Doubting the Bible on a Christian Forum

A helpful Daylight Atheism reader (thanks, Rowan!) pointed me to this thread on Christian Forums, about a believer who’s losing his faith after reading the Bible. From past experience, these threads tend to have the same lifespan as posts on Chinese web forums criticizing the government (and for the same reason), so I advise checking it out while you can. I’ve also saved a snapshot in case the site’s administrators flush it down the memory hole.

The user who started the thread claimed to be a lifelong Christian, but when he sat down and actually read the Bible for himself, he came across some passages that he’d never heard of and that shocked him badly:

like where god hardened the heart of the pharoah, there by obstructing his free will. so that god could show everyone how powerfull he was by killing the first born sons. now i dont understand why god didnt just lighten his heart so that he wouldnt have had to murder children. now i know they had them in slavery, but why would god mess with his free will then still punish him by murdering children , who had no part in the conflict, for a decision god made him make.

now the other issue in there that surpasses everything else is the one of slavery. there was one passage in exodus that completely disgusted me , on how to sell your own daughter as what is basicaly a sex slave… these slaves could be bought and sold as chattel… they could be beaten so badly, that so long as they didnt die within 2 days everything was fine… the other thing i have heard said is that this wasnt gods will but he had to put up with it as its how society was back then. but in many other instances god doesnt put up with things he doesnt like. not even remotely. why was slavery different since slavery is so obviously evil? i cant make myself see how it is right to own another person as property to do with as you will in any age. yes it might have been common back then but that didnt make it right did it?

As you’d expect on a Christian forum, many other commenters jumped in to respond with the usual tortured apologetics about how it was okay for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart because that’s what Pharaoh wanted (sidestepping the original poster’s question about how it could be just to kill all the Egyptian children for a decision they had no part in), or how the laws about slavery were “an expression of thinking in a sinful world” (again, sidestepping the OP’s question about why God would choose to tolerate and even encourage it when he clearly outlawed other common practices of the time).

A few apologist responses were especially notable – like this one, which castigates the OP for not shutting his mind off and believing without asking any annoying questions:

So you said that you trust your own intelligence (Tree of Knowledge) more than God (Word of God), as prophecied? So be it.

God hardened your heart sometimes which God allows you (your free will) to decide to walk in the darness, He won’t choose to wake you up when you made up your mind to betray Him.

Then there were these chillingly evil remarks about how God is above our puny moral standards (the classic excuse of career criminals and supervillains everywhere).

Basically, first you can’t subject God to rules of morality as God is the source of all morality and you are not the judge of God (sorry).

Maybe we can’t understand how the killing of the first born sons was compassionate but having learned from the example of Christ we can trust that in actuality it was even if we don’t see how this is so.

And finally, there’s this brilliant piece of apologist reasoning:

I do believe God ordained slavery. After all, if slavery did not exist, how could we understand being slaves to sin, and now being slaves to righteousness?

See? All those sons and daughters who were sold into bondage, all those foreign prisoners who were enslaved for lives of hard labor, all those slaves who were beaten to death as the Bible allows – that was all so God could make a theological point to people who would live several thousand years later. Now don’t you feel silly, atheists, for ever having doubted the inspiration of those words?

The non-replies of all these Christian commentors show that, even after all this time, the apologists really have no satisfying explanation for the cruelties of the Bible – that is, besides the obvious one that the book was the creation of cruel and fallible men without godly involvement. Impugning the sincerity of those who ask or insisting that God isn’t bound by standards of morality is really all they have, regardless of how blunt or how flowery the language. Small wonder that so many believers who read the Bible for themselves are shocked into questioning their faith.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Bob Carlson

    Small wonder that so many believers who read the Bible for themselves are shocked into questioning their faith.

    Not just believers, of course, but as the study by Dennett and a student showed, the clergy themselves during their seminary training. This was discussed in a 2008 blog post of a Presbyterian clergyman titled Religion without Revelation, which also happens to be the title of a 1957 book by Julian Huxley. Instead of rejecting the beliefs of Christianity, he merely concluded that Christianity is in need of a Copernican revolution. That is somewhat analogous to the thinking of the retired Episcopalian Bishop, John Shelby Spong, who in 2008 gave an interesting lecture The Terrible Texts of the Bible.

  • Lara

    The first page is pretty harsh but it gets better. Later post are more liberal, talking about how the bible is not god and how it shouldn’t be taken that serious. Apparently a lot of Christians don’t take the bible as is-especially the OT. -Which is good. Hopefully, US Christians (the hardliners) learn from this and stop being such utter idiots.

