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The Religion of a Sixteen-Year-Old

I just got home from spending a week in Lawrence Kansas, my home town.   As I’ve done now for years, I took my mom fishing in the Ozarks for a few days.  She’s 87, and on a walker, but still able to reel them in!

I go back to Lawrence probably three or four times a year, and each time it is like going down memory lane.  I left there to go to Moody Bible Institute in 1973, when I was all of 17 years old; I still called it home for years, but never lived there full time, not even in the summers usually.  I was married and very much on my own only four years later.  So my memories of the place are entirely of childhood through high school.   I can’t help reflecting on this, that, and the other thing in my past as I drive around town, remembering doing this thing here, that thing there, and so on.

This time, for some reason, there was an unusually high concentration of “religious” recollections, of my different religious experiences in one place or another.   As I’ve said a number of times, I had a born-again experience in high school, when I “asked Jesus into my heart.”  I must have been 15 at the time. The odd thing was that I was already a committed church person before that – for my entire life, in fact.  I was an acolyte in the Episcopal church from junior high onwards, every week praying to God, confessing my sins, thinking about the salvation brought by Christ, and so on.   So looking back, it’s hard to know what really I was thinking when I finally “became a  Christian.”  What exactly was I before?

But what really struck me this time around, in particular, was this.   Most of my family and friends who also became evangelical Christians – at least the ones who have stayed that way – are, naturally, upset and confused about why I left the faith.   In their view, the faith I had when I was 16 was the “truth,” and now I have gone over to the way of “error.”  I should stress that my mom and I never talk about such things – we both know it would do no good and that we would just both get upset.  So instead we talk about basketball, and family, and fishing, and lots of other things – but not religion.  Still, I know that she, like the others I knew way back then, think that I used to be right; that I made a terrible mistake when I became a “liberal” Christian in my late-20s; and that I really went off the deep end when I became an agnostic.

But here is what struck me.   About what other form of knowledge or belief would we say that it is better that we should think the way we did when we were 16 than the way we think now?

Would we say that our understanding of science was better then?  Our understanding of biology or physics or astronomy?   Were our views in 1972 better than our views now?   Or how about politics?  Or philosophy?  Would we be better off thinking what we did when we were 16?   Or what about our views of sexual relations?  Or literature?  Or economic investments?  Or … Or anything else?

Isn’t it very strange indeed that so many people of faith – not all of them, of course; and arguably not even most of them; but certainly some of them; in fact a *lot* of them in evangelical circles – think that even though they are supposed to grow, and mature, and develop new ideas, and chart new territories, and acquire new knowledge, and change their understandings  as they get older in every *other* aspect of their lives, they are supposed to hold on to pretty much the SAME religious views that were satisfying to them as a sixteen year old?

That is one of the things that I find most puzzling and dissatisfying and frustrating about many of the good, concerned, committed evangelical Christians who contact me via email or in person (say, at one of my talks): the views they put forth, in trying to “win me over,” are views that are at the intellectual and spiritual level of sophistication of a 16 year old.  They may be successful businessmen, or teachers, or investors, or … name your profession.  And in other parts of their lives they may have considerable maturity and sophistication.  But when it comes to religious belief, they are still back where they were in 1972.   There’s something wrong about that….

I should emphasize that there are lots (and lots) of theologians who are serious scholars, some of them quite brilliant.  They obviously do not work with a 16-year-old’s view of religion.   they are philosophically astute and intellectually impressive, people like Rowan Williams, Herbert McCabe, Fergus Kerr, and Stanley Hauerwas (they are not all like each other, either).   I have no argument with them.  My argument is with the intelligent Christian people who check their intelligence at the door when they enter the church, who think that it makes sense to have a sophisticated view of the world when it comes to their investments, their business practices, their politics, their medical preferences – but not when it comes to their religion.


Larry Hurtado’s Critique of How Jesus Became God
More on Jesus’ Wife!

