We have often noted that people who change their theistic beliefs, even dramatically, don’t change. The basic personality stays the same. I am aware of one person who indicated in their testimony how, as a non-believer, they were a physical bully. After becoming a Christian, they no longer physically bullied people around.
But I noted the person was abrasive, condescending, venomous and verbally abusive toward any who disagreed with him, justifying it under the guise of treating others like Jesus treated the Pharisees. Did he change? Not really.
I know of a pastor who is no longer a Christian and now wants to “lead a flock” of non-believers. If you disagree with him, out come the same effective tools used as a pastor to get you to “toe the line.” Did they change? Not really.
In a moment of introspection I realize I haven’t changed much either.
See, as a Christian, I held the Bible in high regard. It would not be far from the truth to accuse me of being a “Biblian.” I figured it was our one sure-shot direction from God. I heard the testimonies and stories from people about how they felt with their feelings that God was “leading” them to do this or “calling” them to do that.
I know the tales of guys who “felt” God had a certain woman for them, and when that woman didn’t return the affection, it must be the woman’s fault. I watched people do some pretty selfish things; all under the firm conviction God was directing them through “inner thoughts.” Those of us outside the “inner thoughts” saw many of these rationalizations to be what they were—the person using God as an excuse to do what they wanted anyway.
I didn’t want to be such a person. I wanted to be as objective as possible. While it was possible God could communicate in visions, or feelings or urges, it was a certainty God communicated through the Bible. Relying on the Bible was safe. No fear of letting emotions or selfish desires sound like a god.
Needless to say, I studied the Bible. I cross-referenced the Bible. This was the one secure communication from God that I could say, “We may feel this way; but the Bible mandates this from God.”
Frankly, I believed some pretty different concepts as a Christian. I was not certain people who did not have the mental capacity to perform Rom. 10:9 were going to heaven. I couldn’t say with conviction, “Babies go to heaven.” Why? Because the Bible doesn’t say it! I hoped that a God of mercy would have at least the same amount of mercy as a human and would not commit such an injustice—but I didn’t know.
I was squeamish on the topic of abortion. Oh, there are plenty of arguments against abortion without needing to go to the Bible, but when people say, “God is against abortion” I became very, very silent. All the verses regarding God recognizing children in the womb are glorifying his knowledge. There is no specific verse saying “deliberate abortion is wrong.” Inferences and exegetical manhandling—yes. Specifics; no. Without those specifics, I thought it was better to be quiet than find out some day, in heaven, I was wrong.
Women preaching in church? Absolutely wrong. Paul came through for me on that one. That verse about women not wearing gold or pearls bothered me though. A lot. (1 Tim. 2:9) I tried to pass it off as “the intent was that women were to be modest,” but to be honest—that didn’t sit well with me. I kept my mouth shut and stewed on what God felt was important.
I couldn’t understand why God seemed so cavalier about slavery—so who was I to determine God might not get royally pissed off at a gold wedding band? Oh, the Bible allowed slavery. I didn’t postulate we bring it back, of course. But I didn’t say the Bible was against it either.
And now, on the other side of the fence, I find myself much the same.
I see these theistic debates in which analogies are used. The words, “I think God is…” or “I feel like God would…” and I feel the same pinch in my stomach as before. What is the basis the theist feels this way? Where are they coming up with this? I questioned it when I believed there was such a God—is it a surprise I question it even more?
And I see non-theists debate with the theists as to how the analogies don’t work, or use the Invisible Pink Unicorn, or Thor, and a war of words commences. I watch forums where it becomes: Cut. Paste. NITPICK, NITPICK, NITPICK.
What I don’t see are Christians who actually know their Bible. The same thing I saw as a Christian. On more than one occasion I have come in (with unwelcome sword flaming), demonstrated my “expertise” on the Bible, and both parties run off. They don’t want to discuss the creation, content or context of the Bible. They want to discuss, “I feel.” They want to discuss their perception of God.
I realize, in retrospect, this is exactly what I did as a Christian. Christians wanted Bible study to be, “Let’s read a verse and tell each other what we feel about it.” And I would point out the contradictions in other verses (the genesis of my deconversion, only I didn’t know at the time) and ask how they reconciled these conflicts. They, too, ran off. It was not what they wanted to discuss.
I’m not good at the “feelings” bit. Mystics drive me right off a cliff. (Is that a surprise? I think not.) “Touchy-feely” thoughts about God (or the responses thereto)—I am not good at.
Do you know why leopards don’t change their spots? Because they like the spots they have on! They have no reason, no desire, and no ability to change them anyway. I wish I could be a little less abrasive. Maybe less dogmatic on the lack of knowledge regarding the Bible. Yet every time I try to do so, I become extremely uncomfortable.
Like a naked leopard.