Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 6: The God of the Bible

The image of God I received during my 40 years in evangelical churches was overwhelmingly positive. The central message was, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus was our Good Shepherd, faithfully leading and caring for his flock. He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and teach us.

I knew of darker passages in the Bible, but those were not emphasized. I was confident that God was good, so there must be reasonable explanations for the God-ordered genocides, enslavements, and all-around harshness that characterize some stretches of the Bible.

Liberal Christians can chalk up these passages to a not-yet-developed understanding of the divine. Evangelicals like I was don’t have that luxury. We believed that the Bible is God’s Infallible Word, and does not change. So, if God ordered genocide, then the pagan tribe on the receiving end must have deserved it. Biblical slavery? It was more like indentured servitude. God’s punishments were harsh? That’s because he is so holy.

After the upheavals described in Parts 123 and 4 of this series, those explanations did not rest as easily as they once had. I had learned that godly, well-meaning teachers could be gravely mistaken, or even lie.

Once I began to ask questions with a more open frame of mind, the flaws in the old answers were obvious. Also, I started to notice just how many troubling passages there were. I do not wish to catalog them all here. I won’t even refer you to any of the many Websites that list Bible atrocities. You can find them yourself if and when you’re ready. All I want to do is briefly mention the few passages that hit me particularly hard, and how my take on them changed.

Job

I think the first passage where I said, “Hey, wait a minute!” was the entire Book of Job. Through misfortunes ranging from boils on his skin to the deaths of all his children, righteous Job refuses to “curse God and die” as his wife urges him to do. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away,” the faithful man says.

In my evangelical circles, discussion of this book usually centered on why God allows the innocent to suffer. The somewhat unsatisfying answer is given by God’s extended discourse at the end of the book. After poetically saying, “You’re only human and I’m God. What do you know?” several dozen times, it ends with, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

OK, but that that doesn’t really answer my question. Why did this innocent man suffer?

Then I noticed that Job’s whole tale of woe got started when God made an entirely gratuitous bet with Satan. God bragged to Satan that Job would be faithful no matter what, and then invited Satan to take everything from Job except his life. Satan hadn’t even been bothering Job until God dared him to afflict him in every way imaginable!

Particularly appalling is that Satan killed Job’s children with God’s permission. We’re supposed to be happy at the end of the book when Job gets replacement children, but, speaking as the father of six, I feel qualified to say that hardly counts.

Why would a just God — to say nothing of a loving one — invite these calamities on a man whom the very first verse of the book calls “blameless“? And do so just for sport! Sport with the devil, no less! And then expect Job to love him without question!?

This article really hit home for me: The God of Abuse. If you only have time to read the rest of this post or that article, please go read the article.

Noah

The story of Noah brings to mind images from Sunday School: happy pairs of animals boarding the Ark, or maybe the rainbow God created after the Flood.

Does anyone care that this was also the story where God exterminated all but 8 members of the human race? Allegedly they deserved it, but did they really? How about the six-year-olds who died in frantic terror as the flood-waters swept them away from their familes? Were they so different from the first-graders who died this week in the Newtown school massacre? Or how about the babies at their mothers’ breast? Were they more evil than your baby? For more on the righteousness of God’s judgment on Israel’s neighbors, see my post, Was Slavery God’s Righteous Judgment?

And let’s not appeal to a happy ending in heaven. The Bible doesn’t — not for these wicked people.

Jephthah

Jephthah is a lesser-known hero of the faith, but his story has even more pathos. He promised God that if God would grant him victory in battle, then on his return he would sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever first came out of his house. He was probably figuring it would be the family goat, but his young daughter — his only child — was the first to run out and greet her daddy.

Jephthah allowed his daughter a month to mourn the fact that she would never marry, but then fulfilled his vow, offering her as a burnt, human sacrifice to God.

Sad, right? Too bad he made such a rash vow, right? But, you know, you gotta fulfill your vows to the Lord. Right?

