Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I’m Stumped

I always enjoy a rousing conversation about apparent contradictions in the Bible with inerrantists. Fun to watch the fur fly. (Useless in the end, yes I know, but such a predictable outcome to such predictable maneuvers—I can’t help myself, it seems.) And up until now, I figured there was a resolution of some sort (no matter how unreasonable—at least logically possible) to every contradiction.

Recently I came across a contradiction I have not seen a proposed resolution, and I cannot find one through the demi-god Google. I find people dance around it. I see people talk about other contradictions near it, but none on point. Any help would be appreciated. (I like to know what the resolutions are, at least. Doesn’t mean I buy ‘em, obviously.)

The issue is the old standby of what day did Jesus die—was it Passover or the Day before Passover?

The Problem as traditionally stated rests in the fact the Synoptic Gospels place the Last Supper as a Passover Meal (See Mark 14:12-17, Matt. 26:17-20, Luke 22:7-16). Remember the Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset, so Thursday sunset to Friday sunset would be one day. If Jesus ate Passover Thursday evening, this means the rest of the events unfolding on Friday would still be Passover.

Therefore, Jesus would have been betrayed, tried, convicted, crucified and buried on Passover according to the Synoptic Gospels.

However, John 13:1 implies this Last Supper was before Passover and John 18:28 indicates the Jews did not want to enter Pilate’s house on Friday Morning, so they can eat Passover. John 19:14 states this was the day of Preparation for Passover, John 19:31 indicates the next day was a “high Sabbath” (Some authors indicate the First day of the feast of Unleavened bread was considered a Sabbath. If this fell on Sabbath, it may have been considered a “high Sabbath.”)

According to John, Jesus would have been betrayed, tried, convicted, crucified and buried on the day before Passover.

And if one looks up the traditional responses, we see two primary resolutions:

1) If one wants to align John to the Synoptics (i.e. claim Jesus died on Passover) it is claimed the term “Passover” means the entire week, so the meal the Priests were talking about in John 18:28 was another meal during the week of Passover after the Seder normally eaten on Thursday night OR the Priests simply had been too busy to get to the Passover meal, what with trying and convicting Jesus.

2) If one wants to align the Syoptics to John (i.e. claim Jesus died on the day before Passover), it is claimed Jesus ate Passover early (‘cause he would be too busy being dead on the actual Passover on Saturday), so the Last Supper was not the actual Passover meal, but a meal conveniently eaten near the Passover. Like eating Christmas Dinner on the 23rd ‘cause that is the day the whole family can get together.

While these are fun and all, the problem I have not seen specifically addressed, is the conflict of days between Mark 14:12 and John 19:14. Some brief background information:

Jews celebrated Passover beginning with a special meal called “Seder” which commences at Sundown and necessarily consists of lamb. The lamb was killed and prepared during the day, prior to sunset. After the Passover, was seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. There could be no yeast (leaven) in the house for the entire seven days, which means prior to the Passover, a ritualistic house-cleaning was performed, to guarantee everything in the house was kosher, and no yeast was present.

Our order of days would be:

A – Day before Preparation day or Two days before Passover
B – Preparation Day for Passover (Lamb killed)
C – Passover
D – First day of feast of Unleavened Bread
E – Second day of feast of Unleavened Bread, and so on…

There are some references in Josephus “C” and “D” were considered the same day, so the First day of the feast of Unleavened Bread was also Passover. This doesn’t help the problem. Again, remember Jewish days went from sunset to sunset.

Look at Mark 14:12. It starts off, “On the first day of Unleavened bread, when they killed the Passover Lamb…” You might notice Mark appears to be saying “B – Preparation Day” and “D - First Day of Feast” (or possibly “C - Passover”) are the same day—they are not! This, in itself, is a problem. But for the moment, I will set it aside, and presume Mark was saying it was “B – Preparation day.” (In a moment we will see why.)

If we keep reading through Mark 14, Jesus informs his disciples to make arrangements for Passover in the Upper Room. Then Evening comes. Mark 14:17. Under the Jewish calendar we just switched days. We went from “B – Preparation day for Passover” to “C – Passover.” And as we continue through Mark (as well as the other Synoptic Gospels) the events unfold on this Friday/Passover.

But now look at John 19:13-15, specifically vs. 14. “It was preparation day for the Passover.” John could not be clearer Jesus’ trial, death and burial was happening on “B – Day of Preparation.” Whether one wants to argue John 18:28 was the Priests referring to one day, or the whole week is irrelevant—John 19:14 makes it patently obvious this was the Day before Passover.

How do we possibly align these two passages? Start with John’s claim Jesus was killed on “B – Preparation day.” This day would have started Thursday at sunset. Meaning the day before must be “A – Day before Preparation” This would be during the day, Thursday, before the sun set, when Jesus told his disciples to arrange the Upper Room for the Last Supper. But look what day Mark claims this to be in Mark 14:12 – either “B – Day of Preparation” (by saying the lamb was killed) or “D – First day of Unleavened bread.” Neither is “A - Day before Preparation.”

Worse, we note Mark 14:1 actually refers to “A – Two days before Passover” recounting how the anointing of Bethany happened on that day. To align John to Mark, we would have to say Mark was claiming “A – Two days before Passover” and “B – Day of Preparation” and “D – First day of Unleavened bread” were all the same day! This may remove the contradiction of John, but it leaves us with a tremendous contradiction within a few verses of Mark. (and Matthew as well.)

Starting with John’s claim of Jesus dying on the day before Passover leaves us in a horrible muddle in Mark. So let’s start with Mark. Again, putting Thursday during the day as “B- Preparation day” this would mean Thursday night and all the events on Friday prior to sunset would necessarily fall on “C – Passover.” (and possibly “D – First day of unleavened Bread as well.) But this directly conflicts with John 19:14 which states these events happened on “B – Preparation day.”

I started looking at this contradiction, and proposed resolutions, but all I have seen addressed the problem of when the Priests ate. Note the direct problem of John 19:14 as compared to Mark 14:12.

Does anyone have a proposed resolution? No matter how unlikely—at least one that is remotely plausible?

Friday, October 26, 2007

That’s it?

I am a habitual radio station changer. I perpetually think there must be something better on some other station. Having satellite radio provides me with dozens of opportunities to “change the channel.” One of my regular landing spots is FamilyTalk which, depending on my drive home, can consist of Dr. Albert Mohler. This past week, I happened in the middle of an interview Dr. Mohler was holding with that paragon of Christian philosophy—Dr. Alvin Plantinga. Needless to say, I was interested enough to not flip stations.

There was as bit of hazing of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion in which Dr. Mohler chortled over Dr. Plantinga’s review including the statement, “I would call it sophomoric, but that is an insult to sophomores.” Which was followed by:

Dr. Mohler: Would you say Dawkins wrote with knowledge regarding Philosophy and Theology?
Dr. Plantinga: No, he was writing outside of his area of expertise. But to some extent we all write outside our area of expertise. To write a comprehensive book within these subjects, one would need to be a Ph.D. in Biology, Philosophy AND theology. Frankly, the scope is too wide for any one person to know all these things.

This statement is refreshingly honest. While Dr. Plantinga certainly did not care for The God Delusion, at least he admitted we cannot know it all. At some point we are stuck relying upon information provided to us by others. Sadly, when Dr. Mohler summed up the interview later, he said, “I thought it particularly significant Dr. Plantinga said Dawkins was writing outside his area of expertise.” I found myself screaming at my dashboard, “NO, that is only partially true. Why can’t you be honest and include all writers? Why the spin in only one direction?”

But I digress…

Dr. Mohler: If you had Richard Dawkins in the room right now, what would you say to him right now about Christianity?

I leaned in close. What would Dr. Plantinga say? What did this extremely bright man think was the “magic bullet” for Christianity? Jesus’ words? The Resurrection? The Philosophical viability of a Christian world-view? Again, I appreciated his thoughtful, intelligent response:

Dr. Plantinga: Oh, you can’t reason a person into Christianity. As you know, I believe in the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. Without that, there is no arguing a person into Christianity.

I am finding, in debating with apologists, many are greatly impressed by scholarly accolades. By persons who have published numerous books, and have more letters behind their name than the Chinese alphabet. Dr. Plantinga more than qualifies as such an individual. Here we have a Christian intellect, talking to a Christian audience (plus one lone atheist driving his car, and a rumored deist somewhere in Oklahoma), on a show which bills itself as “Intelligent Christian Conversation”—he could have said anything and this audience would have nodded their heads in agreement.

“The Resurrection has been proven to have a 97.82% chance of being accurate.”
“Yep—we agree!”

“The Christian world-view is the only one that sufficiently explains the world as we see it.”
“Yep—we agree!”

“My proof, as outlined in this book or that book indefensibly demonstrates Christianity”
“Yep—we agree!”

Yet instead of all that, he simply said the Christian God has to come to you. Regardless of what a human studies, or theorizes, or conceptualizes, or rationalizes, or internalizes, in the end it comes down to God. Without the Holy Spirit—we non-believers are sunk.

Unfortunately, life is not so black & white. What do we do about deconverts? Did we have the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, but it stopped testifying? Can God pull out of the situation, leaving us hanging? Or is this testimony a one-time event? Or were we simply convincing ourselves of having the testimony, but didn’t really have it? We were fakers? Genuine, honest, sincere—but fakers?

The other question left unanswered, is if the human has any responsibility in the affair. Do I have to ask the Holy Spirit to testify first? Do I have to look for the right testimony? Can I harden my heart against the Holy Spirit?

The more I thought of his answer, the less helpful it was. He WAS talking to a Christian audience. An audience who equally were convinced they got the break, they beat the odds, they had the favored status of recognizing the testimony of the Holy Spirit and grabbing on. Pity the poor foolish Dawkins who we all know the Holy Spirit is banging away internally, and he is missing it.