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Adam0685  June 1, 2014

    I suspect that many evangelicals never move beyond stage 3 (“Synthetic-Conventional”) of Fowler’s stages of faith development. I also suspect many would stop being evangelical if they did…

  2. Avatar
    madmargie  June 1, 2014

    I agree with you. Twenty or twenty five years ago, I had an existential faith crisis when I decided that 90% of what I had believed since my youth was pure nonsense. I had to decide what to keep at that point. I have been trying to decide what Jesus truly taught ever since. I think it was all about God’s kingdom on earth. I think the salvation theology came later…after his death. To me, it is pure selfishness….all about “ME” and certainly not about others.

  3. cheriq
    cheriq  June 1, 2014

    I don’t return to Lawrence often, but, can pinpoint where I began to question the religious teachers. It was in that Nazarene church at about 20th and Massachusetts. I asked if one went to the same hell for lying as for being a murderer. The answer was yes, and even as a 10 yr old, I didn’t believe it. I could not believe in a God who was that unfair.

  4. Avatar
    TomTerrific  June 1, 2014

    Very well put, Dr. E, as usual.

    I think it was Muhammad Ali who said, “A man who is the same at fifty as he was at twenty wasted thirty years.”

  5. Avatar
    asahagian  June 1, 2014

    I often think about when I was a child and believed in Santa Claus. I truly believed and everyone I trusted and respected also seemed to believe as well. It was not questioned. (I actually even remember having seen his footprints in the snow on Christmas morning…probably just my imagination…) Then when I got older and began to hear that Santa was just a figment of my imagination I was very indignant and would not believe it….eventually I realized it was all just for fun and really was not true. But my belief had been absolute! No one ever suggests that we should go back to this childhood belief. What a perfect parallel to what you are describing above.
    The bible says you should have faith like a child ~ when you think about it you realize that a child’s faith exists because that child has not yet learned to question what he/she was taught to believe. Not a good thing.

  6. Avatar
    fishician  June 1, 2014

    I was recently pondering how the major religions, although they may all claim uniqueness, all share this in common: you are supposed to rely on God’s message that he gave to certain people many centuries ago, and if you question what was said the problem is with you, not with what the ancients said. Even when what the ancients said is demonstrably in error. So, check your brains at the door – you really won’t need them any more, and if yo do use your brain, then you’re a tool of Satan (or so I was recently told).

    • Avatar
      prestonp  September 25, 2014

      “I was recently pondering how the major religions, although they may all claim uniqueness, all share this in common: you are supposed to rely on God’s message that he gave to certain people many centuries ago, and if you question what was said the problem is with you, not with what the ancients said. Even when what the ancients said is demonstrably in error. So, check your brains at the door – you really won’t need them any more, and if yo do use your brain, then you’re a tool of Satan (or so I was recently told).”

      Where does Christ say that?

  7. Avatar
    Jim  June 1, 2014

    Well, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever *said in an apologetic voice with cheezy reverb*

  8. Avatar
    Richard Thrift  June 2, 2014

    “Child-like” faith is not limited to evangelicals. When I was a Lutheran minister (and a believer) I was oft disheartened in realizing that most (not all but certainly most) of my parishioners had the spiritual understanding of a 13-year-old. That’s the traditional age with most were confirmed…and it also marked the end of their Christian education.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 2, 2014

      Good point!

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 25, 2014

      Would you explain the differences between the spiritual understanding of a 13 year old and a 17 year old?

