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Leaving the Faith

By the early to mid-1990s I had come to think that whatever I had held dear and cherished on the basis of my belief in the Christian God, could still be held dear and cherished without that belief.   Do I stand in awe before the unfathomable vastness and incredible majesty of the universe?  Do I welcome and feel heartfelt gratitude for moments of grace?  Do I value the love of family and the companionship of friends?  Do I appreciate the many good things in life: My work?  Travel?  Good food and good drink?  All the little things that make life enjoyable?  Yes, but what does any of this necessarily have to do with God?

As a Christian – from the time I was able to think, through my teenage and early-twenties fundamentalist period, up to my more mature adult liberal phase – I had believed in some form of the traditional, biblical God.  This was a God who was not some kind of remote designer of the universe who had gotten the ball rolling and then stood aloof from everything he had created.  This was a God who was active in the world.  He loved people and was intent on showering his love on them.  He helped them when they were in need.  He answered their prayers.  He intervened in this world when it was necessary and important to do so.

But I had come very much to doubt that any such God existed.  And it was the problem of suffering that had created these doubts and that eventually led me to doubt it so much that I simply no longer believed it.   If God helps his people – why doesn’t he help his people?  If he answers prayer, why doesn’t he answer prayer?  If he intervenes, why doesn’t he intervene?

It was innocent suffering that made me think there is no such God.  People who are faithful to God, who devote their lives to him, who pray to him suffer no less than those who are indifferent to God or even scornful toward his existence.   When a tsunami kills 300,000 people, the believers are included along with the unbelievers.   No difference.  When a child starves to death, as happens every seven seconds, her prayers are never answered.  When a Holocaust kills many millions of people, the Chosen people are not exempt.  Just the opposite.

I came to think that it was very easy indeed for me as a middle class, white male, with a good career as a university professor, a loving wife and two terrific young kids, a house to live in and never any concerns about having enough to eat, plenty of money to buy cars and TVs and computers and … and all that, it was very easy for me to be grateful to God and to think that he acted on my behalf to provide me with the good things in life.  But what about those who are no better than me and who pray no less fervently than me who are watching their children die of dysentery, who are sold to be sex slaves, who see the drought and the famine come and know there’s not a solitary thing they can do to avoid starving to death along with everyone they know and love?

It’s easy to believe that God intervenes for you when you live a basically happy and fulfilled life.   And yes, I know the typical response: that faith in God is especially important for those who are in the midst of suffering, that it provides them hope, that without it they would simply despair.  But the reality is that most of these people despair anyway.  How can they not?  They are suffering in extremis and are about to die in agony.  Not much to be thankful for.

And even if it’s true that faith might provide them with some solace, that doesn’t make their faith *true* or the God whom they hope will intervene on their behalf *real*.  It is their faith and hope that provides solace, not the divine being who supposedly could help them if he wanted to.  Those of us on the outside observing these deaths – millions and millions of deaths – need ourselves to ask whether there is any reason to think that there is a God who is active in this world.

And I came to think that it was perverse of me to be thankful for all the good things I had – as if God had provided them to me – when I knew full well that millions of people were dying from diseases contracted from not having clean water to drink; and from malaria; and from the lack of just the most basic protections against weather; and from starvation; and from natural disasters; and and and.   If God is the one to be thanked for my good life, who is to be thanked – or rather blamed – for their suffering?  Do I really want to say that it is God who has blessed me?  If so, has he decided to curse the others?   Or am I simply favored because I’m such a nice guy?

I got to a point where I just didn’t believe it any more.  This wasn’t because I was a biblical scholar who knew that the Bible was deeply flawed as a very human book filled with contradictions, discrepancies, and mistakes.  All that was irrelevant.  It also wasn’t because I was a historian of early Christianity who realized that traditional Christian faith developed as the result of historical and cultural forces, not divine guidance, that there was a huge variety of conflicting Christian views in its early years, decades, and centuries, and that what we know of Christianity is more or less the result of historical accident.  That too was irrelevant.

What was relevant was the very heart of the Christian claim that God loves his people, answers their prayers, and intervenes when they are in need.  I came to think there was no such God, and decided that I had no choice but to abandon my faith and leave the Christian tradition.


Was There a “Moment” When I Left the Faith?
Growing into Unbelief

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Comments

  1. Todd  July 20, 2017

    I know you are dealing with the Christian concepts here and with a theistic world view. I too was affected by the dissonance of Christian teachings and what actually happens in the world. I was in the same situation as you. For me, the study and practice of traditional buddhist teachings on suffering and mental training helped me greatly. Buddhist teachings are all about dealing with suffering. I don’t consider buddhist teachings as a religion and there is no god concept involved at all. Have you done any study in that and, if so, what are your thoughts?




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      No, I’m not an expert on Buddhism, at all — though two of my colleagues are internationally recognized experts (one working in Nepal and the other in Japan).




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      • Todd  July 25, 2017

        Bart,

        A personal note: i come from a Christian background. Episcopal and then United Church of Christ (Congregational). I attended seminary at Yale, worked in churches for a time, then went into public school teaching. I have probably learned more about Jewish and Christian Scripture from both you and James Tabor than anywhere else.