Testimony is useless if the person doesn’t hear it. It cannot reside in only the testimony; it must include the person doing something correctly in hearing that testimony.

See, by putting any human responsibility in the factor, any at all those who do it “right” gain a sense of pride. They aren’t Christians because God randomly happened to chose them in an arbitrary shooting match—oh, no! They are Christians because of their own ability to score just a little better on the test. They listened when they were supposed to. Oh, they may assume a false sense of humility, “Not anything I have done, but you, Oh Lord” (who hasn’t heard that ditty?) but if it takes even an ounce of human effort; that is one more ounce than the damned non-believer could muster.

Dr. Mohler: Well, what would you say to Dr. Dawkins about God?
Dr. Plantinga: Oh, that is just…obvious. Everyone can naturally see there is a God. It is simply…obvious.

That’s it? I tried to account for the make-up of the average listener of this show, and what they would expect. Again, it would not have mattered what he said, most would nod and agree. However, I was aware of at least one non-believer who was very interested in how he would argue for a God.


Needless to say, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. Is “obvious” such a good perspective of determining actuality? As I sat there, I thought of the sun moving across the sky. Equally, I could say it is “obvious” the sun is moving around the Earth. From this perspective. Or here is a fun experiment. Take an open can of paint and spin around in the middle of your living room—what happens? They assure me the earth is spinning at approximately 1,000 miles per hour. At that speed I would think it “obvious” we should fly off in space. Yet we do not.

It is “obvious” to me the sky is colored blue. That we should not put things which appear to come out of a chicken’s butt in our mouth. That earth has some sort of force which “grabs” us and holds us in.

How curious I am told, by looking at the observable, testable, natural world about me, it must be “obvious” there is something non-observable, non-testable and non-natural.

While I enjoyed the interview, I admit at the end I was left with the discomforting feeling of “That’s it? That’s the best that can be mustered about God?” To be fair to Dr. Plantinga, this was a short radio bit—perhaps I should not have expected any more.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is Christianity Logical?

And, perhaps the more interesting question—Is it supposed to be?

Do you know there are Christians who believe the sun orbits around the earth? We may chuckle at the simplicity of the argument—“Since the Bible teaches it; it must be true” (and I cannot help noticing they use similar tactics to dispel scientific evidence as creationists do)—yet on the other hand I give them due credit. They stick to their guns regardless of the proof.

Young Earth Creationists claim the Bible teaches an earth no more than 20,000 years old (at the most) and, like the geocentric, flatly states any scientific evidence contrary to that claim must be incorrect. Some Old Earth Creationists allow for an earth 4-5 Billion years old, but like the geocentric and Young Earth Creationist, flatly state any scientific evidence for macro-evolution, since is it contrary to the Bible, must be wrong.

Inerrantists who are presented evidence of contradictions believe that evidence is being mis-interpreted, or confused, or inaccurate, due to the belief the books of the Bible do not contradict each other. Historians, who indicate based upon their research, study and archeology, an event in the Bible did not occur, are informed they must be in error. Regardless of our current proofs, the Bible—the written word of God—must be considered true.

The Old Earth Creationist may snicker at the geocentric, yet together they are claiming, “The Bible says it; it must be true, regardless of evidence to the contrary.” One merely takes it a bit farther than the other.

Yet one area in which the Bible must bend to the human is in the area of philosophy. People, including Christians, would like to be assured their belief is logically coherent. That their worldview is consistent. “Logic” has become the new god to supercede the old one. To demonstrate this reality—all one has to do is explore any forum in which Christians and skeptics debate. Within a few minutes, one will be quick to see an accusation (from either side) of “Logical Fallacy!” Which will just as quickly (and just as vociferously) be defended as to why it was not a logical fallacy. Soon the thread degrades into the indictment of the reprehensible crime of violating the “Logic Laws.”

I can throw out a few terms—“ad hom,” “strawman,” “ad hoc”--and anyone immersed in this apologetic dimension will immediately recognize the terms. Probably will remember a fight or two in which they were either used against you or by you. It is the ultimate disgrace to be “illogical” within a forum debate. As if we were a bunch of Vulcans; not humans.

We all can think of numerous times in which scientific proofs or physical evidence were discarded because the Bible claims otherwise, but on how many occasions have we been informed philosophy or “being logical” must be discarded because the Bible claims otherwise? Can you think of one? I’ll bet you can! It is the second most common passage tossed at skeptics—1 Cor. 1 & 2. Usually it plays out like so:

Christian: The Bible is “inspired” ‘cause it says so!
Skeptic: Well, I have a concern about a self-authenticating claim. Have you considered this point? Or this other point? Or that point? When studying it, I came across these concerns—can you address them for me? Or perhaps you can explain this problem, or provide a consistent method in this area? How do you address this issue? Or what of these circumstances?
Christian: Oh yeah? God has made foolish the wisdom of this world. 1 Cor. 1:20. [runs away.]

(And if you think I am being hyperbolic, this happened recently right here.)

Read 1 Cor. 1 & 2. Look at the comparison and contrast with world thinking as compared to spiritual thinking:

“…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…”
“…I [God] will destroy the wisdom of the wise…”
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”
“…the world through wisdom did not know God…”
“…it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…”
“…Greeks seek after wisdom…”
“…but we preach Christ crucified … to the Greeks foolishness…”
“…not many wise according to the flesh…are called….”
“…God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise…”
“…my [Paul’s] speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom…”
“…your faith should not be in the wisdom of men…”
“…not the wisdom of this age…”

How could this be any clearer? Wisdom of the World = Actual Foolishness. Foolishness of the World = Actual Wisdom. Paul sums it up with:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Why are Christians so anxious to demonstrate their belief system would qualify among the contenders for “Wisdom of the World” when Paul says this very wisdom is spiritual foolishness? Are the Christians looking for the stamp of approval from “natural humans” in demanding we declare their beliefs “wise” by our standards? Paul’s blood pressure would rise so quickly his eyes would pop out at such a notion! Can you hear him shouting, “No, no, no! If the world considers what you state as ‘wise’ this is every indication it is actually foolish!”

Paul is looking for the following conversation:

Skeptic: Science shows the world is 4-5 Billion years old
YEC: No. God says differently, so science must be wrong.
Skeptic: You are not logical.
YEC: Fine, because God says the logic of this world is foolishness. Not spiritually discerned. Things you cannot understand. You’re saying this is actually a spiritual compliment to me.

Instead on the first point, the Christian YEC is more than willing to claim the evidence is wrong in light of the Bible, but on the second, is extremely hesitant to believe the Bible means it when it declares the wisdom of the world is foolishness. It sounds so…I don’t know…foolish to declare Christianity illogical, doesn’t it?

How does this play out? Take the very basic premise of logic—the law of non-contradiction. “A ≠ non-A.” Simply put, something cannot both be something, and at the same time NOT be the very same thing. We cannot exist and non-exist at the same moment. 0 cannot equal 1 (or “non 0” if you prefer.)

The reason for this premise is both for consistency in living out reality, as well as ability to communicate. When I say “The apple is in my hand” if “A = non-A” this sentence could mean:

“The apple is out of my hand.”
“The orange is in my hand.”
“The orange is out of my hand.”
“The apple is in my mouth.”
“The orange is out of my mouth.”

While some those statements could also be true, the point of the statement “The apple is in my hand” is to communicate a certain fact consistent with the words I am proclaiming. If logic fails, we are unable to consistently communicate, because words can have a variety of meanings, inconsistent with each other. We’d never know what the other person was saying.

Christianity claims Jesus was both God and Human. Not a demi-god. Not a superhuman. Not some new-fangled genetic mutation able to incorporate the abilities of both Gods and humans. But a creature 100% gen-u-ine, pureblood God, and 100% authentic, certified human at the same moment. Since humans are not God, this makes Jesus both God and non-God at the same time. Uh-oh. Sounds a bit like a violation of the law of non-contradiction, doesn’t it?

Can a creature logically be both God and non-God? Both Creator and Created? Be both Cause and effect? Further, this creates exactly the break-down in communication anticipated by the violation of the law of non-contradiction. How can a God be tempted? How can a God die? How can a human resurrect itself after death, since there are no brain waves? How can a human be perfect? Each question is answered by one of the two alternatives—either the bit about Jesus being God (hence resurrection and perfection) or the bit about Jesus being non-God (hence temptation and death.) When it is convenient for an apple to be an apple, it is declared an apple. When it is not, it is declared an orange.

The response to this apparent violation of a basic law of logic? While it may appear to be at odds with the law of non-contradiction, in reality it is not. We just don’t know why, because God’s ways are unknown.

Excuse me? So the way to make Christianity logical is to declare it by fiat and definition? But wouldn’t we be able to apply this broad definition to anything? “Sure, ‘1’ does not appear to be ‘0,’ but that is because we don’t have enough knowledge yet. In the future, we plan to discover that indeed 1 does equal 0.”

In other words, in order to make Christianity logical, we would need to re-define the term “logic” to mean something other than what we mean the rest of the time. “Logic” would have to be defined to what it is alleged God does, not what we observe about us. Christianity becomes “logical” by modifying the term.

Is that what Paul was intending? To claim the wisdom of God is to see logic in a whole new light, and not in the crass terms of how humans utilize it? Perhaps. Yet Paul himself goes on to use logic and reason and argument in the rest of his books, including 1 Corinthians. Paul acts as if logic is in place, but states it is not.

In the end, this is the same dodge. When it is helpful and beneficial to claim logical philosophy in order to impress, the Christian, along with the rest of humanity, is chanting and pitching, “Logic! Logic! Logic!” When the logic seems to break down, the Christian attempts to re-define it along terms which would never be accepted from any other claim. And when all else fails, logic is demonized as “wisdom of this world” and consequently foolishness.

