A Provocation: Twelve Myths Too Many Christians Believe, Pt 1

Part 2 is live.

  1. Christianity is not a religion.
  2. The Bible is the word of God.
  3. The Bible is true because it says it is.
  4. The only marriage espoused by scripture is between one man and one woman.
  5. Everything in the Bible must be literally true, or we should just throw it away.
  6. America is a Christian nation.

Christianity is not a religion.

“Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” The ever-reliable Wikipedia defines religion as “an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.” Christianity is definitely a religion.

I can understand Christians’ reluctance to allow our organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality to be considered a religion. You’ll find that religion means relationship anyway, so it’s silly to say that it’s not.

I think this insistence against considering Christianity a religion is that the next logical step seems to be that Christianity is *a* religion – one among many, rather than The One True Faith. This pluralism, our imaginary Christian skeptic could infer, will lead invariably to a sort of relativism (more or less belief that all religions are equal), then to universalism.

Fortunately for our skeptic, it is entirely possible to believe that there are more religions than one while still holding to the perspective that yours is the right one. I feel that it is important to keep in mind that Christianity is indeed one religion among many because it will help us to see the Other as real – someone with beliefs that they hold as dear to them as we do ours. Naturally we think Christianity is the best religion available; if we did not, we would hold to a different one. Further, we believe that our particular church or denomination is the best expression of that faith; if we felt otherwise, we would go elsewhere.

We must, however, allow ourselves to remember that there are others who do feel otherwise and are not idiots. The latter claim becomes more difficult to maintain when one takes apologetics classes.

The Bible is the word of God.

This one is freakishly huge. From its preeminence on the “beliefs” section of almost every church web site, you would think that this is orthodoxy. It’s not. Neither the Bible, the nicene creed, or the apostle’s creed even imply that the Bible is the word of God. II Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is inspired by God.

Inspired ≠ God’s word, or God’s words.

Go ahead. Skim any church web site that affirms that the Bible is the word of God. Notice two things:

  1. They don’t quote those verses.
  2. When you look up those verses, you’ll find that they don’t say what the web site is using them to mean.

It’s ridiculous. It’s proof-texting, except without the text part.

Besides that, you’ll find that John 1 clearly says that “The word was with God, and the word was God.” To affirm this scripture passage and that the Bible is the word of God leads straight to bibliolatry:

  1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
  2. The word of God was (is) God.
  3. The Bible is the word of God.
  4. Therefore, the Bible is God.

(1) is scripture. (2) is inevitable from (1). (3) is the premise at issue. (4) is inevitable given 1, 2, and 3. The only way to avoid the silliness that is (4) without disposing of the scripture passage in question is to dispose of (3), The Bible is the word of God.

Scary, isn’t it? I actually had a conversation much like the previous one with a dedicated Christian who told me that the Bible was God – and didn’t see anything wrong with that statement. There is, I assure you.

  1. For the Bible not to be God, the Bible cannot be the word of God.

It should be obvious by now that the Bible not only is not the word of God, but cannot be. Jesus is. Jesus can both be God and the word of God quite handily. The Bible cannot.

The Bible is true because it says that it is.

This one is especially silly. No one should ever believe this. The Book of Mormon has many more explicit claims to being true than the Bible does, and Christians don’t believe that the BoM is true. There’s a bizarre principle going on here:

  1. A book is true because it says that it is.
  2. Behind that lies the fallacy “A book can be verified to be true by whether or not it claims to be.”
  3. This leads to “Any book that claims to be true is.”

Which is obviously silly. There must be another claim here.

  1. We can know that a book is true if it is the Bible and if it says that it is true.
  2. The Bible is a book that is the Bible and says that it is true.
  3. Therefore, the Bible is true.

At this point, we realize that we have absolutely no reason to believe (1). Let’s try one more time.

  1. The Bible is true.
  2. Therefore, if the Bible says something, what it says is true.
  3. The Bible says that it is true.
  4. Therefore, the Bible is true.

