Why Even Bother Being a Liberal Christian?

Editor’s Note: This is a question I wish more people would ask themselves. As a former liberal Christian reading through this, I see that I have a lot in common with the writer, New Testament Scholar and Clergy Project member Bart Ehrman. The main difference is that when I learned the facts about religion, I couldn’t stand going through the motions every Sunday, even though I enjoyed some of those motions and really enjoyed being among people, including clergy, who could hold and openly express a range of beliefs. Like Bart, there was one little thing that pushed me away. Read on.

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By Bart Ehrman (originally posted here)

Some people have asked me, and I have asked myself, why, as a liberal Christian, did I continue to “believe,” or at least to act as if I believed?   I didn’t think Jesus was literally born of a virgin and I wasn’t sure if he was physically raised from the dead.  I didn’t think that he existed before he came into the world, let alone that he had been God from eternity past.  I didn’t think there was a hell and I didn’t know about heaven.  I believed in the Big Bang and evolution, not in creation.   I thought the Bible was filled with mistakes, historical inaccuracies, contradictions, and discrepancies, that its authors were fully human and were (simply) providing their views of this that or the other thing.  So why did I go to church every week, say the creed, sing the hymns, say my prayers, confess my sins, take communion, teach adult education, and all the rest?

I’m not sure I’ve ever explained this to anyone before, though I certainly explained it to myself.  The first thing to say is that I did not think – and still do not think – that I was being a hypocrite.  I wasn’t pretending to believe things I didn’t believe.  That wasn’t it at all.  It was more complicated than that, which is probably why I have never explained it.

I should say by way of preface that the church I was going to at the time I am now thinking of was an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, and my sense was that there was an enormous range of “believers” going there – some who were devout and others not so much, some who believed every word in the creed and others who took it with a massive grain of salt, some who were rather simply in their faith (not too many of those, actually) and a lot who were filled with doubts and uncertainties, but found in the church a place to root themselves.  There were agnostics in their midst.

So most anything I personally believed would have been fine in that context.  But why did I continue to go and participate in Christian worship?

It would help to point out that I was not at all missionary about my views.  I had gotten beyond trying to convince anyone to think or believe what I did.  To me it didn’t much matter what others believed or found useful to think.   I didn’t think that I was so right about everything that everyone else needed to agree with me (as I had thought when I was a fundamentalist years before).  I didn’t actually think that there *was* only one right thing to think or believe.  What I thought and believed was for me, not for others.

But why continue to live as a Christian?   For me it worked like this. I had come to think that there was no such thing as a person who existed in a vacuum, in a mental world of neutrality, where there were no assumptions made, no unprovable assertions affirmed, no completely novel ways of thinking and relating to the world around them.

All of us participate in the broader world – not just the broader physical and social world, but also in the world of thought, belief, world view, perspective, and assumption.  Of course each of us is unique, but in another sense none of us is.  We all share things that we agree on, many of which cannot be established or proved – or at least that we ourselves are incapable of establishing or proving (think: theory of general relativity).

Everyone has mental/personal/emotional roots somewhere.  And I chose my roots to be in the Christian church.  That was the tradition I was raised in.  That was the tradition I resonated with.  That was the tradition I was comfortable in.  That was the tradition I could relate to.  That was the tradition that made sense to me.  That was the tradition I understood.  So that was the tradition I was in.

Yes, I could have left.  But this is the key point: if I left I would have to go SOMEWHERE ELSE.   And that somewhere else, in my view, was no better than the place I was leaving.  You can’t go from something to nothing.  You go from one thing to another thing.  And why do that?  Only because you can no longer stay where you are.

And so it made better sense to me to try to reinterpret the tradition I was standing within than to adopt an entirely new tradition.  That’s why I never was (very) tempted to become Jewish.  And not at all tempted to become Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu, or anything else.

But why be *anything*?  The reality is that deciding to become *nothing* doesn’t work.  We are all something or other.  Someone may think that she or he is bold and brazen and a real pioneer to become an atheist.  Really?  That is bold, brazen, and pioneering???  As if no one else has done that?  As if being an atheist doesn’t involve assumptions about the world, beliefs about where we came from, ideas about what it means to lead a good and fulfilling life?  Really?

At the time I thought my tradition – when taken literally – was highly flawed.  But so was every other tradition.  Rather than adopt a new highly flawed tradition, it made better sense to me to stay within my own tradition and reconstrue it in ways that allowed me to see its deep and rich value while accepting it in a way that can appeal to a modern person who understands more about science, history, philosophy, ethics, and everything else that we as highly educated modern people understand.

And so rather than jettison my tradition, I had, gradually over time, decided to reinterpret my tradition.  I wasn’t missionary about it.  I didn’t insist that others do likewise.  But it is what I did for myself.  The Christian tradition is incredibly sophisticate and capacious.   I grabbed on to what I thought was at the very heart of it and developed my views about it in ways that could coincide with what it all really meant.  I didn’t think I was being dishonest in doing so – secretly altering the faith while pretending to hold on to it.  As a scholar of the Bible and early Christianity, I knew that *everyone* in *every situation* reinterprets their tradition in light of their own lives and circumstances.  That had always been the case for every single person in the Christian tradition, and always will be.  I was simply being more self-conscious and intentional about it.

I believed that yes there was a God.  But he was not going to send billions of people to be tortured for eternity.  Belief in God, for me at the time, was a belief that ultimately there was a good divine being and that there is good in the world and that we have a place in it.  Christ was a manifestation of God in that he was the one who showed us what God was really like, one who more than anything else loved others with all his being to the point of willing to die for the sake of others.   Confessing sins meant realizing how far short I fall from those ideals in my everyday life.  Prayer meant aligning myself with the purposes of God, the God of love.  Taking communion meant committing myself to giving myself to others.  The Bible was a collection of deeply moving spiritual reflections by people who had keen insights into the world and our place in it.  This was my tradition, and I embraced it.

Until I could not do so any more.   I eventually had to stop because the very basis of the entire tradition – the existence of a loving God – itself came under threat for me.  I’ll explain that in subsequent posts. [Editor’s message: Those posts can be found on Bart’s blog.]

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Bart Ehrman, Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bio: Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He came to UNC in 1988, after four years of teaching at Rutgers University. At UNC he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

A graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Bart received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-six books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. For more detail, read here.

Bart is also an original member of The Clergy Project. He has given Rational Doubt permission to repost public blogs from The Bart Ehrman Blog

>>>Photo Credits: By Dan Sears – Dan Sears UNC-Chapel Hill, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41276400

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  • Etranger

    I realized at age 20 that I could not lead an unauthentic life. I could not continue to be a part of something whose fundamental principles did not make sense to me. I don’t understand how folks like this guy can suspend that urge, especially since they are critical thinkers in so many ways, for so long!

    • mason

      With some of us it happens rather rapidly and with others it can be a tedious extended process over many years as they struggle not to toss out the baby with the bathwater, or at least have the baby’s shoes bronzed.

  • jamesparson

    Why be a liberal Christian?

    I don’t think everyone can go all the way to being an atheist. I am thinking of my GF.

    She does not go to Church,
    She does not donate her time,
    She really hates how the Catholic Church protected pedophiles

    She still sees herself as Catholic.
    And would like to visit the Ark Experience
    She knows I am atheist, and she knows that she can’t prove God exists, but still continues to believe.

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    I think she is half way out, but this is as far as she can go.

    • Otto

      I was more than half way out of the Catholic Church…then I had children and I was leaning towards going back. Shortly after the Catholic scandal hit and I realized I could never go back. I still was trying to find a Christian church but because of my experience I really put the Christian belief under a microscope until it was gone. I can see why some people can’t do that or don’t want to.

      • Argus

        One thing I often hear new parents say when their kids get older – “We need to go to church now to teach them morals.” They fail to realize they are already equipped to instill moral values and have been doing so since their kids were infants.

        • Otto

          Very true, that was not my reason for looking to go back but I know it is for many.

          • Argus

            Indeed…motives vary.

    • Melody

      I think Bart Ehrman explains it rather well. Becoming a liberal Christian means you can make up your own mind about things like gay marriage, abortion; it means you don’t have to follow ancient laws anymore, yet at the same time you can still enjoy Christian traditions, songs, community. And perhaps still believe in a divine guide or parent figure.

      I suppose a liberal Christian might feel they have the best of both worlds; they can be modern – unlike fundies – and they can still enjoy the beautiful things/side of Christianity. I agree that not all people might want to go all the way to becoming an atheist, for various reasons.

