Nothing pleases me more than having a good solid argument with somebody who does not share my views but is prepared to listen to them and give as good as he/she gets. I will always take what they say on board and answer each point on its merits.
I have always been interested in religion and the claims that various religions have made. Christianity is the one I know best, and I have read many articles and books that are both supportive and critical.
My views have changed over the years and I have come to see that there are huge problems with Christianity as it is currently presented to us, these being due to a number of causes that modern scholarship has helped to reveal.
However, when putting forward views that challenge what had been generally accepted in the past, I usually find that the response is far from the open approach that I adopt and which I would like my correspondents to have.
One problem is that people who write on religious topics on online forums tend to have particularly extreme views. For them, the Bible is everything. Every word has the personal endorsement of God and cannot be questioned in any respect.
It is therefore impossible to point out that there are huge contradictions between different Bible passages, such that both accounts cannot possibly be true. We have to accept – apparently – that the Bible is so unified that it contains absolutely no contradictions, when it so obviously does!
One must also reject all the work that has been done down the centuries that queries the authorship of various sections of the Bible and claims that certain passages are later additions written by people who wanted to make points of their own that vary from those of the original authors. This is impossible, we are told, because the whole thing was written by God!
These are points that are worthy of discussion, and taking them on board could do much to strengthen the faith of Christian believers. Indeed, there are many Christian scholars who are perfectly happy to do so.
But that does not seem to be the case with the people I get to talk to!
As an example, I recently queried the treatment of mental illness in New Testament times. Could my correspondent, I asked, really believe that people became possessed by devils and that was what gave them the symptoms of mental illness? Had the work of modern psychiatrists and psychotherapists all been in vain?
Indeed it could! If Jesus cast out devils and made mentally ill people better, that had to be the cause for all time! On top of that, all psychiatrists were agents of Satan!
This might sound like an extreme example, but it is not unique. The conversation usually ends when the opposite party states that he/she has no intention of talking any further with me, because I won’t accept their basic belief and am, indeed, an agent of Satan myself!