The Handbook: Examining the Evidence

The Handbook: Examining the Evidence February 20, 2015

When I became a fundamentalist, I had been a lifelong–though temporarily lapsed–Christian as it was. I’d flirted with being a Southern Baptist for a while and I’d grown up Catholic, and I’d tangled with a few other denominations and visited other churches enough to know what was out there. Through all of it, though, I never learned to tell what compelling evidence was. Today, let me show you how I fell for Christianity’s claims.

What I Wasn’t.

I converted to fundamentalism in my teens because I thought it had the most credible and compelling evidence for itself.

I was not stupid.

Nor was I willfully-ignorant.

I was not mentally ill.

Neither are most Christians, even the most hardcore of them.

It is not only cruel to say otherwise, it is inaccurate. This is a mischaracterization that doesn’t help anybody on either side of the church door. I wish people would quit saying that kind of thing.

What I Was.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rather, I was indoctrinated–which means I was tricked by the intentional and considered manipulation of my hopes, fears, and cognitive biases, and I was too young to realize what was going on.

There is a big difference between being indoctrinated and being stupid, willfully-ignorant, or mentally ill (plus it’s not okay to accuse people of mental illness). That indoctrination made me believe I had evidence for my beliefs.

Today, then, I present to you a short list of the “evidence” I thought my religion possessed.

Historical Veracity.

First and foremost, I thought the Bible was historically true.

Like a lot of bright-eyed new-ish/young Christians, I was convinced that the Bible’s historical claims were true and had really happened the way the Bible said they’d happened. I didn’t yet know that absolutely nothing in the Bible happened like that. No Creation, no Exodus, no powerful priest-kings administering a vast and advanced kingdom, no Flood, no massacre of toddlers, no great Roman Census forcing a pregnant virgin to travel to her ancestors’ homeland, no great sages traveling impossible distances to witness a virgin birth, no miracles, no rock-star Messiah entering Jerusalem, nothing.

One by one, I found out that these historical claims never happened; every single time, it rocked my faith. When we run across Christians who make that claim today, it’s a great way to weed out the ones who actually understand and know their religion’s early history and holy book, and the ones who don’t.

The only way to believe something like this is to be completely ignorant of all reputable scholarship on the subject. And don’t get me started on what happened when my Christian peers started to get buggy about Creationism. I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t a Young-Earth Creationist myself, but I knew some folks who were. They were just embarrassing.

Miracle Claims.

I thought miracles really happened.

Like a great many Christians, I was totally sure that miracles not only had happened in the Bible’s days but that they totally happened all the time in my own time. Stories abounded of people who’d been healed of cancer and depression, who’d been exorcised, who spoke in foreign tongues, who’d discovered huge sums of money that they hadn’t expected, who’d been given divine insight into others’ thoughts, who’d developed remarkable skills without practice, who’d escaped all manner of bad luck and natural disasters, and other such tales.

Over time, though, I learned to my great consternation that not a single one of these events was really anything supernatural. Every one of them, once investigated, turned out to be exaggeration, outright lies, or a coincidence–if not the direct result of a person’s own action. I never once have seen or heard of a “miracle” that was both credibly supported by evidence and clearly supernatural in nature. This “god” seems to operate solely by means that cannot be discerned as supernatural.

Christianity’s Ability to Improve People.

I thought my religion made believers better people than non-believers could, on average, become on their own.

This improvement happened either through miraculous intervention, through following the Bible’s rules, or through the discipline that following it would engender in people.

Even after finding out how many liars existed in my religion, even after finding out just how far hypocrisy extended through the ranks of believers, I clung to this idea for a ludicrously long time. “You can’t be good without ‘God'” is a favorite saying for a reason among Christians.

Obviously, no, Jesus doesn’t magically make people better, and even if you get away from the “instant magic” claim that so many Christians make (especially regarding their conversions), longtime Christians who show every sign of having spiritual discipline and who trumpet their religious zealotry to the skies can still be absolutely awful people. Hell, I’d almost go so far as saying that the louder someone is about their piety, the greater the chance that that person is awful. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that a Christian is any more moral than anybody else would be, any more than there’s a guarantee that a non-Christian is immoral. Worst of all, what I thought was a uniquely Christian morality turned out to be largely a glorified version of “might makes right” dosed with serious classism, sexism, and racism; its few genuinely moral aspects turned out to be far from unique to Christianity.