      It was why I wanted to be and was a liberal Christian for a short while. In the end, for me it fell flat because I didn’t believe it was true anymore. And ultimately I cared about the truth more.

      • mason

        Hunger for truth/evidence vs hunger for escape fantasy. Fantasy has been an antidote to harsh reality for humans since we developed imagination. I find it interesting that so many adults are such avid fans of superheros in movies, comics, and novels.

        • Melody

          Your comment made me smile. I’m still very much into escape fantasy, but I know that it is an escape, which makes all the difference in my opinion. Reading books has been my escape my entire life, but I always knew that it was. I didn’t know how much Christianity was an escape too until I started questioning it; it was a much stronger form of escapism because I didn’t know that it was a way to not deal with reality.

          • mason

            Who better to understand escape, supernatural, fantasy than those who understand. :) Here’s my new novel full of adventure, supernatural, escape, murder, science, Sons of God mating with human females (right from the bible) and the multi-dimensional Universe. ZETA, a female protagonist you’ll never forget. https://www.inkitt.com/stories/scifi/131320 or also on Kindle audio enabled

          • Argus

            What if it turns out that Jesus was just a comic book character of his time mistaken for a real person!

      • jamesparson

        I still like some Christian songs. “Amazing Grace” is just wonderful. Christmas is a fun holiday. Maybe I am a liberal Christian, but I just don’t call myself that.

        • Melody

          I still enjoy some of the music as well and Christmas is my favorite holiday mainly because of the food and the whole atmosphere. I call it nostalgia instead.

        • Linda_LaScola

          Nope — liking music is simply liking music — doesn’t make you a Christian or a hillbilly or a cowboy or a punk or a believer in whatever the music happens to espouse.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          I love a good hymn sing! Too bad most American churches have crapped the hymnal for “praise songs”.

        • Argus

          Sounds like you may be a cultural Christian (as I think are many of us American atheists) — I am actually just assuming you are American because the rest of the world of course does not matter! :)

        • GubbaBumpkin

          I remember after Paul Simon helped make them world famous, Ladysmith Black Mambazo toured the USA and appeared on television. They performed one song in their native language. It sounded deep. It sounded eternal. It was very moving.

          And then they were so proud to have been practicing their English and sang the same song in that language. And I could make out the lyrics, and they were something like “Oo baby I want to get with you.” It sounded so mundane.

    • Etranger

      I know many people like that – especially Catholics. But the Ark Experience?! Really? LOL

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        The rides at Lourdes are much better.

        • Etranger

          LOL. I thought there were just wheelchairs to ride at Lourdes?! (bad taste, I know)

          • jamesparson

            Booooo

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            There’s also Spontaneous Remission of Cancer Mountain.

        • Jim Jones

          The rides at the Bunny Ranch are much better.

    • mason

      The cultural part and undoing the deep emotional and mental brainwashing inflicted upon them as a child can be the hardest part of the deprogramming, if a person has the motivation, it still requires a lot of intellectual and emotional fortitude

      • amyjane

        ☝️THIS.

    • Argus

      Sounds like my wife. I call her (in my head) a Benevolent Deist.

  • alwayspuzzled

    Ehrman seems to realize that going from “Creedal religions are fictitious” to “There is no God” is a non-sequitur. Hopefully, his subsequent posts will explain in detail what pushed him across the binary.

    • Linda_LaScola

      HIs subsequent posts will be found on his own blog — not here on The Rational Doubt Blog.

      • Machintelligence

        I personally am not a fan of blogs behind paywalls. I support a fair number through Patreon donations where I decide how much they are worth to me. Just my opinion, yours may vary.

        • ElizabetB.

          so many creative ways to help the hungry, homeless, & war-torn!

          • alwayspuzzled

            Thanks for mentioning DWB. I give to them anyway, so the Ehrman Blog will be 2 for the price of 1

    • ElizabetB.

      Also… The Bart Ehrman Blog Podcast was just announced — brainchild of a blog member who’s volunteered to read 15 – 20 minutes’ of posts current and old, weekly. I notice that one title is “Leaving the Faith.” I’m not a steady reader of the blog but enjoy checking it out from time to time, or looking up a particular topic. I super like the idea that the <$8 a quarter for the blog (not the podcast) goes totally to charities like Doctors Without Borders, to relieve suffering.

      • alwayspuzzled

        Thanks for the information.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      Hopefully, his subsequent posts will explain in detail what pushed him across the binary.

      He certainly foreshadows that in the above post. He seems to put great weight on the argument from evil. He wrote a book about it.

  • Luo Rui

    I have no problem with anyone who stays a Christian because they get things out of it, though I wonder if Ehrman simply got lucky in his church family. So many congregations (even liberal/progressive ones) are downright toxic. The Christianity I was a part of was shaming, limiting, and at times abusive, so once I stopped believing, it was a relief to get out. Of course, my experience as a woman is going to be significantly different from any man’s.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    Not surprising, this slow, reluctant drift away from religion, as Ehrman has always struck me as a ‘nostalgic apostate’ wishing to retain the religion sans the belief.

    This trait is also evident in his scholarship as, despite his own findings that the gospels are terribly unreliable, he nevertheless accepts their content prima facie. Thus employing the circular reasoning and other shoddy methodologies that pass for historical research among apologists.

    • ElizabetB.

      This is a surprise… I’ve always thought Ehrman puts everything under a microscope… Are you thinking of any content in particular? Thanks!

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        Ehrman accepts early dating of the gospels — Mark c. 70 to John c. 90. The date for Mark he derives from the common (though not universal) assumption that the Little Apocalypse refers to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Yet if so, that is but the terminus a quo; Ehrman’s only reason for pressing flush up against the boundary (actually, he strays over it, to 65!) is to accommodate the orthodox, apologist timeline.

        Stretching the putative ‘oral tradition’ phase as far as possible, that timeline assumes the first gospel account had to be written no later than four decades following the historical events, established as occurring c. AD 30. But as the gospels are the source for the dating of these events, that is circular reasoning.

        Despite his exhaustive and laudable work exposing the massive scale of redaction in scripture (which he refreshingly labels “forgery”), Ehrman has a blind spot when it comes to certain materials. He accepts the core of the testimonium flavianum, dismissing out-of-hand all evidence — including the scholarly work of several 19th & 20th theologians & philologists — that the TF is in its entirety an interpolation. Ehrman has also scoffed at the notion that the Paulina, the Hauptbriefe included, exhibit unmistakable signs of heavy redaction, compiling, and distinct hands — again dismissing or ignoring extensive scholarly work.

        I could go on.

        • mason

          I have seen where believers cite Bart regarding testimonium flavianum and wondered if they were accurate. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4e7bedcaffc8de5d6b5daf37b8b40d0ca29f697144c1da7c6fc171cbd8e03ec3.png

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Wasn’t that Morgan Freeman said that? 😉

            Is Ehrman here excluding Josephus as a Jewish historian?

          • ElizabetB.

            I was curious about that, too. Thanks to a short YouTube post, I see it was part of the 2010 debate with Craig Evans “Does the NT Misquote Jesus?” before a conservative audience. The short video transcribes the context, as Ehrman is being asked whether archaeologists use the Gospels as sources (No):

            “….But historians of course do use the Gospels as sources, principally as sources for knowing about the life of the historical Jesus. They have to, because there are no other sources that are reliable that exist, which leaves us with a problem, since the only sources that do exist are the Gospels, and they are not reliable either. There is no doubt that the historical Jesus is the most important person in the history of Western civilisation. There is no doubt of that at all, in my opinion….
            “In the entire first Christian century Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references!
            “The first time Jesus is mentioned in a Roman source (or a Greek source) is by the Roman governor of the province of Asia Minor, a governor named Pliny, in the year 112, eighty years after Jesus’s death. And even then Pliny doesn’t even name him Jesus, he simply refers to his name Christ in passing. That is the only reference within eighty years of Jesus’s death.
            “Jesus is mentioned two times very, very briefly by the Jewish historian Josephus in the year 93 over 60 years after his death, but he is mentioned in no other Jewish source of the first century at all. […]
            “[H]istorians have to use these Gospels very carefully and critically […].”
            [minutes 1:02:25 — 1:07:40]
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7gmgdk9qG8

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            “….But historians of course do use the Gospels as sources, principally as sources for knowing about the life of the historical Jesus. They have to, because there are no other sources that are reliable that exist….

