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An Approach To Deconversion Studies


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I write this as a way to try to give some guidance to those who are at the stage of questioning whether Christianity is the truth but who are not yet ready to leave the religion until they find answers. The problem is that one may feel overwhelmed when they are at this stage. They may have some general questions and issues but they may live within a strong Christian community full of people who seem so convinced it is all true that they cannot believe that such well-educated people, like their pastors who have seminary degrees, could be so wrong. And they may not ever have engaged in the kind of study that the questions and issues call for. Often they use the shotgun approach, going here and there with no real direction and the result may be even more confusion. Top that off with the emotional aspect of leaving the religion, the fear of questioning what they have been taught are holy doctrines, the consequence of hell if they wrongly conclude that Christianity is false and renounce it, and the social pressure to stay quiet and blend and the task may seem insurmountable.

 

It is not an insurmountable task. And one does not need a degree in theology, or philosophy, or science, or any other degree for that matter to come to the truth. What one needs is the ability to read and understand and a willingness to go where the evidence leads. But even this is easier said than done. Many on ExC have stated that they wanted to discover that Christianity is true and were disappointed to find that it is not. But I venture to say that there are far greater numbers of people who want the religion to be true and will not allow themselves to study the evidence and go where it leads them.

 

The initial question is where does one begin? I believe that the place to begin is to prepare yourself emotionally to ask questions, earnestly seek the truth, and then to accept the truth no matter where the truth leads. This may actually be the most difficult task of all. The problem is how to prepare oneself for the truth at a time before one even knows the truth? My answer to this is that you really can't. For example, if a police officer were to knock on your door and tell you that he or she has some terrible news for you and then asks you to prepare yourself, you cannot really prepare yourself. What you will do is to run the possibilities through your mind and if one of those possibilities is that a loved one was just killed in an automobile accident, you hope beyond hope that that is not the terrible news the police officer has for you. It is only after the officer actually tells you the terrible news that you know the truth and only then can you begin the process of accepting it and eventually coming to terms with it.

 

My last example of the police officer delivering terrible news may seem overly dramatic. But in many ways it is under-dramatic. While the unexpected loss of a loved one is horrible and no one ever wants to go through that, the loss of your entire world outlook, the promise of an after-life, the love of a savior all being lost with no replacement tears at the very core of one's being. But if you are not willing to have your whole worldview shattered, then you are not emotionally ready to learn the truth and you will fight with your entire being against the evidence no matter the result that logic dictates. You must get yourself in an emotional position so that your logical mind is not constrained by your strong emotions.

 

The question is how can one prepare oneself for this turmoil before you have even felt it and, therefore, before you know how you will react to it? Again, you can't really do this. But what you can do is to take things one small step at a time, let your emotions play themselves out based on what you have learned, and then when you are emotionally ready, proceed on to the next step. Slow steady progress is the key here. Don't just dive into the cold lake, rather begin at the shore and then walk into the lake far enough to get your ankles wet. When your ankles have adjusted, then walk in up to your calves. When your calves have adjusted, walk up to your knees. Continue this until your entire body is ready to swim in the cold water.

 

Now, to translate my analogy of slowly entering a cold lake to swim into a plan of action on your part. Begin with something relatively small. Set aside for now the great questions like whether there is a god and go with something smaller. One place you could start is with the four Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. I have not listed them in the order they appear in the bible for a reason. Instead, I listed them in the order that most people who have studied the issue, both Christians and non-Christians, accept they were written, with Mark being the earliest canonical gospel and John being the last one written.

 

Try reading the gospels in a way that you have probably never read them before. I call it parallel reading, and some call it horizontal reading. But whatever one calls it, it is reading them side by side. Take any of the stories that appear in all four gospels and set them side by side so you can literally see them in that fashion. The way I do this is by first creating a table in a word processing program like Word with four columns and two rows. I then label the four columns of the first row with the four gospels. I then select a story that appears in all four gospels and from either a computer Bible program or from an online Bible, I cut and paste the story in the row underneath the book from which it came. I have selected the story of the women coming to Jesus’ tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. I have attached a document to this post so you can see the results.

 

Reading this one story in parallel fashion like the attached shows it, you begin to see the discrepancies from gospel to gospel account. As you read, ask yourself when did the women go to the tomb? How many women went and which ones? What happened once they got there? Did they actually tell any of the disciples? What were the disciples reactions? What did the disciples see?

 

You can do this for virtually any gospel story and you will see the same thing. You will see discrepancies and even some outright contradictions. When you see these, try to reconcile the discrepancies and see if you can and if doing so makes them make any sense.

 

Here’s one to try on your own. Take the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus. If you read the four accounts separately, then each one has him denying Jesus three times. That’s fine. But try reading the accounts in a parallel fashion and you will see that the accounts of to whom Peter denied Jesus and when he did so changes from account to account. Try harmonizing the accounts and in so doing count all of the denials that are contained and you will find that there were more than three denials.