  • L.Long

    Yes I believe that many xtians are as Lara states but it is still BS.
    Because these same xtians do not stand up in church and tell the priest to shut up and stop schiting on gays which is the OT, as if the OT in this instance is 100% g0ds word but slavery or killing lots of innocent people is not. That’s called hypocrisy not moderate.
    But I understand the person’s problem because during a preliminary stay at the seminary I realized the buyBull was evil and never went back. It took a lot of years and searching before accepting A-theism as the end goal.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    The first response to the original post on the forum:

    You should change the title of your OP to “Why isn’t God a 21st Century American and Also Identical to Me?” –Yekcidmij

    This struck me as extremely dismissive and also contrary to the way people describe God. If God is eternal, isn’t it fair to ask why God’s Word sounds so similar to the prejudices held by many people during the time the Book was written?

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    What’s notable about the highlighted responses to these Bible questions is their shared totalitarian character. They clearly lack any justification or even moral reasoning capable of defending evil acts, and the immediate fallback is hard-line authoritarianism. That’s quite telling.

    You’d think that people would be bright enough to realize that “because I said so” is not a legitimate response to any challenge. However, when they have a vested interest, this is quite obviously not the case. It’s infuriating and incomprehensible in the circular way of self-justification.

  • http://www.jaytheatheist.blogspot.com/ Jay

    One of the strangest comments was this one by A-maized -

    “Sure no doubt innocent children were killed. But perhaps nothing less than that would cause the slavery of the Israelites to stop. And that is a living example of how much God will do for you.”

    I can’t imagine the state that one’s mind must operate in to justify their God killing innocent babies as a tit for tat. To me this represents the true nature of evil – a suspension of critical thinking and rational thought.

    -J

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    Is it possible rockyjohn is a reverse POE? Maybe that’s not what I meant. Do you think he may be an atheist who simply wrote something in a doubting way to get the Christians to think a bit? An atheist saboteur of belief?

  • jack

    An atheist saboteur of belief?

    Maybe, but I doubt it after reading his replies to the comments. He insists he’s only losing his faith in the Bible as God’s word, not his faith in God. If it were as easy for me to post a comment there as it is for a Xian to post here, I would have added a comment recommending Ebon’s essay Into the clear air. But even if I had gone through their registration process, I suspect my comment would never have made it past the site monitor.

    So, rockyjohn, whoever and wherever you are, I hope you someday find your way here.

  • Jormungund

    “Why isn’t God a 21st Century American and Also Identical to Me?”
    I know, right? It is almost as though he is a rather ignorant herdsman from thousands of years ago who thinks that the universe is a couple of generations old and that keeping foreigners and other people’s daughters as slaves is awesome.
    It is almost as though some Semitic herdsmen wrote down their own prejudices, desire to commit genocide on every other ethic group they stumbled across and confused understanding of nature as the word of a creator deity.

  • Tacroy

    Hahaha I love this paragraph:

    rockyjohn: Who said that “God messed with Pharaoh’s free will”? I’m quite confident that you’re reading the account incorrectly. Consider two plates sitting on a window sill on a sunny day. In one plate is a stick of butter and in the other plate is a ball of clay. The butter will melt and the clay will harden. It’s the same sun that shines upon both, so then why are there different results? Obviously, we must consider other variables beside the sun itself to properly answer this question…namely the PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS of the items that it is shining upon.

    And if the clay hardening will lead to the death of every firstborn child in Egypt, maybe putting it away would be a good idea?

    Also I kinda want to register an account on there just to tell rockyjohn “It’s okay because Exodus never actually happened, so God didn’t actually kill those kids – the Bible is just flat-out wrong about that part of history”.

  • Karen

    This is the kind of comment that always shut down my doubts as an evangelical:

    Basically, first you can’t subject God to rules of morality as God is the source of all morality and you are not the judge of God (sorry).

    Basically, that’s “shut off your mind and then shut your mouth (sorry)”

    It would be funny if it weren’t tragic.

  • unintentionalhypocrite

    Trecoy: And of course, with the clay heart/pre-existing conditions argument, one has to ask: who was responsible for those pre-existing conditions? In a Christian worldview, God designed everything, including the physics of butter and clay, with one characteristic of butter being that it melts when hot, and one characteristic of clay being that it hardens when heated. So if Pharaoh had a “clay” heart, could that not also be God’s fault – he made Pharaoh with a heart with a pre-existing “clay” condition? At the very least, Pharaoh’s upbringing – something nobody has much control over – must have certainly contributed to his heart’s “clayishness”.

