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What if Atheists Had Learned Accurate Bible Teachings First? Would They Still Have Gone Atheist?

Q: In Bart Ehrman new book, it seems he ...wants to find a way to believe in the afterlife...most of his writings deal with the exploits of noncanon material or the early church fathers understanding of Hades, Sheol.

Bart comes from an evangelical background. In his blog, he speaks poignantly of the tragedy of losing his faith, something that happened once he began to examine the Bible through “critical thinking.” 

He never had a firm foundation to stand on. I would lose my faith, too, if I had to uphold all the nonsense that is part and parcel of church teaching. One can almost feel sorry for him—but one does not, because he does not feel sorry for himself. He has a good gig going—top selling author, nifty website with a paywall that donates to charity, a reputation that prompts the Great Courses Lecture series to engage him as a professor, chair of a university religion department, where he destroys the faith of his students—but since it was founded mostly on the doctrines of churches, it was barely defensible in the first place. No, he has a good gig. Nobody has asked me to chair a Great Courses series.

If not atheist, he certainly is hard-agnostic, unless he has had a recent change of heart. I often wonder what would have happened if those now atheist had been presented accurate Christian teachings first—would they have gone atheist in that case? A naive me once assumed that the answer would be no. 

Sometimes it has worked that way, but these are crazy times, and if you keep up with atheist writings, you find that they are likely to detest JWs most of all! It does not help that JWs have “accurate” Bible teachings. The allure of breaking free from any “control” is just too enticing to be countered by a fresh look at Bible teachings. There is no way that those on the “cramped and narrow road” are not going to be derided as “cult” members by those on the broad and spacious one. This is so predictable that I kick myself for not having predicted it long before—it is so obvious. 

To break free of “control” holds irresistible appeal today, and the atheists add to the list of who does it (and even put foremost) those who would claim to represent God, as our brothers do, and they lambasted them for “controlling”  people by that means. You might think they would look upon Witnesses with admiration for such things as eliminating racism among their midst, or not engaging in physical violence on any account—least of all that of the government trying to sign them up for the latest war.

Alas, to them, JWs are the worst of the lot, because most churches have watered down “speaking in God’s name” to “God works in mysterious ways,” and have pretty much learned to roll with whatever happens, being content to add a smiley “God” emoji to events. Most have made their peace with the world—they seek to hopefully modify it for the better. Atheists are vested in the world even more so, and think the view of JWs far too extreme—even “murderous”—that God means to replace it. 

From the ranks of atheists come those most likely to present the picture that obedience “to men” is essential if you are a JW, how they are under enormous pressure always from top leaders, and how they terrify children with expectations of Armaggedon. (How about when Newsweek surveys the world scene, and presents the magazine cover “What the *@#! Is Next?” I countered to one of them.)

The “obedience” that JWs are expected to render is no more than following directions of the teacher, the coach, the mentor, the employer, the counselor, the traffic cop—something that was once the most unremarkable thing in the world, but is now presented as selling out one’s soul. JWs have not changed—the world has. One may look no farther than it’s collective response to Covid 19 to see what chaos follows. Mark Benioff, the Salesforce founder, the fellow who purchased Time Magazine, has stated that if everyone had masked up for just three weeks, the virus would have been defeated. Of course, this is what JWs have done, because being obedient to authority is not an issue for them, but the illness is out of control today because the world ridicules obedience and challenges the authority of any who would advance it. The very first sign that this would escalate to disaster occurred very early on—when toilet paper sold out, despite knowledge that the virus doesn’t hit people that way. I told Hassan, the CultExpert, he of the“FreedomofMind” hashtag, that my people have behaved far more responsibly than his—you don’t think some will use their “freedom of mind” to tell the government where they can go with their “rules?”

It doesn’t matter if the world’s obsession with “independence” ends in disaster—as it surely will—as it is with Covid 19. As one tweet puts it: “Folks want to believe this pandemic is nearing an end because they’re tired of living in a broken world. But I fear we are just at the beginning, and that we’ve squandered the first six months with our bickering.” You know they will squander the next six months, too—you just know it. That is the way the world works.

To be free of “control” is just too strong a pull for anything to be otherwise. Those on the broad and spacious road—that’s what makes it broad and spacious, ones on it listen to no one but themselves—will invariably present those on the cramped and narrow road as manipulated by a cult. That should have occurred to me long ago.

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Comments

D

I've listened to an interview with a German atheist philosopher (M. Schmidt-Salomon). He was raised as catholic. As a teenager he wondered, if you really believe that God's son came from heaven to save you, shouldn't the church be full of people glowing with faith and showing in their life how they love God? Since he couldn't find such persons in the church, he figured that there must be something wrong with this church business. That started the doubts that ended him as an atheist philosopher.

To compare things: When I was a teenager (being almost the same age as he) I had an old brother in our congregation who went through several concentration camps and through the hands of the Polish communist secret service ("worse than the Nazis"). His faith showed from his face. And from his prayers (As a teenager I dreaded his ten(?) minutes prayers at the end of the meeting, but no one ever told him to cut them short). So I didn't have the occasion to develop doubts such as the said philosopher and here I am still believing and finding people in congregations that show their deep faith (beside some who would also perfectly fit into the church next door, but they keep in the background).

Your post made me remember how lucky I was to be raised in a congregation. Otherwise I would probably be an atheist like most of my age around here.

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