If you look up the phrase “circular reasoning,” you’ll find a picture of this argument.

The only marriage espoused by scripture
is between one man and one woman.

The skeptics annotated Bible has a fairly exhaustive listing of references to polygamy in the Bible. The three most salient:

  • 2 Samuel 12:7-8: “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel … I gave thee … thy master’s wives…”
  • Exodus 21:10 “If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.”
  • Deuteronomy 21:15: “If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated…”

While I certainly do not endorse polygamy, the Bible is most definitely not “clear” on marriage being “defined as between one man and one woman.”

Naturally, people will argue that “that’s old testament,” as if the first testament doesn’t matter, except when it talks about gay marriage, which is when it most definitely does matter.

Everything in the Bible must be literally true,
or we should just throw it away.

I should first clarify that literally nobody believes this. Some people claim that they do, but as soon as someone starts pointing out contradictions, the person who claims to hold this view will jump onto the slippery slope toward some things being literal and some things being figurative, based on nothing other than their particular interpretation of the Bible, which they claim is based on the Bible. Next thing you know, they’ll be agreeing that Genesis 1 and 2 are ancient near eastern cosmology.

Nah, probably not.

I admit, it’s terrifying. Every now and then I’ve wished I could take the Bible literally again. It would be so immensely comforting to be able to open my Bible and know that whatever I read was guaranteed to be more true than anything I could read in the morning news. Unfortunately, “whatever I read” is really just shorthand for “whatever I understood,” which is not the same as “whatever I read.” And I have far too many uncertainties about what I read as it is, let alone what I interpret.

That being the case, we should not just throw away the Bible. As Christians, we do believe that all scripture is inspired by God and useful. But what does “inspired” mean? God-breathed? Or is it more like a film that is “based on a true story?” How can we pick out the pieces that are and are not accurate depictions of God?

Greg Boyd uses the image of a sieve to help interpret scripture. He (and I) see the fullest expression of who God is (“the word of God”) as Christ dying on a cross sacrificing himself for his enemies. That is our hermeneutic, or interpretive principle.

A further issue with this is that many people are browsing the internet and going to college and learning for almost absolute certain that some things in the Bible must not be literally true, and as a result, these people leave the faith. Hence:

  1. If everything in the Bible is not literally true, we should just throw it away.
  2. Something in the Bible is not literally true.
  3. Therefore, everything in the Bible is not literally true.
  4. Therefore, we should just throw the Bible away.

Christians tend to respond to this issue in one of two ways: (a) They choose their faith and become what is considered anti-science, forcefully arguing that (2) cannot be the case, or (b) they choose their mind and accept (4), never realizing that (4) falls apart without (1), which, as discussed in “the Bible is the word of God,” is not even necessary to the Christian faith.

America is (or was) a Christian nation.

This fails for two reasons:

  1. Greg Boyd wisely points out in Myth of a Christian Nation that the United States of America is what scripture describes as a “Kingdom of This World,” and as such, it cannot be “Christian” in any sense of the word. if the USA followed the principles of the Kingdom of God, Boyd argues that it would probably collapse.
  2. Even if such a thing was possible, America as a Christian nation (a nation founded on Christian principles) never existed. We’ve been killing our enemies since day one, and as Shane Claiborne (and a number of others) have pointed out, “When Jesus said to love our enemies, we think he probably meant don’t kill them.”

We’re not a Christian nation. The USA never has been, nor can it ever be.

– – –

Come back next time for the next six:

  • The goal of Christianity is to leave your body and have your soul go to heaven when you die.
  • The rapture.
  • Jesus talks more about hell than about heaven.
  • Biblical = the historic Christian faith.
  • Salvation means that your eternal destiny changes from hell to heaven.
  • The Bible can be relied upon because it doesn’t have any mistakes in it.

David M Schell About David M Schell
David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that's why his posts don't come out as often or as angry.