Wait a minute! God could have stopped him! He had done it before, when he tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac, then staying his hand just as he was about to slit his son’t throat. (Another nice story, by the way.) Why did God do nothing while Jephthah sacrificed his innocent daughter to him? For that matter, why didn’t God prompt the goat to come through the doorway ahead of Jephthah’s daughter? He had marshaled thousands of animals onto the ark. Was it too much to ask for one goat to come through a doorway? Was there no limit to the dispassionate cruelty of this God?

This YouTube video made quite an impression on me. Like all good satire, it goes a little overboard, but not much.

Slavery

It is a common but false idea, spread by lazy apologists who have not done their homework, that the Bible does not condone slavery. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, God directly commands Israel to raid distant cities and capture slaves. He even gives specific permission and regulations for sex-slavery.

I have written at length about biblical slavery on this blog and solicited responses from professional apologists and pastors. Although in some cases they promised to reply, none ever did respond for the record. The scandal is simply denied, excused or ignored. Here are links to my posts. As a set, it’s a lot of reading but they will give you an in-depth look at the lameness of the evangelical apologetics I encountered in all the issues I’m only touching on here.

The Handicapped

Compared to the atrocities above, the passage I’m about to cite is minor. However, it was very personal and happens to have been the last straw for me.

In Leviticus 21:16-23, God prohibits people with various physical injuries and deformities from approaching his altar. Huchbacks, dwarfs, the lame, and other people with “defects” would “desecrate” it, he says.

When I read that passage, I thought of two of my children. One of my sons was in the Marines. If his foot had gotten blown off by an IED during service to his country, he would have been a hero to any decent American, but a second-class citizen at God’s Temple.  One of my daughters has a genetic condition that would have made God consider her presence a “desecration.” I’m sorry, but if there’s anyone whom God should welcome at his altar, it’s these two wonderful young people.

I asked some Bible-believing Christians about the passage and they had the predictable excuses but by this time the excuses rang hollow.

Conclusion

Although I had always thought of God as good, the Bible also showed him to be a monster. I saw three ways to resolve the contradiction:

  1. Evil is actually good when God does it.
  2. The God of the Bible exists, but the Bible represents him imperfectly.
  3. The God of the Bible was created in the image of man — specifically, in the image of a superstitious, tribal people who were trying to do right, but had significant moral blind spots.

#1 was a non-starter.

After all I had been through over the previous four years, #2 was too close to more-of-the-same. I was not going to believe anything without evidence, and I didn’t see enough evidence for anything close to the God of the Bible.

#3 seemed by far the most likely. In fact, I felt as if I had no choice to admit it was true.

I was done with evangelical Christianity.

Next time: How it felt to leave my faith.

25 responses to “Why I Left Evangelical Christianity, Part 6: The God of the Bible

  1. Thank you so much for this series of articles! I was also raised in an evangelical home, and left my faith for similar, though less-well-thought-out reasons. I think the two things that made me question my faith the most were: 1. if I had been born and raised Muslim, I’d be Muslim, and 2. what kind of loving God would create rational people, then punish them with eternal torment for following observable facts to their logical conclusions? Neither of those are anything original, but together they made it impossible for me to remain a Christian. I’m grateful to you for describing your path so clearly, and for laying out your thought process. And for thoughtfully engaging those arguing for faith.

  2. i have read your article on why you left evangelical christianity. I think you did not meet the God of the Bible truthfully. What you had was a bit of religion. Admittedly, there are difficult things to understand about the Bible especially the mystery of evil and all the injustice in the world. But that was the price God had to pay for giving man free will. Man chose sin so the consequence was banishment from God. However, God provided a way for humanity to escape ie Jesus. God still loves you. The God of the Bible is real and loves mankind unreservedly. There are so many mysteries in the world and creation but that should not drive you away from God’s love. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts. God bless you.

    • >> [evil] was the price God had to pay for giving man free will.

      I followed the link through your name and saw that you’re with the Sonshine School, in Zambia. Your students have free will, even when they’re at school and under the direction of their teachers. They can choose to obey and learn — or not. However, if one of your students were to steal a knife from the kitchen and begin to stab another student, you would stop him, wouldn’t you? Or, if a student were to wander off-campus and walk into a dangerous area, you would run after him and pull him back — by force if necessary. In other words, you would limit his exercise of free will somewhat. If you, being a mere human being, would take that much care for your students, why should we not expect God, who “is real and loves mankind unreservedly” to do at least as much? (See Matthew 7:10-12.)

