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What Is Faith?

Post of the Month: September 2004


Subject:    Re: Questions on modern thinking
Date:       20 September 2004
Message-ID: wiA3d.604$

On 13-Sep-2004, "Scott H" wrote:

> It actually is necessary that the bible be inerrant in order for me to
> believe in the God of the bible.

The following is a piece of completely unsolicited personal advice. You will hopefully take from it something useful, however:

You might want to consider simply believing in God rather than trying to bind Him into a book.

Consider this: Belief in the Bible is not, and cannot logically be, a prerequisite or requirement for being a Christian. The work we call the Bible did not exist in a way which we would recognize or call it by that name until its compilation in the early fourth century - roughly three hundred years after the founding of the Church. Even if one considers Christian writings in their earliest forms, the Gospels did not exist until after the mid-first century. The portions of the New Testament attributed to Paul and his contemporaries were not written while Jesus of Nazareth lived on earth. They came afterward. Christian scripture post-dates the origin of the Church.

Think about that: Christianity without a Bible.

Think of the Sermon on the Mount. People sitting around listening to a preacher, a teacher. No Sunday School. No pews. No slicked-backed-hair guy in front of a pulpit. No guy in really long vestments before an altar. No everybody-standup-sit-down-at-the-same-time while we recite this plea we all have memorized. No drop a buck in the basket 'cause you feel thankful (or guilty).

No books.

Just the poor and the needy, the outcasts and the hangers on, the curious and the hopeful.

Just people. People like you and I and the others here. And God. Talking together.

The Word of God is not the Bible. The Word of God is not a book. The Word of God is the Living Christ. He is not containable in a set of writings, no matter how profound or inspired.

There are many Christians who will insist that if you do not think, or believe, or agree, or worship as they do that you cannot be Christian. They will demand of you that you must think that the Bible is perfect (or some permutation of that term), or must be taken "literally" or at face value; or that you must accept that a cracker is symbolic or transformed into the essence of Christ; or that "six days" means "Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday" but that "wine" really means "grape juice"; or that you must acknowledge the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ on earth, or alternately, as a power hungry antichrist, or...the list goes on and on.

Given the inability of our species to comprehend the infinite, it is no wonder that we get so much wrong in our understanding of God. As fallible human beings it is impossible for us, either singularly or as a group, to get it perfectly right.

Earlier in this thread, the subjects of faith and truth have come up. These topics will never go away in or in life.

What is faith? Some would insist that it is the necessity of believing to be true things that are demonstrably false. Such as the Young Earth Creationist position that the world is roughly 6,000 years old. Or that sometime in the last few millennia a global flood destroyed almost all life on Earth except for a single small human family and representatives of all animal life on Earth which weathered the cataclysm in a big boat. Or that there is an unbridgeable gap in the physical nature of humanity and other animals.

To believe in the demonstrably false is not faith. It is blind, ignorant, willful stupidity - or madness.

The real question in dealing with those who insist such things is not, as they would have you believe, "Do I have faith?" or "Is my faith strong enough to overcome worldly influences?" but rather "What are they insisting I have faith in?" and "Why are they insisting that I believe these things?"

Creationists are not insisting that you have faith in God. They are insisting that you have faith in them. In their exegesis, their statements, their scholarship. They confuse the perfection of the Creator with their own ability to interpret His creation.

To science and scientists your, my, and Lenny Flank's pizza delivery boy's religious beliefs and personal revelations all have equal weight in determining the truth-value of a proposition. Their worth is exactly: n = 0.

It is science, with its agnostic methodology and cold peer review, that is best equipped to understand God's physical creation. Far better than the self-serving egocentricities, smoke and mirrors, and intellectual dishonesty of Creationism because science, unlike Creationism, always assumes that the explanation it has is not quite right. It readily acknowledges reality: human beings will never get it perfectly right, that people will both make honest mistakes and outright lies and that there is always more to know. Creationism assumes to already possess the True Answers - therefore actual inquiry and investigation is unnecessary. Science makes no such claim, and in fact, rejects the idea that it ever could.

In a scientific sense truth is simply a matter of having tested one's explanations against reality and finding that your ideas cover the known facts adequately. Nothing more. There is no Scientific Truth(tm).

Evidence. Reasoning. Conclusion. Review. Science. It works pretty darn well. It has taught us that the world isn't flat, that plague isn't a punishment, that black people and brown people and white people and yellow people are really pretty much the same.

And that we are all pretty, and equally, closely related to chimps. And that the world was not spoken into existence on October 23, 4004 BC.

Those things are true whether you or I believe them to be or not. They are true whether you like them or not. They are true whether one is a Christian, a Jew, an Athena worshiper, a Wiccan, agnostic, atheist, or a Buddhist. I've seen good science done by members of all those points of view. Reality is not dependant on the truth-value we assign it. What is is simply true.

You have said that you have a commitment to not committing idolatry. Good. You defined that as "worshipping anything above God". A book is an object. Even in the abstract, "The Bible" is a thing - just as surely as a golden calf is. The makers of Creationist websites and books and tracts are people, not gods.

You have said that you are searching for truth. Good. Creationism demands that you set aside intellectual integrity to favor a particular dogma. Would the God who sent his Son into our world to die for the redemption of our sins ask us to participate in a falsehood? Would the God that raised Him from the dead to open the way for our eternal life have us live a lie?

Are you - can you be - so certain of yourself, of your interpretations, of your faith in preachers and teachers and peers, and of your claim of Biblical inerrancy and that a literal interpretation of one part of a book must be correct, that you must therefore believe and conclude that the whole remainder of creation is a lie? Or a joke perpetrated on the whole of the earth by some mad, unnamed, alien designer who doesn't give a damn about us but is fascinated by bacterial flagella?

If you can do that, who are you really worshiping? Who are the folks at Apologetics Press, and Chick Publications, and the ICR, and the Discovery Institute really worshiping? Where is the money, and the power, and the glory really going?

It is not the questions that are hard - it is the answers.

I wish you goodwill, good luck, and Godspeed.

Skitter the Cat

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