The Bible – the Good Book, or a very bad book?

Before we get to inerrancy and inspiration, I’d like to look at the worst stuff in the Bible and the terrible uses Scripture has sometimes been put to.

From one viewpoint, the Bible is a deeply troublesome set of books – sometimes in a good way, but often not.

Most obviously problematic is the widespread violence and bloodshed in the OT – often apparently divinely-sanctioned (or so the authors believed). And there are also the harsh punishments for disobedience or moral lapses, including the death penalty for Sabbath-breaking.

Other deeply disturbing elements include the pervasive societal sexism and what at times looks worryingly like racism.

Justifying evil?

It’s hardly surprising then that the Bible has been used through the ages to justify dreadful things including massacres, torture, slavery, apartheid, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and the subjugation of women. It’s far too often been used as an instrument of human control and brutal power rather than of liberation and genuine good news.

For this reason I tend to be suspicious of the adjective ‘biblical’ (e.g. ‘biblical doctrine’, ‘biblical marriage’, ‘biblical gender roles’ etc). I’m no longer very interested in whether or not something can be said to be ‘biblical’. Slavery, sexism, polygamy, genocide and death by stoning are all (in one sense) ‘biblical’. But I’d argue that none of them are ‘Christian’ or ‘Christ-like’, and for me now this is a far more important qualification.

And I linked to these last time, but here again are two pieces specifically addressing issues of biblical violence and sexism:

The Bible’s problem – or ours?

But I’d suggest that the fundamental problem with the Bible may not so much be the Bible itself but us. The problem is how we read the Bible and what we then do with it. It’s our skewed approaches to the text that lead us to draw skewed conclusions from it or to impose skewed meanings on it.

So we attempt to force the Bible to fit specific moulds, to speak to us about particular subjects and in particular ways. But the Bible doesn’t conform to our expectations; it isn’t what we think it is, and it often doesn’t say what we think it says or in the ways we think it says it.

For a start, I don’t see that the Bible ever claims to be the 100% accurate, perfect, inerrant Word of God; that’s an understanding we’ve imposed on it and read back into the text (more on this another time). What it does present is something altogether more complex, messy and category-defying – but also more important and potentially life-changing.

Misusing the Bible

The Bible presents us with a whole range of ideas and examples, many of which I’m sure we’re not meant to take as ideal or correct. Just because something’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s automatically divinely sanctioned, God’s appointed way for us all to follow. What the Bible presents is rather the messy reality of deeply flawed people stumblingly following God’s call; stutteringly translating his part-heard words into their broken language according to their limited understanding.

So if we treat the Bible as perfect, literally true, binding and normative, we will likely end up misusing it to prove or support things that its authors (and God) never intended.

Of course the same applies to most literature. Harry Potter can be misread as supporting witchcraft; C.S. Lewis’s Narnia chronicles can be used to justify sexism, racism and war; Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice appears to approve anti-Semitism. But these would all be abuses of the texts.

Admittedly, these works never claim to be Holy Writ. But I’m not convinced that the Bible does either – at least not in quite the way that we’ve understood that.

Why the Bible still matters

So why should we still bother with the Bible? With all its violence, sexism and other imperfections, isn’t it just too deeply flawed to be of any use to us?

For me, the main reason the Bible matters is because of its direct relationship to Christ.

The gospels are the nearest we can get to the actual words and deeds of Jesus, albeit with the caveat that some may have been slightly misremembered or else adapted to make a theological point. The rest of the New Testament records the lives, thoughts and teachings of Christ’s eyewitnesses and first followers (including Paul). All this makes it hugely important to those of us seeking to know and follow Jesus.

The Old Testament foreshadows and prefigures Christ, and sets up the background and context for his incarnation, his Messiahship, his life and words and deeds (including his death and resurrection). The OT also of course records a number of direct messages from God received by the prophets, even if we might now query some of the more violent and genocidal content in these prophecies.

And there’s plenty else good that we can get from the Bible – mainly because humans and relationships haven’t changed all that much. (More in ‘What use is the Bible?’)

