apologetics, Atheism, Belief, Christianity, history, science
Some might wonder why I keep talking about morality in relation to apologetics. For many Christianity is a set of beliefs. For me Christianity is a way of life. Yes our beliefs are important and even necessary in this way of life but that is not all there is to it – not by a long shot. According to the bible, the earliest followers of Christ were known as followers of “the way.” Acts 18:26; 19:9, 19:23; 22:4; 24:14, 24:22.
This description fits quite naturally with my understanding of what it means to be Christian. Accordingly when someone says they are no longer going to follow “the way” (i.e., they are not going to be Christian) it seems a natural question to then ask – well then what way will you live? Indeed when I strongly questioned whether I would remain Christian this was the question that seemed to come to the fore. How then should I live and on what basis will I choose that life?
When I looked at how I formed my moral beliefs in as dispassionate way as possible, I understood that ultimately it was my emotions that were primarily involved, not the reasoning process, or our empirical senses. Science combines reason and our empirical senses and effectively finds truth about reality. But that is not how our moral beliefs are primarily formed. In the next blog I will give further reasons and evidence for this view. For now suffice it to say that I realized that if our moral beliefs were to be reliable, in any real sense, then something beyond natural processes must have a hand in forming them.
But here I want to stress that Christianity had much more to do with being a basis for my moral beliefs, rather than any belief about science. After all, where do we get the idea that Jesus was so concerned with scientific teaching? If the Son of God was so concerned with science and came down to make sure we understood it, wouldn’t we expect to have iphones at least by the 1980s? If the Holy Spirit was inspiring people to write books with the aim of teaching science wouldn’t we expect far fewer computer crashes then we have?
Yet when I read so many blogs of people who left Christianity I see allot of talk about science. It struck me as quite bizarre. Moreover, when I bring up morality they seem to think that has no bearing on their decision. They seemed to think I was just as bizarre for raising, that issue and not talking about science. Finally in reading many of the books, comments, and blogs from those who deconverted I also see a presumption that they thought they were really “hard core Christians.” And what that meant is that they studied the bible – every bit – and they took every bit of it literally.
So for example Bart Ehrman talks about how he had studied at the Moody Bible Institute, but then started to lose his faith after agonizing over whether the mustard seed was truly the smallest seed. At first I had real difficulty understanding how anyone could think that is such a fundamental part of Christianity that they would lose their faith over it.
But I have spent time studying Christian history and these sorts of views make more sense. Let me piece together the logic as I see it. We have Martin Luther who eventually found that his views could not even be supported by prior church councils. So he retreated to the bible alone. Now from the Catholic view he actually even had to trim some of the Old Testament, but there are various arguments on both side of that debate. He *may* even have wanted to trim even some of the new testament books, or at least he de-emphasized some of them. See for example his prefaces to James, Jude, and revelation in his 1522 translation of the New Testament.
But in any case he started the belief that Scripture alone was the sole authority in matters of Christianity. This belief took hold with Protestant Christians. For many Protestant Christians they insert this view into their very basic creeds and understandings what Christianity is. Rejecting this view, like the non protestant churches do, is often viewed as making them non-Christian.
The results of scripture alone should not be surprising. Even before Luther died not only was the Pope the anti-christ for disagreeing with him but even other protestants like Zwingli were accused of being guided by the devil in their faulty interpretation of scripture. See eg., http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=30081
The differing interpretations continued to happen. And over time we see the Protestant Christians who adhere to Scripture alone being divided and re-divided, how many times? With the rise of non-denominational churches it is difficult to even know. After all they hold certain beliefs but how they might differ from other “non-denominational” churches is difficult to calculate. Now one might not see this as a problem. But scripture itself seems to suggest this division is indeed a problem.
So something should be done. But what? Fast forward centuries and we get a potential solution. Some claim it is sensible to say every part of the bible should be viewed as equally important for our salvation as any other part. After all there is no authority outside the bible that can tell us this or that part is more important or deserving of focus. But that is only part of the problem. The other problem is not so much a question of emphasis but one of interpretation. Zwingli thought the same words meant something different with respect to the Eucharist. He read them symbolically not literally.
How should that be addressed? Well the most common way to understand something is usually in a literal sense. Therefore to avoid these divisions we should read all of the bible in this sense. Hence we have the literalists who can claim a certain high ground among denominations. Everyone else is deemed to be less “hard core” Christian because they are shying away from accepting the bible. They are reading this or that passage symbolically because they lack faith and refuse to accept what the Holy Spirit is really saying in the most common sense way i.e., literal way.
Now the point is *not* to say that Catholics are right and people should reject “scripture alone” just like I do. Rather the point is to draw out the logic of this position precisely so that it can be analyzed and hopefully shown to be lacking. Does unity mean complete unity on all questions or just relevant ones? Does not the bible itself suggest that emphasis is on certain of its passages as opposed to others? My point to Christians is that you should reject the line of thinking I set out and find the holes yourself.
Have faith in your own church that meets in Christ’s name and is therefore guided by the Holy Spirit. I place faith in the Lutheran Church by sending my children to a Lutheran School. I believe very much that the Holy Spirit guides the Lutheran Church in teaching my children Christianity. I think the Lutheran church does have a tradition and an important one.
At base I want to point out this line of thinking so you can pinpoint for yourself where the reasoning breaks down. By clearly identifying the problem you will be spared the road that leads to your faith hinging on your beliefs about the relative size of seeds.
As for some atheists who might think they were “hard core” Christians because they accepted this literalist view, and therefore ultimately rejected your faith due to science, my point is different. Maybe consider it’s at least possible, you never really understood the “core” of Christianity. Perhaps, you missed the forest for the trees.