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With or Without God

I finished reading Gretta Vosper’s With or Without God last week, and I can’t stop thinking about it.  If we admit that humankind is evolving just as everything else is, then we need to assess where we’re at (Vosper’s contention is the church) and make some changes, based on what we know to be true now.  As you may have already figured out already, I don’t believe that truth stems from God and only God.  [See my podcast Episode 17: Do You Have To Be Religious or Spiritual To Be Moral?]  In fact I’m not sure God exists (at least in the way we’ve all created him to be).  I wouldn’t flinch, in the least, if “God” is a force, a presence, a something that I don’t understand…but perfect?  omniscient?  personal?  I’m not so sure.  If you look at our religious history, we’ve slowly concocted that vision over time.  We just don’t know it, because we haven’t (typically) done our research.

Well, I have.  Done my research.  Or should I say, I’m in the midst of it.  And will continue to be in the midst of it, for I want to continue learning as long as I live.

Would it shock you to know that it’s common understanding in seminaries today (well, not all seminaries!) that Elohim, the one true God, came from the Canaan god El?  That would make sense, since the Israelites (supposedly, although there’s little proof of this) took over the Canaanites.  What little history we have to go on, it looks more like the Israelites infiltrated Canaan, not conquered them.  [See Robert Wright's great explanation of this in The Evolution of God.]  And there’s quite enough evidence in the Old Testament or Torah that the Israelites were polytheistic before they were monotheistic.

So, rather than do a review of Vosper’s book, I’m going to highlight a couple of passages, so you can see what I’m chewing on this week.  If you’re trekking the same journey I am, read the book.  It’ll change your perspective…and give you a vocabulary to express what you’ve been feeling all along.

Vosper pulls no punches.  She says the church is very quickly becoming obsolete, because we’ve been stuck in the mire created by our ancestors.  I agree.  But I’ve thought that for a while now.  Not a popular opinion around people who are still going to church.  It’s scary when you start naming things for what they are.  It’s scary when you think you’ve based your whole life on something that might not be entirely true.  It’s scary.  Period.  But invigorating.  Exciting.  Because if you face the results of your research and reading, you are free to see “God” as something different.  You are free not to see God.

That’s what this book is about—living in the current paradigm, being progressive enough to let go of the beliefs and traditions to which we’ve had to tip our hats and curtsy in the past but which can no longer prevail in our contemporary world.  It is about finding a way to be a church that knows its past but respects the present enough to leave the past where it belongs and not use it as the litmus test for any new idea we might want to propose….And so the church, freed from its absolute and supernatural claims with which it has obligated its members, would be able to deliver a clear message of justice and compassion and play a dynamic role in the mending and recreation of a sustainable social world and a planet with which we might live in right relationship.

The average North American has not followed the conversations that have taken place within academia; many do not know that most contemporary scholarship has undermined the classic claims of Christianity and they do not care.  For them, the Bible is the Word of God. God is God when they need him and pretty much not an issue when they don’t.

Are we really nourished only by our past—the idea of slavery, an ethic of self-revulsion, the subjugation of women, incest, and misogyny?

The church is also being called to account by others who have noted that the defense of a document’s truth cannot be found exclusively within itself and demand that the church acknowledge it circuitous reasoning.  It is called to account by those who have sifted through the sands of the Middle East, eager to find some kind of proof for the burden of both testaments, and who have found, once those sands have filtered through their fingers, few grains of fact remaining.

And I’m suggesting that we boldly, comfortably, and confidently write our own sacred wisdom again, this time gleaning from scripture all that is life-enhancing—but none that is not—discovering new and not so new spiritual expressions that come to us from other traditions and ideologies and stretching ourselves to seek new sources of inspiration.

It is crucial that we peel away the interventionist deity concept from our belief systems and face reality.  We are the origin of blessing and curse in our world, not some otherworldly deity—not in Christianity, not in Judaism, not in Hinduism, not in Islam, not anywhere.

Can someone’s concept of a guiding, loving God be a source of help to them in difficult situations?  Absolutely.  Does everyone experience help in this way?  Of course not.  Should the church declare and guarantee not only that an omnipotent, omniscient God will help everyone in this same way (when clearly it does not) but that everyone should seek guidance from it?  Absolutely not.

Truth, what each of us means by that, is available to us everywhere, and one cannot be the judge of what another finds to be the central core of the truth he or she follows.  We simply cannot fully see the world from another’s perspective….But faced with the possibilities of living in such a relativist world, we have reason to be scared.  If we embed in our societies the individual’s right to pursue any spiritual path, we must be prepared for whatever direction that path takes, and I’m not sure we are ready for that….Some choices you may agree with; others you would outright reject.  But we would have to grant safe passage to a whole host of behaviours, prejudices, and rituals that would be considered consistent with whatever an individual believed to be an integral part of his or her spiritual path.

On a Christian worldview and how everything about it can be contested:

God created the universe and everything in it.  The second is that the Bible is TAWOGFAT (the authoritative word of God for all time).  The third is that we, as we are, are unworthy of God’s love.  The fourth is that Jesus is the one and only Son of God come to Earth to live and die for us.  The fifth is that we can be forgiven our sinful natures by believing Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  And on and on.  Over the centuries, many things have been nailed to the post and used to establish the orthodox Christian worldview.  But those who have even a rudimentary understanding of astronomy, science, history, anthropology, archaeology, or any number of disciplines, who have read the Bible and examined it with the help of critical contemporary scholars, and who have applied critical thinking to the basic tenets of Christianity will end up challenging almost every item on the post, right down to the concept of God it presents.