      • Avatar
        shakespeare66  August 26, 2014

        There is about four years of spiritual growth between the two.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 2, 2014

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I struggle, really struggle, with the same question. After decades of struggle, here is my current two cents worth:
    1. I have become very attached to the scientific method where old theories are constantly discarded for new ones as the evidence warrants. For many, faith is a much different process which starts with certain assumptions/truths and all new evidence has to be molded to fit those assumptions/truths. So, the epistemology is different, much different.
    2. The comfort, sense of community, certainty, and, to some extent, the mutual adoration that many receive in churches is so powerful and important that most are not going to give all this up no matter what the evidence. So, a discounting of any contrary evidence results. It is more comforting to believe that there is Something up there and out there than to believe that there is Nothing up there and out there. Moreover, it is more comforting to believe that there is life after death rather than believing there is nothing after death. Finally, it is very comforting to believe that the most powerful force in the universe is personally involved in one’s life. What are facts and evidence compared to that?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 2, 2014

      Excellent points!

      • Avatar
        prestonp  October 9, 2014

        RonaldTaska June 2, 2014

        Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I struggle, really struggle, with the same question. After decades of struggle, here is my current two cents worth:
        1. I have become very attached to the scientific method where old theories are constantly discarded for new ones as the evidence warrants. For many, faith is a much different process which starts with certain assumptions/truths and all new evidence has to be molded to fit those assumptions/truths. So, the epistemology is different, much different.
        2. The comfort, sense of community, certainty, and, to some extent, the mutual adoration that many receive in churches is so powerful and important that most are not going to give all this up no matter what the evidence. So, a discounting of any contrary evidence results. It is more comforting to believe that there is Something up there and out there than to believe that there is Nothing up there and out there. Moreover, it is more comforting to believe that there is life after death rather than believing there is nothing after death. Finally, it is very comforting to believe that the most powerful force in the universe is personally involved in one’s life. What are facts and evidence compared to that?

        Bart Ehrman June 2, 2014
        Excellent points!

        “What are facts and evidence compared to that?”

        Odd. I don’t know christians who are unconcerned with truth and facts. Why do some believe that many christians are less than non-believers intellectually or less interested in the profound questions of life?

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 26, 2014

      “For many, faith is a much different process which starts with certain assumptions/truths and all new evidence has to be molded to fit those assumptions/truths.”

      I know many who needed to be and were convinced through evidence that overwhelming and significant reasons prove god is.

      “The comfort, sense of community, certainty, and, to some extent, the mutual adoration that many receive in churches is so powerful and important that most are not going to give all this up no matter what the evidence.”

      In a heartbeat. The demands of discipleship are so rigorous that many would be relieved to shed the whole shebang.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 30, 2014

      It is more comforting to believe that there is Something up there and out there than to believe that there is Nothing up there and out there. Moreover, it is more comforting to believe that there is life after death rather than believing there is nothing after death. Finally, it is very comforting to believe that the most powerful force in the universe is personally involved in one’s life. What are facts and evidence compared to that?

      Facts and evidence. There’s no comfort believing something that isn’t true

    • Avatar
      prestonp  September 5, 2014

      “Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I struggle, really struggle, with the same question. After decades of struggle, here is my current two cents worth: 1. I have become very attached to the scientific method where old theories are constantly discarded for new ones as the evidence warrants…”

      The same thing happens with theories explaining how the bible is meant to be interpreted-they come and go.

      “2. The comfort, sense of community, certainty, and, to some extent, the mutual adoration that many receive in churches is so powerful and important that most are not going to give all this up no matter what the evidence. So, a discounting of any contrary evidence results. It is more comforting to believe that there is Something up there and out there than to believe that there is Nothing up there and out there. Moreover, it is more comforting to believe that there is life after death rather than believing there is nothing after death. Finally, it is very comforting to believe that the most powerful force in the universe is personally involved in one’s life. What are facts and evidence compared to that?”

      What is wrong with a sense of comfort and community, a sense of certainty, and mutual appreciation of one another? It should be comforting to know Something is out there and that we will live forever. It should be unbelievably wonderful to know that the most powerful force in the universe is on our side! Dr. Bart, he started it! I’m not trying to preach! I am agreeing with him. His argument isn’t against those things, per se, if I understand him. He believes that those who hold those ideas to be true, do so only because it feels so good. He implies none of those kinds of things is true, therefore, one sacrifices truth for warm fuzzies. I imagine some do that. But even “the book” that makes those claims, also commands his followers to love this force with all their minds, too.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  November 3, 2014

      “For many, disbelief is a much different process which starts with certain assumptions/truths and all new evidence has to be molded to fit those assumptions/truths.” ?

