Evangelicals and Their Hocus Pocus Magic Book

bible magic book

Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. It is, in every way, a supernatural book written by a supernatural God. Its pages purportedly contain words that have magic power. While Evangelicals deny that the Bible is in any way a magical book, their recommendation of it belies their denial.

Evangelicalism is a text-based religion. The 66 books of the Protestant Bible are the foundation of every Evangelical belief. Remove the Bible, and Evangelicalism crumbles and falls to the ground. This is why scholars such as Bart Ehrman are so deadly to evangelical faith. What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible is not what their Christian forefathers, parents, teachers, and pastors claim it is? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible is not inspired, nor is it inerrant nor infallible? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the Bible has internal contradictions and is riddled with mistakes and errors? What happens when Evangelicals learn that virtually all of their cherished beliefs are subject to debate and question? What happens when Evangelicals learn that the history found in the Bible is suspect and the creation story is a lie? What happens when Evangelicals, troubled by doubts and fearful of losing their faith, ask pastors, church leaders, and Christian friends for help?

Doubting Evangelicals naturally turn to people of faith to help them with their fears and doubts. Who better to help allay their troubles than those who have walked the Christian path before them. Surely they have struggled, having questions and doubts about the veracity of the Bible and its teachings, the doubters think. So they naïvely seek out the counsel of those they have entrusted with their spiritual welfare. Sadly, they quickly learn that questions and doubts are not welcome, and that toeing the theological line is more important than finding honest answers to sincere questions. These doubters immediately find out that fidelity to orthodoxy and resolute commitment to what is perceived to be the faith once delivered to the saints is all that matters. For all their talk about having freedom in Jesus, Evangelical pastors and church leaders demand cult-like sameness from those who are church members. People who refuse to blindly submit are most often marginalized or excommunicated. These supposed men of God, fearing that doubts and questions could wreak havoc to their churches, do all they can to make sure that dissidents have no opportunity to spread their “lies” among congregants.

A pastor friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, is going through a crisis of faith. Several years ago, he and I briefly crossed swords over the Bible and its teachings. Our discussions ended with us each going in separate directions. Several months ago, out of the blue, he contacted me about the struggle he was having with certain Evangelical theological beliefs. While some atheists might see this as an opportunity to make a convert for godlessness, I am more concerned with helping my friend continue his journey, wherever it might lead. My goal has never been to make converts. Having been exactly where my friend now is, I have first-hand knowledge of the gut-wrenching struggle he is going through. To be confronted with the notion that everything you once believed might be a lie can, and does, cause great emotional and mental distress.

My friend has shared with me some of the discussions he has had with pastors and fellow Christians. I am astounded by how often he has been told to set reason and intellect aside and just have faith. Just believe Brother Horatio — not his real name — and all will be well! But try as he might, Horatio has found it impossible to turn off his brain and just faith-it.

Recently, one man asked him if he would be willing to commit to just reading the Bible for the next 90 days. No other books, no blogs, no discussions with outside sources, just read the Bible. The thinking behind this request is that the Bible has some sort of magical power, and that if my friend will just immerse himself in its pages his doubts, fears, and questions will dissipate and he will find himself once again following after Jesus.

I walked away from Christianity in November 2008. In the initial months after my deconversion, I was inundated with emails from pastor friends and former parishioners pleading with me not to give into this temptation from Satan. Recognizing that secular books were a big part of my deconversion, my pastor friends and former parishioners asked me to stop reading these books and to commit myself to only reading the Bible. They were certain that if I just stopped reading Bart Ehrman and other non-Christian authors and start reading the book-above-all-books — the Bible — that I would soon see that Satan was using these other writers to lead me astray. Little did they know that it was the Bible itself that played a big part in my deconversion. Taking a fresh look at beliefs that I had held for five decades forced me to conclude that the Bible was not what Evangelicals say it is. While I certainly think that the Bible has some moral and ethical value, it is now very clear to me that it is in no way an inspired, inerrant, infallible book written by the Christian God.

Evangelical zealots need to understand that telling people who have spent their lifetime studying and reading the Bible to just “read the Bible” is patently offensive. Having preached through most of the books of the Bible, I think it is safe for me to say that I have a thorough understanding of the Biblical text. Unlike most Evangelicals, who never seem to have the time to read God’s love letter to humanity, I devoted myself to reading every book, every chapter, and every word of the Bible. I did this numerous times over the course of my 50 years in the Christian church — especially as a pastor. I am not ignorant of the Bible’s teachings and neither is my pastor friend. The Bible is the problem, not the solution.

Suggesting that the Bible is some sort of magic book is ludicrous. It would be quite easy for me to prove the falsity of such claim. All I would have to do is devote myself to reading the Bible every day for 90 days, or whatever faith-renewing time frame is appropriate. And when no change takes place, where will Evangelicals place the blame? On God and his magic book? Of course not. The blame will rest on me. God is above and beyond culpability. If the magic words found in the Bible fail to restore me to faith it is because of some defect in me, not in God and his supernatural book.

