Religious seekers tend to live their lives walking backwards; that is, they proceed by faith and not by sight. Too often, though, faith is the byproduct of the subconscious mind. Not possible, you might say. Well, consider that science says that at least 95% of our cognitive activity occurs in the subconscious mind (outside of our awareness).
Faith, then, is simply a belief – by definition it is not proof, as if there could ever be proof that God exists. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein best expressed that sentiment this way, “At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” In that regard, religious scriptures are beliefs, not truths. Scripture, however, might be considered by a believer to be the truth because they have faith in those writings. For example, Hindus have faith in their Bhagavad Gita, Judaism the Torah, Muslims the Q’uran and Christians have their Bible. To each group, their sacred writings are considered to be the truth about God, to the exclusion of all other religious writings and beliefs.
It’s a truism that man doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Nevertheless, he still claims to be certain. It’s what I call proof without certainty. We claim to know God even though as the Pascal Wager states, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible.” Plato, one of the great thinkers of all time, reasoned that, “Beyond all finite experiences and secondary causes, all laws, ideas and principles, there is an Intelligence or Mind, the first principle of all principles, the Supreme Idea on which all other ideas are grounded.” What’s important to note is that his idea of God does not apply to most people’s use of the terms the Creator or the Father but rather to what Plato would call a First Cause. Can we even contemplate what a First Cause might entail? Probably not, even if we walk backwards.
“God is a metaphor which transcends all levels of intellectual thought.”
– Joseph Campbell
Growing up in a Christian family, I was taught all the typical Christian values and beliefs. I accepted them, as most people do, without questioning them. After all, what did I know then about such things. Over time, I actually read the Bible and that’s when I discovered things that my minister apparently forgot to tell me. As well-known Christian pastor Brian McLaren said, “One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history – it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn church history.”
The Bible is the Word of God
The first thing that I remember being taught was that the Bible was the Word of God. For me, this is highly unlikely for a number of reasons including:
- The Bible is rather the self-proclaimed Word of God. There is no valid reason, outside of the Bible, to believe otherwise.
- Outside of Paul’s letters, no one really knows exactly who the writers of the various books of the Bible were. That makes the Bible the self-proclaimed Word of God written by unknown authors.
- The Bible was not written concurrent with the events/stories contained therein. Some of the stories in the Old Testament were written hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years after the fact (as was the case with the Genesis story). Even the New Testament gospels were written years later and therefore were not eye-witness testimony; neither were they even written by any of the disciples, despite the fact that the Anglicized version of their names are attributed to the gospels.
There is one and only one Christianity
My minister conveniently forgot to tell me about the diversity in Christianity, beginning with all of the different bibles. In addition, church dogma varies from denomination to denomination, with everyone wanting to define the Word of God their way. The Southern Baptists, for example, can’t even agree with the Baptists.
God was all loving and all good
All Christians have been taught that God is all loving and all good. What is de-emphasized is the Old Testament stories about God killing innocent women and children. Further, he was okay with slavery (see the Tenth Commandment). He also bragged about his great powers saying, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil. I the Lord do all these things (Isaiah 45:7).” As I’ve said before, please remind me why we pray to such a god.
Jesus was the messiah
Of course, my minister failed to mention that:
- Jesus was never named Immanuel, as required by Old Testament prophecy.
- Jesus could not have been a descendant of King David as required by prophecy since he was supposedly the by-product of a virgin birth, as Joseph was a descendant of King David but Mary wasn’t.
- Old Testament prophecy was a Jewish idea and, therefore, the concept of a messiah was a Jewish concept. According to Jewish tradition, a messiah had to be a real-life man (e.g. King David was considered to be a messiah) rather than a spiritual concept like the son of God. A Jewish messiah would be required to lead the Jewish people in overcoming their oppressors (in Jesus’ time – the Romans). Obviously, Jesus didn’t qualify in that regard.
Finally, and most importantly, my minister never told me that the god of the Old Testament couldn’t possibly have been the god of the New Testament! You see in the Old Testament, God was visible and talked to and interacted with mankind (e.g. with Adam and Eve, Abraham and Moses). However in the New Testament, Paul and John described God as spirit (invisible) and he never talked or appeared to anyone. Therefore, it was not possible for the God of the New Testament to have been in the Garden of Eden, or to even have given the Ten Commandments to Moses for that matter. It’s a big problem for Christianity – two gods but just one Prime Creator.
The underlying reason for this dilemma is that the Old Testament is essentially the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, whereas the New Testament is Christian scripture. As can be plainly seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the true origins of Christianity goes back to a Jewish group located at Qumran which was headed by James, the brother of Jesus. These people believed in living by the Torah (because they were Jewish and that was their heritage). Led by Paul, however, Christianity changed some of the historical and cultural Jewish beliefs including the observance of the Torah. For example, they took the Jewish messiah concept (which according to the Dead Sea Scrolls included not one but two messiahs – one a king descended from David and one a high priest from the line of Aaron) and morphed it into a universal savior for all men.
The bigger issue, however, was that the church fathers accepted Jewish scripture (the Old Testament) for their creation story and with it accepted Yahweh as God. The problem is that up until the time of the Babylonian exile (beginning in 597 BC) the Israelites were polytheistic worshipping Yahweh as their personal god (since their covenant with him made them the Chosen People) as well as worshipping many other lesser gods, as can be evidenced from Jewish scripture, archaeological findings and even the Old Testament itself. Incidentally, this concept of lesser gods was the belief of both the Gnostics and Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria. They believed that the visible God of the Old Testament was, in actuality, a lesser god, or god with a little “g” as I refer to him. That’s a rather inconvenient truth as Brian McLaren would say.
Perhaps, my minister simply “forgot” that the god of the Old Testament wasn’t actually the Prime Creator, especially since there was no convenient explanation that didn’t totally conflict with church dogma. In any event, sometimes it’s easier to forget than to face the truth.
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
– John 8:32