It was 2006, I had just left the priesthood. It was the loneliest time of my life and I knew there was no going back to the community I had left behind. Virtually all the friendships I had at St.Aidan's were based, to a large degree, on the common faith that we shared. That’s how a priest becomes friendly with parishioners. You start with the beliefs that are shared in common and friendship grows from there. Of course other types of friendship do arise out of the bond of faith, especially where common interests are found. I have played more games of golf with Douglas than any other person on the planet, and I look forward to any invitation from him to play again. Still, leaving a faith community behind is especially hard because it not only severs that bond of friendship it also severs you from the community in an intellectual way. There is no one left to test your ideas with, especially when your ideas run counter to the zeitgeist of that community. The result is that you are now left completely alone to figure out your own spirituality, whatever that may be, as well as physically and intellectually. I knew I was an atheist, but thought that there must be more to my atheism than simple non belief.
Intellectual Christians? This is one of the ideas that is hardest for many atheists to understand. For example, how can it be that a well educated and "smart" person can believe in the resurrection? This is a fair question to ask and it does ring true when an atheist points out that such a belief in the resurrection really isn't so smart. Humanists, as a group seem to be slightly more willing to look past this failure. Humanists know that educated people of faith can be quite rational in many other aspects and are willing to look past the failure of logic that would allow someone to believe in such silliness. It does not seem to work the other way around with Christians. Those who call themselves Christian, at least those who congregate in churches, run the other direction when a person declares that they are a non believer. This redoubles the feeling of loneliness for someone who has discovered that they no longer believe. Any discussion or verbal exploration of the topic of unbelief is discouraged by the behavior of the Christians with whom you may be visiting. They consider it impolite and very inappropriate for a person who was once in a position of leadership within the church to raise questions that may lead to a discovery that the tenets of their faith are untrue. They are just as unwilling to accept any criticism of the Church hierarchy and organization in my experience. And so it is that a person who has left faith behind will find they are unable to reconnect with many of their former friends and will also find that they are cut off from the intellectual part of the community that they were once a big part of.
Now that this stage is set, I need to express my thanks to Bart Ehrman.
I have never met him in person but have read many, many of his books. He has given me, by extension of his written words, the friendship that I needed when I first left the church. The common experience of his interest in scripture, his complete lack of faith, and his love of history have made him one of my best friends. He has given me the intellectual conversations I missed so much when I first left the ministry. My favorite book by Ehrman is entitled Misquoting Jesus and in it he gives a summary of his gradual realization that he no longer believes the scriptures to be the literal word of God. This had a big effect on my own lack of belief because it added intellectual credibility to my non belief in the same way that Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene did. Ehrman dissects scripture with a very sharp knife, and cuts deeper into it than any other Humanist I know. Through Ehrman I found the intellectual nuance that was missing from many of my own arguments against Christianity.
|(Link to Book Below)|
Here is one example of Ehrman's ability to reason, based on his deep understanding of Biblical history and scripture. This quote is about the apparent lack of original manuscripts of the Bible. Ehrman states, "If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don't have [the original manuscripts of] the very words of scripture? In some places, as we will see, we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately. It's a bit hard to know what the words of the Bible mean if we don't even know what the words are!" He then goes on to say, "This became a problem for my view of inspiration, for I came to realize that it would have been no more difficult for God to preserve the words of scripture that it would have been for him to inspire them in the first place. If he wanted his people to have his words, surely he would have given them to them (and possibly even given them the words in a language they could understand, rather than Greek and Hebrew). The fact that we don't have the words surely must show, I reasoned, that he did not preserve them for us. And if he didn't perform that miracle, there seemed to be no reason to think that he performed the earlier miracle of inspiring those words."
Ehrman then goes on to explain that the Bible is in fact a very human document rather than a godly one and must be studied as such. He goes on to state "This was a human book from beginning to end. It was written by different human authors at different times and in different places to address different needs. Many of these authors no doubt felt they were inspired by God to say what they did, but they had their own perspectives, their own beliefs, their own views, their own needs, their own desires, their own understandings, their own theology; and these perspectives, beliefs, views, needs, desires, understandings, and theologies informed everything they said."
I couldn't agree more. Loneliness be gone, Ehrman's humanistic study of scripture has shaped how I look at history, scripture, theology and the world today and for that I must say, "Thank You Mr. Ehrman."
Link To Bart Ehrman's Blog: http://ehrmanblog.org
Ehrman's Book Misquoting Jesus: http://www.amazon.ca/Misquoting-Jesus-Story-Behind-Changed/dp/0060859512
I added the words in square brackets [ ] for the sake of clarity.