As a counterpoint to Monday’s post about Genesis, consider this essay, by Craig Kanalley. He writes:
I felt I needed a shake-up in my life. And that’s what happened. I decided to make a career change, abruptly leaving my job at NBC News, and coming back to where I was happy in a prior phase of my life, The Huffington Post (thanks for allowing me back!).
It was risky. For one thing, you’re not supposed to leave a job after just three months. It was a period of transition. And with that transition, I wanted God to be with me.
So, I started reading the Bible. This is something I had tried to do many times before. I was raised Catholic, but I could never find myself to read the whole thing; it’s just so long, and I’m a slow reader.
But I felt my life was in a potentially perilous situation. What if going back to HuffPost didn’t work out like I hoped it would? I turned to prayer. And I told myself I’d read the whole Bible for 100 days. Easy enough with technology — I could track 1 percent of the Bible read per day through iBooks on my iPad. I decided to tell the world and update my progress each day with a Tumblr, so others could hold me accountable if they saw I stopped posting (I never did stop).
You can probably guess where this is going.
And the words I read in the Bible were so strong, so meaningful, and they spoke so loudly to me that they seemed to jump off the page. There were many “aha” moments, epiphanies of sorts. Feelings of, YES, I’ve felt this way before, or YES, I can relate with my own life. The fact that a book so many hundreds of years old can speak to someone like that in this modern world is really amazing, in my opinion.
I just want to thank God for somehow giving me this idea to read the Bible, cover to cover. It made me reflect a ton, learn a ton and I absolutely feel more spiritual, and more happy. As I’ve said, I also have strived to put myself secondary to the happiness of others, especially now that I’m happy myself.
The beginning of Kanalley’s story has a lot of resonance with me, since I went through something similar in graduate school. I, too, decided it was time to read the Bible in a serious, orderly way. In my case the issue wasn’t that I felt there was something missing in my life. It was that so many of my fellow graduate students were devout Christians, and really seemed to think there were truths of life-changing importance contained in the Bible. I thought that maybe I was missing out on something.
So I worked my way through the Bible and spent a lot of time praying. As you can imagine, my experience was very different from Kanalley’s. I could discern no effect at all from the praying. I have had people tell me that they prayed for God to come into their lives and they immediately felt a great weight lifted from their shoulders. Not me. I mostly just felt ridiculous. You might retort that I was praying from the perspective of an atheist, and that made it impossible for me to attain the right frame of mind. To which I can only reply that I prayed with every ounce of sincerity of which I was capable. If that is insufficient then I do not know what more I can do.
The Bible, on the other hand, had a big effect on me. I quickly came to loathe it. When it wasn’t flat-out horrifying it was so unbearably boring that many nights I could only manage to get through one chapter. There are a few good nuggets, but you have to wade through a lot of dross to find them. Page after page just screamed out to me that this was written entirely by human beings, with no guidance at all from a just and loving God. Just to pick one example, how can anyone read Leviticus, with its endless internecine rules for designing the preistly garments and constructing altars, and think these are the sorts of things the God of all creation would care about?
I spend a lot of time at this blog talking about the problem of evil. But there is another famous argument for atheism called the argument from divine hiddenness. Put in crude terms, it asks why, if there really is a loving God who seeks communion with his creatures, do so many sincere seekers never find any trace of Him? There are many Kanalley’s out there, but there are also many people just like me. Why would God speak so clearly to him but not to me?