Apologetics.

I trusted apologists.

A seminary graduate I once knew told me that apologetics is the art of explaining why reality never lines up with religious expectations. Not a single apologetics argument out there is actually compelling to anybody who can think critically. Those arguments exist solely to make believers feel less insane for believing. These works have exploded in popularity over the last few decades as modern minds wrestle with the obvious problem of believing in nonsense for no good reason. There’s some big money in apologetics, if you can do it convincingly. Not as many of these bullshit artists existed in my day, and certainly when I was a Christian we didn’t push their works and parrot their arguments at non-believers in hopes of converting them like we see Christians doing today. But we all knew the arguments.

I’ve re-read some of the major apologetics books since deconverting, and I came out of it downright embarrassed that I ever took this stuff seriously. The big problem with apologetics is that it’s all ad hoc reasoning and logical fallacies, but I’m not surprised. Every bit of it forgets to actually support the notion that anything it’s discussing is actually objectively true, so the chances of one of these folks actually hitting upon a genuinely compelling argument ain’t great. At the time I initially heard these arguments, I had no idea how to analyze what they were saying and I already kinda bought into their premises, so they sounded very compelling. Now that I can and don’t, every apologetics argument just sounds like kids arguing about how Batman’s car works.

Lack of Critical Thinking Skills.

I had no idea how to assess claims in the first place.

A big part of why I trusted apologists was that I didn’t have the faintest idea how to assess any claims. I was completely happy to use the Bible as proof of the Bible’s claims. Like many of my fellow believers, I trusted “authorities” who weren’t actually credible experts in the topics in which they claimed knowledge. I had no trouble believing arguments in lieu of having actual credible support for claims.

The list could go on and on and on. We’ll talk about more of those fallacies later on, don’t worry, but I just wanted to put out here that I, too, fell into the same trap that we see so many Christians falling into today.

When I began learning about logical fallacies, you can bet I got really uncomfortable very quickly when I thought about just how much of my religious faith was based on what amounted to smoke and mirrors.

Fear of Hell and Missing Rapture.

I was scared to death of Hell and being “left behind” by the Rapture.

Nobody in the religion really likes to talk much about this aspect of Christianity, but fear is definitely a huge factor in a lot of people’s conversions–and in a lot of people’s continued membership in a religion which otherwise they’d have left a long time ago.

As nonsensical as the idea of Hell is, as obviously intended to be a tool of control and manipulation of the unwary and vulnerable, it really scares the bejeezus out of people. Christians very deliberately designed this idea to be as scary as possible.

Christians’ descriptions of Hell have gotten more and more violent, ghastly, grotesque, punitive, disproportional, and lurid over the years. At the same time, their freakout over “the Rapture” has gotten more and more concerted over the years.

And oh, all of these threats worked grandly on me.

Worse still, if I converted on the basis of fear, they’d happily take it even if I didn’t “love” their ghastly bully of a “god” at all. I sure wouldn’t be disbarred from fellowship.

Fear works, so someone who isn’t afraid is a huge, huge problem. That person cannot be controlled and manipulated as easily.

One of the very real threats they can–and do, often–make is that of retaliation, incidentally. “Christian love” is a brutal, vicious reality for way too many people.

I know now that if something can’t be supported by any other tactic than terrorizing people, it can’t possibly be true.

Christianity’s Supposed Uniqueness.

I thought that my religion, unique among all religions, had a real live god who’d incarnated among humans and loved us and interacted with us.

Thinking that Christianity was unique and special among all religions was a big part of why I was Christian for as long as I was. I thought that all the other adherents of other religions were so very pitiable because their gods weren’t real and mine was (neener!). Why, none of them had a god who’d incarnated to walk among people. I thought that only my god loved his creation. I thought that only my god really reached down and interacted with his people even today.

Oh, how wrong I was. Even getting past how unlikely it is that the Bible’s god is really a real god, there’s no reason to suspect that he’d be the only one. There’s exactly as much evidence for the Bible’s god’s existence as there is for the gods of every other religion–which is to say, none at all.