        I mentioned the buddhist perspective in my comment only because it is a bit different than the Biblical view since there is no god element involved in buddhist teachings. Pain is a part of being human, but we suffer based on how we handle pain and how we bring suffering upon ourselves.

        I mentioned that only because that perspective is a different way of viewing suffering than is found in the Bible since there is no god who brings suffering upon us in the buddhist perspective..

        I no longer belong to or advocate the teachings of any religious organization and I appreciate your flexibility in allowing us to express our personal thoughts here. Thank you.




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  2. wisedanfan  July 20, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,
    I think you are approaching this at the wrong angle.
    You are approaching it with God & Suffering.
    I believe the correct way to approach this is Salvation & Christ.
    Also, did you ever consider the consequences if you are wrong
    and the gospel is correct? If you are wrong, then justice happens in eternity.
    If you are correct, there is no justice.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      Yes, I considered that long and hard. But you need to realize: it is not a simple either / or. It’s not (merely) either Christ or atheism. If you choose for the Christian faith, you are choosing against Islam, and if Muslims are right, you are wrong, with eternal consequences. There is no way out of this dilemma. Everyone has to choose what they think is most likely to be true.




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      • Wilusa  July 25, 2017

        I’m not sure what the other person meant…

        “Also, did you ever consider the consequences if you are wrong
        and the gospel is correct? If you are wrong, then justice happens in eternity.

        “If you are correct, there is no justice.”

        That might not have meant that if you were wrong, you’d suffer eternal punishment. It *could* mean that if God exists, the bliss that will be known in eternity will make up for suffering experienced in this life; whereas if there’s no God, and no afterlife, *nothing* will ever make up for that suffering.




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        • SidDhartha1953  July 29, 2017

          But it’s not true that “there is no justice.” We have the power to create justice, however incomplete or imperfect it may be.




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  3. godspell  July 20, 2017

    Um–you thought before that it was okay for the non-faithful to be killed preferentially? Okay, that’s not fair–but did you?

    Never for one second did I ever believe that. My parents told me we’re all children of God, and He loves all of us the same. My father attended meetings with Dorothy Day. That was where his Catholicism was centered.

    I never knew the bible a tenth as well as you, but I knew it was full of stories about the most faithful of people suffering, experiencing persecution, grief, loss, horrors beyond number. How did you read that book obsessively for years and then just suddenly think “Hey, being religious doesn’t mean everything’s hunky-dory! We don’t get special treatment from God! Life’s a crap shoot for everybody.” My read of the Old Testament was that the Chosen got treated worse a lot of the time (this is also a common perception among my Jewish friends, observant or not). The New Testament is mainly about bad things happening to God’s son and those who choose to follow him.

    I guess I have a hard time with this ‘leaving the faith’ thing, since I don’t equate ‘going to church’ with ‘having faith.’ Two different things. You can easily have either one without the other. I stopped going to mass (unless it was with my parents, when visiting) because I mainly wasn’t getting much out of it. My religious experiences, such as they were, were mainly experienced when I was alone. Not all of us are cut out for communal worship. Pretty sure Jesus would understand that. So would Thoreau.

    Nobody, parents or priest, ever told me God only cares about the members of a particular religion. At mass, we prayed for everyone who was suffering. The notion that only Catholics in good standing go to heaven exists in Catholicism, obviously. I just wasn’t exposed much to it. My priests (highly educated erudite men, all of them) did have a healthy shared disregard for fundamentalism in any form. It was always a bit of a shock for me to come into contact with conservative (even reactionary) Catholicism, and to some extent still is. The Catholics I grew up with were nothing like that.

    Bart, you’ve been explaining to us how you became an agnostic leaning towards atheism. In what I might describe as excrutiating detail.

    But I still don’t understand, in spite of having read a number of your books–why did you become a fundamentalist? You weren’t raised as one.

    What was it you were looking for that made you go down that road?

    And is it possible you’re still looking for it now?

    And still seeking it in the wrong places?




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    • godspell  July 23, 2017

      I guess I missed this, but you’re still not back from the hike, anyway. So let me just ask–you decided it was perverse to be grateful for your good fortune, since others have not been so fortunate.

      So if somebody does something nice for you, you don’t express gratitude, because they could have done it for somebody else instead? Do you think “Man, this person really cursed everybody else on earth he/she didn’t do this favor for?” Do you just assume you were favored because you’re a really great guy?

      The term ‘overthinking it’ comes to mind. I don’t think you’re cursing all the charities you don’t give our subscription fees to. Now I realize you’re positing an infinitely powerful omniscient being who could theoretically do wonderful things for everybody on earth, and indeed the cosmos. But again, we don’t know what such a being could or could not do. It may be that reality is so constructed that it is not possible for God to equally bless everyone at all times. It may be that God doesn’t bless anyone, that good luck is just good luck.

      But those who are not grateful for their good luck don’t really deserve to have it.




