I had been a practicing Christian for about 14 years, and a member of my Assemblies of God (AG) church for about 8 of those. I had earlier been trained in science and the ways of skepticism and the scientific method. In order to bridge the cognitive dissonance between my in-depth knowledge about the physical universe and the oddities in the Bible, I secretly held a liberal interpretation of the Bible. I attributed those scriptures that didn't measure up to modern understanding to allegory, exaggerated story-telling and possible translation errors. I thoroughly enjoyed the communal zeitgeist of the AG church, sort of a spiritual circus with audience participation. I was active in the church band, and I ran my acoustic guitar (which was considered "not of the devil") through a "Tube Screamer" to add some of that edgy distortion for a more powerful sound. I had also been appointed as an adult Sunday school teacher, so I started boning up on the Bible and reading about early church history for the first time.
One Sunday I received some disturbing news. One of the pastors in our AG district (not my pastor) had been reading lots of Jewish texts to expand his understanding of the Bible. Normally this would be a good thing. But the previous Sunday, he approached his congregation and admitted that he was intending to convert to Judaism. In response, the elders of that AG church held an emergency meeting immediately after service and sacked him on the spot. I could certainly understand that response - AG is very strict about adherence to their Tenets of Faith, and he was overtly rejecting most of those tenets.
Try as I might, I couldn't wrap my mind around this former pastor's 180 on Christianity. What did he know that I didn't know? What did he see that was so powerful that it triggered his religious conversion? Surely he had been reading the same Bible I was. But my curiosity got the best of me.
So, as a dutiful Christian, I brought this up to my own pastor. I asked simply, "Why don't Jews accept Jesus as Savior?" I mean, they were right there when all those miracles purportedly occurred. And even if the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin were consumed by their own jealous power, wouldn't the weight of Christ the Savior trump all their artificial machinations?
My pastor had a doe-in-the-headlights look on his face. I don't think anyone had ever asked him that question before. It was the wrong question to ask. I could see I had stepped outside of the acceptable bounds of inquiry for a good Christian. Ultimately, this would be the question that would crush my faith in Jesus, and begin my four-year voyage from Pentecostal Christianity to atheism. He didn't have any answer at all.
I had never thought much about Judaism prior to this episode. I had had many good friends in college who were Jewish, in fact, Jews were disproportinately represented at MIT compared to other religions. I had even attended a Jewish seder while in college, which I found to be a quaint yet charming ritual. And the Jews I knew were not bent on trying to blackmail me into their faith with the threat of eternal damnation. My impression is that they were, as a culture, very charitable, hard-working, consciencious and thirsty for education and knowledge, all traits I aspire to myself. In contrast, I took a skeptical look at disdain for "worldly education" that permeated the AG church to which I belonged.
Because the question continued to loom large, I decided to search Google for answers. I downloaded a rather long-winded MP3 from a rabbi who explained why Christianity is a fraud and a perversion of Judaism. I also visited other Jewish web sites for more insight into my question.
Here are some of the things I found out:
According to Jewish teachings, the Messiah will be a world leader, highly educated, a true prophet, and pious to the Jewish faith. People won't have to infer that he is the Messiah, it will be obvious to everyone, just as it is obvious that Obama is the President. Jesus of the New Testament fails miserably on these qualifications. He never penned a single word of scripture, so it is possible he was as illiterate at Mohammed. His claim as "King of the Jews" fell flat prior to his crucifixion. As for being a prophet, he prophesied that "this generation shall not pass before the coming of the Son of Man". Nearly 100 generations later, we have the likes of Harold Camping, Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye duping Christians into believing that this is still yet to come.
The two inconsistent genealogies of Jesus in the NT are red herrings. Genealogy is determined by the lineage of fathers, not mothers. And although both of the genealogies, incongruent as they are, point to a lineage from David, if Jesus was born of a virgin, then Joseph was NOT the father. Imagine if they had Maury Povich back then (snicker).
There is no OT prophecy of a second coming or the Messiah arriving twice, only once.
The Christians deliberately mistranslated Isaiah 7:14, which in Hebrew reads "the young woman is pregnant and shall give birth", to "the virgin". This comports better with the pagan myths at the time, and makes the birth of Jesus more magic and miraculous. Jews believe the Messiah will not be a deity, merely a mortal messenger, and that he will be born naturally to a mother and father.
The concept of a holy trinity (which didn't gain traction until the 4th century) is anathema to Jewish teachings that God is singular, eternal, transcends space and time, and at no time comes to Earth in a meat jacket. Jesus claims that "I and the Father are One" (John 10:30), yet before the crucifixion he cries out "My Lord, why have you forsaken me?" Worship of anything other than "I AM" is considered blasphemy.
There are also many OT scriptures that were cherry-picked and mistranslated to give the appearance that Jesus had fulfilled OT prophecy. Jews, on the other hand, believe that ALL the prophecies will be fulfilled, not just a handful of dubious ones.
I'm thankful that I dedicated a lot of time to studying other viewpoints and the history of Christianity. I subscribed to Bishop Spong's newsletter, and found that his compassionate, inclusive and eloquent version of Christianity contrasted the bigoted, exclusive and short-sighted version of Christianity espoused by AG and my own pastor. I considered leaving AG and trying a more liberal sect of Christianity, but this was vetoed by my (ex-)wife, and I imagine that if she had agreed, I might still be a Christian today. Her relentless pursuit of fundamentalism and young-earth creationism drove me start reading Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, visiting non-theistic web sites, and ultimately to lose my religion completely, as well as dissolving our failing marriage.
I have a lot more to say about my own deconversion, but I'll save some of the juicy bits for another post.
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