My Retreat into Theism

August 25th, 2011

After a long and torturous journey, I have arrived at theism, a belief in an active, benevolent, personal and omnipotent God, but no more.

In a sense, I’ve been a theist most of my life. Because, Christianity, Catholic or Protestant, is a form of theism. But perhaps I should say, I am no longer sure of anything, but I choose to believe that God exists, and that he is good. I am now merely a theist.

How and why did I arrive there? The answer lies in Genesis.

Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is traditionally ascribed to Moses. It begins with the creation, and tells the story, from Adam to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and finally Joseph, in Egypt. These events cover thousands of years of human history. Moses lived about a millennium and a half before Jesus.

Genesis is certainly a fascinating book, and one I have loved to read and re-read in the 30 years I’ve been a Christian. The great flood, the call of Abraham, the 10 plagues of Egypt, the call of Jacob, story of Joseph, have all inspired and awed me.

But in the past few years I have been anguished over how to interpret Genesis. Is it a literal account of fact? Is it a collection of oral traditions? Is it allegorical? Did Adam and Eve exist? Was the Earth created in 6 days?

In contrast, a barrage of evidence against a 6-day creation, and the story of Adam and Eve has been stacking up in my mind. I am afraid I can no longer interpret the first chapters of Genesis as anything except allegory. I accept that the Earth is billions of years old, and that evolution has led to the human species.

I believe however, that this does not preclude the existence of God, working outside the material universe to influence that which has been, what is, and what may be. For me, among other things, the mathematical and physical improbability of the creation of a molecule such as DNA, and that in violation of the second law of thermodynamics, order somehow sprung out of chaos, strike me as preposterous as the theory of spontaneous generation now looks to biologists, and the perpetual motion machine to physicists.

This is hardly unorthodox anymore. Many Christians have come to this conclusion, Pope Benedict included. Nevertheless there is a very sad consequence of this: it is incompatible with a belief in the inerrancy of scripture.

If Adam was not the first human, and the first sinner, the Apostle Paul’s teaching about Jesus as the second Adam, the one through which salvation came to the world, becomes imperfect. Genesis is the foundation of the theology of the Jewish and Christian religions. It is hard to overstate how many doctrines pre-suppose the truth of Genesis. If there is ever the slightest crack in Genesis, the foundation, the whole edifice trembles.

If Genesis is only allegorical, I can no longer be sure about which portions of the Bible are true or not. I am left with, not the Word of God revealed to man, but with a mere testimonial of God in the lives of heroes of the faith. Very inspiring, very moving, truly, but no longer eternally binding.

Although I believe in God, and that God spoke to many men, and that God inspired them to write what has now become the Bible, I can no longer ascribe full divine authority to it. In the process of working through this realization, my Christianity has, in the past few years, slowly evaporated. How can I share the good news with an unbeliever, if the assumptions it is based on might not be true?

My faith in God now rests, not on the Bible, but on the experience of his presence in my life, a very slippery slope indeed. Experience is deeper than theology, deep enough to drown in. By only following personal experience, error is to be expected. How can a human being, limited by a short lifespan, limited mental power and experience hope to understand the cosmos? And, God is greater than the cosmos.

So now, although perhaps I am going too far, I’m compelled to retreat to simple theism. The Bible remains my friend, teacher and guide toward understanding God. Nevertheless, since I cannot see it as inerrant, I must now exercise my conscience and seek the truth with my own limited faculties.

The good news is that independently of the Bible, the truth stands: God is love. This is still worth sharing with everyone. My behavior can still be governed by the golden rule of doing onto others as I wish it be done to me. The greatest commandments of loving God before all other things, and my neighbor as myself are just as true. I can live in the spirit, not the letter of God’s law.

  • Juan

    this is by far the most comprehensive post i have seen on a while on this subject.

    • Thanks (I hope you aren’t a spambot). Since I wrote this, I’ve retreated further, into agnosticism.

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