Why I Believe: Because the Bible is Difficult

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve still been thinking about a series of posts on “Why I Believe”. I’m not interested in posting the usual reasoned arguments (you can find 20 such arguments here), but I’d rather attack the accusation that Christians in general, and Catholics specifically, believe without any shred of evidence that God exists.

Roger Bacon, the father of the modern scientific method (and a Catholic priest), wrote about the need for evidence and how it gives us a knowledge that is more in depth. As I tried to point out in this post (but, frankly failed to point out effectively as it was often misinterpreted), my personal belief comes with evidence, validation, and confirmation. Frankly, the more I learn about my faith, the more it rings true.

Chesterton may have put it best (as he often does) when he said that ultimately he believes in God because it is true.  A quick dismissal of this statement may dismiss it as circular and unreasoned, but the statement is packed with implications of verification for that belief.

So it is with that said that I make my first argument, or present my first bit of evidence. This does not prove God, nor Christianity, nor Catholicism, but it does offer one shred of evidence in an entire sea of evidence pointing to the irrefutable truth that God exists.

I Believe Because the Bible isn’t Simple

In talking to @omgbiblequotes about how we read the bible, he responded with this:

Many atheists on Twitter (and other places, I suspect), love to point out apparent discrepancies and difficult passages in the bible. For example, Saul demanding the complete and total obliteration of an entire army. Or the Psalm which talks about bashing the heads of babies against a stone. Or laws which demand the stoning for seemingly minor offenses. Or passages which seem to promote misogyny and discrimination.

These passages can be difficult to understand if we approach the bible as simply a guidebook or simply a rule of life or set of morals. Fr. Baron (who reviews movies on his Youtube channel – you got to see his review of Quantam of Solace) talks about the irony and seeming discomfort of concluding the reading of Saul hacking King Agag to pieces with the standard closing “The Word of the Lord”.

Christians who do not have a basis in tradition or who do not have an understanding why we believe the Bible is inspired (and what that actually means) undoubtedly have to pivot and shift their arguments to account for these passages. Many of them fall into the heresy of Marcionism – a denial of the Old Testament being relevant or necessary in today’s world.

But I would challenge those Christians – and I will offer this challenge to atheists as well – to think about the indisputable fact that the Church in its early days not only accepted the Old Testament as inspired (difficult stories and all), but the Church doubled down on this position by ratifying the canon of books multiple times throughout its history (even as recent as the council of Trent).  These weren’t decisions that were made rashly or without thought. In fact, hundreds of years of thought and tradition went into these declarations. The difficult passages, the apparent discrepancies (for example, the apparent discrepancy of the ultimate fate of Judas Iscariot), were well known to those early church fathers. Modern day atheism, for as proud as it is to display and parade these apparent ‘deal breakers’, is hardly revealing anything new.

The Bible vs. Other Inspired Books

There are other books that claim divine inspiration. The book of Mormon (not the musical), the Koran, etc. But the Bible is unique to any other book that claims divine inspiration in infallibility.

What makes the Bible unique is that it claims one divine author (God) who inspired a multitude of co-authors, who give the Word of God voice and color within for us to experience. These co-authors did not come from one region and one time. They span centuries and vast geographical expanses. The bible is not made up of a single literary style – it is made up of allegory, of poetry, of historical account, of instruction, of legalism, of instruction, and so on.

Yet for as far reaching as the Bible is, for all the centuries that it’s authors span, and for the vast regions it’s co-authors called home, it is marvelously coherent.

This image showing apparent contradictions in the Bible made its rounds through social media:

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But this graph was inspired by another, similar graph which shows the cross-references within the bible:

BibleVizArc7mediumOrig

When we read the Bible recognizing that it was not written with one pen, does not have the voice of one human author, and spans such great distances and times, the coherence of the Bible is quite remarkable.

Digging further into the Bible we see remarkable events and prefigurements that would make the greatest novelists jealous. For example, the story of Abraham leading his son Isaac to be sacrificed. Rather than do this an injustice, listen to Fr. Barron (yes again) talk about the prefigurement and absolute wonder of this story which would be replayed in its fullness centuries later by Christ.

This Style Reflects Life

 I have run into several atheists who take exception to the Bible and the fact that it is difficult to understand. One may look at the charts above and immediately say that this is reason to dismiss the Bible as being inspired. I have talked to atheists who question why God couldn’t have written a book that is more clear and easy to understand, that doesn’t create such disagreements and require interpretation.

But what is the alternative? A book that reads like installation instructions for a stereo? A book of simple laws filled with “do’s and don’ts”?

