News of a deconversion in the family comes as a shock to believing relatives. But once the initial shock has worn off, there comes a time for reforging disrupted relationships and moving on. The following letters chronicle the process in my case. The documents have been sanitized to protect the privacy of the others involved.
To: [Name omitted]
Subject: Behe's *Darwin's Black Box*
Date: 1/27/98 1:02 PM
[Name omitted], since you offered to let me read your copy of Behe's Darwin's Black Box, I will forward five reviews of the book. I will put the URL's at the beginning, in case you want to go to the websites yourself. One of the reviews is by a creationist.
These reviews are just for your information, if you are interested in reading them. Actually, I'm not very much interested myself. The Bible is easily discredited without any reference to evolution at all, and it actually was discredited before Darwin came along, but only scholars were aware of this at the time. Evolution just happens to be the controversy that got society at large interested. Many other fields of study also discredit the Bible, but the most convincing proof is that the Bible discredits itself. It is not necessary to study any other material beyond the Bible in order to stop believing the Bible.
From: [Name omitted]
Subject: Behe's Darwin's Black Box -Reply
Date: 1/27/98 2:48 PM
I couldn't disagree with you more. For me, the Bible convinces me of God's goodness and His sovereignty in my life and in every aspect of creation. I don't really care if God created the world in 7 days or in several million or trillion. I do however believe that this world was created and did not spontaneously occur. Bottom line is, I agree with you that it is a non-issue for for entirely opposing reasons. I am not sure of the benefit of dialoging with you about all of this. We both know how strongly our views differ. I am willing to read and discuss things if you desire to discuss them. Obviously [name omitted] and I care for you and your family deeply but I can not respect your opinions regarding my Lord Jesus Christ. He is my redeemer and my Savior and I depend on Him every second of my life.
If you would like to carry on a dialogue, it should go both ways. I'll read your material if you read mine.
To: [Name omitted]
Subject: I accept your offers...
Date: 1/27/98 8:08 PM
[Name omitted] , on 1/27/98 2:48 PM:
I couldn't disagree with you more. For me, the Bible convinces me of God's goodness and His sovereignty in my life and in every aspect of creation.
If I still believed the Bible, it would convince me that God is evil, not good. He creates evil, he deceives, he tells people to lie, he lies himself, he rewards liars, he orders men to become drunk, he rewards the fool and the transgressor, he delivers a man into Satan's hands, he causes indecency, he spreads dung on faces, he orders stealing, he causes adultery, he orders the taking of a harlot, he orders a man to purchase his wife, he kills repeatedly, he orders killing, he degrades deformed people, he punishes bastards for being illegitimate, he punishes many for the acts of one, he punishes children for their father's sins, he supports human sacrifice, he orders cannibalism, he demanded 16,000 virgins to be given to soldiers as plunder of war, he orders gambling, he requires an unbetrothed virgin to marry her seducer, he orders horses to be hamstrung, he sanctions the degradation of enemies' women, he sanctions the beating of slaves to death, he requires a woman to marry her rapist, he ordered the cooking of food with human feces, he killed the wicked and the righteous, he intentionally gave out bad laws, he excused a murderer and promised him protection, he killed a man who refused to impregnate his widowed sister-in-law, he aided rather than punished a swindler, he discovers women's secret parts, he breaks up families, he orders the killing of children, he killed over 50,000 people because of a few, and he mandated unlimited punishment for limited sins...among other things!
I can document each one of these assertions with book, chapter, and verse from the Bible itself, and they are not taken out of context. (And I will send the documentation, if you request it.) The Bible blasphemes against God. Can you imagine a GOOD God pointing to the Bible and saying, "Yes, that's my Book. It describes me perfectly"? The God described in the Bible is a monster. Simply to read the biblical text without prejudice, Satan comes out looking better than God. In fact, a disinterested reader could very well conclude that Satan directed the writing of the Bible in order to discredit God.
