Why I didn’t “lose” my religion

Aractus 01, July, 2019

Almost exactly a year ago I promised a new blog series on atheist biblical studies, and despite writing several drafts I haven’t yet began the series proper. I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about my own journey and why I reject the idea that I “lost” my faith or religion.

Christians today believe in and worship a god who is fundamentally different to the god of the biblical Israelites. Most Christians are no longer able to conceive of a god who is just above the Earth looking down and intervening. A cognitive dissidence has developed where they continue to believe in a god that is personally interested and invested in their individual lives; yet one that exists far away from our planet – indeed even commonly thought to be outside of our solar system, or our galaxy, or even our universe. After all how could a creator god have made the universe if he is to be found inside of it? Yet in the bible he is described as sending plagues, weather patterns, and sickness to punish; and likewise he controls conception, gives land and kingdoms, and favour in war as reward. With a god that is not physically present I can not believe he makes rules and covenants.

I can not believe in the idea of a single god. That’s an idea not even very well attested to in the bible itself. It’s an idea that was born from theology centuries after the bible was written. I find it abundantly clear that the Israelites worshipped a number of gods, including the Canaanite gods of Yahweh and El, and that they integrated their beliefs around the 8th-6th century BCE. I can not believe that if these gods were meant to be universal gods for all humanity, that they would be completely unknown outside of the ancient near-East. Yahweh is clearly the god of the Jews, he is not known before the emergence of the Jewish religion.

I can not believe in any of the fundamental dogmas or doctrines that Christian churches teach. In particular I find it impossible to believe that the Earth was created perfect and that death entered the world through the sin of Adam. Without a perfect world and a fall from grace, I find there to be no need for a saviour. Jesus didn’t die for atonement of sin. I am unable to believe in a literal hell. Science, both cosmology and evolution, have taught us that the Earth was never “created” whole, it has developed slowly over 4.5 billion years, and we humans have only been here for ~200-300,000 years. We’re incomplete. We will one day evolve into another species that will look back and see humans as their evolutionary ancestor.

I can not believe that any religion including Christianity has moral authority. Christianity has and continues to be used to deprive people of progress and keep them obedient, dependent, and docile. It has and continues to be used to oppress people who dare to oppose its morality. It condemns people who are different out of prejudice and ignorance, not out of love, compassion, and understanding.

I am not able to believe the dogmas of biblical inerrancy and infailibility. I believe the Christian bible does contain negative harmful teachings as well as positive ones. I can not believe it is the “Word of God”.

Likewise I can not believe that Jesus made only positive teachings. When I read his words, I see some teachings that are good, positive, and uplifting; while some of his other teachings are dreadful, misguided, and ignorant. His very role as a cult leader is disturbing. I can not worship an executed criminal who was clearly imperfect.

I can not believe that Jesus was born to a virgin. This was a story that Matthew invented that early Christians took to be literal, and consequently incorporated into their creeds, doctrines, and dogmas. I can not believe that women are created inferior to be second-class citizens to be owned by men. Jerome thought that women were created from defective sperm. Indeed it wasn’t until 1724 that it was discovered that women had eggs which were fertilised by sperm, making them co-creators of life. Up until that point they were thought to merely provide the womb for the man’s seed which grew into a new human. This is the context in which Matthew believed that God could simply implant his seed into Mary: but it doesn’t make biological sense any more. I can not believe that reinterpreting stories like these to fit with modern science is sensible.

I can not believe in a biblical history. We live in a world with ever-growing research and study into the past, and with the tools that enable us to reconstruct history with far greater clarity than at any time in the past. And what has been discovered is that there were no historic Jewish patriarchs, there was no Moses and no Exodus, and there was no great conquest of Canaan under Joshua. The first historic Jewish kings – Saul, David, and Solomon – must have ruled over tiny kingdoms when compared with the mythical accounts in the bible that have them ruling over great and expansive kingdoms.

I can not idealise theocracy or monarchy, and deplore aristocracy. They are incompatible with fundamental Western values – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, democratic government, independent judiciary, separation of church and State, that all citizens are equal, diplomacy, and rejection of military rule. Early Christianity rejected the idea of Roman multiculturalism: a core value of our modern society. I can not believe that secular society is inherently evil.

I can not go along with religious prejudice. I can not think of the Jews as “those that rejected Jesus”. I can not think of the Hebrew bible as “the Old Testament” that was meant to come before the Christian’s New Testament. I can not think of homosexuals as “morally deprived”. I can not think of those who practise other religions as less human. I can no longer believe in the idea of “race”. I can not believe in forcing your religious views onto people and in dictating how they should live. And I absolutely can not believe in persecuting people for the faiths they hold, or the lifestyles they live.

I can not defend the atrocities committed by Christians. I will not deny history to whitewash the past. The church actively persecuted those it called “heretics” – burning people at the stake, burying them alive, torturing them, imprisoning them, executing them in various other ways, denying them rights, or excluding them through ex-communication or in other ways.

