I was eight years old when I first smelled a rat.
My father was raised Catholic and my mom was Methodist. They took me to church on Sunday (not every Sunday) and I paid as much attention as a little kid usually does in church.
When I was eight they put me in Sunday School.
My Sunday School teachers presented all the usual "Jesus loves me" stuff and I accepted it. Little kids believe what they're told by adults; Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, whatever. Anyway, I thought it was cool and interesting, so I got hold of my mom's Bible. I was a good reader for my age and I started with Genesis. I had questions and the next Sunday I asked them.
Why were there two Creation stories and why didn't they tell the same story?
Did God make Adam and Eve at the same time, or did he make Adam first and then Eve?
Were they created before or after animals?
Were the stars made at the same time as the Earth – Genesis 1:1 – or on the fourth day – Genesis 1:16-19?
Were plants created on the third day, before humans – Genesis 1:11-13 – or were they created after humans – Genesis 2:4-7?
I was informed that my questions were inappropriate.
When I persisted, my parents were told that I was "being disruptive" and wasn't welcome any more.
I realized that, if my teachers couldn't answer questions posed by a 2nd grader in their supposed area of expertise, there was something seriously wrong. I didn't think of it in exactly those terms, of course, but still; something was seriously wrong.
It all went downhill from there. I kept reading the Bible and kept finding contradictions and obvious nonsense.
I had a grade-school-level book that showed how the Earth and Moon and the rest of the Solar System had formed and it made sense to me. Was the book wrong or was the Bible wrong?
My parents had an Encyclopedia Americana. Some of the words and concepts I found were beyond me, but Mom helped. The articles seriously contradicted the Bible's accounts.
Somewhere between when the bible talks about water and plant life on Earth before the Sun was created, where unicorns exist (mentioned by at least 5 different authors: Balaam, Moses, David, Isaiah and even God himself in the book of Job), the horrible violence that was committed or sanctioned by God and the psycho rantings in Revelation, I lost all faith in using the Bible as a foundation for faith and the way one might live his life.
What was I supposed to believe? When it came right down to it, I really didn't have any sensible choice. The Bible just didn't make the cut.
I put the subject aside for a long time. My parents weren't big church-goers and we went only on Easter and Christmas eve. I liked the singing and mostly ignored the sermons.
One day – I must have been about 11 or 12 – I heard a man on the radio saying that God didn't exist. I'd never heard anyone say that and it shocked me a little. I asked my father about it and he told me that the man was an Atheist and what that meant. Hmmm. Food for thought!
In school, I learned about the scientific method; about the way scientists use evidence and experimentation to develop hypotheses and theories. Could those methods be used to examine the Bible? Well, no.
In 7th grade, I took a "Mythology" course. It was fascinating. All those gods and goddesses and demi-gods! People really believed in them! For thousands of years! Why?
Individual gods were popular for a time and then they were replaced by other gods. Why?
Well, in ancient times, people worshipped and sacrificed to their gods right up until things got bad. Drought, flood, crop failure, plague, invaders, whatever, if their gods didn't protect them, they went looking for other gods and there were plenty to choose from. After all, what good are gods you can't depend on? As they say, "Time kills all gods."
That's all changed. Now, when your god fails you, your choice of gods is very limited, so the answer has to be, "God works in mysterious ways" and "God's ways are not our ways". Believers can't admit their god has failed them, so they make excuses. It's a perfectly normal, human reaction. But it isn't logical.
In high school, very few of my friends were overtly religious. When we talked about religion, the consensus was that all deities were mythical. We discussed reincarnation, but rejected it because there would have to be somebody in charge, making decisions and assigning souls to their next body according to some unknown standard. Nah. Don't think so!
In college, I took a religion course from an ordained minister who was a great teacher. He was funny. He'd read something out of the Bible, slam it down on his desk and say, "What a load of crap" or something similar. I got an "A" in that class.
Career and raising a family took up my time for decades, but then the Internet came along. Lots of good stuff there! Much later, after I'd retired and had the time and the Internet to work with, I discovered works by actual Biblical scholars.
I learned about all the Gospels and other writings that had been enormously popular and influential, but didn't fit with official Church doctrine and were banned, their proponents persecuted.
I learned about the Gnostics and other sects that had been outlawed and crushed or driven underground.
I learned about the way the Old and New Testaments had been written, who might have written them, the incredible number of mistakes, additions, deletions, misattributions and outright forgeries they contain and how the various versions came to be.
I learned that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (who were uneducated peasants who spoke Aramaic), but 35 to 70 years after Jesus' death by highly educated Greeks who were rigorously trained in Greek composition. No one has the slightest idea who those men were.
The Gospels were all written in the third person. There are no eye-witness accounts of anything Jesus did. Where did the stories come from? Where did the Gospel authors get their information? Well, they heard the stories from somebody who heard the stories from somebody who heard the stories from somebody who heard the stories from somebody and so on. These stories had been in circulation – told orally - for decades and were told and embellished and improved and changed by people who were using them to convince other people that Jesus had been raised from the dead in order to convert them to Christianity. In other words, the story tellers were strongly biased. They made stuff up. They lied and the Gospel writers passed those lies on to us.
Read all four accounts of Jesus' death and notice the differences.
Was Jesus crucified the day before the Passover meal was eaten or the day after?
Was Jesus crucified in the morning or the afternoon?
Did Jesus carry his cross or did Simon carry it?
Did both robbers mock Jesus or did one mock him and one defend him?
Did the curtain in the temple rip before or after he died?
Who went to the tomb on the third day? Was it Mary alone, Mary with other women, how many women and what were their names?
Was the stone rolled away before they got to the tomb or not?
When they got to the tomb, did they see one man or two men or one angel?
Did the women tell anybody or were they silent?
Did they tell the disciples to stay in Jerusalem or to go to Galilee?
Did the disciples never leave Jerusalem or did they go to Galilee?
The answers to those questions depends on which Gospel you read. The Gospels are certainly not reliable historical sources.
Additionally, while there are no accounts of Jesus' crucifixion outside the New Testament, there are many descriptions of other crucifixions to be found in Roman literature. One essential part of crucifixion involved what happened to the body after death. At that time, being given a decent burial was important, so if the body was left to rot on the cross for days, being torn by birds and other scavengers, and if the condemned knew this would happen, that made his death more horrible and that's exactly what the Romans did. There's no reason to think Jesus was taken down from the cross soon after he died and very good reasons to think he was left there for days.
The Resurrection stories are a conflicting mish-mash, told by unknown and biased people.
All this was and still is fascinating.
I've learned a lot, but there's one question that truly puzzles me:
Why is it that so many people who build their lives around their religion don't bother to study its history? It's not that hard.
I realize that questioning a cherished belief makes people uncomfortable, but if there's anything we as humans have learned, it's that we can be wrong. If you're wrong and you close your mind to new information, you'll be trapped in a delusion.
If you're willing to accept claims that can't be verified, you're headed down a rabbit hole that contains pyramid power, the healing properties of crystals, palmistry, tarot cards, phrenology, astrology, channeling and other forms of complete nonsense. You might as well claim that Alice in Wonderland is a documentary.
So, that's where I stand. I trust evidence and the scientific method.
I'd love, more than you can imagine, to see evidence of some supernatural deity. Wouldn't that be cool? So exciting! But so far, there's nothing.
While we wait, I'll continue my studies.