.

 

3. CS Lewis – The most beloved heretic

Turns out that C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christians, and heretics, all at the same time.

 

4. Bloody Hell – Is there room for alternative views of hell?

What do leading Christians believe about hell? The answers will surprise you.

 

5. Top Ten Deleted Bible Verses That Were Not in the Original Text

There are many passages in the Bible that were added later by scribes. Fortunately modern scholars have found even earlier biblical manuscripts without these later additions, and now many “interpolations” have been deleted from the Bible. Are your favorite bible verses here?

 

6. Biblically Drunk – Survey, Statistics, Charts of the Bible and Alcohol

The first ever statistical analysis of the Bibles mandates about alcohol and wine, see it right here.

 

7. Crazy Theology: What the early church fathers believed

While most imagine that early Christianity was a perfectly cohesive bunch, which all shared one perfect theological view, but it turns out there were really crazy and diverse views among the leading church fathers.

 

8. “Biblical” – the most abused term in the english language

Most evangelicals and fundamentalists love using the term “biblical” but few have really considered the implications of what it means to be biblical.

 

9. Rapture ME! growing up during the end of the world

What does it feel like to grow up during the end of the world, on the edge of infinity?

 

10. Bible science? Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

It’s commonly assumed that the Bible reveals advanced scientific secrets about the natural world? Is this the case?

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1 The earliest Gospel says nothing of the Nativity Story, virgin birth, angels, star, shepherds, or magi.

The first Gospel to be written, Marks Gospel, which is dated 10-25 years earlier than Matthew/Luke is utterly and completely silent about the miraculous birth of Jesus; not even a one word reference. This means the earliest reference to the Nativity related miracles are from at least 70 years after the fact purportedly happened. (70 is the conservative estimate, most scholars date for Matthew and Luke from 80-90). It could not have been written by an eyewitness.

 

2. The earliest Christian writings are likewise missing any mention of the virgin birth.

The earliest book of the New Testament, 1st Corinthians, which was written in 54AD, contains absolutely no mention of the nativity story or the miracle/virgin birth of Jesus. Neither does the rest of the New Testament. So mysterious is this century long absence of information that some conservative Christian theologians,  James Hastings and Thomas Neufeld, have postulated that perhaps the virgin birth was known and kept secret by a few generations of Christians until being revealed some 80 years later. (Why thisneeded to be kept a secret is beyond me.)

 

3. It was common to write of world leaders as “savior of the world” or claim a virgin/miraculous birth.

World renowned New Testament scholar, J. D. Crossan, tells us “there was a human being in the first century who was called ‘Divine,’ ‘Son of God,’ ‘God,’ and ‘God from God,’ whose titles were ‘Lord,’ ‘Redeemer,’ ‘Liberator,’ and ‘Saviour of the World’… Most Christians probably think that those titles were originally created and uniquely applied to Christ. But before Jesus ever existed, all those terms belonged to Caesar Augustus.” In addition it was common to describe notable leaders as having a virgin birth, according to historian Charles H. Talbert, it was widely taught that Ceasar Augustus was conceived after the God Apollo impregnated Atia, and ten months later Augustus, now called the son of Apollo was born. It’s put best by the honest theologians of Homebrewed Christianity, of course Jesus was born of a virgin – it happened a lot back then.”

 

4. If we believe Luke and Matthew, Joseph had two dads.

Yep that’s right, there are two very different fathers listed in the genealogy of Joseph. Luke says that Jesus was “the son of Joseph, the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23-24). Mathew on the other hand says “Jacob was the father of Joseph”  (Matthew 1:15-16). These are two different names, and if you bother to read the geneology, the whole list is different, there are only a few of the same names on there. The amount of apologetic gymnastics that happens over this issue is actually pretty hilarious. There are some four or five different “answers” out there that basically claim “even though the text clearly says X, it really means something else.” 

 

5. Matthew mentions 4 women in his genealogy, all four have an unusual sexual history.

It was rather unusual to list a woman in a genealogy among a patristic people like the Jews. What is even more unusual is that all four recorded have an equally unusual sexual history.

a)Tamar – disguised herself as a harlot to seduce Judah, her father-in-law (Genesis 38:12-19).

b) Rahab – was a harlot who lived in the city of Jericho in Canaan (Joshua 2:1).

c) Ruth – at her mother-in-law Naomi’s request, she came secretly to where Boaz was sleeping and spent the night with him. Later Ruth and Boaz were married (Ruth 3:1-14).

d) Bathsheba – became pregnant by King David while she was still married to Uriah (2 Samuel 11:2-5).