We live in a world fundamentally different to the one in which the bible was written, one where many of the reasons for the Christian faith are just no longer relevant. We don’t need faith to have purpose in our lives, to find beauty and love and express kindness. We don’t need to follow religious laws when we have superior secular laws. Many biblical laws today can only be seen as cruel, unjust, and immoral. Indeed they are from another time, and reflect primitive ideas and values from an ancient society that no longer align with our modern Western and secular values. Many Christians here in Australia look to Christian-majority countries like PNG or African nations and see a Christianity they don’t recognise, because it is one that has not become infused with Western culture and values. They are still wrestling with issues that Westernised churches solved hundreds of years ago. But even churches in Western countries are still battling petty theological problems (often under the guise of defending traditionalism or biblical infallibility, or both) that produces real harm in society that they should have solved a century ago.

Our belief system didn’t start with the bible. The bible codified it at a certain point in history, for a certain group of people – indeed a tiny minority of the world’s population. They reflect the beliefs of the people who wrote the documents that were canonised by the Christians. They show diverse beliefs at odds with each other, both in the Hebrew bible and in the New Testament. It’s not a coherent document. It’s not the one that Evangelical Christians champion, because that bible never existed.

Due to my iconoclastic nature, I can not believe in the holiness of the liturgy. Nor I can not agree with worshipping symbols or idols. I can see beauty in some of the creations of great shrines and religious icons, but I can also see suffering and harm that many of them represent as well. I can not imagine anything more horrific than walking down the street to be confronted with giant statues of the “blessed mother”.

I can not believe in proselytising. I can not condone missionary work, which I find to be overwhelmingly harmful. It has led to the complete destruction of ancient cultures amongst other atrocities. It’s judgemental and condescending. Nor do I believe in attacking, vilifying, or belittling people for their beliefs.

The declining numbers of church participation show that the church has not kept up with the pace of change in our society. The church campaigned against divorce, same sex marriage, contraception, abortion, and decriminalising homosexuality. The list of things the church has intervened with throughout the ages is of course far longer than in recent history. They actively campaigned for crimes against humanity.

Most Christian clergy know far, far more about the state of biblical theological scholarship than they ever dare share with their congregations. Creating artificial theologies based on narrow, biased, or outdated information. Sometimes based on outright false information.

For this reason many Christians are mislead by their pastors, as well as by the biased apologetic bible scholars who translate their bibles and write their commentaries. They defend the institutionalised church, and their continued adherence to antiqued dogmas that belong dead and buried in the past. Sometimes listening to them is like listening to a person who hasn’t read a book in over 200 years. A person living in the past, unable to accept the present and embrace the recent knowledge and progress that has been made.

I am unable to accept the facts of the bible because they don’t match my lived reality. I do not see a reality where miracles occur. I do not see a reality where the dead rise from their tombs. I do not see a reality where disease is caused by daemon possession. I do not see a reality where prayer is effective. I have never seen nor heard from Yahweh or El, Jesus or any other deity. I do not see a reality where the church should have authority – I think our secular governments are better without being religiously indoctrinated. I do not see a reality where the non-religious are any less decent or moral human beings.

If the Judeo-Christian god really exists, I’m sure he doesn’t need people to teach about him. In any case – how would anyone possibly know which particular clergyman or woman has it 100% right? Which denomination is closest – certainly the Eastern Orthodox church is the most authentic to the Apostolic Tradition.

Now I’m sure that some people will read the above as Christian-bashing because Christians can not possibly exist within the space that is left. I think that is incorrect. I believe that most Christians believe many of the beliefs I’ve outlined, but that they have not felt able to express their personal theologies in a positive way that frees them from many of the traditional beliefs of their faiths that have not aged well. We have seen that the church, however slow, has embraced change throughout its two millennia. Many traditional beliefs going right back to the earliest centuries of the church that were once universally held are now considered extreme and fundamentalist. I think we can have a respectful dialogue.

As many know I came from the evangelical-wing of the Anglican church in Australia. The so-called “Sydney Anglican”/Moore College aligned wing. Really that’s just a very polite way of saying fundamentalist Christianity, but with specificity. After all fundamentalism is different in different countries around the world. I was taught homosexuality is immoral and sinful, that the Jews rejected Jesus (this is the justification Christians have for being non-Jewish), the Catholics were responsible for corrupting the faith, that everyone is born with original sin and the need for atonement through Jesus, that secular society is inherently immoral and evil, and that no other religions or gods have any validity, truth, or value.

I’m an atheist who used to be a Christian. But in saying that, I didn’t “lose” my religion. I didn’t lose anything. That’s a negative phrasing that does not reflect the truth. It’s designed to denigrate. I feel very strongly I have been freed from the shackles of negative dogmas that I once believed in. I have grown and matured, and have a greater appreciation for many of the things that Christianity denigrates, denounces, opposes, or just doesn’t value. I’ve learned greatly about the diversity of Christianity since deconverting, and have a great appreciation for much of biblical scholarship. I wish to acknowledge drawing some inspiration from John Shelby Spong in this post (overwhelmingly the points above are my own but I did take a couple of his points as well). I think we can have a great dialogue, and I look forward to brining my Atheist Bible Studies to the blog!

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