  10. Avatar
    natashka  June 2, 2014

    Beautiful post. And so true.

    I’ve often wondered; do any of your family or old friends ever read your books/blog or attend your lectures? If so, hasn’t at least one ever been inspired to break their minds out of captivity?
    Are the youngins’ in the family–hope for the new generation–allowed to read Uncle Bart’s books, or are they banned like heretical scripture?

    I’m also wondering….what kind of fish did Mom catch?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 2, 2014

      Yes, my family members have read some of my books, and my mom has heard me lecture a number of times. But none has been persuaded yet! (Although some of my relatives are now agnostics. I don’t think I had anything to do with it).

      Trout!!

  11. Avatar
    JBSeth1  June 2, 2014

    HI Bart,

    I understand where you are coming from and I too, often find it surprising that it seem people are willing to challenge almost any and all aspects of life except for their own personal religious beliefs.

    However, I believe there is much more involved here than just an intellectual exercise of changing personal religious beliefs. If someone was willing to do this, then they would have to be willing to face the following potential consequences.

    For some, the fear of God’s retribution, if, in fact, they were wrong. The issue of loneliness and the potential loss of church family, church friends and church support, once they changed their beliefs. The concern about not knowing what to believe in and how to determine what is right and wrong, once they changed their beliefs.

    Given all this, I suspect, that for some people at least, the tradeoff here just isn’t worth it and as a result, they opt to continue to stick with their 16 year old beliefs.

    Would you agree?

    John

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 2, 2014

      In a lot of cases, I agree!

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 24, 2014

      “I understand where you are coming from and I too, often find it surprising that it seem people are willing to challenge almost any and all aspects of life except for their own personal religious beliefs.” JBSeth1

      Can you explain why it is that you believe some people are unwilling to challenge their own personal religious beliefs? How did you reach that conclusion?

      • Avatar
        prestonp  August 29, 2014

        What we find on this blog is essentially limitless criticism of all things “religious”. Which is fine, if that was the stated purpose of the blog. If so, go for it. By all means. What seems beneath Dr. Bart’s integrity is the hypocrisy. Extra care is taken to weed out comments that some might consider “devotional” in nature, when the deluge of negative comments about christians, christianity, the church, religion, the writers of the n.t. drown almost every page. If the topic is “historical, textual criticism”, and that is my understanding, it is disappointing indeed to see the vast majority of commenters criticizing the list above, and other posters with differing points of view, not the “textual” kind. Apparently, tell me if I’m wrong, unless one trashes christianity, that person really cannot be educated, cultured, intelligent, well-read, scholarly, open-minded, interested in truth, etc. “Believe as we do”, the message is clear, or “you are worthless”. Many here have seemingly “evolved” into the very essence of the people they so despise: those religious fundamentalists, the radical, know-it-all, self righteous and utterly repulsive boobs.

        I might add, I wouldn’t defend “the church” they detest, either. Yet, the fact is, there are millions of good, honest, intelligent, hard working, educated, loving, compassionate, dedicated followers of his around the world, who don’t grab headlines or make the news. I shouldn’t have to remind anyone. I am most disappointed that. Dr. Bart is exceptional, a genius and a good guy, and I fear the balance of the content of this blog has become something other than what truly represents what he is about, who he is.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 30, 2014

          I’m afraid I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t know of limitless criticism of religion on this blog — certainly not by me. As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m not opposed to religion, only to certain kinds of fundamentalism. If anyone feels their religoin is under attack, I don’t think their feelings are well placed — unless they are themselves hold to a fundamentalist form of religion (Islam/Christianity/whatever).