 

6. There has never been a recorded Roman census that required people to travel to their birthplace.

Leading Biblical scholars like E. P. Sanders have pointed out that it’s the practice of the census-takers, not those being taxed, to travel to different locations.

Even James Dunn, a leading conservative Christian scholar admits that “the idea of a census requiring individuals to move to the native town of long dead ancestors is hard to credit.” As it stands, there is literally nothing in the recorded history that ever mentions a Roman census forcing people to travel to their birthplace. (In addition, Geza Vermes and Emil Shurer in “The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ” have argued that taking into account everything we know about history has never been a global census ordered by Augustus, as dictated by Luke.)  The point of a census is taxation, not chaos and a nightmare. Imagine if half the country is traveling for a census, who is taking care of the home, the flocks, or the stable? In addition, there would be no need for a 9 month pregnant Mary to travel anywhere. Joseph could have traveled and registered, even if there was travel required.

 

7. There are two different Nativity stories told by Matthew and Luke, we complied them into one.

While it’s theoretically possible 20 things happened, and each author just happened to pick the 10 that the other author avoided, the curious thing is that most of these don’t overlap. There is a significantly large amount of novel content in both nativity stories. Matthew says X happened, Luke says it was Y, and today, we say it was XY. For example, in Luke the angel spoke to Mary but not Joseph, while in Matthew, the angel spoke to Joseph, but not Mary. Matthew 1:20 vs Luke 1:28.

 

8. There are many purported harmonizations that disagree with each other

Like for many other Gospel differences, the most zealous of believers try to harmonize the stories and put them into one. Usually it involves taking 10 elements from one, 10 from the other, and bringing them together, like a zipper. Part of the problem with this is that it creates a totally different story, it’s like taking two superman comics and gluing the pages together – mixing pages from each of the two comics – you get a third story. Whats also interesting is that there in the diverse harmonization found through history, in academic literature, and on the internet, many of the details vary and completely disagree with one another. For example, Dan Wallace, a leading Christian scholars says one explanation is “nearly impossible” and yet, that is the explanation proposed by N. T. Wright, another Christian, and so forth.

 

9. Mary told her friends about the visit from an angel… but not her husband?

In Luke’s version of the story an angel tells Mary she will have a child, she runs and tells her friend Elizabeth, together they rejoice and make a ruckus, next scene Mary and Joe are happily married, no mention of any tension. In Matthews version of the story, this whole event is absent, and instead, we start with a somber Joseph who is ready to leave his bride because she’s pregnant. There is no reference of her telling him about the angelic visit, or his disbelief of that story, instead an angel appears and tells him, as though he is hearing it for the first time.

 

10. The shepherds visited a cave/barn while the Magi visited a house

While it’s common to see Christmas plays with Magi and Shepherds in the same place, each Gospel author only showcases one group, and not the other, in two different locations. Luke’s story shows the shepherds, who were startled by a whole choir of angels, visiting Jesus in a manger in a cave/barn. Matthew’s story leaps from Josephs dream to the Magi following a star to the family’s house in Bethlehem.

 

11. There are zero singing angels in the story, Luke only shows them talking.

Every single time I’ve heard the Christmas story there are singing angels, it’s been recreated a thousand times in film and drama, and there is always a large group of angel-children singing. However, in the original text, the angels don’t sing the words, they speak the words. Imagine the Christmas story with a hundred tall men chanting in their masculine voices. Now remove the background music. That’s more like it.

 

12. Magi refers to a group of Zoroastrian (pagan) astrologers not “kings.”

I’ve always wondered why the shepherds got a whole angelic choir while the magi a rather monotonous little star. Turns out its because they were wicked pagans who, were probably members of the Zoroastrian religion, and to make matters worse, they were astrologers. The reasons we often hear of “kings” is because an ancient church father, Tertullian, believed some Old Testament prophecies mandated that kings would visit Jesus (Psalm 68:29, 72:10-11) so he did what any good theologian would, and simply taught it as fact.