            Replace “Jesus” with “Grendel” and “the gospels” with “Beowulf” to see how solid is such methodology. A century ago, Delbrück warned against treating sketchy sources from antiquity as “acceptably trustworthy” simply because no reliable alternatives exist.

            The passage in Josephus, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” is even less reliable than the TF. The wording is extremely awkward and unlike any of the other 17 times Josephus introduces a Jesus.

            The first time Jesus is mentioned in a Roman source (or a Greek source) is by the Roman governor of the province of Asia Minor, a governor named Pliny, in the year 112, eighty years after Jesus’s death. And even then Pliny doesn’t even name him Jesus, he simply refers to his name Christ in passing

            Pliny’s letter, if authentic, is only evidence of the existence of a Christ cult, not of Jesus the man. I wonder if Ehrman is even aware that, in ostensibly minimizing the value of this piece of evidence, he is subtly pumping it up into something it’s not. I suspect not, as Ehrman has a tendency to play a game of ‘telephone’ inside his own head when dealing with sources or when paraphrasing the words of his contemporaries.

          • ElizabetB.

            I think a big part of the puzzle is why something made a bigger splash than Grendel…. what happened? from the effects we see, what can we conjecture?

            Thanks very much for all the time answering questions!! it’s helped me get a better sense of what the ahistoricists/mythicists are saying & I appreciate it

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Your ‘big splash’ question is a fascinating one, but which RL demands force me to save for another day.

            Thank you for the conversation. There’s certainly a range of views & ideas among mythicism, and unfortunately one or two real-life cranks who get imo far too much attention. It’s always nice to not suffer guilt by association with them, or to endure ad hominens.

            btw, I just coined “ahistoricist” here, & am unaware of it being used by others.

          • Argus

            Isn’t there some dispute that Joe may have been mentioning a High Priest Jesus and that was later melded into the TF?

          • ElizabetB.

            Hi Argus! Re-reading the TF section in “Did Jesus Exist?” I don’t see that among the points that Ehrman mentions mythicists making. Sorry that I’m not well read on the Testamonium — I’d have to search google — I’m not sure I have any books on hand that dig into that question. Let me know if/when you find something helpful!!

          • Jim Jones

            I doubt anyone is, however I don’t expect Newt Gingrich to write a book praising Stalin and communism. This passage, which only appeared after Eusebius got his hands on the book, is similarly unlikely.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            … however I don’t expect Newt Gingrich to write a book praising Stalin and communism.

            If that happened it would not surprise me in the least. Gingrich is not a man of principle, he will say whatever is convenient to his current cause, or is profitable. You insult Josephus with the comparison.

          • Jim Jones

            I insult Eusebius, the forger of many documents.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            Noted.

        • ElizabetB.

          Thanks, Matt! I haven’t read Ehrman on gospels-dating and Paul….

          There’s a section in “Did Jesus Exist?” [57-66] on the Testimonium Flavianum, and Ehrman highly compliments one of his students who was writing his dissertation (at another school) on the Testimonium. The student was finding it entirely an interpolation, based partly on language and style. Ehrman wrote that he was not convinced, in part agreeing with arguments from other scholars. In a footnote he writes:

          “Final judgment on the Testimonium will ultimately depend, in the short term, on the strength of the argument that Olson can make in his doctoral dissertation and especially on the critical reaction to it by experts on both Josephus and Eusebius. However that debate resolves itself, it should be obvious that my case for the historicity of Jesus does not depend on the reliability of Josephus’s testimony, even though I take the passage to be, at its core, authentic.” [p.351]

          It’s surprising to me that Ehrman seems so ready to follow careful scholarship wherever it may lead. Rather than finding him to accept content prima facie, I see him as very open to considering most any proposition — I’ve been very struck by his exploration of the “creative” role of memory in storytelling and oral tradition in “Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior.” This passage gives a little flavor — discussing whether miracle stories originated during or after Jesus’s life (I always add “if he existed” since many are questioning that!)

          “In the end there is no way to know. Possibly people were saying such things about Jesus during his life. But the fact that these deeds are so thoroughly ascribed to Jesus by later authors, living decades after the fact, is not in itself proof that they must be historical or even that they must have originated as stories during Jesus’s lifetime. The gist of a message can change. Storytellers not only came up with their own ways of expressing the traditions they passed on, they not only made up and altered details, and they not only embellished their accounts and added entire episodes. Sometimes their inventiveness went to the very heart of the matter so that what later became the gist of the tradition was not in fact an accurate memory, but one that had been generated as the stories were told and retold, hundreds of times, by hundreds of people, in hundreds of situations. Jesus became increasingly powerful with the passing of time. Was he really the miracle-working Son of God during his lifetime? That is not a question that historians can deal with directly. But it is not at all implausible that the miracle-working deeds of Jesus were later memories told by those who had come to believe that he had been raised from the dead and exalted to heaven…. ” [pp.225-6]

          Thanks very much for the examples! I’ll be alert for discussions on dating and Paul!

          • Pofarmer

            I think in your passage he assumes way, way too much.

          • ElizabetB.

            Much of the content of the quotes rests on arguments he’s making in the book(s). Pulling a passage out to stand alone is probably not such a good idea for me to do! — I was just wanting to give a flavor of the way he sees memory working in human traditions. Thanks, Pofarmer!

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            I haven’t read Did jesus Exist?, but on the TF Ehrman can’t have his cake and eat it, too. In Jesus, Interrupted he’s happy to lean on the TF:

            It is certainly worth knowing that the most prominent Jewish historian of the first century knew at least something about Jesus—specifically that he was a teacher who allegedly did wonderful deeds, had a large following, and was condemned to be crucified by Pontius Pilate. This account confirms some of the most important aspects of Jesus’ life and death as recounted in the Gospels.

            The whole creative memory thing — a bit of a fad among apologists at the moment — seems to me nothing more than an ad hoc rescue. An unfalsifiable, just-so story fashioned expressly to address the problem with the timeline.

            And, while it is not implausible that a mortal’s image gradually acquired divine aspects, it is also entirely plausible that a divine character became historicized. Ehrman a priori dismisses the latter possibility, and disparages to the point of mockery any who espouse it. Of those who currently do so, Ehrman frequently ridicules them for not being true ‘scholars’ (as if three divinity degrees an historian makes), conveniently ignoring the likes of Spong, Detering, Lüdemann, et al. When reminded of the existence of the Dutch Radicals and Tübingen School, Ehrman rejects them as ‘old’.

            At the outset of his recent debate with Robert Price, Ehrman declared he had no intention of even entertaining the very question that serves as the title of his latest book. That’s a highly dogmatic outlook. As I opened with here, I find it unsurprising that Ehrman experienced such difficulty abandoning his religion, as it parallels his treatment of Jesus, who he seems willing to geld of His divinity, but not let go of entirely.

          • Pofarmer

            It is certainly worth knowing that the most prominent Jewish historian
            of the first century knew at least something about Jesus—specifically
            that he was a teacher who allegedly did wonderful deeds, had a large
            following, and was condemned to be crucified by Pontius Pilate. This
            account confirms some of the most important aspects of Jesus’ life and
            death as recounted in the Gospels.

            This is one of the problems with Ehrman’s scholarship. He makes up and takes as concrete things that he simply cannot know. Multiple scholars are now reaffirming the old belief that the TF is a complete forgery. We have no evidence of any oral tradition, and by it’s very nature, can’t have. We don’t have Q, so can’t really say anything about it, and on, and on, and on. It’s a circumstantial case based on unconfirmed fluff.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Anytime I see someone say, well, we have Q …, I want to ask: Really? May I hold it?

          • ElizabetB.

            I see that as more like Pluto — you hypothesize from effects. Just a hypothesis, but plausible….

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            It is indeed plausible. Too many, though, reify Q, speaking as if we have an actual MSS somewhere, not just some entertaining attempts at reconstruction.

            The Farrer hypothesis dispenses with the need for Q, but even among those who believe it existed, there is no consensus on its contents.

            I find it amusing that Q is described as a lost sayings gospel, yet when a lost sayings gospel, containing most of the putative Q content, is finally discovered, it is rejected simply for also containing unorthodox or indecipherable passages. These are not the droids you’re looking for; move along.

          • Jim Jones

            > Multiple scholars are now reaffirming the old belief that the TF is a complete forgery.

            It always seemed to me it was blindingly obvious. Like a Trump spokesperson’s lies.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            Multiple scholars are now reaffirming the old belief that the TF is a complete forgery.