          As to weeding out your devotional comments, you probably know that there are over 3000 people on this blog, and of all of them you have had more comments posted over the past month than anyone! But I would prefer that you stick to historical issues rather than using comments to profess your religious faith.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  August 30, 2014

            As happens too often, I said what I didn’t mean and meant what I didn’t say. You are not the one criticizing. Not at all. You are extraordinarily fair in your comments to all sides.

        • Avatar
          shakespeare66  August 31, 2014

          I really do think you are misreading what people are saying. No one is attacking religion and no one is here to denigrate the church. We are just trying to educate ourselves about early Christianity.

  12. Avatar
    hwl  June 2, 2014

    I often puzzle over the same issue. Of course, very few of these Christians you are referring would see themselves checking their intelligence at the door when it comes to matters of religious faith. It is a truism that the moment someone thinks his religious worldview is stupid or crazy, he would promptly stop believing in it. Religious people do what they think makes sense to them. I think in some Christian circles, the idea that one needs a child-like faith encourages an infantile religious worldview. Some charismatic circles emphasise heavily on personal religious experience as vindication of their religious worldview, and this can discourage a thoughtful and critical self-examination of their belief system.

    Although church life is not and is never meant to be like academia, the disconnection between teachings provided in sermons and Bible studies groups on one hand, and biblical scholarship on the other, contributes to very naive attitudes to the Bible, hence naive theology. The issue isn’t about lack of intelligence, as you noted. It is just that the laity is not exposed to discoveries in scholarship that are the result of cumulative efforts over generations by full-time scholars. The attitude towards the Bible among fundamentalists would have been the position of many of society’s elite and intelligentsia for centuries in the pre-modern era. For Protestant fundamentalism, the biggest problem is an attitude towards the Bible that is out of touch with scholarship. For Catholic conservatives, other factors are at work besides attitude towards the Bible.

    The life of a church community can stifle critical thinking – when the hundreds of people from all walks of life you met and converse with in a church think like yourself, believe the same things, you have no reason to suspect your perspective is in any way defective or naive. Church life can do much social good, by providing mutual support and sense of community, but the downside is it generates powerful psychological and sociological pressures in reinforcing a narrow worldview.

    Then there are organisations staffed by smooth-talking fundamentalists, actively promoting scientific falsehoods e.g. creationist organisations.

    I am not sure American religious life would be for the better if more lay Christians attempt to engage with rational arguments – if this means imitating apologists the likes of James White, Dinesh D’Souza. They will end up being argumentative and promoting a vocal fundamentalist form of religion.

    Between different Christian circles, there are polarised conceptions of “faith” – some view it as belief despite the evidence or despite the lack of evidence (the stronger the evidence against belief, the deeper faith needs to be), while others (particularly the vocal Christian apologists) insist faith is to believe based on evidence.

    It would be interesting to examine the attitudes of people of non-Christian religions, to see whether there is a perception from the secular academic world that religious people tend to be rather intellectually naive when it comes to religious matters, despite their professional achievements in other fields of life.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 24, 2014

      “I think in some Christian circles, the idea that one needs a child-like faith encourages an infantile religious worldview. Some charismatic circles emphasise heavily on personal religious experience as vindication of their religious worldview, and this can discourage a thoughtful and critical self-examination of their belief system.”

      Would you clarify what an, “infantile religious worldview” is?

      • Avatar
        hwl  August 25, 2014

        prestonp: Email me on honwai.lai@gmail.com for a response to your question. Hon Wai

        prestonp August 24, 2014

        “I think in some Christian circles, the idea that one needs a child-like faith encourages an infantile religious worldview. Some charismatic circles emphasise heavily on personal religious experience as vindication of their religious worldview, and this can discourage a thoughtful and critical self-examination of their belief system.”

        Would you clarify what an, “infantile religious worldview” is?