 

13. There were probably no camels in the picture.

The reason church tradition has included camels as part of the story is because of an Old Testament passage that some believed was meant to be a prophecy about the Nativity. (Isaiah 60:3-6) mentions camels, and so people assumed it must refer to Jesus, and therefore, there must have been camels. However, the New Testament is completely silent on this tradition, and it’s more likely that Persian royalty would be riding horses, but we can’t really know.

 

14. The “Star” of Bethlehem could not have been a star

Before the invention of the telescope the ancients believed stars were small luminaries hung above the globe, perhaps a few hundred miles away, today we know stars are millions of light years away, very large, and that it takes millions of years for their light to reach the earth.  Not to mention the fact that stars can’t possibly shine on one particular house. Some evangelicals have proposed that it was a comet, meteorite, or a new planet, but again, how this could move and shine on a house is unknown. If this truly happened, it would have to have been a supernatural flying-light that was very low and could hover above houses.

 

15. Matthew dates the Nativity during the reign of Herod, Luke dates it over ten years after Herods death.

Matthew says Jesus was born “in the days of Herod the king,” (Mat 1:28) in fact the Magi are shown talking to the King himself, clearly this happens when Herod the Great is alive. Yet Luke on the other hand, speaks of a census that occurs when “when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2). Here is the problem, Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. and Quirinius only became governor of Syria in 6 A.D., that’s more than ten years later! There are currently six different ways apologists try to “explain” this (from the irate “well Josephus the historian was wrong” to “well there were actually two separate censuses or two reigns of Quirinius.” None of these reasons are particularly compelling or have any evidence behind them.

 

16. Luke takes the family back to Nazareth, Matthew shows them fleeing into Egypt

According to Luke, the family came to Bethlehem for a census, Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day in Jerusalem (Luke 2:21), and the family went right back to their hometown of Nazareth (Luke 2:39). There, as Luke tells us, Jesus grew up grew and became strong (Luke 2:22). No fleeing to Egypt is mentioned at all. On the other hand, Matthew starts off with the family living in a house in Bethlehem, and then afterwards they flee to Egypt.

 

17. Luke’s story shows Nazareth as the initial hometown of Jesus, Matthews shows it as Bethlehem.

Luke emphasizes that the family came to Bethlehem for a temporary census, and after the ceremonial purification went back to “to their own town of Nazareth” (Luke 2:39). Yet in the Matthews Gospel we see that the family already lives in Bethlehem, next they flee to Egypt. Later they return to Judea, but because of political circumstances, they venture away from their original destination to a place called Nazareth. (Matthew 2:21-23)

 

18. Matthews story of slaughtered babies is based on an out-of-context interpretation of prophecy.

While historians like Josephus liked recording Herod the Great’s atrocities, there is no historical mention of Herod killing all of the children in the town of Bethlehem. That said, it certainly could have happened. Robert Eisenman, a prominent biblical scholar argues that the story likely developed from the fact that Herod killed his own children. In any case, the more interesting thing is Matthew incorrectly claims a prophecy was fulfilled in the slaughter of the Bethlehem children. He quotes Jeremiah 31:15 and applies it to his Bethlehem infants, yet reading the context of Jeremiah 31, we can be absolutely certain that the context speaks of the “children of Israel” being exiled to Babylon. Why do I think that? Because the verse right after that which Matthew quotes (Jeremian 31:16-18) clearly states it.

 

19. Matthews cites the prophecy about Jesus leaving to Egypt… out of context.

In his 2nd chapter, verse 15, Matthew claims that Jesus fleeing to Egypt “fulfills” an ancient prophecy, and he cites a few words from Hosea 11:1 “out of Egypt I have called my son.” Yet when one reads the full verse recorded in Hosea, one clearly sees the “son” in question is the nation of Israel, and the Egypt is indubitably referring to the liberation of Israel from Egyptian slavery. The passage literally says so, the whole chapter talks about Israel being foolish and worshiping Baal after coming out from Egypt, so unless Jesus worshiped Baal, the passage cannot be about Jesus.

 

20. Matthew was likely wrong to translate the word Almah, “young woman” into “virgin”

In Matthew 1:22-23 we see a quotation from Isaiah that claims a “virgin shall conceive.” Matthew translates this from the original Hebrew term almah, however, Jewish Rabbis say the term does not mean virgin, a better word for virgin is betulah. The argument from some conservatives is that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) and in the Greek the word these earlier authors used was parthenos which does mean virgin. Since Matthew was quoting the Greek bible, he was right to use this. To that there are two responses, firstly: well which one is the true bible, the Hebrew text or the Greek translation? Second, the Greek word parthenos is used in Genesis 34:2-4 to refer to Dinah after she was raped, clearly she was not a virgin afterward, yet the same word is used to describe her. This issue has been hotly contested, but as it now stands the New Revised Standard Version, which is the most common academic biblical translation used in seminaries has replaced “virgin” with “young woman” in Isaiah 7:14.

