I recently came across these emails which involve my final discussion with my LCMS pastor regarding my loss of Faith:
—-Dear Pastor John,
Thank you for the message you left on my voicemail today regarding your concern for my family’s absence from church the last few weeks and your desire to meet to discuss my “crises of faith”. You have been very compassionate, kind, and patient with me for which I am very grateful.
Unfortunately, I no longer have faith. None at all. I no longer believe that Jesus rose from the dead, that he was God, nor that the Bible is God’s Word. All that is left of my Christian belief system is that Jesus of Nazareth lived, was a good man, was crucified by the Romans, and died in the early 30’s AD. I now consider myself a (very) liberal Christian: I follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in regards to how to treat my fellow human beings but that is it. I don’t need my sins forgiven, so I don’t need the Sacrament. And if I don’t need the Sacrament, there is no reason to go to church.
So how did an every-Sunday-go-to-church orthodox Christian arrive where I am?
Here is the process, if you are interested:
1. For the first time in my life, I was presented with the fact that the Bible and even the existing manuscripts of Holy Scripture contain factual errors and scribe alterations/additions, yes, most insignificant, but a few very significant. These facts destroyed my belief in an inerrant Bible.
2. This revelation made me look closer at the Bible. I began to see discrepancies that I had never noticed before.
3. The first major discrepancy was the story of who purchased the Potter’s Field in the story of the Crucifixion. Was it Judas, as stated in one Gospel, or the Pharisees, as stated in another? The Christian resolution to this discrepancy is not believable, in my opinion. In fact, it is downright ridiculous. Although this unresolvable discrepancy was disturbing, it does not change any of the central facts regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus. I could still believe that the message and teachings of the Bible were inerrant, even if it contains some errors and discrepancies.
4. I then looked at other discrepancies. The one that stood out the most are the six accounts of the Resurrection in the four Gospels, Acts, and I Corinthians. Some of the discrepancies are trivial, but others are very disturbing. The five (probably six) authors can’t even agree on the core facts: Did Jesus appear to the disciples in Jerusalem or in Galilee? How many days did he stay with the disciples after the resurrection? One? Eight? Forty? From where did he ascend into heaven? Jerusalem? Bethany? A mountain in Galilee? And why don’t Matthew and John say anything about the Ascension? If you were an eyewitness to that supernatural act, isn’t that a pretty important event to leave out? Did they just run out of papyrus, as one Christian apologist explains?
I realize that Christians have resolutions to each of the discrepancies in the resurrection accounts, but I don’t buy them. Such earth-shattering events as a resurrection from the dead, the first appearance of the dead person to his friends, and the final moments the person spends with his friends prior to levitating into the clouds, to never be seen by them again, should not have that many discrepancies.
These discrepancies made me realize that the Gospels are not eyewitness accounts. No eyewitness would mess up the story like these authors did. The Gospels are simply stories told by persons many years after the alleged event based on the oral version of the story, passed around from person to person, that they happened to hear. These books are not inerrant. These stories are legends, probably containing some kernel of truth regarding Jesus’ life, but the rest is probably fabrication.
5. So if I can’t trust the Gospel accounts (and, therefore, also the book of Acts, since Luke is the alleged author) to be eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection, what can I hold onto to retain my belief in a real, physical resurrection of Jesus? Answer: Saul/Paul of Tarsus.
6. Paul is seen as a credible source even by many atheist scholars . So the question comes down to this: did Paul really see a resurrected Jesus or did he see a vision or an apparition? I choose to believe that Paul believed that he really did see the resurrected Jesus. But just because Paul thought he saw the resurrected Jesus, how do we know for sure that he did? Can I really base my belief in the earth-shattering, supernatural, physical resurrection of Jesus, thereby confirming his claim to be God Almighty, the foundation of my orthodox Christian faith, on this one man’s written, 2,000 year old testimony?
7. But I wanted to investigate the subject of the reliability of the Bible more before I settled for this one tenuous piece of evidence for the validity of my faith.