            Besides that, Josephus was writing a full generation later and not citing any credible sources. For me, even if TF were genuine, that would not constitute historical evidence of a historical Jesus.

          • Pofarmer

            Well, it would be closer, at least.

          • ElizabetB.

            I’m feeling like a real curmudgeon!! I agree with you that I haven’t seen Ehrman take mythicism seriously, and heard him say at the Mythinformation Conference that he hadn’t read “Bart Ehrman & the Quest of the Historical Jesus” because he disagreed with everything in it. : ) But he’s expressed admiration for Spong — “He is trying to do from inside the church something very similar to what I am trying to do outside of it: help educated lay people outside the field of biblical scholarship see what scholars – believers and non-believers alike – are saying about the New Testament.”
            https://ehrmanblog.org/spongs-new-book-on-john-part-2-for-members/

            And he noted in the blog that Robert Price has a PhD in a relevant field of NT studies — adding that he’s a nice guy — & that he appreciated the welcoming spirit at the conference and enjoyed the experience
            https://ehrmanblog.org/bart-ehrman-robert-price-debate-did-jesus-exist/

            Thanks to your comments, since I had some flex time, I returned to the Conference video — & paid better attention this time! Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but what I heard Ehrman saying was that, as first-up, without knowing what Price was going to say, Ehrman was going to use his first 10(?)-minute period to give positive arguments as to why he thinks Jesus IS a historical character, rather than refute mythicist ones — except for 1) the argument that Nazareth didn’t exist and 2) the extension that therefore Jesus didn’t exist, which he briefly outlined. After hearing Price, he engaged Price’s arguments.

            That’s an interesting debate, and I appreciate the instigation to listen again!! This time I started to hear better what the mythicists are saying. Link —
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzjYmpwbHEA

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            My point is, Ehrman can’t praise Spong and Price for being lettered scholars — the latter who he holds up as a rare example of such, then turn around and dismiss mythicism as some half-baked conspiracy theory hatched by amateur hacks. (Though a few of those do exist and get far too much attention.)

          • ElizabetB.

            Do you think of Spong as a mythicist? I haven’t been reading him recently….

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            I’m currently working my way through The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. I find Spong’s prose a delight and his theses extremely well thought-out & thought provoking, though not entirely persuasive. Still, anyone who speaks so eloquently and passionately is always worth a listen.

            My own definition of mythicism is a broad one, to include any skepticism of the historical veracity of the content of the NT. Spong clearly believes a Jesus of Nazareth walked the Earth, but also clearly views the gospels as OT exegesis, not history. I’d therefore place him in a loose, unnamed, camp with Lüdemann — with Brodie pitching his tent nearby, but across the creek.

          • ElizabetB.

            That’s interesting, and a surprising (to me!) view of mythicism. Are you saying that for you, mythicism has less to do with whether there was a historical character Jesus and more to do with whether there is any historical element in the canonical NT documents?

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            I do think the core question is whether the account of Jesus and his ministry is derived from an historical person and events. All historicists of course accept that many of that account’s elements are not historical, while most mythicists accept that historical elements somehow made their way into the gospels. But was it (and I mean Ur-Markus) written as history, or as exegesis?

            ‘Ahistoricism’ would be a more accurate label than ‘mythicism’, I believe. (In any case, it’s more a matter of exegesis and allegory than myth-making). And nearly everyone is an ‘ahistoricist’ when it comes to the Pastorals; many too, regarding Acts or the long ending of Mark.

            Historicists are quite willing to remove from the edifice this or that loose or ill-fitting stone, yet how long before the whole thing comes crashing down? One need not deny the existence of any historical ‘stones’ at all, to posit that the way they’ve been piled up together can’t stand.

          • ElizabetB.

            Reminds me to ask, what do you make of Crossan’s and Borg’s writing that the titles “Son of God,” “Divine Savior of the World,” etc are the titles that were customary for Caesar; and early followers were saying that their ultimate loyalty was not to Caesar, but to God? ….nonviolent resistance…. And that once the secular governors were no longer spoken of in those terms, subsequent followers took them literally about Jesus?

          • ElizabetB.

            Oops! I just noticed a Sept.2016 thread in Ehrman’s blog about this, saying that early Christians were calling Jesus things that the emperor before him was called — a competition. I should’ve been paying attention!! &, more than likely! read How Jesus Became God!!!

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Short answer: a just-so story. Further, Jesus refers to himself as the “son of man” which has direct connection to jewish concepts, especially the ‘First Adam/Standing Man’.

        • Pofarmer

          He also has a bad habit of reading the Gospels back into the Epistles, even though he insists the Gospels should be read alone.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            That’s a common error within Sachkritik. I think it stems from this: as the events in the gospel come before those in the epistles, they unconsciously treat the documents & respective influences in that order.

            In the orthodox chronology, of course, the epistles were written a decade or more before the gospels. (Though both the first gospel and the epistles first appear together, in one volume, in the middle of the 2nd century.)

          • Pofarmer

            Well, there’s an implicit assumption baked in that both the epistles and the Gospels are writing about the same things that actually happened. If they’re not. If the Gospels are fiction based on the Epistles and the OT and Homeric stories, then it sort of turns the whole thing on it’s head, and reveals what a circular mess the “scholarship” is. I once asked James McGrath what he had done to determine that the Gospels weren’t fiction before analyzing them, and his response was “Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?” They simply assume, even today, that the events portrayed happened, and then attempt to analyze them based on that. What would happen if we treated “Gone with the Wind” or “The Hunt For Red October” the same way? It’s a clusterfuck.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Were McGrath to enter the question agnostic, instead of presupposing they weren’t fiction, that’d be a fair question to ask.

          • Pofarmer

            I thought it was pretty telling that he couldn’t answer it. Didn’t have a clue.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            He also has a bad habit of reading the Gospels back into the Epistles

            That reminds me of the posts about historical Jesus over at A Tippling Philosopher, in which Jonathan MS Pearce says that one argument he gives weight to is that JC was called “Jesus of Nazareth”, which somehow indicates that he was a real person and was from Nazareth, so that the gospel writers had to concoct preposterous stories to link him to Bethlehem. So I did a quick search and found that in the NT Jesus of Nazareth is mentioned only in the 4 gospels and in Acts. None of the epistles use the label Jesus of Nazareth.

          • Pofarmer

            There is a prophesy in Matthew ” H e shall be called a Nazorean” which I don’t think anybody knows exactly where it comes from. The writers of the Gospels, not being from “around here” probably didn’t know the Nazoreans were a sect, not a place,

    • mason

      The non-believing “nostalgic apostates” seem to me like they spent so much time, effort, money, studying, socializing and learning the code talk that they’re now stuck with all this information, bogus nonsense that be, in their brain and are trying to recycle it into something useful, no matter how hopeless this is. Almost like the hoarder who just can’t clean house and get rid of the junk.

  • http://www.chighland.com/ Chris Highland

    I think Bart’s story is important for several reasons. It shows that many of us take reasonable, sensible steps (however gradual) to exit faith. This is good to present to the tiresome and weak “you’re just angry with God or the Church” argument. And, it adds to a growing corpus of stories (a new and improved “good news”) that present the viable option, the fulfilling alternative, to believing. Cheers to that.

  • epicurus

    I left evangelical Christianity after I lost confidence in Biblical inerrancy. I didn’t become an atheist, I just said I’m an ex Christian. I thought about Liberal Christianity, but reciting creeds and singing hymns and listening to sermons still was a problem if I didn’t think we can know these things. Ehrman says you can’t go from something to nothing, that you will still have assumptions, etc. But those don’t require you to sing about it and recite creeds, no matter how informal. In the end, I just didn’t see the point of Liberal Christianity. I’ve met people who think I’m an unsophisticated rube for having that view – maybe they’re right – but I’ve never found their rational for formally attending an institution that makes them say and sing things they don’t believe to be convincing. I’m pretty sure they would have no trouble telling a Mormon or Muslim who didn’t believe in the inspiration or authority of the Book of Mormon or the Koran that they should probably just walk away – although to be fair I have no statistics to back that up.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I pretty much share your views, though my religious trajectory is different from yours. I was a liberal Catholic, then a liberal protestant (Episcopalian). I couldn’t see hanging around church once I didn’t believe, but it’s evident that some people are OK with it.

  • ephemerol

    But why continue to live as a Christian? For me it worked like this. I had come to think that there was no such thing as a person who existed in a vacuum, in a mental world of neutrality, where there were no assumptions made, no unprovable assertions affirmed, no completely novel ways of thinking and relating to the world around them.

