(Attempts at) "Faith seeking understanding."

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Where I stand on Christianity

Although I was raised as a Catholic, I became an atheist some years ago and gradually drifted towards agnosticism. I have to say that, while I am an agnostic, I find it to be an uncomfortable position. For I think that the question of whether or not God exists, and the further question of whether or not Christianity is true—or, perhaps it would be better to say, how true Christianity is—are of great importance, and although I can’t yet come to a conclusion about what the answers are, I would very much like to. I’ve thought seriously about returning to Christianity (although don’t think I could accept Catholicism, one reason being its insistence on Biblical inerrancy), but there are certain problems I have that, for now, prevent me from doing so.
The main problems I have concern the Bible. First, it seems to me that while there are a lot of good moral teachings or values expressed in the Bible, there are also a lot of bad ones. For example, in places the Bible sanctions slavery, genocide, the notion that women are inferior to men, and the punishment of people for things their ancestors did.

Then there are the many historical inaccuracies. It seems to be well established that there was no global flood, that there was either no Exodus or a very small one, that there was (thankfully) no conquest of Canaan, that the great empires of David and Solomon were neither empires nor very great, etc. It also seems that there are a number of books in the New Testament that claim to be written by people who probably didn’t write them.

I’m sure that a lot of Christians are familiar with these or similar claims, and I know that many of them accept a lot of these claims and still have faith. But they still trouble me.
Now, I don’t have any problem with rejecting the claim that the Bible is inerrant, or that there could be a development in people’s understanding of God throughout history. This would be compatible with the Bible’s having some errors here and there, especially about minor moral issues or historical details. Yet it seems to me that the Bible contains errors about serious moral issues and about historical events that are more or less essential to the Biblical narrative.

At this point the question arises: How much error is too much? Of course, it would be arbitrary to pick some specific number and say, for example, that if the Bible contains any more than 100 historical inaccuracies it can’t be either inspired or a foundation for doctrine, but that if it contains any less it still can. So I’m not looking for an answer like that.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that if a text which purports to be a divine revelation contains a large amount of errors about serious moral issues and fundamental historical claims, it is reasonable for one to not believe in it. For why would God allow such errors in His revelation?

Still, I could be wrong. So for those who both believe in the Bible and accept that it errs in many ways, my question is, how do you reconcile these errors with the Bible’s status as a revelation and its apparently intended role as a norm of faith?

See my friend Peter Krey's kind response here.