A flawed masterpiece

So I believe we do well to treat the Bible with respect, take it seriously and engage properly with what it says (something I’m not sure ‘Bible-believing Christians’ always do).

Nonetheless, I can’t any longer sign up to a simplistic model of the Bible as a comprehensive and inerrant textbook whose every command is eternally binding on us or whose every example is normative. I view it rather as a collaboration or conversation between God and flawed humans in deeply non-ideal situations.

I’m certainly not saying we should follow the example of 2nd-century ‘heresiarch’ Marcion and simply remove the parts of the Bible that we don’t agree with, or that are culturally uncomfortable for us. Some of the parts we don’t like may still be valid, perhaps even vital. But we need to engage with them in more grown-up ways than merely ‘the Bible says…’ And above all, we need to look at the Bible through the prism of Jesus, the true Word of God (more next time).

My own view is that the Bible is in a sense inspired, but not inerrant, perfect or fully comprehensive. It is, I’d argue, still one of the chief means God uses to engage people in dialogue (though far from the only way). But that doesn’t mean that everything contained in its pages is necessarily entirely ‘true’ or ‘correct’ in the usual modern senses.

Next time then, what does divine inspiration actually mean?

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
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23 Responses to The Bible – the Good Book, or a very bad book?

  1. Regarding a skewed approach: I’ve been revising a different kind of skewness in my data analysis course this afternoon. Putting that with what you’ve said and maybe it’ll lead to a blog post all of its own.

    As for inerrancy (I used to be a committed believer of the inerrancy of the bible) the most obvious point (for me) is that people never seem to stop to think about the epistles when they talk about inerrancy. Paul wrote his letters as part of a series of correspondence, of which the other half is missing. It was only later that it was deemed to be scripture. Many people who insist on inerrancy don’t even know this basic detail (and it’s never mentioned in sermons where it could and should be). Also, as protestants we have taken out some bits of the bible that we didn’t like in the form of the apocrypha and other parts of the bible, e.g. you know how it’s often said that the book of Esther doesn’t once mention God? In the RC version it does! I know why Luther wanted to go back to what the Hellenic (Hellenist?) version of the texts but it still raises important questions about what became canon and what did not, it also pretty much ends any ideas of inerrancy, at least in does in my opinion. I’m not explaining myself very well because I’m tired – have had a relapse of my stupid neurological disorder – but I’m enjoying reading what you have to say.

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    • Thanks Sandy, yes, I absolutely agree and will be coming back to inerrancy and the canon in a later post.

      There may well be very good reasons why the books and letters that ended up in the Bible were included, but there have always been question marks over the canon, and leading Christians through the centuries have disagreed on what should count as ‘inspired’ or ‘scripture’.

      And even if we do accept the canon (or a version of it), not every word is necessarily perfect or error-free or directly inspired by God. These are the records of an imperfect human community encountering God – it’s not a perfect document dropped from heaven. I think there are plenty of clear examples of imperfections within the Bible texts (and I’ll come back to these) – and that’s not a problem.

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  2. Alfiethedog says:

    Don’t quite understand what the ‘deeply non-ideal situations’ you refer to are, or why they are relevant to the composition of the Bible; but that really is the only nit that even I can pick. I particularly like the preceding phrase about the Bible being ‘a collaboration with conversation between God and deeply flawed humans’, but really the whole thing is masterly, and I couldn’t agree more with it.

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    • Thanks Alfie. Good question! I suppose what I meant was that the Bible wasn’t written in or to perfect, ideal situations (and might not be a lot of use if it were). It’s dealing with things as they are (or were), rather than how we would like them to be or have been.

      So for example, OT Israelite society seems mostly to have been deeply sexist and patriarchal; the fact that God doesn’t immediately challenge this (indeed, might appear in places to endorse this) is not I think evidence that it’s the ideal that he was ultimately aiming for.

      Or again the violence, warfare and brutal punishments that seem to have been endemic to most ancient societies – from the Bible record, God seems to have broadly accepted that this was the stage of development the human race were at, and to have worked within that gradually to bring about something better.

