I See Your Expectations and Raise You an Open Mind

I See Your Expectations and Raise You an Open Mind

Ben, who writes as The Militant Christian, has written a response—one of many to come—to my post about biblical absurdities, and I rather appreciate that. Saying that believers shouldn’t be afraid of listening to atheists, he’s kindly encouraged his readers to read and respond to my work too. I’d call that a win. Please see his response here: God at the Helm?

Despite rocky beginnings, Ben and I have actually had some pleasant correspondence. Nice guy, wouldn’t mind having a beer with the fellow.

In his first response, Ben tackles the part of my introduction that is essentially my case for literalism; he specifically takes on my expectation that the Bible ought to be unambiguous and straightforward to understand.

Refreshingly, his refutation doesn’t attempt to argue that God’s word is in fact unambiguous and easy to understand. No, Ben is a rare Christian in that he concedes—in this context—that the Bible is far from perfect, even contradictory. It’s my expectation itself, he says, that’s misplaced.

A summary of Ben’s view, as far as I understand it, is this:

God is not afraid of humans’ interpretation of him; he allows individuals to interpret who he is freely, even if their views are inaccurate.

Humans have been making interpretations of God since well before Christianity.

All the authors of the Bible had their own not-quite-perfect interpretations of God, which truly makes the Bible a product of its time, gives it longevity, and explains the inaccuracies and contradictions.

Given that the biblical texts are “imperfect” interpretations written in antiquity, a literal reading hardly makes sense.

This “imperfect” Bible is exactly how God wants it to be.

A “perfect” irrefutable-proof type Bible would negate the need for faith, which I think Ben thinks would detract from the whole experience.

Finally, Ben questions whether we would just “accept, submit and follow” God, if we truly knew that he exists and that he “commands us to live a specific type of life.” I get the feeling that Ben believes that such a world would be a type of dystopia where free-thinking is threatened as well as “responding to God’s presence”.

Now, it’s easy to create a straw man of someone’s position, but I don’t think I misrepresented Ben’s views; it’s certainly not my intention to do so.

Ben, please set me to rights if need be.

In my post about biblical absurdities I declare and motivate my expectation that the Bible ought to be unambiguous and straightforward to understand. But what if my expectation is wrong? After all, what we find isn’t always what we expect.

Ben pointedly asks me, “Are you open-minded enough to consider a different perspective?”

Now, let’s be honest. It’s unlikely that Ben will change my perspective or that I will change his. I have my biases and I’m quite convinced that my perspective is justified on account of reason. Our readers are likewise unlikely to change their view based on our amateur musings. But I figure that there’s a reasonable possibility that I will learn something that has a fighting chance to refine my own position.

That’s not to say that I’m unwilling to change my perspective. I am a sceptic, meaning that I think my beliefs ought to be proportionate to supporting evidence. I value critical thinking and the scientific method, and I take to heart Matt Dillahunty’s maxim: I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. None of these things that I identify with and find so laudable are worth their salt if I’m not willing to admit when I’m shown to be wrong and to change my opinion accordingly.

But having an open mind doesn’t mean accepting things on bad evidence. I think Tim Minchin says it best:

But I’m being disingenuous. Ben didn’t ask if I’m open-minded enough to change my perspective. His question is rather if I would consider his perspective. Of course, I would. And I think I have, at least in part.

Regardless of perspective, the central theme of the Bible is this:

  • We need salvation
  • God can grant salvation
  • God desires salvation for all of us

Another important theme is this:

  • God cares for our well-being
  • God desires a relationship with all of us

Now, let’s assume the following:

  • God exists
  • God is both good and powerful
  • God has given us a book to help us find salvation and guide our lives
  • Not all humans will gain salvation.

I think Christians generally accept these points as true, and I think they are reasonable conclusions for a believer to have reached after reading the Bible, no matter what perspective the reader subscribes to.

Ben, do you believe the above nine points are in fact true? If not, please elaborate. Also, what do you believe is required (if anything) for salvation?

It follows from the above points that the Bible ought to be unambiguous and straightforward to understand. If the Bible is not…well, something’s gotta give.

Now, is it possible for the Bible to be a collection of not-quite-perfect interpretations by flawed and ignorant humans which requires “sophisticated” reading to truly understand and benefit from its message? Sure it is. In fact, I personally believe that that is what the Bible is more or less. And in this view, I’m happy to accept that a purely literalistic reading is a limiting perspective. However, this view is dependant on an atheistic worldview.

If you throw God into the mix, everything changes. A “sophisticated” Bible then makes the book indistinguishable from any other holy book and it undermines God’s desire for the well-being and salvation of as many people as possible. It’s the consequence of confusion that makes me I reject the view that Ben wants me to consider under a theistic worldview.

Ben values faith and I think he thinks that knowing God exists without a shadow of a doubt would detract from the relationship that we might have with God as well as the life that we may lead. I don’t share his concern. I think that faith is poison (see OWIRAA {D}: Faith) and that belief informed by knowledge trumps belief in spite of doubt. Also, I’d have to say that knowing my wife exists has improved our relationship remarkably.

Finally, I’d like to quickly respond to two more things that Ben said:

Again, for the sake of assumption, I hope we can agree there is no doubt if there is a god this god allows people to perceive the presence of god/gods on their own terms and understanding.  Proof? Jaco has his view. I have my own. You have yours.

I just want to note that by this reasoning, Ben can likewise prove that unicorns allow people to perceive the presence of unicorns on their own terms and understanding…

How can we undo our expectations to be open-minded enough to read, study and think without the preconceived answers already floating around in our minds?  How can we abandon our own prejudices long enough to consider something new instead of seeking to validate what we “know” as truth?

That is the aim of scepticism and critical thinking.

That’s it for now. I’m keen to see the rest of Ben’s response.




5 responses »

  1. Pingback: An Open Mind…and an Open Heart | themilitantchristian

  2. Pingback: My Article Read (5-1-2016) – My Daily Musing

  3. Pingback: An Open Mind and an Open Heart Part 2 | themilitantchristian

  4. Pingback: That’s One Way to View It | Amber Restorative's

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