Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Do I Have to Read the Bible?


Some people feel forced to attend church even though they do not believe what is being taught. This article looks at one possible situation where that happens to see if it is right or wrong to keep going. It usually is not as simple as a question of the truth, important as that is. Instead, it has to do with relationships. If you are being made to take part in worship, ask yourself why. Even if you do not agree with the reasons, it is good to see how the other person might mean well. Gaining that perspective can be helpful in determining whether to stay for someone else's sake, or to request the freedom to stop.

It is not always easy to figure out what to write about. As I have said in the past, the best way for me to solve this problem is by being asked questions. It does half my work for me if you tell me what you want to know. I hope to be able to help you, but I can guarantee you would be helping me. I will just do my best in the meantime, and fortunately, I had a thought that should serve me well for a while. As I wait for new questions, I am going to look to the internet for old ones. There are message boards where people have asked questions for years, and I am going to cull them for subjects. I will avoid the answers others have given so I can keep from retreading old ground. And along with that, the questions are anonymous. In essence, I will be responding to hypotheticals.

Filling in the details

I’ve explained all that because I found an interesting one. Someone asked, “Is it wrong to read or chant from the Bible if your heart is not in it? If you disapprove of the church and find the words ridiculous?” Two things really intrigue me about this question. First, it forces me to step outside my normal frame of reference. My answers usually depend on offering proofs out the Bible, but I need to avoid that urge here. It won’t be helpful to make arguments from Scripture to someone who does not believe Scripture in the first place. Second, the question and the missing identity of the questioner require me to make a number of assumptions, and those assumptions can change the answer a bit.

There is no background to work with, so the mind just fills in details. You almost certainly did so. In your mind, was this a man or a woman? Where are they from? What religious tradition is involved? How old are they?

My guess is this was a young person forced by his parents to attend services in a high-church tradition. But it is simply one among many possibilities. It would be interesting to work through a few and see how different the answers are. For today, though, I will stick with the most probable author. Many teenagers struggle with the idea of faith and they are at the age when it is most natural to resent the demands of their parents. I think my best bet is to respond to this question as though that were the situation. I do believe the principles will be broadly applicable to anyone struggling with this if they are willing to look for what is shared in common. So, for the sake of providing an answer that will be broadly helpful, let’s go ahead and get specific.

Beginning to Respond

It sounds like you are practically an adult, and you don’t understand why you still have to go to church and do the readings with everyone else. It isn’t shyness. You genuinely don’t believe what you are being made to say. No one at school or online believes it. The Bible is filled with inaccuracies, inconsistencies, bigotry, and cruelty. People much smarter than your parents know that, but your mom and dad refuse to see it. They don’t want to argue with you. The only answer you get is, “While you are living under my roof, you will follow my rules.” You love them, but you are also embarrassed by them and cannot wait to go off to college so you can become your own person.

I’ll tell you right off the bat, aside from loving my parents, none of that was my experience and I don’t believe it is true. Maybe you think that means I can’t help you. Respectfully, I disagree. No two people have the exact same life. If we cannot gain a glimpse into how others live, though, then empathy goes right out the window. I haven’t been in your shoes, but I do know enough about what it means to be human to be able to offer some insight. I hope you can see what my effort to do so means. I am not trying to force you to be like me. I can’t do that. Even your parents can’t do that. My goal truly is to offer you something that I consider to be of value for your sake, not for mine.

That being said, I am not even going to attempt to say anything persuasive. You did not ask me to defend the Bible, only whether you should have to read it. I would be happy to answer questions about other topics if you have them, and there are already some resources here that could be helpful. But in this response, I just want to provide a bit of perspective.

A Question of Generosity 

Let me first answer your question with a question. Why do you think your parents are making you do this? Remember, my view is not the same as yours. It is possible that they are horrible, but I don’t know them and I don’t want to assume the worst. Can we give them the benefit of the doubt? Parents normally do not take their children to church in order to be controlling. Like me, they are trying to offer something of value. They see life in the church as having given them a sense of worth, a source of structure and purpose in an often-confusing world, and an experience of everlasting love. That is what they want to pass on, not rules for the rules’ own sakes.

I would humbly ask you to consider if that is what your parents have been doing. If you can, it could actually help you to have a more mature relationship with them. See it as less of a struggle for power, and more as an exchange of ideas. It doesn’t mean you automatically agree, just that you recognize they are doing their best. And that would be a very generous way for you to approach things. Maybe it would remove some of the stress of having to go to church.

A Question of Respect 

You are right, though. It is still a question of belief. Is it wrong for you to worship when you have no faith? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I have a deep attachment to the truth. In your case, it is a denial of the truth to pretend to value the Bible. No, because there is more than a moral imperative for truthfulness at play here. If we are talking about right and wrong, then it is also a matter of respect.

Remember, your parents have a responsibility to raise you to the best of their abilities. Church is part of how they do that. If you love and appreciate them, then it might be worth hanging in there for a little while longer. If their goal is not to beat you down, then your goal should not be to beat them in a battle of wills. That, not the truth or falsehood of the Bible, is most likely what this is about. And in that case, it is not really a fight worth having.

A Question of Freedom

Maybe you cannot stand the pressure, though. Maybe you have done your best to be understanding and open, but the disconnect between what you believe and what you have to participate in is just too much to stand. If so, you need to have a real conversation with your mother and father so you can ask them for some leeway.

This might not be popular in certain circles, but I have to tell you the truth as I see it. If (AND ONLY IF) all else fails, your parents should consider allowing you to stop going. You may not like the language of “allow,” but they are responsible for you legally, morally, and naturally, so keep that in mind. Still, there is nothing really to be gained from solidifying resentment.

Recall that I don’t agree with you about the Bible. My hope is that you will come to faith in Christ. However, no one can force you into it. If it feels like that is what your parents are trying to do, then you are just being given reason not to. Evaluating ideas takes second place when you are simply trying to get some freedom. If that is where you are, then the most loving thing your mother and father might be able to do for you is to let you take your own path. That is a dangerous place to be, but it can also be very instructive. Maybe it is what you need.

I know I haven’t given you the answer that you wanted. I know I didn’t offer much validation or relief. What I hope I have done, however, is to give you a new perspective on things. Whatever way you go, that is the best advice I can offer. When you try to see things from your parents’ point of view, it puts you outside yourself and gives you a different way to think about reading the Bible in church. It allows you to see this whole issue as being about relationships rather than opinions. I think that’s a good thing for you if you let it be. All I can do is suggest it. The rest is up to you.

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