What motivates people to stick to the idea of biblical inerrancy? There are many people who are aware they don’t have a rational justification to believe, yet somehow they feel like they need to. There is something inside them that urges them to. I don’t know if I can say for everyone, but based on my experience, both with people around me and with myself, I’ve noticed three main forces behind this behavior (which can explain faith in other kinds of dogmas as well): Comfort, influence and fear.
One important thing I have come to understand is that in general, religion is not about finding truth even if uncomfortable, it’s about finding comfort even if untrue. Even though Christianism alleges to lead you to the truth, what really attracts people to the religion is the comfort it provides. And Christians wouldn’t feel as much comfortable without an inerrant canon. If you stop to think about it, the idea of having a perfect holy book is very attractive. The Bible is supposed to have the answers for all your problems in life, the right instructions to how you are supposed to live so you can have a happy life, and more, so you can have an eternal life! With a guidebook like that in your hands, there is no need to worry, there is no need to think so much about what the right decision is, you can simply relax and follow the steps. Of course in practice what people usually follow is not the Bible itself but what their church preaches as the Bible, but the effect is the same.
For this reason many people get attached to the concept, they start feeling that they can’t live without it, that they wouldn’t be able to think and make decisions by themselves. No doubt it’d be wonderful to have a perfect manual to guide our lives, but wanting it to be true doesn’t make it true, does it?
One might ask: Regardless of whether it’s true or not, isn’t it a good thing to have a belief that brings you comfort?
As I have discussed before, I’m generally against absolute, blind belief, not only about the Bible but about anything. I must admit, however, that faith in deities sometimes, for some people, can be helpful. It’s kind of like a painkiller. For some people, when they are in desperate situations, believing in a superior power that is protecting and blessing them can relieve their stress and give them some optimism. But the problem with biblical inerrancy is that it extends the scope of the belief to a gigantic magnitude. It’s not simply about believing there is a deity helping you, it’s about believing all the thousands of Christian teachings, precepts, ideas and laws taken from the Bible are correct and you are supposed to obey them, regardless of whether they make sense for you or not. Consequentially, what we have are people joining Christian churches attracted by the family values or the beautiful hymns, for example, and I don’t see any problem in that, but ending up opposing homosexualism without ever having a reason for it, or spending hours every day in prayer sessions without ever finding it helpful. It’s like they become puppets, doing things because a book says so, not because they perceive them as good. Thus, my conclusion is that, despite the possible comfort, absolute faith in the Bible can be a very risky game in the long run.
We are all influenced by people around us. Perhaps one of the biggest influences we receive is religious thinking. It’s not a coincidence that the great majority of religious people in the world believe in the same religion of their parents and their community. And I know very well what it’s like to grow up inside a culture filled with religious ideas. You hear about them so many times, and since a so young age, that you just take them for granted. If you never have close contact with different views, then it is very easy to live an entire life without ever questioning your beliefs or looking at them from the outside. Because of that, so many people see biblical inerrancy as an obvious fact.
But it’s not only people born in the religion, new comers are also highly influenced by people around them. Especially if you spend a long time in the church, frequently listening to your friends and close ones talk passionately about the Bible, all the time referring to it as God’s word, it won’t be long until you see yourself thinking the way they do.
Sometimes people feel even more prone to embrace the belief because everybody around them would otherwise see them as terrible sinners. You don’t want to receive negative judgement from people you love, or to disappoint them, so unconsciously you feel pressured to believe as well. If you have built a reputation as a great defender of the faith and gone through huge sacrifices for its sake, then the pressure will be much higher, as some might perceive you as a traitor or a fool. (Of course I don’t think there is anything foolish about it, it’s rather wise to reconsider one’s beliefs)
Fear was the main factor for me. When I started to reflect upon the concept of biblical inerrancy, I felt very scared. Since child I had been taught that we all need to accept and obey God’s word (the Bible), and we should have a strong faith in it, otherwise we would be punished. The very idea of eternal hell was also very scary, as I used to think God might send me there if I intentionally decided not to believe his words. Actually, I was afraid of even questioning, even asking myself about the veracity of the Bible, as it is said that lack of faith displeases God. So I thought: “What if I am actually believing in the wrong scripture? That’s a possibility, and that’s why I should stop believing it blindly. But what if I stop believing it and it was actually the right scripture? Then God will condemn me for not believing.” That was a real tough dilemma, one that many people face.
But I trusted that if there was a God, he was just, as the Bible itself teaches, and a just God would understand that I had no way of knowing for sure about the inerrancy of the Bible, and a just God would never punish someone for not believing something one couldn’t ever know. By reflecting on this, I realized there was no need to feel afraid at all. I finally managed to overcome the fear instituted and transmitted by Christian dogmas. The fear that prevents so many people from using the most precious tool the universe equipped them with: their minds.
Another great source of fear among Christians is the matter of salvation, something I started to reflect about sometime later, and that I will talk about in my next post…