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.

Atheists, Help: Why I Believe

I am looking for help from skeptics and atheists. This is a genuine request – not a sarcastic request. I have been thinking about an analogy the past few days, but have not been able to vet it out. I figure what better way than to put it out to atheists as fair game to criticize. So if you are game, read on and feel free to comment here or on Twitter. I don’t mind criticism, so have at it.

The Setup: The Problem

I have been asked a few times on Twitter both “why do I believe” and also to provide evidence that God exists. I have been, admittedly, reluctant to respond. You may assume this is because I have no such evidence, but that isn’t the case. The problem is, the answer to “why do I believe” is not the same answer I would give to why you should believe. Frustratingly enough, I think that no matter how strongly I can present evidence of why you should believe, final confirmation rests in more than external evidence.

https://twitter.com/iraqvet1980/status/383311374316625920

The fact is, I didn’t come to believe because I saw external evidence, although my faith has since been confirmed. I see that evidence now, but I never needed it to come to believe. I was raised Catholic. As a teenager and an adult I challenged my faith, investigated, and tried to seek out its truth (or lack of truth). What I found makes it utterly unreasonable for me to deny my faith.

This, however, is admittedly insufficient for anyone external to myself. So I want to provide an analogy and ask you, the skeptic, to respond. Does this make sense? I do not expect (nor am I trying) to convince you of God’s existence, just to explain why my faith is reasonable.

The Analogy: Proving Fire Causes Pain

I thought of this analogy when looking at all of the Catholic cleric scientists that have existed throughout the ages. I was reading quotes from Roger Bacon – father of the modern scientific method. I found this:

“Argument is conclusive… but… it does not remove doubt, so that the mind may never rest in the sure knowledge of the truth, unless it finds it by the method of experiment. For if any man who never saw fire proved by satisfactory arguments that fire burns, his hearer’s mind would never be satisfied, nor would he avoid the fire until he put his hand in it that he might learn by experiment what argument taught.”

This sounds so much like many of the atheists I have had the fortune of talking with. I see some atheists talk about how faith in God is unreasonable, but for someone like myself who has ‘had their hand in the fire’, lack of faith in God would be to deny the reality of the burn.

In essence, yes, I do believe there is plenty of external evidence that fire burns and that God exists. But it isn’t until one places their hand in the fire that their conviction would be complete and their belief would be solid.

The Breakdown of the Analogy

The analogy breaks down for me in the differences between the experience of burning and the experience of God. The fact is, the experience of God is not a passing moment intense in its moment but diminishing with time. The experience of God fundamentally changes who we are as a person if we allow it to do so.

There are certain experiences in our lives that force a change in who we are as people. On the negative side we see this in soldiers who experience gruesome warfare, or people who endure extreme suffering. On the positive side we may see this when someone reaches a significant accomplishment or when a person finds a mate that they truly love. The experience of God is like that- just far more intense.

For myself personally, the confirmation of God comes with the great beauty that opens up before me. Humanity makes sense. Love makes sense. Our desires for acceptance, for love, for purpose, for the good of others and ourselves make sense. The logical disciplines of philosophy and the sciences fit into theology in a way that I imagine they could not possibly do for the atheist. They do so in a way that is more beautiful than can be possibly described. Just as the sensation of burn can’t be described adequately to someone who has never been burned, the beauty that Catholicism opens up for me as well as the indescribable shaping of my being towards God, is something that can’t be described, but hopefully it’s effects can be observed.

A Quick Frustration: The Unscientific Approach to God

I know many atheists hear this sort of an answer when they ask why someone believes: it’s personal, or “I’ve had an experience”, or something similar. I understand the frustration – it is why I am frustrated in trying to answer it. It is, of course, the best answer for reasons I explained above and reasons that Bacon would have agreed to: confirmation of God’s existence – that firm confirmation every atheist is asking for – requires that we put our hand in the fire.

Yet when I talk to many atheists (not all, mind you), I find that they never actually have tested the hypothesis of God’s existence.