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      • godspell  July 23, 2017

        I guess this bothers me more than I would have thought. It’s such a deeply rooted concept, gratitude. You seem to be going beyond simply rejecting religious doctrine–you’re rejecting the underying values that gave birth to it, which are the underpinning of everything good and valuable in human society. Of course there’s no logical basis to goodness. That’s what makes it goodness. Treat others as you wish they would treat you. Where’s the evolutionary advantage in that? And yet the concept has appeared in basically all cultures, all religions. Why? Where did that come from? Why do we keep independently stumbling across it? It’s almost as if there’s some voice inside of us, asking us to be better.

        And you’re telling that voice to shut the hell up.

        What’s truly annoying about this is that you think you’re being original here, by saying it’s kind of dick-ish to thank God for giving you a better life than other people. You’ve read the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican how many times? In how many languages?

        I’m sorry to be rude. I truly am. I am genuinely grateful for the insights you have shared with us about the early history of Christianity. If having to suffer through the history of how you stopped believing in something you possibly didn’t believe to start with is the price we pay, I suppose we must be humble and count our blessings.

        But how long, oh Bart? How long?




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        • Bart
          Bart  July 24, 2017

          I wonder why this is hitting such a nerve?




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          • godspell  July 25, 2017

            I was wondering the same thing about you. 🙂




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        • John1003  July 24, 2017

          I have wondered about whether goodness is something that could have evolved out of necessity. I know I have sincere empathy for someone elses pain but do I sincerely seek goodness ?. Wanting other people to think that I’m good can be of necessity. We need each other at times for survival. Needing to be seen as good could have evolved out of the need to be part of the group. I think that could be a bridge to someone actually seeking goodness as there own personal quest. Thinking out loud. Any thoughts on that ?




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          • godspell  July 25, 2017

            There’s been substantial study of what might be deemed altruistic behavior among a wide variety of species other than homo sapiens, and there is a surprisingly large amount of that going on among our fellow creatures. Presumably without any of them thinking “If I do this, I go to heaven!” But naturally, we can’t ask any of them why they do it–for example, why do dolphins so often assist struggling human swimmers, or defend them from sharks?

            I doubt there’s anything in our behavior, ‘good’ or ‘evil’ that did not exist before religion. Religion takes pre-existing behaviors and focuses them, systematizes them, aims them in specific directions, towards specific goals.

            To say that it’s all about evolutionary drives doesn’t really track. How are dolphins promoting their survival by helping the one species that might possibly make them extinct?

            I believe in the ideas of Darwin and Wallace–but I know they are not all there is to life. Only a fool would think that.




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        • John1003  July 28, 2017

          I wasn’t suggesting that every motivation we have has a specific evolutionary purpose. Thats why I used the word bridge. If the need to be seen as good was a behavior we developed for the purpose of be accepted by a group or clan than it could be a catalyst for some people to seek goodness as a value. I am simply thinking out loud and wondering if our interest in being good could have evolved naturally over time. I don’t think the theory of evolution requires that all are impulses serve an evolutionary purpose.

          Why do you think dolphins help swimmers ?? Do you think God infused goodness into all of creation ? I think an atheist would use animal behavior as evidence that goodness is not transcendant but somehow developed naturally ino the animal kingdom.




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          • SidDhartha1953  July 29, 2017

            Part of it may be that dolphins really hate sharks and will attack them any chance they get. Confirmation bias may tell the swimmers they save that it was altruism when it’s just dumb luck that they were attacked by a shark instead of a sting ray. I don’t have a plausible answer for why they would help a swimmer in distress. Maybe they’re just curious (inquisitive, not strange) creatures who take in interest in the unfamiliar, especially if it doesn’t seem good to eat or mate with.




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        • SidDhartha1953  July 29, 2017

          There is an evolutionary advantage to treating members of your tribe as you would have them treat you. Humans evolved in tribes, not as rugged individuals who managed to find a mate and raise children who grew up to be rugged individuals…. You get the picture.
          The challenge in the modern world is that, to survive as a species, we must learn to see the whole of humanity as our tribe. I’m not sure we’re up to that challenge, but I can hope, can’t I?




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      • Bart
        Bart  July 24, 2017

        No, if someone does something nice to me, I’m very grateful. But I’m not very grateful if the (same) person at the same time could do something nice to other people but instead decides to let them starve to death.




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        • godspell  July 25, 2017

          Yes, but that’s assuming this ‘person’ really is in a position to make everybody’s life wonderful.

          It’s assuming an awful lot, quite honestly.

          With absolutely nothing to back up those assumptions.

          Which by any standards is bad scholarship, but we’re far from the realm of scholarship here.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      I’m afraid I don’t understand what your (first) question is asking.

      I’ve explained why I became a fundamentalist. It was not an intellectual decision but a personal experience.




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      • godspell  July 25, 2017

        I’ve read your explanations, and they don’t explain much.

        I don’t think you yourself know the reason.




