reading the bible and losing faith?
March 3, 2009 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Is it a common experience for people to lose their faiths and stop believing in the Christian God after they seriously read the bible and make a good effort to understand it?

I considered myself as a Christian for a long time, until recently when I decided to pick up the bible and read it copy by copy. The more I read the more doubts I had, and now I think I'm becoming an agnostic.

I didn't expect this to happen when I first started the reading, and I did make a honest effort to give every benefit of the doubt. At last I'd concluded that the bible is largely a man-made product.

It took about two years for me to come to this conclusion, and there were struggles in between. I'm just wondering if this is a common experience for other people.
posted by mchow to Religion & Philosophy (45 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I have certainly met other people who had that experience. Losing Faith in Faith by Dan Barker is a very interesting book about this experience by a former minister--you might find it worth reading.

I think that people who grow up in less-Biblically-literalist traditions of Christianity are probably less susceptible to this experience; it was pretty routine for me to hear "Well, we know that the seven days of Creation is a metaphor for billions of years" and what-not from the pulpit in Sunday sermons, so I didn't have any expectations of inerrancy from the Bible.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:06 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's hard to say how common it is without defining that term, however, it's definitely not unheard of. Lots of people talk about this sort of thing happening to them at this forum, which can be interesting reading if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by bluejayk at 9:07 PM on March 3, 2009

Happened to me, that's for sure. And I didn't even get that far in.

Obviously it was more complicated than just reading the book, having the scales fall from my eyes and going off on my merry atheist way. I think some part of me picked up the Bible wanting to know what was true and what was hearsay about the God I'd studied in church. I learned that there were a lot of things that nobody ever talked about, that didn't make any sense to me.

It didn't help that at around the same time, I read the Silmarillion for the first time and couldn't see why one of the books I was reading was more plausible than the other, objectively. That's probably a more particular-to-me detail, though.
posted by crinklebat at 9:08 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try googling 'deconversion' for more stories and information on this. Unless a social scientist chimes in with some hard numbers, anecdotal evidence is probably all you're gonna get.
posted by jtron at 9:21 PM on March 3, 2009

Very common. Given the amount of violent, over-the-top stuff scattered around the Bible, (the Book of Judges, or some of the Prophets), it's natural people taught to believe everything the Bible says as inviolable would question it. But people who had an upbringing like Sidhedevil's might be more likely to stick with it, I'd say.

As for me, not necessarily having been indoctrinated, but having heard plenty of professions of blind-faith, the big Moment of Questioning came when I was in theology class freshman year of high school. The teacher read a passage, (Judges? Sorry, don't remember exactly), where God said nobody could touch the Ark of the Covenant. They were carrying it along, it slipped, someone reflexively caught it, and God smote him. We, of course, asked the teacher why the hell God would do such a thing--clearly the guy violated the letter, but not the spirit of the law.

The teacher had no idea.
posted by world b free at 9:21 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: No, I don't think it's uncommon. I've known at least a few people who have had this experience. For myself, I never began with a belief in the literal truth of the Bible, but reading it closely certainly shaped my ideas about how to approach Christian faiths.

As you probably know, a lot of people who profess Christianity don't know the Bible well at all. Many have read it only selectively or with guidance/interpretation from a church leader. So there is often little help or sympathy for someone who does read it independently, and they can find it shocking that you might be questioning as a result of your reading. Some denominations and/or congregations don't handle the questioning well. But it can be pretty rough trying to synthesize the Bible and to reconcile it with the particular theology of whatever your faith was -- which is usually built on a couple milennia of scholarship and fine-tuning around the Biblical texts, which religious education rarely gets into. It's a difficult position to be in when you read the foundational text and look up saying 'wait a sec - we believe this?'

If it helps, you don't have to make the leap from "The Bible was given to man directly by God exactly as I'm reading it today" to "agnostic" in one jump. There are many intermediary points of view. Different denominations take different points of view on BIblical authorship and on the centrality of the text and what parts of the texts are emphasized. Doubting that the Bible was divinely authored doesn't have to equal doubting that there is value to be found in the BIble or doubting that you can have a meaningful life as a Christian even when given this crazy-ass text as the basic document. It's possible to consider the book a conglomeration of religious writings by different people for different reasons at different times edited by different people with different motives many times before you got it - and accommodate those awarenesses into a new version of your faith.