    Yes, I could have left. But this is the key point: if I left I would have to go SOMEWHERE ELSE. And that somewhere else, in my view, was no better than the place I was leaving. You can’t go from something to nothing. You go from one thing to another thing. And why do that? Only because you can no longer stay where you are.

    But why be *anything*? The reality is that deciding to become *nothing* doesn’t work. We are all something or other. Someone may think that she or he is bold and brazen and a real pioneer to become an atheist. Really? That is bold, brazen, and pioneering??? As if no one else has done that? As if being an atheist doesn’t involve assumptions about the world, beliefs about where we came from, ideas about what it means to lead a good and fulfilling life? Really?

    I think Bart Ehrman is being somewhat disingenuous about this. This is not my experience at all. And I’d like to point out that he isn’t an expert, and therefore not an authority figure, when it comes to deconversion experiences.

    For me, it was like christian belief, once it began to crumble, it left me, rather than me leaving it. It wasn’t like I was the one who moved, but that religion was the one that departed. I didn’t leave and go find somewhere else to be. I was simply left where I was, high and dry.

    From that position, I certainly wasn’t an atheist. You could have called me either an agnostic or a deist, but I wouldn’t have self-identified with either of those labels at that time. I didn’t feel as though I was anything. The only “assumption” I had at the time was that what I had been raised with was an incoherent, self-contradictory mess that had no possibility of being correct. And moreover, having one of these faith systems collapse under scrutiny didn’t fill me with optimism that were I to pick another mystery religion to try to solve, that it would not also collapse, were I even capable of giving it just as much of a chance to succeed as I gave christianity. For a brief period, I beheld more than one worldview from a distance.

    Then I began the process of sorting things through. I was forced to grapple with what it means to say that you “know” something. What standards of evidence should I use? How should I think about the probabilities? My assessment of the probabilities for gods started out in middle ground, but over time, my assessment of those probabilities slowly declined. Though I realized immediately that it was possible that one or more deity could exist (but that regardless of how many of them might exist, none of them had shown any more interest in me than had the christian one), still it took me a while to realize that the probability of existence, given the evidence, for any single specific deity was low. Moreover, the following that any particular god might have was no help, as that was just an irrelevant ad populum argument.

    The more time goes by, the assumption appears only more unlikely that the universe should require a conspicuously anthropomorphic conscious agency to act as prime mover. Conscious beings are by necessity such complex bundles of myriad functions. Why assume such complexity? Why can’t another simple, naturalistic process fill that role? Why should anyone assume that something so inordinately complex would be prime? Why should we assume such a class of being or agency exists? It just looks like a holdover from prehistoric times.

    All I’m saying is that Ehrman’s claim that the second belief left me that I had no choice except to instantly be some kind of atheist is just ridiculous. If he wants to continue to be some kind of liberal christian or church-going agnostic, that’s obviously his business, but he obviously isn’t an expert on the topic of deconversion experiences.

    • epicurus

      I agree with you, while I’m a fan of Ehrman’s biblical and historical work, his thoughts on some issues such as “I’m either a Christian or an Atheist” leave me disappointed. My own experience of leaving Christianity seem similar to yours. I felt I had to stop calling myself a Christian and going to church if I no longer believed it, but I felt no need to start making grand pronouncments about being an atheist or anything else. I’m just me, a person who no longer belives Christianity and wondering if there is anything actually out there that cares about the earth, whether it created us or not.

      • Pofarmer

        When I realized I no longer believed the Nicene creed in any way shape or form, and at least some of those around me believed it literally, that was it, I had to go.

        • epicurus

          Contrast our attitudes with people like the late Marcus Borg or John Shelby Spong, if you are familiar with them. I’ve read a few books of each and shake my head. Leaving never seemed to be an option, they are/were determined to turn Christianity into whatever they needed it to be in order to stay in it. There doesn’t seem to be anything that would make them renounce it.

          • Pofarmer

            I actually commented on Marcus Borg blog a few times before he passed away. What they were espousing were almost 100% humanist values, and I kind of gently called them out on it-that they could drop the Jesus bit and their arguments would still be perfectly fine and align with humanist values. That didn’t sit well at all. There’s only so far folks are willing to go. Or look at Fr. Thomas Brodie, who thinks Jesus us a myth, and yet, to my knowledge is still a Catholic Priest, although the Church “retired” him over his heretical views.

          • Linda_LaScola

            Seems like you, Pofarmer, and epicurus are accurately noticing the differences among people when it comes to identifying with religion. I don’t know how they do it either but they do. Something in their personalities allows them to see the world in a way I do not.

          • Pofarmer

            I dunno. My wife’s family is highly religious Catholics. They see the world in a way that, IMHO is completely at odds with the reality of the world we see around us. But they function. The problem is, they also vote.

          • epicurus

            Re the Borg blog comment, I’ve got to think the tradition itself is being partially worshipped, I mean the tradition of Jesus being all loving and perfect, and they can’t bear to give that up, even though as you said, they could drop Him and their arguments would still be fine. I came to think Jesus was a failed apocalyptic preacher who later got upgraded to all loving, good, knowing and fully Trinitarian God.

          • Pofarmer

            Well, I think they’re worshiping an ideal, an idea. Which is kind of what religion is anyway.

          • ElizabetB.

            I think ecstatic experiences play a part, too… An interesting video is Borg’s “What Is God?” (15 min.)
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I4Pk0VSOog

          • epicurus

            Those experiences would certainly be powerful, but as they occur in every religion they must generally wind up reinforcing what people already believe (usually – see Paul’s damascus road conversion for an exception, if it actually occurred).
            Or, they are so vague that the best one could conclude is that the human mind is capable of extreme ecstatic experiences on it’s own, with no input from an external source (God).
            So while Borg seems like a really nice guy, and very intelligent, I do have to wonder about how committed he was to discovering what ultimate reality is – in other words, if his views and beliefs are wrong, would he want to know. Based on several of his books I’ve read, and this video, I would conclude that no, he would not want to know, he wants to remain in some form of Christian belief at all costs, regardless of whether right or wrong.

          • ElizabetB.

            Borg’s 1993 memoir essay in The Fourth R agrees with you, that ecstatic experiences are ubiquitus across human traditions. He did go through a long journey through agnosticism and atheism, until his ecstatic experiences (which started AFTER he stopped going to church!) brought him to think that

            “I see that Bible and the tradition as ‘icons,’ mediators of the sacred. The point is not to believe them, but to be in relationship to that which they mediate: God, the Spirit, the sacred. My own journey has thus been ‘beyond belief.’ It has moved from belief through doubt and disbelief to relationship. For me, to be a Christian is to be part of a community that tells these stories and sings these songs. It feels like home.”

            Sorta long, but an interesting read, to me
            https://www.westarinstitute.org/resources/the-fourth-r/me-jesus-the-journey-home/
            .
            What I was thinking about in picking up on the mention of Borg was that one of the factors in whether or not a person stays in a tradition may be whether or not they have ecstatic experiences in that tradition. Interestingly, in Borg’s case, he had the experiences OUTSIDE the tradition & came back in thinking of his tradition as one of many that connect with that kind of experience. Life is interesting!!!

          • epicurus

            Thanks, yes, I’ve read a variation of this story in his “Meeting Jesus again for the first time.” He had an interesting journey, even if I think he manipulated Christianity into what he wanted it to be so he could make the claim “For some time now I have been convinced that there are no serious intellectual obstacles to being Christian …. The sacrifice that Christianity asks of us is not ultimately a sacrifice of the intellect.” (Preface to “The heart of Christianity”)

          • Jim Jones

            IMO he’s Robin Hood, a non-existent, idealized but fictional character.

          • Jim Jones

            Christianity: 2,000 years of everyone making it up as they go.

    • amyjane

      I’m hoping he’ll indicate a change in his thinking in subsequent posts…His words resonated with me because before I left, I spent some time in a liberal liturgical church that provided me a safe place to process and housed a wide array of theological points. It was a comfortable place to be for the life stage I was in.

      While I understand how his words could be polarizing, I am hoping he just meant that this perception was how he felt at the time. While I wouldn’t phrase it the same way, I lived in this manner. For that reason, at least, I get his point. There’s an in-between where what is familiar to you feels better than the unknown, especially when you’ve been taught the unknown is a negative.