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  4. Gabe_Grinstead  July 20, 2017

    Bart,

    Curious, did you ever feel or believe that you had the ‘spirit’ of God in you? Or that you had communion with God? If so, what do you make of those former experiences? I often wonder if those type of experiences or beliefs cause people to overlook suffering in the world because they think “Well, I know God exists because he lives in me! I have felt him and heard him!”. I can only speak for myself, but when I started to become honest with myself and stopped playing the “God told me” game (how do I know it wasn’t my imagination?) my doubts began to rapidly increase.

    I also think being callous towards the suffering of others causes even more suffering, because people are less likely to do something about it. If it is “All a part of God’s plan”, that is, that people suffer, then why bother to lift a finger to help? While I know many in their respective faith’s do NOT act this way, many do and I think it may have something to do with casually accepting that these people’s death just don’t matter. That said, even more disturbing yet, is how many of the major religions see the vast majority of humanity roasted away in eternal misery while a few are in bliss, watching their relatives burn… That, to me, is an even bigger atrocity, were it true.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      Yes, absolutely I felt/thought that. That was why I could speak in tongues. I had a deep communion with God, daily, hourly, by the minute!




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      • Gabe_Grinstead  July 24, 2017

        Bart,

        What do you think of those experiences when you reflect on them? I imagine, being agnostic, you don’t think they were from God. But where did they come from? What do you make of them now?




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      • godspell  July 25, 2017

        I’ve read the gospels, and you know, I don’t see any evidence Jesus was talking about all of us having a personal relationship with God. I just don’t. He is suggesting all of us have the potential to become more like God, but that isn’t the same thing. God’s eye is on the sparrow–but the sparrow still falls from the skies when its time is come. The lilies of the field still wither and die.

        Obviously those who approach faith as you did then are trying to emulate Jesus, but in my opinion, most of you go about it ass-backwards.




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  5. Judith  July 20, 2017

    As your Sarah would say, Dr. Ehrman, all that you say is true. But then there is an argument that can be made for believing your considerable intellectual prowess is inadequate for comprehending God. He has made it possible to know Him in spite of all the arguments against even believing in Him. Recently after being away from home, upon returning there was an anthill partially on the brick walkway to my front door. Rather than using poison to kill the ants, I used boiling water slowly poured over the hill to kill the ants. The following day it was astounding to see a shiny pile of dead ants with scurrying ants bringing out the dead ones and adding them to the pile. It was sad for me as I’d thought with all the boiling water I’d used, they had been instantly killed. Then I found myself thinking about how – if I could become an ant – they could be made to understand how precious they are but the necessity of ridding the antpile on my walk. How could I explain the impossibility of moving them somewhere else? I would want them to know they are vital for keeping the soil pliable and they are admirable, each and every one of them.
    I think it is that way with us. We just have to believe it’s beyond our understanding why all is as is. Still, He makes Himself known to us unless we shut Him out. The poet said it best: “God, I can push the grass apart. And lay my finger on Your heart.”




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      Yes, I completely agree, my pitiful intelligence can’t possibly comprehend the ultimate things of reality or even come close! But we do have to decide what to think or believe, as pitiful as we are. And choosing to believe *one* thing (often/usually?) means choosing *not* to believe something else. So does one simply believe what one is told?




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  6. nbraith1975  July 20, 2017

    Natural disasters like floods, famine, and pestilence were all used by the God of the Bible as punishment; either against God’s “chosen people” for their disobedience or against their enemies in conflict. Understanding this fact, it’s very hard to reconcile natural disasters of any proportion that take human life and cause suffering with a God who is in control of all things – from a lightning strike that kills just one person to a flood that kills thousands.

    Interestingly, Christians today will always try and spin natural disasters that cause human death and suffering into something positive – or at least something redeeming in the long run. In fact, many Christian Churches and organizations use natural disasters to promote their specific brand of doctrine as compassionate and benevolent. It’s not hard to find them at the scene of the disaster flashing their brand on signs and clothing for all to see.

    I’m not knocking the good work these “Christian” organizations and churches do in these terrible situations to help the victims, I’m knocking the fact that they refuse hold their God responsible for the natural disaster in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, they either accept a God who is in control of ALL THINGS as portrayed in the Bible, or they continue in their hypocrisy. I have yet to see even one Christian leader stand at the scene of a natural disaster and thank God for such a great blessing. But I have seen Christian leaders stand at the scene of disasters and thank that same God for the blessing of their organization to show up and help.

    You simply can’t have it both ways. The Bible clearly teaches that it’s either from God or not.




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    • godspell  July 25, 2017

      Since the overwhelming majority of Christians and Jews do not interpret the Old Testament literally, this is a nonsensical argument.

      You might as well say that anyone who is an atheist materialist must believe the same way as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot–and take full responsibility for their crimes. So vastly greater than those of theistic religion. And based, so often on a willful misinterpretation of Darwin. Of course, the same could be said for the crimes of Capitalism, another non-theistic creed, unless the god it is worshiping is Mammon.

      I was born, baptized and confirmed a Catholic. Never once was it so much as hinted that natural catastrophes were God’s punishment on anyone. Most Christians have never been fundamentalists, like Bart was.

      God help the literal-minded.