Is Christianity logical? Two questions plague me on this notion:

1) Isn’t the claim Jesus was both God and non-God at the same time a violation of the law of non-contradiction as we know it?

2) Why isn’t logic included in the wisdom of the world which is actually foolishness according to Paul?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Very Inspiring

Very Inspiring.

In 6th Century BCE lived a Greek philosopher Epimenides. Quite a fellow. Fell asleep for 57 years and woke up with the gift of prophecy. Wrote a poem Cretia. Ever read it? You may have read a portion and never knew it:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one—
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

Paul, in his speech to Athens, quotes the last line (originally referring to Zeus, but Paul attributes it to the “Unknown God”) stating, “…for in Him we live and move and have our being…” Acts 17:28. The author of Titus quotes the second line with approval in Titus 1:12: “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’”

If I declared Epimenides as Divinely inspired writing, after the initial reaction of “Who?” I would be laughed out of most churches. Yet when Luke quotes Paul using Epimenides’ statements, the very same words become forever encased in the Holy Bible. When Titus’ author quotes him directly, Epimenides words become immortal.

In the Second Century, BCE, the apocryphal work, ”Book of Enoch” was written with subsequent revisions over the next 200 years. In the second chapter, Enoch states:

Behold, he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.

Jude 14-15 recognizes this portion and writes, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’” I find it amusing every Bible I own has quotation marks within these verses, yet not a single one provides a footnote to inform me where it comes from. Even my Bibles which contain extensive footnotes in other quoted portions, as to where to find the corresponding passage in the Tanakh.

How odd Epimenides and Book of Enoch are solely human works, yet when another author in another time uses their words (even quoting them) these words become “God-breathed.” Did they sit dormant for centuries, waiting for the opportune moment to come alive? Or is it that inspiration comes, not from the words themselves, but the status of the author?

What status must one obtain in order to have one’s words God-Breathed? We know Paul wrote works unpreserved. (1 Cor. 5:9) We know Paul used a secretary. Rom. 16:22. (One of the common apologetics for the difference between 1 Peter and 2 Peter is the use of a Secretary.) What is the status of Hebrew’s author? That person is unknown!

It can’t be just the words. It can’t be just the status of the person putting pen to paper. It cannot be the status of the original author. Could it be the concept of “Inspiration” is a term arbitrarily utilized to grant favored standing to certain writings, but remains elusively undefined?

Naw--only a skeptic would presume that!

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In Which I move to the back of the bus

What happens after a Christian becomes an atheist? Well…life moves on regardless. The sun rises, clients call, and newspapers continue to be delivered. While it was a shake-up, much of my life moved forward as before. I met the following weeks, months and years with a mixture of emotions.

Believe it or not, there was a feeling of relief. All those questions and attempts to determine what God was thinking, or what God was saying, or what God wanted were resolvable in the simple notion that everything I had learned about God was the human interpretation of what God was like. It was a human project, with human results. The unadorned answer to these complex questions? God was human-made.

It resolves the Problem of Evil. Resolves the conflicts (both historical and doctrinal) in theistic claims. Resolves the answer as to why God was so non-responsive, so hard to find. Resolves why humans provide 1000 different solutions to 10,000 different questions about God. Resolves why Christian book stores bulge with Self-Help books.

The humanity of God explained why non-believers and believers alike shared the characteristics of good and evil. Both were as likely to be a person of anger as a person of love. There is nothing “divine” in being a Christian; nor in Christian “fruit.” It is humanity looking for a justification to act a certain way.

There was also relief in having been through an ordeal. It is tiring on the body to deprive it of sleep. It was tiring on my spirit to be constantly aching for a God I believed in and hear nothing but silence. It was tiring on my mind to be suppressing the obvious implications of what I read.

I became elated. For the first time, I could openly read the Bible in any manner! There was no preconceived dogma which required “scripture to interpret scripture” or that it was God-inspired, or inerrant. Ephesians could be written by Paul, not written by Paul, or not even qualify to be in the Bible! Isaiah could be a complete book, or a conglomeration of two or three books. It could be written in 740 BCE or 450 BCE. I was not pre-determining conclusions, and looking for evidence to support them; rather I was looking at the evidence, and coming to conclusions.

All this new information was fascinating. Studying the Bible and Christianity became a joy—not a hardship with a mission. I wanted to share it with my friends; my family. But, as previously stated, that plan did not work so well. I found myself with a lot to say, and no audience to say it to.

I began to engage theists, specifically Christians on forums. This was no surprise; it was a natural progression on my path. I entered forums expecting to be a Christian informing non-believers, and found myself on the opposite team—a non-believer informing Christians. And oh what fun it is. Blast here with the Problem of Evil. Photon torpedo with archeological evidence. Machine gun with Markan geographical errors.

I tend to overkill a subject. Subtly and succinctness are not in my style. (I am working on it with little success.) However, not many theists wander into iidb and stay. If they did, they would be piled on by non-believer after non-believer. My voice was one amongst many. It was time to go—I went looking for a fight, landing at A huge monstrosity of a forum, with plenty of opportunity to debate religious topics.

Yet I found this…unsatisfying. Perhaps it was too large. Maybe the topics were too broad. I enjoyed a few conversations, but mostly I lurked and clucked my tongue. I tend to throw so much effort in a topic, by the time I had thought out a full response, it was too much work to write it all down. Easier to let the topic slip away.

However, I found a very unsettling aspect of the forum. It had “Christian ONLY” sub-forums. Oh, they are entitled to such, and I respect each website to implement whatever rules it feels appropriate. It was not that. I had never been a minority. Never been singled out as “different” and excluded.

I was a Christian, white, straight, middle-aged American male. Married, 2.5 kids, 2.5 cars in the garage, a home, a mortgage, a dog, two cats and some fish. College-educated, no criminal record, no tattoos. Brown hair, brown eyes. If we lined up every person who had ever lived, according to their possibility of being discriminated against, I would be the absolutely last person in that line.

And for the first time, I was looking at a club excluding me. A club where many a night I once would pass long hours sitting in deep leather, drinking brandy, smoking cigars, and rubbing elbows with my fellow club members with the camaraderie of historic battles fought together.

“Christians ONLY.”

Now I was on the outside of that club, looking in the window at my former brothers and sisters in friendship—still sipping brandy, still lighting cigars and still rubbing elbows. Only I was no longer welcome.

Again, I respect each person’s ability to create and join a website with certain exclusions. Believers need a place of respite, without having a heathen constantly interfering with discussions. When a believer says, “Will you pray for my sister who was diagnosed with cancer?” the last thing they need is some skeptic citing surveys about the ineffectiveness of prayer. I understood why such a sub-forum was necessary. I defer to the discretion of having such a place.

It was just a shock of stark reality as to how far I’d come. Doors that were once flung open to me; now barred with steel and iron. On-line life was reflective of my own.

I resigned all positions in the church I attended. We still went to Church and Sunday School, but I dared not open my mouth. I feared if I even started the paragraph, by the end it would be obvious I was no longer a believer. Remember, this is a time when I feared divorce above all else.

We changed churches, in the hopes of bettering our awkwardness. At the new church, I fully and freely explained who I was, and asked how to fit in. I naively figured it was the secretive nature at the former church which was problematic. No—it is that a church is not designed for deconverts. I stopped going.

I became angry. Look, I wanted to go to church. We had been taught all our lives people like me (the “darkness”) ran from the church (the “light.”) I wanted a relationship with my friends. I felt no different. I was no more inclined to kidnap and sell their children to shoemakers in China. Yet because of this gaping difference, we could no longer be friends.

I wanted my marriage. I wanted to stay married to my wife regardless of her theistic belief. Yet we now had this huge silence between us which we could not cross.

Here I was, brimming with new-found knowledge about the Bible—a topic these people should be drawn to, and immersed in, and they were repelled by me! I saw a system with questions and issues and holes and significant problems—and these people ALL preferred such a system to me. Without even the remotest desire to probe the system in any way!

If you have read my previous installments—what is one emotion I cannot sustain? Yep—anger. I realized they cannot help it. I would like to think if a buddy of mine deconverted 5 years ago, I would have listened to him/her, or been interested, or stuck with them. But deep down, I am not so sure I would have. Maybe I would have run, too.

My churches, family, friends and wife had never had to cope with someone like me. Is it any surprise they choose to not, rather than figure out how? Much easier in the long run, and realistically better for us all. The club does not want to hear my battle won with a person who claims the Gospel of John is historical. They want to hear the battles won over the enemy. Me.

I flitted back and forth between Christianforums and iidb. One day, mention was made of a discussion on a more liberal Christian forum—Xnforums. (The link on my blogroll.) Here I was able to enjoy myself, being a smaller forum, with an ability to more fully focus my lengthy comments. I happily traipsed along, arguing such things as the finer points of Calvinistic presupposition.

The Internet gives us a chance to meet some people we would never know to associate with in real life. It gives people the opportunity to shine; and others the opportunity to sour. In some discussion somewhere on Xn, a poster (male) refused to respond to another poster (female), because women don’t teach men. Nothing she said could be of any value to him; why should he have to respond to it? Silly and ridiculous, and I would have thought so as a Christian.

Or would I?

The more I reflected on that foolish precept, the more I realized how insidiously Christianity had caused me to hurt others. I used to pride myself on my reaction toward homosexuals. Oh, sure, homosexuality was a sin. But I felt the church was failing on focusing on the sinner, more than the sin. We were NOT open to having homosexuals attend our church. We WERE trying to legislate the morality of non-believers, without addressing their need for Jesus. What good was it to convict a homosexual of his or her sin (since we are all sinners, this was not exactly a monumental project, in my opinion) if our convincing turned them off from Christ, due to our unloving action?