      • Linda_LaScola

        AmyJane — I think your assessment is more along the lines that Ehrman was thinking. From my point of view, he was in no way making a claim for all people who leave religion or setting himself up as any kind of expert on the subject.

        • epicurus

          I’ve been wavering about saying this since I can’t provide evidence or a citation, but I’m just going to say this in case anyone here many be able to shed some light on it. Years ago I read a comment by someone saying they read about someone who knew Ehrman’s wife, and they said that once he stopped believing in biblical inerrancy, he was no longer interested in going to church and that was pretty much the end of it. I didn’t bother making any notes or documenting it because I had not read much of his writings at that time. But now, years later, he seems to saying both in books and on his blog about how he spent years as a liberal Christian and still attended and was involved in church after he stopped being an inerrantist.
          So I’m just wondering if anyone here ever heard anything about this. I realize of course people say untrue stuff all the time and this could have been some commenter b.s.ing, but if true would be very interesting to pursue further.

          • Sol III

            “Years ago I read a comment by someone saying they read about someone who knew Ehrman’s wife….”

            No offense, but really?!! You’re saying that your hairdresser said they had a neighbor who knew someone who said….

            And based on that, you want to open a dialogue about the possibility that Bart isn’t being honest about his deconversion process? J.A.Qing, right?

          • epicurus

            Open a dialogue about the possibility- no. I want to know if anyone here had seen that comment and knew further details of an article it might have referred to or any further information that could be helpful. I’m not interested in starting a gossipy rumor. My apolgies if I wasn’t clear on that. Poor writing on my part.

          • ElizabetB.

            The in-between period is mentioned or explored from time to time in the blog, e.g. in “How Biblical Discrepancies Can Be Theologically Liberating for a Christian” (below). FWIW I’ve never noticed, in the blog or book introductions, any mention of leaving inerrancy causing leaving church. If the comment was untrue (which seems it must be), I guess we have a case of “misremembering Ehrman” in his own lifetime : )

            “….reading the Bible historically – seeing its discrepancies – does not compromise its value. On the contrary, as I came to see as a committed Christian who was no longer a conservative evangelical, this way of reading the Bible *increases* its value.

            “A person can still revere the Bible while thinking there are contradictions and discrepancies in it, not only in small things but in large things. But one has to understand it in a non-fundamentalist way to do so. The point of finding discrepancies is *not* so you can go away saying that the Bible is worthless (‘bunch of contradictions’) but, on the contrary, so you can recognize the vast depths of its theological meaning, as seen precisely *in* the (big) differences you find in it.”
            https://ehrmanblog.org/how-biblical-discrepancies-can-be-theologically-liberating-for-a-christian/

          • epicurus

            Thanks, I subscribe to his blog and have read all his articles on it over the years. I’m not trying to catch him out or anything, It’s just general curiosity on my part over somrthing I was sure I read years ago and thought perhaps someone might also remember and have bookmarked or something. I fear I may have come across as trying to expose him or something, that wasn’t my intention and apologize if it came across that way.

          • ElizabetB.

            No, I certainly didn’t take it that way at all. I just think it’s funny to observe in real time how contradictory stories come into being. If it’s not Fake News-ers in Kazakhstan trying to make a living, or Russia calling, you just have to marvel at how these odd stories get started! The quote pile-on was to hopefully help slow this one down for any readers just scanning through : )

          • Jim Jones

            He wrote a book claiming that Jesus did exist and was not a myth. It wasn’t well received.

          • epicurus

            Yes, but I’m not sure what you are getting at, or did you reply to me my mistake?

      • Phil Rimmer

        Quite often leaving your faith involves breaking or injuring family and community ties. Even ties with the dead who may have to die fully this time. Folk are not obliged to intellectual integrity (say) at such high personal cost. They didn’t choose their religion in the first place. Its not their fault to find themselves compromised.

        I’ve never been religious, so I know nothing of these things from experience, but it does give me some useful distance in observing others’ struggles. It seems to me that a most useful path in accounting for your doubting self to religious others and provide a positive motor for self change is if you can see that by such changes you can make better moral decisions. Free of moral dogma of bribes and entreaties you can be a Moral Author as we all must seek to be and no mere Reciter. Moral Authorship is our day job. The varieties of our concerns, experiences and wishes must go into the moral discussion at the heart of our culture.

    • Jim Jones

      > For me, it was like christian belief, once it began to crumble, it left me, rather than me leaving it.

      I always kept an open mind but at no time did anyone even try to prove anything about Jesus/god/religion. It was always 100% assumption. That dog won’t hunt.

  • mason

    I’m not anti-liberal Christian, but I’m vehemently anti-Christian Evangelical fundamentalist, for many reasons including their mental and emotion abuse of credulous children. Here’s just another example of how so much of the Evangelical dogma warps humanity, in ways unheard of within liberal Christianity. https://www.yahoo.com/news/12-old-rape-victim-told-163919494.html https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8eda862e3b94b2590f08260271af1be89a92d9d0b68d2dc235c89a325a576eac.jpg

    • ElizabetB.

      Vehemence is the only way to read this one. Thanks for keeping us alert to what kids — & adults — may be going through. We’ve GOT to get better at prevention

  • ctcss

    Why Even Bother Being a Liberal Christian? … This is a question I wish more people would ask themselves.

    Linda, why shouldn’t every person of every stripe (believing, non-believing, liberal, non-liberal, etc.) ask themselves probing, insightful questions regarding their mental frameworks and trusted assumptions? Because unless each and every person knows, for a fact, that they truly have the rock-solid truth about reality, shouldn’t they just consider themselves to be on a journey of exploration and discovery?

    The thing is, truth is not easy to uncover. It’s (at least for humans) a never-ending effort. And just because we each may have come to a favored resting spot on our pathways, that doesn’t mean that we are done, or that someone else (by virtue of exploring a pathway we are not currently on) may not have discovered/uncovered something we have not, correct? The human search for truth is not necessary linear, nor is it always conducted in a forward direction, nor is it always conducted in a non-emotional, non-biased way. If it was, there would never be backward steps or stagnant positions. IMO current events and viewpoints show us just how fragile human progress towards truth can be.

    when I learned the facts about religion

    And just what are the facts about religion? And BTW, what exactly are you referring to when you say “religion”?. Is it all religions, or some religions, or some religions closely related to one another, or just the particular religion(s) you came from? And are these facts about religion truly rock-solid and universal? And if they are, shouldn’t they be convincing to someone like myself because the stated truth of it is so clear and compelling? Or are these “facts” just something that helped direct you towards a resting spot (on your journey of discovery) that you find to be more helpful at the moment?

    Basically, humans (often being on different pathways) are going to find reasons to disagree with one another on what each has found, as well as to the value of what each has found.

    So, questioning is a good thing. But basically, everything should be questioned and explored, even our own currently favored resting spots on our currently favored pathways.

    My 2 cents.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I think it would be a good thing if people did “…ask themselves probing, insightful questions regarding their mental frameworks and trusted assumptions.” But not everyone does, or they don’t do it very often. It’s a choice – and one that is sometimes discouraged by the culture in which they live.

      What I mean by “facts about religion” were the things I learned in church that were presented as facts that I eventually learned had no factual basis. Some things I discarded on my own because they just didn’t make sense to me (e.g., missing mass was a mortal sin that would send you to hell for eternity if you did not confess it and receive absolution). Others I learned later – e.g., Jesus is based on earlier mythical gods.

      I realize that these may not be deal-breakers for others. People are different and hang on to or discard religion for different reasons.

      • ctcss

        .

        I think it would be a good thing if people did “…ask themselves probing, insightful questions.

        And you’ll notice that doing so does not require a lack of religion or religious belief to do so, otherwise my being religious would have made me into a knuckle-dragging troglodyte incapable of thinking rationally at all. The main lament on sites like this is not so much about religious belief as it is about the lack of deeper or more critical thought by individuals, whatever their philosophical outlook may be. (That, and rude and unkind behavior which, once again, occurs in all people, not just religious ones.)

        Others I learned later – e.g., Jesus is based on earlier mythical gods.

        I find this statement to be ironically interesting because you (and whoever conveyed this to you) are also making the assumption that Jesus must be based on something else, largely because they decided they wouldn’t or couldn’t just accept him for what he was described as. An atheistic assumption, after all, is still just an assumption (not proof) based on a materialistic/naturalistic viewpoint that they feel must preclude God. And if God does not exist, then whatever Jesus was preaching about was not worth bothering with anyway. So rather than spend time trying to explain away Jesus by making dismissive arguments about him being a legend based on other legends, why not just cut to the chase and say that (in their opinion) God doesn’t exist, so who really cares about this religious nonsense anyway?