To get to the monotheistic god of Christianity, it is generally accepted that we first had to work our way through the belief that animals, objects (such as the imaginary spear or blue stones), and people we knew and loved had supernatural powers, and then that multiple otherworldly gods had their divine hands in the mire of mortal matters.  The emergence of the single, unified God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam was a late development in the evolution of belief.  And true to the nature of evolution, there is no reason to assume that the evolution of belief will not further refine the God we in the West have been raised to revere.

[Circuitous reasoning] goes like this: How do we know God exists?  Because it says so in the Bible.  Of course, any self-respecting Christians will be ready for the question their response will no doubt elicit: How do we know the Bible is true?  The answer, almost without fail, will be: Because God says so.  So we move to the next question: How do we know God is telling the truth?  And the final answer is: Because it says so in the Bible.  A perfect circle.

It is not the Bible that must go; rather, it is the Word of God that must go.  We do not, any of us—whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, Baha’I, Confucian, Jain, any of us—have a corner on what the word of God is, on what religious beliefs are universally authoritative for humankind.  When the Bible is no longer seen as the authoritative word of God, it takes on a completely different aura.  We are freed to see it as it is.  In that light, some of it can be seen as poetry and studied, memorized, and assessed as such.

But we find that we are now standing at the precipice created by our own arrogance and desire for self-gratification.  Pointing to Jesus and telling people that he is our salvation is just not going to work.  His words are dead to many people.  The world has changed.  The words don’t make sense any more, and shouldn’t.

A heretic is someone who does not ascribe to what is considered the accepted norm.  Every instance of progress human history has been the result of heretical thinking.  Think about it.

Once our idea of the Bible shifts away from its being TAWOGFAT, everything in it is up for grabs.  Everything.  That means just what it says.  Everything.  It’s not that there aren’t good stories or dramas we can use metaphorically to challenge ourselves and set us back on the right path.  It’s that we can’t say that anything those stories say or imply is factually true.  It may be, but all we can really say about it is just that; it may be.  There are no definitive answers.

Those who have been enveloped within the safety of the evangelical world, however, are giving up a worldview that has ordered a much larger portion of their lives.  Social activities, music, friends, and life-goals have often been nurtured by and synchronized with their beliefs.  Questions present a very real threat to everything they have ever known and understood to be true.  Within some religious groups, questions bring on efforts by others in the community to reinforce the established belief system.  Friends and family members try to bring the individual back into the fold.  Those who remain unmoved can be labeled apostates, permanently disqualified from the eternal life that came with their former belief.  As belief crumbles, often family ties, friends, and profession also turn to dust.  Loss is incredible.  Isolation can be frighteningly huge.

I’ve included that last quote, because this is what I hear most—from friends, from readers, from acquaintances.  The loneliness that comes from thinking outside the box.  Yes.  You will feel alone at times.  You will feel abandoned.  You will be labeled a heretic.  You will have family members who will suddenly decide your demise is their concern (why now and not before?).

You will need to find others who are asking questions.  You will need to find an open-minded community that can (and will) wrestle through the questions with you.  Don’t worry about anyone else’s journey but yours.  You are fighting for the one life you can save, as Mary Oliver says.

If you read Vosper’s book, you’ll see that she has great suggestions for the church, should they want to be seen as relevant in today’s world.  Really, though, she says church is simply about community—about people of all beliefs who can come to a safe place where questions are allowed, where people can worship as they choose, where truth (the larger Truth) is explored.  This includes gender neutral language.  This includes non-theistic language that everyone can relate to.  And it requires renaming the word “God.”  It’s too messy a word.  We’ve attached too many bad things to it.  So why not use a different word?  Let’s start anew.  And if this sounds confusing, it isn’t, once you see what she means.

I think the word church needs to go, too.  Too many negative connotations to so many people.  What about “salon” or “gathering”—something that represents a vibrant and thinking and loving community, made up of people of all faiths (or none), people with various skills, people who want to figure out how to live and serve in this new world?

Many people going to church feel their church fits this description, and that’s quite all right.  But I’d like to suggest to those in the church, those who are comfortable in their “my way is the right way” beliefs, to do some research, to start asking some of the tough questions.  If you do, you’ll be surprised at what you dig up.  Especially if you’re reading from disparate sources (atheistic, archaeological, philosophical, scientific, psychological, historical, etc.).  There’s abundant knowledge out there that you haven’t tapped into, if you’re not in a quandary about your belief system.  Either that, or you’ve grown comfortable and want to stay there.  And I’ll concede that that’s your choice.

I’m here with you, no matter what.  I’ll keep asking the questions, if you’ll keep reading.  Silly me, what am I saying?  I’ll keep asking them no matter if you tune in or not.  But I’m happy to have you here.

Episode 24 of Living the Question’s Podcast is up.  “Where Do You Go When You Need Emotional Refuge?”