Besides, gossiping is given as much a black mark (Rom. 1:29) yet we wink and nudge and lean in close to hear more. Even as a Christian, I could see we were “picking” the sins we would least likely be tempted by, to claim are the really, REALLY rotten ones which require laws and penalties. In Sunday School classes, I yammered and hounded about how we need to show more openness to gays, and accept them in as people. (Before pounding them into the conviction they were sinners and turn ‘em straight.)

Yet for all that “wonderful” openness I felt I had—I had taught on the fact women could not teach in church. Not the finest hour for me to reflect on. I was no different than this poster who would not respond to a woman. I thought the Bible was the written word of God, acted upon it, and discriminated against women because of it. I sat in that club with my men friends and our men conversations, never noticing the women outside.

“Men ONLY.”

While I was breaking off my arm, patting myself on the back, as to how open I was to homosexuals, I was doing it to change them. I was not accepting them for who they are, I was accepting them for who I wanted them to become.

“Heteros ONLY”

My thrill in reviewing the Christian doctrines and Bible from a new-found perspective was chilled with the review of my Christian practice from a new understanding. Sure I focused on “loving others.” I focused on “loving” them only in the Christian mindset. Only on Christian terms. Only loving non-believers enough to coerce them to the point of their changing to the point I could REALLY love them.

It is painful to look back upon my own Christianity. How many venues did I teach, in which I confidently and egotistically told my class “THIS is what God says” when there is no God? How many times did I gloat in my Biblical scholarship, and minute knowledge of things which turn out are completely unsupported? How many times was I convinced a God was nodding to the words I spoke?

I am glad for my Christian upbringing. I am glad for my Biblical knowledge. But I am even gladder at 38 I was given a new lease on life. A chance to view the world with open eyes and accept others for who they ARE, not for who a God wants them to be. We were taught to “love others” as well as Jesus did. I now can love others better than Jesus did.

Where do I go from here? Who knows. My friendships are extremely limited. I am thankful, every day, for people on-line who, 10 or 15 years ago, I would never have had the chance to meet and share our experiences. At times I find the theistic debate tedious. I am reminded of others who shared their thoughts, and deconverted the likes of me. There may be a “me” or two out there who need a wake-up call only a random click to something I write produces.

But mostly I want us to get better. I want us to be more loving. I want us to understand each other more fully. I want us to say, “I don’t agree with that person, but I get where they are coming from.” I want us to live by the Platinum Rule: “Treat others as they want to be treated.”

The End.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

My Deconversion Story – There is No Needle

It was now clear the Christian picture of God was off. Way off. There may be a minute portion of correctness somewhere within, but to find what it could be within the haystack would be very difficult. I still believed in a God, (I was talking to somebody at 2 in the morning!) and could not willfully remove theistic belief any more than I could willfully put my face in acid. Couldn’t do it.

The question being—which God? It is one thing to have a previously instilled belief in a particular God, and ponder what parts of your belief may be inaccurate. It is a very different kettle of fish to have a basic understanding there is a God, and wonder what parts must be accurate. And I now had a methodology firmly in place—If I was arguing for a position, either in favor of it being included in a God, or against it being included in a God; what would a neutral jury determine?

A very common thread running through arguments for a God is the argument of incredulity. The fact that life happened is so incredible, certainly it would be impossible to come about on its own. Or the odds of the universe existing are so infinitesimally small; surely there must be a God. When I think of a “neutral juror” I am not thinking of people with a preconceived notion of what a God is or is not. What is likely and what is not. Imagine someone who doesn’t even know the term “God.” Or know the various proposed claims for how the universe came into being.

Someone with a completely blank slate. A true agnostic in that they do not know; not that they cannot decide (which, too often, is how an agnostic is incorrectly portrayed.) We see jurors like this all the time. They line up in the box, not knowing whether the case is about an armed robbery, or an automobile crash, or a breach of contract. They discover it is a case about the sale of electricity. By the time the case is over, they have more knowledge than they knew even existed about how electricity is sold.

“God” is so ill-defined. Oh, sure, we figure He/She/It manufactured the universe…somehow. And lives…somewhere. He/She/It may or may not be interested in humans. May or may not have utilized evolution. May or May not have something or other to perhaps be involved in some way with some things such as morals, love, truth and conscious. Or maybe not. But like the elusive needle, the more you look, the larger the haystack becomes, the greater the fear you missed it in the parts already investigated.

Because God is placed behind a barrier beyond our zone of discovery, the only way for us to gain knowledge about God is if He/She/It chooses to reveal it. And all the theists disagree as to both the definition of this God, as well as how we come to know any aspects of God’s characteristics. For those reasons, it is easier for me to conceptualize using a completely neutral juror, (even though obviously no such person actually exists), since there is so little common ground to safely claim all jurors would believe.

I have my jury; I need my proofs, my witnesses, and my examining attorneys to review all of these possible Gods. So I fill the benches with one (1) person from each of the various schools of thought regarding God, what God is like and how we know it. Since there are so many, I limit it to only 50,000. I call the first person in the first row to be the first witness. Now my jury starts to hear the claims about what a God is, how this particular person knows of it, and why it is believed to be an accurate depiction.

However, there are no “free rides” in this method. Since theists love to disagree and demonstrate how other theists are incorrect, I let them do so. I let the other 49,999 people cross-examine this person, since the other 49,999 are convinced the testimony is not correct. Then the second person in the first row testifies, and is cross-examined by person 1, and 49,998 others. The Third person testifies, cross-examined by persons 1, 2 and 49,997 others.

The proofs continue; we begin to see a familiar pattern. What is rejected in another’s religion is embraced in one’s own. What one holds as sacred, another discards as rubbish. And each and every religious claim is no more than what a human could devise at that moment.

As the religions of ancient history testify of God’s moving the sun around the earth, the more scientifically advanced modern religions would elbow each other with a knowing grin, salivating at their opportunity to cross-examine the person regarding their inability to understand the Earth orbits the Sun, and how this religious belief is wrong. The Native Americans testify to the Great Spirit only creating parts of the world immediately before it is discovered by them; the religions from the European countries prepare their notes to demonstrate how wrong this is.

All the religions tell the tale of their particular creation story; all of the other religions hover like vultures, waiting to swoop in with how it fails to align with science, or knowledge, or is completely preposterous. Unlike their own creation story, of course.

Many of the Jewish sects testify how God revealed himself in writing in the Tanakh. The Christian sects can hardly contain themselves, to both cross-examine and testify how it is the Tanakh AND the New Testament. Do the Christians see the Muslims right behind, eager to prove it is the Tanakh, the New Testament AND the Qur’an? Do the Muslims see the Mormons, who agree it is more than just the Tanakh and the New Testament, but not the Qur’an; instead the Book of Mormon?

Person 1,015 testifies how his religion is validated by miracles. Only to be ripped apart by the skepticism of Person 21,211. But when Person 21,211 testifies how her religion is validated by miracles, the juror hear the same questions asked of her, that she asked of Person 1,015. With likewise unconvincing claims. What person 21,211 would not accept from 1,015, she gladly embraces in her own belief.

Over and over our jurors hear how personal testimonies of changed lives legitimize the person’s religion, but are mere stories, myth and untruth coming from any other religion. Again and Again, as the questions get thick and tough, the witnesses retreat to concepts such as “faith” and God is unknowable. Unverifiable. Undeterminable. The same answers the person scoffs when cross-examining others, the witness finds are the only response available when questioned. Exhibits mount as to what is or is not a divine writing; what constitutes or does not constitute a valid miracle; what is divine work within nature, or mere speculation.

We see people who desire to kill and conquer, find a God who likewise desires the same. Those who aspire to love, and help others; find the same in their God. Those who ache to justify name-calling, rudeness, brashness and contention—discover unsurprisingly their God does as well. A God who hates homosexuals is the God the person who hates homosexuals is triumphant to declare as the only valid being.

And in this cacophony of humanity, a small voice says the classic line, “If a fish could make a God; it would look like a fish.” Humans are creating gods in their own image. Not the other way around.

As I looked for God; as I read the theists arguing amongst themselves; as I reviewed the history of God belief, all I could imagine was this tumultuous trial and each person unable to sustain their own, while knocking down other theistic beliefs and my thoughts kept returning to this one thing—there is nothing divine here. This is humanity.

More than just the 50,000 filled seats, I could not help but think of the long line of empty benches behind my current courtroom. Think of the discoveries we have made in the past 2000 years. If our trial happened in 1 CE, we would have no Christianity. No Muslims, no Catholics. If our trial happened in 1000 CE, we would have Christianity, but no Protestants in the courtroom. No Mormons; no Christian Science. If our trial happened in 1800 CE, we would not have the technological advancement as to the size and scope of the universe. We would not have the development of the fossil record or the breadth of the theory of evolution. If our trial happened in 1950, we would not have the archeological discoveries questioning the Torah. We would not have the translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls to use.

Imagine what we will have by 2500 CE. Or 3000 CE. Imagine who will be sitting in those seats which are empty now. Just as we chuckle, nudge, nod and wink at the Gods created by persons in 1000 CE, due to limited knowledge; will the people of 3000 CE likewise nudge, nod, chuckle and wink at our own? Do we really think this is it? God beliefs will not morph and modify and we have reached the pinnacle of theistic knowledge obtainable on this plane?

Over and over, as I looked at theistic claims, the most obvious, common sense determination was that the belief was something the human made up. With all this disagreement—how can we be certain there is a God--something--at the base? When even that base was in contention.

In describing my situation, I previously wrote
I would wake up at 2 a.m. and the wheels would start spinning. I’d creep out of bed, go into the living room and pray. I wasn’t interested in reading, or writing or even thinking. All I wanted to do was pray. And I only prayed for one thing—that God would show me he existed. I didn’t care which God, I didn’t care whether he did it in the form of a vision, or a miracle, or the right book, or a phrase or a person or a quote—or whatever.