Over the years, numerous Evangelicals have written to tell me that I just needed to — in faith — ask God to reveal himself to me. If I would do this, they were certain that Jehovah would, in no uncertain terms, make himself known. Humoring such people, I often pray their suggested prayers. Despite praying, the heavens remain silent. God is to blame, right? Maybe I am not one of the elect or perhaps I have committed the unpardonable sin. Whatever the reason might be, the blame never rests with God. It is always my fault. I did not have enough faith when I prayed, because if I had had enough faith then God would have revealed himself to me. That he did not shows that the fault lies with me, not God.

While I certainly think that most of the people asking me to read the Bible or to pray the prayer of faith sincerely want to be a help to me, they should understand that I cannot be swayed by metaphysical claims requiring faith. Either one believes or one doesn’t. It is not that I do not want to believe as much as it is I cannot believe. I do not have the requisite faith necessary to set aside reason and rational thought and believe ancient religious stories written thousands of years ago. Since it is unlikely that any new evidentiary argument for the existence of the Christian God and the veracity of the Bible is forthcoming, I hope that Evangelicals will understand when I reject requests to read their magic book or incant magical prayers. I am no longer willing to accept such childish requests that require me to shut off my mind and just believe.

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11 Comments

  1. Karen the rock whisperer

    Can the brain be forced to forget things you know to be true, by immersing it in a stream of contrary pseudo-information? I suspect it can… IF you are willing to have that happen. But that means you have to give up trusting your own intellect, and voluntarily declare a part of your core to be invalid. Toss reason, reign in the “but,,, but” response of your brain, and somehow allow the new stream to overwrite. That’s… really scary, actually. A means of total disrespect of your core self.

    But totally in line with Evangelical Christianity. And I suppose that is why I find it a scary religion.

    Reply
  2. Grammar Gramma

    Do you believe in the Easter Bunny? Santa Claus? leprechauns? Come on, try really, REALLY hard! Just believe! You can do it! Don’t listen to what others tell you, just have faith, BELIEVE!!! Yeah, right. :-p

    Reply
  3. Mark Amos

    It takes a kind of doublethink to be a devout evangelical. Humans are thinking creatures, and doing less thinking and more “faith-ing” makes us less human (perhaps more like fictional angels or demons.) The challenges presented by the required mental gymnastics and outright intellectual dishonesty cannot help but result in cognitive dissonance and these “crises of faith”.

    Reply
  4. Nate Klaiber

    “Little did they know that it was the Bible itself that played a big part in my deconversion.”

    This was true for me as well. Not only did I read Bart Ehrman, John Loftus, Dan Barker, Sam Harris, etc – I went back and read through the Bible. I spent my college years (Ministry Degree) doing exegetical studies and reading Evangelicals. I feel I was well rounded on reading both sides of the conversation. Reading the Bible really was one of the biggest parts of my reconversion.

    Reply
  5. another ami

    To me, the Bible is man’s attempt to understand God, not just God’s revelation to mankind. Inspired most likely, but far from complete or infallible. That is the complete opposite of the fundamentalist belief. Quakers believe God still speaks to each of us, as “personal revelation”. To be fair, this theology is considered highly suspect/heretical by fundamentalists’ standards. But today, my faith remains by my own experience, not theology, thus no Bible even required. (99% of Quakers would probably call me a heretic too by now, btw).
    However, this is only my path and I would never presume to tell anyone that they must follow my path or be damned. I personally think God (as I understand Him*) rejoices that Bruce has no faith, rather than following the Calvinistic “narrow gate” theology he formerly believed and taught. That faith had become a painful prison mentally, emotionally and physically. I can even “proof-text” that idea- from John 8:32, IFB-approved KJV: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” I firmly believe this applies to Bruce.
    We must all follow the path laid before us, not the one laid before our neighbor or even our loved ones (speck/mote). It is my prayer that we each follow our own path honestly and authentically, no matter where it leads us. And may we all find blessings and peace along our ways.
    This post helped me find more clarity in mine. Admittedly, I do love the irony of the atheist affirming my own faith. In my understanding of God, He must be giggling hysterically right now. Yeah, probably a heretic. Carry on. 🙂
    * Male pronouns are simply the convention. To me, any valid concept of God transcends gender.

    Reply
    1. Nate Klaiber

      @another ami (I meant to reply directly)
      “But today, my faith remains by my own experience, not theology, thus no Bible even required.”

      Interesting statement. Let’s say the Bible didn’t exist and was not required. How do you get your faith? What comprises your faith that allows you to have faith without the Holy Book™? If it’s your own experience, and it’s truly of God, wouldn’t others be able to come to the same decisions without having met you or reading your Holy Book™?

      If we must all follow the path laid before us, then radicals are fully justified in “the path laid before them” and “their own experience”, correct?

      I imagine God is watching us and giggling hysterically because he cares so much about you, personally, and the fact that this blog post affirmed your faith. He is definitely rejoicing at Bruce has no faith rather than following the calvinistic theology. Never mind the suffering taking place all over the planet. He doesn’t care about the people dying of cancer. He doesn’t care about children being physically, mentally, and sexually abused. He doesn’t care about innocent men, women, and children who are brutally murdered. No, he doesn’t intervene in space and time for those things. But he does pause to watch this conversation and he ultimately cares about you and this blog post affirming your faith.