[Post image: Sing a New Song 2 by sraburton on stock.xchng]

30 Comments


  1. Renae C
    Aug 02, 2011

    Interesting stuff Elissa. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here a bit; but I am struggling to figure out how to wrap words around the concepts swirling around in my head and my heart.

    I think there are a significant number of people within the system of organized religion today that HAVE done the homework and that ARE asking the questions. But somehow, a rationalistic, scientific, evolutionary perspective that organizes only organizes around issues of social justice and that denies the existence of something beyond themselves misses as badly on one side as buying into traditional Christianity misses on the other.

    I do not argue the scientific evidence, although I do contend there is much we still do not know. And I do not dispute that evangelical Christianity with it’s insular thinking and unquestioned belief in the impossible does more harm than good. But I am compelled by my personal experience of the numinous to find some way to engage with my whole self, not just my head.

    That engagement can be talked about in all kinds of terms: psychological, scientific, social evolutionary theory, etc etc etc. But sometimes, the language of religion is the only language that fits. There is a reason that humans have formed religious communities from the beginning of time, and seeing that religious impulse only as primitive and a lower rung on the evolutionary ladder that needs to be overcome by the rationalistic, scientific, atheistic paradigm is a much a false dichotomy as the religiously fervent saying their way is the only way to truth.

    For me, it’s about holding paradox. About allowing more than one thing to be true at a time. About acknowledging the evidence but also acknowledging my personal experience of the numinous and sacred. Sometimes the tension stretches me until I think I will break, but for me, moving into the hard science approach is as dry and dangerous as staying where I was. The answer for me lies in figuring out how to hold that tension with integrity.

    I am rambling, because I am struggling to articulate something that becomes ever more difficult to articulate. Because for me in my own personal journey, the questions that lead me away from the blind belief work in tandem with an ever deeper recognition of something bigger than myself. And that recognition keeps me holding the tension.


    • Elissa
      Aug 02, 2011

      Renae,

      I’m so glad you’ve played devil’s advocate, but I also know that you see “God” as different from what most of my family and friends might hold “him” as. So, there’s that.

      I think what Vosper is saying (and I hope I’m staying true to her intention) is that there needs to be a wider net thrown for those who don’t think Jesus is the only answer. [The mere fact that so many factions think they have the one true way is reason enough to disprove all of them.] She’s more understanding than I, in that she still feels church is relevant. Note that I know church IS important to some people (for community, for comfort, for promises of eternal life, etc.). I think the dangerous thing is that some people in the church would do everything to support the TRUTH as they know it (i.e, only God or the Bible), even if it goes contrary to what they really think.

      Sam Harris uses a great example. In the Koran, it says to whip your wife if she does such-and-such. Since the Koran cannot be contested (it’s a sacred book), it has to be made relevant for today’s world. So, people begin to see how they might do that. Let’s see. Maybe it means to lightly stroke her face with tiny sticks, maybe in a ceremonial way. Maybe it means to….you get my point. No, it meant to WHIP her. It’s as though they aren’t willing to admit that this is not how we treat people. They should forget the text and do what’s right.

      We’ve (as Christians) done that over and over again with the Bible, too.

      As far as spirituality goes…allowing the mystery to exist, which DOES create tension…you’d be surprised to learn (maybe) that many atheists and agnostics feel the same. Some say, openly, that they are skeptical God-seekers. They are seeking, and they will never slam the door shut, because they’re waiting for God to show his face. And I know that many Christians would retort that the scientists are blind (“God’s RIGHT HERE, after all!), but much of our spiritual experiences can be explained by neuroscience. That fact does not diminish the experience. It simply explains it in a different way than a religious person might, so who’s right? There’s no need to be alarmed that you’ll be all head and no heart, if you know what I mean. I understand, though, you don’t want the mystery of your experience to be diagrammed out for you. LOL.

      I understand what you mean when you say, “…moving into the hard science approach is as dry and dangerous as staying where I was,” because I used to believe that, but I no longer understand that argument. Science is beautiful and amazing and just as awe-inspiring as the religious language in my past. It’s not dry at all.

      I, too, am not slamming the door shut, for I can never know everything, but there needs to be a conversation about WHY religious language meets needs, WHY religious language has hurt so many people…and if there’s a better way. Just because millions of people believe something doesn’t mean it’s right. And that’s a difficult concept to wrap our heads around.

      Although I might say that science and reason explain things better for me, I don’t think Vosper is saying that. I think she still wants everyone together (in a church-like setting) but “worshipping” in their own way, finding their own way to truth…she wants the church to be that place where they can find TRUTH…truth that might be in the Bible or not. After all, there’s lots of truth in the world, and it doesn’t all reside in the Bible. But then again, many people would disagree on that last point.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, Renae…I really appreciate it! xo


      • Renae C
        Aug 02, 2011

        I may have to add this to my infinite stack of reading….(ugh the pile just keeps growing!)

        You are right about my concept of the divine – thus my disincliniation to even use the word God.

        And you are right about the damage caused by the rigid belief system that sees Jesus, as conceptualized by a significant portion of the evangelical community, as the only way to truth — no matter how many people believe it. For that matter, damage is caused by any religious system that purports to be the ONLY way.

