Hi! Lately, we’ve been talking about some really seriously awful topics–sexism in Christianity, why Christians’ marriages are so dysfunctional, and so on. Today, I offer up a palate cleanser. See, I noticed that Billy Graham answered a reader’s letter regarding a topic we might find interesting. Namely, this seasoned veteran of evangelism offered up his A-Number-One Reason to Believe. This answer represents his biggest gun, his most powerful evangelistic come-on. And it’s the same reason we hear out of a great many Christians across all flavors of the religion! We’ll look at it, see what it means, and evaluate it as a claim. And then we’ll decide if it’s as compelling as Billy Graham sure thought it was.
(Omniscient voiceover narration: “Sure, we knew going in that it would suck. But it’d turn out to be a black hole of suckage on a scale requiring multiple arrays of strategically-placed telescopes, along with years of advanced image processing, to fully capture.”)
Billy Graham Offers An Apostate His #1 Reason.
Over at Billy Graham’s website, it looks like the ol’ man himself stepped down from his throne to offer what he claims is the #1 reason to believe. I can see why he did it, too–even in 2016, when he crafted this post, evangelical churn was panicking Christian leaders. (Obviously, he wrote this answer while he still lived. For all Christians’ talk about Heaven, they still haven’t managed to show credible evidence for the existence of life after death.)
An ex-Christian wrote to him describing how he grew up religious but “outgrew all that years ago.” Now this person doesn’t believe at all. But he wants Billy Graham to offer up “even one reason–just one–why I should believe in God?”
Oh for sure, this letter definitely wasn’t created by Billy Graham himself or some lackey in his employ just so he could blather about whatever bee was up his butt that day. Definitely, this letter is legit. Yep, it was totally written by a real ex-Christian asking a serious question of a major Christian leader. And now that leader will take time out of his super-busy schedule to reach out and answer that one random apostate. (Meanwhile, Ed Stetzer–certified twenty times less popular by someone, I’m sure–won’t even return my texts.) r/ThatHappened, for sure, out of everything that’s ever happened in the history of forever.
Graham replies to this letter-writer,
I could give you many reasons to believe in God—but the most important one can be put into two words: Jesus Christ.
UGH, Seriously, WHAT?
Now, one might reply that Graham offered a non-answer. But hear him out!
The reason is because once you understand who Jesus is, you’ll never doubt God’s existence again. In fact, you’ll have every reason not only to believe in God, but also to make Him the foundation and center of your life.
See how he just assumes that the letter-writer has no idea what the Bible says about Jesus?
In fact, Graham assumes that the letter-writer has also never read the Bible “with an open mind and heart.”
This is why I urge you to read with an open mind and heart the eyewitness accounts of His life, as they are found in the Gospels of the New Testament.
If our letter-writer does that, Graham promises, then immediately they’ll understand that Jesus is 100% real. By extension, they’ll also gain faith in Graham’s preferred flavor of Christianity.
The Only Allowed Idolatry.
Graham indulges here in what is, in his tribe, a perfectly allowable idolatry: bibliolatry.1 In other words, he idolizes the Bible itself. He thinks that the Bible can provide all the information people need. Moreover, it also functions as all the evidence anybody needs to know that Christianity’s claims are true.
Thus, Graham thinks that if someone would only read the Bible, then they will not only know everything they need to know about the religion, but will gain support for its claims–and be struck with firm belief.
That’s a lot to ask out of a simple book. But Graham claims that the Bible is up to the task:
Is this true [referring to the claims in the Gospels about Jesus]? For over two thousand years, millions of Christians have believed it is. But they have believed it because they have discovered Jesus’ life and teachings—and most of all, they have discovered the truth concerning His death for us and His resurrection from the dead.
Notice that Graham didn’t ask this question-asker to pray. That’s usually what Christians demand people do to spark their faith. Accordingly, it stands out to me here that Graham didn’t go that route. Nor did he advise the questioner to attend a church revival. He didn’t ask this person to gain experiential knowledge of any kind, even as inadequate as that knowledge would have been in those two suggestions. Usually, Christians lean hard on induced euphoria like that.
Instead, Graham advised this questioner to read his magic book. He overflows with assurances that the book answers every single question or concern that anybody might have–and as a result, that reading it will spark faith.
The Logic Here.
Nonetheless, among many Protestants–especially those in the authoritarian and literalist/inerrantist crowd–there’s this pervasive belief that the Bible itself, all on its own, can compel strong belief. Indeed, that appears to be Billy Graham’s stated stance. His train of thinking stops at these stations:
- His stated single best reason to believe in Christianity’s claims: Jesus Christ.
- Interested parties can learn all about Jesus’ claimed biography from the Bible.
- The Bible contains many definitive and totally true claims, including ones about Jesus.
- These claims represent “eyewitness accounts of [Jesus’] life.”
- People have fervently believed these claims’ veracity for about 2000 years, which must mean they’re extra-true.
- Anybody who reads the Bible “with an open mind and heart” will also believe the Bible’s claims, and therefore gain faith in Jesus and Christianity.
- Checkmate, atheists!