  • http://technologeekery.blogspot.com/ Hendy

    Is it just me that finds it weird that a forum like that has what reminds me of military badges/flags and quotas like “blessings” and “power”? Some titles are even “jedi apprentice” and “sufi.” I just found that super ironic. It’s like replacing posting and ratings with manna and hit points/armor in city of heroes or warcraft!

    Oh, yeah… and the responses were not impressive. Tons of “who the heck are you”s. Particularly liked THIS one. Honestly, as someone who’s been doubting/deconverting for a year, I’d love to know that all I had to do to find out if god exists or not was do some evil and wait for some bad shit to come down. At least the OT god was falsifiable!

  • Korou

    Hello, Rowan here.
    Woohoo! Thanks, Adam, I feel so happy!
    I thought that this might be the kind of thing atheists would be interested in. As it happens, and as Adam knows, this was the second such thread I saw. The first one was a thread in the same forum, started by a user called Christian Burger. It was a really moving story – but I can’t post it because the whole thread was swiftly deleted from the forum. It went something like this:
    ChristianBurger told how he was a normal American from the south, raised as a Christian and with the normal Christian beliefs you would expect to find. Then he went to visit Japan. He was amazed to find that the people living there, almost without exception non-Christians, were actually much more polite, friendly and warm than the people he was used to – who were almost without exception Christians. How could this be? he thought. Wasn’t Christianity supposed to make people better? And that led him onto the second thought – all of these people were destined to go to hell, because they weren’t Christians. But how could such kind and friendly people suffer this fate?
    So he posted to a place where he hoped he could get some help. He told his story and presented his questions on the Christian Apologetics section of Christian Forums. And what happened? Almost without exception, the responses were to condemn him for his doubts, to rationalise why the Japanese people had to go to hell, and to react in a panic of fear, indignation and condescension.
    And then the thread was deleted, and we never saw it again.
    Thanks again, Adam. These are the kind of stories that should be exposed.

  • TEP

    Basically, first you can’t subject God to rules of morality as God is the source of all morality and you are not the judge of God (sorry).

    That reminds me of a quote by Lord Voldemort in the first Harry Potter book – “there is no good and evil, only power.” That’s basically what the whole attitude is – might makes right. If Yahweh was a mortal human and behaved in the same way as depicted in the Bible, you’d be in little doubt that many of those singing his praises would be disgusted with his immorality and call for severe punishment to be meted out against him. But when he’s believed to be the most powerful being in the universe, suddenly there is no such thing as good and evil anymore – whatever the guy with the power does, is okay, because it’s done by the guy with the power.

  • Jeff

    @kagerato: What’s notable about the highlighted responses to these Bible questions is their shared totalitarian character. They clearly lack any justification or even moral reasoning capable of defending evil acts, and the immediate fallback is hard-line authoritarianism… You’d think that people would be bright enough to realize that “because I said so” is not a legitimate response to any challenge.

    There’s no reasoning with these people. There is a small but growing body of evidence suggesting a neurological foundation for fundamentalism. The only hope for human continuity is to quarantine them and breed this maladaptive trait out of the genome.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Jeff “There is a small but growing body of evidence suggesting a neurological foundation for fundamentalism.”
    Doctors have developed a cheap test for it. They put one hand on each side of the head and shake rapidly. A positive is indicated by the rattling sound.

    “The only hope for human continuity is to quarantine them and breed this maladaptive trait out of the genome.”
    That’s harsh. Also, unnecessary. If traits develop and are reinforced because they in some way provide a benefit to the individual or group, surely there’s some way to use it or at least give it an outlet that doesn’t damage the group. We just need something that breeds absolutism, authoritarianism and arguments over nothing. Sportsfan? Wine snob? Trekker?

  • monkeymind

    Jeff, please! They aren’t fundamentalists, they are persons with fundamentalism. Think of the person first, not the disease :-)

  • Lynet

    Eep! Jeff, please be more careful with the idea of eugenics! Most of us would never condone the cruelty you’re suggesting.

    And yes, people who like to follow the rules, or who respect authority, aren’t all bad. I’ve got a touch of that myself, even if I try to keep it away from my reasoning faculties. It has advantages within group dynamics; my loyalty to leaders I respect can make me a really useful part of a team.

    We don’t need to eugenically eliminate respect for authority; we need to teach people critical thinking.

  • Jeff

    I have no problem with eugenics. It got a bad rap years ago, but, in theory, it isn’t a bad idea. If you could breed cancer out of the genome, would you do it? These people are far more of a threat to human continuity than cancer is.

