Awakening Part 5
I began my search in a similar way that I began a certain thesis from 10 years before – with a set of presuppositions that were derived from my experiences. I would trust my mind and my ability to make correct decisions, I would trust my innate moral sense, and I would reject presumptive authority. I would read the scriptures that I had been taught were the inerrant words of an omnipotent, infinite, all-loving God. I would prayerfully and intently search for the truth that I so desperately needed.
With much difficulty I was forced to reprogram my view of the words that I read – to interpret them for the first time free from presuppositions. The difficulty in this is that part of religious education is the inculcation of a certain point of view in scriptural interpretation. At its most successful, the victim simply no longer reads; he or she simply sees the words and the mind automatically provides a narrative that supports the view that the person was taught to be inerrantly correct. Fighting this, I began reading the Old Testament.
What I found shocked and disgusted me. The more that I read, the more I was horrified. The horror of Abraham and Isaac, the contradictions and foolishness of Creation and the Flood, and genocides of the Old Testament, best exemplified in Numbers 31, revealed to me a God that was neither loving nor kind. Rapine and murder were the word of the day, all by the absolute command of God. This same being commanded men to kill, to lie and to steal – to break all of the morality that I had been taught as a Christian.
According to the God of the Old Testament it is OK to sell your own daughter into slavery (Exodus 21) or rape prisoners of war (Deuteronomy 21). This certainly could not be the God that I had so fervently worshipped.
Let’s take a moment to quickly examine the mentioned passage in Numbers. Here are portions of it in the NIV translation:
The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.”
7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man.
15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys 35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
In this one passage we see genocide, horrific rape (why else would you want the virgins?), and slavery – all commanded and approved by God himself. I read apologetic passages that spoke of the Midianite’s fate being due to their women attempting to lead the children of God away to false idols, but was Jehovah’s hold on his people so weak that a couple of idols moved him to destroy an entire culture? Also, what had the children done? Imagine being a young Midianite girl and seeing your father, your pregnant mother, and your infant brother all murdered viciously by an invading army. The men, hands still dripping with the blood of your family, bind you and carry you off to a nightmare of bondage and sexual slavery all at the command of the supposed God of the Universe. There are some consequences to a belief in the truth of this event: If this story is real, then it was directly commanded by God and must be accepted as morally correct and good. If you can justify this, you are as much of a monster as those who committed these atrocities. I thought about my own wife and children being brutally murdered for religious reasons. Does not your own moral sense quail at this? This is the work of God?
I did not find God, I found a demon. I did not find enlightenment; I found the signed confession of a psychopathic mass murderer.
I began to see that by the eyes of faith it was perfectly tolerable to burn a witch, to torture and kill inoffensive scholars whose conclusions you feel heretical – to sack and burn towns and put the inhabitants to the sword as was common in Medieval Christian Europe. The Inquisition, the Crusades, the casual contempt for the value of human life that we see in Christian history are perfectly valid and rational if you accept that the Old Testament is truly the inspired word of God. You see, the men and women of the Middle Ages really believed in the scriptures in a way that our post-Enlightment tempered churches cannot. They faithfully believed then like the fanatical Muslim believes today – with the same tragic results.
I found slavery, degradation, and immorality every where I looked. So, I moved on.
The New Testament actually spoke of love and peace, but I found several huge problems that I could not surmount. I cannot in this short space go into detail, but here are a few glaring points.
Slavery was common in those days – so why did Jesus, as the real presence of an all-loving God, never oppose it? Where were the ideas of individual freedom?
What about democracy? No, The Son of Man would rule in the coming kingdom with a rod of iron.
Do we find the scientific method? No, those that believed and do not see would be even more blessed.
What about family values? Not here, Jesus tells us that we are to abandon our families and follow him.
How about sexual fulfillment and normal human intimacies? Nope, Jesus never married and Paul tells us that it is best to stay single. The wives of the apostles are never mentioned meaningfully.