      This is the narcissism that frustrates me with believers. That they have the One True Connection™, One True Faith™, and an intimate and personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe™. Everyone else just gets it slightly wrong. If only we could really understand.

      Reply
      1. another ami

        @Nate Klaiber
        You accused me of narcissism, but I was merely trying to use a personalized example to express the nature of the God I’ve encountered- you know, allegory. No, of course I don’t think some God Almighty watches this blog or any others. But at the core of why I still have faith in Something Divine; are these highly personal, highly intimate, encounters I have had for myself and still have that defy explanation. Some are dramatic, even”miraculous” perhaps, but most often it’s a softer sense of Presence that is not me or human but yet very real. It’s why I can do without the Bible and not be overly troubled. which was the whole point of my post. I don’t need the Magic Book. What I now believe may make me no longer even a Christian. That’s okay too. But I cannot and will not deny my own experience.
        I have admitted elsewhere on this blog that I may simply be batshit crazy, though my secular therapist disagreed, in spite of my frequent certainty that was indeed the case. Turns out I was just used to being severely depressed, due to internalizing the screwed up Fundamentalist morality as a sexually abused child/teen and living with that internal poison for another 30 years. I’ve sat by family members dying of cancer more than once. I’ve had a friend murdered 20 minutes after I left the same bar. I agonize over the state of the world daily and no, I don’t have the answers to suffering any more than the billions that have asked that question before I was born and still do. Do you? But that is the core problem, isn’t it? IF God is infinite, or at least unimaginably powerful, then He certainly could fix it all with the sweep of His mighty hand. I too find the current state of the world a damned good argument against the Biblical God. In that regard, I simply do what I can to make a difference where I am today and try not to be an asshole.
        I never claimed to have the One True™ anything or say anyone was wrong. I explicitly said this was where I am on my journey and that I don’t presume to dictate anyone’s path. I’m well aware my faith is “bizarre”, but I applaud those who follow their own path, like Bruce has, even though he came to a different conclusion.
        I come here because I see Fundamentalist Evangelicals threatening our democracy and Bruce has brilliant insight into this movement. I see them threatening both my freedom to hold unorthodox beliefs and others to have none. Figuring out how to stop Trump, or worse Ted Cruz, is my top priority, though Sanders getting elected would make me happier than Hillary would. I’m certainly not here to try convert anyone, though I do enjoy the theological discussions like this one. That’s all it was to me, a discussion of views of the Bible. As my millennial son would say, “Chillax, dude!”

        Reply
        1. Nate Klaiber

          Thanks for the response.

          You see Fundamental Evangelicals threatening our democracy. Trump, Cruz, and Rubio all claim to be Christians and several have explicitly said that God himself told them to run. They believe we should be a theocracy. They believe their biggest asset is not taking action, but praying for a solution.

          They are just following their own path – should they not be applauded for doing so? They have just come to different conclusions than you have. It’s all harmless, right?

          This is my frustration. When it’s all anecdotes then everyone is justified and correct.

          Reply
          1. another ami

            I can appreciate that, believe it or not. The big difference I see is I am not trying to impose my religious beliefs on anyone else (and I’m not sure I’m correct either). My rights stop at the beginning of my neighbor’s rights, full stop. I fully believe that a secular state is in everyone’s best interests, based solely on Constitutional principles, not religious ones. They seek to pervert those Constitutional principles and impose a theocracy that would persecute us both. We really are on the same side here.

  6. Nate Klaiber

    @another ami
    “But today, my faith remains by my own experience, not theology, thus no Bible even required.”

    Interesting statement. Let’s say the Bible didn’t exist and was not required. How do you get your faith? What comprises your faith that allows you to have faith without the Holy Book™? If it’s your own experience, and it’s truly of God, wouldn’t others be able to come to the same decisions without having met you or reading your Holy Book™?

    If we must all follow the path laid before us, then radicals are fully justified in “the path laid before them” and “their own experience”, correct?

    I imagine God is watching us and giggling hysterically because he cares so much about you, personally, and the fact that this blog post affirmed your faith. He is definitely rejoicing at Bruce has no faith rather than following the calvinistic theology. Never mind the suffering taking place all over the planet. He doesn’t care about the people dying of cancer. He doesn’t care about children being physically, mentally, and sexually abused. He doesn’t care about innocent men, women, and children who are brutally murdered. No, he doesn’t intervene in space and time for those things. But he does pause to watch this conversation and he ultimately cares about you and this blog post affirming your faith.

    This is the narcissism that frustrates me with believers. That they have the One True Connection™, One True Faith™, and an intimate and personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe™. Everyone else just gets it slightly wrong. If only we could really understand.

    Reply
  7. Steve

    Awesome, man! You should pin this one! I may start sending it to zealots that I know, lol

    Reply

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