January 12, 2016

Reading the Holy Bible for the First Time

holy bible
The first time I read the bible some Christians consider holy, I had nightmares for several days. I had not previously understood what the phrase "god fearing" meant or how anyone could possibly worship a being they feared. In church, I had been told about a very different sort of god than the main one described in the bible. It never made sense to me why anyone would be afraid of the god described in church, a loving sort of god. After reading the bible, I certainly understood what "god fearing" meant. One would have to be nuts not to fear this particular god! It was a monster.

It would take me a few years to realize that there was no reason to worship such a being. I was a Christian at the time, and I believed that some sort of god was real. I hoped it was the one described in church and not the one in the bible, but that seemed presumptuous. This was, after all, the bible. If anybody was getting it wrong, it was probably the people at church.

Believe it or not, the cruel, jealous, petty, and genocidal nature of the main god described in bible was not what stuck with me most from my first encounter with this book (although this certainly made an impression too). No, it was something far more personally upsetting. There was at least one way in which the stories I heard in church converged extremely well with what I read in the bible. This god, whatever other attributes one might suggest, was intimately involved in the affairs of humans. This was not a passive observer but an active participant. In addition to meddling in some substantial ways (e.g., killing nearly every being on the planet in various floods, fighting on the side of one tribe against another), this god interacted with individual humans quite regularly.

Some Christians are fond of claiming that we atheists have unrealistic expectations of their god. When we point out that one of the things that led some of us to atheism was the realization that no god ever answered our prayers, some respond with something like, "You know, it isn't like God is a genie granting wishes." I never expected a genie; I expected a reply. I expected this not only because some Christians insist that their god answers all prayers but because the primary god described in the bible appeared to interact with humans regularly.

As a Christian who had not yet reached the point where I began to seriously question the faith tradition into which I had been indoctrinated, I had little choice but to assume that it was my fault that I was not getting any sort of response. The reason no god was responding to me had to be that there was something wrong with me. If most others around me were receiving responses, as they claimed, and the bible described countless examples of responses, it had to be my fault that I was not. At the time, I found this prospect even more terrifying that the atrocities committed by the god in which I was expected to believe.

This brings up another claim I have heard from many Christians. "You are being stupid by expecting to hear God's voice booming from the heavens every time you pray. It doesn't work like that." This is not at all what I ever expected. I would have been perfectly content to hear a voice in my head that I recognized as coming from somewhere other than my own mind. I would have gladly settled for a fleeting sense of peace or calm. I wasn't walking around expecting random bushes to burst into flame or waiting for angels to appear. I merely wanted some small indication that I had been heard or that there was anything at all out there.

I wasn't thinking of it this way at the time, but it now sounds like what I was really seeking all those years ago was evidence. In later years, Christians would tell me that the point of faith was believing without evidence and that if I had been given evidence at the time it would have undermined my faith, rendering it unnecessary. Maybe these Christians had a point. If I had evidence, I would not have needed faith to support my belief. All I know is that if I had felt like I was being heard by something at the time, I would most likely still be a believing Christian. If there was a god out there somewhere like the one described in the bible or at church, it would have known this. Perhaps the lack of response wasn't my fault after all.

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