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  7. cheriegate
    cheriegate  July 20, 2017

    Brilliant. Just about exactly what happened to me. I remember years ago facing Theodicy as such:

    ” If there is no personal all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, invisible being, who is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his attributes, then I can accept the chaos, pain, suffering and injustices I see without having to continually exonerate God for not being present and involved. If a personal God is taken out of the equation, I don’t have to try to reconcile a loving, all powerful, all knowing, deity with the unbearable suffering I see in the world. ”

    Amen and Amen … http://cheriegate.org




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  8. leo.b@cox.net  July 20, 2017

    I can see through your logic why you abandoned the Christian faith and the Christian God(as you described him).
    Have you ever thought that there might be another God out there who is different than the ‘Christian God’?




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      Yes indeed! For one thing, I think there is a wide variety of deities that we could call the “Christian God” — i.e., it’s not as if all Christians have always had the same view, but a wide range of views, some of them at odds with one another. But yes, I did often think about what God could be like and if he could be different from what I had earlier imagined.




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  9. tompicard
    tompicard  July 20, 2017

    Too arrogant and resentful and voluble (and somewhat pointless) than I am accustomed to in reading your other posts.

    Jesus taught us to recognize all human beings as unique and priceless sons or daughters and representatives of of the most holy and precious Creator God.
    However if you have a better worldview than his in addressing the problem of suffering, let me know and I will embrace it.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      I’m not sure what passages of the Gospels you’re thinking of; my sense is that Jesus’ solution to suffering was that the world was controlled by forces of evil but that God was soon to intervene to destroy them and set up a good kingdom on earth.




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      • tompicard
        tompicard  July 24, 2017

        The difference in our understanding may be related to how we understand his (Jesus’) apocalyptic message.

        If you understand Jesus ministry to be a proclamation of the coming of God’s Kingdom as imminent and inevitable and completely independent of human effort and probably occurring supernaturally, then that view will not be conducive to ending the suffering we see.

        But I see that God’s plan is that His (God’s) Will can never be fulfilled without human responsibility. I accept this is not a standard christian belief. I cant think of a biblical quote that explicitly confirms it, however there are verses that describe God’s disappointment at people’s faithlessness and sin from which the view may follow.
        If humans have no responsibility in building God’s Kingdom, and God brings it about by magic, how are we ever going to have a deep relationship with God our Parent?
        This view seems to me best for alleviating suffering.




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        • SidDhartha1953  July 29, 2017

          He put the man and woman in the garden and told them to care for it, when he could presumably have done a better job himself. Just a suggestion, if you’re looking for Bible refs.




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      • godspell  July 25, 2017

        My interpretation was that Jesus thought the forces of evil were us, and that we could only be worthy of God’s intervention by becoming more like God, ceasing to be such selfish shallow creatures, obsessed with material wants, and only caring about ourselves and our blood families.

        That clearly didn’t happen, but whose fault is that?




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  10. hasankhan  July 20, 2017

    In Qur’an the word used for ungrateful and non-believer is used interchangeably because by denying God, we’re basically denying that whatever we have is in fact gift from Him. It’s like someone gives you a gift and another person asks you, who gave it to you? and you say, no one.

    “Do I really want to say that it is God who has blessed me? If so, has he decided to curse the others? Or am I simply favored because I’m such a nice guy?”

    Qur’an (16:71) And Allah has favored some of you over others in provision.

    The way we look at it is that every ‘blessing of worldly life’ is a gift from God that He gives to whomever He wills such as your health, life, family, environment, etc. And nature of gift is that you can’t say ‘I deserve it’ because it is a gift, not a transaction where you pay something to get something back.

    So when someone doesn’t have the gift that we have, we don’t say they are cursed. The curse will be in the hereafter based on how we deal with what we have been given. In worldly life, they just didn’t get what we got because God gives it to whoever He wills. He is not obliged to give same gift to everyone.

    So how can a gift turn into a curse and apparent suffering become a gift?
    A person having all the comforts of life, if rejects God or the fact that gifts are from Him, then those comforts become a curse for him as they would be a reason why he ends up in hell for eternity.

    Qur’an (3:178) And let not those who disbelieve ever think that [because] We extend their time [of enjoyment] it is better for them. We only extend it for them so that they may increase in sin, and for them is a humiliating punishment.

    On the other hand a person who was born in suffering i.e. did not have the gift of being born in a peaceful place, safe environment, etc but remains committed to faith and dies a believer then they are blessing for him as they kept him on faith and hence he got eternal paradise in return.

    Qur’an (2:155) And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient,




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    • godspell  July 25, 2017

      What do you say about those who are grateful, despite adversity, but are not Muslims? Perhaps not even People of the Book?




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      • hasankhan  July 27, 2017

        If they never received the message then they will be tested on day of judgement again. If they received it but rejected it then being grateful will not help in the hereafter.

        Our main purpose of existence is to worship God alone and everything else is secondary.




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    • tompicard
      tompicard  July 27, 2017

      Dr Ehrman, hasnkhan is right, if you don’t believe in God then any good things you have acquired are either due your hard work or pure luck. so no need to be grateful. likewise, i suppose, for those suffering – either they didn’t work as hard as you or weren’t as lucky.

