THE SCEPTIC & THE BELIEVER
By Islip Collyer
We have travelled far since the time when a bishop made a sensation by first suggesting doubts as to the authority of the Pentateuch. Perhaps we have almost reached the time when another bishop may cause an equal sensation by confessing a belief that Moses was right after all. It is certain that in the present age there is very little belief in the only real foundation of Christianity. Few men have ever read the Bible through. We cannot recognize the sincerity of people who, as a matter of theory, thank God for giving them a revelation of His will, but while praising the book do not trouble to read it. Such people are only falling into harmony with a convention and making use of conventional language with no real meaning behind it. On the other hand, everyone can understand the meaning of men who attack or condemn the Bible. Scientists brush its claims aside as beneath their notice; Socialists attack it vehemently as an obstacle to their ambitions; and many leaders of religion use language as bitterly hostile as that of the atheist of half a century ago.
Meanwhile there are a few people left who cling most obstinately to the old idea of plenary inspiration, and who demonstrate by their acts that their faith is real. The writer of these lines was brought up in such an atmosphere. Among his earliest recollections is the family reading of the Bible. We read by a system which carried us through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice in the course of the year. We rarely omitted a chapter on the ground of unsuitability, and if it chanced that a portion of the daily reading was of such a character as to be unfit for reading aloud to the entire family, it was understood that the older members should peruse it in private. There are men and women living now who have sustained such a system of reading through life, going through the whole of the Bible twenty, thirty, or forty times in the course of their studies, while some portions of the sacred writings have been perused many more times than this. They have compared part with part, they have studied history in the light of prophecy, and they remain to this day convinced that the Bible is in truth the Word of God, and that all its promises will be fulfilled.
Why is it that they are so obstinate when even ministers of religion have been prominent in leading a revolt against such simple faith? Some critics have a ready answer to this question. They scornfully affirm that these stubborn last defenders of the faith are fools, absolute simpletons who cling to the old absurd ideas merely because they have never possessed sufficient intelligence or received sufficient education to know how far the modem world has advanced.
"...there are some unsuspected reasons for the stubbornness of the last defenders; for absolte fools are almost as rare as wise men."
It is quite true that often these defenders of the Bible have been, like the first disciples of Christ, "unlearned and ignorant men; " but it has not been an invariable rule, and even when they have been most lacking in learning they have been not at all deficient in elementary logic. When we find it impossible to understand the attitude of men who hold very definite doctrines, it is well either to refrain from expressing any opinion regarding their intelligence or to make ourselves acquainted with their peculiar point of view. If we investigate we shall generally find that there are some unsuspected reasons for the stubbornness of the last defenders; for absolute fools are almost as rare as wise men.
The force of the evidence is cumulative. It is impossible to appreciate the real value of any part of it unless we have a comprehensive grasp of the whole. This principle is recognized in connection with ordinary matters. It is possible to identify a man by a multitude of minor peculiarities, any one of which would seem.absurdly trivial when considered by itself. He is exactly five feet ten in height, he has red hair, he is slightly lame in the left leg, he has an anchor tattooed on the right arm, and so on. Let the number of such peculiarities be multiplied sufficiently and we can be absolutely certain that we.have the right man. If a casual, uninterested critic witnessed only a single point of the test he might exclaim scornfully "What fools these people are. They think they have identified this man as the one that they want merely because he. has red hair!"
The injustice of such a comment is obvious. The significance of the man having red hair is wholly dependent on the fact that it is one of many peculiarities all pointing in the same direction. Let the critic master all the facts of the case, and even if he is not convinced that they have found the right man he will at least see the reasonableness of others holding such a conviction.
In the same way let the man who repudiates the claims of the Bible obtain a comprehensive grasp of the evidence as it appears to the real believer, and even though he remain a sceptic he will find a new respect for Christian "simpletons." Unfortunately this cumulative evidence is more complex than the most detailed description of a man. It requires many months of close study to enable one to grasp it fully, and generally speaking, sceptics of all degrees are unwilling to give the necessary time to such investigation. They brush aside the first point of evidence as absurdly inadequate by itself, and then by the time they have been persuaded to examine a second point they have forgotten the first. We could never identify the missing man if we examined all his peculiarities separately, with complete forgetfulness of all the others. We say this is the man we want not merely because he corresponds to the description given in any one point, but because he corresponds in every point. The real Bible believer says this is the Word. of God not merely because of one point of evidence, but because of very many converging lines of evidence which he is able to perceive in one comprehensive view.
From the book "Vox Dei"
With Acknowledgements to The Christadelphian
Magazine & Publishing Company.
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