      • Avatar
        shakespeare66  August 26, 2014

        It appears to be the one you are holding.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 24, 2014

      “The life of a church community can stifle critical thinking – when the hundreds of people from all walks of life you met and converse with in a church think like yourself, believe the same things, you have no reason to suspect your perspective is in any way defective or naive. Church life can do much social good, by providing mutual support and sense of community, but the downside is it generates powerful psychological and sociological pressures in reinforcing a narrow worldview.

      Then there are organisations staffed by smooth-talking fundamentalists, actively promoting scientific falsehoods e.g. creationist organisations.” hwl

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 25, 2014

      “Some charismatic circles emphasise heavily on personal religious experience as vindication of their religious worldview, and this can discourage a thoughtful and critical self-examination of their belief system.”

      How do you know they use personal religious experience as vindication for their religious worldview? How do you know what discourages thoughtful and critical self-examination of their belief system?

  13. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  June 2, 2014

    Dear Bart,

    Thank you for sharing this with us. (And it’s good to hear your mom is still fishing!)

    As a bit of an outsider to the whole Christian experience, and I mean no disrespect, but it All seems a little juvenile, including the views of the extremely bright and deep and articulate and scholarly Rowan Williams, whose lectures online I’ve listened to a number of times. And I’m just thinking of his talks on the resurrection at the moment, but I just remember thinking at the time, “how can such an extraordinarily intellectually gifted man really believe what he saying”?

    I had similar thoughts as that last one when I was 16 too. But, that did not stop me from trying to get through my depression as a 19 year old sophomore at Michigan State University, by finally taking the medicine suggested by the friendly evangelists in my dorm, the same you took: pray for Jesus to enter my heart. I laid in my bunk, cleared my head of disbelief, repeated the mantra for a long time and with real sincerity, and then had an extraordinary out of body experience! (Well, it seemed extraordinary at the time.)

    I reported the results to the nice Christian guy, and he said yes, that’s it, that’s God, or Jesus. I said okay, if you say so, but, hmmmm, I don’t really know. He said now pray for forgiveness of my sins. Then I got stuck because I couldn’t understand what he meant, or his explanation, though I think I tried it a couple of times, but without “results”. So, there ended my dalliance with Christianity.

    If you feel it is not inappropriate, would you someday share with us what it meant or felt like for you to have Jesus in your heart when you were 16? Thank you, Tracy

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 2, 2014

      For me, at the time, it felt like an enormous relief, a lifting of burden, a sense of connecting with the universe in a way I never had before. Very powerful!

      • TracyCramer
        TracyCramer  June 3, 2014

        Very cool! (And I don’t mean that to sound trivializing.) So now I have to ask, to *what* do you attribute that experience now? (Now that you are agnostic/atheist). If you don’t mind my asking…

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2014

          I think most internal experiences and sensations are driven by psychological needs, sometimes deep ones.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  August 24, 2014

            TracyCramer June 3, 2014

            Very cool! (And I don’t mean that to sound trivializing.) So now I have to ask, to *what* do you attribute that experience now? (Now that you are agnostic/atheist). If you don’t mind my asking…

            “I think most internal experiences and sensations are driven by psychological needs, sometimes deep ones.” Dr. Bart.

            As a result of our psychological needs, sometimes deep ones, are we better off ignoring them than to succumb to a “religious experience” to meet those needs? Are those needs to be ignored? Are they unhealthy? Do they leave us vulnerable to self-deception or self-destructive and harmful behavior? Is “religion” a substitute for addressing those needs in a mature fashion?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 25, 2014

            No, I’m not saying that one should go in a direction other than the one they feel deeply drawn to take. But they should question where they are going, all the time. You don’t want to step into a rut. Or a cliff.

          • Avatar
            prestonp  August 25, 2014

            “No, I’m not saying that one should go in a direction other than the one they feel deeply drawn to take. But they should question where they are going, all the time. You don’t want to step into a rut. Or a cliff.” Dr. Bart

            In your case you fell in love and so did those who met him because of this love. So, it seems that your deep needs were more than satisfied with the internal experiences of god, far from being injured by stepping into a rut?