And it gets worse. Anybody who thinks that the Bible’s god is the only incarnation story around hasn’t read a lot of mythology. Some of the most moving stories of feeling loved by one’s god(s), as well, comes from the fervent pagans I’ve known, who are only too happy to share details of that love. Miracles? Oh, every single religion in the world has those, too–and many actually outdo the fake-ass “miracles” of located car-keys and lost parking spots that Christians claim (with as much evidence–again, none).

A Consent-less Worldview.

I didn’t understand that I owned my own body and I consequently had no idea how to form healthy boundaries.

While I struggled with how so many Christian denominations present subjugation and erosion of boundaries as the bonus plan, I didn’t question the idea that I was, by dint of my gender, meant to serve the other gender. Indeed, I faced a number of restrictions and indignities meant to preserve those denominations’ cherished hierarchy and keep me docile.

A very, very few Christian groups don’t buy into this shockingly, appallingly hateful and obviously-man-made ideology. Unfortunately they do not speak for the religion as a whole (yet).

There is no sense whatsoever of the value of consent in the general body of Christian behavior and thought. Not only do too many Christians largely not care about consent, they actively denigrate it and try to destroy it. They glorify denying other people their self-ownership. They think that hassling and hurting others makes Jesus happy.

And for a long time, I didn’t see the problem here.

Now I do know better. I’ll never fall for such overreach ever again.

And It All Falls Apart.

One by one, bit by bit, all of this “evidence” I thought I had was dismantled.

A miracle turned out to be an urban legend or solidly debunked otherwise. A historical claim turned out to be untrue. Christians turned out to be major, major hypocrites. Atheists turned out to be good people. I learned about the huge similarities between my religion and others. I realized there was no reason to take seriously the ideas of Hell or Rapture. And so on and so forth.

I’ve used the imagery of a pool in the past, a pool containing all the misapplied, misconstrued, made-up, and exaggerated “evidence” I mistakenly thought supported my religion. That’s proven to be a very good bit of imagery, the more I think about it. As one by one this false “evidence” got unmasked and dismissed, the pool began to empty. Eventually, it drained away entirely.

At that point I no longer believed. It was that simple.

It just took a long time. I started with a really big and full pool.

And None of It Was True.

Now that I’ve learned better, I’m persuaded that there is not one single piece of really compelling evidence for a single truth claim from any religion at all, past or present. I don’t hold it against anybody if they think they have a pool full of evidence. Sometimes it just takes time to learn the truth. And what someone does with the truth is up to them. Not everybody will leave a religion over learning that its claims are  false.

It’s very sad to me that so much of Christianity–especially the worst forms of it–is based on lies, ignorance, half-truths, and exaggerations.

Back in Christianity’s ancient history, at least one of its biggest thinkers decried the religion’s tendency to glorify such falseness. This early writer knew that doing so really hurt the religion’s image and credibility in outsiders’ eyes. He feared that the truth would cause adherents to lose faith.

And he was right.

The Jenga Tower Falls.

Many believers’ faith utterly depends on the falsehoods I’ve named here. And many of them lose that faith when they find out just how little of that “evidence” is real.

The journey begins when a believer figures out that even one verse in the Bible can’t possibly be true. This discovery can jolt a believer into critically assessing the whole thing. The ensuing journey ends in tragic disappointment–and possible awakening.

But I’ll tell you what I totally don’t respect: someone who turns away from reality to cling to a comforting lie. That’s when someone goes from simple ignorance to willful ignorance. It’s as clear as the noonday sun when a Christian does it.

Christians like that are a symptom of their religion’s problem. They are also a big part of why their religion is failing as hard as it is.

Why It Falls.

People are turning off from Christianity. Christians make claims that are not factually, objectively true. Worse, too many of them cherish lies, self-delusion, and overreach.

Sure, all religions base themselves on objectively untrue myths. But when their adherents make untrue claims and act like that, it’s an issue.

We’re all entitled to our own opinions–just not to our own facts.

We’re going to start in on the fallacies themselves. In addition, we’ll examine some of these major apologetics authors in the days to come.  Please join me!

PS: This wasn’t directed at anyone particular. I’ve been planning the topic for a while.


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. You can read more about the author here.
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