      Therein, if you care for the less fortunate, lies another reason to believe in God – not a a reason to disbelieve (in my opinion).
      Does God care one whit if you grateful or not; does your gratitude or lack of affect God?
      If you received some blessings/fortune, there is only one reason (i hope you were taught this in your years as a christian) – God’s intention (irregardless if you realize it or not) and expectation and desire in giving you whichever blessings you have received is so that you will pass the blessings on to others of God’s children.




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  11. RonaldTaska  July 20, 2017

    Wow! This series about the evolution of your beliefs is the most important thing you have written and you have written a lot. Please, oh please, use it a a foundation for an autobiography. You have essentially gotten it written with these posts. Just add a few books that influenced you and how they did this and a few teachers who helped you and that is all you need. I might also suggest a closing chapter about how you view Christianity now: the good, the bad, and the ugly….




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      I’m afraid there are some disgruntled members of the blog who don’t share your enthusiasm! 🙂




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      • doug  July 24, 2017

        Thank you for writing about your religious history and why you stopped believing in God. Like you, I cannot gloss over the contradiction between an all-powerful all-loving God and all the horrific suffering in the world. I cannot tell myself that somehow horrible birth defects are good because God lets them happen (or designed a creation where they would happen).




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        • godspell  July 27, 2017

          There is nothing in the world more stultifying to a serious discussion than obesient lockstop agreement.

          For no other reason, it’s a good thing this particular discussion is winding down.

          It really was turning into a way for those of you who are atheist/agnostic to say “My religion is the only true one.”

          Even though none of you will admit that’s what you’re saying. 😉




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      • webattorney  July 24, 2017

        I for one appreciate your posts on this issue. Not saying everything makes sense or is logical, but that’s why it’s so interesting. I think many hold you in such a high regard that they are disappointed at you for showing you are a human.




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      • SidDhartha1953  July 29, 2017

        I’ve been told the one who’s upset is the one with the problem. Keep doing what you’re doing!




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    • Lev
      Lev  August 3, 2017

      I agree with RonaldTaska, I have found this whole thread both fascinating and thought provoking.

      I also think that Christianity / the Church should devote more time and energy to thinking through the issues over suffering. You (Bart) have raised some serious and profound questions that deserve to be asked and thoughtfully considered.




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  12. antoinelamond
    antoinelamond  July 20, 2017

    I’ve been feeling the same way lately, but God for me is not what people in churches claim because if He was then He would do what they claim. I do believe God/gods exist but not in the capacity thought of in modern Christianity. There is no God powerful enough to stop suffering. Yet for me I do believe in a God/Goddess/Gods.




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  13. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  July 20, 2017

    Extreme suffering makes me think there can’t be a God. At the same time, I’m unable to deny some of the extraordinary things that’s happened in my life with no logical explanation.




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    • Gabe_Grinstead  July 24, 2017

      Patty,

      I feel the same way for the most part. For about the last two years I have called myself a Christian Agnostic. Yeah, in some ways that doesn’t make sense, but what it means to convey is this: I believe in God and Christ, though I have major doubts regarding the latter, but ultimately I have no idea. I believe it is the only intellectually honest way to live.

      What I enjoy about Bart’s posts regarding his faith is that I basically followed the same path, except that I have not altogether left the faith, but have taken a very liberal approach to it via Christian Universalism. But I recognize the whole thing could be a sham. That is why I try not to be dogmatic about religion, or lack thereof anymore. If God is as great as people say he is, then he won’t be upset for using my brain that he gave me. My brain says “Where is the evidence?” Hence, I am a doubting Thomas. I suppose you could say I have one foot in Liberal Christianity and one foot in Agnosticism and I am not sure that will ever change.

      One final note: It is important that Bart’s shares his story, because people who think like him and know themselves to have no deceit in their intentions, know that Bart came to his conclusions honestly. I am certain that Bart has/had no wicked motives, because I have experienced the same things he experienced and I had no such motives in myself. All who have walked the path of Bart will know internally that he is speaking the truth and is not some God hater that many Christian’s believe of him.




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      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  July 25, 2017

        I get what you mean. That’s why I call myself agnostic and leave it at that. And I agree about Bart sharing his story.




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    • Carl  July 25, 2017

      Sort of similar for me. Divine intervention/revelation is the only reason I believe without a doubt in God. I cannot deny what I have experienced.




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  14. dan7264  July 20, 2017

    Very well said sir.




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  15. Seeker1952  July 20, 2017

    I guess I’m still trying to keep my bases covered ala Pascal’s wager with respect to theism, ie, maintain some kind of lukewarm, skeptical, and socially oriented relationship to Catholic Christianity–unless and until I find something better.

    But I also wonder if life would look a lot different and a lot better if I made what usually seems like the most reasonable decision, ie, for atheism/agnosticism. I’m wondering if your perspective on your life changed a great deal.

