1. Don’t read this list.
This list quite obviously highlights those areas of fundamentalist Christianity I find to be problematic in today’s society with all of its knowledge and freedoms. Consider this a friendly warning – many of the items on this list hint at those factors which led to my own ‘fall from grace’.
2. When reading the bible, read only those portions mentioned by your pastor the previous Sunday -or- read only the bible verses assigned for the current date in a “read the entire bible in a year” program.
Pastors are quite unlikely to mention those portions of the bible that may seem ethically, or logically… unfortunate. The cold-blooded slaughter of the Midianites excluding, of course, the virginal girls; the production of patterned offspring in cattle brought on by placing streaked sticks in the water troughs of copulating flocks; or the God initiated mauling of children by bears for the unpardonable sin of teasing (Numbers 31:7-17, Genesis 30:37-39, and 2 Kings 2:23-24 respectively) rarely make up the bulk of a sermon or bible study. Pastors are also adept at placing each bible verse in the proper denominational context to prevent accidental individual analysis. If accomplished as intended, this context will feed your faith while starving any doubts or conflicts you may be harboring.
By spreading out the text over a large amount of time, and presenting it in chunks that make maintaining meaningful context difficult, “read the entire bible in a year” programs should allow you to avoid recognizing any of the many textual contradictions. Using a program that provides a predetermined denominational interpretation will give the added bonus of alleviating the need for personal thought and interpretation.
3. Stick to a single bible version whenever possible.
Understanding that translations vary from one version to the next may create doubt that the bible is the literal Word of God in any language other than the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. If you do use more than one version, telling yourself that these translational differences pertain only to details and do not change the intended meaning is a good way to combat said doubt. Assuming, of course, you don’t notice that some translational differences are quite dramatic. The NIV casting Jesus, the Morning Star of Revelation, from heaven rather than Lucifer, son of the morning, as referenced in the KJV is a good example (Isaiah 14:12). These differences in translation also cast doubt upon the notion that each translator is led by the very Spirit of God. Either the versions are being mistranslated by men of their own means, or the Holy Spirit isn’t entirely concerned with the continuity of his word.
4. Do not delve into the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic without the aid of a study guide that gives the denominationally approved definition and translation of each term.
Delving into ancient languages on your own could lead you to the conclusion that any translation, no matter how schooled the translator, no matter how much time spent, nor how much care is taken, will be tainted greatly by time, social differences, and the individual bias of translators. Realizing that a single word can be translated in a dozen different, and often contradictory, ways won’t do much for your faith in the purity of the bible, nor will the realization that cultural slang is often lost over time, making literal translations of certain words and phrases useless in determining the original intent of many passages. Shakespearean plays have lost their more subtle meaning to modern-day audiences having existed only a fragment of the time biblical texts have. Don’t think about it. Probably best to avoid Shakespeare anyway.
5. Ignore all damning information pertaining to both the councils of Trent and Nicea.
In order to believe that the bible, in its current form, is the inerrant Word of God, you need to believe that the councils responsible for determining those books that would be included as Holy Scripture were godly men led to their conclusions by the Holy Spirit. To learn the politics at work in the decisions made between what is considered canon and what is considered heresy might lead to doubting the holiness of the council members. It will also be helpful to ignore the sheer volume of texts that were thrown out by both councils, including four texts that are mentioned in the approved canonical books (the Book of the Wars of the Lord mentioned in Numbers, the Book of Jasher mentioned in Joshua, the Book of Nathan and Gad mentioned in First Chronicles, and the Book of Acts of Solomon mentioned in Second Chronicles). Acknowledging the number of texts refused may lead to acknowledging that the seeming agreement of scriptural books throughout great time and distance is not miraculous, but rather a contrived result obtained by including only those books that were reasonably consistent with doctrine deemed politically and culturally appropriate.
6. Never discuss messianic prophecy with an actual Jew, certainly not an orthodox Jew, and under no circumstances with an Israeli orthodox Jew.
Gaining the perception of an individual well versed in the culture, language, and faith of those individuals that actually wrote the texts translated into biblical scripture can be disastrous to the fundamentalist faith. To find that a good portion of those prophecies often mentioned in fundamentalist christian circles were never intended as messianic, or even as prophecy, doesn’t do good things for the ‘proof’ of Jesus as the jewish messiah. Learning that Jesus didn’t fulfil a single prophecy authentically considered messianic is downright crushing. The knowledge that christian translations of scripture differ quite dramatically from orthodox jewish translations that are both older and more reliably translated isn’t exactly comforting either. If you’re interested in a jewish point of view, stick with Jews for Jesus. Alternatively, you could always simply adopt the anti-semitic views of Martin Luther – after all, they did kill God.
7. Practice willful ignorance.
We’re all ignorant about a great many things and we always will be, no matter how we may strive to improve our intellect. There is simply more information available than the human brain is capable of usefully storing. Willful ignorance is a special form of ignorance, and is of great importance is one intends to remain a fundamentalist christian in these times of mas information. Willful ignorance is the act of purposely blocking out knowledge that contradicts those beliefs you currently espouse. Assume you know all you need to know about HIV, evolution, cultural mythos, geology, astronomy, the placebo effect, biology, neurology, etc. If it’s not in the bible, it’s not important. Ignore it. Pretend the information doesn’t exist. If you accidentally learn something that contradicts your beliefs, proclaim the information as nothing more than a vicious deception of the devil. Secular universities, peer-reviewed journals, and academically respected websites are especially demon-filled.
8. Become heavily involved in the social structure of your church.
The more you surround yourself with individuals that think exactly as you do, the more validation you will receive for your faith, decreasing any doubts you may have from time to time. A tight network of fundamentalist friends will also give you the opportunity to soak in the latest apologetics and give you a sense of consolation concerning those individuals close to you that are inexorably hell bound by maintaining prayer circles. Also, the more fundamentalist christian friends you have, the harder it will be to break away from your faith for fear of disappointing or worrying them.
9. Immerse yourself in apologetic literature and carry Chick Tracts, or similar pamphlets, at all times.
In my opinion, the sole purpose of apologetic literature is to give the reader a sense of confidence by seeming to answer every conceivable question, explain away every apparent contradiction, and basically ‘bulletproof’ the faith, albeit in often nonsensical ways. For this purpose I highly recommend “A Case For Christ”, “Mere Christianity”, and “Evidence That Demands a Verdict”. Don’t concern yourself with the fact that each of these texts are quite dated; apologetics don’t change as new information is acquired. Chick Tracts are especially useful for avoiding debate with those that don’t share your beliefs. Handing someone a copy of “Big Daddy” is certainly simpler, and far less dangerous, than engaging in an evolutionary debate with a knowledgeable individual. It stands to reason that secular forms of literature, especially those texts written by atheists who were once devout believers, should obviously be avoided. Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, and Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism are excellent examples of well-written texts to avoid like the plague.
10. You can be friends with atheists and agnostics, if you must, but DO NOT discuss the reasons for their lack of faith.
I understand that it is the duty of every good christian to present the gospel to those who are currently unsaved; this doesn’t meant that you need to understand why they don’t believe. Heaven forbid they lack belief due to a logical conclusion made after diligent study rather than a simple bad experience with religion, the religious, or in life in general. If their argument makes more sense than yours, an uncomfortable awareness of cognitive dissonance may set in. It’s all downhill for the faith train from that point on.