        And you are right about the beauty of science – and I probably mischaracterized the scientific approach in my long response.

        I guess one of the things I was trying to say is that choosing to walk away from religious systems altogether is not the only choice for those who question. And that not everyone who stays does so solely for social reasons even while their system of beliefs is shifting significantly. The reform Vosper is advocating is going to have to be supported from within the system as well as challenging the old beliefs from without.


        • Elissa
          Aug 02, 2011

          Yes, I agree with you. When you go on a seeking adventure, it could take you in numerous, disparate directions, and not all of those paths lead you away from the church. You’re absolutely correct about that. And yes, any kind of drastic reform, as Vosper is suggesting, will have to come from the preaching staff, as well as from the laity (and the wider realm of Christian academia). I think that was her point, although not many of my quotes (from the book) indicated that.

  2. [...] will be my next book. Thanks to Elissa Elliot for her post on this [...]


  3. Don Rogers
    Aug 02, 2011

    This is my next book. You know me too well (and we’ve never met! I would love to change that someday.)! Just a few comments:

    “The average North American has not followed the conversations that have taken place within academia; many do not know that most contemporary scholarship has undermined the classic claims of Christianity and they do not care”

    ABSOLUTELY! I have been trying to tell my friends this for a long time.

    “I’ve included that last quote, because this is what I hear most—from friends, from readers, from acquaintances. The loneliness that comes from thinking outside the box. ”

    I can fully attest to that!

    “Would it shock you to know that it’s common understanding in seminaries today (well, not all seminaries!) that Elohim, the one true God, came from the Canaan god El?”

    You have been doing your homework (research)!

    Thanks so, so much for this post. I spent time with three hometown friends on Sunday morning at breakfast discussing this journey of discovery that all four of us are on. Their feeling is exactly the same as you have mentioned here. They were all Southern Baptist. Need I say more. I don’t need the social aspect that keeps many Christians in the church. Neither do they! All I need are a few who are willing to ask questions, who are willing to venture out to the edges of belief, then to discuss the same. I hope to meet with them with some regularity even though they are ninety miles away. Thanks again for introducing me to this author.


    • Elissa
      Aug 02, 2011

      Oh, Don, I hear you. This past weekend I had to deal with some family concerns over these very issues. This whole questioning thing is equivalent to coming out of the closet, at least in the circles we’ve both run in.

      I wish you lived closer. In the meantime, we’ll keep these conversations up. I’m willing to say “I don’t know,” but I also can’t ignore my research. The difficulty lies in talking to others about it. I wouldn’t have understood myself five years ago, because I had to go through the process of reading and research, so how on earth can I get others to see how wonderful all this is, if it took me THAT long to get here? LOL.

      Let me know what you think of the book, once you’ve read it. xo


      • Don Rogers
        Aug 03, 2011

        Elissa- Check out my blog. Dr. James McGrath, “Exploring Our Matrix”, commented about review this book about three years ago. He links to that review in his comment. I think you’d like reading it.


        • Elissa
          Aug 03, 2011

          Don,

          What a wonderful review that stayed true to what Vosper intended! Thank you for sharing.

          I’ll include the link here (for others): http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/06/review-of-gretta-vosper-with-or-without.html

          I think the tension in these topics is obvious, and it’s so refreshing to hash it out with others who want to figure these things out. I don’t understand how we can call ourselves Christians, though, if we don’t believe in the basic tenets of Christianity—namely the divinity of Jesus, how we see “God,” etc. I know we WANT to be included, but I’m thinking that the word “Christian” needs to change, too, if we’re growing into a new knowledge. What do you think? Of course, we’re labelers (as people are wont to do), and maybe that’s not necessary, except when people ask you WHAT YOU ARE. LOL.


  4. Matt Lien
    Aug 02, 2011

    “Truth, what each of us means by that, is available to us everywhere, and one cannot be the judge of what another finds to be the central core of the truth he or she follows. We simply cannot fully see the world from another’s perspective….But faced with the possibilities of living in such a relativist world, we have reason to be scared. If we embed in our societies the individual’s right to pursue any spiritual path, we must be prepared for whatever direction that path takes, and I’m not sure we are ready for that….Some choices you may agree with; others you would outright reject. But we would have to grant safe passage to a whole host of behaviours, prejudices, and rituals that would be considered consistent with whatever an individual believed to be an integral part of his or her spiritual path.”

    There is but one truth. Not many. We live life believing certain truths every day. We believe gravity will hold us on the surface of this planet. We believe that the laws of physics and aerodynamics are true when we fly. Of course people perceive the world with a different set of eyes than our own. If we rely on our own feelings to define truth then we are destined to stumble about in the dark seeking yet never finding. never. If each person’s moral compass is the one within themselves than wrong becomes right and right becomes wrong very quickly.

    What do I believe truth is? Truth is God’s perception of reality. Not mine. The more I seek God and understand who He is, the more I understand what is true. He sets the moral foundation for me.

    I see people making God in their own image. Conforming and molding God like He’s a piece of clay to fit their own views. Molding Him the way they want because frankly they just don’t like how He conducts business and how he interferes in their life and conscience.

    For a an invisible guy that they don’t believe exists, they sure spend hours writing about Him and mocking his followers. I am not judging. I just write what I observe. I don’t expect anyone to change their point of view on a poorly written post either but I thought I should say something.