I soon saw that there is no proof that any of the books of the New Testament have been “stamped” by God as inspired and inerrant. Jesus called the Septuagint (the OT and the Apocrypha) Holy Scripture as does a reference in I Timothy. But the only other verse in the NT that clearly confers inspiration to any book in the NT as being God’s inerrant Word, is one verse in II Peter. But II Peter is most likely a forgery. It wasn’t accepted into the canon until almost the fifth century! If it were the Word of God, we should have figured that out long before the fifth century! So bottom line: men chose what is and is not the Word of God.
There is nowhere in the New Testament that gives the Church the authority to form the canon.
As I scanned the internet for articles both pro and con on the issue of the reliability of the Bible, I ran into some disturbing information: the ancient Egyptians were the first to develop the concept of an afterlife, including a place for the “bad” people called the “Lake of Fire”. The Greeks adopted this religious belief and called the place “hades”. During the Greek occupation of Palestine under Alexander the Great, the Jews adopted this Egyptian/Greek concept of an afterlife and the term “hades”. Prior to the Babylonian captivity, the Hebrews did not believe in an afterlife. However, even with the adoption of the Greek concept of “hades”, the Jews did not have the concept that punishment in Hades was forever. The concept of eternal damnation and of “burning in hell” did not develop until the second century AD, in the Christian Church, long after the last apostle was dead.
So, the orthodox doctrine of eternal damnation in hell is an Egyptian and Greek legend?? Very disturbing!
I no longer believe in hell.
8. My doubts regarding the Bible were overwhelming by now. I continued to search the literature on the internet. And this is what I found:
a. There is no geological evidence of the Great Flood.
b. The writers of the Bible (God?) believed in a flat earth and in a “firmament”, a “domed ceiling” to the heavens. The Jews taught this concept, which they adopted from the Babylonians and Egyptians who first conceived of it. The Christian Church taught this false concept until Magellan’s ships landed in Spain in 1522 from their around-the-world expedition. So obviously when God wrote the Bible, he hadn’t taken any science courses.
c. The story of the Flood is a plagiarized version of an almost identical, older, Babylonian legend.
d. There are 10,000,000 species of animals today. Not counting all the species that have become extinct since the Flood, are we really to believe that 20 million animals fit into a boat of any size to be rescued from this world-wide flood?
e. Scientists have discovered that there were no domesticated camels during the time period that the Bible says that Abraham and the other Patriarchs had them.
f. There are three versions of when, who, and how Jerusalem was conquered by the Israelites.
g. There was no conquest of Canaan. Joshua did not exist.
h. None of the Patriarchs existed. They are legend.
i. The OT was most likely written by the Judean king Josiah and his priests to unify the Judean people after the conquest of their northern neighbor, Israel, by the Assyrians. The stories they wrote were either legend or completely fabricated to fit the designs of the ruling class.
j. The Final Straw:
The shocking, jaw-dropping evidence that sealed the fate of my loss of faith is this:
There were no Hebrew slaves in ancient Egypt. There is not one trace of evidence of ancient Hebrews in Egypt. Christian “archaeologists” will point to “possible Asiatic” artifacts along the Nile, but nothing concretely Hebrew. The Book of Numbers says that 600,000 Hebrew fighting men left Egypt with their families in the Exodus. Let’s be conservative. Let’s say that each man has a family of four (a wife and two kids). That conservative estimate would mean that over two million Hebrews abruptly left Egypt, crossed the bottom of a seabed and then wandered for forty years in the Sinai. But…not only is there no mention of this event in Egyptian records and monuments, there is no record of this astounding event in all the ancient Mediterranean, Levant, and Mesopotamian cultures. The mighty Egyptian pharaoh and his entire army is drowned in the Reed (Red) Sea chasing two million run-away slaves, and no one in the ancient world decides to record it!! Unbelievable. And, there is no trace of any ancient Hebrew pottery or any other artifacts in Egypt or the Sinai! None! And the most damning evidence is this: God killed off all the Hebrews who left Egypt over the age of 20 due to their stubbornness and unbelief…in the Sinai. So let’s say, conservatively, a million and a half Hebrews died in the Sinai, some in mass die-offs, such as being bitten by serpents. And yet, to this day, of these millions of dead Hebrews, not one of their skeletons has been found!
