Christian blogger Matt Appling at The Church of No People wrote an article yesterday called “I Stopped Believing in god” (lowercase g deliberate). It’s the sort of post that’s clearly bound to rile up the believers — or excite them with edginess — and bring some bittersweet hope to the nonbelievers. He writes:
Many times when talking beliefs with atheists, they’ll start a sentence with, “I just can’t believe in a God that…”
And I say, “You’re right…” I’ve got a lot in common with the atheists.
In my experience, Christians try to get me to start sentences like that. They literally say, “Tell me about this god you don’t believe in.” I don’t like to play this game, because there are so many gods and the person I’m talking to generally only believes in one of them, so 99.999% of what I could say is irrelevant to them. So I reply, “You tell me about your god, and then I’ll explain why I don’t think your god exists.” They don’t like the game as much when it’s reversed.
As Matt illustrates, it’s much easier to explain what properties God doesn’t have than to list the ones that he does. (We disagree on the reason for this difference, of course.) While I obviously agree with his conclusions about these particular gods, I have to say I’m really not sure why or how he’s reaching them. He still considers himself a Christian for some reason, and as far as I can tell still values the Bible as an important and meaningful reference at least, divinely inspired scripture at most. So, what distinguishes the “real Christian god” (so to speak) from these false gods Matt lists? Let’s go through a few of them and see.
I stopped believing in a god who doesn’t need me to do anything to save myself…except have enough faith, and don’t lose it, ever.
This does sound pretty silly. It makes a small bit more sense when you account for the fact that when Christians talk about being “saved,” they don’t mean from earthly suffering, but from an afterlife in hell. Still, it does seem like a strange system to invent, doesn’t it? You can be the biggest jerk you want, but as long as you hold this one (obscured, unwarranted) thing to be true in your mind, you’re all good in the eyes of the almighty. But … there are lots of Bible verses that say very explicitly that this is how it works. Here is just one, from Acts 16, which I pick because it’s so straightforward. “How do I get saved?” asks a dude, and the apostles answer, “Believe, and that’s all there is to it.” Then they rejoice.
And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
So … I guess we’ll just toss out all those bits of the Bible, because they don’t really click for Matt, but we’ll keep the rest. What’s next?
I stopped worshipping this idol god who rallied us like troops to fight our neighbors instead of being a light to our neighbors.
And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. … But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell. And I will do to you as I thought to do to them.” (Numbers 33)
Oh. Right. Well, I guess we should throw out those verses too. But keep the rest, because that’s probably the part that explains the real God!
I beheaded this god who prefers swords to plowshares.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
So that strikes out this direct quotation of Jesus in one of the Gospels, then. Yeah, probably safe to ignore that because it makes us feel icky….
There are a bunch of other rejected gods in Matt’s list that I would love to talk about (especially “I stopped believing in a god who gives people what they deserve”), but this post is long enough already, and I think my point is clear enough: the truth doesn’t care whether you like it or not. Reality is reality, regardless of what we want. If the Bible is a reliable source for information about God, then it’s a reliable source and you have to care about what it says even if it’s unpleasant.
On the other hand, if you’re going to reject all the parts of the Bible that are cruel, or bizarre, or illogical, or have been proven wrong by scientists or archaeologists, intellectual rigor demands that you be thorough about it. It’s ridiculous to decide to ignore the illogical bits that you personally dislike, but keep the illogical bits you happen to enjoy. (And no, it’s not sufficient to wave your hands in the direction of “context,” as Matt does in one of the comments. You need to look at the whole context, including when, how, and why the Bible was written, and what we know now compared to what people had to work with then.) You need some basis for ignoring this thing Jesus says, but believing that one as absolute truth. Or, perhaps, once you’ve trashed that much of the Bible you could acknowledge there’s no real reason to trust the remaining tatters.
Matt writes, “As I’ve believed fewer things about God, God has only become bigger.” Maybe it seems this way because the parameter space in which his god exists has become less defined and more mysterious. But that isn’t a description of God; it’s just baroque trappings disguising an “I don’t know.” I’d love to see Matt write about the identity of the god he does believe in, and why he thinks his god has those attributes. Until then, I have to echo his own sentiment from the close of his post — I, too, expect that there are lots more things he’ll one day stop believing.