      My feeling is that with events recorded in the Bible, even assuming they happened, it’s often the case of the lesser of two evils. I’m hoping God didn’t want war at all, but given that war was going to happen he entered into it redemptively in some sense, weaving it into his longer-term purposes. Or something like that.

      Does that make any sense or answer the question?

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  3. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Here are some other invalid ‘biblical’ things that have been popular during my lifetime: biblical personal finances; biblical counseling; biblical parenting and discipline; biblical giving (money). These ‘biblical’ things are all misguided and hurtful.

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  4. Terry says:

    “But we need to engage with them in more grown-up ways than merely ‘the Bible says…’”

    This works both ways, of course – and in more ways than that. I can imagine an inerrantist saying, “The Bible says x, so we must do x.” And I can imagine a non-inerrantist saying, “The Bible says x, but I don’t agree we must do x.” But I can also imagine an inerrantist saying, “The Bible says x, so we must do x” – and then not do x, so do x with a peculiar spin. And I can also imagine a non-inerrantist saying, “The Bible says x, but I don’t agree we must do x” – and then do x more faithfully than the self-professed inerrantist.

    Life is good, no?

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    • Yes, absolutely – humans are messy and complex and so is the Bible. So as you say, what we actually end up doing may bear little relation to the way we think we understand the Bible, whether we’re inerrantists or no. It’s all good fun.

      And yes, I should also have said ‘we need to engage with them in more grown-up ways than merely “I reject what the Bible says”‘. Inerrancy and complete rejection of the Bible because it’s not inerrant are, I think, both equally faulty approaches.

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  5. tonycutty says:

    Brilliant, Harvey, thanks for this piece. I have just two things to add: firstly, I use the ‘prism of Jesus’ but I call it the ‘lens of Love’. I think it works the same way 😉

    Secondly, I saw a good blog article the other day about types of truth. It may be useful for you to peruse as you compose this series: http://redeeminggod.com/is-the-bible-true/

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    • Ah, the lens of love! Maybe we could combine that and the prism of Jesus into one revolutionary optical device – just so long as it’s not the Binoculars of Biblical Inerrancy. 😉

      Thanks for pointing out that blog article – I really like it. Hugely important point that there are many different kinds of truth and various ways of being true, and that merely factual truth or scientific/historical accurateness are not necessarily the most important kinds. I’m not quite sure I’d go as far as him in saying the Bible contains no errors – I think that’s putting our own expectation on the Bible. But otherwise a great piece.

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      • tonycutty says:

        ” I’m not quite sure I’d go as far as him in saying the Bible contains no errors – I think that’s putting our own expectation on the Bible.” Reading that has made something occur to me. Nowhere does the Bible claim infallibility or inerrancy. Those concepts are indeed our own expectations. Sure there’s the 2 Tim 3:16 “All Scripture is useful….” or however it puts it. But in its context, the passage itself was not Scripture. It was a letter to a beloved brother. It certainly does not refer directly to the New Testament because that didn’t exist at the time. It only applies to Scripture as we understand it today, by inference, because that letter is now in what we call our canon. But even then, ‘Useful’ is not the same as ‘indispensible’, ‘inerrant’ or ‘infallible’. Nowhere does it claim that.

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        • Yes, absolutely! The Bible only claims to be useful, not perfect or infallible.

          Of course, some try and read perfection into other ‘proof-texts’ – there are verses in Psalms that say ‘every word of God is flawless’, which some use to argue that all the Bible must be perfect. But that isn’t what these verses are trying to say.

          There are some slightly trickier verses, such as Jesus saying ‘the scripture cannot be broken’, but I think there are other ways to read these too. I might get onto some of these in a later post! 🙂

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  6. Rob says:

    I admire you confronting the well known issue of the Bible’s immorality, but I think, in the argument that is always offered in these cases – context and Jesus – two crucial verses are omitted in these discussions – in Malachi: ‘I am the Lord, I never change’, and in Hebrews: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow’,. This means that the vindictive, tribal God of the Old Testament is the same as the ‘turn the other cheek’ Jesus of the New, for according to the Bible, Jesus is God and never changes. Moreover, if we can dismiss unpleasant bits of the Bible as not being of God, we can also, using the same premise that parts of the Bible are not correct, dismiss the virgin birth the resurrection and the other miracles. That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    Surely the way is to see the Bible as a Bronze and Iron Age text, steeped in ignorance – the sun going round the earth in Joshua, for example – and the barbaric beliefs of the time, and that it is nothing at all supernatural, and should be confined to being a relic of history and not the inspiration for such modern day practices of witchcraft and the killing of children believed to be possessed by demons. Most people have, understandably, moved beyond the Bible, but the world is still at the mercy of those who believe ancient texts to be divine and give divine orders, still resulting in bloodshed, condemation and persecution.. The only aspects of the Bible which deserves any respect are Jesus’ and Paul’s words on love, but we find far deeoer insights into the nature of love centuries before Jesus in Plato, and far deeper, wider, more beautiful presentations of love in secular writers in the centuries since.

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    • Hi Rob, thanks for your comment and I hear what you’re saying. I even agree with quite a lot of it – as I do with much atheist writing. But for me, this perspective is at best a partial one, which fails to do full justice to the messy complexity of humanity, of religious experience and of the Bible itself.

      As someone with no fundamentalist commitment to a perfect Bible, nor to interpreting the Bible in a particular literal way (which is impossible to do consistently), I don’t view the verses you quote as ‘proof-texts’. To my understanding, these passages simply refer to the underlying faithfulness of God’s character, and therefore act as a challenge to those earlier parts of the Bible which suggest a more capricious or changeable deity.

      Of course I can see the appeal of simply scrapping the whole Bible as too primitive and flawed to be of any value. But for me that’s not an option. However ridiculous it sounds, I genuinely believe that my own life has been profoundly touched by the person of Jesus Christ, in ways that I cannot accommodate within a strictly naturalistic view of the universe. The Bible is far less important to me than Jesus, but as it’s our primary (albeit flawed) record of his life and words, I cannot simply discard it. Hence my wrestling with these issues on this blog.

      I wish you all the best on your path.

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      • Rob says:

        Thank you both for your reply/comments. I struggled for forty years with all the different interpretations and the debates about the validity of the Bible and about how the good bits were the most sublime writing there was, and the bad bits didn’t really mean what they said, even though people have been using them to create evil throughout the centuries, including this one. And then I began to see, and suddenly it all made sense.

        All religions are an attempt to guarantee survival – spiritual and physical – and to find the moral and the transcendent to guide our lives and to lift us out of the prison of the physical into the realms of the spiritual. And of course, coming from different countries and cultures, religions all created their own divinities and prophets and saints and determined what their own rituals were to help them reach the divine. Unsurprisingly, too, they came up with love and peace as ideals, except, of course for those who did not share their faith who they spiritually damned and physically slaughtered. All this of course is very predictable to anyone with any very basic knowledge of psychology, sociology and philosophy.

        The problems came when people began to think outside the narrow boundaries of superstiion and survival, and began to see that all religions followed the same broad ways, and then, of course, science came along and showed the truth about things that had been believed to be supernatural. The movement of thought has been such that most people do not believe in a religion, though of course there are millions who still see their religion as their route to the transcendent, the divine, the spiritual, or God – call it what you wish. Like you they will cite a strong personal experience of Jesus or Mohammed or which ever divinity, and will present this as evidence that Jesus etc. still exists and is divine. Psychologists recognise this common phenomenom, however, as the Father Christmas syndrome – where the excitement that children feel about Father Christmas and their belief in him is absolutely real and provable, but it is all based on someone who does not exist. So it is entirely possible to believe in something and experience something or someone who does not exist. It is proof of nothing, I’m afraid, except your own feelings..

        What there is proof of, however, is good and evil, love and hatred. Religions have done much good, but they have also done an awful lot of provable evil – evil in the sense that it creates unhappiness and harm. Personally I left the church after forty years because I could not morally be part of an organisation that told people they were damned to hell (or not ‘saved’) if they did not believe something for which there is no provable evidence. I would go so far as to say that to tell a child as being the truth, as I was told, is psychological child abuse. I know it has caused many people great problems.