  14. Avatar
    jmorgan  June 2, 2014

    Fascinating post.
    The good news is that conservative evangelical’s influence and numbers are declining. Molly Worthen, also of UNC, just wrote an interesting article on it:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/01/did-the-southern-baptist-conservative-resurgence-fail.html

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 2, 2014

      Interesting article! Thanks!

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 25, 2014

      Not in china.

      If christianity disappeared from the face of the earth today, the message of its god remains in print and others can find and follow him. Remember, almost no one followed him at first. He was a nobody, a nothing. No money, no political power, no status, no degreed education, no military power, no written communications, and he was murdered. From that origin he has become the most influential person in history.

  15. Avatar
    doug  June 2, 2014

    I went from being a Christian to being a Biblical literalist Christian when I was 16. That was what I had been told “good people” were. Fortunately, I saw that there were good, caring people who were not Biblical literalists, and so I did not cling to my religious conservatism. I’ve long since been a secular humanist. Perhaps the most convincing argument for humanism is to be caring to other people. Thanks for your good post and for your good blog, Bart.

  16. Avatar
    drdavid600  June 2, 2014

    Whether it’s fear of hell or desire for a supernatural love and truth to be in charge of the universe, the most sophisticated Christians I’ve known stand on an idea that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The idea of hell rests on a lack of love or a justice that exceeds love and isn’t all that just. The universe is full of suffering, not all of which is building character.

    It’s like people whose knowledge of economics begins and ends with the gold standard. If one’s beliefs regarding an entire section of life are based on a childish oversimplification, one will never grow beyond that. One will remain vulnerable to whatever silliness one’s peer group is pushing, like climate change denial.

    I’m not sure how the best expert in human behavior would see this, but it seems like a fundamental trap for the human mind, to be stuck in childish simplicity at the core of one’s beliefs, rejecting any knowledge that would free one from such childishness.

    • Avatar
      prestonp  August 25, 2014

      “…the most sophisticated Christians I’ve known stand on an idea that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.”

      Because they believe in the idea of hell. I believed in hell before I heard the gospel.

      “The idea of hell rests on a lack of love or a justice that exceeds love and isn’t all that just.”

      What does holy mean?

    • Avatar
      prestonp  October 13, 2014

      “I’m not sure how the best expert in human behavior would see this, but it seems like a fundamental trap for the human mind, to be stuck in childish simplicity at the core of one’s beliefs, rejecting any knowledge that would free one from such childishness.”

      It is a fundamental trap to believe that what’s most important in life necessarily must be complex.

  17. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 2, 2014

    Hmm. I remember that when I was a *child*, I understood perfectly well why children went to church on Sunday: because adults were forcing us to. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why *adults* went to church, when *no one* was forcing them!

    But…yep, I was 16 when that priest gave our senior class (I was the youngest) “reasons” for accepting the doctrines, and I was briefly convinced. It was all intellectual, though. I still find it hard to understand people’s either embracing a religion, or rejecting it, for emotional reasons, and thinking that’s somehow *better* than relying on one’s intellect. In what other area of life would they think *that* was desirable?

    Say, I’m delighted your mother is still enjoying those fishing trips! I hope you’ll share many more.

    Makes me think…the new Catholic bishop was recently installed here. He’s 65, and both his parents were able to attend the ceremonies. Wonderful.

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    RyanBrown  June 2, 2014

    Perhaps one of the biggest reasons people remain at a 16 year-old level in religion, is that they have never actually read the entire Bible.

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      prestonp  August 26, 2014

      “Perhaps” reading the entire bible inspired many to become devout, well-informed christians. Apparently, some are attached to a profound misconception: that if a person questions her faith, if she challenges her own thinking process, if she looks carefully at the world, she will choose not to follow Christ.

