Confessions of a convicted cherry picker

castle

Those are just the cherry on the sundae, as it were. Since we’re talking about cherry picking, after all. You’re carving out maybe 10% of the book to keep as the basis of your beliefs.

Can you share for us perhaps your best reason you, as an obviously rational person and adult, bought into what seems so clearly to me, anyway, to be no different than countless other religious myths? And is that reason based on hard evidence that you’ve investigated and concluded was worthy of accepting as true?

Those are just two responses to my comment on my friend Neil Carter’s blog post, a chapter-by-chapter review of The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. The specific chapter in his most recent review had to do with Keller’s explanation of why we can trust the Bible’s authority, and the issue of how to deal with passages that go against our progressive cultural values. I wrote:

Years ago I met someone at my church who said he was an atheist who wanted to learn more about Christianity. I asked him if he was considering converting, and he said something to the effect of the Bible being too bogged down by rape culture and violence and harmful teachings for him to ever call himself a Christian. Fair enough. But I would say that while issues of evolution vs creationism, subjugation of women, etc, are all deserving of our attention, dwelling on that does take away from the (mostly) universal message of redemption that the gospel teaches. I would say to anyone considering conversion to focus on that, which is what keeps me in the faith, anyway.

Responses like the ones above are just a few objections I hear a lot. And my pithy retort, You want to know why I believe? Well, just read my book! is less than satisfactory. But I didn’t address the issue of “cherry-picking” much at all in that text, so I’ll address it here.

First of all, I think it’s safe to say that all people of faith cherry-pick. I don’t believe anyone who swears they don’t. We all have individual objections or criticisms of certain biblical mandates, and until Christians unanimously decide which ones were meant for a specific 1st-century culture and which are universal, we act as if they don’t exist…until someone outside the faith brings them up.

Maybe this is hypocritical of me, but I don’t think making a conscious choice to focus on Jesus falls under cherry-picking. I would consider it an act of prioritizing, not unlike Jewish people focusing on the story of Exodus over the purity laws of Leviticus. Why? Because the story of the Israelites’ slavery and exile in Egypt is the core of the faith, upon which all denominations are founded on. That is what I like to think connects all people of the Book, regardless of whether they are Orthodox, Reform, or somewhere in between. In the same vein, what Christians believe about Jesus far outweighs the debate about how humans were created, how the lions were kept away from the gazelles on the ark, or whether homosexuality is really a sin. Those issues matter, but are not what I consider “center stage.”

As to my “buying into myths” as a rational adult, that gets trickier. I’m reminded all the time at church that my testimony is mine and can’t be disproved, but to the skeptic, I know it isn’t satisfactory. My story is not one of studying evidence and finding it so compelling I had no choice but to convert. I have to agree with pastor Andy Stanley, who said in a series of sermons on adult conversions, that most adults convert for emotional reasons over factual ones. I know that statement will lose many people, but it’s the truth.

To answer that question of why I“buy into those myths,” I’d have to go back to childhood where I always believed in some form of a higher being, but felt frustrated that the Jewish version wasn’t very accessible – he seemed far away and difficult to grasp, whereas Jesus was a human my friends could talk to and hang out with. I’d have to go back to high school when I met my friend Tricia, whose faith was truly lived, not just spoken about, and made such an impression on me that I had to ask her how she got it. I’d have to go back the dark days of living in an abusive relationship with someone who convinced me over a period of five years that I was worth nothing.

I’d have to recall the message I heard about God redeeming broken things during a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting a friend convinced me to attend with her. And I’d have to explain how that message saved my life on the few occasions I sincerely contemplated suicide: all my childhood heroes (Joan of Arc, Cassie Bernall, Anne Frank, Queen Elizabeth I, Esther of the Bible, to name a few) overcame adversity to become extraordinary, and I wanted that to happen in my own life. The gospel message haunted me for years, to a point where I could no longer ignore it, and gave me hope when life became too difficult to bear without anti-depressants and alcohol (yes, I know, a deadly combination). I see Christianity as a journey of being refined through the “fire” of life’s tragedies, not as a defense mechanism against them, which is how much of America treats it. I see Christianity as an example of radical love and radical forgiveness, which is ridiculous as it is beautiful, but I think the ridiculousness is kind of the point.