When I prayed, I pointed out (realizing that a God would already know it) that my mind seemed to work in a certain way. Why and how--I did not know, but apparently it yearned for information in a distinct pattern. Whatever that pattern was, whatever my particular brain seemed to require, but was not getting, all I asked is that God would provide it.

I prayed that God would show me, and if it was enough for me—even if I could never prove it to anyone else, or use it as a “club” to beat those atheists—that was just fine with me. All I needed was to know he existed. I didn’t ask for a particular God, or for proof on a particular point. I figured knowing there was a God would be enough. I could enjoy the rest of my life working out the rest of the details—but know there is a God.

I prayed standing up, I prayed kneeling, I prayed pacing, I prayed doing sit-ups. I prayed every way I knew, with every word I knew. I prayed for words to explain what I was praying for. Eventually I would sleep for a few hours. The next day I would capture a few moments of reading at work, read at night, lie down exhausted, and at 2 a.m. my eyes would open. For a few nights, I tossed and turned to go back to sleep, but soon gave that up. Once 2 a.m. rolled around, I might as well get up.

I literally reached a point where I said I did not know what else to say. I just sat there. Not thinking. Not forming prayers. Wondering what was to become of me. God had his timing. God knew what I needed. I did not want to rush him.

I thought of quitting the research entirely. I would assume the claim of being a “theist” and dare not think any further. I would be afraid to move forward. Afraid to move back. Live in a perpetual half-belief of “God” and nothing more. But that gave legitimacy to the questions. That would mean I was afraid of looking for what was true. Even if no one else knew, I would know—by being afraid to ask myself the question, I was conceding I was terrified of the answer.

I was about to become the terrible monster—a man without God. The concept of a creature that my entire youth, and much of my adult years had pounded and nailed and riveted as being hopeless, moralless, and miserable. I recognized that I had too much knowledge to hold onto God, and that I was going to become wretched.

It comes as no surprise; this threw me into despair. No one could look forward to this existence of dredging through a reality I hated. It was receiving a terrible disease, for which there is no cure, yet I would have to live out my life in pain.

One morning, I looked in the mirror and said, “O.K., I cannot live like this. I am going to say it. ‘I do not believe there is a God.’” (Yes, I half-expected a lightening bolt to come right out of the electrical socket and in a moment appear before a very Angry God.) And then I got ready and went to work.

I wish I could say that immediately I felt a flood of peace, and all of my cares and troubles flew away. Life is rarely in that fashion. Change is slow and in a progress, not a jump.

What I found is that I worked that day, and it was just like every other day. I went home and spent time with my family like every other night. I wasn’t getting depressed. Instead, I was feeling more at peace—relieved. I started to sleep better and better at night. Instead of wrestling with questions, I could address them. “If there is no God, then this is just some human’s attempt or picture of God, and is no better or more true than anyone else’s.” Amazing how many questions that clears up!

I started to actually enjoy my studies. No longer was I bound by a certain dogma that required a God at the end of it. I could be free to study and come to the conclusion of This God, That God, We Don’t Know God, or no God at all. I could use my “head thinking” as much as I wanted, rather than stifle it with “heart thinking” and then try and figure out what the heck “heart thinking” was.

I started to enjoy my life about me.

As I review my past writings, I have come to realize it is becoming harder, looking back, to definitively define when I was no longer a Christian, when I was no longer a theist, and when I became an atheist. I distinctly recall, at the end of that thread on Judas’ death, changing my designation on from “Christian” to “Theist.” I know as I entered, I used the designation of “agnostic.” Yet at times, as a “theist” I was thought as a Christian. And, at times, as an agnostic, I thought as an atheist.

The best certainty I can give, is in the year of 2004: February - I was a Christian. By July I was not. By October - an atheist.

The Final Chapter

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Deconversion Story – in which the Hammer Drops

In High School I took a speech class. I remember very little about it, except we had to do speeches in various categories. The only two I recall were “Informative Speeches” (solely providing information) and “Persuasive Speeches” (just like it sounds.)

In Law, all we do are “Persuasive Speeches.” We attempt to persuade our clients to take certain actions. We try to convince the Judges to rule in our favor on motions. We cajole the opposing side as to why it would be better for them to see it our way. We endeavor to win over the jury to view our position as the correct one.

We argue. A lot. Among all that debating, we recognize what is convincing and what is not. What will be compelling, and what will not. If my client has made 50 payments on time, but one payment late—whatever excuse I give for that one payment will be persuasive, due to the history. If my client has never made a payment on time, but claims the next one will be—whatever argument I make will not. Statements such as “Honest, THIS time you have my attention” will only make the Judge angrier. (It is telling the Judge you were not taking him/her serious before. Not the brightest move.)

In my review, I was seeing some poor argumentation. Arguments insufficient to persuade a judge or jury. It was troubling. How could Christianity be so poorly defended?

Historicity of Jesus Christ-mythers? People who claim Jesus never even existed? Sure, I was aware of people who said Jesus was just a good man; but no god. Or people who questioned the accuracy of the Bible to events such as the resurrection. But to claim it was 100% fabrication; completely made up? Seemed pretty far-fetched to me!

And in reviewing their arguments, while I have never been convinced of a complete Christ Myth, they do raise some interesting issues as to how to determine what is historical, and what is not within the Bible, regarding Jesus. They raise the key question—“By what method do we separate fact from myth when it comes to Jesus?”

Where are the non-Christian historical records of Jesus? The only thing coming close is the contested Testimonium Flavianum. Nothing else. (Tacitus and Pliny the Younger indicated Christianity exists. No one is questioning whether Christianity exists; the question is whether Christ exists.) The defense is the historians of the time would not be interested in writing on Jesus, due to this author’s emphasis, or that author’s prejudice.

See, this is one of those arguments that would never sell in a courtroom. “Sure, Judge, we claim this religion took off like a bat out of hell. 3000 converts in one day! The founder of the religion was feeding 1000’s of people at a time, healing every imaginable disease, disrupting the entire Temple, and had the ability to raise the dead. His followers grew so powerful; their shadow passing over people would heal them!

“The local churches immediately persecuted them both locally, and in foreign countries, even to the point that Caesar himself was blaming them for burning Rome! But, see my client, the historian of that period, was not interested in recording these events. It was not the focus of his work.”

Is that believable? Worse, I reviewed the debates over archeological findings not supporting Exodus. What I saw were Christians willing to compromise the literal claims of Exodus (“Maybe it was not 2 Million, but only a few thousand.” “Maybe it happened at a different time.” “Maybe it was a different people.”) based upon external evidence. Why not the same treatment for literal claims about Jesus?

And then we have the first Christian writings—Paul. Who writes very little about Jesus the person. Again, the argument is made Paul’s emphasis was elsewhere. Again, this argument would not be persuasive. Paul argues the Mosaic commandments can be summed up in “Love your neighbor” but fails to mention Jesus saying the same thing? Paul has to argue over whether there is a resurrection, completely missing all of Jesus’ statements regarding the same? Not to mention raising people from the dead!

Never a miracle or parable or saying of Jesus to support Paul’s argument? A simple premise is to argue with your strongest evidence. If I have the President of the opposing Company admitting a fact—why go through circumstantial evidence, implication and nuance to prove the same thing? Why would Paul go through lengthy arguments on propositions, rather than simply state, “Hey, Jesus said it; that’s my support.”?

Paul demonstrates almost a complete lack of knowledge regarding the events of the Gospels, and when he does give facts, some contradict the Gospel accounts.

Then Mark is written. One year in the life of Christ. No Birth; no Resurrection (albeit both are implied.) A Secret Messiah who has difficultly performing miracles. A Gospel written in the fashion of Greek Novels, and deliberate reliance upon the Tanakh. Matthew and Luke utilize Mark in writing their own Gospels. Where Mark is silent (birth and resurrection) Matthew and Luke punch in their own stories. Which conflict with each other.

Then the Gospel of John is written. By this point, Christians recognize the authors are putting distinct spin in each Gospel. We see words like “Higher Christology” referring to John. The author is painting Christ as God. No more Secret Messiah. No more difficulty with miracles. We have gone from a one year ministry of a man with God-like abilities to a three-year ministry of a God with human form.

We then have the Gospel of Peter. Since the other four did not specifically cover what actually happened at the moment of resurrection, this Gospel fills in the Details. The Gospel of Mary provides us with more interactions between Jesus and his female followers, as compared to just the Male Disciples. The Gospel of James gives us Mary’s background, and more facts surrounding the actual birth of Jesus. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas provides us with the information previously missing regarding Jesus’ first twelve years.

The Gospels of Thomas and Judas tell us of other sayings of Jesus, previously unrecorded. The Acts of Pilate tell us of when Jesus was seen by over 500 after his resurrection, and gives us more details regarding the Trial of Jesus. We learn of “Veronica.”

I realized ALL Christians believe myths were written about Jesus. Many simply choose to limit it to those after the canonical four. Why? If we are in agreement some facts are written about Jesus, and some myth—what measuring stick do we use to make this determination?

It was here I saw too much “begging the question” or “circular reasoning.” It is making a method with the specific intention of a foregone conclusion. We hear things like, “it was written ‘too late.’” What is “too late.”? The Tanakh contains stories written 1000’s of years (at least) after the event, and is accepted. But when it comes to the New Testament, 100 years after the event is “too late”?

Or it was what was accepted by “Early Church Fathers.” Again, which fathers? And how do we know what are the correct ones?

As lawyers we are constantly “framing the argument.” We are claiming the crux of the matter turns on a certain question, in which we happen to have the “correct” answer. Imagine I am representing a person charged with speeding. I could argue they were taking their child to the hospital, justifying going over the speed limit. The prosecutor would argue the law is the law; it is why we have ambulances. I would argue the question is “Is it important to receive prompt medical treatment?” The prosecutor argues the question is: “Does a person have to follow the law?”