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    gsteidley  June 2, 2014

    I don’t know if you really want comment… or ….if you were just venting. In either case, here’s my two cents…
    Many people probably have the religious sophistication of a 16 year old for the same reasons they have the math, English and science skills of a 16 year old. Lack of aptitude, interest and/or need. What they know is all they need for their field and they just don’t have interest or ability to go further. Also, prejudices and beliefs acquired in childhood are probably some of the most difficult to overcome since they become almost “hardwired” into the brain during those developmental years.
    …. and now my venting…
    My frustration is the general attitude towards “faith”, that it is something one can just choose to have. I went to Catholic schools up until my senior year of high school. The nuns taught me that the definition of faith was “the acceptance of something as true without proof”. I have come to the opinion that saying or acting like one believes something or just choosing to believe something does not mean that down deep inside one really believes it. It’s not ones fault if one doesn’t believe something that can’t be proved. I am frustrated by those individuals that treat people of different (or no) belief with contempt and try to force their belief system on them.

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      Janeewoo  July 13, 2014

      I AGREE!!!! We have brains/intelligence for a reason. We learn how to use our minds to make smart choices, to analyze data and determine the best course for ourselves. My grandfather, who passed away in the early 80’s, did not believe that we ever but a person on the moon. He saw it on TV, read about it in the paper, all his family believed it, but he did not. But he believed every word in the Bible, verbatim. I adored my Grandpa – i’m sitting in front of a photo of him now – and would never do or say anything to demean his memory. But he lived and believed based on a whole different knowledge base than we have today. I can understand him falling under the sway of the Good Book. I cannot understand my coworkers, who are in their 30’s and 40’s, falling for it. And the regularly tell me that, while i’m the nicest person they know, i’m going to Hell for not believing too. I say, “and how does that make you feel about your God, that he would send a perfectly nice normal person to Hell just for not believing his unbelievable story?” and they are fine with it… whatever… i can’t make myself believe it, and i’ve finally come to peace with that.

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        prestonp  August 25, 2014

        “We have brains/intelligence for a reason. We learn how to use our minds to make smart choices, to analyze data and determine the best course for ourselves.”

        You refuse to demean Grandpa’s memory, but he believed like your coworkers do and they believe in hell for the nicest people.

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      prestonp  October 13, 2014

      “The nuns taught me that the definition of faith was “the acceptance of something as true without proof”.”

      Where did you go to catholic school? That isn’t the definition of faith taught by anyone I know.

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    silvertime  June 2, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman: I have thought about this issue a lot, and I assume that the religious thoughts and traditions in your area of Kansas and North Carolina are similar to that of southern Kentucky. I think, in the case of religion, the concepts of ” the preacher says it’, and “I was raised that way” are anchors in their lives that give them a sense of comfort and security. Bacause it is religion, and their concept of it comes from the Bible which was written thousands of years previously, nothing else(scholarship, discoveries, or critical thinking) since then can make any difference in their understanding. If they allowed any modification to their anchor beliefs, it would tend to undercut their beliefs. For many, religion is unique in human understanding, in that it is absolute and does not allow scholarship or critical thinking

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      prestonp  August 25, 2014

      “For many, religion is unique in human understanding, in that it is absolute and does not allow scholarship or critical thinking.”

      How many, would you estimate, are religious and embrace scholarship and critical thinking?
      3? 6? 19?

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      prestonp  October 13, 2014

      “Bacause it is religion, and their concept of it comes from the Bible which was written thousands of years previously, nothing else(scholarship, discoveries, or critical thinking) since then can make any difference in their understanding. If they allowed any modification to their anchor beliefs, it would tend to undercut their beliefs. For many, religion is unique in human understanding, in that it is absolute and does not allow scholarship or critical thinking”

      Religion doesn’t allow scholarship? Provide examples where christianity rejects scholarship, please

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