 

21. Matthew’s prophecy about the virgin is completely out of context anyway.

To make matters worse, even if we assume that almah really does mean virgin, a careful reading of the 7th chapter of Isaiah states that the prophecy refers to a localized event that happened during Isaiah’s time. Two kings were planning to invade Judea, but Isaiah tells King Ahaz that God will protect Judea from this invasion, and kill the two kings (Isaiah 7:5-9). Next we have the famous “prophecy” quoted by Matthew about a “virgin.” And the very next verse says “For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” (Isaiah 7:9). Clearly the the two kings could not have lived from the age of Isaiah to the birth of Jesus, that would make them 500+ year old! To make matters worse, a few verses later Isaiah impregnates a young woman, she bears a child, and concurrently the two invading nations are destroyed. (Isaiah 8:3-5). Prophecy fulfilled, hundreds of years before the era of Jesus.

 

22. Matthew is really bad at quoting the Old Testament

As we’ve seen already Matthew breaks all rules about reading the Bible in context, but not only that, he frequently quotes the OT very loosely. Matthew 2:6 is supposed to be a direct quotation of Micah 5:2, yet there are half a dozen little differences, it’s as though he did it from memory or there were many different versions circulating.

a) The original: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (ESV)

b) The quotation: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (ESV)

 

23 The Birth of Jesus was likely not on December 25

We really have no idea what date, or even month Jesus was born. Some have theorized that winter would have been too cold for the Shepherds to be outside at night.  In any case “Lacking any scriptural pointers to Jesus’s birthday, early Christian teachers suggested dates all over the calendar. Clement… picked November 18. Hippolytus… figured Christ must have been born on a Wednesday. An anonymous document believed to have been written in North Africa around A.D. 243, placed Jesus’s birth on March 28” (Jeffery Sheler, U.S. News & World Report, “In Search of Christmas,” Dec. 23, 1996, p. 58). In fact, Biblical scholars have given possible birthdates for Jesus in virtually every single month.

 

24. Marks version of the family of Jesus  acts like they did not get the angels message

We already noted that Mark is missing the miracle birth and visitations from angels. At the same time, Marks Gospel also shows a situation where the family of Jesus literally thought he was crazy and tried to institutionalize him. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21). How could his parents, think Jesus is crazy after being told by angels that this child is God in the flesh? This is yet another hint that the Nativity story was a later addition.

 

25. Many of the world’s leading Biblical scholars consider the Nativity stories as pious fiction.

Certainly there are stalwart defenders of the complete historicity of the two stories, but they tend to be found in mostly one group, very conservative evangelicals. On the otherhand, mainline Christian, Jewish, and secular scholars argue that these things that were written down to cast a backdrop to the story of Jesus, even though the Gospel writers really didn’t know much about the early years of Jesus. Just to throw out some names, some of the scholars who have argued this way includes these three living scholars of international repute, the Jew, Geza Vermes, the agnostic, E.P. Sanders, and the Christian, Marcus Borg.  In the 19th and 20th centuries it was very popular among “liberal theologians” of all stripes, but probably gained significant popularity due to the writings of Rudolf Bultmann, “one of the most influential theologians and biblical scholars of the twentieth century.”

PEOPLE TREAT A SKEPTIC

Having grown up with a deeply devout and sincere Christian faith I have been on a journey away from certainty and dogma, filled with many questions and reluctant skepticism, you can read some bits of it here (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5). I went from a passionate Pentecostal, to an ardent charismatic, then to a zealous evangelical, a sincerely pious Calvinist, later becoming a liberal Christian, finally ending up as a diligent questioner of all of the above. Certainly I remain open to it, but very skeptical as well.