    I have the answers to life if anyone wants to know them. My email is lienmatt@gmail.com feel free to drop me a line. I’ll turn the light back off as I leave.


    • Elissa
      Aug 02, 2011

      Hmmm…it is never my intention to mock anyone. I’m not sure where you got that from. I would apologize profusely if I felt I had done wrong by this post.

      I tell the truth AS I SEE IT, which simply means there’s a lot I don’t know. I will take people to task, though, for abuse and for hurt when it’s all attributed to this supposedly perfect being in the sky. We created “him.” We created our religion. We created our rituals. “He” didn’t. And if you don’t realize that, I’m sorry, I can’t explain it any better than that.

      I cannot stand by and watch people dismiss their intuition because they’re worried about what “God” will think, or they’re worried that they’ll be zapped by lightning if they don’t, somehow, live every word of the Bible (or Qur’an or Torah or whatever). I find much truth outside the “holy texts,” and so do others. There are many things not addressed in the texts—internet use, pornography, abortion, stem cell research, crazy transportation (cars! planes!), the atomic bomb, morality of animals, I could go on and on. Why don’t we all agree on those “moral” issues? If it (the Moral Law) has been written on our hearts by “God,” why do we all disagree?

      Have you ever thought you could be wrong about anything?


      • Matt Lien
        Aug 02, 2011

        Nope. I never said Moral Law was written on anyone’s hearts. Again I’m aware you tell the truth as you see it. Everyone does. Everyone has their own truth. To each is own. Proceed with the chaotic majority.

        God doesn’t zap people with lightning. That’s your perception of God. A perception that will change when you find out more about Him.
        Not everything has to be addressed in texts to understand morals. God has given us a brain, let’s use it. You’re right thinking you created Him. And you are continually creating Him.
        Unfortunately this is false and a dead end endeavor.

        He created us. In his image. Not the other way around.

        Study and seek God to know truth. Why? Because I can’t trust my own intuition. My perception of reality is warped and skewed. I think I’ll adopt God’s perception of reality. In that I have a firm foundation and an eternal hope.

        If I take on my own perception or anyone else’s for that matter, I will stumble through this world not knowing what is right or what is wrong or what is true and what is false. And it would never end.


        • Elissa
          Aug 02, 2011

          Sadly, you’ve just proven my point so well. My point is this. You want “God” to tell you what to do, rather than use the brain “he” gave you (to see how wrong SOME of the Bible is). Please use common sense here. You’ve cherry-picked what you’ve chosen to follow out of the Bible, whether you believe you have or not. You’ve written off parts of the Old Testament because you believe more in the New Testament (I’m guessing here). Funny thing is: Jesus says (if you believe he said everything he is purported to have said) in Matthew 5:18-19, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth passes away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven….”

          So, still, according to Jesus, we should be following the ENTIRE law, which we aren’t. Abstinence from pork, anyone? Menstrual tents, anyone? Killing adulterers, anyone? No divorce, anyone?

          I’m of the opinion that we’re stronger and smarter people than you believe us to be. I don’t feel that I’m floundering or flailing my way through life. I’m sorry you feel, without “God,” you would “stumble through this world not knowing what is right or what is wrong or what is true and what is false.” I think you would, if you gave yourself credit. I know plenty of people who don’t believe in God who are both moral and good…and live their lives in a better fashion than some of my Christian friends.

          I’ll ask another question of you. Have you ever wondered if your “version” of God might be different from how you see “it?” [For lack of a better pronoun.] If you’ve done any archaeological or historical research, you’ll know that “God” has morphed considerably over the centuries, and your belief (as a Christian) is a much later (and revised) version of that representation. You believe in this new, more updated version of “God.” You and Jesus had entirely different visions of “God,” believe it or not.


          • terry
            Aug 02, 2011

            Elissa, I do agree that there are non-Christians that live more moral lives than non-Christians. “Moral” meaning, providing for the week, the hungry, for helping their neighbor, for caring for the sick…the list goes on and on. The things you do to be moral are not exclusive to a religion. I know Muslims/Atheists/Agnostics that are amazingly caring. While Jesus does care about our actions, his ultimate goal was to point people to Him. The Pharisees were the one that questioned his interpretation of laws/morals, and He was more concerned about the people themselves and where they found their center. He cared about the women, the prostitutes, the wild prodigal son, just as quick examples…and He called out those that tried to impose laws on Him that were not what the true gospel was….Him, and only Him. It wasn’t about morality, it was about Him. I’m guessing that Matt’s post is not about his rightness, but about Jesus proclaims about Himself in the New Testament. And yes, this is from the Bible, which you’ve challenged by saying it’s written by men…but that’s what I believe in. I don’t believe in pieces or parts. I believe in all of it, the Old Testament and the New Testament. I believe the New Testament (and Jesus) fulfilled the requirements that came from the Old. No more pork abstinence. No more stoning of adulterers. No more sacrificies. It was finished with Jesus.

            Yes, I have believed in another version of God. I’ve believed in a distant version. I’ve believed in a blue Krishna. That was my journey. How did that change? Well, just for the sake of succinctness, it was because I didn’t see how we could all believe in some different version of God and we could all be right.