Not that you have to. People lose faith all the time, and usually it's for some version of what you experienced - disillusionment with the faith, or overstrained belief. There are a number of mainline Christian denominations that can deal with your new relationship to this text, if you want to. And there is a pretty awesome tradition of Biblical scholarship that occurs both within faith traditions and outside of them, that is fascinating historically, theologically, and linguistically, and I've really enjoyed developing just a lot more complex understanding of what the heck the Bible is and listening in a bit on those intellectual conversations. But if you really want to distance yourself from the entire belief system presented as Christianity, that's of course fine too. You wouldn't be the first, the last, or the most unique.

You might be interested in this book if you haven't read it already - an easy read. Especially compared to the book it's about.

But your question - no, not uncommon. It doesn't happen to the majority of people who are raised in religious belief, perhaps, but man, it's happened a lot.
posted by Miko at 9:27 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Highly common.
That's exactly what happened to my boyfriend-- indoctrinated at birth to be a fundamentalist Christian, read the Bible when he was older, now a staunch Atheist.
posted by derogatorysphinx at 9:32 PM on March 3, 2009

I agree with Sidhedevil that it is a less likely way of losing faith among people who grow up in more liberal, non-literalist Christian traditions. If you already think a lot of the bible is myth and allegory, combined with fragments of real history, philosophical ramblings, and poetry, and this does not bother your faith, then when you get around to reading the entire thing the weirdness doesn't put you off as much. Incidentally, I lost my faith sometime around a major depressive episode which roughly coincided with the taking of Psychology 101 - nothing to do with bible-reading.
posted by frobozz at 9:33 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think SidheDevil has hit the nail on the head. I studied the Bible quite a lot in my teenage years, but I'd been raised without any religion at all, so I came to it from a very different point of view than someone who'd been told a lot about what was in it and hadn't perused it personally.

For instance, the smiting-the-guy-who-touched-the-ark-accidentally incident is something that I would understand to be teaching the lesson that sometimes, with the very best of intentions and without even thinking, you can do something wrong, and you'll still suffer the consequences of that even though you didn't mean to do any harm. This is, I think, a useful lesson about the universe: sometimes shit happens and it's not your fault, but you're still going to hurt because of it. Because it's the Bible (and particularly the Old Testament) it's written in the voice of "God did X" when what they really mean was "X happened (and God allowed it.)"

(Frankly, your high school theology teacher wasn't very good at his/her job if THAT tripped him/her up.)

Anyway, I read the Bible and struggled and eventually came to terms with my faith, but I can certainly see the struggle coming out the other way. I'd argue for my interpretation, obviously, but this is probably neither the time nor the place for that.
posted by Scattercat at 9:34 PM on March 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

Very common. It happens a lot in seminary. It's pretty hard to read the Bible carefully and hold onto the "perfect, infallible book" view that a lot of folks have as their default. Miko is absolutely right that there are ways use the Bible as a spiritual resource while also reading it more critically.

Too tired to write more, but if you want to explore the topic in depth or would like to be pointed toward more resources, drop me a line. You can read the basics of my story here.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:35 PM on March 3, 2009

I don't think it would be very unusual for this to happen. It's sorta happened to me and some of my friends as we've grown up (we all were raised in the non-denominational, Christian faith and attended private Christian schools). I think what has happened to us as a result is that we haven't lost our faith, we just don't accept our faith for what we were once told it was. We've "evolved" in a sense to a way of reasoning that was founded on the core principles of all faiths (hope, love, putting others first, wisdom, sharing, etc, etc) but also take into account a whole lot of things that our Christian faith as we were taught it, didn't encompass (a much more diverse and elaborate system of ethical and moral reasoning... a bit less of the black & white stuff) ...

