Many atheists claim that the number one reason they do not believe in god is because they have read the bible. In fairness, this only eliminates one particular god; but the overall conclusion one draws from mankind’s ability to create a god at this level must also affect one’s belief in all other gods.
But why do some people read the bible and find god, while others read the bible and lose him?
Most Christians cling to the New Testament when it comes to absorbing and promoting the bible. The Old Testament has a few interesting stories and gives Christians a history, but the New Testament outlines god’s expectations for Christians who were born after Jesus came along and died for our sins.
That’s us. And Jesus isn’t so bad. He seems kind and holds values that we can relate to even today. He’s the reason people convert. He has a message we agree with, and accepting that he gave his life for our sins so that we can have eternal life seems like a good deal. Plus it means that if Revelations is true, we are going to be on god’s winning team.
The New Testament also includes several “inspiring” letters written by early church leaders meant to encourage those in the faith. Some of it is hard to swallow, but much of it follows the teachings of Jesus and fits into our modern worldview nicely. We quote these letters at weddings and on internet memes. We frame the words and put them on our walls. We sew the verses onto pillows.
Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.
I’ve never seen that on a pillow. (Is there someone who does this? Because I would love to have a pillow collection of terrible verses, for real. I just want to make my in-laws uncomfortable.)
Now, I know you won’t find this verse in even a top fifty list of bad Old Testament verses (go ahead and Google that if you want to see the true horrors of god)….but what makes this verse special to me is that we all know the story. We learned it in Sunday school. It’s a story of justice, where god destroyed a city because everyone was evil but showed mercy to its one good citizen.
Sure, you had to read ahead on your own to find out that after god spared this “righteous” man and turned his wife into a pillar of salt for simply looking back, these same two daughters decided to get their father drunk and have sex with him. Not only was this acceptable in the eyes of god, but it was a great story for me to have read when I was eight. And at the age of eight, I was already making excuses for Lot and the way the bible made me feel about his story. Because god was good, and it needed to fit.
Minimize the Old Testament as you see fit, but you cannot deny that the Old Testament tells us a lot about the character of the Christian god. He does not possess the same giving and forgiving nature as Jesus. He is jealous and vengeful. He murders, and he punishes innocent children for the mistakes of their ancestors. He has little interest in the protection of women. He condones slavery. There is no theme of “do unto others as you would have done unto you” running throughout the Old Testament, and god often favors the kind of men New Testament Paul would tell us to flee from. He is not a personal and loving god, but rather the kind of god who might have been imagined by a less civilized sect of humanity.
That was then, this is now….but THAT was and is god. When Christians read the bible and believe every word, what makes them decide to worship this god for all eternity? Why do they like him? Love him, even? Is it the power? Fear? Jesus isn’t enough. God has been a terrible, terrible parent. I want an end to hunger and a cure for Cancer sent by dove or something. At least.
If there is a god, he does not show kindness to mankind outside of letting us live and breathe. That’s enough, but he grants it whether we believe in him or not. Submitting to his authority obviously does not save us physically here on earth. Even Christians understand that our physical well-being is indifferent to our belief in god. So what is in it for us?
I grew up going to church, and people in authority had sold it effectively as fact that we should worship an all-powerful being. And since there was (apparently) only one all-powerful being, we assume he is good and worthy of praise. That wasn’t something I thought about too hard as a child. I defended it because I felt comfort every time I gave my cares over to god. I felt sure that no matter what happened, as long as I was trusting god it was meant to be. That certainty holds a lot of power. It creates people who believe with their hearts more than their minds. It protects them from doubt.
It is also easily abandoned on its own.
Less easy to abandon is the promise of immortality. That is the only real difference between believing and not believing. It’s the only thing god is actually offering, and we can’t even verify it. God is not a tangible ruler who sits on a throne and leads us directly. No, he gives us free will and waits to see what happens. He remains invisible.
We make choices in the game of life, and some of us are in pursuit of playing for eternity. That’s what religion is all about. Staying alive permanently. It speaks directly to our survival instinct, and the bible is the our terrifying instruction manual. The ultimate treasure map.
So if this god exists, why does it matter to anyone if I choose not to worship him? What if I choose to die rather than worship him forever? It sounds fair to me. Can a person really believe in god and decide not to worship him? Yes. But if one has done the math that god isn’t worth worshiping, then they have probably also come to the conclusion that he isn’t real. That’s all in the bible, too.
If you find god in the bible, you have probably found comfort in turning your cares over to Jesus and the ideology he embodies. But Jesus has no monopoly on such things. To need god is to crave immortality. To want the bible to be true is to want to believe we can live forever. Is it real? Some Christians have lost faith just reading what the bible says about heaven. Maybe it isn’t everything you thought it was, either.
If you believe in the Christian god, then the bible needs to fit that belief. It can, and it will. If you don’t believe in god, then the bible requires no defense. It is just the words of men, like any other book. And if you are unsure? The bible will reveal what you want it to reveal, or it may reveal nothing at all. Men have been finding and losing god within its pages for many generations, and I suspect will continue to do so for many more to come.