And if I still believed the Bible, it would convince me that God is at the mercy of natural religious evolutionary processes, not sovereign. There are countless errors in the Bible, and these are not restricted only to the fields of history, science, mathematics and grammar. The most damning errors are the numerous and non-trivial contradictions, inconsistencies, and incoherencies internal to the book itself. Would a god, if he is sovereign, allow himself to be represented by a writing that is riddled with errors from cover to cover? I can't believe that he would. It makes no sense. It would make more sense to postulate that God saw to it that the Bible was so error-prone that humans would eventually put Christianity on the scrap heap of history with all the other religions created by the mind of man, and reject revealed religion altogether.
You yourself know that I used to believe the Bible was without error. We talked about it once. I am not making idle assertions. I can document my claims in detail. I lost faith unwillingly. The Bible compelled me to.
May I ask, have you ever read the Bible all the way through, or only selected portions? If you have read it all the way through, are you not troubled by it?
(By the way, the NIV is one of the worst translations for accuracy. The NASB is one of the best, and the NRSV as well. Young's Literal Translation is THE best for accuracy of translation, but it is based upon the Textus Receptus rather than the critical text. You will never notice many of the Bible's errors if you read only the NIV, but they will be seen clearly in the NASB and NRSV, which are truer to the original languages.)
|I don't really care if God created the world in 7 days or in several million or trillion.|
Well, I mean no disrespect, but may I point out that if the veracity of the Bible is important to you, you ought to care. Before I lost faith, I personally tried to reconcile what is known about the physical universe with the text of the Bible, and I read virtually every author published (and unpublished) on the subject, spanning the whole spectrum from conservative fundamentalist to Christian liberal, and I concluded that it can't be done. The biblical texts of creation are irreconcilable with the current knowledge of the physical universe. Neither the theology nor the physical evidence can be twisted enough to fit together. (By the way, I kept the book that comes closest to a reconciliation, and it is on my shelf if you ever want to read it.)
If the Bible can't be trusted in matters where we can test it in the natural world, why ought we to trust it to be reliable in matters pertaining to the supernatural realm, for which we cannot test it?
|I do however believe that this world was created and did not spontaneously occur.|
I understand that you believe this, but you believe it without evidence. I will go farther and say that you believe it CONTRARY to the existing evidence.
Have you examined the evidence? If not, why must you believe anything at all about the origin of the universe in the absence of evidence? Why not just regard the origin of the universe as an open question?
|Bottom line is, I agree with you that it is a non-issue for for entirely opposing reasons.|
OK. I don't have any real interest in discussing origins either. Discussions in that topic tend to be never-ending, and they require too much research time to answer well.
I am much more interested in talking about the errors of the Bible, a topic which is easier to address because the data are limited to the text of the 66 canonical books instead of the whole physical universe.
|I am not sure of the benefit of dialoging with you about all of this.|
The benefit and the purpose of any kind of dialogue is that the participants may discover some truth that wasn't known to them previously, provided it really is a dialogue and not just ping-ponging of bald assertions back and forth. (But I don't expect that you would engage in that kind of polemic. I believe you are genuinely interested in searching out and knowing what is true, as I am.)
Wouldn't you agree that we are all better off knowing the truth, even if the truth is unpleasant?
|We both know how strongly our views differ.|
Differing views is the reason FOR dialoguing, not a reason AGAINST dialoguing.
Whenever I encounter differing views, I can immediately deduce that there must some reason the person holds those views, but I cannot automatically deduce what those reasons are. By dialoguing with the person, I learn the reasons, and if they are convincing, then my own views will change accordingly. If I don't dialogue, I may never find out on my own the reasons that drive the differing view. Furthermore, if the differing view is diametrically opposed to my own view, I will probably either consciously or unconsciously build mental barriers to ensure that my own view is protected from contrary information -- and I may be blind to my own mental barriers. Dialoguing with other people of opposing views breaks down protective mental barriers, but only if the barriers cannot withstand scrutiny, and in that case then they deserve to be broken down.
