When inerrancy kills faith
Amy, a former missionary who left the faith and became an atheist, tells her story to Jason Boyett.
I didn’t realize how deeply I had rationalized the biblical God’s evil doings until one afternoon when my 7-year-old daughter came to me with a Bible question. My husband and I had given her a youth Bible for Easter when she was 6, and she’s quite precocious; after starting in the gospel of John and losing interest, she decided that she wanted to read from the beginning. I said, “Go ahead!” not expecting her to get very far. I didn’t realize how far she’d gotten until she approached me with Deuteronomy 22:28-29.
“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”
“What does this mean?” she asked me.
(Yes, my daughter understood the basic concept of sex and rape, though perhaps not in their most gory details, but all that a 7-year-old might know.)
Fortunately (or not) I had a ready answer to such questions—I had several explanations to excuse these sorts of verses, after all, was I not a Bible study leader and evangelist?
- “This was just supposed to be a deterrent. A man would be less likely to rape a woman if he had to wed and support her.”
- “This was just for the Jews. They had to follow more serious laws because they were God’s chosen people.”
- “Christians don’t have to follow these civil laws.”
- “No other men would have married a woman who was not a virgin. This was a way of making sure she’d be maintained in case she was raped and would be unlikely to marry.”
But, looking at my little daughter right then, I knew none of these was sufficient. There was only one possible answer, the simplest. I took a deep breath and said, “God said that if a man raped a woman, she had to marry him.”
“That’s horrible!” my daughter protested, and I agreed. And I still do. Wrap it however you want, excuse it however you want, but that’s what it boils down to. God made a civil law that said a woman raped was a woman wed.
How odd that it took my child to help me see that. A child sees clearly what an adult can rationalize away. And how evil would it have been of me to rationalize rape to a child?
I struggled with that the rest of the afternoon, remembering all of the places in the Bible where I had excused Elohim’s evil. Sure, you can try to rationalize these things. Of course! When you’re convinced that God is good, you must find a way to deal with these issues that we see as evil. The only answer you’re never allowed is “God is bad.” But we must allow that to be a possible answer if we’re looking for truth.
The God of the Bible calls for genocide, the murder of children and babies, condones the rape of captive women, calls for the stoning of even committed same-sex couples who engage in sexual activity together, and brutally starves thousands who don’t obey Him to His satisfaction.
Once I gave up on the idea of a good deity, the rest fell apart pretty quickly. I began reading Biblical scholars like Bart Ehrman who helped explain the strange discrepancies in the Bible. I had long wondered how Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on a colt or on two animals at the same time, or whether Jairus’ daughter was dead or not when he went to Jesus for her healing. Then it boiled down to the point that the Bible is not inerrant. I had thought it was. I had taught others that it was! However, the Bible has discrepancies and contradictions that I could no longer ignore or rationalize. And not just little ones. Take the death of Christ, for instance. Two of the gospels claim that it happened on different days! Wouldn’t the Bible get the facts of Jesus’ death correct? Isn’t this—and the resurrection—the lynch pin of Christian faith?
The book I thought existed doesn’t. The God I thought existed doesn’t.
And now I no longer labor under the contradictions that I did. And I don’t have to foist them upon my children. And I don’t have to live in fear of the things God will do to help “refine” me in this life, or what might happen to me in an afterlife—Millstone around my neck, anyone? Nope. Because that doesn’t exist either.
I wish she threw the doctrine of inerrancy out, not God. Of course the book fundamental inerrantists talk about doesn’t exist. But by no means does that mean God doesn’t exist either. What an utter tragedy, this story.