I remain simply flabbergasted at the way Christians approach the critical evaluation of their religion. They never even ask us what would actually compel our belief. Instead, they just assume what would do the trick. They chase their tails to support some totally-arbitrary point. Then they insist that they’ve just offered PROOF YES PROOF of Christianity’s claims.
Meanwhile, I find myself echoing Luke Skywalker:
The Bible’s Supposed “Truth.”
I long ago lost count of the ex-Christians I know who deconverted after reading the Bible. I reckon I’m one of them! My deconversion happened after a desperate last Bible study. I did it to keep intact what little shreds of faith I still possessed. Instead, I deconverted entirely. I had discovered that nothing in that book aligns with reality. None of its promises and assurances actually happen in real life (like prayer accomplishing anything).
And yeah, I mean, sure, we could definitely look at the pandemonium that wrestled the Bible into the form that Christians idolize today. Like, we could mention the fact that the Gospels are anything but eyewitness accounts, or that there were once lots of them. We could talk about the infighting of Christianity’s earliest leaders over every aspect of dogma and doctrine (up to and including how many fingers Jesus held up in paintings and how they should be positioned). We could discuss the codification arguments that dwarfed any of the edit wars on Wikipedia. Or we could simply say that the Bible represents a series of claims, and thus cannot also be the evidence for its own claims.
We could. But we don’t need to.
Y’all, I knew none of that stuff. I’m sure most ex-Christians didn’t, either, while they still believed.
Real talk: Nobody needs to know a single ding-dong-danged thing about the Bible except what religious leaders claim about it to notice that the Bible doesn’t come anywhere close to living up to Christians’ high praise for it.
There’s a damn’ fine reason why the Catholic Church once severely frowned on the idea of laypeople getting their hands on the Bible. It’s the same exact reason why Scientologists don’t tell their own new converts about Xenu and the volcano and all those ancient-alien rocket ships. Most folks get primed to believe advanced guff by buying into more basic guff. If they see advanced guff too soon, it’ll blow their belief away.
But Is the Bible Magically
Right here in our community, ORigel has been gracing us for a while (in comments on Off-Topic Mondays) with an excellent sequentially-read Bible summarization. AG and others have provided invaluable commentary about the Gospels and other books. Elsewhere, one can easily find non-believers reading the Bible. Nobody’s afraid of Christians’ magic book!
Non-believers routinely come away from these efforts completely unconvinced. Moreover, these unpersuaded people can offer full explanations of the various claims the Bible’s many anonymous writers failed, in their evaluation, to support. One of my favorites of these, “Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe,” can be found at A Pasta Sea.
The first video in an extended YouTube Bible study series conducted by atheists.
Thus, I assert that it is glaringly obvious that it’s more than possible for a non-Christian to read the Bible and come away completely unconvinced of its claims–about Jesus or anything else. Indeed, to get what Billy Graham expects this ex-Christian to get out of reading the Bible, someone must already be reading it with belief-goggles on. Otherwise, it sounds like a total mess. Worse, Jesus comes out of it looking like an absolute idiot and fanatical lunatic, if not like a total dillweed.
Of course, Christians like Billy Graham are the very first folks to say that someone who reads the Bible and comes away unconvinced did it with a closed mind and a hard heart, because they do not accept any other outcome than wholesale persuasion. I regard this hand-waving as an ad-hoc rationalization.
In other words, Christians create these explanations after the fact–like how, in Calvin and Hobbes, the little boy Calvin creates rules on the fly for his Calvinball games to help him win them. We’re under no particular obligation to accept them.
The Other Problem Here.
In most of the world, most people know pretty well what Christianity is about. The few who don’t and learn about it as adults reject it out of hand–unless they need an ANGLE to help them out of a desperate situation. Christianity still appeals to those sorts! Otherwise, the religion struggles mightily–and for a reason.
People involved with a group whose ideas are based in reality can easily show how their source documents (whatever they are) align with real-world observations. At that point, they only need to create a group dynamic that prospective newcomers will like and which offers a reasonable return on their outlay of resources to belong. (Reality) + (welcoming group) = growing group, most of the time.
By those standards, the comic-book fan club I joined in 1984-ish represents a far better group than Christianity ever could. So did the pagan group I hung out with in Atlanta. Hell, any decent gaming group beats the average Christian church group.
Billy Graham and his pals face some serious problems now that they’ve lost their coercive powers. They can’t demonstrate the veracity of their source documents. Nor can they demonstrate that their groups are worth joining. Now that belonging to Christianity is purely optional, we’re seeing exactly how well it competes against other sorts of groups.
If the biggest reason for belief that Billy Graham has is “just read the Bible and you’ll see what it says about Jesus,” then it’s no wonder Christianity is still in decline and will remain so for a bit longer yet.
NEXT UP: We see what effect Christians’ idolatry has on their marriages. (See? There’s a method to my madness!) Speaking of Elfquest, after that I want to show you exactly why Christians’ experiential claims don’t work either. We also have an Easter post (or two) slated about some parts of the story that Christians don’t think much about, and of course a Super Special! Busy, busy, bzzzz! See you soon!
1 If you want to see some literalists/inerrantists getting super-touchy about the accusation of bibliolatry, here ya go. It’s the hilariously-lacking-in-self-awareness Christian blathering and backtracking that you didn’t even realize you needed today. (Back to the post!)
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