 

Try also comparing the Stories in Matthew and Luke of Jesus’ birth. When you do you will find that they are separate stories, each telling it in a different way. The churches try to harmonize the stories and the Christmas plays involving the children have all of the elements from both stories all mixed together. But that is a slight of hand trick. These are separate stories and they clash in their essential details. However, oddly enough, though the details clash, if you study them carefully enough, you will find that they are actually the same story but the author of Luke kept the elements of Matthew’s version and changed characters. It’s all quite interesting.

 

What is the point of all of this parallel reading of the four gospels? The point is that the gospels do not tell a factual history. Rather, they tell a tale and the tale is changed from version to version. It is much like how the author of a work of fiction works. He or she will write a first draft of a fictional story. Then he or she will write a second draft after having made changes. Then a third draft with more changes and so on until the work is ready for publication. That is exactly what the gospels are. They are a work of fiction changed from what we could call draft to draft, with each subsequent gospel being a revised draft.

 

But beware because John does not follow Mark, Matthew and Luke so closely. John was more on its own, though it does share some of the same stories.

 

I will post other tips and activities later. I think this is enough for now.

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Thank you Overcame for the work you put into help us.Your 'write up' on being afraid of 'cutting the final strings' is dead on! (for me anyway)

 

This is a wonderful way to do this. As soon as my concentration comes back in a few days - I will start studying this. I briefly looked over the attachment and I can see exactly what you are trying to point out. This is fabulous - I never noticed all the differences in the stories before.

 

Maybe, you could be our teacher for a while? I would like that, because I can get very confused with all of this. I would be a good student! :grin:

 

Sincerely, Margee

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Overcame - Do you have one more small lesson for today? I studied this morning and i'm ready for more. I really want to learn. Thank you my friend.

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The Story of the Nativity

 

I mentioned in my last post about how the versions of the nativity stories, one found in Matthew and the other in Luke, are both different yet the same. Today I would like to demonstrate this.

 

Before I go any further, try this. Print off the attached parallel versions of the two nativity stories. Once you read the two stories side-by-side, try to harmonize them. When I say harmonize them, I mean to see if you can take both stories and fit them together in such a way that every part of both stories is present and the time and other details allow a fair reading of the combined stories. If you can, then there is no irreconcilable contradiction between the two accounts. If you can’t then they are contradictory and the portions that are contradicted, that is, that cannot be harmonized, either must both be false or only one or the other of them, but not both of them, can be true.

 

But even if you can harmonize the two versions of the nativity stories, what I am about to demonstrate is strong evidence that on the whole, neither account is true, or only one account is true and the other is false. By comparing the two stories and looking for the elements that are common to both stories and then describing those elements generically, we can see the basic outline that is common to both stories. I call this outline a template. What we will learn is that both versions of the nativity story are based on three common templates. I am attaching to this post a second document I prepared which shows the template and how each of the two versions use the common template to fashion the details of their version of the story.

 

So what is the point if there is a template for the two nativity stories as I have suggested and tried to demonstrate? The point is that these stories were never intended to be taken as historical fact at all. Rather, the author of Matthew fashioned a story of the birth of Jesus. The author of Luke liked the basic story and thus used the template for his version, but changed the particulars. This is not how recording history works. Rather, it is how writing myth or fiction works. And that is what the two stories are.

 

Now, here’s one for you to do on your own if you are of such a mind to do so. The story revolves around a ceremony which Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples shortly before he was arrested. In three versions of the story, Jesus drank wine and ate bread with the disciples. This is commonly called the Last Supper or the Lord’s Supper. However, John takes a sharp turn and provides another ceremony. In this ceremony, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

 

The first question is can all four versions be harmonized? Many churches like to try to harmonize these accounts and show them as one long activity. They usually do this by having Jesus first washing the feet of the disciples and then they adjourn into the dining room where they drink wine and eat bread. But can the four accounts really be harmonized? See if you can harmonize them.

 

The second question is whether the Last Supper and the feet washing are template rituals in much the same way that the two nativity stories are in actuality based on a common template? Try to determine this and if you conclude there is a template, try to find the template.

 

To aid you, I am attaching a parallel version of all four accounts.

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Thank you teacher!  I'll get at these lessons tomorrow!   I promise!
 (too tired tonight!)

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Good stuff, OF. This eventually became apparent to me, but it sure would have been helpful to me many years ago when I was deconverting. I think it could be invaluable to those who are questioning now or have recently deconverted.

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Good stuff, OF. This eventually became apparent to me, but it sure would have been helpful to me many years ago when I was deconverting. I think it could be invaluable to those who are questioning now or have recently deconverted.

 

Thanks, ShackledNoMore. I did it for just the people you described. I hope someone gets some help from it.

 

And, let me say for the record, if anyone has questions or comments about any of this, feel free to post them on this thread. I'd love for this to be a learning experience for at least someone.

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  • 2 months later...
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I wanted to bring this post forward because there are some 'new-comers' that may have missed this beautiful work from our friend, 'Overcame'.

 

This helped me a couple of months ago so much and I am hoping that it will help one of the new members who may have missed it.

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