I still tell Christians I'm a Christian and I really really mean it. But here's thing: I don't think a lot of them really believe me.... because I'm also a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Scientist, an Agnostic and probably a few other things like that ... and I've put in the work necessary to learn about these other traditions. The only way I could accept a single, unified God would be if I could understand it/him/her. But in order for that to happen, I would actually be God... and I am way to f-d up, imperfect, and mortal to be GOD.

So yeah... I think what has happened to you is an indicator of a steady mind in which you're begin to leave some of the blindness of faith behind in exchange for the daunting and sometimes scary task of understanding more. So I think this is common for people who really read the Bible and ask themselves the hard questions while considering factors like historical time period the Bible was written in, culture of the the writers, society of the writers, etc.

Agnosticism is simply the middle ground in which you are humble, because maybe you don't actually know all of the dang answers about the great mystery that we're all trying to unravel.

Whatever happens, it's really important to understand that there are always Unknowns that are outside of your control... which is where your Christian faith (or whatever you'd like to call it) should come into play.
posted by eli_d at 9:36 PM on March 3, 2009

I became an atheist because I actually sat down and read the Bible one day. I was in a Southern Baptist environment though, with a strong emphasis on inerrancy, so at first I noticed the blatant contradictions (and the ridiculous mental hoop jumping the apologist arguments required to explain them). Once I realized that - combined with the sadistic nature of the Old Testament god and all the other good stuff in there that most people never actually read for themselves - I started to look at Christianity as a whole more objectively and came to realize I did not believe any of it.

This process took several years of course, but the Bible itself was the main reason.
posted by bradbane at 9:37 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal evidence, but this is what put me on the path to being a happy agnostic, too. (I sum up my faith as much good stuff out there to learn, and I can't stand to not embrace it all.)

At last I'd concluded that the bible is largely a man-made product.

This is not necessarily inconsistent with Christianity; you could yet find a church with people who wish to think critically about the inconsistencies, the controversies, the history of "the book" yet keep to certain tenets of Christian faith.
posted by desuetude at 9:39 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is not necessarily inconsistent with Christianity; you could yet find a church with people who wish to think critically about the inconsistencies, the controversies, the history of "the book" yet keep to certain tenets of Christian faith.

And if you do, could you please tell me about it? I've been looking for an intellectually-oriented discussion-friendly church for the longest time now.
posted by Scattercat at 9:43 PM on March 3, 2009

I can confirm this from personal experience, yes. But that doesn't mean that all is necessarily lost.

Let's start with what your premises imply: that there was something you had faith in, which was taught to you, almost certainly through your religion, and which was apparently meaningful to you. Now that you've gone and read the source material, you're having some serious doubts. So you need to ask yourself, has reading the Bible for yourself caused you to doubt the validity of the religious teachings you've received, the infallibility of the Bible itself, or both?

I spent some time in high school in a very active, very born-again youth group. My first inklings of doubt about what the youth group was teaching came when I was reading the book of James for myself. My group taught (incessantly, really) the "faith alone can save you" doctrine, which James calls bullshit on in no uncertain terms. I made a point about procuring a Catholic Bible which included the apocrypha for our meetings (this was a Methodist group) which then led me down the road of discovering why certain things were kept in and left out of the Bible, and what processes were used to determine that.

My doubt about the Bible came with my reading of and research into Revelations. This is a book which is essentially John's fever dream, vivid, lurid and unconfirmable by even Biblical standards, which happens to fit nicely at the end of the timeline of the Bible and end with a note about not adding or removing anything which lets ultra-literalists apply it to the whole tome. The truth about the Bible is that it was written and compiled by powerful individuals and was a fantastic political leadership tool. I cannot cite as to its fallibility, but I will still assert it.

However, as I said, all is not lost. Listen:

1. While I myself am an atheist, ask yourself this - if a group of men wrote a book, a long, compelling, history of the earth proclaiming God's hand in all things, which were published for the first time tomorrow, would that have any logical effect upon the question of whether God exists? How old would such a book have to be? How many followers would it have to have? Scholars may well prove that Francis Bacon wrote King Lear but that doesn't say anything about whether Shakespeare existed. I imagine if you were to read the Quran with a critical eye you would not feel the same sense of doubt, because the teachings of it did not form the basis for your belief in the first place.

2. Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. When I had my own atheistic/agnostic epiphany, it was softened a great deal by the knowledge that my father adhered to a philosophy of heaven and hell being earthly states, and that Christ's teachings in the Bible were signposts towards living a better life. Part of learning how the Bible was written and complied also means learning about how such messages were conveyed in that time, and spirituality was a primary medium for them. Both the Old Testament and the New have a lot to say, and with opened eyes, you have the chance to determine for yourself what is worthwhile wisdom to be gleaned from them.

I cannot suggest enough that you read Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle as soon as you can. Pay attention in particular to these two Bokononist "Calypsos" when you come to them:

"All of the truths I am about to tell you are total lies."

"Tiger gotta hunt / bird gotta fly / man gotta sit and wonder why, why, why / tiger gotta sleep / bird gotta land / man gotta tell himself he understand."

You've got a lot of excitement ahead of you, so I'd advise you not to think in the black and white of "if the Bible isn't true then none of it is worthwhile" and to also use this opportunity to take an active role in determining for yourself what you believe and how you wish to apply that to your life.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:49 PM on March 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

Anecdotally: Raised in a Bible-literalist church, but willing to accept a figurative interpretation, I gave up what was left of my faith very early on when I started looking into the history of Christianity in particular and religion in general.

But it's still one of my all-time favorite subjects to read and learn about. And that's why I'm a Unitarian Universalist.
posted by padraigin at 9:53 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

It happened to me, too, although my process of leaving the Christian faith took a very long time due to the number of close friendships that I knew would be strained when I left the faith. The Bible was one of the primary reasons - there are parts of it that are terribly cruel. Aside from the cruelties, it contradicts itself in many places and also is at odds with a lot of what we know about the world today.
posted by sherlockt at 9:56 PM on March 3, 2009

I'm an atheist, but I don't see how you make the jump from At last I'd concluded that the bible is largely a man-made product. to completely losing faith in the bible and turning agnostic.

Pretty much all modern religions are man-made in origin, but that doesn't invalidate the message of truth / morality system that are inherent in the religious belief. It helps that religious texts are read with a critical mind to separate the junks from the gems burried within.
posted by joewandy at 10:12 PM on March 3, 2009

Scattercat, I think he wanted to interpret it that way, but he actually went with something more like "God said not to touch it, and the guy touched it, so the guy fucking died." (So I guess he did have an answer; also, he did not swear like that). I remember him as a pretty thoughtful guy, but I agree, he should have got that one.

Because reading that story literally makes God sound like Saddam.
posted by world b free at 10:25 PM on March 3, 2009

The opposite can also happen. Not sure how illuminating this really is, as it's something of a commonplace. I had a friend in high school who was a much more committed atheist (I remain to this day a practicing Christian with agnostic tendencies) than I or our other friends. We all participated in a minor protest/prank against some religious intrusion into a public school. My pal even befriended uber-atheist Anne Gaylor. Then he met someone who persuaded him to come to a Bible study, and did you know that the Bible has many very interesting aspects if you just read it and that there are compelling lessons for the way we live today?

It may be more correct to relate this to other eye-opening experiences people tend to have at such-and-such an age. See: bildungsroman.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Genesis did it for me, especially having read the Illiad not long before. They seemed way too similar for one to be the basis of truth and the other to be all myth.

There was a bunch of other stuff too, but Genesis was a pretty big contributing factor.
posted by kjs4 at 11:18 PM on March 3, 2009

I'd like to think it could go either way. I'm not surprised you'd lose faith, but I wouldn't be surprised if your faith were strengthened. Certainly, there's volumes of works by Christian scholars (modern and ancient) who have read the Bible and remained staunch, honest apologists.
posted by sbutler at 11:21 PM on March 3, 2009

RE: world b free

It was definitely a troublesome passage. That, the whole book of Job, and the bit in Egypt in which (in some translations) it is God who hardens Pharoah's heart and makes him not give in to Moses' demands, thus necessitating more plagues; these all bothered me for a while until I was able to make sense of them. (Realizing that the phrasing was kind of faulty was part of it; I have lots of arguments with my Calvinist friend about the difference between God allowing something to happen versus God causing something to happen.)