The Bible most perfectly reflects real humanity. We know that life is not made up of black and white decisions. It is not just happy or sad, but there are all sorts of colors and shades that make up life. Human existence is complex. We are forced to try and interpret the events in our own lives and the lives of our loved ones to try and make sense of it.

The Bible tells multiple stories. We see the overarching story of salvation, but this overarching narrative is quilted together with books that fit and match the complexities of our every day lives. I stated earlier that the bible is not just one literary style – this is one of the beautiful things about this complex book. It allows us to pick up on subtleties between books, verses, and passages. We can see the bible tied together by Christ himself (and thus we must always read the Bible through the prism of Christ’s mission) and we can see how even those difficult passages in the bible color and give us deeper meaning on how to approach our very own lives.

Not a Proof, but One of Many Pieces of Evidence

As I mentioned in my opening, this is not intended to be a proof, but rather one drop among a sea of evidence that supports my faith.  As a Catholic, I don’t throw away the Old Testament, I embrace it. I read the Old Testament in light of Christ.  The reason the Old Testament is important is because of Christ – without Him the books simply do not make sense.

I understand this will likely fall short among atheists, but I have been asked for my evidence, my proof, the reasons for my belief. Frankly, if the Bible was more ‘straightforward’, it would lead me to be more inclined to deny its place as the Word of God. But the very fact that it mirrors and reflects the myriad of conditions we can find ourselves in through authors that wrote in different styles, different voices, different times, and different locations seems far more appropriate than a single book with one author, one purpose, one pen, and one application provides additional validation to the claim that it is the inspired word of God.

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5 thoughts on “Why I Believe: Because the Bible is Difficult

  1. I have been having similar impressions lately as I read through the Old Testament a little bit each day. There is so much about it that does not fit together tidily, so many odd and seemingly irrelevant details, so many unflattering things said about their own people, including their kings. For these reasons it has the air of authenticity and not of something that someone slapped together to delude people into believing in God.

  2. You do atheists a great disservice by pretending that most, if not all, are atheists because they do not understand the context of the Bible or the history of how it was assembled. With religion saturating the world so effectively, it’s very difficult to find an atheist who is not at least generally knowledgeable about the points you raise. In fact, most of us come from strong Christian or religious backgrounds and many of us have studied the Bible and church history as diligently as you have. By presenting atheists as having no familiarity with faith and little understanding of how you interpret Scripture, you have automatically placed yourself on a higher pedestal. It’s not that we don’t understand the points you are making. We do. We just don’t accept them because your arguments are tepid at best and frequently violate Occam’s Razor. In other words, they’re intellectually dishonest, and we have more integrity than that. It doesn’t help that you arbitrarily decide which parts of the Bible need to be taken ‘in context,’ and which parts we have to take at face value. Christians never interpret the Bible openly and honestly. If they did, they wouldn’t be Christians. Instead, they always have an agenda. That is a 100 percent certainty.

    But to suggest that we are atheists because the Bible is ‘difficult’ is not only insulting, but absurd. I am an atheist because:
    – The church was complicate in the slaughter of my people and members of my family
    – The church was complicate in the rape of thousands of children in my homeland and fought very hard to protect the perpetrators.
    – The church enslaved thousands of young women and girls, some of whom I have spoken to and whose stories I’ve heard.
    – And because I have too much respect for myself to associate with the biggest criminal organisation in the world.

    So in the end, it doesn’t matter that the Bible said Tyre would be destroyed and never rebuilt, that the walls of Jericho were proven to have never fallen, that Quirinius wasn’t the governor of Syria during Augustus’s census. These are just nitpicks that are fun to bring up when the subject of infallibility comes up. The questions of God-sponsored murder, genocide, slavery, and rape are serious issues to address when speaking of the Bible as the source of absolute morality. But the root cause of atheism isn’t any of that. It’s on you and the organisation you defend, the crimes you explain away, the brothers and sisters you rub shoulders with while condemning us. “Look to your own sins,” as the Lady Melissandre would say.

    In the meantime, don’t insult us by saying we can’t understand your Bible. If you’re going to try to dialogue openly with atheists, give us credit for the intelligence you think you have as well.

    • It seems by reading your comment that you may be misinterpreting my post. A few points:

      – I am not saying that atheists can’t understand the bible, nor am I saying that people are atheists because the bible is difficult
      – I am not saying that atheists have no familiarity with the faith (I would be interested to know how you got that from my post)
      – I am certainly not saying that atheists have not studied history either

      The post is a subjective answer to the question “why do you believe?” And as I pointed out above, the fact that the bible is difficult is one of the many, many reasons I believe.

