When I first ‘met’ Ben Corey I burned him pretty hard.
I mean, another Christian blogger on Patheos talking about the meaning and purpose found in a life with Jesus Christ? How could I not?
It was the usual “wow, your theology is really convenient to your personal set of ethics; wow, you conveniently cherry-pick the Bible; wow, you like the Pope because you have no idea what it’s actually like to live somewhere that is directly influenced by the Catholic Church,” sort of thing.
You know that atheist who knows a lot, but unfortunately knows that he knows a lot, and is highly skilled at provoking difficult conversations with theists who weren’t looking for a fight? That was me.
Sorry, Mr. Corey.
We’ve gotten to know each other a bit better over the last few months, mainly because Mr. Corey refused to accept that he was my enemy and consistently reached out by insisting that we could be friends. It’s been both an unexpected and positive experience for me.
So, to repay Ben Corey for his friendship, I’m going to use him in a blog post meant to criticise Christian theology.
You’re welcome Mr. Corey. I know I owe you a beer.
One thing Ben and I haven’t been able to do yet, considering that we’ve never actually met face-to-face, is have a real one-on-one debate. It’ll probably happen sometime in the years to come. But when I initially challenged him on his own blog, I was thrown off because his theology wasn’t something I’m familiar with. I have a passing knowledge of Anabaptism, which is how Ben loosely identifies, but not enough to know the hermeneutics or apologetics that Ben utilises to defend his faith.
Which is a huge problem when an atheist challenges (or is challenged by) a Christian in the public forum. We have to do this sort of ritual mating dance to figure out what species they are and what language they speak.
There are an estimated 40,000 Christian denominations in existence. 40,000 ways to interpret one book. Never mind all the additional religious texts and treatises like the Apocrypha and the Book of Concord that some Christians take as doctrine and others don’t.
When atheists debate each other in matters of science, you can be reasonably assured that they’re going to be following a strict set of rules. They’re going to adhere to the scientific method, they’re going to try to avoid logical fallacies, and if they don’t they can be held accountable and their argument is weakened. There is no such advantage with Christians. When Christians challenge our arguments we have no idea what parts of the Bible we can use to refute them because we don’t know what they take seriously or literally and what they dismiss as allegorical or of less importance.
Which is why I’d rather debate Ken Ham then Ben Corey.
One of the first articles I challenged Mr. Corey was one in which he asked whether certain parts of the Bible were literal or metaphorical and if the question even mattered. One of the arguments he asserted was that the Book of Exodus, whether literal or not, is a strong statement on the evils of slavery. When I pointed out that there are verses in the very next book of Leviticus that are very pro-slavery, his answer basically said that there are certain parts of the Bible that can only be understood through the lens of Jesus, and that if it went against the message of Jesus than it doesn’t literally mean what it says.
Which was frustrating, to say the least.
Essentially, I feel unable to use the Bible to defend my own atheistic stance because I will always be accused of not taking it in the right context. Almost every Christian will assert that the passages of the Bible need to be viewed with the right system of hermeneutics, the right apologetics, the correct translation. And if you don’t use all the correct systems, then you loose the true meaning.
Which translates into “Of the 40,000 possible meanings behind this verse, you haven’t chosen mine.”
So when I bring up the more violent parts of the Bible, the parts that directly contrast his own anti-violence worldview, I’m not viewing it through the right lens. When I challenge a blogger like Mark Daoust on how the Canaanite genocide matches the idea of a loving God, I’m told that the Book of Joshua is to be taken as a literary epic that shows the just nature of God and not a historical record. Whatever that means. The literal 6-day creation, Noah’s Ark, Jonah, the Plagues of Egypt, they’re literary, allegorical, parables.
But the literal death and resurrection of Jesus, his miracles, his divinity, those are absolutely true and literal and must be taken on faith.
Head. Pounding. Desk.
Now over to Ken Ham, who I’m sure you’re all familiar with after his highly publicised debate with Bill Nye. Ham, one of the leaders of the Answers in Genesis movement and the founder of the Creation museum, is a Biblical literalist. He takes all of the Bible to mean exactly what it says. Creation, Flood, Exodus, crucifixion etc.
I think Ham’s beliefs are ridiculous bordering on dangerous, but at least I know what the rules are. At least I can be confident that when I bring up an incident in the Bible he’s not going to interrupt and say “Now you need to understand, that may not have actually literally happened.” Ham may be borderline delusional, but at least he’s honest. He’s trying to sell a collection of ancient texts as the literal Word of God. And he’s adamant that it’s all the literal Word of God, not just this part and that part and maybe this bit right here. He’s drawn the line in the sand. All or none. Ken Ham at least has enough respect for his intellectual opponents to not expect us to have to use guess work to figure out his theological standards.
So if I, for example, bring up the Canaanite genocide, I already know that Ham views the account exactly how the Bible portrays it. As a literal event condoned and commanded by God. No guesswork on my part as to how allegorical I’m supposed to take it.
Christians like Ham claim that if you reject the inerrancy and literacy of one part of the Bible, you can do the same to the rest. I agree. And I do. Christians like Ben Corey claim that you can dismiss the literal meaning and sometimes even the importance of certain parts of the Bible but not others. Because…well, I don’t really know. That’s the point. And everyone but a literalist is going to have a different answer.
See why I find Ken Ham to be strangely refreshing?
I know Mr. Corey better than I ever will Ken Ham, but I know so much more about Ham’s beliefs than Corey’s. I know Mr. Corey believes in the literal death and resurrection of Jesus. I’m pretty certain he accepts the divinity of Jesus. He says he’s accepts the Theory of Evolution but I don’t know if that applies to human beings. I don’t know if he believes in Adam and Eve or what that means for the doctrine of original sin. I have no idea what his beliefs are concerning hell. For that matter, I don’t know if he believes that I’ll be in hell.
With Ken Ham, I do. I may not like it, but at least I know. I can engage. I can stand on a level playing field.
So, to my Christian readers, this is what I’m asking of you. Stop saying that atheists don’t understand the Bible. Be honest with us and say that we don’t accept the interpretation you choose to work with.
Pictures found at answersingenesis.com and formerlyfundie.com