Don’t Ask Questions in Church! March 30, 2011

Don’t Ask Questions in Church!

This is what happens when you express doubt in the religious world:

Even when you get the chance to ask a question to a pastor, the response is usually full of bullshit — the meaningless recitation of some Bible verse or a made-up answer that has no basis in the truth. The church doesn’t know how to reconcile its beliefs with an often harsh reality, so instead of saying “I don’t know the answer,” they overcompensate by saying “Christianity has all the answers.”

It doesn’t, and you’re better off leaving a community like that.

You have a better chance of finding the answers on your own (or with the help of a close friend or family members) than you do by asking seminary-trained men of the cloth.

(via nakedpastor)


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  • Jesus

    Agreed. The answer to everything is always “It’s part of God’s plan.” Even to tough questions, like “Why would your god intentionally inflict such horror upon the people of Japan when he’s capable of anything?”

    What part of God’s plan really needs to involve destroying millions of lives?

  • MammaG

    I recall being a wee Catholic and we had a chance to talk to a priest in Sunday School. I think I really frustrated him because I would not be satisfied with any of the BS he told us.

  • mkb

    Posts like this which generalize about pastors make me sad. My experience was that men and women of the cloth were willing to discuss difficult issues. Your post seems based on a stereotype and I don’t think that either you or I have enough infornmation to know what is generally the case.

  • @Jesus: Could an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being even have a plan? Can the concept of “planning” even apply to such a being?

  • Don Rose

    Looks like me, as a child, on the first day of sunday school. I knew those people were insane the minute they opened their mouths, and called them on it…..lol.

  • I know that this is the general trend for Christianity, but I just want to stick up for the theists (shocker, I know) and say that we are not all like this! I am getting ready to graduate from seminary, and will be working full time in Admissions post-graduation. One of the biggest things I say to prospective students is that if they expect to come to seminary to get all the answers to the questions they have, then seminary is probably not the place for them. If you “do” seminary properly, you should leave with more questions than you came with, and encourage the same kind of questioning within your ministry context. We are generally very skeptical of those who claim to have all the answers to questions about faith. I know that this isn’t the perception of Christians, and it’s probably not the norm either, but Christian environments that encourage questioning definitely do exist!

  • Melanie dawn

    This is exactly what happened to me in Sunday School when I was a child. It is what started me on the path to atheism.

  • Richard P.

    Christian environments that encourage questioning definitely do exist!

    Sure they do, but more often or not, it is only if you accept the bullshit answers. Once you move into the realm of not easily placated, it is then you run into trouble.

  • jen

    Actually, any decent pastor (or Confirmation teacher) worth their salt will say, “I don’t know — let me get back to you” and then follow through.

    I’ve never had an issue with my kids asking me questions — one of the things we do in Confirmation is play “Pastor Hot Seat” with my husband.

  • Lion IRC

    Hang on!

    You can’t have it both ways.

    Complaining that your desire to ask questions is stifled…

    “Don’t ask questions in church”

    And then admitting that you dont actually even like the answers.

    “…Even when you get the chance to ask a question to a pastor, the response is usually full of bullxxxx…

    And it gets worse. You further accuse the person to whom you want to ask the question of not even knowing the answer

    “The church doesn’t know how to reconcile its beliefs with an often harsh reality, so instead of saying “I don’t know the answer,” they…

    That’s disingenuous. Plain and simple!

    Pretending as if you want to ask questions of someone you claim doesnt know and whom you wouldnt believe anyway.

  • @Julie & mkb,
    To some extent, perhaps pastors and other believers are being presented in a stereotypical and unfriendly light here. However, all stereotypes have at least some basis or foundation in reality, like it or not.
    However, the real issue is not if Christians (or other religious types) “question”, but as to where the questioning ends.
    I have found that the majority of those who claim to be open to questioning everything about their faith invariably retreat to the tried and true, “query this much, but no further” once the questioning leads to answers they cannot stomach.
    The rest become atheists.

  • TiltedHorizon

    It may be a generalization but there is truth to it. I can tell you from personal experience, the bible was LITTERALLY thrown at me in Catholic School, by an enraged Priest who was tired of answering my many questions. Soon after that incident they reached a point where they simply stopped acknowledging my raised hand. So I took to blurting out questions and spent many months in detention as a result. Granted my behavior was not ‘respectful’ but in my defense I felt the first volley was already thrown when they elected to shun me instead of teach me.

    I was about 12 at the time, needless to say, it made a lasting impression.

  • Lion IRC

    Someone asked…

    What part of God’s plan really needs to involve destroying millions of lives?

    Here’s how I heard someone in the “religious world” respond to a similarly worded (and perfectly reasonable) question.