Failure to take advantage of this process is one reason that Christians can attend Bible studies for years and never see the errors in the book. The problem is that every member of the group basically agrees up front that the Bible is true, and there is no real challenge forthcoming to that commonly held assumption. The "challenges" that may be presented are parodies of the real errors in the Bible, and the process of "explaining" them only reinforces the group members' mental barriers and further protects their pet views.
Even while I was a believer, I often wondered what the point of Bible study is, if I continue to believe the same thing after the Bible study that I believed before. The point of it, as I can now see, is to protect a delusion that would otherwise evaporate when confronted with knowledge and reason. (This is also the point of prayer, personal devotions, and church services, by the way.)
|I am willing to read and discuss things if you desire to discuss them.|
OK. I accept your offer. I would like to discuss the question of whether Christianity is true or false, focusing mostly on the errors of the Bible. I would like the format to be e-mail, and I would like both of us to keep [four other relatives] copied on all exchanges (they will find out eventually anyway, right). Agreed?
Actually, I am uneasy accepting your offer of dialogue, because I don't want to embarrass you. If you set yourself up as defender of the Bible, you will definitely be embarrassed. The book is an embarrassment to Christianity. It will be difficult for me to expose the errors of the Bible without causing you some embarrassment, but I will try. I don't mind so much embarrassing a professional minister, but a family member is different. I wouldn't risk embarrassing you at all if I didn't think the outcome would be worth the risk. Of course, the copy list would be family only, and it is not as if I would be embarrassing you in front of your professional colleagues. It could even turn out to your advantage, if you end up losing faith, since then the family would already understand why, and you wouldn't have to explain yourself so much as you would otherwise. You could lose faith without losing face.
I don't mean to sound patronizing, but I don't know how to warn you of the risk you are taking without sounding that way. What I have said is not bluster. The risk of embarrassment is very real for you, and, based on your other statements in this message, I am fairly certain that you don't comprehend how real the risk is. Oh, yes, of course, how could I forget! I also run the risk of being embarrassed. :)
[Are you familiar with "emoticons," as they are called? The symbol :) is a smily face, viewed sideways. It means that the text just preceding it was meant in a jestful, friendly tone, although without the emoticon it might be misconstrued as bitingly sarcastic. It is often used when making statements that may be uncomfortable for the recipient, but that need to be said anyway, and that the writer hopes will not be taken as an insult by the recipient, but instead that it would be accepted in the spirit of friendship and candor in which it was offered. In case you haven't guessed, I'm trying to tell you something that could be hurtful to you, and I am trying to walk on eggshells while I do it. Forgive me.]
|Obviously [name omitted] and I care for you and your family deeply|
Let me assure you that Alison and I know that you both care deeply for us, and I do think it is worthwhile to repeat this sentiment explicitly, since the topic we are discussing is deeply personal and divisive. Alison and I care for the both of you as well, and this message is the proof of it. If we didn't care for you, I wouldn't take the time to address a difficult issue to you. It would be much easier to avoid the topic and go our separate ways, as far as religious beliefs are concerned. But I don't believe either of us would really be content to leave it that way, do you?
|but I can not respect your opinions regarding my Lord Jesus Christ.|
You cannot respect my opinions because the church has kept you ignorant of the knowledge required to form opinions like the ones I hold. This is an immoral thing for the church to do, and I will help you overcome the church's insidious control over your base of knowledge, if you will let me.
|He is my redeemer and my Savior and I depend on Him every second of my life.|
I used to believe the same things, and I used to depend on Christ every waking moment. It is a difficult thing to discover that these things simply aren't true and that our redeemer and savior exists only as a delusion in our mind. But Alison and I have been through the mental trauma of losing faith, and we will be there for you to talk to when and if you lose faith. I can assure you that the feeling of loss is only temporary, and happy freedom is on the other side.
|If you would like to carry on a dialogue, it should go both ways.|
I agree. Fair is fair.
|I'll read your material if you read mine.|
OK. I accept this offer also. But, whadayasay let's forget about Behe. Origins is a side issue, and there are much more interesting things to discuss.