Whatever else can be said, I should note that I have never done something halfheartedly, I gave it my all, and worked my mind, body, and emotions to their utmost. I was never the Pentecostal hiding in the back, chewing gum, sitting there because my parents forced me to. I was up in the front preaching my heart off. I was never the charismatic who goes to church once a Sunday and prays a lackluster prayer for prosperity, I was the one watching IHOP prayer rooms couple of hours a day and visiting local prophets, trying to receive an impartation to change the world with. I was not the lazy Calvinist who was once saved, and ready to hibernate until heaven, I passionately persuaded people to the gospel, and even wrote ¾ of a 35,000 word devotional book about God (granted this was never finished or published.) And now that I am questioning the reality of everything I did and believed in the past, I have also done this avidly and somewhat publically.

What does that mean for me?  I have encountered an interesting range of emotions, experiences, and personal interactions with people. Some of these have been really rewarding, others have left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach, and a lack of hope for the human race.

What does this mean for you? First, as a fellow human being you can learn from the bad and try to imitate the good. Or, second, as a fellow skeptic, before you tell others you have are doubtful of their religious claims, you should “count the cost” and understand that some people will treat you severely and unkindly.

1. They may threaten you with violence.

This is rarer than all the other kinds, but I have been threatened with violence by at least three people now, one of them a middleaged ministry leader at a local Slavic megachurch. I was told my teeth would be knocked out because that’s what Jesus wants. I was also warned that when a particular gentleman meets me in person, I will receive what I deserve and should be very afraid for my life. Besides the few threats of physical violence, I have had half a dozen threats of “spiritual violence” wherein people tell me they are praying for God to punish me, harm me, kill me, and send me to burn in hell.

2. They may call you names and insults

This is probably one of the most common responses I have received. From being labeled a heretic, atheist, scum, idiot, coward, and the usual slurs and hateful remarks, I have also been privy to some very creative labels. The literary ingenuity of some people still makes me smile. These include gems like “pathetic loser who PISSES me off,” “ignorant idiot who gets off on trying to be smarter than everyone,” and my favorite “stupid calvinist atheist.” (I still haven’t figured that one out.) That said, I’ve probably seen words like idiot and stupid show up quite a bit. It’s really surprising how much conservative Christians can use such rude language when someone asks them difficult questions about their faith-based ideology.

3. They may claim you are evil for asking questions

This is also fairly common, many people have an incessant need to label you, to herd you into some kind of box that they can understand and feel power over. When you fail to provide them with a self-label for which they have a scripted way of negating you, they begin to improvise, and usually do this by blaming your morals. I have had at least two dozen people try to pull the blame-game on me, some accused me of not praying enough, or having a rebellious heart, others claimed its various “secret sins” of pride, sexual sins and etc. Some others stated I had been a lying faker all along, while a few even said I was sinful enough to open the door to satan. In sum, their point is that they only reason I have doubts is because I have failed to be as holy as they are currently being, and because I have a dark, ugly, wicked heart.

4. They may recede into the distance and ignore you

A less common response is complete disownment and apparent indifference. A few people who were good friends or acquaintances just disappeared from my life. One or two even blocked/unfriended me on social media. The truth is, compared to the above three responses, I would much rather see this as it’s much kinder than the others. Still, it’s rather sad that some people can just disappear, but that said, I do understand this and hold no grudges.

5. They may remain as condescending “friends” with one goal

Some remain friends, which is pretty great, but do so in a severely condescending way. They begin to treat you as though you are broken, crippled, blind, foolish or mentally unstable, and they are here to nurse you back to health. Instead of taking your questions seriously, they treat you as though you have some kind of mental/spiritual problem, but loudly claim that they still love you,even while you have this dark problem. Conversations aren’t very open or honest, and most turn into debates where they again reiterate that X is not a real problem, but the problem is in your ugly, dirty, broken heart, and they are loving and praying for you to stop being so darn stubborn and accept their version of truth. Again, at least they stay friends, so that’s swell, but the condescension is a bit taxing.

6. They may be genuinely friendly, even while they disagree

Unfortunately this group is rather small especially compared to the rest. However, they make up for their small size with their big hearts. These people are exceptionally great and are a shining illustration of love and kindness. They genuinely understand where I am at and why I feel this way, they are good friends regardless of our disagreements. These people tend to be less dogmatic and certainly would not classify themselves as fundamentalists, however, many certainly are Christians. Ultimately I hope more of us can learn to be the kind of friends who kindly accept others when they disagree, perhaps trying to win them over by diligent debate, but always from a position of humility and kindness, never scorn or condescension.