How to Leave the Church: A 7-Step Guide to Saving Yourself — Step 4

Study the Bible.

If you’re already in the church, if you’re already a believer, you may think you’ve done this, but there’s a good chance you haven’t. When I say “study” the Bible here I don’t mean the kind of studying you do for a test, reading a document over and over again with the intention of infusing your mind and body with the words on the page. I don’t mean make the Bible a part of you — in fact, I mean quite the opposite.

I mean study the text as a scientist, as a critic. Study it, if you can, like a non-believer. Learn about where it was written, when it was written, by whom it was written, and what else was written that a bunch of powerful dudes in a closed room decided should not be a part of the canon, for a number of predictable reasons. All of these things should make a difference to one’s faith, and realizing them can help open one’s eyes to all of the contingencies that go into Christianity supposedly being “the way”.

I was fortunate enough to go to a seminary in which historical criticism was a fundamental theory when approaching the Bible (much to the horror of many of my classmates’ more conservative family members) so I was shepherded into this practice naturally, barely aware that it was happening. We learned about how the times and places at which the different books were written affected the style of the writing, could explain more accurately the intention behind the writing, and thus should change one’s interpretations of the writing, which would, for us, otherwise be rooted in 21st century Western culture. Can you imagine how badly a bunch of people living 2,000 years from now would misinterpret your ideas if they made no effort to understand the culture from which you came?

Many fundamentalists think that any “interpretation” of the Biblical text is heresy, and we should instead simply take the words as they are, pure and holy, and let them speak to us ‘from the page.’ Well, that’s tricky. Because, do you mean that we take a literal interpretation of the Bible? In that case I hope (1) you’re not eating shellfish, (2) that you don’t have more than one coat in your closet, and (3) that you can explain the straight up contradictions we see within the timelines of the four gospel accounts. And. if you’re like, “Wellll, not that literally,” then how can you ignore the evidence that leans heavily in favor of the Revelation of John being about the fall of Jerusalem in 70CE and the subsequent persecution of Christians, as opposed to a future judgment day. Or, the fact that it’s pretty clear that Paul did not write all of the letters that have his name attached to him?

When you study the Bible as a scholar, and as someone who is willing to trust firmly substantiated understandings about the culture(s) from which it comes, you start to see what a man-made (and I do mean man made) text it truly is. And then you start to think, this is our sacred text? And then you start to think, crap, I really do have to pick and choose what I want to take literally from this book. And then you start to wonder if the very fact that you have to pick and choose is telling you something about the veracity of this religion overall. And then — you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Give it a try. Do some real studying of the Bible. Consider what you’re really putting your faith in, and why.

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Grete Rachel Howland

Grete is a writer and educator living in Portland, OR. She writes about growing up in Evangelical Christianity and finding freedom on the other side of belief.