The objection I hear is “why pray when I don’t believe or would be praying to nothing?” The answer to this is to simply pray to the vagueness, to the emptiness, to the nothingness.  Reasonable men have done crazier things in the privacy of their minds.

As an atheist, you can deny that God exists, but you cannot deny the hypothesis of God. And it’s existence isn’t minimal either. Humanity is unmistakably shaped by it, and despite reports of religion’s death, we see evidence of it growing in many modern societies.  Many atheists have looked for evidence and dismissed that which is given to them as ‘unscientific’ and ‘not objective or verifiable’. Yet the problem is that they are bringing their biases into the experiment. Their approach defines God first, then denies that biased definition based on what is offered as evidence.

Rather than take that approach, why not take the most basic approach to the question: “Does God exist?”. We know that Christianity teaches above all that God is love, God is personal, and that God is the creator of all things. So why not start here and keep all other biases out?

I would be genuinely interested in this experiment. I started from a position of belief and have had that belief confirmed by putting my hand into the flame. I would be interested if any atheist would ever be willing to, for some time, say a prayer without bias, with true curiosity and willingness to discover: “I do not know, but if you exist, make it known in your way and help me to recognize it”.

But I digress.

Your Thoughts on the Analogy

So I am interested in your thoughts in that analogy to explain why I believe. As I stated earlier, I do not expect this to convince anyone of God’s existence.

I do hope to effectively communicate, however, why reasonable people believe.  I guess my hope is that the skeptic can look at the saints who lead lives extraordinary out of a love of God and recognize that if it wasn’t God, these saints had something that moved them to live incredible lives. That if fire doesn’t burn, it does something to cause necessary reaction to the person who puts their hand in the fire.

So go ahead and critique. This is not a fully thought out idea, so I may have just wasted 1300 words…

Why Atheists Should Love This Tweet from the Pope

This tweet from Pope Francis had several people taking pot-shots a the pope.

I love the pope’s tweets. I love the fact that the pope tweets. And yes, I enjoy reading all of the responses, both positive and negative that pope’s tweets generate. Normally the negative responses are your boring, run-of-the-mill cheap potshots about peadophile priests or child abuse. But this tweet brought about a different response:

and…

File these shots under #missingthepoint. Not that they aren’t predictable responses – the church’s wealth, grandeur, ceremony, and so on are all issues that many atheists take issue with (and something which would make good material for future posts).  But as with many of the twitter argument points atheists push, they are arguing the wrong point.

Why Atheists Should Love This Tweet

I really think atheists should love this tweet. While a misread of it may sound hypocritical, at its core it exposes one of the great faults of modern day Christianity: for many, Christianity has become a social code, a mere rule of life which supposedly promises happiness and contentment. This is not Christianity and in my opinion anyone who exposes this for the falsity that it is, atheist or otherwise, is doing those Christians a favor.

You can see this modern day Christianity wrapped up in a neat little package in any of the Alex Kendrick Affirm Films releases (Fireproof, Couragous, Flywheel, etc). You may be more familiar with these films as the Kirk Cameron films. These films all follow the same arc. The protagonist is a lost individual (read ‘non-Christian’) whose life begins to fall apart. The protagonist starts to look for answers, either through the prompting of friends and family or through their own questioning. Finally the protagonist finds Christ, has their conversion moment, and suddenly their life turns around for the better. Everything is fine. While I am comfortable tipping my hat to Alex Kendrick & co for attempting to put out a movie that would help people, this is not the promise of Christianity.

Christianity is not just a social code or a even just a moral code that leads to a WASP’y life. And it certainly does not work like these movies: despite giving ones self to Christ, suffering in life will continue. Christianity should not be taken on because a person believes it will make their lives easy. In many of the conversations I follow on Twitter between atheists and Christians, I see this frustration come out on the side of the atheist which inevitably leads to tweets like this:

Many atheists see Christianity as portrayed in the mainstream and call it out for the shallow moral code that it is. It is for that reason that I believe that much of mainstream Christianity has the potential to do more harm than good for our society. It allows people to accept Christ without fully committing themselves to the life that this acceptance requires.

So What Did The Pope Actually Say?

