Much of Christianity here in the West has taken an interesting turn. Rather than being an experiential communion with Life Himself, it often takes one of two forms: a set of beliefs based on a particular interpretation of the Bible or a platform for social morality and progress. The drawbacks to the latter idea I have already written about here.
In regards to the former group, “being right” is of the utmost concern. In these circles, topics such as apologetics and “defending their faith” are popular. It makes sense though. For them, Christianity is a philosophical system comprised of particular beliefs and doctrine. Challenge those things, and their entire religion can potentially come crashing down. The more extreme folks in this group are often labeled as fundamentalists, which may or may not be an accurate label since that term is so widely thrown around these days for Christians who have conservative ideas.
The main disadvantage to this kind of belief system is that it is the biggest manufacturer of disbelief. Bart Ehrman is a prime example. Though he is agnostic, he was a former fundamentalist who eventually figured out that there are a number of contradictions in the Bible. When coupled with being unable to find a rational explanation for the suffering in the world, he could no longer adhere to the philosophical system labeled as Christianity. When one’s faith is literalistic sola scriptura, it is not unusual to find that the scriptures do not hold up well to modern trends in historical, scientific, and literary criticism.
I have seen people say that if Adam and Eve were not real, then they can’t believe anything in the Bible**. That is the danger we are faced with when our faith is based on a book and a belief system. We need something deeper. Something much deeper.
I am not surprised when I encounter people in Eastern Orthodoxy who say, “It was either atheism or Orthodoxy.” Many people have discovered, and continue to discover, that while man cannot live on bread alone, he also cannot live on a belief system or the Bible alone. While the Bible is often called the “Word of God,” it is a bit of a misnomer. The Word is Jesus himself. The Bible points us to Jesus, but it is no substitute for life in Christ.
I think there is a fear that gnaws at our subconsciousness. What if we are wrong about all of this? What if someone blows my faith to smithereens and I can no longer believe in God? Then what?
The point I wish to make is not to disparage the Bible as being useless, or even beliefs as being vain, but to encourage people to enter into communion with God. The entire purpose of the scriptures is to point us to an understanding of God so that we can develop communion with Him.
I have found just that communion with the Spirit through the disciplines, teachings, and way of life in Eastern Orthodoxy. There is a fullness here that I never knew before. And it is not that I have stopped having questions. I’m currently involved with a group that frequently “sits with the questions” of life and spirituality.
So, I am still asking questions. But I have found that they do not carry the emotional weight they once had. My boat no longer rocks violently when scholars attempt to disprove God or the Bible. I still care deeply, but I am ok with not knowing many of the answers. In Orthodoxy, I have learned to have a faith based upon communion with Christ and His mystical Body, the Church.
What do you think about having your beliefs challenged? Does it bother you to hear people discuss errors in the Bible? What would you do if you, like most early Christians, had no personal copy of the Bible, but could only get to know God through prayer and the teachings from Church? What would it change?
As noted in the comments below, I stand corrected regarding Bart Ehrman’s given reason for leaving Christianity. He states it is due to suffering in the world and not because of textual errors in the Bible.
**Also, when I wrote this some years ago I had more liberal leanings. Nowadays, I do believe that Adam and Eve were literal people. The age of the universe is still on the table for me, but there have been recent scientific discoveries that show the universe may be younger than we suspect (things like the horizon problem with cosmic microwave background radiation throw a wrench in scientific theories). Regardless, scientific ideas are in constant flux as new discoveries are made each year. When we begin interpreting the Bible through science (even things that are supposedly “facts” today), then we will have a theology that is changing with every new discovery and theory, which is not what Christianity has ever been.
