(The following is cross-posted on Rev. Matt Tittle's Houston Chronicle "Keep the Faith" blog, where it has generated a lively discussion.)
Tragically and unnecessarily, millions are turning their backs on organized religion altogether because of what I call 'the supernatural terrorist fallacy'—the idea that God is an actual, unnatural Supreme Being with a vengeful human-like personality, and that the Bible accurately reflects God's thoughts, words, and deeds. Ironically, such a literal reading of sacred scripture may be the single greatest factor fueling the epidemic of atheism sweeping America today.
The supernatural terrorist fallacy is the false belief that writings thousands of years old reveal God's unchanging character. As the new atheists are all too happy to point out, if this is true then God must be considered the ultimate terrorist. As Michael Earl painfully details in his "Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You" and "The Ultimate Terrorist" audio programs, in passage after passage in the Hebrew scriptures, in the early Christian scriptures, and in the Qur'an, God is said to employ “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimate...”, which is how the U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism. We all know this is not true, of course. God is NOT a supernatural terrorist. But because many passages in scripture clearly portray God in just such an unflattering light, I predict that the rising tide of atheism will continue unabated so long as we religious folk trivialize God by interpreting our religious texts literally.
When we read about "supernatural" utterances or acts in the Bible, we should always remember to apply the evening news test.
THE EVENING NEWS TEST
Whenever any story, any culture, or any scriptural passage claims "God said this" or "God did that," what follows is necessarily what some person or group of people felt or thought or wished or wanted God to say or do, often as justification after the fact. These subjectively meaningful claims are never objective, measurable reality. In other words, had CNN or ABC News been there to record the moment of revelation, there would have been nothing out of the ordinary (nothing miraculous) to show on the evening news—nothing other than what was coming out of someone's mouth, or pen, or whatever folks wrote with back then. If we fail to understand this, we belittle God and will surely miss what God is revealing and doing today. And we mock God if we argue that He communicated more clearly to goat hearders and fisherman in the distant past, through dreams and intuitions, than He does today through measurable, cumulative evidence.
IS THIS REALLY THE GOSPEL—GOD'S 'GREAT NEWS' FOR ALL OF HUMANITY?
What underlies the supernatural terrorist fallacy is the failure to recognize that the so-called supernatural language in scripture is actually pre-natural (before we could have possibly had a natural, factual understanding) and unnatural (in the same way that what we do in our dreams, if interpreted literally, would be unnatural).
Think about it . . . An unnatural father who occasionally engages in unnatural acts (supernatural interventions) sent his unnatural son to the world in an unnatural way, offering an unnatural salvation from an unnatural curse brought about by an unnatural snake. Those who believe in all this unnatural activity get to enjoy an unnatural heaven and everyone else will suffer an unnatural hell, forever.
Is it any wonder that young people are leaving religion by the millions, if this is the "good news" they are offered? Is it any wonder that the new atheists continue to ride bestseller lists if religion is equated with such "supernaturalism"?
As religious people the world over know in their hearts, God is infinitely more REAL than the above absurd characterization. But without a sacred deep time worldview we'll lack the eyes to see and ears to hear how glorious the good news actually is—that is, in a this-world realistic way. And. of course, we'll continue to be publicly (and rightfully!) mocked by the new atheists.
NOTE: Chapters 5-7 in my book, Thank God for Evolution outline an way of thinking about the divine that is undeniably real. In Chapter 18 (the last chapter) I quote several new atheists at length who show the limitations of traditional ways of viewing scripture. I also show how God's word, God's will, and God's guidance are REALized by a meaningful evolutionary worldview.
The Unnaturalist Fallacy
Imaginary gods vs. Reality/God: Part 1 and Part 2
How and Why I'm a Pentecostal Evangelical
Traditional Religion's God Problem
Evolution as Meaningful, Inspiring Fact
The Great Blasphemy?
Best 2007-2008 Blog Posts and Interviews