In his article "How Facebook Made Me an Atheist," Mike Frederick Ziethlow tells his story of moving to disbelief. He recounts his tearful wedding vow, telling his wife "I love that God gave you to me." From there, it becomes only a matter of months until his interaction with social media let him to conclude two things: 1) people will believe anything, like a quote misattributed to Churchill, and 2)people will generally be uncritical to the extent of reinforcing their own biases.1 Ziethlow then concludes, "Once I realized I'm just as fallible as the next, liking things that confirm my beliefs, sharing things that echo my perspective, I understood how lies really do get halfway around the world while the truth remains pantless." It is from this framework that Ziethlow begins questioning the Christian faith he was given buy his parents, ultimately becoming an atheist.
Setting the Bible Up to FailI think the initial questions Ziethlow asks are worthy and should be asked by each person. One cannot live on the faith of one's parents; each person must seek out the truth for him or herself. What bothers me about Zeithow's story is how he proceeded to investigate the Christian faith. He admits that he didn't really know a lot about Christianity and he was "starting from scratch." So, he figures reading the Bible will sort it all out. However, he sets up the biblical text to fail even before he begins by creating a false dilemma. He recounts:
Now, starting from scratch, the first question I had was whether to take the Bible literally or metaphorically. If you are a literalist, fine — you trust the Word of God is inerrant. If you are a metaphorist, your faith may be "on sand." For example, which parts do you take literally, and which do you take figuratively? Earth created in six days? Talking snake? The dead rising? Unfortunately for metaphorists, the Bible is quite clear these things must be accepted, and that if you are "lukewarm" on the subject, He will spit you out. So literalism — trusting that the Word of God is all you need — is really the only logically defensible position for a religion that repeatedly claims as much.2The stark either/or approach to literal or metaphorical text has never been advocated by the Bible or anyone who teaches the Bible. In fact, to read any text in such a way is to mangle the text itself. Even our modern day newspapers cannot be approached in such a wooden fashion. Just go to the Sports page of your local paper and you will see that in even this literal medium is replete with metaphors and hyperbole. Was that baseball team really torpedoed?3 Wouldn't that constitute an act of war? Aren't newspapers supposed to only deal in facts? If so, then why should I take anything as metaphorical when a paper is quite clear that it is a paper devoted to presenting news stories?
Dismissing a Childish FaithGiven this foundation, Zeithlow unsurprisingly finds his journey through the biblical accounts less than believable. He dismisses a young earth creation reading of Genesis, the global flood of Noah, and Joshua's long day as impossible because "laws in the observable universe tested time and again by science and physics would prove untrue." Notice two things here. First, a miracle is defined as an event that suspends the laws of science (physics being a sub-branch of the larger discipline), so Zeithlow's concern is demonstrably false. Miracles don't disprove the laws of nature, they are exceptions to them. Secondly, if Zeithlow would have consulted with those who know about biblical exegesis, he may have found out that there are good Christians who are divided as to what those passages really mean.
The primary problem with Zeithlow's approach is it isn't rational. In his article, he never states that he consulted with biblical scholars or even pastoral commentaries to uncover what the biblical text meant. Perhaps if he did he would have found out that the story of "a guy chopp[ing] up his recently-raped concubine and mailed her body parts all over the country" isn't commended but condemned in the book of Judges, a book that repeats the warning "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6. 21:25). Instead, all of Zeithlow's references and recommendations are of atheists who helped him move "from the Bible to science."
Listening to the Echo ChamberOne can see the irony here. Zeithlow has committed the very flaw that he condemned at the beginning of his piece. He confirmed his hunch that God wasn't real by liking people who confirmed that hunch and he shared those sources that echoed that perspective—the very problem he decried at the beginning of his article! There is no real investigation of the Christian faith, something that may take more effort than asking a few Facebook friends to help you out. In order to be fair, one should seek out the best arguments for a position, not simply straw men.
Given how Zeithlow describes Christianity, I would tell him I don't believe in such a faith either. My belief is much more mature, much more robust, and much more capable at handling issues he hasn't even brought up. I take its foundational texts not simply "literally" but seriously, seeking to understand the author's intent. If he is willing to investigate the true Christian faith, I'm more than willing to help point him to an adult understanding. Otherwise, it seems Zeithlow is the one caught with his pants down.
2. Ziethlow, 2015.
3. Digiovanna, Mike. "Angels Can't Complete White Sox Sweep after Fatal Fifth Inning." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. http://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/la-sp-angels-20150821-story.html.
Image courtesy Nevit Dilmen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.