    As far as the teaching of “critical thinking skills” is concerned – as I said, there is a small but growing body of evidence indicating a neurological foundation. It’s early yet, but, if we had the funding (which we haven’t) and the time left as a species (which I also think we haven’t), I’m confident it would be borne out.

    In the meantime – you want to go to Texas and offer to teach them “critical thinking skills”? Good luck to you.

  • http://journal.nearbennett.com Rick

    From this comment:

    I can relate to your feelings of confusion and shock when reading the Bible as a book like any other book from beginning to end. There is much that never gets discussed or addressed because there is simply no true understanding. The only way we can understand any of these issues you bring up is by vision and revelation. These questions will not be answered by “folks on a forum” giving thoughts, opinions, ideas, and concepts.

    (empasis in the original)
    Wow. Don’t read. Don’t think. Don’t discuss. The true meaning will come to you through dreams, hallucinations, sensory deprivation, etc. Understanding will only come when you stop trying to understand. To understand you must have faith. To have faith you must not understand.
    Wait, what?

  • http://dangerousintersection.org/ Erich Vieth

    This suggestion that one shouldn’t think is incredible. More incredible is when I attended a fundamentalist mega-church in affluent West St. Louis County (as an amateur anthropologist), the preacher barked this order at more than 1,000 adults who sat there nodding. He told them that they shouldn’t read anything about religion other than the bible. He told them that he would do the reading and that he would tell them what they needed to know. Doctors, lawyers and business leaders sat there nodding (I naively had the thought that half of them would stand up and walk out, but no one walked out). How is that possible that people would willingly carve out any important area of their lives as exempt from self-critical thought? It’s as common as it is amazing.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Jeff “I have no problem with eugenics. It got a bad rap years ago, but, in theory, it isn’t a bad idea.”
    Any tool you invent, “they” get to use too. And they’re better at it. While “we” are discussing the pros and cons and moral quandries (or arranging for dates and times for meetings for committees on sub-committees for such and what are we going to do for lunch, anyways?), “they” will have already irradiated your gonads and emptied your fridge.
    If you’re willing to casually cast aside the Civil Rights of others, you’ve just knocked out the foundation for others to defend yours. The Banality of Evil seems so non-evil, sometimes.

  • jack

    He told them that they shouldn’t read anything about religion other than the bible. He told them that he would do the reading and that he would tell them what they needed to know.

    Yes, it’s amazing how many people want to be led around like sheep, at least when the right emotional buttons are being pressed and they’re in a herd (which is not a bad descriptor for the audience in a megachurch).

    This preacher’s statement also points to another amazing thing about rockyjohn’s OP: The story about the plagues God sent against Egypt and the Pharaoh, including the slaughter of the Egyptian babies, is not something the Xians keep secret or sweep under the rug. It is taught to little kids in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes. I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard it, but I would guess about 5 or 6 years old. There is just one little detail that gets changed in these retellings of the story: in the sanitized version, God kept sending plagues because the Pharaoh was stubborn and refused to free his Israelite slaves.

    Only when you read the story in Exodus for yourself does it become abundantly clear that Pharaoh relented after each plague and agreed to free the slaves every time. Each time God deliberately tinkered with the neural activity in Pharaoh’s prefrontal cortex, thereby “hardening Pharaoh’s heart”, making him change his mind so that God could have an excuse to send yet another plague.

    What’s most amazing is that so many of the commenters on the Xian blog continue to make excuses for God in the context of this story, and some seem still to be in denial about that one little sanitized detail.

  • http://bible.luke-senior.co.uk Luke Senior

    Later post are more liberal, talking about how the bible is not god and how it shouldn’t be taken that serious. Apparently a lot of Christians don’t take the bible as is-especially the OT.

    If religions don’t rely on the Bible (or similar scripture) as the word of God then how can their religion possibly exist? The relgiion relies heavily on the Bible to be the word of God without it how do they ‘convert’ others. I guess thats just faith.

  • vel

    this has to be the best example of Christian special snowflakism: “I do believe God ordained slavery. After all, if slavery did not exist, how could we understand being slaves to sin, and now being slaves to righteousness?” Golly, this Christain is so important that god is willing to torture and torment millions of people just so they could learn a lesson!

  • Em

    Well, there we go: to get more de-converts, we should hold more Bible study sessions! It won’t convince the most dedicated, as some of those replies show, but it would get a lot more doubters.

