One of my Patheos colleagues (and all-around awesome person) Amber Barnhill got this list of questions from a student at a little local Bible college in her area. The student asked if she’d maybe answer the questions and then do some sort of interview.
Amber shared it with a bunch of us and it caught our attention–Neil’s done a post of answers (as has another blogger, Mason Lynch, and they’re both good), and I know some of the other folks on the channel are considering doing the same. So I thought I’d do it too–I think it can be useful to talk about this stuff and get it out into the open. I won’t pretend that my answers are universal or that I speak for anybody but myself, but isn’t it great to live during a time when people can freely talk about stuff like this?
We’ve done “10 Questions” before with Christians, but this one’s a bit different. I looked around online but couldn’t see whether or not any other Christian groups are using this exact list, so it may be something unique to the college. I want to also mention that Bible colleges are not typically the hardcore seminaries doing all the fun cutting-edge intensive research. Though one can’t generalize too far, often they’re more like indoctrination stations for people who want to go into ministry (or to marry ministers).
One of the most fascinating things about lists of questions like this one is that they reveal a lot about the people doing the asking. As you read the questions, I want you to keep in mind that nobody needs to ask for answers they already have. There’s a certain element of insularity and naivete to these questions that is almost charming. Needless to say, every one of these questions has a best-case answer, too–one that doesn’t resemble reality very often.
1. Have you ever been to church?
Like most people, yes, I’ve been to church. In fact, I was a Christian for the entire first half of my life. I grew up so Catholic that I actually considered becoming a nun, but instead I became a Southern Baptist in my teens–and then shortly thereafter a Pentecostal. I married a man who was angling for full-time ministry and we did all the stuff that Christians are supposed to do. As part of my devotions, I attended church faithfully until I deconverted–sometimes almost every single day of the week.
Even after deconversion, I’ve attended church services with family members or as part of weddings/funerals/etc.
2. Do you have any Christian friends or family members? If so, what do you think of their faith?
Like pretty much every other non-Christian on the planet, yes, I have both friends and family members who are Christian. As long as they don’t make it an issue, it doesn’t need to become an issue–so I don’t really think about their faith at all. Other people’s spiritual feelings aren’t relevant to me or my business. They seem to like it, and that’s good for them.
3) What do you think of Christians?
Some of them are very wonderful people.
Some of them are rat-bastards.
Way too many of them are rat-bastards who think they’re wonderful people.
And a few of them are wonderful people who think they’re rat-bastards.
Belief in Jesus does not predict goodness, kindness, charity, love, or anything else–any more than disbelief predicts the opposite.
4) What do you think of Jesus?
I think that if the founder of Christianity could ever be really identified, his life would look absolutely nothing like the mishmash mess that is the Gospels. Every single detail about him was stolen from the Old Testament–even when it made no sense whatsoever to do it. It’d be like if someone who only spoke Chinese decided to write my biography 50 years after my death using only sentences and details lifted from a Google-translated, German-language copy of Pippi Longstocking. Chances are the results wouldn’t look much like me.
His existence is an interesting historical question, but the important part to remember is that it hardly matters when considering the religion itself. We don’t need to know if Jesus really existed in order to evaluate the religion’s claims.
If you’re asking what I think about the character of Jesus as it’s portrayed in the Gospels, I think he comes off as a highly erratic, inconsistent charlatan, a racist, sexist xenophobe, and a frightening fanatic. I realize that the character is supposed to be a wise, loving teacher, but those vignettes are interlaced with apocalyptic grandstanding, failed predictions, and instances of shocking cruelty and thoughtlessness. The best thing I can say about Jesus is that the image most Christians carry around in their heads of him doesn’t much match the one provided by the Bible.
Obviously Christianity had to begin somewhere. Maybe it was just an apocalyptic sect of Judaism that accidentally caught on with the Gentiles in the area. We might not ever know exactly who began preaching the exact swirl of paganism, Judaism, and mystery-religions that became the first form of Christianity. But I hope we never stop asking that question until it’s fully answered.
5) What do you think of the Bible?
