The bald truth at the moment is that I am just not as Christian as I was twelve or even six months ago.
Being Christian means accepting a whole raft of beliefs that, to varying extents, shape how you view the world around you. The star one is that all mankind is naturally “sinful” and only by acknowledging that and accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour, you can be saved from that. But that means accepting that there is this behaviour called “sin”. And that all human beings are naturally predisposed to “sin”. And that there are consequences for being like that. But, you know, I am not so sure of that anymore.
One of the things about coming out from under the Christian guilt is that these definitions become optional. And then that means the definition of “sinful behaviour” becomes up for examination. And it does bear examination. It is easy to say that “sin” is what Jesus and Yahweh says is wrong with the people of the world. And an ungenerous critic of Christianity could easily add that it is awfully convenient that Jesus offers a way out. Too convenient, perhaps. The only salesman who claims to accurately identify the problem is also the only one with a remedy. Hmm.
I’ve been schooled all my life in what the Bible says and what the Church teaches. And when something interests me, I want to go looking for more about it. This is why I love Wikipedia. Meanwhile, I’ve been getting tired of the same things being taught in Churches again and again and again. But it was only recently that I understood why: I’m finally moving forward with my knowledge of the Bible and Church history. I’ve gone beyond the traditional explanations and started learning what leading edge scholarship says. And I wish I could drag a lot of the people in my church along for the ride.
I no longer believe Paul was as great and wonderful as most Christians see him as. He was human after all, and he had to spend time learning how to evangelise this new faith. More than anyone else, Paul was on the uncharted cutting edge of Christian thought for much of his life. And he had to build that out of almost nothing. He was always learning and always adapting. We see fragments of his life and interactions with other Christians in the book of Acts and in his letters. However, it is easy to forget his ministry spanned decades (especially at the start) and he never stopped developing his teaching. In a lot of ways, Christians have been blinded to these facts.
The New Testament orders the letters roughly in order of size. That was how scholars assembled works like that back then. But it takes them out of historical order and makes it very hard to see how Paul grows and changes. Because he does, and that gives rise to a number of contradictions in his letters as he refines his teachings and even changes his mind on a few things. Scholars are not even sure some of the books said to be by him really were. Most Church-goers don’t know any of this.
The second thing my beliefs have been changed on is authorship of the Bible books. I think too many Christians forget that all the books of the Bible had a target audience, often a very diverse set of people, and that most of the longer books were edited by people with an agenda. Sometimes a very strong agenda.
This gets complicated, though, because the provenance of the Old Testament books is tightly bound up in the history of Israel and of Judaism. After years of Bible teaching that the Judaism of King David’s time is substantially similar to the Judaism of Jesus time, I now believe otherwise. And the reason many people think they see this in the OT books is because most, if not all, of our records from before the Exile were compiled and edited by Jews in Exile, largely the remnant of the ruling class which probably means priests (bronze age civilizations often had tightly coupled monarchies and priesthoods). There is a distinct world-view that colours all the works that us in our modern, scientific mindset can barely even see is there. But the Jews in exile seriously needed to do this, partly so that they could regain their power over the people and partly to explain to both the people and to themselves why they had been carted away from their homeland.
I’ve found Christians barely understand this. And if they do, they don’t want to hear it. It doesn’t agree with tradition. That includes authorship as well as agenda. But I can’t ignore it. It makes too much sense for me to ignore it. That’s what learning about how stories work does for you. These guys were telling a story and trying to create the ending of their choice.
So now I fully believe that until the Return, the Jews were polytheistic just like all the other people around them. For many of them, especially in the time of Samuel, I would say Yahweh was just one god amongst many. All those diatribes against the hill-shrines and all those battles against the Philistines? Spin and politics.
This cannot avoid influencing what I believe. I cannot believe in a young earth. I can barely believe there was a Garden of Eden – and Noah, Abram and even Moses are fuzzy. Were they just stories for inspiration? Scholarship has told us repeatedly that the OT history works are not literal or accurate history. At best they are historical stories, at worst total fiction. Most are probably somewhere in the middle. This is what I believe after doing my meagre research. Most of my fellow church goers would not get it.
I haven’t had time or inclination to think about other things. Was Jesus the Son of God? I don’t know. What about the afterlife? Heaven and hell? Again, I haven’t really thought about those. They’ve been put aside for now. In my own thinking, I’m still sorting out where Yahweh ends and Jesus starts.
So, like I said at the top, I’m less Christian than I was six or twelve months ago.