7 thoughts on “Belief itself as the end”
I wish I had read this post years ago. It would have helped me a lot as I grappled with my own doubts and fears about scripture. You’re onto something, here! 😉
This right here is the recent catalyst which has led me into Orthodoxy. I have a long history of deep, personal experience with God, but among my Evangelical bretheran those experiences somehow didn’t “count” in a way, and I was a rarity, and so had no guidance and leadership concerning the mysticism I encountered without asking. So I packed up those experiences, put them on the shelf, and built myself a little house of mental beliefs and explanations which were welcome among the Christians I knew. A few months ago that house [of cards] came crashing down and I almost lost my faith entirely. Then I gathered the courage to enter into the Orthodox faith that has been calling me for the last couple of years and here I find an entire wealth of lives lived and things taught concerning all kinds of dimensions of Christian life and experience. I am most encouraged about the discovery of hesychastic prayer, which the Orthodox defended against the onslaught of Western “rationalism” and I give thanks to God that here is a tradition of responsible and careful exploration around the mystical experience of God. I felt that reality wash over me the first time I walked into a Divine Liturgy. It was like an oasis in this huge desert I had been traversing for years.
Oh and by the way, Evangelicals often sense the imbalance in their faith as I’ve heard some of them joke about the phenomena of “Father, Son, and Holy Bible” so common in Evangelical Christianity.
Thank you, Eliana, for sharing your journey. I’m excited to see God moving you closer to Him. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions along the way. I know I was full of them in the first several months of my journey.
Agreed. When you find out the Bible has errors and you thought it never did, it’s pretty insane. Bart Erhman left the faith over the problem of suffering, however. I haven’t read his book yet, but I’m always skeptical of how a historian will approach a uniquely philosophical debate.
I’ll have to look a bit more into Ehrman’s story. I’d heard he left Christianity over suffering as well as finding errors in the Bible. But I haven’t read any of his books either. I consider him to be a bit of a sensationalist who has figured out that he can obtain quite a bit of money and fame from his doubts.
Yes, he did figure that part out. I have read him…forget the names Misquoting Jesus, maybe? and another. Anyways, I’d trust him ore as a historian than a philosopher. But I did find that he largely did not back up his sources. For example, he claims that the passage in Corinthians where women are to remain silent is not in the original manuscripts and gives us doubt to believe that it is original. That maybe so. But as one who studied four semesters of Greek in college and who has a Greek Bible and who did compared to other Greek manscripts, not one of my Bible does’t include that passage. Compare this to Ephesians 5 where a woman is told to submit to her husband. The word submit is NOT in all of our Bibles. Most modern scholars agree that it was added to that passage.
So my question to Erhman is where did you get the idea that “be quiet” in the church isn’t there? I wouldn’t say he was wrong. I want to know why he came to that conclusion. He doesn’t really say.
But what makes Erhman’s books good is he really does explain the “contractions” well. He doesn’t try to give interpretations for them. But he shows them to us. It was refreshing to me.
Anyway, Erhman says numerous times that he didn’t leave the Bible because of problem passages in the Bible but because of suffering. But I think it’s often a slippery slope and perhaps he didn’t know what was happening.
I think the path away from God normally comes from a number of things, and never just one reason. It is possible that he, like others I have known, was coming to a faith crisis and the problem of suffering was that thing gnawing at the back of his mind that finally put the nail in the coffin for him.
It is understandable as anyone who pays attention to what is happening in the world will find an unbearable amount of pain.
I think we are to bear each others burdens, but beyond that, God does not give us strength. I think of Aslan telling one of the children in Narnia to essentially mind their own business when they inquire about what will happen to one of the other children. Jesus also does that to Peter when he asks about John near the end of John’s gospel. When we get wrapped up in all of the pain in the world, I think it has a tendency to crush us because we don’t have the emotional strength to handle it. I think we should instead focus on the suffering around us and do what we can to alleviate that.
That is too bad Mr. Ehrman doesn’t cite sources very well. It is hard for me to take someone like that very seriously if they come out with something that challenges a traditional interpretation of scripture. I am curious, if Ephesians 5 did not have the word “submit” in it, what did Paul say to the women (and men)?