Do you see how each of us is hoping the judge will rest on our method, will claim our question is the correct one, in order for us to win? If the Judge is convinced human need supercedes the law—I win! If I convinced her that was the question of the case, then I had the right answer.

This was what I was seeing regarding Jesus’ historicity. People were “framing the question” in terms of “Was it written within 70 years?” Then they win. But if the question was, “Was it written within 20 years?” We would be stuck with Paul’s writings. Or “Was it written within 50 years?” we could lose the Gospel of John.

Why is 20, 50, or 70 the “correct” number? As I reviewed the methods proposed for determining what was historical about Jesus, I saw people developing arbitrary methods to ONLY obtain the results desired. And even then, it was inconsistent.

Canon of the Bible This led directly to reviewing why we have the books we have. It is a simple question—given a string of words, what method do we use to determine those words qualify for “divine writing.”? (Whatever that may mean.)

Again, I saw claims of requiring “apostolic authorship.” Mark and Luke (not apostles) qualified by being “associated” with apostles. What about Hebrews? That was conveniently ignored. Jude got in by being Jesus’ brother. Yet I saw no reason 1 Clement, Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas could not equally be included in the canon. Any method utilized to exclude them would likewise exclude Hebrews. It would be difficult to stay consistent. The only way to do so is come up with a method specifically derived to have a foregone conclusion.

One may as well say, “my method is to use the book on my coffee table to say what is divine and what is not.” At least it will come up with the desired solution of the Bible every time.

Here, for the first time, I learned of questioned authorship. Paul didn’t write the Pastorals? Ephesians has always been my favorite epistle. And now it wasn’t even Pauline. Peter didn’t write his epistles, either? Using Apostlisitc authorship as a requirement would make a much shorter New Testament!

The arguments for the canon I held were so much question-begging. A consistent method could never obtain the Bible I had.

Inerrancy The Hammer.

I entered a thread discussing inerrancy in general and Judas’ death in particular. An Oldie, but Goodie. It progressed as these threads do. The Christians (myself included) arguing for giving written materials the “benefit of the doubt” and offering possible solutions. I did not expect these solutions to be convincing to skeptics, necessarily, but they seemed plausible enough to me.

Then something happened. I was reading my co-Christian’s responses, and thinking, “That’s not right. That is not convincing.” Culminating in (yet another) Christian claim it was a person’s presuppositions which dictated their bias either for or against scripture being inerrant. The inevitable phrase came out, “innocent until proven guilty.”

See, that is a common incorrect rendition of the phrase. It is actually, “presumed innocent until proven guilty.” In the law we have presumptions all the time. We have a term, ”prima facia” which means “on its face.” If nothing is provided to the contrary—we win. A criminal defendant is presumed innocent. If the prosecutor provides no further proof—the defendant wins. However, as we all know from reading the papers and watching TV, “presumed innocent” does NOT necessarily entail, “found innocent.” We overcome presumptions and prima facia cases every day without thought.

The Christian was declaring, “Because you presume it is guilty, regardless of the proof, you will always find it guilty.” I recognized how untrue this was. We have all presumed something to be true, even been quite convinced of it, and upon new information changed our mind. Have any of you had to say “I’m Sorry” because you made a decision about a person which ended up to be totally incorrect? There you go. Had a presumption, learned something, and changed your mind.

The Christian was not addressing the problem of the contradiction, the Christian was retreating to framing the question in a way in which he could justify a “win” in his mind. I know arguments. I know retreat. I know framing the question. He wanted the argument to be, “What do you presuppose?” rather than “Is there a contradiction?” Because in the former, he could rationalize ignoring the skeptics’ claims, since they held the “wrong” presupposition.

Christianity (I thought) should be BETTER than that! We held truth. We have God. We have his declared written book, with the Holy Spirit helping us interpret it. We should smash through presuppositions like tissue paper, confidently stating, “regardless of what you initial presuppose, or presume or think—this evidence is sufficient to overcome such presuppositions.”

Why were we retreating as if…as if…dare I say…our God was not sufficient? Why were we treating this as if it was a debate between two mere humans; without God involvement? Was God’s truth inadequate to overcome the other person’s arguably justified belief humans make mistakes? We think nothing of attempting to overcome presumptions in a court of law—how come it is too much for God?

I sat back from my computer screen—reeling. Why are we, as Christians, making excuses? Why are we running away? Why are we retreating? Why are we treating these debates as if it was two humans discussing? Where was the divinity? Why could God not do, what I did every day?

And then one skeptic poster made a comment: “I didn’t tell my girlfriend what we have been discussing. I showed her the account from Matthew regarding Judas’ death, and the account from Acts. She has no religious interest. I asked what she thought, and she told me they clearly contradicted.” Of course, the Christian began to sputter that he had failed to explain context, and “scripture interpreting scripture” and social norms, etc.

But to me—this was a bolt of enlightening. An epiphany. This, THIS is what I do—have neutral people make determination on disputed issues. All those previous discussions, previous research on other issues came together in a thunderclap. The reason I was troubled and getting up at 2 in the morning was my brain telling me this would never sell to a neutral jury.

It was as if someone dropped a hammer on the mirror of my belief. Those hairline, almost invisible cracks forming for the past few months immediately separated, causing the mirror to shatter along their lines. Paul did not include Jesus’ parables and sayings because Paul did not know them. They didn’t exist yet. A neutral jury would see that. Exodus is not supported by archeology because it is a legend. A neutral jury would see that, too.

My Christianity was based upon half-truths and suppositions. A jury would piercingly see that.

I entered the thread as a Christian; by the last post I was barely a theist. For the first time, at 2 in the morning, I started to pray to a God that was not exclusively Christian in some way. I started praying to whatever God existed, whether it was Christian, or Muslim, or Mormon, or Deist or Hindu or…well…whatever.

‘Cause the God I had for so, so long was in pieces on the floor. No matter how much I tried to put those pieces together, the cracks and spaces and gaps would reveal it for what it was—a broken belief.

Chapter 12

Saturday, October 06, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In which We Move through the Looking Glass

My siblings do a ski trip every year. No children; only adults and February of 2004 we did the same. After a day of skiing, we were lounging in the hot tub, and I wondered what their thoughts were:

Me: You know, I have been reading on an atheist site recently, and they raise some interesting points.
Brother: I watched a debate between a Christian and an atheist once. The atheist made a fool of himself; I thought he looked completely stupid.

Got it. End of discussion. I casually mentioned it in 2 or 3 other private conversations, and in the same way, was immediately made aware the conversation would go no further. My family was not interested in this type of information.

I mentioned it to my pastor at one of our lunches. “They say some pretty wild things. Don’t get too caught up in that stuff. Hey, we are looking for a sponsor for the College Age group. Are you interested?” Again, a preference to not talk about such things. As I mentioned previously, I fired off an e-mail to my former High School teacher. With the same results.

I was doing this on my own. Although to be fair to these individuals, I didn’t push the conversation either. If I genuinely thought I was in trouble, I would have, perhaps, been more forceful to talk about these questions. Although probably not—I presumed this was a time of doubt which would pass upon further research. I was praying: God would provide the right direction.

So I lurked. And read. And researched. I read what other Christians would post in response in iidb, and could see, immediately why the response would not be convincing to a skeptic. The skeptics’ responses were ineffectual against the Christian claims. I read the articles and recognized the bias in the responses. I saw what I would expect to see in any lawsuit—two sides with extremely different takes on the same evidence.

What I didn’t like was the fact the skeptics’ arguments were more persuasive. As an attorney, evaluating the two cases, I would be confronting my Christian clients with the strong suggestion of settling their case—a neutral trier-of-fact would more likely find for the skeptic.

Finally, I stepped in and started posting. Unlike my original intention, I was not posting blistering arguments, tearing their pitiful claims to shreds with brilliant, unexpected evidence. No, I was posting my position in an attempt to communicate. I was starting to understand why it would not be convincing.

As I was reflecting on my own Christianity, cracks were starting to form. Tiny, hairline, nearly invisible cracks. Cracks so small, I didn’t even know they were there…building…until later. Each topic presented new problems:

Description of Creation I read various positions on Old Earth Creationism, Young Earth Creationism, Theistic Evolution, and Natural Evolution. (Not to mention the two creation accounts under Documentary Hypothesis.) Is Genesis 1 literal or allegorical? Was God creating ex nihilo (out of nothing) or does the Hebrew indicate something already was there?

Whatever the position, one thing was universally agreed—the accounts were not written contemporaneously with the events. They were written billions or thousands of years after the Earth formed. The only possible way to obtain this information would be through God. And I couldn’t help wondering—if the Earth was billions of years old, why not include a long “age” to account for it? God could take that argument away from the skeptic. If Genesis 1 is an allegory, why wouldn’t God put the sun before the earth, and plants after the sun? (Not to mention birds after reptiles.)

Look, assume God is informing Moses in 1500 BCE. God can say anything he wants—who is Moses to argue with God as to how creation was formed? While Christians claimed Genesis was written for a certain people at a certain time, why couldn’t God see in the future that someday, in 2004 CE, skeptics would question the viability of Genesis? What would prevent God from laying it out correctly to remove those questions?

Why would God place stars 13 Billion light years away, and then write a book indicating the universe was formed 6000 years ago? Yes, Yes, I read the claims of light speed differentials, and creating the light path at the time of creation—giving it the “appearance” of age. Those looked, tasted, felt and smelt of excuses for God. The solution was simple—don’t create the problem in the first place.

What I didn’t see were arguments for why it was necessary for God to paint an inaccurate picture. Other than the traditional—who are you to question God?

I kept thinking the answer to who I was: “I am the one looking for you, God. Can’t I ask a question in my search?”