(Oh, and if you really want to lose your faith, get a hardcore Calvinist to explain their interpretation of doctrine to you. "See, God arbitrarily chose these people to be saved from before time began. Everyone actually deserves to go to Hell, but this tiny minority will be given Heaven instead through absolutely no merit of their own, and without God choosing them they'd never have gone to Heaven at all. This is good because God did it, and therefore by definition it must be justice. Isn't God great?")

(Yes, I'm horribly twisting it. Let me emphasize that this argument with my friend has been going on for thirteen years now. :-P I'm being flippant at him more than any hypothetical Calvinists in the audience.)
posted by Scattercat at 11:23 PM on March 3, 2009

Genesis did it for me, especially having read the Illiad not long before. They seemed way too similar for one to be the basis of truth and the other to be all myth.

I would point out that in Catholic HS we were told Genesis is "sacred myth". Meaning, it's full of beautiful stories, and lessons about God and man, but it's not literally true. Or that what truth it contains need not contradict what science tells us about creation. If you read it as allegory, it does follow the general pattern of the big bang, solar system formation, and evolution.

Which just goes right back to what Sidhedevil said in the first comment.
posted by sbutler at 11:26 PM on March 3, 2009

That's what happened to me. It was the book Misquoting Jesus that really got me thinking. Good luck with your newfound perspective.
posted by andythebean at 11:41 PM on March 3, 2009

Dr. Ted Peters, author of God -- The World's Future, suggests that there are three stages of faith. These stages of faith are the first naivete, critical consciousness, and the second naivete. No stage is better or more advanced than another. They're just places on the road of faith.

In the first naivete, it's common for people to think that the text is literal. In critical consciousness, these views are challenged by having to view familiar things from more than one perspective. This can happen just from a critical reading of the Bible. Critical consciousness causes some people to either lose their faith or to become fundamentalist out of fear. This is perhaps one reason why fundamentalists use so much "battle" language. They feel that their faith is threatened. Questions like these arise:
What do you mean there are two creation stories that contradict each other?
What do you mean the Gospel stories don't agree completely with each other?
What do you mean Moses didn't write the first five books of the Bible?
What do you mean that many Bible stories parallel other civilization stories of the ancient near east such as Gilgamesh, Marduk and the Enuma Elish?

While many are challenged and question their faith when reading the Bible, other individuals thrive in their faith lives by moving through critical consciousness to the second naivete. The second naivete is a state where faith is still present but where it's accepted that the Bible does not have to be taken as literal, where it can be viewed from more than one perspective and still be accepted as valid. I've gone through critical consciousness and I still believe in Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity, at this point more deeply than ever.

It sounds like you have entered a state of critical consciousness and doubt. Critical consciousness does not have to be the end of your faith. If you are struggling with faith after reading the Bible, I might recommend Stephen King's Dark Tower series. "God" here is the creative will behind order in the universe, in King's imagination a singing rose. Believing in God doesn't have to mean believing the way you've always believed.
posted by SocialArgonaut at 12:54 AM on March 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, this seems to happen all the time, though if your church doesn't harp on inerrancy, I think it does not hit nearly as hard. I study 19th century faith and doubt, and you see some interesting stories.

Oftentimes, what you get is not a loss of faith, but a change of faith into something larger, more amorphous, and accepting of contradictions.

You might take a look at the essays of Emerson, in particular "The Divinity School Address". Emerson, before he writes this (through reading other bibles and through the application of German Higher Criticism, which is mostly attention to the Bible as a book with a human history).

He comes out of it with the belief that all human literary creation is more or less inspired, that Jesus was a poet who was misunderstood, and that religion has to come out of experiences and sentiments that we have developed and intuited of our own personal human experience. Not losing faith, to be sure, but moving it to an unfalsifiable or less-falsifiable ground.

See also, Walt Whitman.
posted by LucretiusJones at 5:47 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

And if you do, could you please tell me about it? I've been looking for an intellectually-oriented discussion-friendly church for the longest time now.
My church! Bellevue Presbyterian Church, in Gap, Pa.

