For people like myself who used to believe that homosexuality is a sin for religious reasons and have now come to understand homosexual relationships from a naturalistic perspective, it’s very difficult to listen to not only the religious arguments against gay marriage but to the disparagement of gay relationships and seeing them branded as sinful. This issue grieves me for so many reasons, so I tried discussing the possibility that evangelicals are misunderstanding what the Bible says (or does not say) about homosexuality with my dad, who has a PhD from a conservative Reformed Baptist seminary.
When I presented my challenge, he said, “I still don’t get why people who don’t believe in God feel the need to modify Christian documents in order to make more palatable to themselves a position that they have indicated they will never hold due to lack of evidence.”
To me, this point he is making is like saying, “I don’t understand why we should compromise on anything. I believe what I believe, and nothing you atheists can say will sway me in any direction.” Now, I know that’s not what he said or meant, but it doesn’t seem far off. I’ve consistently said that I have no intention of trying to pull my friends and family away from their Christian beliefs, but I do feel compelled to challenge them when they believe something that negatively affects others. I am not trying to “modify Christian documents,” and I honestly don’t care whether or not I myself find anything in the Bible palatable. I still won’t believe it’s true. My concern is how people who believe it use it as a weapon. I have history on my side in this argument. How many times historically have Christians reinterpreted scripture? Can I not trust that such a thing can happen again in a new time? I’ve not smudged out anything in the Bible. I’ve only suggested that the original copies and contexts be revisited for the sake of trying to understand why it is necessary that so many loving people continue to be belittled and shamed by modern interpretations.
My dad’s statement is also an example of the Christian perception that everyone is out to destroy their truth. On the contrary, I’m trying to work within their system to make for a more loving, hospitable society. I am accommodating to their rules by looking at the original language. As has been the case more often than I’d have anticipated, I feel like I’m basically being a better Christian than most Christians I know. This is the greatest irony of being an atheist humanist.
When I first deconverted, it was pretty natural that I would really despise the worldview I left behind. Hating and feeling embarrassed by your past isn’t only damaging to the self, but it is potentially damaging to those who are still living that worldview. There was a fine line I walked between dogging on the silly elements of Christian culture that most Christians hate and dogging on the actual doctrine that most Christians believe is true. I still walk this line, and I’ve still not learned how to be as sensitive to it as some probably think I should be.
I received a message from a friend explicitly asking me if my main issue is with Christian culture or with the actual Christian God. I explained that they’re both kind of the same to me. Christian culture is reading the Bible. Well, not all of them are, but I know people swimming in the culture who have very carefully studied the Bible in the “original” Greek and Hebrew for decades. It’s not like they’re missing something. It’s not like they missed the point on who God is and are now raping God’s purposes. No, I think Bible God gets represented by every single Christian who reads the Bible: the Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons, Steven Furticks, and Mark Driscolls as well as the Jon Acuffs and even the more liberal, mystical Christians. They’re all reading the same Bible. All of their actions are informed by the text.
This is where atheism makes a lot of sense to me by saying, “The Bible is full of inconsistencies and contradictions.” The illustration of this is all around us. Look at how many people are reading the same Bible and living according to opposite convictions. The Bible can be twisted to fit anything that a person thinks he/she needs. It just can. There are always certain parts that need to be ignored in order for you to live by your biblical convictions. Each Christian traces their own narrative through Scripture and applies it. Some see the never-changing God who hates homosexuality and destroys cities. Yep, he’s in there. Some see the merciful God who extends grace to the most destitute. Yep, he’s in there. This is what scares me about the Bible. I respect my friends who love God and want to love others because they believe God has called them to love others. That is wonderful and needed. But I’m just trying to love others, too, and I don’t pull my reasoning from the same book that informed mass genocides of the past. There’s just something eerie about the text. There is a lot of beauty and mystery in there, but there is also a lot of dark, morbid stuff. I don’t understand calling it a holy book or using it as the primary source for informing my beliefs. Yes, Jesus was nice in some respects. In others, he might have kinda been a dick. He had cool, revolutionary ideas, but I don’t think he was/is God. I can love people without him telling me to at least.
So yeah, I don’t often like Christian culture, and I probably don’t really like the Christian God. The key, though, is that I don’t think that God really exists, and this suspicion is informed by what I see. It’s relieving and terrifying at the same time.
If there is a God, I hope that God is not represented by the Bible. If there is a God, that God should probably be pissed about the Bible.