Home > atheism, philosophy, religion > An Atheist’s Perspective: The Lesson of Doubting Thomas

An Atheist’s Perspective: The Lesson of Doubting Thomas

One of the strangest and most infuriating experiences of changing from one belief system to non-belief (or any other belief) is the look back to the lessons of that a person just accepted because they were told. Realizing that most of the time I was not permitted to make any kind of judgment about the lesson. I was told at the outset what the conclusion that I was supposed to draw was, then given the lesson. There was a system to it. Take Noah’s Ark, the lesson was that god would never destroy the people of the earth again and that is a good thing. I was never permitted to ask or even try to understand how it was that every single person on the planet was so evil, so wicked, that divine wrath was the only way out (this is ignoring the logistical problems which make the story extremely improbable to the point of being impossible). The story of Job is taught to reflect the value of faith and dedication first. It’s never taught whether or not it was immoral for god to even make the bet with Satan. One of the more subtle stories of my religious education was that of Doubting Thomas.

The title of the story gives away the lesson that you are supposed to learn, that doubting is somehow a stigmatizing characteristic which given the communication of all the other lessons means that doubting is bad. Right before I even heard the story my young self was drawing the conclusion that I did not want to be Thomas with his doubt. This is also the only time we ever hear of Thomas aside from a roll call test in which I was supposed to be able to name all twelve of Jesus’s buddies. He simply only exists for this one purpose.

Revisiting the story now, it is tough because like most New Testament stories it seems so much bigger than it actually is. It’s actually tucked away in the back of the gospels…only it’s not there either. The problem is that doubting Thomas only doubts for John 20: 24-29, five verses and an entire group of people…I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story is, and this will be probably longer than the actual story, that Jesus dies on the cross then comes back to life. He makes a collection of appearances and at one point he appears to eleven of the apostles. See, Thomas is out on a beer run or whatever and he misses it. The other apostles tell Thomas what they have seen and he doesn’t believe it. He tells the others that he needs to not only see Jesus but also put his fingers in some wounds, only then will he believe. Eight days later (this is so important that it gets mentioned specifically unlike most of the details that gospels leave out), Jesus reappears to the Apostles and Thomas gets to see the wounds, touching them and believing. Jesus comments that Thomas is good for believing, but true goodness is for those that believe without evidence. Forever now, Thomas is a bad person.

If, however, the story is looked at objectively is Thomas really wrong for doubting? What he is being told is that a friend of his, someone that he knew for a couple of years and was publicly executed was now walking around having beaten death. He has done what no person in the world, aside from Lazarus who disappears from history has done. It would seem that wanting evidence some kind of evidence would be necessary.

It’s important to remember that the other Apostles didn’t believe without proof either, they are eye witnesses. They saw Jesus, so Thomas isn’t the only person that believed without evidence. It’s a curious fact that gets dropped from all of the lessons that I was given as a kid. We just accepted that the other apostles were better than Thomas without considering that they already had the evidence Thomas was asking for. He only doubted because he hadn’t been with the others when they had seen.

The lesson of the story is that belief without evidence is a virtue. If that is the case then why are we taught the lesson at all? If belief is more important than knowledge, than why as a young kid was I given the knowledge of the story? Shouldn’t they have just let me try and believe without having any of the story or is there some kind of line where the evidence is sufficient but beyond that line the evidence is begins to lessen the virtue of the belief?

Ultimately the story serves to demonize doubt and skepticism. IF you question you are a worse off than someone who just believes everything that they were told no matter how preposterous. The story that Thomas is being told is preposterous, in modern parlance that would be like someone telling me that my car all of the sudden was a silver Aston Martin. I would need to look, because coming back from the dead is just as incredible as my car turning into a Bond mobile. I would think that if, like Ken Ham suggests, rationality is a gift from the divine then shouldn’t it be a virtue to actually engage it? The story serves to make to drop a final nail in the coffin of questioning. It’s a simple story that attempts to end the idea that some stories need evidence, they need support before they are relegated to being nothing more than fairy tales. Which is how we know that this story never happened.

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  1. December 29, 2015 at 12:58 am

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