I'm a recent convert to Christianity, having spent most of my adult life as an atheist. This is a fantastic church that welcomes inquisitive minds.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:00 AM on March 4, 2009

It happened to me as well. I've attended a Unitarian church a couple of times since that's been helpful in getting back a little bit. Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God also talks about this and she's hysterical as well.
posted by katyjack at 6:34 AM on March 4, 2009

I think this happens most often to people who have been raised in a fundamentalist, every-word-in-the-Bible-is-literally-true-or-none-of-it-is kind of religious environment. The problem is that some of the Bible is empirically falsifiable (like the earth being six thousand years old) so when people grow up and go to college and start thinking for themselves, they figure that out. They've been taught that the truth of the Bible is an all or nothing proposition, so they decide that none of it is true.

Fred Clark, as usual, has some good thoughts on this here.
posted by EarBucket at 6:44 AM on March 4, 2009

Best answer: The opposite can also happen.

That's what happened to me.

What happened to you isn't uncommon. A good friend of mine grew up in a fundamentalist environment and became a staunch atheist after college. It turned out that the brand of Christianity she grew up on didn't address the questions that developed as she got older. In college, she majored in early Judaism-Christianity and flipped her beliefs away from a fundamentalist background to an atheistic/agnostic one. Christianity, for most people, is not just a religion or a faith - different branches have different cultures, opinions, and approaches to life that certain critical ideas (and opinions) rub against like sandpaper. For perspective, realize that the current brand of Christian fundamentalism in the United States is a modern invention, developed 100 years ago as a reaction against historical critical examination of the bible, neo-scholasticism, and other trends that were then popular in college, seminaries, and intellectual circles in Europe and America. In some regards, Pentecostalism is also a reaction against this (although there are also heavy cultural components attached to this as well).

Now, it is quite possible to be extremely critical of the bible, how it was written, who wrote it, theological viewpoints, etc etc and still believe in it - the idea that there is a separation between scholarly criticism and faith is a fallacy. You can either look at what's happening to you as either a lose of your faith or a realization that your faith might not have been fully developed in the first place. Like the parable about building a house on sand - your previous faith was on sand and now the water has come. You can either decide that Christianity, belief, and faith are extremely narrowly defined to only be what you originally thought them to be and decide that your reading of the bible proves that Christianity and belief isn't real. Or you can decide that Christianity is bigger, and different, from what you originally thought and that by removing your pre-determined cultural, sociological, and personal opinion about what Christianity (as much as you can), you'll discover something quite different and more beautiful than you'd have thought possible.
posted by Stynxno at 6:56 AM on March 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

My mother read the Bible cover to cover in high school, and converted to an evangelical faith. She raised me in that faith; in high school I read the Bible cover to cover, a long with several of the commentaries written by the faith's "founder." By college, I reached your conclusion, and decided that God is too big to be smushed into one little book, or one little church. There were struggles, too. It's painful and confusing to lose a grasp on a faith that has been familiar, and it can alienate people formerly close to you. Ultimately, that's a growing pain that steers you towards maturity.
posted by motsque at 8:07 AM on March 4, 2009

my mennonite girlfriend went through a period where she described herself as an atheist. she came to reject the bible and god because of the inconsistencies of the bible, and the chauvinism of her church. but the primary feature of her atheism, "rejection" of god, implies the existence of god. she never actually became an athesist, just frustrated and let down by the church. she describes herself now as an agnostic, but she still believes in god and possibly the ressurection (but who knows for sure, right?)

my point is, it isn't necessary to completely abandon the faith because the book it's based on turns out to be bunk. i'm sure god wouldn't be bound by a simple book or be dictated to by a rogue pastor. he or she or it is larger than all that.

i say all this, of course, as a not-rejecting-god-because-he-doesn't-exist-so-there's-nothing-to-reject atheist...
posted by klanawa at 8:09 AM on March 4, 2009

Jesus said: "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free."

I'd suggest a reduction diet. Toss everything out except what Jesus Himself said. Then compare that to what Buddha taught. Coincidence? I don't think so. Great minds think alike.