        Evil is provable, not as a supernatural thing, but in what people do to other people. Love is also provable – like the wind it is not visible, but its effects are. And when I had realised that the preachings of the Bible contained as much evil as good in them, and when I read in secular literature far deeper, richer, more spiritual, more insightful, more divine, more profound and more truthful writings on life, all of them asserting the primacy of Love, I knew that I had found something far greater than all the conundrums and disputes and interpretations and damnations of Christianity, I had found the divinity of Love – which others, following an ancient tradition call Jesus.

        But Love does not need resurrecting, Love does not damn others for not believing in it, Love is simple and accessible to all – without any knowledge of any religion – and its effects can be seen in the instant as well as in what grows from it. And evil is what is done without love, creating unhappiness, sorrow, fear, conflict, often between religious people – and these are the conflicts which are the greatest threats to our world. I think if you look at the evidence around us, religion can be seen to be the thing which dashes any hope of there being a peaceful world. Not until that particular devil is slain, and it will take many centuries, will world peace be possible, and not until people accept Love as their personal saviour – the thing that saves them from the evil of selfishness and all that brings – will we ever begin to get the world we could have.

        So I would say to both of you who answered me on here: thank you, but maybe you might try taking the Gordian sword of Love to all the twisted knots and troubles of your religion, and find true divinity, find it real, lasting and uncomplicated, and find it abundantly.

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        • Hi Rob,
          Thanks for your very comprehensive and thoughtful reply. Again, there’s much I can agree with.

          For me it’s not really a problem whether or not someone believes in a particular deity or accepts a particular version of religious ‘truth’. For me the key is, as you say, love and goodness. Those who seek to follow the path of love and goodness are, I believe, on broadly the right track whether they are atheists, Hindus, Muslims or anything else.

          Nonetheless, I’ve found for myself a reality in a relationship with Jesus which has enabled me to change in ways that previously I struggled to. I’ve found new meaning in love and goodness through this relationship, making love and goodness actual rather than merely abstract or theoretical.

          I’m aware that from your perspective this is merely an imaginary friendship – and I certainly can’t prove otherwise. I could perhaps cite experiences of guidance or answered prayer, even healings, but I’m well aware that any of these could have other explanations.

          (Of course, Father Christmas is real in a sense – he is our parents! 🙂 So even though we discover that the bearded red chap was a wrong conception of Father Christmas, the secret gift-giver was nonetheless a reality.)

          For me, the only ‘proof’ of God outside of our own experiences is simply the reality of goodness, love, beauty, reason – things which to my mind point to an ultimate Reality that is goodness, love, reason and beauty epitomised and personified. But again, I don’t say this in any attempt to convince you – I’m aware that these things can be read other ways.

          So again, I wish you well on your journey. Nonetheless, for myself I have found something unique in the person of Jesus and I can’t walk away from that.

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        • tonycutty says:

          Loved your well thought-out reply, Rob. You’ve clearly put a lot of thought into your belief position and I find that pretty rare these days.

          I agree with much of what you said too, as before. Religion has indeed been responsible for too many atrocities and much of the evil we see in the world today is the result of religion, either religion now or as a result of its after-effects. And even worse is religion used on top of a political agenda – religion that has been hijacked by those in power to lend credence to political aims. Quite frankly, it makes me sick. In fact religion, in the sense of man trying to do things for God that will somehow make them more acceptable to Him, makes me sick too. I could harp on about this but you’ve probably heard it all before.

