The Truth Will Set You Free!

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Richard C. Miller. I am a rather rare commodity these days, a humanistic, atheistic scholar of New Testament and early Christian literature. Hello! At the kind invitation of John Loftus, I join the Debunking Christianity team proudly alongside Dr. David Madison and Dr. Hector Avalos.
I began my academic journey over 20 years ago as a Bible-believing, God-fearing orthodox evangelical. I had a "calling from the Lord” to train to become a pastor. I decided upfront, however, that, as I studied, I would follow the truths of careful research wherever they might lead, a decision that I now recognize as terminal to my Christian faith as I then knew it. I went off to Calvary Chapel Bible College, whence, before the end of a year, I was swiftly expelled as a “heretic”; CBC did not welcome “outside of the lines” thinkers at that time, I painfully learned. I went on to earn my Master of Divinity at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. There, despite the heavy theological constraints of the program, I realized that the Bible, as an anthology of ancient texts, contains a tremendous amount of diversity and disagreement on all manner of topics. This one realization irreversibly shattered my inerrantist effort to construct a “systematic theology” rooted in the Christian holy scriptures. There is no single, coherent Voice, no “God-voice” behind these writings. Consequently, Biola could only barely stand to graduate me, despite my exemplary honors standing. From there, my quest to know took me to the Ivy League schools, first to Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University. While completing my Master of Theology there, I explored other ways of talking about the Word of God (via reading the Swiss theologian Karl Barth et al.). I focused my study there in early Judaism and the New Testament, specifically apocalypticism in antiquity. Observing the patently whimsical diversity of such textual traditions, I comfortably concluded that documents of that genre were written and meant to be read as fictional in modality under a metanarrative of political and social subversion, i.e., as thinly veiled, asceticizing critiques of ancient society. Also, as part of my honest, truth-seeking deconstruction of faith while at Princeton, I began to acknowledge that not every deed or word ascribed to God, to Jesus, or to any of the array of other biblical heroes qualifies within any reasonable modern sense of morality or compassion. Most of what one finds in these texts simply reflects the various values and attitudes of the ancient Near East and the Levantine Mediterranean world, much as one may expect from any other ancient text. In my quest to find a context to study that yet further untethered my education from the powerful forces of Christian belief and tradition, I went on to graduate study at Yale University and the Yale University Divinity School. From there I would apply to Ph.D. programs. While at Yale, I studied ancient mythology, folklore, and sacred legend in the ancient Near East and classical antiquity, exploring the ways in which, if at all, these patterns may have arisen within the biblical texts. Here is where my Christian faith began most visibly to disintegrate, being replaced by a marvellously rich panorama of ancient tales referencing some of the deepest essential needs of the ancient human disposition. The biblical texts began variously to take their all-too-human place alongside the plethora of other significant literary works through the ages of human civilization. Having been admitted to various programs, I chose to return to California, to my place of origin, in order to complete my Ph.D. in transdisciplinary study between the New Testament and (other) Early Christian Literature and Classical Civilization(s) at the Claremont Graduate University School of Religion. I published my thesis with Routledge Books (Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity; 2015), a four-chapter monograph that carefully demonstrates what I had originally discovered while at Yale, namely that the so called “resurrection” tales in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles were not originally read by early Christians in a historical mode; these texts, rather, applied a quite popularly recognized trope of heroic exaltation (what I term the “translation fable"), a stock story pattern applied to a large list of other canonized, iconified figures in Mediterranean antiquity.
As one may surmise, my evangelical faith, indeed any kind of “faith” by modern Christian parlance, had in truth evaporated. While any (false) comforts regarding the fate of my soul were shipwrecked, as it were, I was left with a deeply satisfying understanding of the human condition and at long last with the answers to many of the most perplexing, problematic questions raised by the Christian religion. The truth has indeed set me free, free from what I now in retrospect can only best describe as a systematic delusion, the vandalism of my one most precious faculty as a member of this species, the human mind. In forthcoming blog articles here at Debunking Christianity, I look forward to sharing with you some of the most significant findings of my journey, facts and lines of careful thought that one does not readily encounter at the local Sunday school, a picture of earliest Christianity quite contrary to that presented in the faith-based rhetoric that sadly pervades churches and our modern society.