Friday, June 27, 2008

This Leopard Can’t change its Spots

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.


  1. Dagoods

    "I’m not good at the “feelings” bit"

    Dont kid yourself, youre good at the "feelings bit", there just not the mushy type of feelings.

    I believe the reason people need to attach "feelings" to what they are studying or talking about, is the "need" for community or connection. And the fastest way to see if youre on the same page is to see how you feel about what someone is saying.

  2. I would suggest that a leopard can't change its spots because it's a leopard. The apostle Paul could be your example of a powerful leader who left the flock and became a powerful leader of the opposing flock. He is the Paul who also wrote "I want women to dress modestly....I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man." While I note Paul's call for females to be modest, I don't have to follow his instruction.

    One common thread of "de-converts" is that they pick an interpretation that presents the Bible in the worst possible light, while ignoring the others. You classify other interpretations that might unravel your own summation as cases of "I feel". It seems you didn't read the Bible with a great deal of humility before your de-conversion, and you don't read it with much humility now.

    I could be wrong about that in your case but I just had a fascinating encounter with a man who "knows" all about what the Bible says that I thought I'd share with you. He was out tour guide in a local Creation museum. He sincerely believes that the earth is 6,000 years old because the Bible says so. He started out with "We believe.." and then transferred to "We know.." [probably after observing the look on my face]; his ideas were so goofy and incongruous I found myself pitying him rather than fighting with him [as well as suppressing a laugh here and there]. Yup, he "knows" what the Bible says.

    We have been given the ability to know things, but we must be certain of what we know and pass over what we don't know in silence. That was a spot that I had before becoming a Christian that has helped me grow in my understanding of the Bible.

  3. One common thread of "de-converts" is that they pick an interpretation that presents the Bible in the worst possible light, while ignoring the other.

    One common thread of "Christians" is that they pick an interpretation that presents the Bible in the best possible light, while ignoring the other.

    Nobody is required to make the other side's case for them. The difference is that we don't actually believe the bible to be the inspired word of dog. Christians say that the bible is the ultimate authority on morality and that we should follow what it says. We're just investigating that claim and finding out that despite the good parts of the bible, it is, frankly, morally repugnant in many instances.

  4. Dank, No, they ignore the best interpretation and highlight the worst.

  5. Jim Jordan,

    Guess I never considered humility or the lack thereof as part of the equation. As a Christian I was concerned with getting it right—doing the best we can with what we have to determine what God was attempting to communicate. As a non-believer, I am interested in trying to determine as best we can what the author was attempting to communicate by looking at factors such as when it was written, by whom, to whom, and for what purpose.

    Jim Jordan: One common thread of "de-converts" is that they pick an interpretation that presents the Bible in the worst possible light, while ignoring the others.

    But is that really a surprise you view it this way? Isn’t the fact we present an argument as to what the authors were saying solely from a human standpoint, “the worst possible light” to those who hold to a God involved in the authorship?

  6. Dagoods,

    DC seems so long ago.

    I think we have pretty much arrived that the same viewpoint about the bible. It's the writings of people trying to figure life out. As such, it contains the good the bad and the ugly. There is one verse that has come to mean something new to me since my de-conversion:
    "the word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword... and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents...."

    There's pretty much something for everyone in the bible. If you're into genocide, it's in there. Into dieting? It's in there too. There's even a bit of porn. What people choose to believe, follow, in the bible is a "discerner" of who they are. Religion can be a way for the leopard to justify his spots vs. change them.

    I think it can be argued that religions represent some of the most successful memes around. A meme is all about survival, preserving the spots, not changing them.