Here's my choice of first reading for you: I would like for you to read the book Beyond Born Again by Robert Price. I will provide a copy to you, since it is out of print.
Please confirm your agreement by sending me the title and author of the first book you want me to read, and I'll get started right away. To make it easy for you, I'll even purchase the book myself.
I must say, I am surprised at your offers to dialogue and to read, since I know how busy you are. I am supposing that you feel the same way I do, namely, that it will be better to work toward some sort of genuine meeting of the minds than to simply let the issue vanish into obscurity only to pop up occasionally at later times as an unwelcome ghost of the past.
From: [Name omitted]
Subject: I accept your offers... -Reply
Date: 1/28/98 9:49 AM
James, I don't have the time to reply in detail to your e-mail at this time. I am glad that you are willing to dialogue. I can not do it by e-mail however because I don't have e-mail at home and I simply do not have the time or emotional energy to deal with this at work. Why don't we get together at set times or discuss it by phone (I guess letters would be another mechanism).
As we begin this, please remember that I read slowly in comparison to you. Also, please do not summarize your beliefs with statements like " the God in the Bible is a monster" this is blasphemous and ugly in my eyes. I would rather you stick with direct quotes then resort to this kind of blanket statement.
To: [Name omitted]
Subject: Format for our dialogue
Date: 1/28/98 12:30 PM
[Name omitted] , on 1/28/98 9:49 AM:
I am glad that you are willing to dialogue. I can not do it by e-mail however because I don't have e-mail at home and I simply do not have the time or emotional energy to deal with this at work. Why don't we get together at set times or discuss it by phone (I guess letters would be another mechanism).
I will respond to the other parts of your message in a separate e-mail, but I want to work with you to get the format settled in this e-mail.
E-mail is very much more convenient for me than any other format, especially for copying other family members. Also, keeping the dialogue in writing will help keep the discussion precise and detailed. Verbal discussions tend to degenerate into vague philosophical generalities because it is impossible to keep track of numerous citations mentally.
Can you not print out my messages, take them home, compose your answer on your computer at home, save your answer on a diskette as a text file, and bring the diskette to work and send it from there the next day (or the next week, if you only have time to respond on weekends)? Surely this would take no more time than the other options you proposed.
Let me know.
To: [Name omitted]
Subject: Response to the other parts of your last message, as promised...
Date: 1/29/98 3:50 PM
[Name omitted] , on 1/28/98 9:49 AM:
James, I don't have the time to reply in detail to your e-mail at this time. I am glad that you are willing to dialogue. I can not do it by e-mail however because I don't have e-mail at home and I simply do not have the time or emotional energy to deal with this at work. Why don't we get together at set times or discuss it by phone (I guess letters would be another mechanism). As we begin this, please remember that I read slowly in comparison to you.
|Also, please do not summarize your beliefs with statements like " the God in the Bible is a monster" this is blasphemous and ugly in my eyes. I would rather you stick with direct quotes then resort to this kind of blanket statement.|
Your request is unreasonable. I went through an entire (and incomplete) litany of Yahweh's crimes against humanity, and then you won't allow me to summarize them into a concise and reasonable conclusion? Come on! As an unbeliever I'm SUPPOSED to make such statements, right? Do you really expect me to concede to your position before we've even gotten started? Did you actually read through the list of crimes in the first paragraph of my last message, or did you just skim through them quickly? If you read this same list of crimes, except that they were ascribed to a man instead of to Yahweh, wouldn't you say that man was a monster? Why does Yahweh deserve special treatment?
Besides, Yahweh was the ancient Hebrew war god. He was SUPPOSED to be a monster, because his job description was to strike fear into the enemies of the Hebrews. Why do you think the Old Testament places so much emphasis on fearing Yahweh? It was because they wanted to portray their war god as frightening and terrible. When I say Yahweh is a monster, I am only being true to the intended portrayal of him by the ancient barbaric Hebrew writers who needed some powerful propaganda to drive their campaigns of war and conquest.
