7/2/2008

I’m not sure I can be a Christian any more

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:22 am

I’m still struggling with it, not making any final statement. But I decided that I needed to get serious about it and do daily Bible reading and devotions. Bought a great new study Bible and a journal, and started on the Bible reading plan that my church follows.

The very first day one of the prescribed chapters (the plan uses some Old and some New Testament verses each day) was Exodus 32. Those who know their Bibles will know the story of the Golden Calf that Aaron made while Moses was up on Mt Sinai receiving the 10 Commandments.

Here are the relevant verses:

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’ ” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.”

As you might also know, the tribe of the Levites then became the priests for the people of Israel forever.

This text is not the issue by itself, but it’s a perfect example of the problem I’m having. That is, I’m told by everyone that it’s ‘take it or leave it’ with the Bible, all or nothing. But so much of what it says just does not fit with my values. Do I want to worship a God for whom an atrocity like this is considered a laudable thing?

I’m left with a few options:

  1. I change my values to fit the values of God as shown in the Bible. I realise just taking one passage out of context is not really fair, so I go back in and try to read the whole thing, over a year or so, and get the big picture of God’s mercy and love to balance things out. But it’s not just the killing, it’s the attitudes to women, to gay people and so on, and a whole variety of other things.
  2. I do as some other Christians do and explain away some parts of the Bible as ‘cultural’. Not really intellectually honest or satisfying, IMO, just in the sense that it then becomes a matter of each person deciding which parts are and are not binding… which just casts us back on our own values.
  3. I consider that what was really going on in some of these parts of the Old Testament was Moses forging together a nation in a tough time and doing what it took to maintain order (that ‘laughingstock in the eyes of their enemies’ phrase is telling). But that’s similar to the alternative above – once you admit that any of it is anything other than God-ordained, where does that stop.

I guess the bottom line is that I have a set of values – about honesty and integrity, love, caring for others, justice and a whole variety of other important moral values. They inform my decisions and who I am. And the problem I’m having is that, far from being the foundation of my moral values, my religion is outraging them at every turn.

I’m still struggling with what to do with that.

8 responses to “I’m not sure I can be a Christian any more”

  1. Raj says:

    That is a tough place to be in… myself, I see that conflict in many of the religions around me and thus increases my idea that to be spiritual is the way to make that part … what that is may be different for all of us … complete. Religion can be taken as a set of cultural norms and values that have been codified, but the codes need to be changed and to me it seems that religion, regardless of form can’t really keep up.

  2. Dawn says:

    That is definitely a struggle and one I couldn’t put so well. I guess that is why many Christian faiths ignore the old testament. There was a definite change at the time of Christ, and I don’t know if we can really understand it all. It makes it difficult for analytical people.

  3. Marshdrifter says:

    It’s a tough place to be.

    Religion is a cultural entity and for most people, the greater cultural setting that religions are learned and practiced are not the same as where the religion was first developed and practiced. Those threads of learned traits that make up the cultural fabric in your mind are coming from diverse sources. They inform each other, fight each other, and essentially develop a dialog of value with which you interpret the world and your experiences in it.

    Given the nature of God, it’s probably safe to assume God is aware of the cultural implications of religious teachings. You aren’t a Levite living so many thousands of years ago in the Middle East. God probably doesn’t have the same message for you that he did for Moses. Different people. Different setting. Different cultural context.

    Syncretic change is normal in all learned behaviors as they passes through their pedagogical lineages. Christianity is no different. Christianity has changed dramatically over the years and, as Dawn points out, even within the bible. It’s clearly not an “all or nothing” situation. The hard is how to know where to draw the line (as you mention in #3). Obviously, you can’t just make up whatever comes to mind. Contrary to certain vocal positions, that’s not how religion (or any cultural trait) works. Culture is pre-conscious. You already (probably) believe a syncretic variety of Christianity. One that fits what you’ve learned from the myriad of sources you’ve encountered within your life.

