This is the fourth of four points I made in a Facebook discussion in June and July of 2013. The people whose names are occasionally mentioned were the other participants in the discussion. It appears here for future reference since I deleted my Facebook account in April of 2018.
POINT #4: THE GREAT DIVIDE?
In order to generically address many of both Tom and Gil’s most recent comments, I would say the following.
We’re talking across a great divide. On my side, I am skeptical about the Bible and its many claims. I am skeptical about the existence of God, and all things supernatural. On their side (Tom and Gil’s), however different they are to each other in their doctrinal specifics (SDAs have VERY little in common with RCs on church dogma), they are both at the opposite end of what we could call a belief spectrum– they are both convinced that God exists and that He spoke through the Bible’s writers.
Of course, I’ve been aware of that divide all along, but I get the sense in their latest comments that they’ve forgotten about my basic position of rejecting the Bible’s authority, veracity, and supernatural origins. I’m not convinced that the Bible presents the same picture of God which is presented by either Gil’s or Tom’s denominations. But they keep presenting to me their church’s picture of God as if that will answer my questions about the behavior of God as presented in the Bible, as presented to a READER of the Bible who is unbiased about it by any particular CHURCH.
I am not interested in trying to convince Christians that God doesn’t exist, even though that is my conviction. Rather, I’m interested in building a moral and ethical code which is free from the influence of religion. I address Christians with moral and ethical questions about God, because I think a person who values moral and ethical behavior would need to be first convinced that God is someone who can be trusted and who is worthy of imitation BEFORE trusting and imitating Him. I think most Christians come to their belief in God without first fully knowing what they are being asked to believe.
I was baptized as an infant in the church Tom calls home, the Roman Catholic Church. And like a good Catholic I did all the rituals of that faith my whole childhood, and every single Sunday I heard the teachings from the pulpit. Only after becoming firmly entrenched in the Catholic way of perceiving God and the Bible, did I attend catechism classes, as an adolescent. Catechism was followed by my first confession in the booth to a priest, which also ended up being my last. Within five years I had quit the Catholic church entirely.
After later lapsing in my teen years, by age twenty I was joining the church Gil calls home. My wife (Gil’s daughter) and I raised our daughters in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and they both experienced it much like my Catholic upbringing: from their infant dedication, to their childhood Sabbath School and home influences, to their attendance at an Adventist pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary school. They had the SDA way of perceiving God and the Bible ingrained in them long before ever being presented with the opportunity to join the church as members, which they both were very eager to do from their earliest years. As it happens, Gil baptized them both.
As a professional Adventist Bible teacher, teaching SDA teens how to perceive God and the Bible the Adventist way, I was participating in the mission of the larger Christian “Church”, by which I mean the whole history of Christianity, including the many flavors of competing and cooperating denominations active right now. That mission has always included adding more members to the body of Christ, a biblical way of referring to the Church.
I always had respect for the Word of God, and would try to get my students to really step back and evaluate it on its own merits. I reminded them often to study it for themselves, and not to simply take my word, or anyone’s word for it; they were capable of comprehending God’s message to them for themselves. I believed in the idea that God, in the Bible, is presenting His side of the story, presenting His case before the world, in a kind of cosmic courtroom drama. Obviously, He is the overall Judge, but He also invites readers to judge HIM for themselves. No mediator is required, just come and see; “taste and see…”.
That was always the most powerful part of the Bible’s message for me– The Invitation. I felt it was incredibly fair and just of God to honor our freedom of choice so completely. For me back then, it was amazing to think that God had created the Bible. He gathered his vast powers and put them to the task of creating an exhaustive case study of His own character. He behaved and spoke and acted and reacted in various ways throughout human history. Then He stepped back when the Bible was complete, as if to say, “It is done. That’s who I AM. Make up your own mind about Me. Am I the kind of God worthy of your devotion? If so, follow Me. If not, I’ll miss you, but I won’t force you to spend eternity with Me.”
Now, as I said above, I reject the supernatural origins of the Bible. However, that doesn’t change its message. I still know what the Bible says. I didn’t forget it just because I reject its claims. And the above paragraph is accurate about its message, in my professional opinion. And though I no longer profess to be a Christian (whether Catholic or Adventist), I still want to build my own moral and ethical values and beliefs, this time without the religious input. Though I am becoming a non-religious person, I will never become an unethical or immoral person, because I choose not to be that way.
And I still would like to challenge the notion that without God or religion, its difficult or impossible to behave and believe morally. And to challenge the idea that the God presented in the Bible always behaved morally.
I really am not helped in my quest for answers about God’s behavior by homilies from Pope Francis or Ellen White. I would rather get answers to my questions in the words of the Christians themselves, the actual people with whom I am interacting and discussing.
I know what the Bible says; what do YOU say?