Recently I have been compelled to start a journey to answer the question, "how do I know my beliefs are true?" Like most people, I have merely accepted what everyone that I love and trust in my life has told me to be true. It was not until recently when I was giving a good friend of mine some grief for his religious beliefs that it occurred to me that I have never taken the time to verify why my own beliefs are true.
My entire life I have been fed the notion that the Bible is 100% literal, accurate, truth. So you can imagine my surprise when I began a course to investigate the testable claims of the Bible and discovered that many things in the Bible conflict with history. Not only conflict, but overwhelming evidence to the contrary exists to some of the most popular claims in the Bible.
First of all, it is a well established historical fact that Hebrews have never been enslaved by Egyptians. That was a total shock right out of the gate. I'm not going to flesh out why. There is plenty of information out there regarding that.
Secondly, I have never accepted a literal, global flood but I discovered that the flood story was actually passed around to all of the Middle Eastern cultures. The story is all the same. <Insert deity name> wants to destroy humanity and picks his disciple <insert person's name> to save a few people and all the animals. This is not a story unique to Judaism, in fact it predates Judaism several times.
Just a few excerpts from the flood stories that predate Judaism, same story, different players:
The gods had decided to destroy mankind. The god Enlil warned the priest-king Ziusudra ("Long of Life") of the coming flood by speaking to a wall while Ziusudra listened at the side. He was instructed to build a great ship and carry beasts and birds upon it...
Three times (every 1200 years), the gods were distressed by the disturbance from human overpopulation. The gods dealt with the problem first by plague, then by famine. Both times, the god Enki advised men to bribe the god causing the problem. The third time, Enlil advised the gods to destroy all humans with a flood, but Enki had Atrahasis build an ark and so escape. Also on the boat were cattle, wild animals and birds, and Atrahasis' family...
The gods, led by Enlil, agreed to cleanse the earth of an overpopulated humanity, but Utnapishtim was warned by the god Ea in a dream. He and some craftsmen built a large boat (one acre in area, seven decks) in a week. He then loaded it with his family, the craftsmen, and "the seed of all living creatures...
The god Chronos in a vision warned Xisuthrus, the tenth king of Babylon, of a flood coming on the fifteenth day of the month of Daesius. The god ordered him to write a history and bury it in Sippara, and told him to build and provision a vessel (5 stadia by 2 stadia) for himself, his friends and relations, and all kinds of animals...
Enlargement of the earth was necessary again after 600 years. When the population became too great after 900 years, Ahura Mazda warned Yima that destruction was coming in the form of winter, frost, and subsequent melting of the snow. He instructed Yima to build a vara, a large square enclosure, in which to keep specimens of small and large cattle, human beings, dogs, birds, red flaming fires, plants and foodstuffs, two of every kind...
Finally, I learned that not only is the military takeover of Canaan as described in Joshua not an historical fact, but there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary which points to the fact that Judaism flourished from within Canaan and eventually became the predominant religion with no warfare at all.
You can imagine what learning these facts had to do to my faith. Having learned that the Bible is 100% literally true, and learning facts to the contrary constitute a huge philosophical problem for me. I am not the type of person who can look at hard evidence and say, "well, that conflicts with the Bible, so it's false." Nor do I find people with that ability particularly virtuous, even though cognitive dissonance is praised as a virtue in just about all world religions.
Continuing my journey to investigate the claims of the Bible has been an interesting experience thus far. It has given me the opportunity to gain lots of different perspectives, not only on christianity, but on life and other religious beliefs in general. Having talked to numerous christians about my philosophical belief problem in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary of my established beliefs has certainly been interesting. I have spoken with christians who range in philosophical differences from "you absolutely cannot be a christian unless you believe the Earth is literally 6,000 years old" all the way to "yes, many of the stories in the Bible are only allegories meant to convey the nature of God, many of the events of the Bible definitely did not happen" and everything in between.
Numerous christians have told me that my lack of faith is nothing more than a hardened heart and open rebellion against God. Other christians have told me that my honest search for truth is closer to Christ-like than many will ever get in their entire lives of blind, unquestioning devotion.
After several months it has finally occurred to me that my entire life I have not been sold christianity. I have been sold an orthodoxy. Biblical literalism is a very young, theological idea prevalent mostly among Protestants, and Baptists fall on the farthest end of that literalism spectrum. Christians have always accepted the Bible as "truth" but they have not always accepted the Bible as "actual literal events". Biblical literalism is fairly new to the theological game.
Recently, I was called a heretic and "not a true christian" by a friend giving me counsel. This is a person whom I respect deeply but he has bought in hard to his chosen orthodoxy. So yes, I suppose I am heretical to his orthodoxy and if his orthodoxy defines a christian as X then I suppose according to his standards I'm not a christian either. This does not trouble me in the slightest. According to this orthodoxy, numerous other of the 42,000 denominations of christianity are also "not true christians."
My journey is not complete but I think what I have learned the most is many people have many wildly, differing opinions on whether I'm drawing closer to Christlike, rebelling against God, being a heretic, being a vigilant seeker of truth, doing something God loathes, doing something God admires, etc. Despite all of their differing opinions, they all have one thing they agree on, "my belief is the correct one!"