Isn't it curious, by the way, that the ancient writers did not portray Satan in the same bad light in which they portrayed Yahweh? I cannot think of a single instance in the Bible where Satan killed even one person. Satan's worst crime was that he convinced Eve to eat a piece of fruit, and he didn't even lay a hand on her. This is supposed to be evil? You might point out that Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness, but any reasonable and disinterested reader would wonder why such innocuous challenges as the ones Satan made are even called temptations. Making bread out of stones, accepting the protection of angels, and acceding to the leadership of a kingdom are not evil things, and most people would jump at the chance to do them. In fact, unlike Yahweh, Satan never forced Eve and Jesus to do anything against their wishes; Satan actually showed an uncommonly high level of decency and respect for them by allowing them to decide their own fates and not imposing a fate upon them.
If you point to Satan's role in the story of Job, well, Satan actually did what he did to Job in OBEDIENCE to Yahweh (actually Eloah, and not Yahweh, if I recall). Are you going to tell me that obeying Yahweh's (or Eloah's) wishes is evil? And you need not try to tell me that Yahweh (Eloah) simply "allowed" Satan to do these things. Yahweh (Eloah) COMMISSIONED Satan to ruin Job, and he explicitly takes responsibility for it in Job 2:3, where he says, "Then the LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited ME AGAINST HIM TO RUIN HIM without any reason.'" (NIV) (Well, I see now that the NIV renders LORD in capital letters, which means that this was Yahweh speaking, and not Eloah after all.)
Also, you are being inconsistent. In your first message you said the Bible convinces you that God is good and sovereign, but you did not provide even a single citation to back up these blanket statements. In my response, I provided numerous factual statements to show you why your assertion is unreasonable, and, disregarding all the information I provided in support of my conclusion, you then call it a blanket statement! What a double standard! It so happens that your assertion that Yahweh is good and sovereign is offensive and repugnant to me, and reasonably so in light of his long list of crimes. But I did not object to your saying it. Instead, I gave you some factual information showing that it is more reasonable to conclude that Yahweh is evil rather than good. And I expect that when you reply in full to my first message, you will make reasonable arguments in return. If you end up abandoning your assertion that Yahweh is good, and concede that he is evil, then I want you to do it from your own convictions, and not just to placate me. I think it is reasonable for you to expect the same from me, and not to expect me to soften my rhetoric just to accommodate your sensibilities. There are more important things at stake here than sensibilities.
So, let me tell you that I have no intention of censoring my words, especially when the very text of the Bible supports my position. It would be impossible for either of us to work only in direct quotes from the Bible without drawing conclusions and summary statements from reasonable arguments. Otherwise, every time I wanted to make the point that Yahweh is evil, I would have to repeat the litany of charges that the Bible makes against him. It is much more practical simply to say that Yahweh is a monster, since after I make the case for this assertion once, you will thereafter know what I mean by it without my having to repeat the litany of facts every time.
But, getting more to the meat of the matter, I notice that your statement implies that you regard the god of the Bible as the true God. Otherwise, you would not think it blasphemous for me to call him a monster. Then let me ask you a question. What evidence can you present to demonstrate that the god of the Bible is actually the true God? I predict that you cannot provide any evidence at all for this belief. I think you believe it, well, just because you believe it, that's why.
I can save you a lot of trouble by recommending that you admit either that, whatever god the Bible happens to be describing, it is not the one true God, OR, that the one true God IS the Yahweh of the Bible, but he is NOT good after all. Otherwise, if you try to maintain that Yahweh is the one true God AND that he is good, you somehow have to account for the litany of crimes Yahweh is alleged by the Bible to have committed. And you will find your accounting quite impossible to sustain under my critical eye.
