Words are powerful. It’s often said that you don’t change someone’s mind in the middle of a debate, but afterwards, upon reflection, our ideas and what we believe can shift. Speaking to people is often more useful than writing them a text or an email, but a handwritten letter can often transform the everyday words we say into powerful messages.
I tell my wife that I love her all the time. But when I write her a card or a little note, it has an effect that far outstrips the spoken love messages I pass her way. Yet a WhatsApp message or a text is even weaker than telling her, as I look into her eyes, that I love her. Words are powerful.
There’s a group of people who truly believe that a collection of ancient books, texts, letters and manuscripts that they read are the very word of a God, that they are Holy. That when they read these documents, they are engaging with a spiritual entity who has a message to share with them in the time and place that they find themselves. In fact, there are a few different religions that claim the documents they read, love and follow are Holy, and that the other religions have it wrong.
It’s hard to know who is right and who is wrong unless you take time and investigate all the different religions that are out there. I used to be a Christian. I still fear the Hell that was preached to me. It’s awful. Yet I have never, not once, feared the Hell that other religions believe in. Upon reflection, it’s amazing how powerful this connection is, as it boils down to what you were raised on. Words, whether written or spoken have the ability to change a mind, and words spoken to children have the ability to ruin a life, or at least affect the recipient forever.
When I started going to Bible college in 2010, I started reading the Bible in a Year, following a simple plan and making sure that I managed to read it each and every day. Back then I truly believed that God was real, and I honestly believed that God would talk to me as I read the words He has passed down to His people over time.
I look back now, and I want to ask the then me – do I really believe that people thousands of years ago truly had a better connection with God than we could have today if He is real? Do I believe that God told people to kill in His name? That He has no issue with slaves, or forced marriage, that He would ask someone to kill their child for Him or allow children to drown in the flood because most people couldn’t give a shit if He was real or not. Did God really create a world in which He allowed us to mess it up and then made us bow down before him in order to be saved from, the things He allowed to happen in the first place? It seems a little circular to me.
I know Christians will insist that He knows all things, and that includes the free choices we make, but I don’t think humanity every had the choice to live sin-free and in full unity with Him in the first place. I mainly believe this now because I don’t think God is a reality that we have any evidence for. But I started to wake up to the fact that we have no choice about the world in which we find ourselves, and that we never really did. If God is real, He placed us here, without a choice.
As the years unwound, I managed to work my way through the Bible a fair few time. At first, I just read the words and never thought twice about them. Reading passages of horror and evil without spending a moment asking if I really believed the words to be true, or acceptable. I just wanted to read God’s word and to engage with Him.
As I began to question faith and belief, I began to find passages that were abhorrent and irreconcilable with the moral framework that the world around me holds. I used to read the New Testament on my commute to and from work as well, getting through it a couple of times in a year, as well as the whole Bible in a year. As the doubts grew, so did the shadows across the words on the pages of my well-worn New Testament. I started to see the sexism, the lies, the slavery, the manipulation and the self-fulfilling narrative. One of the things I used to cling to was how many Old Testament prophecies are ‘fulfilled’ within the New Testament. But now I can’t help but think that everything was written down with an agenda in mind, couldn’t those writers, who knew the Old Testament very well, have chosen and written the fulfilments into the narrative themselves, retrospectively. We will never be able to prove that this isn’t the case.
The biggest pain point I had in letting go of the Bible was in realising there isn’t any way I can know for a certainty that the words held on the pages are true. I believe there was an itinerant preacher that people called Jesus who travelled around at the time that the New Testament proclaims a man named Jesus travelled. But I can never know for certain that the stories, miracles and teaching of Jesus are in and of themselves held accurately on the pages of my Bible.
This is the first year that I am not following a ‘Bible in One Year’ reading plan because I can’t stand how this collection of ancient books, texts, letters and manuscripts have lied to and manipulated so many people over the course of history. Men, completely unrelated to the events that the Bible tells us about, made decisions centuries later as to which books would or would not be included in the Bible we have today. The books and passages we read have been changed, sections removed or amended, others added and filled out. Yes, you can, of course, find New Testament scholars who will encourage you that the Bible we have is accurate, but how can they really ever know? They can’t. They just want it to be the case that it is accurate.
Words are powerful. If you think the words in your Holy Book are from the divine, then the words on those pages have the ability to completely change your mind, and possibly the lives of those in this world forever. We look to teachers and scholars to help us understand the words we read, to make sure we have the best interpretation of what we hold to be true and Holy. The truth is, so do other people, with other beliefs. We can interrupt scripture, any scripture, in a whole host of different ways. For example, the teaching that this life is just the staging area of the next life that is to come. This is precisely the sort of dogmatic nonsense and religious propaganda that encouraged educated men to fly plans at 590mph into the twin towers in 2001.
Words costs lives. We must be honest with how ‘true’, ‘real’ or ‘factual’ the words we claim to be divine are.
Sam Harris explains why this sort of faith is deadly in his book ‘End of Faith’. Just because a standard conservative Christian might not harbour terrorism in their hearts, it doesn’t mean that their unfounded beliefs can’t be turned into the fuel that can be ignited when we rely on supernatural hopes, before we rely on the evidence for the things around us.
The words in your Holy Books are nothing more than that, words.
Words are powerful and we need to make sure that we allow the right ones to help us navigate our lives before it’s too late for us all.
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Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.
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