            And yes, I am grounded in the maths and sciences. I study, I fully believe in academics, learning, the beauty of Pi, even, to wax a bit poetic. :) My point here is that not all evangelicals are devoid of scholarship, and I disagree with this statement: “But those who have even a rudimentary understanding of astronomy, science, history, anthropology, archaeology, or any number of disciplines, who have read the Bible and examined it with the help of critical contemporary scholars, and who have applied critical thinking to the basic tenets of Christianity will end up challenging almost every item on the post, right down to the concept of God it presents.” I have to admit it feels a bit condescending to read that, and I know that’s not how it was meant, but it’s there, nonetheless. I hope my post is not condescending, either. We just have different roads.


          • Matt Lien
            Aug 03, 2011

            I’m not sure if I should be offended at your interpretation of my post. I never said I want God to tell me what to do. Nowhere. Are you doing this on purpose? I don’t cherry pick anything out of the Bible. You need to understand the Old Testament and why it’s there. If you want me to break it down for you in another post I will.

            (You’ve taken Matthew 5:18-19 completely out of context as well.)

            And yes, as an anthropology major I have done research on archaeological and historical research. I don’t have an updated version of God. My view of God is the one Jesus taught. Your assumptions are rampant.

            “The average North American has not followed the conversations that have taken place within academia; many do not know that most contemporary scholarship has undermined the classic claims of Christianity and they do not care. For them, the Bible is the Word of God. God is God when they need him and pretty much not an issue when they don’t.”

            I disagree. This is a logical fallacy if I’ve ever seen one. In fact your replies are full of them. I would like to suggest Dr. Bruce Winter. He’s the Director of the Institute of Early Christianity in the Graeco-Roman World, Tyndale House, Cambridge. He’s a Fellow of St. Edmunds College. Faculty of the University of Cambridge. He’s most noted for his wholistic approach to Biblical studies – integrating disciplines (numisilogy, archaeology, civil law, ect) He uses over 75 different ancient authors (non-Christian) for source material and over 400 of reputed, edited, peer-reviewed modern sources. Sounds like a real dummy who is ignorant of “modern academia”.

            Another, Dr. Allen Ross, PhD University of Cambridge, uses over 300 modern academic sources (from journals to books)…sounds like a real blockhead who is floating on personally fabricated fantasies.

            Any person who levies a complaint of shoddy scholarship is either:
            a.) creating an inappropriate straw-man or
            b.) using selective examples of “Christianity” that do no typify the stringent academia found on global evaluation

            “But we find that we are now standing at the precipice created by our own arrogance and desire for self-gratification. Pointing to Jesus and telling people that he is our salvation is just not going to work. His words are dead to many people. The world has changed. The words don’t make sense any more, and shouldn’t.”

            This has already been written 2000 years ago. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
            I Corinthians 1:18 – For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but those who are being saved it is the power of God.

            What it comes down to is this. No one…absolutely no one…will see the truth unless it is revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. We can go around and around all day long about theology and speculations and it will lead nowhere. If you are indeed seeking for truth I propose something to you:

            In a private moment, pray to God that he will reveal Himself to you. You don’t even have to believe. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re going to do it. Pray for belief. Pray for truth. Pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal it to you. You might think this is awkward. Of course it is. But if I knew it was a chance that truth might be revealed to me, I would do it.


            • Elissa
              Aug 03, 2011

              I quoted you exactly. Do you see the quotation marks?

              I’m sorry you’re angry at me. I didn’t mean to offend. There’s no need for name-calling or sarcasm, though. I’ve not done any name-calling to you, nor have I used sarcasm.

              So, can we continue kindly? If not, I will not “approve” any more of your comments. I’m not afraid of your comments (obviously), but I want this to be a conversation, not an argument. I’m not trying to convince you of my “rightness,” and that’s where we’re different. You want me to see how right you are, and that’s going to get us nowhere.

              I think I’ve been quite clear (see my responses to Terry below) on the strangeness of having very smart and intellectual people on ALL SIDES of the issue. I never said Christians were dumb. I quoted Vosper’s quote, which you’ve so nicely quoted once again—that the majority of Christians do not know about “discoveries” and “theories” regularly taught in seminaries across the country. I still agree with this. If you’re wondering about this, I’ll refer you to Ehrman’s books (start with Misquoting Jesus). Don’t simply read Christians who support your view. Read others’ views, too, so you can make a decision for yourself, not simply reinforce what you already believe. I believe both men you’ve upheld are Christians. Possibly try to read the other side…or OTHER sides. It’ll force you to deal with LOTS of arguments, not just one or two.

              I know you see my seeking for the truth (outside the Bible) as heretical and evil and frankly, the thing that will send me to hell in a hand basket. But I can’t believe, just to believe. I’m searching for truth, and I’m not finding it in the Bible. In parts, yes, but not as a whole. And if I don’t see “God” as you do, how can I pray to s/he? I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

              And I know you don’t understand this. I’m sure it’s confusing for you, especially since we came out of the same household that mandated the absolute truth of the elephant in the living room (the elephant being the inconsistencies in the Bible, the volatile and unpredictable nature of “God,” the evil injunctions supposedly given by “God,” etc.). But I, for one, can’t go back to believing something that makes NO sense to me. I’m willing to say I’m wrong. I’m willing to say I don’t know all the answers.