God kills children The God of the Tanakh killed children in the flood. In Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Joshua Genocides. In Saul’s genocide. And then, in the New Testament, does a complete 180, and loves children. Growing up, in our mind, we always differentiated those two Gods. YHWH, the Father, was the God of the Tanakh. A punishing, aloof, harsh God. Jesus, the Son, was the God of the New Testament. A firm, but gentle, loving, caring God.

However, in the face of skeptics, I could no longer justify that distinction. One thing in a court case—no opposing lawyer will ever let you “have your cake and eat it too.” I can’t claim a letter is both entirely genuine (when it helps me) and entirely a forgery (when it does not.) Likewise, I couldn’t claim Jesus was not the “God” of the Tanakh, but the “God” of the New Testament. If there is one God, Jesus was God of both.

Jesus killed kids. Why? Even as humans, we recognize children can be rehabilitated. Oh, I can understand why God would declare some adult so rotten, so immoral the only viable alternative was to end their existence. But a 2-day-old child? Is God so ineffectual he could not reform a baby? And again, I read the Christian defenses of how they were like gangrene and doctors may be forced to cut off a limb which is partly healthy, to rid the person of the disease. I thought, “This is the best you can come up with? God has the same limitations as a human doctor? God can’t cure gangrene?”

As I reviewed these defenses, it became apparent the Christian defenses were not designed to convince the skeptic. They were designed to counter the skeptic in order to preserve those who already believed the same as the Christian. They were preaching to the choir.

On occasion we represent clients who do not care about winning or losing. They do not care about the money, or about the conviction. I had one criminal defendant who was clearly guilty. The prosecutor offered a plea agreement, I recommended we take it, but he refused. He wanted a trial. He wanted the police officer cross-examined.

I gave him a trial. I shouted, I screamed, I cross-examined the police officer. I demonstrated the complete incompetence of the officer, the department, and the entire judicial system. My client was thrilled to bits. He absolutely loved every single minute of it. “Boy, you sure tore him apart. That was GREAT!” The jury took less than a half-hour to find him guilty.

My client didn’t care; he got what he wanted. It made no sense to me. Didn’t he understand after all the yelling, and finger-pointing, the jury still believed the police officer? That if we won the battle (which was questionable) we certainly lost the war? Wasn’t the conviction worse than the satisfaction of the show? Nope. It didn’t matter.

I got that same feeling in the defense to these questions. The apologist (lawyer) was screaming and shouting and gesturing for the client (Christian) and the client is immensely impressed. The client is fully persuaded they are winning.

To me, the key was not whether the client (Christian) is pleased with the theatrics—the key is whether the jury is. Would a neutral party, after all the hoopla, be equally convinced?

Would the Christian be convinced by the same arguments of another religion that justified killing of children? Then why would they accept it in their own?

Numbers 31 What a terrible chapter. God orders the Midianites to be wiped out. The soldiers do NOT kill the baby boys, and are chastised for it. Moses orders the death of all the males, and all the non-virgin females. God wants the Hebrews to keep the virgin females, the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, the lead, the cattle, the sheep and the donkeys as “booty” for their victory. God will receive His portion of the plunder.

In Star Trek V the crew of the Enterprise meet up with an extremely powerful creature on a distant planet. This creature informs them it is God; which is quite convincing when coupled with the display of power. God discovers the crew arrived by space ship, and indicates it would have need of this ship. This causes Capt. Kirk to pause and inquire, “What does God need with a starship?”

I kept thinking of this line when reading Numbers 31. What does God need with Virgin Females and Gold? Why does the Hebrew God desire the same thing a human does? What is more plausible—that God “needs” Virgin Females and Gold, or the humans took what humans want, and placed the blame upon a God?

Worse, all those apologetics attempting to rationalize genocide, due to the pervasive immorality of the society fail in this situation. God could not rehabilitate a 2-day-old baby boy, or 18-year-old widow, but can rehabilitate virgin females. Would Christianity accept such a claim from any other religion?

God’s Justice As discussions circled around actions of God, often I would see the defense proposed: “God is Just.” Yet upon inspecting the simple three-word phrase, the word “Just” is unlike any Justice humans conceptualize. It appears to be an excuse to absolve God of the responsibility of doing something the defender of God doesn’t like. “Hey, we may not like it, but God is just, so what can one do?”

The first problem is “Just” means to follow a law, and no one can explain what law it is God is required to follow. Is it something other than God’s nature? Is it something God can change? Secondly, God is also “merciful” which means God does not always have to follow this law! What is so spectacular about a creature that does and does not have to follow an unknown law? Every time I saw “God is Just” it raised the question—why couldn’t he be merciful in this situation?

Of course the worst display of this is in the Situation of David’s baby. God has a standing order to kill Hittites. (Deut. 20:17). David does so. (2 Sam. 12:9). Because David followed God’s Law, God’s justice demanded David be punished. (2 Sam. 12:10). God then grants mercy, and decides to NOT punish David for following God’s Law. (2 Sam. 12:13). However, God’s Justice then determines it is appropriate to kill David’s newborn child. (2 Sam. 12:14) And take seven days to do it. (2 Sam. 12:18)

If God is “Just” can the Christian apologist please explain what law God was following in absolving David? And what law God was following in punishing David’s baby? You can’t! There may be some hope the reason God does what He does is because of some sort of system of Justice, but this defense is seen for exactly what it is—a hope. To claim God may (or may not) be bound to some law which may (or may not) exist is not persuasive.

A Christian telling another Christian, “God is Just” may elicit a knowing furrow on the brow, with a wise nodding of the head, “Ah, yes indeed” but to a skeptic who wants to unpack more, these three words ring hollow because they have no definition. No force. No information.

God’s Love A fascinating study, in which God requires us to “Love our Enemies” (Luke 6:35) but is not required to love His enemies. (Luke 20:43) A God that forgives the Jews for killing him (Luke 23:34) but will later torture them forever for not believing in him. What was the point of “Father, forgive them...”? Forgive them for what? What is one sin amongst many, when the person was doomed to hell anyway?

As I was looking at these (and more I will cover later) areas of study, I started to sweat. How is it over and over I conceding the skeptical position has the stronger position, when placed in front of a neutral party? Why would I rather be representing the non-believer as a lawyer?

I began to lose sleep. During the day I would study and read. But at night, the demons would come. I would wake at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, my head full of questions. It was there I would start to cry out to God. Where were the answers I was looking for? Why was my brain constantly falling on the side my heart didn’t want?

I understood my concept of the Christian God was probably wrong. Human limitation and error would necessarily result in my being wrong on some point or another. But now I was starting to wonder where I was right. As a Christian, I figured somewhere in the 90-95% of what we knew about God was “correct.” (Obviously there was a great deal unknown about God not factored in the equation.) That we would arrive in heaven and learn that we were wrong on this minor point, or that minor interpretation, all totaling up to round of laughter to our simplicity and then billions of years of bliss.

Now I was dropping my percentage. At 2 in the morning, I felt like I was 75%, maybe 60% accurate. Then 50%. Then less than 30%. I was realizing I was more wrong than right about God.

It was here I prayed. I could read, study and compare during the day, but at night I prayed. I begged God for direction. The right site, article, book. He knew better than I what I was looking for.

I had spent the last 15 or so years of my life concentrating on one thing—loving others. I know if you asked me for help, I would gladly give it. Need help roofing? I’ll be over with my hammer. Need help plumbing? Don’t know what I am doing, but I can fetch-and-carry with the best of ‘em. If God, who has 100 times the amount of love I could muster, knew I needed help—surely he would come? Surely he would point it out?

So…for all the study of the day, at night it was God and I. And one of us was begging to hear from the other.

To be Continued…

Chapter 11

Thursday, October 04, 2007

My Deconversion Story – In which we Cross the Bar

Remember graduating from High School? And everyone asking the proverbial question—“So what are you going to do?” Most of us didn’t have a clue; we would make up some acceptable answer, “Be a Doctor,” “Go into business,” and receive the requisite nod of acknowledgment that the reply was satisfactory.

Not me. I knew what I was going to do—be a computer programmer. My father and brothers were. My uncles and cousins were either actively involved in computers or hobbyist programmers. My younger cousins were going to be in computer information fields. (My family at Thanksgiving sounds like a nerd convention.)

When filling out forms for colleges, with all the possible occupations one could be interested in, and I was to check a little box (“Please check only three (3)”); I went right past “Animal Husbandry” and checked “Computer Information Systems.” One box. Every time.

In the summer between my first and second year of college, my family was actively engaged in some debate around the dinner table, and I was making my point as vociferously as possible. My father said, “You should be a lawyer!” I thought for half a second, and concluded being an attorney sounded quite fine. I changed from checking the computer box to the one marked “Pre-Law.”

After law school, we wander off into our various careers. Some become transactional lawyers. (Prepare legal documents. Never see the inside of the courtroom.) Some tax lawyers, immigration lawyers, family law lawyers, drunk driving lawyers, criminal lawyers, prosecutors, estate lawyers, and so on.

I have landed on a broad field of civil litigation (with an extensive past in criminal law) resulting in trials as well as quite a bit of general practice work. Simply put, what this means is on Monday I may be retained by a female in a custody dispute, in which she is attempting to retain physical custody of her children. On Tuesday I may be retained by a male, attempting to obtain more parenting time with his children. On Wednesday, I could be retained by a builder, attempting to collect a fee from a homeowner. On Thursday, I could be hired by a homeowner attempting to recoup a fee paid to a builder.

Eventually, it seems, we represent about every possible party in every possible dispute in every possible situation. (This is not true, of course. Human ingenuity being what it is, coupled with variety presents new twists on about everything.) I have represented Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents and Relatives in child disputes. I have represented contractors, sub-contractors, homeowners, building inspectors, landlords, tenants, purchasers, and sellers in real estate transactions.