          Harvey has already answered the ‘Father Christmas syndrome’ issue in his way, and I’d like, if I may, to add in my perception of it. I am Aspergic and, possibly for that reason, I have a very clear memory of most of my childhood, despite being 53 years old now 😉 And I remember very clearly how I felt when we talked about Father Christmas in those days. The excitement and anticipation, I remember, was intense and real, even though the person was not – although I did not know it at the time. But the feeling I have of the presence of God is an entirely different feeling. In some ways, it’s not even a feeling as such, but it is very difficult to describe – I’m sorry to not be able to elaborate more, but that’s the only way I can describe it. I feel I am in a position to offer a comparison of the Father Christmas feeling with the God feeling, because my memories are so clear. But like I said, the God feeling is so different. And then there’s the coincidences, the happenings, the timing of various things – it really does look, to me as if there’s a guiding hand in all this stuff. And not just because I want there to be such a hand, and this is wish-fulfillment; quite frankly, most of the time these events take me completely by surprise. I am a professional scientist and I know about statistics; I know that so much of what believers describe as ‘God events’ could easily be explained away using stats. But when the events combine with the things that happen afterwards, the fruit or the solidity or benefits of the events, lasting benefits, I have to concede that it’s God in there – from my point of view, of course. My faith does not depend on such things, but rather on the huge and complex web of designed circumstances that I see as having taken place in my life.

          What of those for whom life does not work out so well? Not everyone has such a rosy life; what about them? Well I too am in that boat: my wife is fighting what is supposedly an incurable cancer. Yet still, despite the hand we have been dealt, we both feel God’s Hand in things, in many ways especially because of the cancer. Things have happened since the diagnosis that leave us in no doubt.

          Sure, all of this could be conjecture, feelings and what have you. But we honestly don’t feel it is so. I would never try to force my faith on someone else, though; however people do ask us what our ‘secret’ is in maintaining our joy despite the horrific circumstances. I appreciate that people who do not have faith like ours also manage perfectly well with similar circumstances. You don’t need to believe in God to have optimism, hope, victory over circumstances. But we have found that it helps!

          Loved your final paragraph, where you said, “…maybe you might try taking the Gordian sword of Love to all the twisted knots and troubles of your religion, and find true divinity, find it real, lasting and uncomplicated, and find it abundantly.” I feel that we already have done, because, to us, Jesus makes it all simple. He takes away the need for all the Gordian knots and twisted troubles (brilliant phrasing; I may have to plagiarise that for my blog!) and gives away the true Divinity – abundantly. For us, at least. Many don’t find it that simple – but that’s possibly because they overcomplicate things instead of simply trusting Him.

          Thanks again for your piece, and for the effort you put in. I love having dialogue with honest people 🙂

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          • I see religion as being a bit like both sex and sport…

            So like sex, religion can be glorious, exciting and life-bringing, but it can also be dangerous and destructive. Sometimes it seems the human race might be better off without it, but you can’t eradicate it without losing something of what it means to be human.

            And like sport, religion can bring out both the best and worst in people. It can spur people to amazing feats of courage and beauty, but it can also lead to narrow-minded tribal violence. And if you don’t follow a particular religion (or sport), from the outside it can seem bewildering and crazy, with a set of pointless rules and customs.

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    • tonycutty says:

      Rob, I too agree that God never changes. But I do believe that our perception of Him changes – both as individuals, and as a human race. And you will see that I am leading up to saying that I believe that is what happens in the Bible; yes it is an ancient text but still the story goes on today. Personally, I have a constantly evolving view of what God is like – actually, I wonder if we can even say that everyone has this, either consciously or not. I wouldn’t like to speak for others, but my view of God changes due to so many factors I would not care to list them; however for example it might be a sunset, or I hear of a new cosmological discovery at my Astronomy Society. I think even atheists’ belief structure evolves, in that maybe they might find new ways to be disgruntled at God or whatever it is they do (Or, cynically, the chap who is probably the world’s best-known atheist trumps up yet another catchy soundbite!). But even then the way they dislike/disprove/dismiss God changes. Does this make sense? So it’s no surprise to me that the ancient Bible people had an evolving view.

      I’ve never personally agreed with the idea that if one part of Scripture is errant/fallible/contradictory, it spoils the whole thing. It’s more robust than that, and this binary construct about it’s either all right or all wrong is simply an evangelical idea that does not reflect the way the Bible was written at all, nor how it ‘should’ be interpreted. One of the beautiful things about the Bible is that the same passage can indeed mean different things to different people; those who believe in this sort of thing could simply say that this is the Spirit blowing where He wishes. Certainly, if God is all He’s cracked up to be, He would be able to do things and say things in ways and at times of His own choosing, despite what silly little boxes we humans try to put Him in!