              Can you say the same?


  5. Elissa
    Aug 02, 2011

    Terry,

    Not condescending at all, Terry.

    Your point is well-taken. Your quoted words were Vosper’s, although I have to say, not to cop out, that I agree with them. Yes, you’re absolutely right that smart, intellectual, good people will fall in a vast array of camps when it comes to religion. Meaning, smart, intellectual, good people will not ALL end up with Christianity (or Jesus)…and some, like you, will. You might imagine Christianity as a kaleidoscope, in that whenever you look through it and turn it, you get a different representation of what some OTHER group of Christians believes. I think this is easily proven by the numbers of denominations we have.

    You might be surprised to learn then, that there are people who still believe in the person of Jesus, and what he taught, but they don’t believe in his divinity, nor his resurrection. Pastors, even. That’s what Vosper meant by contesting the tenets of Christianity. Not all of them stand up under scrutiny. If you read the history of how the Gospels were brought together (might I suggest Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, for starters?), then you’ll see how complicated it all is. None of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, and most were added YEARS after Jesus died. I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust my own ability to recreate ACCURATELY what someone else told me TEN MINUTES later, so this is a problem, as you can see. Noticeably, the Gospels resemble each other, so much material was shared and duplicated. I can’t explain it all here, but it brings into question what Jesus actually said and what the writers wanted to portray he said.

    All that said. I’ll address what you said earlier…that it was all fulfilled in Jesus. I’m assuming then that you follow all the “commandments” of the New Testament? For instance, the no adornment or wearing of jewelry for women? The submissiveness of women to their husbands? The head coverings for women in church?

    Let me explain using a personal example. I was speaking to a relative recently about her history of submission to her husband (because she had felt strongly that it was her Godly place in her marriage). She said that she had, for years, felt like a doormat and had been discouraged by this, but then she heard a sermon by [a well-known radio minister] that if she could look past her husband to God or Jesus, to be submissive for them, not only her husband, that would be a different (and helpful) way of looking at it. I was too shocked and appalled by that revelation to say much. To think that this dear, dear woman had been convinced that she could be a doormat for Jesus was beyond my capacity for understanding. That’s what I mean by morality. There are things in the Bible that are not right, if we are to grow up and be moral adults. Think of the grief and aggravation and abuse that woman could have escaped! Yes, I realize the Bible is thought of as a sacred, we-cannot-touch-it zone, but at some point, someone in their right mind needs to stand up and say, “Enough abuse of women under the name of God! STOP!” That’s what I mean by morality being more universal than in a holy text. Does that make it a little clearer?

    Thanks so much for adding your thoughts…please know that I love the conversation! xo


    • terry
      Aug 02, 2011

      You HAD to bring up the head coverings and no adornment scripture :) Fail on all counts. But, let me just say that I’m not going to tell you “that doesn’t apply to me.” It does. Just because I fail doesn’t mean I discard it, it means I have miles to go before I sleep.

      As far as submissiveness goes…thanks for sharing your personal example. I hate to think of anyone as a doormat, and I can see why you were shocked. It’s hard for me to see Jesus asking Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene to be doormats. Biblical submissiveness is a tricky topic, though, and I will admit to you that I think it’s easily distorted. But, as a divorced woman, what do I know? I’ll save more thoughts on that for another day.

      Thanks for your thought-provoking reply! I’ll look up Ehrman one of these days!


      • Elissa
        Aug 03, 2011

        Oh, Terry, but that’s my point. I think that there are a lot of injunctions, even in the NT, that are meant for a 1st century audience, and I think we, in the 21st century, are trying to make them fit to us. So, I didn’t mean to insinuate that you should be following those injunctions; I was just trying to show that they don’t make sense.

        I think we might agree, more than we think, on the burqa—the damage it’s done, what it says about women, the license it gives men. The head coverings for women (in the Bible) are saying the same things, so I would suggest that the Bible is wrong, and that we should use our brains to say this isn’t right. I know…not the type of thinking that’s popular in churches (the Bible being wrong on certain things, that is), but that’s what I’m suggesting.

        Also, think of submissiveness in general. You mentioned that Jesus would have never said that. So, I’m beginning to think Jesus said some outrageous, but very cool things, and maybe we’ve gotten it all wrong, and we’re listening to Paul and Peter, when we SHOULD be listening to Jesus. Just another wrench in things…:)

        Thank you, thank you, Terry, for not being afraid to ask questions and to engage back and forth like this. I’m not here to convince you of anything…just to ask the questions, so you can find your own path. You’re doing a fine job of conversation, which is so rare these days…


  6. Sylvia
    Aug 02, 2011

    Can’t wait to read the book. Thanks for the excellent post. Love to you. Sylvia


    • Elissa
      Aug 03, 2011

      Sylvia,

      You’d love it, I think. It’s a bit frustrating in parts, because it’s going to take a while for people to change their minds about such matters, but I don’t judge, because it’s taken me years to get to this place…and I’m still learning…

      Hope you’re doing well. xo


  7. Matt Lien
    Aug 03, 2011

    name calling? what where


    • Elissa
      Aug 03, 2011

      Maybe more sarcastic. I’ll quote you: “Sounds like a real dummy who is ignorant of ‘modern academia'” or “sounds like a real blockhead who is floating on personally fabricated fantasies.” Referring to other people, of course, but REALLY referring to my utter stupidity.


