Monday, March 23, 2015

Open Letter to Christians

Note: If you are a believer, you will naturally read it as a cynic. You'll look for quick opportunities to dismiss the things I say which make you uncomfortable. Be cognizant of this tendency within yourself. When you notice yourself thinking "That's ridiculous!" or "What an idiot!", use that as a cue to stop and consider the claim more carefully.

I was once a Christian. Just like you, I felt Jesus's love. I talked to him through my prayers. I believed he loved me personally. But knowing is more important than believing, so I explored the justifications for the beliefs I was taught as a child. This exploration of my core beliefs was both frightening and incredibly valuable for me. If you're ready to consider the same, I have some fundamental questions to ask you, or rather for you to ask yourself. I'll lay them out below.

How do you know it's real? 

If it's a feeling, have you considered that every religion has the same sorts of feelings about their particular incompatible beliefs? I occasionally attend secular services and have the same feelings of joy and love and awe I had in church.

If you know because the Bible is true, how did you learn that? Did you test it yourself? Or did you learn that from an authority figure as a child? What method could possibly confirm that  the entire Bible is accurate?  It's passed through so many human hands.  How would you know if some of them influenced it or even created it?

I've heard so many times that he Bible is true for one reason or another.  Here's a few and some questions about each:

  • The Bible is true because the stories are confirmed by archaeologists and / or historians.
    This certainly can't be true in its entirety.  Many parts of the Bible stories couldn't be verified if the events happened yesterday.  Take for example the stories in Matthew 8, Healing people and driving demons into a herd of pigs. Such stories leave no historical or archaeological trace to be verified.  If someone told you this happened today, what evidence would you need to believe it?
  • The Bible says all scripture is God-breathed.
    The Bible makes claims in its text, just like the Koran or the Odyssey. Its original authors or their intentions are lost to history. But make no mistake: The bible you hold in your hands is man made. Humans printed it. Before that, humans translated it. Before that, humans copied it. Before that, humans wrote it down. I could fabricate anything I want and call it a "bible." So could any of those other humans along the way. We would never know. Each of these steps is subject to human error or worse: deliberate misrepresentation. 
  • If the Bible isn't true, the consequences would be bad
    By this logic, we should reject that the holocaust ever happened.  It's very negative, reflects poorly on humanity, and I'd very much prefer that it didn't exist. But it does. And pretending it doesn't just because I don't like it would be dishonest. For me, honesty is more important than happy outcomes. I hope that's true for everyone, but I'm not sure.

Would you believe it today?

You were most likely taught your religion as a child. The vast majority of religious people follow the religion of their parents or their local culture.  What do you think of other religions from other parts of the world which you learned about as an adult? Good examples might be Scientologists, Mormons, or Buddhists.  Did their beliefs like reincarnation or alien visitors seem silly or absurd? Are you able to take an outsider's perspective at your own beliefs? Seriously challenge the assumptions you've taken for granted since childhood. If you're Christian, consider this: 
  • How does the death and suffering of Jesus pardon your own sins?  How is that moral or ethical to transfer guilt like that? We'd NEVER let someone else take the punishment for a criminal. Isn't that basically what God did with Jesus?
  • Do you really believe that your faith is somehow different from the faith of other religions or sects? 
  • It's plainly evident that people can firmly believe false things. You're a person. How do you keep from believing false things? 
  • Do you apply the same kinds of skeptical and rational thinking to religion as you do to making a purchase or healthcare decisions? Why or why not? 


I believe that honesty in our beliefs requires us to treat all claims equally.  And in my personal experience, believers do not.  It's common to give one's own belief system a free pass on all the absurd claims while criticizing others for beliefs that to an outsider seem no more absurd. 

It's very hard to be objective about faith.  In fact, I believe the church tries to teach us not to.  But honesty demands objectivity, and true things stand up to scrutiny. Giving your personal faith a pass on scrutiny is tantamount to being dishonest with yourself. 

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