17 December 2008

WHY I AM AN ATHEIST: The Bible - Part 1

In a previous post (Why Are There Atheists?) I noted that atheists say reading the Bible started them on the road to religious skepticism more than anything else.

I came from a highly religious home. Although we always belonged to one denomination or other of a mainstream Protestant church, at heart my father was an evangelical. However, he repeatedly told me it didn’t matter if I were a Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist or Methodist, just so I was a Christian. He didn’t mention the Catholic church, but I assume he wouldn’t have been pleased if I’d become a Papist.
I’m sure everyone has heard someone say, “I believe what I see,” but actually the reverse is true: we see what we believe. If one believes the Bible is full of inspiration, one will see and believe those passages that support that belief and ignore the rest. Instead of finding the Bible beautiful and uplifting, I found much of it rather appalling. Thus, reading the Bible was one of the triggers that started my doubts.

As George Bernard Shaw said: “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.”

For as long as I can remember, my family read a chapter of the Bible before dinner each night. At first, my parents took turns reading a verse at a time. As we became old enough, the children helped with the reading. I joined in when I was about 8. We didn’t pick a chapter at random, but rather started at Chapter One of Genesis and continued to the end of Revelation, then started over. Even taking into consideration an occasional dinner elsewhere, calculating the number of years I read along before I left home for college, I read the entire Bible at least 3 times, maybe 4.
As a 10 or 12 year old, reading that children who disobey their parents should be stoned was very scary. People who work on the Sabbath should also be stoned. (I wondered if that included ministers.) Eating pork or lobster was an abomination. I was horrified that God wiped out populations of entire cities because one or a few individuals displeased him and that dashing babies heads was perfectly okay.
Because we read the King James Version, for a while I assumed that I just wasn't understanding what was written. If I questioned anything in the Bible, my parents looked upon me with horror and fed me the usual drivel, "God works in mysterious ways."
Around the age of 12, when we were reading Judges, two stories, in particular, hit me like bolts of lightning.

I was reading these passages long before the women’s movement, but as a teenaged girl, I was horrified that the women in these Biblical stories were expendable. They had been treated worse than most people would treat animals. How could God allow these horrible events?
If God was all-knowing, then he would know that Jephthah was sincere in his intent to follow through on his vow. But how could an all-loving God allow Jephthah to kill his daughter? Why wouldn't God have let him off the hook on that promise?
How could a father offer his daughter to rapists, then cut up her dead body?
These passages bothered me for months. In the solitude of my bedroom, I read them over and over, sure that I had misunderstood the verses. Surely, if I read them often enough, I would see them in a new light. I wanted to believe in an all-knowing, all-loving God.
As we continued reading the Bible, I learned that women who are not virgins when they marry should be stoned. Women should be silent in church, that a woman was worth half a male, that if a virgin is raped, her rapist must marry her and never divorce her, that 32 virgins were given to a priest as “the Lord’s tribute” when the Israelites conquered the Midianites.
Thus, I developed serious doubts about the veracity of the Bible. And if I doubted the foundation of my religion, I also had to doubt Christianity. I probably hadn't heard of atheism at that time, but at the age of 12, I started on the path to become a nonbeliever.
Of course, I continued to attend church, Sunday school, choir practice, youth group, vacation Bible school, and church camp. I had no choice. I read along with my parents as we plowed through the Bible, but instead of blind acceptance, I was looking at everything I read in the Bible with the eye of a skeptic.

copyright 2008 by C. Woods

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Jeanne said...

Well, it took me 50 years to leave the RC church, but it's official. I am a skeptic and I'm okay with it.

That's progress.

I like this blog very much. Keep up the good work.

C Woods said...

Hi Jeanne, Thanks for stopping by. I haven't been posting much lately, but there are many past posts I'm sure you will find interesting.

On being a lapsed Catholic:

My first husband had been brought up as a wishy-washy Protestant. In the Navy, he became friends with the Catholic chaplain and converted to RC. But when he later attended a Catholic university ---this was around the time the church started to hold masses in English ---his philosophy classes planted seeds of doubt in his mind. Then he realized (with English instead of Latin) that the Catholics were saying about the same things as the Protestants. By the time we met, he was a serious skeptic. My current husband is also a lapsed Catholic. When I met him, he was a deist, but now he even doubts the existence of a god. He agrees with my ex that the Catholic church should have stuck to Latin. When no one understood what was being said, it sounded mysterious and spiritual. In English, it sounds "ordinary." The one thing he thinks the Catholics did that helps it keep members, is to de-emphasize the Bible. Studies have shown that reading the Bible ---really reading it, not just perusing popular passages ---is the biggest factor in Christians becoming doubters or nonbelievers.

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