Does the Bible Cause Deconversion?
Psychologist and former evangelical believer, Valeri Turico seems to think so:
“Bible-believing Christians, those who see the Bible as the perfect word of God, would be horrified to know how often loss of faith is triggered by someone deciding to read the good book and discovering the long litany of slavery, incest, misogyny, genocide, or scientific absurdities there.”
Valerie is correct. It is quite shocking to find out that many deconverts point to the Bible as the catalyst for their deconversion. A familiar refrain among the deconverted is that what spurred them on to reject their faith was that they decided to actually take the Bible seriously. Unfortunately, doing so did not strengthen their faith, but rather it produced so much cognitive dissonance that retaining their faith in the Bible could only be done at the expense of their rationality, intellectual integrity and common sense.
Valerie Turico speaks for many (both Christians and deconverts) when she says that some of the more troubling aspects of Scripture are hard to reconcile with our understanding of what God is supposed to be like. I am sympathetic with those who have trouble making sense of the uncomfortable passages in the Bible. Can a Christian read the command of God to annihilate the Canaanites and not feel a bit troubled? I can’t. I have heard many of the arguments and read book length explanations of the annihilation of the Canaanites. But deep down it still bothers me. However, unlike many who have lost their faith I manage to believe despite my moral qualms with the annihilation of the Canaanites. I trust God has his reasons and he can be trusted.
Admittedly the Bible is a complex, messy book. Systematizing it is notoriously difficult and even the Apostle Peter finds some of Paul's writings to be hard to understand. We don’t do anyone any favors by giving the impression that we at times don’t struggle with some of the things in it. I mean, really, have you ever thought about how crazy it sounds to contemporary hearers that a talking snake convinced a naked woman to eat a piece of fruit and that is why the world is so broken?
But, I don’t think the Bible alone, even with all of its difficult passages is sufficient to account for deconversion. Listening to deconverts speak about the Bible as the catalyst for their deconversion has convinced me that more often than not the Bible in conjunction with certain unanalyzed assumptions can result in deconversion.
No one comes to the text of the Bible without assumptions. In fact, assumptions function as lenses through which we understand the text of Scripture. Most of the time we are unaware of what those assumptions are. One thing is certain, if we have wrong assumptions about the nature of the Bible they will inevitably distort our view of it in the same way a bad prescription for a pair of glasses will distort our view of the world.
Unfortunately a number of the assumptions that are held by many who deconvert are not essential to either the Christian faith or the doctrine of Scripture. However, in their Christian experience these assumptions were made nonnegotiable aspects of the Faith. And when they encountered persuasive data which undermined those assumptions, they could no longer believe in the Bible.
So what are those assumptions? Here is a partial list that I will address over the next few weeks.
Young earth creationism
Moral problems with God
My belief is that an unhealthy emphasis on the first two and a lack of sophistication in dealing with the last two have produced an unfortunate set of assumptions which characterize many evangelicals. When those assumptions are challenged, and a meaningful answer is not found, the risk of deconversion is elevated. I maintain that instead of giving up our belief in the Bible, perhaps we should rethink some of our assumptions about what it must be and how it must act.