      >> I think you did not meet the God of the Bible truthfully. What you had was a bit of religion.

      How can you say such a thing? You don’t even know me!

      Have you read the other articles in this series, plus my series on biblical slavery to which the present article linked? If not, please do so. I think you will agree that I am quite truthful and sincere, and that I had more than “a bit of religion.”

    • Nothing like being dismissive to help you clutch on to your faith. Inability to fairly acess your beliefs isnt going to help you impress god. Try reading the bible and not making excuses for the omnipotent creator of the universe he said what he meant and it is all absurd.

  3. This is a really great series. As an ex-Catholic, my familiarity with the Bible is much less than that of anyone raised in an evangelical faith. Reading it is on my list of things to do just so I can better defend my lack of faith. I find that this series is providing some good starting places and examples of contradictions.

    I just want to make a brief comment on your Option 1 for resolving the god as a monster problem.

    >Evil is good when God does it.

    I think that this is possibly how many Christians resolve this problem. Genocide and murder are shrugged off because they are actually good in some unknowable way. As a commenter above pointed out, “God’s ways are not ours.” It seems that literally that which we find deplorable is not so when it is committed by a “loving” god.

    I find this rationalization by believers to be especially ironic since many believe that atheists cannot have any sort of absolute morality. Atheists are stuck determining right from wrong by nothing more than personal whim. Yet, it would appear the God of the Bible does the exact same thing. And, by extension, his followers would do the same. I think this issue was at the heart of the Euthyphro by Plato.

    • Not only that, but many believers would do things that they would normally classify as ‘evil’ if they truly believed that God wanted them to. Good and evil are defined by most believers I know as “in accordance with God’s will” and “contrary to God’s will”, which means that evil is whatever you believe it is.

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  6. Chalk is what you write with. It’s “chock up passages”, not “chalk up passages”.

  7. I love reading deconversion stories. I went to Bible College a fundamentalist Christian and dropped out an atheist and I’ve never looked back.

  8. This is a very interesting series, thank you :-)
    As a current Christian it has given me some useful things to think about.

    I’d like to offer a small comment on the final passage you mentioned, the one from Leviticus 21. It seems that the passage is only referring to who can or cannot perform the duties of high priest (decedents of Aaron), rather than who can worship at the temple. It seems like both an issue of ritual cleanliness (festering or running sores) and of a parallel to the animal offerings (Israelites were supposed to only offer animals without blemishes, similarly families offered only those without blemish to God’s service).

    So, it does not seem like as much as an issue to me, especially in a culture where physical defects were often (incorrectly) seen as a sign of God’s disfavor, to limit the high priesthood to those of imposing bearing and good physical health.

    An issue, yes, but not as much of one as if worship at the temple by folks with deformities was forbidden, which is the meaning I took away from your article.

    • I’m glad you found this series thought-provoking, Matthew.

      Regarding Leviticus 21, what I said and what the passage says is that God did not allow people with “defects” to “approach his altar”. I did not say they were prohibited from worship.

      It is true that the passage was directed to the priests and was about their priestly duties, but that doesn’t change the discriminatory intent.

      The rationales you cite, of ritual cleanliness and parallels with perfect offerings, are the common ones. If those were God’s concerns, he had other options than to relegate people with “defects” to second-class status. For example, why couldn’t he have instituted some sort of ceremony by which the handicapped could be declared clean, whole and fit to participate? That would have been both more loving and more just.

      Better yet, why not replace the passage I quoted with something like this: “For the generations to come, none of the descendants of Aaron who has a so-called physical deformity shall be kept from the altar. I, your Lord and God, ‘knit them together in their mothers’ wombs’ (to quote a Psalm that has not been written yet) and I declare all of my handiwork to be good and clean. Those who have injuries acquired after birth shall likewise be welcome, for I am sovereign and have allowed all the events in their lives, to ‘work together for good’ (another passage you’ll be getting from me someday). You shall love your physically challenged brothers as I love them, and shall include them as full and equal participants in worship and service to me.”

