I have recently been part of a discussion where the question was asked “Where was God in the Holocaust?” The discussion went to and fro but one thing stood out for me in that conversation and it centered around whether I was Atheistic or Agnostic and also how I could have believed as a Christian and yet no longer believe. I define myself as agnostic for the record.
I think such discussions are incredibly healthy when done in a safe space. I first started talking of my spiritual journey in this post Somewhere in the Middle, a post that spawned a lot of interesting conversations offline and am ready to go to the next part of the journey. This post highlights the WHY I DON”T BELIEVE IN GOD as defined by Christianity (and any other religion for that matter).
Before I post I need to say the following:
1. This is my blog and my safe space.
2. I write from my own personal experience and with a tone of respect to both my family members and friends who are still Christians.
3. It is cathartic for me as part of my journey to write openly and frankly about this.
4. I will delete without a second thought those posts which I consider ad hominem (personal attacks) as opposed to those which argue the points put forward.
5. This will be a long read. Take time to digest it and read it as a whole before responding.
So with the same fervour I used when I was an evangelist I will write this post and look forward to the responses.
Who is God?
So as a former theology student (and not at seminary but in my own time and in church) I spent lots of time reading around who God is. Whether one called him Adonai, Elohim, Jehovah, El-Shaddai, Jesus or The Comforter. One of the things that amazed me when studying this was how many other fellow Christians either didn’t read this stuff for themselves or really wanted to go deep about the nature of God. (For Christians reading who maybe interested in the various name, have a read of this). It was easy to sing songs, pray, read the Bible or worship and talk about calling on the name of God, but for many getting to scratch the surface deeper was left in the hands of pastors, vicars and bishops. Rarely did I find the so called layperson who would be happy to openly go deeper on this. In many respects the deeper I studied this worried me that other than theology students others didn’t want to discuss it. You could always fill a concert but a Bible study? How is it that people were so easy to dismiss the questions around the nature of God as something beyond difficult, saying “it is beyond our realm of thinking” yet at the same time state they were sons and daughters of God? Or, Heirs to the kingdom and other Christian cliched phrases, what we called Christianese!
Why was the God of the Old Testament so vengeful getting his chosen people, a nomadic bunch of Hebrews, to go around slaying enemy countries killing their livestock, men, children and only keeping the virgin women for themselves? What was with this stoning of people who violated the Sabbath or had same sex relationships? How does this image of a omnibenevolent (ever loving) Father figure match up with one who would strike down his opponents at his whim? How is it that those who were inspired by a loving and considerate Creator pen words of guidance that condoned slavery, infanticide, kidnap and taking sexual advantage of women?
Whilst people could say this is the frailty of humans/mankind, when you have a holy book, which some see as innerrant, saying things like “I will take your wives [plural] while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.” or ” If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife“, there is something inherently wrong with that. In both my rational and emotional mind I am scared that I once accepted this just as a divine command which couldn’t be understood because I didn’t understand God.
However you cut it, that is some messed up thinking. Imagine if a sovereign nation did that today and claimed a divine mandate to do so?
Yet if God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent then essentially the same God who mandated that kind of widespread genocide, crime sprees, homophobia and deep seated misogyny is the same today as he was back then. You can’t have it that God is consistently the same then say “Oh that’s different because it is within an ancient cultural context.” If you are Almighty and Divine and can see all then you are beyond cultural whims. Given that the end part of the Bible condemns all those who do not worship the Christian God are condemned to some kind of hell fire and eternal torment leads me to believe that in essence nothing really changes.
So I asked who is this God. I find it hard to identify with someone or thing who on the one hand claims to be all loving and giving and then on the flip side throws his toys out the pram and wipes out all other nations (except descendants of the lineage of Jacob) who don’t kowtow to his request. This was the first part of the wall that started to crumble.
Further Questions on God
The second phase started when I began to critically think about the Trinity or the triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I always questioned the concept of the Trinity. How come 60% of the Bible only takes directly about a Father figure God? How is that the introduction of a further two God figures of a Son and a Holy Ghost/Spirit only emerge as prominent characters in the remaining 40% of the books?