  8. Matt Lien
    Aug 03, 2011

    “Don’t simply read Christians who support your view. Read others’ views, too, so you can make a decision for yourself, not simply reinforce what you already believe. I believe both men you’ve upheld are Christians. Possibly try to read the other side…or OTHER sides. It’ll force you to deal with LOTS of arguments, not just one or two.”

    That’s all these two men do. They research all sides.


    • Elissa
      Aug 03, 2011

      Yes, what I meant was, don’t just read Christian authors who have done their research. Read atheists like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Or agnostics like Bart Ehrman. Or scientists like Stephen Hawking or Carl Sagan. That’s what I meant. Read all sides, then make your OWN decisions, culled from the original sources.


  9. Matt
    Aug 03, 2011

    “And I know you don’t understand this. I’m sure it’s confusing for you, especially since we came out of the same household that mandated the absolute truth of the elephant in the living room (the elephant being the inconsistencies in the Bible, the volatile and unpredictable nature of “God,” the evil injunctions supposedly given by “God,” etc.). But I, for one, can’t go back to believing something that makes NO sense to me. I’m willing to say I’m wrong. I’m willing to say I don’t know all the answers.”

    no. you’ve got it wrong again. you keep assuming how i feel. first off i don’t even think of my upbringing in terms of how I interpret the Bible. What I believe is through research I’ve done myself, and it has not been found wanting.

    you completely skew my posts and say something I had no intention of meaning. You say you don’t know how to pray to God? I just told you how. The point is that you refuse.

    It makes me think you are interested in seeking the truth only if has nothing to do with God.

    you tell me to read books that challenge my viewpoint. I challenge you to do the same. let me suggest a couple.

    Miracles – CS Lewis
    Misquoting Truth – Timothy Paul Jones

    would love for you to read those and THEN, refute them. (in the interest of raising questions and all.) Give me a couple of books to read and I will do the same.


    • Elissa
      Aug 03, 2011

      What I meant was that you don’t understand my journey. You don’t understand where I’m coming from. You’re too insistent on bringing me back into the fold.

      I’m glad you’ve found that the Bible meets your needs. It doesn’t meet mine anymore.

      My not-praying has nothing to do with stubbornness or refusing to follow your directions. It has everything to do with refusing to talk into thin air. If I don’t believe in “God,” how can I talk to him/her/it?

      All the books you’ve mentioned are Christian. I’d suggest, again, that you read OUTSIDE the Christian faith to get a balanced perspective, but that’s just me.

      I’ve read Lewis’s book and myriads of others. Since I’ve spent the last 5 years doing research, full-time, for my books, let me list some of the recent reading I’ve done, Christian and otherwise, and let you see what I’ve done. Then, if you truly want to read further (for personal learning only, NOT to try to convince me), then I’m game.

      Besides the plethora of research I had to do for Eve (and the now defunct Noah), here is a sampling of what I’ve been reading.

      Christian:
      New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer
      The Language of God by Francis Collins
      I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler
      Is There a God? by Richard Swinburne
      Letters to Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God
      The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl Giberson
      Why There Almost Certainly is a God: Doubting Dawkins
      The Life of Meaning: Reflections on Faith, Doubt, and Repairing the World by Bob Abernethy, William Bole
      Thank God for Evolution by Michael Dowd
      The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel
      The Big Questions in Science and Religion by Keith Ward
      What We Can’t Not Know by J Budziszewski
      With or Without God by Gretta Vosper
      Love Wins by Rob Bell
      What Good is God? by Philip Yancey
      Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer

      Other:
      In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran
      Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer
      The Theory of Everything: The Origin and the Fate of the Universe by Stephen Hawking
      Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief
      The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville, Nancy Huston
      Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves by James Le Fanu
      The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life by Jesse Bering
      Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker
      From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll
      All of Bart Ehrman’s books: Jesus, Interrupted; Misquoting Jesus; Lost Christianities; Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet; Forged
      Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Bart D. Ehrman
      Breaking Up with God: A Love Story by Sarah Sentilles
      Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris
      The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris
      The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
      God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
      Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett
      Rocks of Ages by Stephen Jay Gould


  10. Matt
    Aug 03, 2011

    you had rob bell under “christian”.

    well, happy journey then.


  11. Cherie
    Aug 15, 2011

    Elissa, it is good to hear this stuff as here in the Bible belt, one cannot ask these questions without being ostracized. Although I identify as Christian, I almost left the fold few years ago but it was through research and much thought that I was able to determine that the Christian umbrella is a lot larger than some want to admit. I’m adding the book to my reading list and hope I can get to it soon.


    • Elissa
      Aug 15, 2011

      Cherie,

      That’s what I’m here for…asking all those questions I was never allowed to ask. And if others can’t, I will. LOL.

      Actually, I love the discussion…with whoever will join the discussion. All of us, collectively, add to these conversations, and I believe we’re richer for it, thinking outside our comfort zone. Thank you for adding YOUR voice to the mix!

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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