The Exodus did not happen!
Passover did not happen!
Moses did not exist. He is a myth!
And if there was no Moses, no Passover, and no Exodus then the foundation of orthodox Judaism and orthodox Christianity begins to crumble and fall:
If there was no Passover, then Jesus celebrated a mythical event for the Last Supper. If there was no Passover, then Jesus was not the Passover Lamb as John states in his Gospel. So the author of John fabricated his story. The reason that the day of the week that “John” says the Last Supper was observed is different from the other Gospels is not because the Pharisees and Sadducees celebrated the Passover on different days, as Christian apologists assert, it is because the author of John moved the day to fit with his Passover Lamb theme!
If Moses did not exist, then he did not write the first five books of the Bible, which scholars examining the writing styles of those books, say he definitely did not write. And if Moses did not write the Book of Genesis, then it is a fable. And if Genesis is a fable, then the Creation story and the story of the Fall are fables. And if the Fall never happened, then man does not need a Savior, and if men don’t need a Savior, then Jesus came to earth for nothing. He was tortured and crucified for nothing.
So we come back to Paul and his testimony for the Resurrection, that last thread holding together my orthodox Christian Faith. If Moses did not exist, then on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples did not really see Moses, they saw an apparition (if the story is even true). So if the disciples could confuse Moses for an apparition, when they had Jesus right there to confirm that Moses really was present, how in the world can I put my entire faith on Paul’s testimony that he saw a real Jesus??
Jesus lived and died. And he is still dead. He was a good man. A man I choose to try to emulate, but he was not God. The Bible is a book of fables. The orthodox Christian Faith, the same religion that has murdered Jews, pagan, Muslims and fellow Christians for two thousand years all in the name of Jesus, is built on fables, on an ancient, imaginary, brutal, vindictive, blood-thirsty Hebrew god (Yahweh), and on a lot of superstition (“faith”).
This is why I have not been in church, Pastor, and why you will probably not see me in church again…except, maybe at Christmas, just because I like the music and the Christmas tree. But if I don’t need a Savior, since the Bible is just a book of fables, about a god-man who is still dead somewhere in Palestine, I’m going to spend my Sunday mornings sleeping in or going fishing. I’m not going to be spending Sundays on my knees begging a dead man to forgive my sins.
So meeting with you might be a pleasant chat but I don’t think that it would accomplish much. Even if by your very skilled, highly educated theological prowess you could convince me that Paul really believed he saw a resurrected man, it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter because you are not a scientist. You are not an archaeological expert in ancient middle eastern cultures nor are you an expert in DNA testing/genetics. In order to change my mind about the validity of the Resurrection, the divinity of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible, you would have to present to me two pieces of evidence which I don’t think that you, or anyone for that matter, can do:
1. Large numbers of ancient Hebrew artifacts in Egypt and the Sinai, including Hebrew skeletons.
2. DNA evidence that shows that modern day Jews and Egyptian share a great deal of common DNA due to in-breeding during the four centuries that the Hebrews were the slaves, personal property, of the Egyptians, Those Egyptian task masters were sure well-behaved gentlemen if they did not “indulge their pleasures” with their female Hebrew slaves. Recent DNA testing shows that modern day Jews are related to Cypriots, Syrians, and the Druze…but not the Egyptians.
You have been a very kind, compassionate, patient man in working with me through this crises, Pastor. I thank you and I wish you well. But I no longer believe what you teach and preach. The orthodox Christian Faith is nothing more than an ancient superstition.
Thank you for writing such a long and thorough letter. I also appreciate your kind remarks regarding the pastoral care at Grace. I have had a real interest in you and your family.
I’ll still take up your offer to have a pleasant chat. I have no other objective than to be understanding and informative when possible.
One point worth mentioning is that I have scientific qualifications or, at least, I believe I can say that I know how science works. The first degree for which I trained was in Chemistry. I also was trained by the USMC as a field chemist (MOS 1391); a capacity for which I studied and served for four years. What is more, I have been teaching formal and informal logic for thirteen years at the university level, which is itself a science, operating by formal principles of ratiocination. I may not be remunerated as a scientist but I still think like one.