Those are the reasons in one giant nutshell. It may not convince most people who hear it, but that’s not why I tell it. I only share it because it changed my life.

(And despite some spoilers, I do hope you still consider reading the book) 😀

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
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26 Responses to Confessions of a convicted cherry picker

  1. Pingback: Top ten most popular posts in 2015 | Sarahbeth Caplin

  2. Every time I hear a Christian make some picayune “miracle” claim, I remember my mother’s death from cancer despite many people praying for her. I think of the many sick, blind, disabled, and starving people who aren’t getting real help. I think of the natural disasters that unfold to kill millions, the cold that freezes so many homeless people to death, the addictions destroying so many lives despite desperate pleas to the Christian god for help eradicating them, the birth defects destroying so many babies…. and I think, wow, this person’s sold his or her soul cheaply for flim-flammery, urban legends, and parlor tricks.

    But hey, glad “God” cleared up your acne before the big date, Christians, or kept that iPhone from breaking when you dropped it, or made your sex life better, or dropped that $5 on the ground that one day when you were desperate for a coffee. I’m convinced. Let’s all get our butts to church. /s

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  3. Melody says:

    Like you, I think all Christians do cherry pick. Some parts fit better with yourself or your flavor of church which makes sense: I, for one, disliked the way the Bible generally had a disdain for women and so I held on extra tight to stories like Ester’s or Mary’s because they were valued. Or proverbs 31. I was raised as an Evangelical Christian and believed my whole life: it is only since about a year that I am comfortable admitting to myself that I no longer believe, that I simply can’t anymore.

    I believe that my emotional ties to Jesus as my Savior and Comforter kept me in the faith longer than I would have been otherwise. I’ve had questions about Bible stories and their accuracy since I was a young child and I also wondered if God was truly good since he kills a heck of a lot of people in the Scriptures and He and Satan play a nasty game with Job, for instance. But my questions were disregarded and seen as sinful so I stopped asking them. They were pushed away but never entirely forgotten. So a few years ago, I became more and more critical and started to move more into the direction of progressive Christianity which was a little scary being a fundamentalist, but also felt more like the essence of Jesus so to speak: kindness, love, etc. without so much of the judgement that came with the way I was raised and believed.

    But in the end, the cherry picking and the choosing what you like about God or Christianity felt hollow, I guess. I do believe that it should either all be true or it’s a hoax otherwise, for the simple reason that it means that God or Jesus are liars themselves which is hardly the sign of a perfect God. I know that the argument could be made that fallible people wrote what they thought to be true of their God but a truly omnipotent God should be able to fix that. Anyway, it was arguments like that which made sense to me. I began to believe and realize that some of the true events in the Bible had never actually happened and my whole faith began to wobble.

    I loved Jesus dearly and felt that He spoke to me and had helped me through some difficult times. Because I truly believed I had had contact with God, I held onto that for a while, but with so many other things turning out not to be actually true, I began to wonder if I had been talking to myself all this time. If Jesus’ voice had been my own and if that was the reason why I sometimes could and sometimes couldn’t hear Him. You probably know that very famous poem about footsteps in the sands where God has carried you through the difficult times but you don’t realize it? I’ve suffered from bouts of depression and during those times God wasn’t there for me no matter how much I asked for Him to help me: I thought God was angry with me or hated me or something. Later I wondered if maybe He doesn’t exist at all. The idea of Jesus/God as a (mostly) kind voice in your head appeals to me as an argument because it fits in with my depressions. During my depressions, ‘God’ couldn’t speak to me because God is a positive voice in my head helping me through difficulties. During my depressions, I didn’t have access to this positive voice because of my disease and so when I needed God most, He wasn’t actually there, because He had been me all along.

    Anyway, it has become a bit of a novel. These were some of the reasons that convinced me in the end. I just want to say that I like your writing a lot and I often relate to your questions and ideas about life. I also like how you have a different perspective on many things not having been raised in Evangelical Christianity and, therefore, have a fresh take on that culture.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. AthenaC says:

    You’ve taken a swing at some really big questions. I’ll try to keep this brief:

    “Maybe this is hypocritical of me, but I don’t think making a conscious choice to focus on Jesus falls under cherry-picking.”