Regardless of 'belief', there are still unknown unknowns, and those comprise far more of that which is, than the known knowns and known unknowns.

Ultimately, the Truth is written in your heart.
posted by Goofyy at 8:35 AM on March 4, 2009

Today's Fresh Air (NPR) was about just that. Bible scholar Bart Ehrman was more of an Evangelical literalist and, after studying the Bible from a historical perspective at Princeton, became an agnostic.
posted by parma at 10:54 AM on March 4, 2009

I was raised Southern Baptist. I now consider myself an atheist. However, I am one who recognizes that the possibility of a God can't completely be ruled out, but believes the possibility is close to zero.

I started questioning my faith when I was five or six years old, and finally left it completely when I went to college. Most of the people I knew from my high school and earlier years are still Christian after reading the Bible. Most of the people I knew from my (very liberal) college years are atheists/agnostics after reading the Bible. The last straw for me was a philosophy of religion course I took my freshman year. I highly recommend "Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion" by Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger. It discusses everything from the definitition of religion (and religion is much harder to define than one might suppose), to the nature of god, and to the proofs for and against god.

Also, I like Archibald MacLeish's "JB: A Poem in Verse." It's a play based on the story of Job. The money quote is "If God is God He is not good, if God is good He is not God; take the even, take the odd."
posted by mandapanda at 11:04 AM on March 4, 2009

ClaudiaCenter> This seems on topic -- Good Book: What I learned from reading the entire Bible. By David Plotz.

And along those lines, a discussion he had with Robert Wright.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 11:36 AM on March 4, 2009



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posted by heatherann at 11:36 AM on March 4, 2009

Today's Fresh Air (NPR) was about just that. Bible scholar Bart Ehrman was more of an Evangelical literalist and, after studying the Bible from a historical perspective at Princeton, became an agnostic.

I just caught that show and it was worth a listen - right on topic for this question.
posted by Miko at 6:32 PM on March 4, 2009

As someone said, don't throw the baby (God) out with the bathwater (the Bible) just because it didn't do for you what you thought it would do upon reading. Your problem is probably not with the Bible.

The Bible does not give us God. He existed a long time before we ever had any such thing. It makes no claims to, and it could never encompass Him or present the fullness of Him. I understand if you were disappointed upon reading it--it's not really set up to be an invigorating "read"--especially when you've felt the magnificence of God's presence in your life. How can a book--even The Book--capture . . . That?

Pray more, worship more, try to reconnect with God as God. Then maybe try the Bible again. But for God's sake don't "read" it like a book. While it's a poor analogy, you don't read a Chilton's auto guide cover to cover if you just want to know how to change your brake shoes. Just pick it up and flip around and read what strikes your fancy. I would suggest reading Acts. Darn interesting read.
posted by resurrexit at 10:12 PM on March 4, 2009

Yesterday on Fresh Air
posted by nax at 5:13 AM on March 5, 2009

Think about a picture of scenery taken with a digital camera. The colors are discretely incremented. Lines are jagged. The image has edges. If you zoom in too closely to any particular part, you're likely to find something that looks unnatural.

Is the picture a lie? No, it contains truth, but it is only as accurate as the means with which it represents reality. This, to me, is the Bible. It may well indeed have been inspired by God (I believe it to be so), but it was written down by men. I believe that it contains truth, but I recognize that is has places that must be factually incorrect.

I've heard the Bible called the roadmap to God. Keep that comparison in mind, as well. The map is there to help you, but ultimately your journey deals with what you find in the real world.
posted by _Skull_ at 8:01 AM on March 5, 2009

... that it has places ...
posted by _Skull_ at 8:02 AM on March 5, 2009

Consider that until recently (in the history of the Christian faith, that is) followers were not allowed to even read the Bible themselves. Interpretation of their so-called holy book was left to members of a caste a level above the regular followers. The first layman's translation was severely frowned upon for exactly the reason you have discovered.

As a lifelong atheist, this seems the only logical course of action for anybody not having grown up with the luxury of a superstition-free household. I hope your journey will continue to value reason above superstition.
posted by LanTao at 8:29 PM on March 12, 2009

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