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  7. Rob says:

    Thank you Harvey and Tony for your very kind, gentle and thoughtful replies. If anything will convince me of your claims for the eternal divinity of Jesus and the presence of him in lives it is in both your Christ-like replies – compassionate and empathic as well as the qualities above. If I had seen those qualities in the very many Christians I have known, I would have been much more likely to have come to the beliefs you have. Yes, I would argue that what you are experiencing was the divine quality of love, accessible to all, and would endorse Gandhi’s view that ‘God has no religion’ – that religions are not necessary when there is the divinity of Love. If all ‘religious’ people were like the two of you, the world would not be in the state it is now, and there would not have been the conflicts there have been for two thousand years. If it were recognised that religions were different ways of different cultures finding the divine, and that the divine was love and goodness which should guide our lives, then we could all get along so much better on an individual and on an international level.

    So I would agree with all that you both say – but I do still have a problem with the Christian doctirine which says I am damned if I do not believe it, and with holy books that can be so easily ‘mis-interpreted’ by people who do not have your love and insight. (Incidently the Bible also damned me before I was born, and my children unto the tenth generation, as my mother was not married when I was born – which some might argue pre-determined my irreligious views.)

    As for your answers to my Father Christmas Syndrome argument, they are the best answers to this I have heard. You are quite right, there is a reality which children get excited about and it is just the personification of these realities in an unreal person which is the only aspect which is not true. I would argue, though, that our feelings are always real, and the events which some interpret as being the work of God are also real, but that the reality of all those events and our feelings does not prove the reality of God. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed in a holy host of gods, and acted out real actions in the belief those gods were real, but, unless I am mistaken, no one believes in those gods now – so were those gods real or not?

    I would argue these and other religious experiences are interpretations of reality. Certainly many people see God’s guiding hand in the events of their lives, but would these events have happened anyway, and I do have to ask why God equally allows Christians to endure things like – from an example I know – a devout Christian father of four young children get knocked off his bicycle and killed? Was that an example of God’s will working in the world? And there are are of course so many examples of that. Could that not be interpreted as the devil having the power to intervene for evil in the world?

    You write very movingly, Tony, about your wife and I am so very sorry that that is happening to you both. I admire greatly the way you are coping with that, and I am sure your faith is of enormous sustenance here, but I know I find myself wondering why God allows these things to happen, and it is things like that which mean I cannot interpret the world and the events which happen to us being in God’s hands. Forgive me for saying me it does seem to me that most Christians interpret the good events as evidence of God working in the world, and the bad ones as being due to the Fall – though very clearly you do not do this, Tony, as I was enormously impressed that you could say your wife’s illness has strengthened your faith.

    So thank you both again for the kindness, gentleness, openness and thoughtfulness of your replies. After many negative experiences with Christians, both when I was a regular church goer for forty years and after I left the church, you both stand out as shining examples of what I believe Christians should be, and so very much have my respect.. Thank you.

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    • tonycutty says:

      Thanks for your kind comments Rob, it means a lot to me 🙂

      I too spent a lot of time in churches being thrown around by others’ doctrines, and it took me fifteen years to be detoxed from it. Fifteen years away from everything Church. And now I feel a real freedom to differ in opinion from other believers but without it alienating me from them. Sometimes it alienates them from me, though, but that is their choice! Ostracism no longer holds any threat for me and in fact in my Church at the moment allows free thinking. ‘Allows’? Interesting how still my thought patterns try to revert to the allowed/not allowed pattern, something I am trying to lose! My thoughts on the ‘wilderness period’ are here: http://tinyurl.com/pchrmq8