Now harking back to the 60% of the Bible which is dominated by a Father God figure, the source of the Old Testament as it is known in Christianity is clearly Hebrew or Judaic in its origin. Whether from the Masoretic (Tanakh), Septuagint and Aquila texts, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the other less popular manuscripts, the cornerstone of the Old Testament concepts are by and large borrowed from Jews. In fact we know that the writers, prophets, apostles and other significant persons of authority who penned the New Testament were all Jewish and lent heavily from the writings of the Tanakh. That being the case it then becomes incredibly curious to explore why there are so many inconsistencies in both interpretation and spiritual application between Christian and Jewish notions of God.
For example Jews don’t believe in either Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Period.
Why is this ? How can those whose writings that set up the core foundation of who God is in the Christian tradition not share this? Why did Early church Fathers like Augustine say that you have to believe this concept first? To be honest the Christian tradition is still not settled on this, from Unitarians to Sabellianists to Arianists who dismiss that God is more than one singular person (in line with other monotheists like Judaism and Islam) to those who believe that Jesus is God. Which brings me to my next point.
When my journey took me to that space where I only believed in one God I looked at the role of Jesus. Was he man? Was he God? Was he both?
Is Jesus God?
One of the core elements of Protestant Christians who I grew up with and fellowshipped was the divinity of Jesus. The doctrine of salvation or saving people from sins and allowing them to “partake in divinity” is central to that brand of Christianity. If Jesus was a human then that meant that he was the living example for others to follow and overcome ‘sin’. If he was God then he had power to rescue us.
Now according to divine text Jesus did not make it simple. On the one hand he would say “I and my Father are one”. That royally ticked of the Jews who threatened to stone him. Or ” Before Abraham was, I am.” Alluding to a title for God in the Old Testament. Then he would respond in the another state by saying “My Father is greater than I.” and “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” or the craftily rhetorical “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God”.
Theologians and lay persons have pored over these texts for long and still come to different conclusions. For me personally I resigned to seeing Jesus as a good bloke who lived on this earth and felt he was divine. For me too much evidence within the Bible, and remember when discussing his divinity the sole source of reference has been the Bible, showed this not to be case. Whilst that caused consternation amongst some of my peers in Church I was happy to break it down in English, Koine, Aramaic or Hebrew why I believed he was no more than a mere man who was elevated to something more around the Council of Nicea and ever since then.
On the Bible
The final step of my journey thus far centered around the validity and inerrancy of the Bible. For me the make or break of this centered around how well the Bible, as a collection of books and final authority, could muster up to both internal and external scrutiny. For me this was the most painful and emotional part of the journey because I figured if this could not hold the mustard I was on my way out. My mind finds it hard to comprehend basing the largest part of my spiritual being that made sense.
So I stepped back a bit. I figured that under scrutiny if the Bible is the map that would direct me as to the why, the what and the how should also map up. If it is the pointer to meaning in my life, the reason why I pray, the foundation of why I and those around me believed in it, then it should be both historically and scientifically supportive. I also was cognizant of the fact metaphor, legend, myth and parallelism were used as vehicles for truth. So let’s go with some questions that came up immediately:
1. So is creation a legend or literal six days of world creation?
2. Where did the lineage for Adam and Eve’s children come from without it being incest? And if we dismiss that what about Noah and his family?
3. Talking of Noah how come no other culture has a record of global flood, and especially those communities who have histories longer than the 6000 years+ if the creation story is taken literally?
4. How come there are so many contradictions?
5. Did Job exist? Or is it just a metaphor?
6. How can Jesus be God and die, when God is eternal?
I tested these and many concepts of scripture and in most cases they came up wanting. I found it easy, a bit too easy actually, approach these questions with an open mind and realise that I could either explain them away within the context of scripture along
I felt hollow and even in conversations with others both those who remained Christian and those who were on different journeys I really started to doubt the validity of believing in the God of the Bible. This was not to take away from any of my friends who remained as Christian but I could not marry up the the concept of an all powerful Creator external as promoted in holy scripture as one being so inconsistent.
The leap of faith to embracing the supernatural was something I had no problems with for others. Thing is this. I realised that like with great magicians and illusionists at best there was always an explanation to what seems like bafflement to others. The puzzle, for me to accept it as a universal truth, would have to be complete and yet there were so many glaring contradictions. If so many questions remained unanswered why would this be so? How can you claim to have a personal relationship with someone who you have never seen, audibly heard of or been in their presence?