      As you said, their culture regarded physical defects as signs of God’s disfavor, so my proposal would not be a good cultural fit. But that’s the point. This passage was one of many that was obviously the product of a particular culture, and not a very enlightened one at that. It seemed to me much less likely that a perfect God would have inspired it, and that’s one of the reasons I Ieft my faith.

      As you said in your final paragraph, Leviticus 21 is not a huge issue. But then, final straw rarely are.

      • Here is the thing: the vast majority of folks are already unworthy to approach the altar as a result of not being a direct descendant of Aaron,
        a much more restrictive (in terms of numbers of people classed as unworthy) rule.

        I agree that placing the additional restriction on who can serve based on physical deformity seems pretty harsh in the context of our modern sensibilities, and also in light of Jesus’ consideration for the deformed, which is plainly evident in the gospels. It does not seem as harsh in the historical context of the time, however.

        If we don’t consider the actions of God in the context of the period on which God was/is acting, lots of things don’t make sense. I hear you on the complaint that there are definitely issues (including, for you, this one) which would seem to contradict the idea that God’s essential, eternal, character lines up with our idea of good and loving.
        It’s something I’ve struggled (and still am struggling) with as well.

        The two places I’ve sort of ended up at (by no means complete or satisfactory, and now slightly off topic, but oh well) are:

        1. Human society changes its ideas about what loving actions mean, and what behavior is acceptable, on a timescale of about 50-100 years. Judging the actions of a eternal God by such a fast-moving meter stick is a little crazy (insert special relativity joke here).

        2. God seems pretty OK with death and human suffering. Everyone dies. Pretty much everyone suffers. So any even somewhat reasonable God
        must not have a problem with that, at all.

        I suspect that because we consider removing (assuaging would be a better word here) someone’s suffering is Good, the suffering itself must be Bad.
        Which does not follow.

        Both of these lines of thinking seem fairly reasonable when considered only at a high level, but pretty noxious tasting (or at least some extraordinarily fine lines to be walked) when one considers the implications on an individual level. As you have pointed out elsewhere, the first point requires that God be OK with slavery (but only in ancient society where slavery was De rigueur) , for example. The second requires God to be OK with (for example) kids getting shot and dying young (but not OK with the shooters actions).
        Both of which are…not really easy to swallow, but maybe steps in a right direction, understanding wise

        • Thank you again for your thoughts, Matthew. The creative and determined thinking you’ve put into your proposals brings back memories of my own wrestling with the issues. Even though we are currently on opposite sides of some faith questions, I have to tell you that I feel a real kinship with you. Are you by any chance an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs personality scale (quick test here: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp)? I am [too].

          I have a feeling that, like Jacob, you will keep wrestling with God until he blesses you … or you decide you’ve only been wrestling with yourself all along. However it turns out, you will always have my respect for fighting as tenaciously as you are. Please stop by again and let me know the outcome.

          Wherever your journey takes you, I wish you joy and peace, my friend.

          • INTP or ENTP, depending on the day, but usually more INTP, although that online test scores me as an INTJ. Strange.

            Anyhow, thanks for your thoughtful response! I may formulate some longer form responses to some of the interesting points you raise in this series and post them on the internet somewhere. If I do so, I could send you the link?

          • Not only could you send me the link, but you could leave it here in a comment for all to see!

  9. Yeah, I stopped believing in God of the Bible when I read parts of Leviticus, Ezekiel, and Psalms. I admit that I didn’t read the whole bible, but when I did go to the parts largely ignored by average Christians I was pretty shocked. I was shocked that God took away Ezekei’s wife away so he can command the prophet to use his mourning of his wife as a symbol of God mourning for Israel. I even asked my Dad why God would do it, his only answer was “AS long as God chooses the prophet, the prophet is responsible”, which I didn’t find emotionally convincing. I also came across the part when the woman’s hand was chopped off because she accidentally touched the one of the man’s genitals as she was trying to stop the fight. I occasionally read Psalms, but almost every few chapters I will always heard the author(s) of psalms asking God to avenge his lost, and then praise God for doing so. This surprised me because it seems to be contrary to Jesus’ teaching of loving your enemies by turning the other cheek (i.e. abstain from vengence). I have to say that after reading that passage it really changed my whole viewpoint on God of the Bible: A highly anthropomorphic, sadistic, vengeful, and psychopathic being. I didn’t stop believing in the existence of God, I only thought the bible was imply a anthropomorphic caricature of God due to limited understanding of the nature of God. Eventually, I stopped believing.