  • Snoof

    The relgiion relies heavily on the Bible to be the word of God without it how do they ‘convert’ others[?}

    Mostly be appeals to overactive pattern recognition (“there is a creation so there must be a creator!”), woolly thinking (“babies are cute, therefore God!”), cultural conditioning (“of course you’re a Christian, you were baptised”), guilt (“Jesus died _for you_! Are you going to throw that away?”) and identification of positive traits with group membership (“last year, our church raised ten thousand dollars to fund a homeless shelter!”). Seriously, there’s a lot of self-proclaimed Christians out there who _don’t_ take the Bible literally in every detail. They’re can be frustrating to debate, mind you, because often even they’re not sure exactly what it is they believe or why.

  • http://www.theelectoralcollegestudent.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Re, the issue of Christians who profess Christianity without fully accepting the Bible:

    My hunch is that this kind of Christianity is more of a way of life, a way of consciousness, than a fully-fledged belief, and the Bible, far from being its foundation and justification, is really just one facet of the package.

    This is why I often feel it’s counter-productive for atheists to argue with Christians solely on the basis of the Bible’s unreliability. People like ChristianBurger (from comment #14) are rejecting a version of the Christian life, that incidentally involves the Bible and the specific provisions of faith. It’s not that the Bible alone is wrong – it’s that his circumstances have allowed CB to envision a life which is irreconcilable with his interpretation of the Bible: a life in which it makes no sense that equally decent and kind people should be subject to eternal torture solely because they picked the wrong creed, or no creed at all.

    I should note, if ChristianBurger interpreted Christianity differently, perhaps he would still accept it. I know Christians who emphasize social justice teachings from the Bible over dogma, and sometimes claim that their faith is valuable most of all because of the way it tells them to live, and the consideration of its truth or falsity barely registers for them. It isn’t that these Christians fully disregard truth, but that they believe that the parts of the Bible and Christianity that they like are more true than the parts would typically irk most freethinkers.

    However, I recognize that because the Bible can be twisted many ways to suit different cultures and values, there is no guarantee that individuals will be altruistic enough to emphasize its best qualities over its distortions, atrocities, and rationalizations for what most Christians themselves call “evil”. I believe, therefore, that the most important task for atheists isn’t just to fight the Bible, but to fight the cultures which weaponize it. If atheists promote secular morality, virtue, and cooperation, then people will recognize the inconsistencies on their own.

    Atheists must engage not only on an intellectual level, but on an emotional and cultural level as well, if we wish to most successfully promote our own values. We cannot rely solely on arguments and logic; we must show that we have found a better way to live. A good example is the best sermon, as well as the highest truth.

  • John Nernoff

    God does this. God does that. God says this. God says that.

    Just like a human. He does. He says.

    I find it amazing that so many, in fact all, believers think “God” is a sky-man.

    After all the rhetoric, all the Bible verses, all the claims and dogmas and acts and blathering about “God’s” will, he’s nothing more than an imaginary man up there in the sky. There’s very little more to be said about it.

  • Kacy Ray

    The first thing I’d point out to the OP is that he’s accept ambiguous, undefined terms (“hardened his heart”, for example) and attempting to reconcile them with his understanding of his own dogma.

    But the reality is not only that those terms are undefined, but ultimately undefinable. Even metaphorically, “hardening” could mean a thousand different things, none of which can be verified by the text with certainty.

    Of course, we all assume that it means “God caused Pharoah to grow angry and change his mind with malicious intent” – but all an apologist has to do at that point is to shift the definition ever so slightly in whichever direction he needs it to go, and there’s nothing anyone can say. The meaning of the term is not verifiable. Advantage: Apologist

    The right way to approach the issue is to demand that these terms be defined with clarity before even agreeing to discuss them.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    That’s an excellent point, Kacy. The vagueness of religious metaphors allows apologists to repeatedly redefine their terms in whichever way is most convenient to their argument at that moment. The right thing to do is to insist on clarity before beginning the discussion, but anyone who did that probably wouldn’t have become a believer in the first place.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    After all the rhetoric, all the Bible verses, all the claims and dogmas and acts and blathering about “God’s” will, he’s nothing more than an imaginary man up there in the sky. There’s very little more to be said about it.

    John, ever notice how frequently God and Jesus are referred to in monarchical terms? Or in depictions of Judgment Day, God is pictured like a sovereign on a throne? Probably because the people who invented the religion went with what they knew, the person with the most power is a king who sits on a throne, so God must be just like that.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Ebonmuse “The vagueness of religious metaphors allows apologists to repeatedly redefine their terms in whichever way is most convenient to their argument at that moment.”
    To be fair, language in general has the same fault.


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