The final straw was being able to read wider than the Bible or associated religious texts. If someone told me that people of African descent were inferior and used the Bell Curve as the holy grail (if you pardon the pun) as the main source to defend it, it would worry me greatly that they did this. In order to challenge or understand it I would both read the book and all other texts which either support or decry it in order to come to a conclusion and so this is what I did around Christianity.
I delved into texts on Philosophy. Comparative Religion. Atheism and Agnosticm. I listened to debates from creationists, atheists, intelligent design, evolutionists and historical texts. I discovered things like the Omnipotence (Stone) Paradox and one of the most powerful paradoxes that put things into perspective. The Epicurean Paradox. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Why I Don’t Believe in Your God
Coming back full circle, my journey had it’s seed sown over 15 years ago when I challenged someone in Church over some texts and extra biblical comments that were used to impose some kind of spiritual authority. The pastor dismissed me and refused to engage in dialogue saying that as an influential speaker and youth worker I could cause untold damage to those under my influence.Why was he afraid to answer me? This bothered me for some time and ten years ago is when I started to read in earnest.
I will be honest I first dismissed any texts that undermined the pillars of my faith. I tried to go with an open mind but was scared with the reaction it would have on my family when by all intents and purposes someone who was a massive advocate for Christianity would turncoat and preach a different gospel as it were.
But then I could not ignore the niggling questions in the back of my mind which so many summarily dismissed as something that only God knows.
As a parent I understand the analogy that some things as a child you are not ready to process yet, but I am a grown man and if any adult tells me that I cannot understand something and it’s beyond my intelligence sets alarm bells ringing. I think that I live and breathe by the bank of my experiences and the experiences of others to help make the best decisions about how I live my life. That Christianity and other major religions deflect such experiences to a higher power is problematic for me.
- Problematic in that Christianity happily dismiss similar concepts, notions or legends as unreal (jinns, fairies, leprechauns, vampires, zombies) but yet embrace angels, demons, translated prophets and a supreme God.
- Problematic in that Christianity like many other religions is at its core misogynist and is told through the partriarchal and misogynist lens of the world. God is male. Men are the head. Women should submit and have no authority. As a father that is one model of the world that I don’t want my daughters to grow up with. Or for my wife to feel inferior to me because of this.
- Problematic in how Christianity’s limited notions of sexuality and love. The suffering and disconnect those who are part of or have been part of a fellowship that don’t subscribe to the hetero normative context of the faith. That being gay, bisexual or transsexual is somehow something that needs to be purged or corrected.
- Problematic in the huge assumption that Christianity thinks it has a cornerstone on universal truths in superiority to any other beliefs. And just because they give credence and social proofing to the writings of a nomadic travelling desert tribe some two to four thousand years ago and want to apply those principles to societies. A bit like Islam does with its imposition that the Koran only being truly read in the Arabic dialect that Mohammed had. Christians would dismiss that but how different is it when it comes to scriptural thinking.
- Problematic in that such a belief system has supported the cause of slavery and in many cases colonial(post colonial) thinking for many people of colour the world over.
- Problematic that swathes of people would defer present happiness and achievement for a future nirvana rather than enjoy the present. Often losing family and friends to as they see this as part of divine mandate.
- Problematic in that too many Christians don’t think a valid moral code, global or local, can exist outside of the faith.
- Problematic in that a faith that suggests it supports free will has visions of a new earth where that free will cannot be exercised because all have been told the possibility of sin or erring cannot happen. Doesn’t sound like choice to me.
It is a given that Christianity affords many of its adherents a strong sense of community. The collective agreement also helps with health and it cannot be argued that the charitable arms of Churches have established presence in areas that could benefit from outside help. It has also been responsible for producing some of the most beautiful art and literature based on its texts and stories. It has also as I mentioned been equally problematic as I mentioned.
For me I don’t dismiss the fact there could be a higher power. Of course they may be but if someone presupposes that the onus is on them to prove so not for me to disprove it. However if such a higher power falls short of the questions I have asked from the Epicurean Paradox to the absence of divine intervention in the Slave Trade, Nazi Holocaust, Rwandan Genocide where so many would have called out for God, I have a real problem with it.
I require more than circumstantial evidence in answers to prayer. I require actual contact with those who I say I have a relationship with. I require a just supernatural power to demonstrate such justice that is consistent with the acceptance of love and fairness. I have looked at the Christian God and found him(them) in that sense to be wanting.
So for my Christian friends this is Why I Don’t Believe in Your God. Coffee?