      You said: “Christians never interpret the Bible openly and honestly. If they did, they wouldn’t be Christians.”

      I find this line to be the crux of the discussion and much of what I want to have a discussion about. I would agree that many Christians do not interpret the Bible openly and honestly, but I would also argue that many atheists do not do so as well. In stating this I do not claim some special position of interpretation, but I will claim that my attempts are honest and open. I have an opinion on the proper reading of the bible, just as you do, that I hope to test through discussion.

      As an aside, for all that I have written thus far and the discussions that I have had, I have not had anyone explain to me why the church would be insistent on including the Old Testament books in the Bible given their difficulty.

      There was a lot more in your post that I could respond to, but out of the interest of keeping this somewhat focused, I’ll leave it here. I don’t mind someone objecting to what I write or say, but I would hope that it is actually what I am writing and saying that they are objecting to.

      • “These passages can be difficult to understand if we approach the bible as simply a guidebook or simply a rule of life or set of morals.”

        “Modern day atheism, for as proud as it is to display and parade these apparent ‘deal breakers’, is hardly revealing anything new.”

        This is where you imply that the Bible is difficult to understand for any of us who do not interpret it as you do, and where I based my indigence from.

        You claim that you are interpreting the Bible openly and honestly, and yet you say that this post is a subjective opinion based on your faith. That’s a bit of a conundrum.

        You don’t interpret the Bible openly and honestly, because you begin with the supposition that it’s 100% true. This creates a predetermined conclusion that throws objectivity out the window. You have to do a series of mental gymnastics in order to determine how to interpret the Bible so that it falls in line with your conclusions. The atheist in your Twitter feed who takes what the Bible says at face value is much more honest than you.

        Do I interpret the Bible openly and honestly? At times. And at times I fail because of my my own history with the church and the bias it has engendered. But at least I can admit it and try to do better next time.

        But as a favour I will answer your question on why the Church was insistent on keeping the Old Testament books given their difficulty. The fact of the matter is, the Old Testament wasn’t difficult for them. Since it’s creation, the Church has celebrated acts like genocide, rape, murder, and the other crimes that make the OT ‘difficult’ for you. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that the violent tendancies of Christianity were reigned in, and they are continually inhibited by the standards of modern society with varying degrees of success. Why would the church fathers object to books describing how Saul slaughtered the Amalekites down to the last child when they were doing the same thing themselves?

  3. Allow me to clarify the quotes you presented. The quotes you provided from me are not accusations that you are an atheist because the bible is difficult, nor is it an accusation that you cannot understand the bible. I am, however, accusing atheists who raise such objections (as stated in the post) in a way that assumes these objections have not been considered by Christians – or more importantly by the church itself when determining the canon to be used.

    “You claim that you are interpreting the Bible openly and honestly, and yet you say that this post is a subjective opinion based on your faith. That’s a bit of a conundrum.”

    Both statements are true. One subjective reason or element of evidence for my faith is the Bible’s coherence as well as its difficulty. At the same time, I do try to approach the Bible with an open mind and an honest viewpoint. Obviously this will be colored by my entire set of beliefs just as you do as well, so my approach may be incorrect, but it is not dishonest. It is only dishonest if I lie to myself in order to keep my approach consistent.

    “You don’t interpret the Bible openly and honestly, because you begin with the supposition that it’s 100% true. This creates a predetermined conclusion that throws objectivity out the window. ”

    Approach will necessarily color a conclusion, and unfortunately we need a starting point in order to approach the book. If I approach the bible purely as a skeptic, it will color my conclusion. If I approach the bible as a book that might have some use, but may not be fully valid, that will also color my conclusion.

    Which leaves us to an argument of the best approach to the book. You have apparently experienced some serious wrongs and some real evils committed by members of the church and you admit that this has colored your view and your approach. You then offered an explanation that concluded with this: “Why would the church fathers object to books describing how Saul slaughtered the Amalekites down to the last child when they were doing the same thing themselves?”

    So what are we left with? We necessarily need a starting point in order to approach the Bible, so what is the best way to approach it? My argument is and has been that we look to its origins. What was the need for a bible? Why did the fathers include these books in the first place?

    At this point we can look to objective evidence. To that end, you claim that the church fathers were engaging in extreme slaughter (or something on the scale of Saul slaughtering the Amalekites) and thus were comfortable with this. That might be a good place to start with objective evidence.

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