What Good Is Religion if the Facts Aren’t True?

For some time, there has been significant debate about whether or not the facts in the Bible are true. This debate has been framed in a variety of ways. In the early twentieth century, biblical scholars searched for evidence of the historical Jesus. School boards consider the merits of biblically based creationism and theories of intelligent design. Working groups of scientists and theologians consider whether one can accept the findings of science and remain a person of religious faith. In this debate, the goal seems to be to prove whether the Bible, Christian belief, or tenants of any faith are factually true.

I am a Christian. I am a social scientist – a psychologist. I enjoy and appreciate learning about other sciences including astronomy, evolutionary biology, and physics. Knowing that all life evolved on earth over time is not inconsistent with my faith as a Christian. That’s because I don’t consider the facts of the Bible to be of any particular significance. I believe that the Bible is true, but the facts — well, probably not so much.

Biblical scholars have long demonstrated that there is no evidence to support that a wide variety of biblical figures ever existed including Abraham and Sarah, the other patriarchs and matriarchs, and even less ancient people like Ruth and Job. There’s no evidence that Hebrews were slaves in Egypt or that any pharaoh set them free. The historic evidence suggests that in his life time, Jesus was just one of many wandering Jewish teachers with a message about the coming realm of God, which was due to arrive in what we know today as the first century of the Common Era. Yet, I affirm that the Bible is true. But that truth isn’t in its facts.

I’ve found myself challenged as to how to describe this truth in a sufficient way. Recently, while reading Krista Tippett’s book, Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit, I found a way to describe this truth. While being interviewed by Tippet, V.V. Raman, a theoretical physicist, spoke about the two kinds of truth found in poetry. Poetry can be studied from an analytical perspective which defines the rhyming scheme and structure of a poem. Knowing that a poem is in traditional haiku form or iambic pentameter conveys a certain kind of analytic truth about it. But this analytic truth doesn’t convey the multiple levels of meaning which may be found in the poem or the emotion that the post tried to express.

In a similar way, a scientific examination of life provides us with an analytic understanding of the evolution of life which physicists commonly hold began with the Big Bang. But the truth of science is just one dimension of the larger realm of truth. When the great religions of the world examine life, they convey a sense of the meaning of life, its wonder and mystery. Truth related to meaning and wonder are subjective truths. Religious truth is not based on objective fact but on the subjective experience of life as something mysterious that should be approached with reverence.

My faith as a Christian is inspired by the rich meaning and wonder which my ancestors in faith shared. Whether Noah built an arc, whether animals were on the boat in two pairs each or seven pairs each (the Bible says both things) really doesn’t matter to me. What stories like that of Noah teach me is something of the meaning of life as special, unique, and sacred. It is this subjective reality which is beyond the realm of objective science.

What good is religion if the facts aren’t true? The heart of religion should draw the follower deeper into the truth of the mystery and wonder of life itself. When it does so, religion is indeed very good.

(Originally posted July 29, 2010)

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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7 Responses to What Good Is Religion if the Facts Aren’t True?

  1. George Luke says:

    This is kind of scary to hear coming from someone professing to believe in Christ.

    1 Cor 15:13. Why call yourself a Christian if you’re not convinced about the historicity of the source material? We’re above all people most to be pitied if none of it is historical truth to bank your life on. There are easier ways to live than carrying a cross and denying yourself.

  2. Lou says:

    Hi, George:

    While I always appreciate that people take time to comment, I’m a bit concerned with you statements. Christianity is a very diverse religion and has changed a great deal over 2000 years. Even today, there are many different theological positions taken on Biblical inspiration, what occurs in the sacrament of communion, and what is the essence of salvation. On these topics, there’s little agreement among Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants. Given the context of theological diversity within both the history of Christianity and in today’s theologically complex landscape, I’m not sure how anyone can say that there is only one correct version of Christianity. History has taught us that such positions have consistently led to inquisitions, crusades, and the systematic killing of innocent people. What I find “kind of scary” is not that you and I disagree about theology, but that you are taking a position that your beliefs are the only correct option within the realm of Christianity today. Indeed, history has proven that such opinions can be very scary. Lou

  3. Joel Nielsen says:

    * You’re a truly fantastic person, Lou. And I mean so by all means.! I have read many of your Threads and Blog post with enjoyment, and have a great sympathy for you. I am a christian too, and see you as a fellow believer in God.

    * What is the deepest rooted purpose in your searching into science and different religions in the quest to explore or discover truths and non truths that the christian religion do not contain, or which is difficult to prove, when you know deepest in your heart (I’m sure you do) that the whole ‘narrative’ of the Bible is a Myte (a true myte!) where it is not important to focus on facts and/or truths, but only in believing in the continious and unbroken depiction throughout the Bible as the overall objective which as being the undisputable truth.. Skeptism – sound skeptism – is not to (keep) questioning in a pursue to come closer to reliable facts or truhts, merely it is meant as a way to find peace in the thought and mind that things will always be different, and can not really be changed.. Looking for answers is a life long quest, and will never leave the searcher satisfied as answers inevitably will produce new questions. It will never stop, unless one self decide to bring it to a stop.

  4. Dina Mann says:

    I appreciate your venture into the age old debate as to whether the religious stories told by real people as examples of faith in their God are true or not. I am also a pastoral counselor and substance abuse counselor. I have recently become involved with training in ‘ Solution-Focused Brief Therapy’ originally created by Steve de Shazer. The book I work with is called ‘More Than Miracles.’ The author speaks a great deal about having ‘faith that client’s ability’ to create a meaningful solution to the problems he/she is facing. Biblical stories and scriptural contexts are wonderful examples of how human beings throughout time have come through difficult circumstances often under great duress regardless of their veracity. That these stories were told and live on in human history is quite enough for me at least. Thank you again for your article!

  5. Ron Lawson says:

    “That’s because I don’t consider the facts of the Bible to be of any particular significance.” What of Jesus Christ being the son of God? His death on the cross? His resurrection? Most of Christianity agree on these Biblical tenants of faith although I know there are exceptions. Can spirituality be divorced from faith? Some belief, some foundation is necessary even in your search for spirituality apart from theology. how is your view different from other Spiritualists who deny the virgin birth, that Jesus is in fact God in the flesh and the resurrection? Are you too smart to be fooled by the Bible into believing that God is able to do something like instruct a man to build an Arc or to send animals in? You must be a very smart man indeed.

  6. Ron Lawson says:

    I of course meant Ark.

  7. Lew Button says:

    It is interesting that just yesterday I was talking about the two story philosophy. As explained by Francis Schaeffer, objective truth is the first story and then a person jumps to a second story room for faith/religion. Francis Schaeffer didn’t see that as sustainable. I have to agree with him on this. I believe with Schaeffer that the Bible must be objectively true or it is worthless.

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