Can Reading The Bible Turn People Into Atheists?

I saw a quote from Bertrand Russell a few days ago that has me thinking. 

Atheism is what happens to you when you read the Bible.  Christianity is what happens when somebody else reads it for you. 

Russell was a philosopher, pacifist, author, activist, and public, outspoken advocate for atheism in the early half of the 20th century.  

I've read some of his work in the past, but this particular quote piqued my interest, and I've pondered it for a while.  

To begin with, I need to unpack his statement's first sentence: "Atheism is what happens when you read the Bible."  

Russell meant that when you start reading the Bible, you discover many issues that can raise serious questions, leading to doubt, skepticism, and disbelief. 

He would say that the stories seem fantastic, most mythological in form and function, created by the ancients to make meaning out of a world they did not understand.  

Russell would criticize the concept of a biblical deity that condoned genocide and acted capriciously by trying to destroy the earth with a flood, afflicting people with divinely ordained war, pestilence, and disaster. 

And he, of course, did not believe that Jesus was imbued with the Divine and most certainly did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. 

The second part of the statement is a bit easier to grasp: "Christianity is what happens when somebody else reads [the Bible] for you."

Russell's point here is pretty simple.  He's saying that when you depend on Christians for critical thinking when it comes to the Bible, you won't get any.  The die is cast regarding their beliefs, which they read into the Scripture. 

As I was working on this Devo, I recalled a quote I'd written down some time ago and thought this would be a good time to share it: 

God must be very great to have created a world which carries so many arguments against his existence. - Anon

I have a few thoughts about all of this. 

First, I don't wholly disagree with Russell's statement. I believe reading the Bible uncritically can do a great deal of damage to our faith without the help of thoughtful guides. 

Still, I think Rusell's bias in his statement excluded the fact that many faithful Christians read the Bible critically, not literally.    

Second, I think that one of the significant problems in Christianity right now is the fact that so many well-meaning Christians are not thinking or reading the Bible well.  They mostly regurgitate what they hear from popular, misguided, or cynical preachers, political figures, and others.  

The problems that this has caused can be seen playing out in our current divided society and in the rise of Christian nationalism, which is a blight on Christianity and on the US. 

Finally, I agree with Russell about not believing in a God purported to be all-powerful but who seems to ignore suffering, is exclusive in forgiveness and favor, and demands fealty and worship. 

I  stopped believing in that God a long time ago. 

I am so grateful to be a part of a Christian tradition that values critical thinking and thoughtful interpretation of the Scriptures and that (for the most part) tends to view the Bible through the lens of love and justice. 

I, for one, can say that critically reading the Bible has deepened my faith, not caused me to run from it.  It's helped me to understand why I believe in God rather than driving me to disbelief.  

The Bible is the story of people waking up to God's reality, economy, purposes, and desires for us and the world.  It's a beginning and not an end to thoughtfully approaching our faith.   

May we see it so.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all now and forever. Amen.  


Popular posts from this blog

Wuv... True Wuv...

Rapha & Yada - "Be Still & Know": Reimagined

The Lord Needs It: Lessons From A Donkey