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  13. It even says somewhere in Exodus the Lord actually made people with disabilities. That is one sick God. I am homosexual and I have Asperger’s and would not wish it on anyone. I also love Beagle’s.

  14. ok Larry I won’t read anymore of this after reading your summation of Jephthah I totally understand you are “walking in the dark!” Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter!! Read it. Read it! He vowed her to be as “a burnt offering.” She ran off to weep with her friends for she would never “MARRY” and he would not have a son and no one to redeem his inheritance. Larry, I’m sorry…but I went through something very similar but I didn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. I came to the conclusion that “I” had no idea who God was, not that God is! You’re barking up the wrong tree by reading everyone else’s reasons for not understanding who God is…that abuse article about God being compared to an abusive marriage…WOW! whoever that person is they are damaged goods. Look, let me give you just one piece of understanding…God could only show you who is by creating everything He’s NOT! Light-Dark, Hot-Cold, Love-Fear…the list goes on and on…life without contrast is not life at all. You would never know happy without sad…you were made in the IMAGE OF GOD!!! Have you ever really meditated on this?! Do have any idea what the implications are of “creating” something or someone with “God-like abilities?!!” Ok, your “past” Christian faith taught you that God spoke and the Word became “flesh,” right? Well it did and you have the same ability. Think placebo!! I don’t care if your a Buddhist, Muslim or Christian! However, you best stop thinking like a non-Christian and go to the true scriptures and read and ask God to have mercy on your soul by explaining to you who He is and who you are!!! And I don’t believe in eternal damnation either. Oh, there’s fire all right…some of us are “burning” right now for fire has a positive side don’t you know. Without heat you’d be dead and I wouldn’t be posting this either. Fire was and is used to “REFINE” that which is impure. Fire is only destructive \when it “burns up” that which is useless. When it’s used to preserve it refines and makes things pure. But even man can’t make a 100% pure bar of gold, don’t you know. Larry, I want to challenge you and all of your “followers.” Spend 30 days as follows…no TV, no newspapers or magazines, no internet, no video games, nothing but nature. I challenge you to watch nature, trees, animals, stars(if you live in/near the city, sorry), etc…you’re blog title honors the beagle…God’s message of redemption for mankind is in everything He created…yeah that’s right, ALL of mankind will be redeemed. It’s everywhere and it has been before man ever wrote down one word!!

    Peace on earth and “goodwill” toward men…now that’s the gospel!!

    • Tommy, you encouraged me to read the story of Jephthah again, so I did. In verse 31, he vows to “offer up as a burnt offering” whatever comes out of his house to meet him. As you know, the Law gives very specific instructions on what that meant. In verse 38, he sends his daughter away for two months to weep because of her virginity. The fact that she would never marry was because she was going to die in 2 months; it was not because her father had decided to fulfill his vow in some figurative sense at which the text never so much as hints. I once attended the memorial service of a young man who was killed in Afghanistan. His father gave a eulogy, and the part at which he really lost it was when he lamented that his son would never marry. That is what was going on in our story. Getting back to the text at verse 39, the girl returns to her father “who did to her according to the vow which he had made.” What was his vow? Is it not plain from verse 31 that it was to make a burnt offering of her? I don’t know how this could be any more clear. Our problem as we approach this text in the 21st century is that its plain, barbaric meaning is nearly inconceivable … until we remember that child sacrifice was common in Old Testament times (even if it wasn’t common among the Hebrews themselves).

      I appreciate the good will behind the other things you said. Believe me, I tried nearly all of it. It didn’t work for me.

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