It’s an ancient book with a vast history and huge breadth. Most of it’s stone-cold boring. Some of it’s brutal. And a little of it is beautiful. All of it is a sales pitch. Ancient people didn’t think the way we do, and though they weren’t dumb, they weren’t actually trying to write an accurate history or a science book.
There is absolutely nothing about the Bible that sounds even halfway divine or miraculous. Much of its history and science are untrue to the point of childishness, and the stuff that is actually true isn’t at all groundbreaking.
6) Has anyone ever preached to you personally?
Good heavens, yes. Often. Ineptly. I wish they wouldn’t.
One of evangelical Christianity’s least charming myths is that non-Christians simply never hear evangelism. Thom Rainer even did a blatantly false and self-serving puff piece claiming that non-Christians wished, oh we wished!, that some nice Christian somewhere would maybe (sniffle) possibly squeak a little word of preaching to us (sob) and oh! maybe if we were lucky, I mean really really lucky, invite us to church sometime. It was ridiculous, offensive, patronizing, pandering, and very clearly meant to be an exhortation to his flocks to evangelize more.
Nothing could be further from the truth, alas for Christians.
7) How would you feel if someone tried to persuade you to believe in Jesus? Would it make a difference if that person were a stranger or if they were close to you?
It wouldn’t matter in terms of whether or not they’d succeed. It’s not like either one of them would actually be able to offer me persuasive evidence of their claims, because that evidence simply doesn’t exist. I’d probably be more offended if a close friend or family member tried to sell me their product, the same as I’d be more offended if they tried to sell me MLM crap. It’s rude to abuse people’s graces and hospitality to sell them stuff, and presumptuous to “fix” them without asking permission.
I would never join a group whose members are trained from childhood to be rude and presumptuous as long as it’s for a good cause. All their silly threats about imaginary buses and cliffs and plane crashes don’t excuse anything.
8) What are your biggest objections to Christianity?
Its source text is unintelligible garbage, filled with contradictions and inane assertions. It has been edited to the point where there is no way whatsoever to trust it about anything.
Even moving away from its supernatural claims, its purely earthly claims are also ludicrously untrue.
The behavior of Christians, as a group, speaks very strongly to the religion being hogwash. If Christians are any indication of what their god wants to surround himself with, then I am happy to be out of the clique. It’s beyond clear to me that they do not actually believe anything in their source book (which, really, I cannot blame them for thinking–as I said, it’s an unfathomable mess), but they still want to force upon me the same rules that they can’t even live with, and they are incapable of reining in their bad apples or correcting their problems. These shortcomings, I can neither forgive nor overlook.
As a system, the religion simply doesn’t work to produce good people and functional, harmonious societies–in fact, Christian-dominated societies tend to be the most dysfunctional and hellish on the planet by every marker we use to measure such things. If Christianity’s claims were untrue but its people were shining examples of grace, honesty, and love, then we’d be confused as hell but at least we’d have to admit that something about this religion was on the right track. We might not know why, but we’d have to concede that as a system, it worked. But that is totally not the case. Its claims are bullshit and its people are, in the aggregate, complete hypocrites.
9) Hypothetically speaking, if the claims of the Christian faith were proven true beyond a shadow of a doubt, would you become a Christian?
I doubt it. The religion of Christianity doesn’t produce good people or functional societies. Even in its liberal forms, it doesn’t care about human rights, encourages people to think of themselves as slaves who need rescuing, and grants unilateral power to a few while stripping power from the rest–which results in inevitable and constant abuses and scandals. It is very clearly a broken system that is meant to perpetuate its leaders’ power.
BUT: If its supernatural claims were verified, then I’d stop saying that the Christian god doesn’t exist, and I’d put serious thought into figuring out what I could about this being and any potential afterlife that might put me into contact with him. This same offer is one I’d extend to any religion.
I can’t honestly say I’d instantly become Christian and start going to church. At that point we’d need to start talking about whether or not this being was worthy of worship and obedience, and if so, how to offer these things without tangling with the nastiness that is Christianity.