    “What part of an oncologist’s plan really needs to involve destroying millions of cancer cells along with millions of healthy cells?”

    Atheists sitting at home on Sunday morning, projecting what they think is happening in church seems like a convenient (and lazy) excuse for not going to church and actually asking questions in church.

    I’m reminded of Frank Turek’s comment about people who say they dont go to church because it’s full of hypocrites.

    “…come on down pal, we got room for one more!”

    Priests & Pastors & Rabbis would not exist if nobody had questions about God.

  • @Lion IRC,

    “Priests & Pastors & Rabbis would not exist if nobody had questions about God.”

    Nobody would have questions about this god if priests, pastors and rabbis hadn’t made him up in the first place…and done such a shitty job of it at that.

  • Ron in Houston

    Perhaps it’s because my experience was in one of the liberal protestant denominations, but I’ve heard “I don’t know the answer” many times from clergy.

    Obviously, the more dogmatic the religion the more they must present the black and white, “we have the answers” teachings.

  • Steve

    @mkb
    They are willing to entertain questions….up to a point.

    But you’re out of luck if you keep pressing beyond that or aren’t satisfied with the prefabricated BS answers. They have to fall back on platitudes like “god’s plan” or “god works in mysterious ways” because they can’t admit that they don’t know, that it’s all made up or that the answer would undermine your faith (and as such their control over your life)

  • To those who claim that Christianity is populated by open-minded freethinkers, I think THIS says it all…

  • Minus

    When I was approaching adolescence and the hormones were flowing, I began wondering what it is okay to do with a girl. I approached my my preacher and asked where do you draw the line? He said not do do anything I wouldn’t want Jesus to see doing. I didn’t take a crap for a week.

  • gf

    well i think you guys should just pray about it.

    lol

  • TiltedHorizon

    Lion IRC sez:
    “What part of an oncologist’s plan really needs to involve destroying millions of cancer cells along with millions of healthy cells?”

    Oncologists are human, the tools at their disposal reflect human fallibility. So unless god is also fallible then that analogy really falls short.

    From here it’s a short leap to, “god has full control of these events”, making him evil or, “god has no control over”, making him limited; either way the conclusion is why do we worship him?

    Please note, I am not arguing or debating with you. This should be considered a rhetorical post. I just wanted to demonstrate how this type of answer would have led to a logical deadlock. An honest “I don’t know” would have been better.

    The worst thing a Priest, Pastor, or Rabbis should do is speak to knowledge they don’t have or at least preface answers as being speculation.

  • Pseudonym

    Anyone who thinks that this is in any way universal has clearly never had a conversation with a rabbi.

  • Too broad a brush, there, dude. Not by much, I’ll say, but still, too broad a brush.

  • Lost In The Bible Belt

    I would be hesitant to participate in any group that takes my money and either will not or cannot answer questions about that organization. A willingness to learn and grow at all levels is essential for any organization to be a success and I would hope that anyone would continue to question/explore any time an ignorant and/or dismissive answer is given. .02

  • HamsterWheel

    @Julie: “Christian environments that encourage questioning* definitely do exist!”

    *Some restrictions may apply. Questions which do not automatically assume Christianity to be true are not valid questions. Participants must waive their right to skepticism and logical analysis, except in regards to all other non-Christian supernatural claims, assertions, beings, and deities. Christian assertions regarding the existence of supernatural realms, beings, deities, and events are exempt from empirical evidence and proof and are therefore assumed to be true. Non-Christian participants must agree to have the burden of proof shifted upon them and shall provide empirical evidence demonstrating the non-existence of previously described Christian supernatural realms, beings, deities, and events, and just to be thorough and complete they must also provide evidence to disprove the existence of Leprechauns and Mermaids. Side effects may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, itchiness and swelling, irritability, befuddlement, and severe delusions. People who are experiencing stress or may be pregnant should not use Christianity. Do not use Christianity if you work in government or with small children. Do not operate heavy machinery or voting ballots while under the influence of Christianity. Contact your doctor if you experience an erection lasting longer than four hours.

  • Lion IRC

    @ The Godless Monster

    Nobody would have questions about this god if priests, pastors and rabbis hadn’t made him up in the first place…

    That is illogical.

    Priests, Rabbis, Shamen, etc are a product of the human inclination towards theism – not the other way around.

    Atheism has been an available menu option for at least 50,000 years.

    Why on earth would a group of “cave people” say….”hey, how about we invent religion so that someone can control us”?

    Can you imagine a bunch of paleoliths sitting around a campfire one day and out of the blue, some guy wanders into camp and announces… “hey everybody, God wants me to be the boss of you all“.

