Over the past three years my world view has dramatically shifted from Conservative Evangelical (with a Fundamentalist bent) toward a much more “Liberal” view of Christianity and other belief systems. This transition has been neither sudden nor lightly considered. It has been undertaken with much reading and thoughtful reconsideration of most of the beliefs that I once held as sacred, thinking that they were based on absolute truths.
There have been a number of events that converged to open my thinking to alternative possibilities than those provided previously by a very constricted belief system learned at an early age.
- Most of these belief systems have made assertions of exclusive “truths” that the members of their group were expected to believe and adhere to in practice.
- Within Christianity there are at least three major divisions which hold some views that are incompatible with the other two. Each of these divisions consider the other two as heretical, or at least deviant from the “true faith”.
- Within Protestantism alone there are claimed to be over 10,000 variations of beliefs, many of which consider themselves to have an exclusive grasp of “absolute truth”. (What is the probability that the particular belief system I was born into happens to be the only that represents ultimate truth?)
- Recognition that there are many tens of thousands of competing belief systems in existence, and many more that have been abandoned over the centuries.
- Better understanding of the philosophical as well as practical challenges encountered when trying to verify or “prove” a claim of absolute truth. (Absolute truth claims can be disproved by only one exception, while an adaptive search for truth, guided by wisdom, will address difficulties of apparent contradiction by seeking the most amenable, yet righteous solution to a conflict.)
- Recognition that many Biblical passages do in fact conflict with each other when applying a literal interpretation of scripture, despite much theological tap-dancing to try to explain these away. (Sticking with a more traditional historical view of scripture as God’s guidance to man throughout time, rather than a rule book, would easily resolve a number of these forced conflicts that are created by literalism.)
- Recognition that there is most likely a hierarchy or progression of truths revealed in the Bible, which are very similar to those encountered in other belief systems around the world.
- Recognition that the history of the Christian Church (as an institution) includes many fabrications or misrepresentations of facts which have been touted as “Absolute Truths”. Yet these truths were embraced within “official” church doctrine for only a limited duration, that is until “new revelations” (or pressures from popular culture) changed these “eternal” doctrines.
- Observation that the members of the most fundamentalist groups (whether Christian or otherwise) seem to have very similar traits that are inherently antagonistic to most of society. These traits seem to be very closely related to specific clusters of personality traits including: a need for security in fixed beliefs, a need for stability and harmony (created by forced consensus) within their community of believers, authoritarian governance to enforce rigid compliance by the rest of society (to their particular beliefs), and adamant or even radical adherence to their beliefs with lack of tolerance for dissenters or unbelievers.
- Discovery that Christian discipleship, Catholic spiritual development, secret societies, cults, and authoritarian governments all employ very similar practices for behavior control and compliance management. Since the processes of “transformation” (using techniques such as persuasion, thought control, progressive indoctrination by immersion, repetition, meditation, contemplation, and isolation) have been known and practiced for thousands of years, it is difficult to know whether the changes observed in any individual are due to a true spiritual transformation or merely results of known psychological principles for change.
- Discovery that many truth claims advocated by leaders in many Christian groups are based on twisted or selective reading of scripture, distortion, or misrepresentation of facts to suit the views they advocate, while ignoring valid arguments for opposing views.
- Discovery that many “fundamental” and “foundational” doctrines of American Evangelical Christianity have been introduced only within the last one or two centuries and were not believed or accepted for most of the history of Christianity. Many of these doctrines turn out to have implications that are favorable to those in positions of “spiritual” authority, but less so for the entire community of believers or society generally.
- Discovery that many beliefs which are now strongly supported and advocated by Christian leaders are actually aligned with political and economic interests, rather than based on spiritual principles which would advance the Kingdom of God.
- Recognition that a strongly held belief, no matter how earnestly embraced, is not an indication of truth.
- Acknowledgement that the canon of the Protestant Bible is not the only one embraced by other Christian traditions.
- Acknowledgement that the development of the Protestant Bible was derived from the Catholic Bible, which was assembled by early church leaders, based on a vote which reflected a majority opinion of the day. (The Bible did not drop down from heaven as a completed work delivered on golden plates engraved with the fully authoritative words and views of God.)
- The realization that the distinction between conservative and liberal Christian doctrines and practices originated from disagreements within Protestantism many centuries ago.
- The conservative view embraced legalism (for others) in practice while advocating God’s grace (toward themselves). This combination provided an intellectually tenable position of pretending great piety by judging the wicked, while ignoring the practical needs of others around them. This was very attractive to the economic interests of the growing middle class, since it offered a sense of justification for disobedience to God’s command to care for the needy and defenseless in society.
- The liberal view took seriously the mandate to care for others in need as a directive to change society by encouraging the church to set the example for good deeds. The focus on others, rather than only self improvement in personal righteousness and holiness, may have been interpreted by conservatives as lack of personal holiness and purity.