    It seems like the atheistic decision would bring more freedom, enable one to see the world more clearly and honestly, and not eliminate morality but make it seem less all-encompassing and burdensome. I think the decision would also bring a certain sadness about the limits of life–though in some ways acceptance of those limits could be liberating too.

    But I don’t think I’d fully know what an atheistic perspective on life would be like without making a clean (more or less irrevocable) break with religion. That’s scary.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      Yeah, it can be very scary. The problem is that it’s a wager no matter *what* you choose (even if it is for weak theism). That’s part of the human condition/dilemma. For me, it’s best to choose what seems most likely, rather than to hope that a less likely choice is right!




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  16. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  July 21, 2017

    Bart, what is a Demi-God ?




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      It is a kind of lower-level divine being, for example, someone like Romulus who was originally a human but then made divine; or like Hercules who had a mortal mother (Alcmena) but a god as a father (Jupiter).




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      • Josephsluna
        Josephsluna  July 24, 2017

        Sometimes, we ask questions we know the answer to. Sometimes, we answer questions we know the answer to. Of course you knew I knew, what a Demi-God is. I just wanted it documented by you. Because, when you speak, it mean something. That comes from hard work. Your are truly inspiring…




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  17. webattorney  July 23, 2017

    I find it interesting that the problem with suffering would be the ultimate cause because for me you could come up with various reasons why God would allow such suffering. For example, this life is so fleeting that suffering in this world is really irrelevant compared to the eternity of life with God etc.




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    • Gabe_Grinstead  July 24, 2017

      Well, if God created Christ (some say he was begot, rather than created) who was perfect and pleasing to God, then why didn’t he create all of us that way in the first place? The logic breaks down at some point. If the ends justify the means, then we can excuse all sorts of atrocities…Besides, “consigning all men to disobedience (Romans 9) so that he may have mercy on them all” is creating the problem itself just so you can solve something. Could God have done that? I suppose, but isn’t that a bit below God? Like, would any one of us find glory in creating a known defect in a product only to provide a solution that shouldn’t have been required in the first place? Is that victory? I don’t think so.




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      • godspell  July 25, 2017

        “The ends justify the means” is pretty much a materialist Darwinist rationale though, isn’t it? It’s an idea that gets stronger as religion gets weaker.

        I wonder what kind of world this would be a few generations after religion was gone?

        Just as well none of us will live to see that, assuming it’s coming. Some of us would be really disappointed.




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    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  July 25, 2017

      I’ve been in several discussion threads outside of the blog about the topic of suffering. There are many many people who do not consider it a dealbreaker for the existence of God. Personally, that’s the very reason I doubt.




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  18. mjkhan  July 25, 2017

    My suggestion to all non Muslims who have so many questions on God,creation,sufferings and its explanations etc and ultimately think to leave the faith all together.You are confused and disgruntled because the faith you have been following doesn’t give answers to the questions that come to your mind.The answer is read Quran because it is the only unchanged original divine book that is in continuation of previous faiths.You can get a free copy from Gainpeace.com.Ask for translation by Saheeh international.Arabic version is same in all for all sects,all locations ,all times but Saheehs translation is in modern American English.




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    • Greg Matthews
      Greg Matthews  July 27, 2017

      I thought this was a proselytizing-free blog.




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    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  July 27, 2017

      “You are confused and disgruntled because the faith you have been following doesn’t give answers to the questions that come to your mind.The answer is read Quran because it is the only unchanged original divine book that is in continuation of previous faiths.You can get a free copy from…”

      This is proselytizing???




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  19. stuckyabbott  July 26, 2017

    Yes – no matter how we try, we will not find an answer to theodicy. It defeats faith at many honest turns. I appreciate your honesty. A rational mind must see the suffering and the way that contradicts a powerful or creator God’s benevolent purpose. So many times a rational mind finds reason to reject the existence of One who could create justice and love but doesn’t, and in fact never has.




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    • godspell  July 27, 2017

      Make that “One who could create a universal totalitarian regime but doesn’t.”

      If you don’t want freedom, say so.




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  20. SidDhartha1953  July 29, 2017

    Here’s a question that has nothing to do with the subject at hand.
    The heading to Mark ch. 6 in my kindle edition of the NRSV says Rejection at Nazareth. But the text does not say he was in Nazareth, it says he was in his home town which, according to Mark 2:1 and a few references in Matthew (4:13 & 9:1 at least) was Capernaum. So, does home town in Mk. 6:1 mean the place where he was born or the place where he made his home? I’ve read that some people claim there was no synagogue in Nazareth during Jesus’ lifetime, so that would overcome the seeming discrepancy that he was teaching in the synagogue in his home town.




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    • Bart
      Bart  July 30, 2017

      Mark 2:1 doesn’t say that Capernaum was his hometown; but Mark 6:1 does indicate that Nazareth is where he had been raised (“he came to his own PATRIDA = “home turf of his family”)




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      • SidDhartha1953  July 30, 2017

        Mk. 2:1When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
        How does “at home” differ in meaning from *patrida* in 6:1?