But perhaps the real reason you asked me not to blaspheme is because you are already looking for an excuse to end our dialogue? If I refuse to act "decently" and to behave myself, then you could cut off our dialogue without losing face, right? Well, sooner or later, when you come to realize that your beliefs cannot withstand scrutiny, I do expect you either to concede to my position, or to find an excuse to stop the dialogue, or to just drop out without an excuse. But whadaya say we NOT stop yet, before we've even got going, OK? After all, if your goal is the same as mine, namely, to come to a genuine meeting of the minds, we both must be willing to subject our ideas of truth to the test, yes? Our beliefs are incompatible, as you say, so how else can we ever come to agreement unless we allow those ideas that cannot withstand scrutiny to be knocked down, so that we are left only with ideas that are able to stand firmly on their own merits, whatever the outcome may be? And that won't happen if we insist on euphemisms in the place of candor. The process will indeed be uncomfortable for both of us (but I admit that it will be more uncomfortable for you, since your beliefs cannot withstand scrutiny). So, why don't we continue our discussion without restricting each other as to forms of expression, so that we can really get somewhere with all this? Do you agree?
In case you are wondering, I included that last paragraph, because I want to be able to point back to it in the future when it becomes unbearable for you to continue to see your beliefs shot down one after the other, and you are tempted to cut off the dialogue and retreat instead of carrying through to the logical conclusion, which is to leave the faith. Since your message began by saying that you are glad I am willing to dialogue, I don't really expect that you'll cut it off, at least not right now. Am I right?
From: [Name omitted]
Subject: Response to the other parts of your last message, as promised... -Reply
Date: 2/9/98 10:32 AM
James, several things.....
1) Please send references (book, chapter, and verse) to all of your statements about God in your 1/27/98 e-mail entitled "I accept your offers."
2) Regarding the mechanism of our discussions, I would prefer not to use e-mail but if talking in person or writing will not be acceptable to you, I will agree to it. I will probably do as you suggested and type replies in WordPerfect and send the file to you. It will help not to write the reply at work but I must let you know that each time I get e-mail from you (regarding your disbelief in God) it is very distracting and I have a difficult time concentrating on my work for the rest of the day. Therefore, please limit the number of communications to a reasonable number; otherwise, we will have to find another way.
3) Regarding your "blanket statements" about God, this is still unacceptable to me. What if I was trying to convince you that your wife was a prostitute. No matter how true or untrue the accusations, I know that you would rather me stay with the facts and not simply start throwing out words like "whore" or "slut". It would be disrespectful of me to use such words. If you stick with examples of the Bible, I will draw my own conclusions.
[By the way, my assertions that God is good (2 Chron 7:3, 5:13; Ps 34:8, 84:11, 100:5, 145:9, 106:1; Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19; John 10:11; and many others) and sovereign (Daniel 4:17, 34-35; Isaiah 14:24,27, Is 46:9-11; 1 Sam 2:6-8; John 19:10-11; etc) are directly from God's Word. You have not done or said anything that in any way leads me to believe otherwise.]
4) For your first reading "assignment," I would like you to read a book entitled Can Man Live Without God by Ravi Zacharias. I would also like you to consider one other thing. We would like to go with you to talk with SR, one of our ministers. I honestly believe that he could answer many of the questions you have difficulty with concerning the Bible. We want Alison to come. He can meet with us one afternoon around 4 PM but will probably need a couple of weeks advance notice.
Finally, I want to say that I don't pretend to believe that I can convince you of God's goodness and His absolute sovereignty. Only God Himself can affect this change in you. The Bible is very clear in its teachings about God's absolute holiness, omnipotence, immutability, omnipresence, self-sufficiency, self-existence, love, goodness, wisdom, truthfulness, righteousness, sovereignty, wrath, mercy, justice and yes, His incomprehensibility. He cannot contradict Himself - His attributes are always used simultaneously in perfect harmony. He never suspends one to use another. Obviously, as mere humans, we can never understand why he does all that He does. I remain convinced of His presence. I, as all men/women, was completely dead in my evilness - selfish to the core. Christ provides a way out. By His mercy, God has given me faith. Without His grace and mercy, I too would be looking at it all with unbelieving, incredulous eyes. I pray that He will be merciful to you as well.
a strong hope and love,
On to Part 2
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