    So what to do? Go through the Bible and read it, reflectively. Explore your feelings on what you read and consider what feels right and what doesn’t. Most of all, don’t try to do a logical analysis or justification. Don’t try to do something because you think you ought to (although you may want to take a note on what you think ought to be). Find what you actually believe, not what you think you should believe.

    Good luck.

  4. Bravus says:

    Thanks to all of you – I’m blessed to have such thoughtful friends.

  5. Sirdar says:

    I think you have an idea as to why I question the Bible and the so-called Loving God. I can certainly understand your struggle with you being brought up with Christianity. I would imagine it will be a tough decision. One of the other things that kind of make me go “huh?’ is the 360ร‹ลก turn from the old testament to the new testament and how I have been told that Jesus represents God…so if Jesus speaks, God speaks. Which makes me question if the New Testament is really the word of God, or the word of man to make Christianity more palatable.

    Whatever decision you make…I hope it is one that you feel totally comfortable with. And, I will support your decision of course ๐Ÿ™‚ Not that it will make any difference to your decision, but I guess I’m saying that I don’t care what religion you are…I didn’t like you for your religion, I liked your family…period.

  6. Paul Geelan says:

    Wow, that’s heavy reading for first day of a reading plan. I wonder what the thinking was on that?
    The thing that informs my understanding of all that God does in His interactions with man is 1 John 4:8 – God is Love (not lovely or loving or loveable which would be a weaker statement). That is, the terms are synonymous. That is an NT description, but I think it is entirely consistent with the Exodus 34:6,7 description of the character of God. Does that mean I can understand the reasons for everything in the bible? No. But that’s where that most difficult of spiritual disciplines comes in – Faith. We struggle with God’s order of things – ie. believe and then some of the answers may become clearer, rather than, let me clear any lingering doubts you have so that you will be crystal clear on everything before you believe.
    All I can offer on this particular story is speculation. You mentioned that one of the values that governs your life is justice. That’s so important. We often are very keen on the mercy side of the character of God, but less keen on the justice side. Could it be that the sexual antics before the golden calf (the KJV sanitises the whole carry on by using the word “play”) were violent and degrading and that having been witnessed by the children, God had to take decisive action to protect a whole generation of children? I don’t know.
    But in my experience 1 John 4:8 has been an accurate description of God.
    But I, like others, would also plea for a decision based on the whole story, and in the process I pray that God reveals Himself as one completely consistent with your personal value set.

  7. Mark says:

    This is a confronting passage, but I think it’s best to let God be God. He has rightful power of life and death. If God decides people have to die, painful though it is to us, so be it. We are all going to die at some point, some of us with Alzheimers, or excruciating cancer or something else equally degrading, if we live long enough.

    God was setting up a nation with the Big Ten as the cornerstone of the constitution. They has all heard God booming them out from the mountain, with lots of pyrotechnics to get their attention. Then a month or so later that start violating the commandments like this.

    What is God to do when people go this way? Give up on the experiment of having a holy people to show the world the benefits of a better way? Or slap them awake and carry on? What would the world be like today if there had been no people to preserve the knowledge of God?

    Remember back them every man was armed and it was like the highlands of PNG. They weren’t about to respond to impassioned entreaties. Life and death were much more in the forefront. It’s us 20th/21st century people who think we know better than God, because our lives have been so comfortable, when it comes to the big issues.

  8. Mark L says:

    Aleph here from the William Gibson Board.

    Found your blog through posts there. I am Anglican. This is a topic I wrestle with daily. For what it’s worth, three books that help me a little are “Evil & The Justice Of God” by N.T. Wright (Anglican), “Making Sense Of Suffering” by Peter Kreeft (Roman Catholic) and “The Problem Of Pain” by C.S. Lewis (Anglican).

    It is difficult because genocide does not square with everything Jesus taught. Yet He claimed to be the Son of the God of the Old Testament. John even implies that the glory Isaiah saw in the temple was of Christ, where the O.T. calls him YHWH. Joh 12:40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Joh 12:41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

    John is referring to Jesus in v. 41.

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