      Sorry to hijack your blog, Harvey 😉

      I don’t believe in Hell, at least not in the classic sense. I also don’t believe there’s a time limit on deciding for Christ’ (http://tinyurl.com/q8n8mxn). I don’t believe a lot of what I used to believe; however I do believe in different things that I believe have been revealed direct from Christ and from the way I believe He has interpreted the Bible for me. I could be wrong in all this of course, but the main points here are a) I do not use these ‘revelations’ to impose my (somewhat liberal, and sometimes perceived as heretical) beliefs on others, at least not in a ‘Jesus told me this, so you have to believe it’ sense. I tend to keep things largely to myself – except for: b) wherever I see someone abusing another in Christ’s name, usually firing Scripture salvos to beat them over the head with the Bible, I do step up and speak what I believe to be words of freedom. Not so much for the abuser, but for the abused. ‘He’s telling you that? No way Jesus would do that. Here’s what I think’….and words of freedom follow. Classic example here: http://tinyurl.com/pwrrrzd and c) If He’s really alive, then why not? Why should He not speak to me, and to others for that matter? In John 15:16 He said, ‘I have so much more to tell you, but you are unable to bear it just now’. The simple truth here is that some people are trapped in set interpretations of Scripture, and they impose these things on others. Harvey and myself feel free to wrestle with God over things we read. And lets be honest, sometimes things really are mistranslated. How do we tell which passages are right and which are not? We let God speak it to us. I personally don’t feel I have to understand the whole Bible before I can let it speak, but you know what, God speaking direct trumps the Bible every time. It’s linked to that ‘feeling’ of His presence – that Father Christmas not-feeling!

      And I think that as long as I don’t damage others with it, I’m free to believe what I feel He’s saying to me. And nobody can take this away from me 🙂

      I’m sorry you have taken a clattering in churches, and kudos to you for sticking it out that long! But Harvey and I have found that a faith journey has ‘stages’. (If this helps, run with it; if not, please feel free to leave it behind. You know I’m not trying to ‘convert’ you (whatever that means!) ) But it seems that faith goes through four – or seven – stages (depending on which theory you read) and Harvey goes through much of this here: https://evangelicaliberal.wordpress.com/category/stages-of-faith-2/ . You might be able to identify with one or more of the ‘stages’ and see that what you appear to have been through is in fact perfectly normal – for some.

      I’ve run out of time. But I hope this is helpful, or at least interesting. And thanks again for all you’ve said. Rest assured my family and I are very happy; we are not letting the ‘circumstances’ beat us. My wife is a feisty Scot and she doesn’t go under easily 😉

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    • Hi Rob, apologies for the delayed response – I’ve been offline for the last few days!

      Thank you for your very kind and generous-spirited – and thought-provoking – replies.

      Tony has already said much of what I would wish to say. I very much echo him in rejecting any doctrine which says you’re damned if you don’t believe a particular version of God or particular set of doctrines. My own view is that God welcomes all, and that none who genuinely seek love, truth or goodness will be turned away, whatever name they give to their god (or none).

      I don’t have a problem with other gods – Greek, Roman, Norse, Hindu or any others. To me, even though the specific details of each deity may be ‘false’, I believe there is a single inexpressible reality beyond or behind them all that they are trying to approach and express. Some attempts I think are pretty wide of the mark – those gods portrayed as capricious, vengeful or spiteful. Those which come closest are, I think, the ones which personify qualities of love, goodness, truth and compassion.

      And that’s one of the things that persuades me of the reality of God. I believe in a love and goodness that is greater than anything that comes from within me, or that arises naturally within the world. To me it seems that there must be a source and standard of love, of goodness, that is ‘beyond’ or ‘before’; that stands outside of my immediate experience and understanding. This source of love, I believe, is the truest or deepest Reality, and it is that which I believe I have begun to come to know a little in Jesus – who I see as the embodiment or personification of purest love and goodness.

      But if you have another name for this love, or source of love, that’s no problem. Names are only words or labels for deeper realities.

      Regarding suffering and God’s will, I don’t have any easy answers except that I don’t believe that God wills suffering or evil. I think we are living in an as-yet imperfect world where God’s will is not fully done, and where sometimes terrible things happen that are not what he wishes. I also believe that he does not or cannot always intervene to prevent these evils in the ways that we might wish – any more than I can always prevent bad things happening to my children (or prevent them from making bad choices). But I do believe that God always works to redeem our sufferings and ills, and that in the very end all will be well.

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