When you come into my office, as I get the information from you, I am already thinking what the other side will argue. Because I have probably already represented another client in a similar position as the person I am about to oppose. I cannot be an effective counselor, if I am biased for your story, simply because you are paying me. In order to do my job, I need to point out the problems, the possible solutions, and the resolutions, as well as the likely outcome, based not only on what you say, but on what the opposing party will claim. I know it will judged by a person who is neutral, and uninvolved. Not someone prone to either believe or dis-believe you.

After doing this for a bit, we lose much of our biases towards particular types of clients. I am not more inclined to represent a Mother or a Father in a custody battle. I have represented both. Won and lost on both. I will represent someone suing for money, or being sued for money with equal vigor. Again, won and lost on both. As time progresses in a file, being human we naturally start to favor our own client; but always with the premise in mind we will be opposed by someone who opposes our client’s position, and we will receive a ruling from someone who is not prejudiced for or against either our client or the opposing party.

In a nutshell, we learn what arguments will work (whether they favor our clients or not) and which ones are not persuasive. We have to, in order to effectively advise people who retain us.

But in order to know all the arguments, we need to know the facts underlying the case. Receiving the facts from just our own client is too one-sided; we need to know what facts the other side will be relying upon. We need to do some research. That is why we have “Discovery.”

Discovery is precisely what it sounds like—we “discover” things about the other side while they “discover” things about us; usually in the form of document requests, depositions, and lists of questions. With a few exceptions, if the other side does not ask for it—you do not have to voluntarily provide it. For this reason, we spend much of our time within litigation trying to find out what the other side has, as the basis for their claim, while attempting to NOT provide what we have.

See, every trial lawyer gets all tingly with the thought of having a bit of evidence that is so compelling, and so damning, we will completely lambaste the other side, and they will never know. To have the “secret witness” who testifies in our favor. Or a document completely contradicting the other person’s position. We even have a term for it: a “Smoking Gun.” (As in evidence that is so compelling and so immediate as to destroy any possibility of defending it. Like a defendant caught still holding a gun that is smoking from the spent bullets.)

Attorney: Is it true you threatened to kill my client?
Witness: I never said that!
Attorney: You left a voicemail message on October 3, 2007 at his place of employment, correct?
Witness: I…ah…don’t remember.
Attorney: Can you identify your voice? [hits “play” on laptop]…

I don’t even have to say what comes next—we all know what we are about to hear. E-mails and voicemail are prevalent in cases in which people claim one thing, but leave a totally different message. The voicemails and e-mails become the “Smoking Gun.”

This is why much of our time is spent learning facts about the case (both favorable and not so favorable) while assessing the plausibility of the arguments derived from those facts, in light of our opposition and a neutral trier-of-fact. It is important to understand this occupies the majority of my professional life each day to follow what happened next…

Life comes down to inches and seconds. We miss hitting a car and having a terrible accident by mere moments. Or falling off a roof by our foot being only inches on the correct side. Sometimes our life can take a drastic turn, that had we been a few minutes late, or a few feet in a different direction would never have happened. For all I know, I would still be a Conservative Christian, completely unfamiliar with even the term “deconvert” but for a posting on a thread in a forum. Something easily missed by inches or seconds.

I enjoy home theater. It is my primary hobby. I was the first of anyone I know who owned a DVD player. (I cringe at the thought of how much I paid!) I was the first who used more than just two speakers running through a stereo system. The first with High Definition Television. I have 1/2 meter interconnect wires that cost more than some of my wife’s jewelry. (And are twice as pretty, in my opinion.)

Since I enjoy this hobby, I regularly followed a home theater forum. Debating over TV brands, Speaker sizes and that sort of thing. As many forums do, this particular one had a sub-forum for a “catch-all” where people could discuss anything not related to home theater. Threads on “How to cook chicken,” or “Who will win the world series?” Someone started a thread on a topic (I don’t remember what) and another member said, “Hey, if you want to discuss creationism vs. evolution, go to” Because the forum wisely prohibits any postings whatsoever regarding religion or politics, the thread was either closed or quickly ignored, disappearing down the scroll as threads do.

In December of 2003 I happened to catch this particular thread, and out of half-boredom, half-interest in the topic, took 1 second to click on the link and was introduced to Internet Infidels Forums. My life came down to that inch and that second.

Here was a wonderful thing! It appeared to be a group of atheists, agnostics and non-believers, discussing a variety of topics, but most importantly, discussing theism. Primarily Christianity. I was captivated. In life, it is considered rude to inquire as to people’s beliefs. Certainly it is rude to argue with them over their beliefs. The only situations in which discussions were acceptable were with other Christians. Who believed just…like…me.

I had never debated with an atheist or agnostic before. To my knowledge, I had never met an atheist or agnostic (although obviously I must have.) And here was a whole forum, teaming with non-believers and a few believers—all discussing theism. Most discussing Christianity.

Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. We have a forum discussing Christianity (a topic I love), with an opposition (great—a challenge), in a medium I adore and cherish (free debate.) But it was even better—I could lurk and read all I wanted. I could follow their links and read their articles. I could research and review Christian articles countering their position. I was getting free and full discovery!

Barrel. Fish. Shooting.

I must confess to being naïve. 20-20 hindsight is not always kind. I had been informed all my life we held “Truth.” We were as close to correct regarding the reality of God that one could be this side of heaven. I had read and learned the arguments infidels used, and expected to see the same such arguments here. I knew (because God told me) most of these individuals actually believed in a God, deep, down in their heart (Rom. 1:20), and while a few were probably too hardened to turn, many would still be open to the concept of God.

I had Truth; they didn’t. I had God; they didn’t. I had background; they didn’t. I had faith; they didn’t. This, THIS is what I was designed for—debating theism with non-believers. (Being Calvinist, obviously I did not expect to be a great evangelistic tool—that was up to God. If he didn’t elect ‘em—no amount of arguing would make a difference.)

And with a mood of euphoric giddiness, I began to read. It was only a matter of time before I posted, of course, but first I needed to get my ducks in a row. I needed to learn. I needed their facts, their arguments, my entire discovery, before I came in with the “smoking gun.”

As I started to read, I became disconcerted. Here was an agnostic that read Greek and Hebrew. I can’t read Greek or Hebrew—how was I to argue with that? Sure, there are on-line tools available, but even I was not so naïve to understand this is nothing like actually studying the language. Or over there were people discussing the nuances of alternative solutions to the Synoptic Problem.

The Synoptic What? How can I discuss what the correct solutions were, if I didn’t even know what the problem was?

Further, they were quoting the Bible. Yes, some of it was out of context, or not well-researched, but the fact they knew it at all, and knew so much was a little surprising. I understood atheists to be people that hadn’t been informed; not people that already knew. Worse, they raised some of the troubling questions we Christians had discussed long ago and came up with answers only barely satisfactory to ourselves. How did they know those? Pretty easy to resolve a problem with another Christian by saying, “Some day we will know the full answer. When we get to heaven.” Not so easy with a person who doesn’t believe in heaven.

Textual Criticism? Weren’t those problems resolved? Aren’t we 99% accurate? Archeology—it always supports the Bible. Right? RIGHT? Who could question the inspiration of the Bible? How could a person not see the resolutions are sufficient to the claimed contradictions?

See, as a lawyer, we know not only our own arguments, but the other sides’ arguments as well. We know the case backwards and forwards; the pro’s and con’s of each position. We know our own strengths and weaknesses; we know our opponents’ too. We become so familiar with the other side we can anticipate what they will claim and what they will argue. Because if we were in their position (as we might very well be next time) it is what we would argue.

I realized I needed to know their arguments better than they did; not equally as well. I needed to know their strengths and weaknesses. So my focus changed. I put down my sword, and recognized numerous areas of study in which I was severely uninformed. This was going to take a little more time than originally anticipated. Time to start researching in earnest.

I was still not concerned. Christianity was true; that was a given. I had just learned there were more topics to digest, investigate, and come to the correct conclusion. The non-believers were still as wrong; there were just wrong in more areas than I originally anticipated!

In fact, this is quite common in court cases. What we originally anticipate will be the focus or arguments, later changes upon new developments. Further, as lawyers, we may start the litigation with very little knowledge in the field, but by the end could almost qualify as experts. We may know nothing about the sprinkler systems. Have a case regarding them, with experts testifying for all sides, and soon we know more than we ever dreamed about laying pipe, the size of pipe, configurations, sprinkler head types, etc. Because we have to know it as well as, or even better in order to explain it to the jury.

This was another one of those situations. Although I did not know Documentary Hypothesis going in, I would be sure to study it and come to a conclusion. Since Christianity was true and tested true, I had little doubt as to what that conclusion would be.

I became a regular visitor at sites familiar to many reading this. EarlyChristianWritings. Tektonics. AnswersInGenesis. TalkOrigins. I ordered Books with familiar names. Strobel. Zacharias. Metzger. Armstrong. And every thread on iidb within the Bible sub-forum, I followed post-by-post, linking where links were provided, googling when they were not, looking for other positions.

I started to have an unpleasant tingling feeling. The arguments presented by non-believers…well…I am used to arguments; I can see what sells and what does not. And these arguments were not half-bad. They were certainly not as bad as I was taught or thought they would be. In fact, some of these arguments were pretty good.

Having never studied Documentary Hypothesis (the concept the Torah was written by four distinct authors or groups, J, E, P, D), I had no pre-conceived idea as to its viability. I was always taught and knew that Moses wrote the Torah. After reading about the Hypothesis, especially in seeing the two (2) stories of Noah’s Flood intertwined, I could not help but read that story and SEE that it was two different tales smashed into one. It looked (dare I say?) obvious.

For the first time, I was forced to recognize my Christianity was not the only viable option. Other views could present alternative views which were not only possible, but more plausible than my own. It would be acceptable to modify my beliefs upon learning this new information, as long as it didn’t go too far. But how much was “too far”? It was time to test the waters and begin posting. How would it shape up in a real debate?

To be Continued…

Chapter 10