    Do you know what happened to High Priests, Shamen, Soothsayers, etc who didn’t deliver the goods?

    The mob took them and threw them off a cliff.

  • Gail

    I am sure that there are preachers who encourage questioning, although I have never met one. I think a bigger problem is that they often cannot satisfactorily answer questions. If they don’t have the answers to important questions about God, why would we want to listen to them? It reminds me of the Intelligence Squared debate about the Catholic church (you can watch it on youtube)-one of the Catholics said that the Catholic church didn’t know better than the general public about a certain issue, which I believe was slavery, and Stephen Fry says that if they don’t know any better, then what are they for at all?

    To me, it’s like going to a doctor who can’t properly answer all your questions about your appendix. I wouldn’t want to see a doctor who couldn’t answer basic questions and explain why things work, so when no theologian or pastor can answer certain religious questions, I think they become somewhat useless. Still, I’d appreciate a genuine “I don’t know” over hours of illogical explanations with no evidence.

  • @Lion IRC,

    “That is illogical.”

    Yeah. Right. Well, we all know what they say about those living in glass houses.
    Nowhere did I state that humans aren’t wired for religion. All the evidence to date indicates that this is the case.
    You are conflating two separate issues and dodging the point completely.
    In regards to this little gem:

    “Do you know what happened to High Priests, Shamen, Soothsayers, etc who didn’t deliver the goods?

    The mob took them and threw them off a cliff.”

    I’d like to know how you obtained that specific information and second, if indeed that was the case…how come folks aren’t doing that to priests, rabbis and mullahs on a regular basis in the present?

  • Jim [the other Jim]

    I’d like to toss off..

    I mean I’d like to toss THEM off..

    I mean I’d like to toss THEM off a CLIFF!

    [really gotta watch what I type]

    🙂

  • @Jim [the other Jim],

    “I’d like to toss off..”

    Oh, you married too?

  • Yes that is frustrating. I didn’t like the BS that I was given for years and years. I had to start “learning” all over again. Good thoughts.

    Jon

  • Lion IRC

    The Godless Monster wrote;

    I’d like to know how you obtained that specific information and second, if indeed that was the case…how come folks aren’t doing that to priests, rabbis and mullahs on a regular basis in the present?

    1. If you’re asking…”was I there” – no. If you’re asking…”did some reincarnated witch doctor tell me” – no. It plainly stands to reason that our tribal origins would have included a strong quota of “group think” and that a (theist) minority seeking to impose its will on an (atheist) majority would have been a complete non-starter.

    2. The reason priests, rabbis, mullahs, etc are still around today also stands to reason. I already explained this. …”Do you know what happened to High Priests, Shamen, Soothsayers, etc who didn’t deliver the goods?”

    Have you not noticed that priests today still effectively “beg” for their living – relying on voluntary church bowl collections?

  • Pali

    @Lion IRC,

    Atheists sitting at home on Sunday morning, projecting what they think is happening in church seems like a convenient (and lazy) excuse for not going to church and actually asking questions in church.

    There are many, many atheists who sit at home on Sunday morning because they used to go to churches and ask questions and weren’t satisfied with the answers. Count me among them.

    Do you know what happened to High Priests, Shamen, Soothsayers, etc who didn’t deliver the goods?

    The mob took them and threw them off a cliff.

    Must be why they’ve upgraded to mostly promising you goods you won’t get until after you’re dead.

  • Have you not noticed that priests today still effectively “beg” for their living – relying on voluntary church bowl collections?

    After inculcating the belief that GOD wants the flock to give, give, GIVE till they bleed! And while they keep begging, they already have ridiculous amounts of money and real estate stockpiled (The Catholics and the Mormons are just two examples). Not to mention that in some (too many IMO) countries, priests or mullahs etc. are actually on the gov’t payroll and in more, all of their income is tax free.

  • Lion IRC

    Here’s how I heard someone in the “religious world” respond to a similarly worded (and perfectly reasonable) question.

    “What part of an oncologist’s plan really needs to involve destroying millions of cancer cells along with millions of healthy cells?”

    I would hope that I’m not alone in thinking that this is a monstrous way to look at the loss of life and suffering in Japan. What this person is saying is that the Japanese people who die, indeed anyone who dies, deserves it and the world is made a better place by their deaths. It may be painful but it is for the good in the end.

    A suitable response to this someone in the “religious world” is to ask them to examine their own answer and to see if they can eke out an ounce of compassion from it. There are other responses but I promised I’d cut down on my swearing.

  • Centricci

    @Lion IRC

    There isnt a human inclination towards theism.There is a human inclination towards being part of something bigger than one self.Religion exploits that for its own purposes.