        OTOH if God does exist, then it would likely make sense that someone such as Jesus (a person with seemingly great familiarity with God, i.e. with experience regarding God) would be trying to help those he encountered by teaching them about God. For instance, if you had great familiarity with God, and felt that practical knowledge of God would help people who found themselves in troubling situations, don’t you think you might be trying to explain God to those people, especially if they seemed puzzled by God and were out of options? Wouldn’t that be a kind thing to do? So until the question of God’s existence is definitively settled one way or the other, why should it be conceptually surprising that someone who feels that God is actually real and can demonstrate something useful about God to people in need might have existed and acted in such a manner?

        And honestly, who came up with the idea that Jesus must be based on other legendary gods? Remember, Jesus was a Jew. And the Jewish view of God (being completely non-material and incorporeal ) did not match up with the corporeal kinds of gods I am imagining you are referring to. So why would early Christianity (being based on the Judaic notion of God) match up in any way shape or form to outside legends not in keeping with Judaism? Doing so would mess up the likelihood that his ministry would be acceptable to the Jewish population he was preaching to. To me, this seems like a bit of a reach just for some pundits to have a convenient way to be dismissive of Christianity. It certainly doesn’t strike me as a “fact”, simply another opinion.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          I find this statement to be ironically interesting because you (and whoever conveyed this to you) seem to be making the assumption that Jesus must be based on something else, largely because they seemed to have decided they wouldn’t or couldn’t just accept him for what he was described as in the gospel narratives. An atheistic assumption, after
          all, is still just an assumption (not proof) based on a materialistic/naturalistic viewpoint that they feel must preclude God.

          Nope, I’m not buying that. You could stand to learn the difference between a null hypothesis and an assumption.

          As for not accepting the gospel narratives, most people don’t. This post is about “liberal” Christians, who – along with atheists – presumably do not accept such parts of the gospel narratives as unverified and unevidenced earthquakes and unreported zombie invasions. To call such denial “assumptions” is pushing the vocabulary to its limits. Maybe you accept other parts of the gospel narratives; well then the conversation goes back to cherry-picking. But your attempt at relativism falls very flat.

    • mason

      “everything should be questioned and explored, even our own currently favored resting spots on our currently favored pathways.” … That’s certainly the ongoing creed of science.

  • epicurus

    Here are a couple hopefully interesting and relevant iphone pics from Paul Tobin writing about Liberal’s and the Bible in “The Christian Delusion” book (p.172-173)
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/65789b6a3f3a4597540c861ba08110c4cc3a4a2cc3bd1e7db8ae8cb8f8ba3608.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/04325538e19298df23ec99c68b447ec8dc2fb8d54ed91ef81586c00539f958cc.jpg

    • mason

      Theology is best defined as the study of nonsense, and IMHO it’s all, putting it euphemistically, garbled speech. :)

      • epicurus

        Perhaps, but until people and groups stop promoting political and legal change to support their view of theology, we are stuck with talking about and analyzing it.

        • mason

          For my part in that battle I choose to take the dismissive tack. As Linda points out, their “fact” are not facts, just ancient men engaging in manipulative fake news, fake facts. For those who want to get in the theological (nonsense) discussions I wish them well and to a certain degree admire their patience for such exercise; to me it’s like mud wrestling. :)
          (I wish Hitchens would have applied his philosophy of evidence to smoking and alcohol)
          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0b3919557b9c2515f064dcb1cb490960cf3ece1c9f943092f992440cbad291a6.jpg

          • epicurus

            Haha, yes, I suspect for Hitchens and his booze and cigs, the mind was willing, but the flesh was weak.

    • Lerk!

      I was raised fundamentalist, and when I realized it wasn’t true I briefly considered liberal Christianity, but this is pretty much the conclusion I reached. If Genesis up through Noah was mythology, and post Noah through the prophets was legend, and if the OT wrapped up with embellished and often incorrect history, then at what point in the text was I to assume that there was some truth in it? And if that is the case, why bother to practice liberal Christianity?

      • epicurus

        I think perhaps the overwhelming urge to make it all about Jesus being a super great loving guy is what drives people to ignore many of the OT problems (as well a the NT) and practice a liberal version of Christianity that admits all the Biblical problems, but wants to say the NT is accurate when and where it documents the nice/compassionate things Jesus said and did (but the weird or bad things are ignored). As to the motivation for that, well, I guess that is what this blog post has been about.

    • https://www.jonmorgan.info Jon Morgan

      This is one of the reasons I found it helpful reading multiple streams of Christian thought (as a believer considering leaving). I wasn’t always sold on their promise of solving all the problems with Christianity, but they did help me see the flaws in the other streams…

  • Jim Jones

    Just stick to Matthew 25:35-40

    But few Christians do that, sadly.

    • ElizabetB.

      Amen!!!

      I do see a bunch who do…. but for sure way too few!!

    • Jay Has

      Not so much fun when you are the ill one and your illness can’t be cured.

    • mason

      Few pay attention to what’s actually said. Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” This is for the King and his brothers, a rather parochial sect. Hitler, Stalin, or Trump could have said the same thing. The true nature of the mythical Jesus cult is revealed in other texts that fully support the horrid Jewish laws and have this kind of decree: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Matthew 10:34

      • alwayspuzzled

        “The true nature of the mythical Jesus cult is revealed in other texts”

        One thing that we do know about the Bible is that it is frequently the case that proof texts can be found to support both A and not-A. As a result, people can find in the Bible what they want to find. What they end up choosing to find may have a lot more to do with their own psychology than with the nature of the putative god.

      • ElizabetB.

        Mason, I keep wondering why you privilege the yukky sayings over the helpful ones? Why not everything stand on its merits?

        • ElizabetB.

          p.s. I am anticipating glorious metaphor shower : )

          • mason

            :)

        • mason

          I’m being holistic. :) With so many millions cherry picking and engaging in selective blindness, someone needs to point out the Hyde-Jekyll sociopathy and sadomasochism in the mythical composite Jesus character.

          ” I keep wondering why you privilege the yukky sayings over the helpful ones? Why not everything stand on its merits?”

          Great question:

          1. There are far better sources for meritorious quotes and sayings than the twisted genocidal sadistic totalitarian Jehovah & Jesus characters.

          2. Cherry pick the “helpful” and avoid the “yukky?” Would you make the same suggestion for the words of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Jim Jones, or Hitler?

          • ctcss

            someone needs to point out the Hyde-Jekyll sociopathy and sadomasochism in the mythical composite Jesus character.

            Except that your rather dour opinion seems to be based on the notion that the gospel narratives are stenographic transcripts of everything that was said (which is obviously not the case given the differences found in the gospel texts), and then approaching these narratives in a woodenly literal way, apparently assuming that no one would ever use figurative language to make a point. Which I find to be a bit hypocritical on your part since you appear to have no problem according yourself the privilege of using figurative language when it suits your purposes.

            Would you make the same suggestion for the words of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Jim Jones, or Hitler?

            First (without doing your own sour cherry picking) you would need to convince me that Jesus was power mad and sociopathic, and sought to harm and control others for his own benefit. (i.e. review all of the gospels and categorize and evaluate all the narratives before coming to a conclusion as to Jesus’ overall character and outlook.) And if you can make a case that Jesus was no different in character and outlook than those you mentioned above, then maybe we can discuss the merits of only picking the “nice” things said by any of them.

          • mason

            “you would need to convince me that Jesus was power mad and sociopathic, and sought to harm and control others for his own benefit.”

            I’ve read ALL the bible many times.

            The clear unarguable theme of the so called Bible is that Jehovah & son Jesus are deities who demand all of humanity to bow, adore, and worship them. Those who don’t, including recalcitrant angels, will be punished with hell and destruction on Earth and punished for ETERNITY in hell fire. These mythical deities are far MORE mad, sociopathic, and full of desire to harm, punish, and control humanity, living and dead, for all eternity, than any of the tyrannical humans I’ve listed.