- Recognition that some of my worst thinking patterns, fears, paranoid thoughts, beliefs, and unstated negative assumptions about how difficult and horrible life is intended to be, derived directly from early religious training. I concluded that some of the most harmful events in my life could be traced directly to those who claimed to be representing God, while deeply wounding those around them. These toxic beliefs taught me that God is a monster to anyone who does not live in perpetual spiritual perfection, and therefore cannot be trusted to assist us in living according to His standards.
- Conclusion that there is no satisfactory explanation for events in this world if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and good. It seems far more likely that many events are either of a completely random nature or due to natural or human causes that cannot be identified as either intentional or good. To consider God to be the ultimate cause of all things must necessarily deal with evil and tragedy. To ascribe all evil to a being or group of beings that are in opposition to God might just as well be a fabrication of human imagination to devise a scapegoat for all observed evil in the world. Observation of humanity at it’s worst would indicate that very little external pressure is needed for mankind (or at least some of us) to act with malice and cruelty toward others. Ironically, some of the most cruel people observed in daily life are those who claim to be religious or Christian.
- Recognition that a “biblical” worldview is very much a contrivance of the moment with obvious and substantial internal contradictions. Also, what constitutes a biblical worldview has never been defined by an overall consensus within Christianity, since each belief tradition has a different interpretation of the Bible.
- Recognition that modern American Christianity would be nearly unrecognizable to the apostles and many believers in the early Church.
- Recognition that very little about the life and teachings of Jesus, the Rabbi from Nazareth, is known from the very limited number of surviving manuscripts from which the New Testament canon is derived. Thus, if the surviving manuscripts are portrayed as the “total” Word of God in literal verbal form, then most of what Jesus Christ said must not have been words from God the Father, since most of it was not recorded. What we now regard as the “gospel” is not recorded within the gospels themselves, but is expanded by the epistles, especially those from the Apostle Paul. Jesus did not actually lay out the entire gospel message in any single recorded event in the New Testament, only snippets that were fully understood only after the resurrection and reappearance of Christ to a select number of disciples.
- Recognition that much of what is advocated as fact in the apologetics of biblical literalists, such as six-day creationists, is derived from intentional misrepresentation of key facts and beliefs within the scientific community about the origins of life. (There is truly a difference of opinion and lack of consensus among scientists in different fields, but generally far less than that which exists with the Christian community. ) When falsehoods must be used to defend “truth”, it is legitimate to question why the truth proposed does not stand on its own merits. Alternately, religious apologists should stick with religion and not claim knowledge and insight into very complex issues that are established based on observable phenomena according to predictable rules of behavior.
- Recognition that the very simplistic statements about generalities that are given in the Bible are not intended to be absolute eternal truths that can be applied in a very mechanistic manner.
- For example, the book of Proverbs was probably intended as a set of sayings to be used in moral training for young people and as a reminder to adults about the principles of gracious human interactions within a just society.
- Many of these simple statements do not apply to the modern world in a purely literal sense, but do hold truths about principles which should be embraced for good and harmonious living.
- When these are considered literal absolute truths, then believers are in for a rude awakening when facing the reality of modern life that does not reflect these simple moralistic quips.
- Another caveat in reading and applying the sayings in Proverbs is that some of these are clearly tongue-in-cheek, and are not intended to be taken literally, but actually as a joke about the occasional unfairness of life when evil is rewarded rather than punished (at least in this life).
- Realization that Christian leaders have been advocating for decades those systems of governance and economics that were favorable to the financial and political objectives of a very small minority of wealthy special interests, at the expense of the rest of society in the USA, as well as the rest of the world. The alarmist views advocated from many sectors and sects within Christianity play very well into advancing this minority agenda by persuading Christian people to become selfish, hard-hearted, judgmental, self-righteous, unthinking, and militant about their views in a way that will isolate them further from the rest of society. In other words, Christians are being manipulated to believe that focusing on inward personal holiness and service within the body of believers is more important than meeting needs within the local community or positively influencing society by example (rather than forcible compliance).
In summary, I found out that I have been misinformed, misled, misused, as well as spiritually, emotionally, and mentally abused, and often lied to by the religious leaders who are claiming to be the representatives of God in this world. These abuses of the people of God have been going on for centuries, often in collaboration with civil government and the wealthy and influential elite in each generation.
This has led to the nearly unavoidable conclusion that either (a) the God they represent is far from worthy of our worship, love, and obedience, or (b) they are not representing the true God who is portrayed as the creator of the universe.
Now, I would rather choose to seek the God who created the beauty, intricate complexity, and unique status of our planet within the known universe. This God seems to be the one who is able and willing to allow each human being to bloom as a tribute to His creativity in producing life. Holding absolute power, this God is not threatened by mere man or any of his aspirations, creations, inventions, failings, or limited capacity for understanding. This view seems much more expansive, mysterious, and worthy of reverence than the God I was taught to believe in. Therefore, I now choose the bigger God over all, rather than the one who seems very much created in the image of man. I choose a good and liberal God.