There is an impulse within science that is akin to religious faith. It is the belief that there is always more to be known about the world. Stephen Barr, a theoretical particle physics at the University of Delaware, observed that the search for this knowledge involves faith:
The scientist has confidence in the intelligibility of the world. He has questions about nature. And he expects–no, more than expects, he is absolutely convinced–that these questions have intelligible answer. The fact that he must seek those answers proves that they are not in sight. The fact that he continues to seek them in spite of all difficulties testifies to his unconquerable conviction that those answer, although not presently in sight, do in fact exist. Truly, the scientist too walks by faith and not by sight.
Faith, as I have understood and confessed it is much more like this scientific quest, not logical positivistic beliefs and certainly not leap-in-the-darkism, such that I have long excoriated biblicists for peddling to the detriment of gospel, as it operates by and plays right into the hands of Enlightenment-based epistemological foundationalism. But that’s a story for another day and perhaps another beer.
Which brings us back to our pleasant chat. What might suit you in terms of a date and time?
—Honestly, Pastor. I’m not up for it right now.
I’m sure you could give me some very interesting information, but unless you have archaeological and/or DNA evidence for a large group of ancient Hebrews in Egypt and the Sinai, no matter what you tell me, it won’t make a difference. I want hard facts, not complicated theories in logic, chemistry, or theology.
You didn’t prove DagoodS wrong. You simply dismissed him as did Pastor Cooper. To get DagoodS to at least say, “You have demonstrated good reasons to believe in the physical Resurrection of Jesus with consistent methodology”, even if you don’t convince HIM to believe, would be the only other way to change my mind. However, that would be a very time consuming effort on your part and I am not asking you to do any more than what you have already done. You have more pressing issues in your parish to deal with such as the sick and injured.
Gary: Shortly after this conversation, I sent a check to Pastor John for a couple of hundred dollars along with a note thanking him for taking the time he did to debate atheist DagoodS on my blog. A few days later, I received an envelope in the mail from Pastor John, returning the check, with a short note that said:
“I am returning your check, as the money would be used to counter your anti-Christian views.”
Two months later, the school season started. Pastor John’s children, my children, and the children of one of the main elders of the church (and one of our closest friends in the church) attend the same public school. For the first week of school, parents are required to bring their children into the playground and wait with them until the teachers take them to their classrooms. When my wife brought our children to the school on the first day, she encountered our former friend and church elder bringing his children to the school. Instead of being his usual very friendly, very out-going self, the elder and friend ignored my wife and son, and refused to speak to them until they pressed him to speak to them. His response was brief and curt. Hoping to head off bad feelings between my wife and this “friend”, I attempted to reach out to him by email that day, just saying that I hoped our families could remain friends, even though we no longer attended the church. I said nothing about his behavior to my wife and son.
However, his “shunning” behavior continued every day for five days. Each day my wife came home upset and insulted by the elder’s behavior.
On day five I had had enough. I sent an email to the elder and copied it to Pastor John, the assistant pastor, and another elder (also one of our church “friends” who had not contacted us in months). In the email I chewed out the elder in question, asking why he was shunning my family. If he wanted to “punish” anyone, he should punish me, not them.
The elder did not immediately reply, but Pastor John did.
Pastor John criticized me for being overly sensitive about someone not saying “good morning” to us, and asked that I never again use his email account. The assistant pastor said the same. I wrote back one last time and said,
“Fine. I won’t write to either of you pastors again. But you know, gentlemen, you could have saved us all a lot of grief if you had simply told me that the Bible DOES contain errors in the very beginning, instead of admitting it to me in private, after months of desperate attempts on my part to reconcile the LCMS belief in biblical inerrancy with the damning evidence presented to me by the atheists.
And by the way, the parents of the school (who you spend so much time smoozing to get them to attend your church) are going to soon learn that you guys are nothing more than vinidictive fundamentalists; ‘good Christians’ who shun parishioners who choose to reject your teachings and leave the church.”
The offending elder then emailed within an hour, apologizing for not responding to my first email four days prior, and, acting completely oblivious to what my wife could possibly by referring to regarding his behavior.
End of story.