  • @Lion IRC,
    You’re still here?
    Go home now. Scoot. Shoo.
    When you get home sit down and read this and this.
    Not that reading will have any positive effect on YOU, but it’s funny to the rest of us.

  • Jeebus

    The ministers at my church could never answer any of my questions with any thing that was even remotely based on actual evidence or backed up by any facts. Dinosaur questions really pissed them off too. “a day was a million years long”, or somethign dumb like that. Well 7 x 1,000,000 still doesn’t add up to 4.5 billion morons! Usually, the question was shrugged off by saying “the Lord works in mysterious ways”, or some other nonsensical bull shit like that. I think I was 7 or 8 when I first realized something didn’t add up but it still wasn’t a big factor in my life at that age so why should I care? I look back now and think WTF is wrong with people like that? You don’t need to be a Vulcan to find religion illogical. Gah!

  • Jane Smith

    In all honesty, atheists don’t always get this one right.

    Yes, some pastors/priests/churches are just like this – it’s certainly best to leave them well behind.

    But this is by no means true of all pastors and churches. I’ve had some excellent and honest dialogue with, for example, Anglicans and Quakers. In my experience, these groups do not isolate questioners – not at all.

    Emergent churches are also known to welcome questions – I haven’t had a lot of experience with these people – but people like Brian Mclaren seem to be full of questions themselves.

  • walkamungus

    Hee hee, @Hamsterwheel — good one!

  • @Hamsterwheel, I see where you’re going with that, and I get the humor, but I still think that a lot of the commenters here are thinking far too narrowly about these types of environments. There are communities where all of those restrictions apply, but there are others that are far more open and encouraging of critical questioning.

    This is the central frustration for those of us theists who truly want to engage in healthy conversation with people of all belief/non-belief communities: we are automatically discredited and lumped in with condemnatory and oppressive theists, and our voices are rendered invalid, or at the very best, taunted. I’ve experienced a lot of good conversation on this site, but lately, the level of snark has been a little much (and that’s saying a lot for someone who loves snark).

  • All Christian groups encourage questioning as long as the questions don’t go against established dogma. It may be one thing if it’s a slight discrepancy, but if it’s major then its not going to work.

    In my time as an undergrad theology major I asked very carefully crafted questions of my classmates, pastors, and professors and the answer was always along the lines of, “What ever the Bible says is right and God will guide you.” I wasn’t comfortable being more direct because it was these people’s recommendations that would determine if I would get a job as a pastor or not.

    When I got to the seminary I was able to better define my questions and doubts and I was able to find professors that I could tell had dealt with similar issues. The answers I got from them was essentially to not worry about what’s actually true because life will be existentially better if you keep on believing.

    Four sermons into an evangelistic series in the middle of my third semester I quit. I couldn’t continue to pretend that I was a Christian.

    There is lots of room for the “right” questions, but to ask the “wrong” questions is to risk social and professional suicide. Of course, in more liberal denominations that risk is much lower.

    All that being said, if you need to talk to a seminary trained atheist, look me up.

  • I have no experience with clergy, but I can’t imagine actually asking anything of a priest or minister. I mean, what on earth do you ask someone who is on the opposite side of the religious spectrum? I can’t even think of a question that wouldn’t come across as horribly rude. If you lack the foundational assumptions that go along with a certain belief system, I would guess that your questions are not going to be positively received. Even if they are, they’re certainly not going to be adequately answered.

  • Pseudonym

    @Dustin Williams:

    All Christian groups encourage questioning as long as the questions don’t go against established dogma.

    Agreed, and not all accept questioning outside those bounds. On the other hand, quite a lot do. Not every church is fundamentalist Baptist or conservative Catholic. As you say, liberal denominations are usually fine unless the question is really stupid.

  • My background was in the Seventh-day Adventist Church with my BA in Theology being from Walla Walla University and my year in the seminary being at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. By the end I was questioning the authority of scripture, creationism, and the doctrine of salvation.

    In my denomination those were all taboo doubts, but even in a liberal denomination, how would someone realizing that the doctrine of salvation using any available model is completely illogical, unjust, and unmerciful be taken?

    That was the final conclusion that set me out.

  • Billy Danner

    Idk about that one…. My brother doesn’t get that too much, he just get’s a lot of less intelligent people going FAITH! and equally intelligent people having thoughtful discussions…… and stupid people aren’t limited to those in churches, though I’ll admit most are in religions (but only because that’s where most people are). It seems you’ve all had some really bad experiences in religions. You should be Catholic, like me! 🙂

  • Christians are very hypocritical, they do exactly as they preach at you not to do and they are the biggest group of people that judge that I ever met. Not all of them are like this but I have to say that Christianity has become very corrupt..