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        • Bart
          Bart  July 31, 2017

          The Greek of 2:1 simply says “he was in the house” (EN OIKW)




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  21. Lev
    Lev  August 3, 2017

    Thanks for this fascinating answer into why you left the faith, Bart. This seems to be the clearest explanation yet. I have a question on the interpretation of Christianity you had at the time.

    I’m assuming you held the same view that you expressed in ‘Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium’, where you identify a set of Q sayings of Jesus that predicted those who were poor, hungry and persecuted (i.e. those who suffer) would be blessed in the coming kingdom when the Son of Man arrives on judgement day. “Jesus taught that a day of judgement was coming with the appearance of the Son of Man, who would bring a radical reversal: those who are presently well-off would be condemned and those who are suffering would be blessed.” p.153-154

    This apocalyptic reversal of suffering is most vividly expressed in Rev 21, where John predicts a new world without suffering: “‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.””

    In your previous post, ‘Apocalypticism in a Modern Idiom’ you describe how you believed in a modern version of ancient apocalypticism where suffering was brought about by evil forces: “In my view, at the time, the most attractive option was a modern version of ancient apocalypticism. There are evil forces in the world that are beyond our ability to fathom. And they are wreaking havoc with the human race. These are mysterious forces – not the literal devil and his demons. We simply can’t know what these forces are, where they came from, or why they are here. But they are manifest here – in natural disasters of all kinds, in governments and political policies (think Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge), and even in senseless acts committed by individuals.”

    But then, you seem to have left us hanging with the circle incomplete. You describe the ‘modern version of ancient apocalypticism’, but without the apocalypse bit. You see the evil – but then what? Did you also believe that God would, at a day of future judgement, bring an end to all this evil and suffering? Did you share the belief of John in Revelation, that the “old order of things” would pass away?




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    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2017

      I really didn’t know. I held to an apocalyptic view but I thought it was impossible to say what was really going to happen. And I thought that the accounts in, say, the book of Revelation were highly mythical, not literal descriptions. I was a hard-core biblical scholar, after all, at the time.




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      • Lev
        Lev  August 8, 2017

        “I held to an apocalyptic view but I thought it was impossible to say what was really going to happen.”

        Yes, I think it’s very hard for anyone to say with certainty what will really happen in the apocalypse – even Jesus used vague and mystical language.

        However, did you hold to a belief of what would be the general outcome of the apocalypse during your years as a liberal Christian? Did you believe that in the end, God would put an end to all suffering?




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        • Bart
          Bart  August 9, 2017

          Yes, I thought in some general sense God would make right all that was wrong. But beyond that fuzzy sense, I didn’t think we had a clue what it would all involve.




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          • Lev
            Lev  August 9, 2017

            Thanks Bart.

            So, if I pieced this together correctly: you believed that the suffering experienced in this world would one day be put to an end at the apocalypse, that at the end of days God would intervene and make all things right. However, because of the lack of intervention in this world, the injustices and suffering of innocents found among us, you concluded that an interventionist God did not exist, or if he did, then he was a cruel an immoral God as he was choosing not to intervene.

            I think I’ve seen you argue before that because a world without suffering was predicted to come eventually, then why not start us humans off in that perfect world, rather than have us go through a life of misery and suffering in the imperfect world first. I believe you asked something along the lines of ‘why would God do this? Create a world of suffering – was it some kind of cosmic test?’

            I can appreciate that question – it’s a very good question and one that deserves an answer. Especially as many of those suffering such a test never grow old enough to have the opportunity to pass such a test, and many of those who do are never told of the terms of the test and how to pass it. It does feel unjust and unfair.

            I’m really enjoying the current thread of the development of apocalyptic thought in ancient Israel. Did those in ancient times ever attempt to answer this question?




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          • Bart
            Bart  August 10, 2017

            I didn’t think there would be a literal apocalypse. I just thought that in some cosmic sense, God would ultimately resolve the problems and show why they in the end were justified.




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          • Lev
            Lev  August 10, 2017

            Would it be fair to say that when you transitioned from an evangelical Christian to a liberal Christian, it was comparable to transitioning from a Pharisee to a Sadducee?

            It seems that you rejected your most supernatural aspects of your faith (the Holy Spirit and a literal apocalypse), much like the Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic belief in angels and a literal resurrection of the dead.




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          • Bart
            Bart  August 11, 2017

            I’ve never thought about it like that. It seems like a pretty different situation to me.




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          • Lev
            Lev  August 11, 2017

            Perhaps it’s a British thing, but the Church of England has a tradition that whenever their Archbishop of Canterbury retires they switch between the Liberal and Evangelical wings of the Church.

            The liberals are the traditional types, usually heavy on scholarship, sceptical of the supernatural and seen as part of the ‘Sadducee’ establishment. The evangelicals are the what you’d expect, and usually seen as part of the internal and sometimes radical Pharisee grouping.

            I describe myself as a liberal because I reject the inerrancy of scripture and the doctrinal rigidity of evangelicalism, but I still hold to many of the supernatural beliefs usually associated with evangelicalism, such as the power of the Holy Spirit, so I guess I’m a mixed bag – a Phaduccee? A Saddisee? Perhaps I’m stretching the analogy too far?




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