    No one can completely comprehend God and the sum total of all theological truth. If they could, He wouldn’t be God. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on what you know, accepting that you don’t know everything today, and using what you know to illuminate what you don’t know today so that you can know more things tomorrow. That’s how Christianity as a whole developed a body of doctrine over the last 2,000 years.

    “As to my “buying into myths” as a rational adult, that gets trickier.”

    Science is a system to understand the universe and how it all works. It’s a fantastic tool, but its usefulness is also constrained by the bounds of what all is present in the universe and subject to the laws of physics. It’s misguided to expect scientific evidence to prove / disprove Something that by definition exists outside the bounds of the universe and in fact would have created the laws of physics that we use science to discover.

    It might be helpful to try to wrap your head around some of the philosophical and metaphysical arguments for God. It’s not “evidence” in the same vein as scientific evidence; I would describe it more as reasoning your way to a better understanding of reality.

    Also, if you combine historical evidence and evidence-based knowledge of human behavior, it is much easier to see how a rational adult can conclude that: 1) Judaism is real; 2) Christianity is real; and 3) miracles happened in the past. If you further combine scientific evidence, it’s easy to see how a rational adult can conclude that miracles continue to happen.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      “If you further combine scientific evidence, it’s easy to see how a rational adult can conclude that miracles continue to happen.”

      What specific evidence are you referring to? For modern miracles, I’m going to need more than “My friend’s missionary cousin who saw God heal an amputee.” We can take what the Bible says about miracles on faith, but in my experience, God doesn’t intervene in quite the same way that he used to. And if he still does, he’s very mysterious about it.

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      • AthenaC says:

        There are quite a few well-documented miracles in the last few hundred years. I don’t have a fantastic level of knowledge off the top of my head, but I did read up on a number of them within the last few years.

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        • Beth Caplin says:

          Well-documented by whom? If you come up with any sources I would like to see them.

          The trouble with miracles today is that many of them would not have happened if not for modern technology and/or medicine. In which case, I’d say the true miracle is that humans were given both the intelligence and the resources to heal people and make the world better. My biggest dilemma with miracles, though, is the selective nature of them, which implies favoritism on God’s part: God “providing” money to a middle-class family so they can afford extra Christmas gifts, but at the same time allowing thousands of children to die daily for lack of clean water?

          Until that issue is explained, I’m very skeptical of miracles. It’s easier for me to believe that God himself in the form of Jesus could make them happen, as opposed to what other people claim is God making them happen.

          Liked by 1 person

          • AthenaC says:

            The answer to the “by whom” is a wide variety of sources. Some are obviously not as reliable as others. If you’re really interested, I can try to recreate my steps and see what I come up with.

            Whether we understand the “why” – why this person and not that person – none of that changes evidence (or lack thereof) that a miracle happened (or didn’t). If we ever do understand the “why” we will understand the mind of God, and I don’t think that’s a level of understanding we will ever achieve in this life.

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          • Beth Caplin says:

            I just can’t reconcile a loving God providing miracles that seem to favor the privileged. That seems to be a pattern in most of the stories I’ve heard in bible studies and small groups.

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          • AthenaC says:

            Well, privileged people being aware of their privilege isn’t particularly miraculous, even if they think it is. But if it helps their faith, *shrug* whatever, I guess.

            The other thing to think about is that in the light of eternity, the significance of things today will ultimately fade. That goes for the bad things, the good things, the “miracles”, and the actual miracles. That perspective has helped me, but only once I put myself back together enough emotionally to appreciate it.

            The caveat, though, is that it’s the type of thing that I need to tell myself to put my own suffering into perspective, but I don’t get to tell other people that as an excuse not to help them today. If that makes sense.

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          • Beth Caplin says:

            This has nothing to do with privileged people being aware of their privilege. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I believe that God designed the world to operate by certain laws of nature and physics. A car driving over black ice is going to slide. A person with a genetic disposition to cancer is likely to get cancer. To pray these things away is to essentially ask God to redesign the laws of nature. We live in a fallen world; these things are bound to happen. And praising God for diverting tragedy is like thanking a serial killer for stabbing the family next door instead of yours.