            What version of the Bible are you reading? Oh,… it must be The Jefferson Bible http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/

  • Forerunner

    Why stay a liberal Christian?
    That’s something I really tried to be for a while, both before and after I ‘came out’ and rejected traditional beliefs and doctrines. Because I had done some study on the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, I thought I could believe according to his notion of a ‘second naivete’, a kind of critically informed way of life that flowed from Christian symbolism but didn’t demand literal belief. The trouble was that in the church community/institution I lived and worked in there wasn’t much time for this kind of Christianity. But even if there had been, I soon found that even the symbolism of Christianity was providing a less and less adequate account of reality, as compared to the combined views of science, philosophy, literature, history, and so on.

    However, it could be argued that this secular understanding of reality is itself what Christianity has finally evolved into. Quoting Lloyd Geering here: “It has been argued in this book that the modern secular world has evolved out of Western Christian culture, having been promoted by the Renaissance humanists, the Protestant Reformers, and free thinking leaders of the Enlightenment. The evolution may be regarded as the natural result of taking the doctrine of the incarnation to its logical conclusion” (p.132, Christianity without God). But whether this thesis holds up is probably a matter of debate..

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    The liberal churches are the ones shrinking fastest. This has been going on for some time and was partly hidden because liberal churches were a haven for ex-Catholics, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who weren’t quite ready to give up religion but didn’t want the craziest parts of it any more. They are hanging around but their children are leaving because they can see what this article is talking about. If you don’t really believe the claims at the core of this, why bother with a very expensive building and weekly meetings. Why not just be a good person and join groups that want to do good work without all the religious stuff attached? The same amount of time can be spent volunteering rather than pretending to worship something you don’t really believe exists.

    • Joe Hinman

      they are shrinking because most people are not thinkers, libels don’t meet people in their daily needs.

      • Duane Locsin

        “they are shrinking because most people are not thinkers,”

        there is a good chance it is the thinking.

        • Joe Hinman

          you have no data or arguments to disprove the validity of it. you are into this hate this because you get social strokes for it and because you hate your self so you hate God. I can disprove any argument you make.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    As if being an atheist doesn’t involve … ideas about what it means to lead a
    good and fulfilling life? Really?

    Technically, no. One will probably have such ideas, but they fall under humanism, or hedonism, or existentialism, or any of a wide variety of isms, but they are not a requirement for atheism.

  • Joe Hinman

    I am a liberal Christian because God is real,we don’t need in inerrency to find value in the Bible and liberal theologians are brilliant. Liberal theology is the intellectual wing of Christianity,that’s where the thinners are found.

    I think Ehrman is dishonest,see an essay I wrote about his views,

    http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-bart-ehrman-spin.html

    • Duane Locsin

      “I am a liberal Christian because God is real”

      being a liberal Christian has no bearing whether this god is real or not.
      There are conservative Fundamentalist Christians who also think their god is real and attribute it to their stance.

      I dare you to go to a fundamentalist or conservative church (like a southern Baptist) and attend a few of their sermons and try to consolidate their version of god to yours.

      “we don’t need in inerrency to find value in the Bible”

      15 years ago when I was a believer, this double speak would have resonated with me, but now it’s just gobbledygook.

      “and liberal theologians are brilliant”

      at what exactly?
      at interpreting, twisting passages in the Bible to make it sound more liberal, progressive and palatable?

      I am for liberal values, progression and reason, but I am sorry.
      If you put liberal Christians having to debate their fundamentalist bretharans on a theological level in regards to the Bible, They get their asses handed to them by fundamentalists.

      That’s why we see very little theological engagement by liberal Christians when conservative fundamentalists often source the Bible when it comes to issues such as

      -women’s reproductive autonomy and rights
      -LGBT equality, relationships and marriage
      -contraception, and abortion
      -Creationism (at best it is ‘God started the process of Evolution’)
      -separation of Church and state matters.

      the overwhelming arguments are secular.

      • Joe Hinman

        “being a liberal Christian has no bearing whether this god is real or not.
        There are conservative Fundamentalist Christians who also think their god is real and attribute it to their stance.”

        same God different understanding, children of same parents can have different ways of relating to the parents,

        “at what exactly?
        at interpreting, twisting passages in the Bible to make it sound more liberal, progressive and palatable?”

        If you had ever really been into liberal theology you woudl know why that’s a dumb thing to say. You really don’t know what the term liberal means do you? Or theology either,

    • epicurus

      Do you study the Koran, Book of Mormon, and other religion’s sacred writings as much as the Bible? You should, if as you say, God is real, He must be speaking to you through those Books as well. Should liberal churches read equally from other books in their services?

      • Joe Hinman

        I’ve read the Bahagivod gitta, the Tao te Ching, Aro Bimndol Yes I’ve read the book of Mormon. they might, you can find that in Methodist services Methodists upon the group,

        • epicurus

          You may have read them, but do you study them regularly the same way you would study the the Bible, and assume that God is speaking to you through those books? I assume you read the Bible regularly, or at least parts of it regularly, not just read it once then filed it away to never be looked at again.

          • Joe Hinman

            I used to no reasom to now I don’t regard them as truth on the same level with the Bible. I stil do read Tao and I do regard them as valuable,except BOM. I don’t need to give them the kind of attention i give the Bible because they don’t speak to me at the same level. I’ve studied them in depth,

          • epicurus

            Ok, thanks.

  • Duane Locsin

    “And I chose my roots to be in the Christian church. That was the tradition I was raised in. That was the tradition I resonated with. That was the tradition I was comfortable in. That was the tradition I could relate to. That was the tradition that made sense to me. That was the tradition I understood. So that was the tradition I was in.”

    That’s one of the points being made that Religions only real relevance is social aspects of it, that has no bearing on whether it is true or not.

    “If you were born in India, you will most likely be raised and be Hindu”
    “If you were born in Indonesia, you will most likely be raised and be Muslim”
    “if you were born two years ago, you will most likely be raised and be a follower of a Religion that is currently recognized today as mythology”

    if you live in a society, surrounded by friends, relatives, and co-workers that more or less believe the same as you, all it does is compound the belief, regardless if they don’t bother reading their Bible or actually understand their Religion further then what the person behind the pulpit or parents say.

    “The Bible was a collection of deeply moving spiritual reflections by people who had keen insights into the world and our place in it. This was my tradition, and I embraced it.”

    This is what we call bias and making up our own beliefs, and not actually reading the Bible start to finish as a professed Christian.

    when I was a believer (Catholic specifically) I was a “church hopper”, attending Christadelphian, Episcopalian, Pentacostal, Mormon and a Baptist church – out of open mindedness and curiosity, this was also around the time I had doubts.

    a few years doing that and it really helped me drop my Religious belief fast, if you think it is difficult trying to justify your own Religious belief, try having to consolidate the inconsistency, hypocrisy, contradictions as well as the differing personal beliefs/opinions of the members of several churches and the ministers,pastors, elders and fathers who led them.

    I still remember the last few days I attended a Catholic Church (the Religion I just happen to be born into hence be a Catholic) and seeing a golden colored eagle statue under a podium, and fortunately for me there was a nun I could talk to.

    “it’s strange having that eagle there, what about the “though shall not bear worship engraven” images?”
    nun – “that depends on your interpretation”

    YEAH.
    Don’t know how much of that is simply being lazy and the nun was closing and in a hurry to get home, but considering her role as being devout and more knowledgeable, I wasn’t that impressed and also knew that I would get differing and inconsistent answers from other Churches if I brought up my “enlightening” experience.

    I’ve been an Atheist ever since that time and a huge proponent of comparative Religion to be taught in public schools.

    • Joe Hinman

      “That’s one of the points being made that Religions only real relevance is social aspects of it, that has no bearing on whether it is true or not.”

      you have no evidence of truth of atheism,, it’s east to doubt, have the courage to seek,

    • ElizabetB.

      Yes, comparative religion in schools seems like a good idea. In continuing ed locations too!

      • Joe Hinman

        I would not object to that.

  • Duane Locsin

    Liberal Christians can and do get exhausted having to do the mental gymnastics, ‘defending the faith’, excusing and painting Christianity as good.

    That’s what happened to me before eventually dropping the Religion, I had no interest being an unpaid apologist.

    • Joe Hinman

      that’s like saying philosophers get exhausted doming the mental gymnastics of learning logic, that is the party line, think for yourself, l
      earn dare to know,

  • Joe Hinman

    “years ago when I was a believer, this double speak would have resonated with me, but now it’s just gobbledygook.”

    where is the double talk? There’s a doctrine of infrequency that makes some Christians rigid in their thinking but we don’t have to accept it to be Christians. you are turned off by any expression of belief because you are brainwashed, you are in a social setting that thrives on hatred of people who disagree with your views,