Faith is not something decorative or for show…

Faith in Christ is not just something to wear for social acceptance to belong to a club.  It isn’t something we take on for a false sense of security that, because we accepted Christ, we are now suddenly saved. Often times people claim themselves as Christian because it gives them a certain social acceptance among friends. This is not faith, this is decorative and for show.

To have faith means to put Christ truly at the centre of our lives.

Faith in Christ requires that we strive every day, every minute, to literally transform our lives, not just to wear our faith on the surface for social acceptance.  Faith in Christ requires a genuine spirit, honest intentions, humility, perseverance,  and dedication to a life that will not, by any means, be easy. Christ himself told us this in Matthew 16:24:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Following Christ is much more than just going to Church on Sundays, more than telling people you are a Christian. Following Christ is a full commitment to a relationship that requires allowing oneself to be entirely transformed. As Christians we should commit ourselves to this faith because we believe Him to be the fullness of truth, the primary life source, and out of a response to His invitation to a close and intimate relationship that can only be, at best, mirrored among humans.  Faith is not about making life easy, but it is about making life full and delving into the depths and grandeur that is the source of Truth.

So Why Should Atheists Like This?

I’m sure many atheists would disagree with me that this is a tweet they should like. But it is my opinion that much of what many atheists find illogical about theism in general is the hypocritical nature and the surface treatment many Christians give their faith.

The pope’s tweet was not a comment on liturgy or style of prayer as many took it to be, it was an encouragement to make our faith more than just a social status. This encouragement is a struggle and a lifelong journey. It is a struggle that every Christian, myself included, works on in an imperfect way. But the pope’s tweet was an invitation to become more personal, more genuine, and more honest with what our faith is really calling us towards.

And regardless of whether you believe in God or not, a call to being more honest to what you claim is a call that we should all respect and follow.

Atheists’ Fascination with Creationism

Atheists seem to have a fascination with creationists. They seem to look at creationists as some strange creatures – kind of like those cave insects that never see the light of day – and wonder how they could ever wake up in the morning without being completely shame faced for their beliefs.

I guess I can’t blame them for picking on creationists as it is really quite low hanging fruit. But I fear atheists are making two mistakes by attacking creationists: 1) atheists tend to lump all theists into the creationist camp (not true), and 2), they are missing the entire bloody point of the creation story.

I am a theist and I believe evolution is a sound theory. I also believe that the creation story is entirely compatible with evolution. The two are not mutually exclusive. Why? Because the creation story isn’t trying to make a statement as to the scientific origins of the earth or the chronological events that lead up to the existence of man.

Anyone who reads the creation stories will hopefully see that there is a problem if you are trying to get an order of events accounting of the creation of man.  (In Genesis 1:24-27 God makes animals and then man while in Genesis 2:5-7 we see that God makes man “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth…”). From my understanding, most biblical scholars will explain that there are two biblical creation stories. In fact, it is highly likely that the stories came from other traditions as there are ample examples of similar creation stories (Epic of Gilgamesh and so on).

Despite this obvious fact, atheists love to pick on creationists to point out that creation didn’t happen in the way the Bible describes it. It’s as if they want to say

Ha! The world was not created in 7 days! The bible is wrong!!!

…therefore atheism.

But ultimately atheists, you look a bit silly when you do this. In fact, you look as silly as the creationists! While you are busy disproving creationism in order to debunk Christianity, why don’t we point out how Huck Finn never actually lived and therefore all of Mark Twain’s books are pure bunk? Or that Rodka never actually killed the woman in “Crime and Punishment” because he wasn’t a real person, and therefore the book is pure “fairytales and fantasy”?

The reason creationists look silly, in my opinion, is that it should be obvious that the creation accounts are not intended to be read in that manner. Sure, there’s the science too – that’s also quite convincing.

The creation stories are one part of an entire book – an entire tradition – that tell us of the love story of God for humans. The creation stories are fundamental building blocks to answer the questions of “what does it mean to be human”, and “why did God create us”, as well as any of the “why does God allow…permit…etc”.

So let’s end the fascination with creationism. It doesn’t make anyone look good.