In almost every case I could not find the values that I as a human being found to be vital to my happiness and well being. All of the ideas that have truly helped man to live longer and happier lives were not there.
All I could find was a poisonous faith.
Every apologetic that I read was like salt in the wound – they tried to explain but they could never negate the actual words of the texts. This is the best that an omnipotent, omnipresent, all-loving God could do? His words should burst forth with light and truth – instead I found explicit support for slavery; His words should be full of knowledge and depth of thought – instead I found mounting contradictions and simple errors in fact that any elementary school age child can perceive. His words should be captivating and morally clear – instead I found moral ambivalence and ethical confusion. Shouldn’t a book written by God be at least as interesting as a Harlequin Romance? What I found instead was a Bronze Age document full of justifications for horrific crimes many times worse than that of Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic – on par with Hitler, Pol Pot, or Stalin.
These were not the words of any God – they were the words of particularly corrupt and offensive men.
I began to read the history of Christianity that is never taught in churches or Bible Colleges. I found the innumerable persecutions and tortures that were committed in the name of God. One would think that people that were indwelt by the presence of a living God, saved by the power of Christ, would have a modicum of forgiveness and mercy, especially to fellow Christians. Instead, I found the rack and the gallows, the breaking on the wheel and the question extraordinaire. I found ignorance, hatred, and racism at every turn – this was the heritage of my faith? All of the tolerance and love that I found in today’s church was an aberration, a historical anomaly, in the history of Christianity – the product of the humanist Enlightenment of the 18th century and Christianity’s inability to completely control a Western nation due to laws put in place by great men who saw with their own eyes the destruction that faith can wreak when it holds the reigns of power.
I remembered listening to Bart Ehrman’s historical analysis of the New Testament. All of the hours and days of my teaching concerning the New Testament were not as clear and logical as just five minutes of a true historical analysis of what we rationally know about the events of that time. For the first time, I saw someone approach the historicity of the scriptures from a scientific viewpoint free from faith – with devastating results. These were obviously the works of men, how had I missed all of the simple inescapable facts?
If scripture does not reflect the God that I grew up believing, then was I to believe? Without scripture, I had no basis for any knowledge of any God or superior being. The crumbling of that foundation revealed the sand that the entire structure was built upon – the sand of faith.
As a techno-geek, I found several websites that challenged my faith in ways that I had never considered. A site that struck me particularly forcefully was http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/ (It’s back up under a new name!). This site presents a lucid, empirical, and rational method for testing the existence of God that simply blew me away with its clarity. Why didn’t I think of this? The wall of faith prevented me, but as a seeker after truth I would not be deterred. If God was real, he needed to answer these charges – but never once did he answer even one of real, honest questions that I asked of him.
Hurt and confused, I began to pray desperately, begging God for relief. I spent all of my time in my car in conversation with God, trying to find a reason – ANY reason to believe in his existence. Finally, I came to the end of my rope and the end of my faith. I gave God one more chance to reveal himself, to defend himself, and he simply never showed up.
Amazed, I found solace in the works of Bertrand Russell, Ayn Rand, Richard Carrier, Richard Dawkins, Robert Price, Hyam Maccoby, George Smith, and the incomparable Robert Ingersoll. Their works showed me a world that I had never imagined – a world of peace, happiness, morality, and joy without God. I initially fought against it; this couldn’t be true! Their arguments supported my every supposition, every precept, every innate moral sense that I felt was rationally and logically explained by a beautiful mechanistic world that needed no creator. But still I fought, terrified of the consequences of disbelief.
I will never forget it.
It was late one night and I had been reading Anthem by Ayn Rand. I read the last paragraph, leaned back in my chair, breathed a sigh of relief, and gave it up.
I gave up my faith in any supernatural being, power, or existence.
I surrendered to reality.
And like a dream that passes as you wake, my faith evaporated and I was free.