I’ve had quite the religious adventure in my short nineteen years. I grew up primarily Anglican/Episcopalian, but my family also had phases in the Mennonite and Russian Orthodox church. In recent years, I have spent time in Baptist, charismatic, and nondenominational congregations.
The challenge is finding a congregation where I fit in, where I am free to express my struggles, doubts, opinions, and passions. I want a church where there are no trigger words. I want to be able to say dinosaur, evolution, feminism, and gay without fear of being berated. And most importantly, want to be free to doubt.
Every Christian who truly seeks to understand his faith will at some point have doubts. Those who do not are either extremely stubborn or naive. Sadly, most Christian churches do not provide a safe place for doubters and seekers. There is immense pressure to believe, and if you don’t believe, then maybe you’re not a real Christian. Maybe you only thought you were saved. But no matter how many times a person prays that salvation prayer, the facts that shake their faith will still be there.
Most people who goes to seminar are required to take a Bible class that examines scripture from a historical perspective. The fluff is taken out, and tough realities are addressed. The reality is, the Bible is not inerrant. The Gospel writers are not who we think they are. Moses may not have existed. Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. And this is only the beginning.
And yet, supposedly educated preachers continue to teach that the Bible is completely inspired by God and is utterly inerrant. Such a perspective is either ignorant or a lie.
During my time in contemporary churches, I was taught many of the excuses that are given for the Bible’s inconsistencies, many of which make perfect sense. For example, I was taught that Judas hanged himself, his body hung there for a long period of time, and then eventually fell to the ground and broke open. This is a very sensible way to explain the contrasting accounts of Judas’ death. But not all inconsistencies can be so easily and sensibly explained away. For example, the Gospel of Mark clearly states that Jesus was silent during his trial and execution, and he does not seem to understand why he must suffer and die. In Luke, Jesus speaks quite a lot and seems to be completely in control of the situation. Each account has an individual meaning and purpose, but there is no way to know what actually happened.
We do not have the original copies of the books of the Bible. The accounts were passed down through oral tradition long before they were written down. Oral tales are told differently depending on who tells them. When they were finally written down, the stories that had already evolved through the years were changed here and there by the scribes. Every change was made for a reason. The differences seen are a result of the circumstances of the individual writers and the messages they are trying to present. The inconsistencies do not necessarily make the Bible irrelevant, but they do justify skepticism about what actually happened. And when a person who has been taught their whole life that the Bible is inerrant and historical realizes the truth, it can be detrimental to his faith.
Many churches bury the facts deep, deep down in order to prevent the congregations from doubting and falling away. When I began to uncover these hidden facts, I felt like I had been lied to my whole life. I wanted to become an atheist. There simply was not enough evidence, and there wasn’t enough room to ask questions in a church where the only ministry to doubters and seekers was pressured conversion. These churches miss the point.
Faith is not naivety or ignorance. Faith is knowing the facts and fallacies and choosing to keep one’s belief regardless. Faith is saying that one’s religion is a meaningful and personal experience that impacts one’s life to the extent that it is worth being observed regardless of the evidence. True believers stay with their faith not because it is absolutely true and infallible, but because it makes a difference. If this is the case, doubt should be encouraged. After all, is faith in the absence of doubt really faith?
Suggested reading: Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman. http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Interrupted-Revealing-Hidden-Contradictions/dp/0061173940