Bethany (my 32-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome) and I used to religiously watch the hit TV show Grimm. She continues to watch reruns of the show over and over on Netflix and Amazon Prime. She is quite intense when she watches the show and can easily recite to anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask) the Grimm storyline, complete with character descriptions.
One of the problems Bethany has watching TV is that she has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction. As we were watching Grimm, Bethany asked, they are all real, right? I snickered a bit, and then told her, no, they are not real. They come from a storybook.
Later, I was watching a crime procedural show and one of the characters explained how it is possible for a large number of people to testify to a certain event happening. The detective said:
People make things up and it is told over and over. Eventually it becomes common knowledge.
And then I thought to myself: just like the stories in the Bible.
I can just imagine an Evangelical preacher reading this post and doing this while screaming:
THE BIBLE IS DIFFERENT!!! In what way is the Bible different? Think about this question a bit before trying to defend the Bible as a historically accurate, factual book (let alone inerrant and infallible). Do we have any more evidence for the Jesus of the Bible than we do the fictional creatures in Grimm? While there may have been a man named Jesus who lived and died in Palestine, is there any evidence for a Jesus who was the miracle-working, divine, son of God?
Just because people say something is so doesn’t mean it is factual or true. Evangelical preachers follow the path described above by the detective. They repeat stories that have been told over, and over, and over again — rarely asking, “is this true?” As with the end result of the telephone game, the Jesus story of the twenty-first century is wildly different from the Jesus story of the first, second, twelfth, or fifteenth century.
Evangelicals embarrass themselves when they assert that what they believe is exactly the same as what the first-century church believed. What is their evidence for this claim? Why, the passed-down stories about Jesus, passed down from Christian to Christian, sect to sect, for the past two-thousand years.
I am an occasional reader of Smithsonian Magazine. In the January 2015 issue, I learned from an article about Martin Luther King, Jr. that “King and his demonstrators were driven out of Selma by the police on “Bloody Sunday.” I also learned that the Watt Riots took place in 1967.
Imagine for a moment that I am telling my children about my life growing up in the 1960s. Imagine me saying to them, I remember seeing the Watts Riots on TV in 1967. My children would accept this as a fact because they know I was born in 1957, so I was alive during the race riots of the 1960s. Perhaps they would pass this on to their children, a story of how life was when Gramps was a kid.
Now ponder how the stories of the Bible came into being and why people repeat them and believe them today. It’s really that simple.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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