            Furthermore, the point of the gospel, as I understand it, is to be refined through suffering, which makes us more like Christ, who suffered more than most of us ever will. Asking to be shielded from it makes zero sense.

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          • AthenaC says:

            “To pray these things away is to essentially ask God to redesign the laws of nature.”

            Or asking the dice to roll a certain way. But I agree – that’s a fairly infantile use of prayer.

            “Asking to be shielded from it makes zero sense. ”

            I mostly agree, but remember Jesus himself said “If it be Your will, let this cup pass from me.” So I think it’s fine and natural to ask to be shielded from suffering, but when God says “no,” we’re in good company.

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          • Beth Caplin says:

            For the record, I believe the miracles performed by Jesus, as documented by Scripture. My struggle is understanding how God intervenes in the world today – or if he intervenes at all. I can’t be the only Christian with the dilemma of reconciling lived experience that contradicts what the Bible says is supposed to happen.

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          • AthenaC says:

            “I can’t be the only Christian with the dilemma of reconciling lived experience that contradicts what the Bible says is supposed to happen.”

            Could you be more specific? Or perhaps point me to a previous post where you were more specific?

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          • AthenaC says:

            I see. I’m still a bit lost on how we infer that there’s a level of involvement that God is supposed to have.

            I tend to look a bit more at the early Church, before the New Testament as we know it was even codified, where quite a few of the first Christians died in very gruesome ways. I see that as indicative that generally, God doesn’t preserve his followers from suffering.

            Of course that doesn’t stop it from being annoying when someone says that God “answered their prayer” or “blessed them” by healing someone. Maybe He did, maybe He didn’t. Either way, it’s not a reliable indicator of who is “more blessed” than another person. After all, an angel addressed Mary as “blessed” and “full of grace” and yet Mary had to watch her Son be tortured and killed before her eyes.

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          • Beth Caplin says:

            People say that God still intervenes in the world today. That’s what I’m referring to.

            I think it’s also safe to say that the word “blessed” does not mean what it used to, at least the way many American Christians use it.

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          • AthenaC says:

            And I’m sure he does – plenty of miracles do happen (I haven’t forgotten that you asked for sources – I’m working on that and will email you when I’ve got something together). It still seems to me that there’s an expectation (not specifically from you) that there’s a level of involvement that God is “supposed” to have, and that He is falling short somehow. I’m not sure on what basis people are developing their expectation – that’s what’s confusing me.

            Still, bad theology is bad (prosperity gospel), and I share your irritation.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Beth Caplin says:

            I know I’m not going to change anyone’s mind on this, however I would appreciate if Christians could stop sharing their medical healing stories to the girl whose father died of cancer, despite being told his name was added to at least a dozen prayer chains.

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          • AthenaC says:

            That’s understandable.

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          • AthenaC says:

            And no, you are far from the only Christian working on reconciling a great number of things. Just from the nature of God, the universe, and everything, if you’re not working on reconciling something you’re not thinking about it very hard.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I do agree with you, though, that science may not be the best tool to prove the supernatural if we’re talking about two different realms of existence. Science may explain how we got here but it doesn’t explain the why.

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  5. tejasgreen says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful post, and I am sorry for your past pain. I am glad you have found something that makes you content. But it seems to me you could have found what you sought in numerous other ways, such as Buddhism or the love of a good person. Wanting Jesus or any supernatural myth to be true because it makes you feel good doesn’t make it so. Myself, nothing but the truth is acceptable. I woulf encourage you to read and watch Christopher Hitchens, and Julia Sweeney’s video might speak to you. http://juliasweeney.com/letting-go-of-god/ Well, best wishes and peace to you on your journey to eventual enlightenment.

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    • Beth Caplin says:

      I’d hesitate to say that I could find the *exact* same comfort and answers in the other ways you suggest, particularly in Buddhism, which is a non-theistic religion – more of a philosophy, really.

      I have read a few memoirs recently by atheists describing their journey out of faith, but Hitchens might be a bit much at this point 😉

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  6. Drew Sheldon says:

    I’m not a Christian and don’t feel comfortable calling myself an “atheist”. Regardless of my beliefs, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this and reading about yours. I really identify with your views from a different angle, and I find your faith to be quite admirable and beautiful.

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