I will say that I wouldn’t need to see the claims verified “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” I’d just need reasonable certainty. At the moment, there’s not a shred of objective evidence for a single claim made by the adherents of any religion at all. I think Christians are very frightened of doubt, but really, everything in life is subject to doubt and that’s okay. Doubt isn’t scary to me anymore. If I suffer a serious doubt about something, I know how to proceed and how to test it–I don’t have to just will it away or ignore it, like I did when I was Christian. Doubt is the friend of reality, not a boogeyman to be defeated. It leads us to asking questions and making sure we’re on the right track. Nothing at all in life is so certain that there can’t be some doubt about it–even the Theory of Evolution, supported by 150 years’ worth of experiments and tests without one single hiccup in the main, can still be tested. If an idea is correct and true, doubt poses no threats to it.
I genuinely doubt, however, that Christianity–especially fundagelical Christianity–is what we’d get if a real live god of goodness, mercy, and love were to inspire a religion.
10) Describe your beliefs about God, salvation, the afterlife, etc.
The Christian god: I see no reason whatsoever to think that he exists. I don’t think most Christians even have the faintest idea what they mean by the term. They seem to mean “big galactic Wonder-Daddy,” and pile up awesome attributes and traits on this character until he’s buckling at the knees with contradictions. I noticed even as a Christian that Christians tend to create for themselves a god who is what they personally need and want–a lonely kid from a bad home, like me, imagined a sweet father-figure, while a violent Y’All-Queda member imagines a be-mulleted MURRKAN JESUS who hates Messicans and wields machine guns. Without evidence, he can literally be anything.
Other gods: I’m an agnostic, which means that I really don’t know if there are gods and I’m unwilling to say that there simply aren’t any divine-like beings. I can say that I’ve never encountered any supernatural claims that turned out to be true.
Salvation: This term is largely meaningless. I don’t think most Christians know what they mean by it, either, any more than they understand the Trinity or what they even mean by “God.” There’s no reason to think that anyone needs to worry about it, though. I think that it is a fear-based marketing tactic that works beautifully on authoritarian-follower types.
Afterlife: There’s no reason to think that there is one. I used to think that there was, even after deconverting, but honestly the more I think about it the sillier it gets.
When we die, our brains shut down. That’s where our personalities live, where our feelings and hopes and angers and fears all reside, and where our pain is sensed, our pleasures relished, and our tastebuds tickled. Without the physical ability to send and receive those inputs, how do I feel pain or pleasure? Or anything else?
Further, people who suffer organic injuries and diseases of the brain often experience changes in their entire personalities. Even their memories fade and vanish. What we experience, feel, and think is highly dependent on our brains and there really isn’t any part of what we’d consider “us” that exists independently of that biological matter. Our entire “us” is completely variable–and based in the meat of our bodies.
Etc.: If I could make Christians understand anything at all, it’d be that there is not one single persuasive apologetics book or argument in circulation today. That stuff is written to fleece gullible Christians, not to persuade non-believers! It’s okay to fly by faith if they want to do that, but the religion is lessened and diminished when Christians try to argue that it’s TRUE YES TRUE with PROOF YES PROOF. It just reminds me of how dishonest the religion’s teachings are.
A Final Note.
Fifty years after we die, nobody will be left alive who knows what our voices sounded like–but if we make our lives meaningful, contribute to humanity as best we can, and forge connections through friends, family, and our communities, then we’ll have the only kind of immortality that we know for sure that we can achieve: being remembered by those we have touched during our brief lifetimes.
Whatever we humans get, we make it happen for ourselves. It’s up to us. Every moment of our lives counts.
What poverty of spirit must someone possess in order to look at all of this wonder, all of these people, all of this stuff to learn and do, and think it is meaningless unless there is a big galactic Wonder-Daddy at the end of it all with a floating castle in the sky, an endless birthday party, and all the candy they can eat?
We don’t need ancient, petulant, angry little desert-gods-made-good. We have the stars, and each other. That’s more than enough for me. I’ll never have time to plumb this life’s depths before departing it. I’ll never have drunk the cup dry.
Our time here on this beautiful planet means something.
In fact, it means everything. Because it is everything.
That’s such an amazing thought to me.
Let’s never forget what’s really important.
And yes, of course, if anybody wants to answer any of these too, you are totally invited to do so down in the comments!