Not more than a few months ago I had a very intriguing, not to mention revealing, discussion with a Christian friend of mine that I grew up with from childhood. In our younger days he was not overly devout, and in college he had a fall from grace (I don’t think he’d mind me phrasing it as such). Whereas I was over brimming with piety that, over the course of my education, receded and I grew profoundly skeptical.
My how things change! Today my friend is a Bible thumping born again Christian, as I once was, and not only this, but actively supports Intelligent Design, denies Darwin’s Theory of Evolution outright, and holds some very peculiar views on morality and divine providence and has become an ardent apologist of the faith. I, on the other hand, have gone from what he embodies now and moved completely toward the other side of the spectrum and have entrenched myself in skepticism and atheistic reason of the highest caliber, and have become an advocate for atheism. We have swapped positions, and this has lead to some rather intense, but highly informative, discussions about religion, faith, and what it means to believe in something, indeed, in anything at all.
What follows is a selection from hundreds of pages of dialogue and hours of discussion. The format consists mostly of him asking me questions and drilling me on Christian themes, pounding me with Christian rhetoric, and then giving me a proper chance at a rebuttal. Using the Christian form of polemic, he frequently places the burden of proof on me, the unbeliever/skeptic, makes broad assumptions and jumps to conclusions without investigating the matter thoroughly. Then, after making bald faced statements which drip with dogmatism and a hint of passé rhetoric, he sits back to see what standard fair ‘atheist’ argument I’ll throw back at him. However, I did not mind this format, for it gave me ample opportunity to reply in full, often time thoroughly, and it also gave me adequate grounds to challenge him on many issues he had with my secular position as an Atheist that I didn’t feel he got or that he may have misunderstood or, most likely, had been misinformed about. Hopefully I was able to toss in a few curve balls to keep him guessing.
Much of the supplementary content of our debates I left out due to similar themes, redundancy, or else things unrelated to the core issues. Although, even with much of the extemporaneous discussions left at the wayside, what remains is a plethora of thoughts and opinions we shared and disputed. I have picked what I find to be the most interesting parts of our Q and A sessions.
“When did your enlightenment occur? You say you were evangelical for “nearly 30 years.” That means it was recent?”
Yes and no. My atheism is quite recent. My atheism is a side effect of my preoccupation with religion. The more religion and religions I learn about the more I feel the bad outweighs the good, and the more I think these issues need to be addressed and seriously talked about. But religion has held the monopoly on public discourse and even today of the 21st century religions still retains an inviolable status which makes critical scrutiny, no matter how prudent, difficult. But I think we are gradually beginning to see a shift in the tide as secularism is currently growing and spreading like wild fire. But so are other religions, which makes it all the more necessary to engage in an open discourse and have an adult conversation on these matters.
As for my dwindling faith, that started when I met my Japanese wife. I’ll probably share this personal testimony in another post. Other factors also played a major role in changing my mind such as: actually reading the Bible in full, but not just this, researching the Biblical history and origins of the text itself and the history of early and classical Christianity. Simultaneously, I started attending a Jewish synagogue, got involved with my Islamic neighbor, met some darn friendly intelligent atheists (friendlier than any Christians I ever have known), and was challenged by my online discussions with the Biblical Historian James D. Tabor, author of The Jesus Dynasty, who challenged me to begin studying religious history in detail to learn about the origins, cultural legacy, of my faith instead of just mindlessly reiterating the devotional rhetoric.
An accumulation of these things led me to question specific aspects of my faith, and well, the rest is history. But I didn’t ever turn my back on my faith and walk away angry, no, it wasn’t like that. I had many wonderful experiences as a Christian. And as I have always had a profound respect and deep seeded curiosity of Christianity and why it was and why it so engaged my imagination, I couldn’t hate Christianity—but now in retrospect I can hate what it compels people to do and criticize it accordingly.
At any rate, after nearly four years of intensive study on my religion, and thinking deeply about the issues, I feel that I willingly moved gradually from a blind faith to an educated opinion about my faith where I knew about the inner workings of my faith, then to a preponderance of knowledge about religion in general, and all this gave me a different perspective than what I was accustomed to. Especially since I came out of a fundamentalist strand of evangelical Christianity, when I was a practicing believer I never concerned myself with asking very many difficult questions—or at least looking for answers to the questions I had—in fact I spent more time brushing them aside and avoiding them; paying them no heed in other words. Instead, I contented myself with the reassurance that it was all pretty much certain, and I didn’t leave room for any uncertainty whatsoever. But eventually I realized that is what denial is, and being dead certain all the time made me realize that was a great form of insecurity. Something I didn’t want to admit. An insecurity brought on, in part, by my ignorance and lack of understanding. And so I devoted myself to pursuing meaningful questions and arming myself with knowledge and understanding through learning. So my change of mind was more like a peaceful awakening—where my reason was free to roam unbridled.
“Has your research compelled you to read the whole Bible?”
Yes (but also my mom continually pleaded with me to read my Bible daily and every night before bed). That’s before I became a genuine Bible thumper and Jesus Freak. And my obsession didn’t end there either. Over the course of my piety I’ve read eight different translations of the Bible (by the way I find the New King James and the English Revised Standard versions to be the most thorough and enjoyably readable translations, but I am also rather intrigued by The Message—it’s really fun). In addition, I read the Nag Hammadi Library of Gnostic texts, which are great. Also, I’ve read the full list of Biblical Apocrypha, and as I stated earlier I’ve read three translations of the Muslim Qur’an. That was during my Christology phase. I think that covers much of the “original” Christian related writings I could find.
“…some of the evidence for the God of the Bible are Creation and Christ.”
I find this reasoning flawed, for some reasons I’ll discuss briefly. First, as long as you are a God believer and allow for the miraculous you can stake such a claim. But you can only affirm this from the position of a believer of your own faith (not some other), and you can hardly confirm or validate such a claim—not because it may not be true—but because you’re suggesting that only you have the right idea and that your faith is truer than the next person’s (without having considered other possibilities first). This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe you are being sincere, I know that most all Christians are sincere.
But you probably do not believe in what Islam teaches and do not hold that the Qur’an is the final revelation of the Abrahamic God of the Jews and Christians? Do you not? (In that case we’re both atheists of Allah! See, we already have so much in common). As such, if you were of any other belief, be it Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim you would not start by offering a contending faith’s book as evidence, you would not offer the Bible or Christ as evidence for Hinduism’s truths. If you were a Muslim, for example, you’d say, “some of the evidences for the God are the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and the Holy Qur’an.” If you are going to propose what you do here, that the life of Christ and the Bible are evidence for God, then logically, you have to leave room for others with dissenting opinions to hold the same, but about their own holy books, revelations, and gods. That’s why this reasoning doesn’t seem to work out. Only believers in God seem to do this, however, and so to persuade others to consider your point of view you can’t just assert your opinion as fact, you have to find genuine evidence.
“The Bible itself (as you know) is the most “popular” book ever composed, but the words inside it are also highly credible. By credible, i mean that words are accurate to what the original writings were.”
On this I would sincerely disagree. The writings of the Bible are from Coptic Greek compiled by writers writing 70 to 90 years after the death of Christ. And of these writings we don’t have a single original. We only have fragments of copies. Some of the fragments which are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that there are older pieces of Old Testament manuscript written in Aramaic… and we needed the *Rosetta Stone to even be able to read it. But if you study early and classical Christianity you’ll find a lot variance in the strands of Christianity, even more so than the 130 official denominations we have today.
The thing to keep in mind, however, is that prior to the gathering of the council of Nicaea in 325 CE there were so many varieties of Christianity, Gnostic and Pagan, that nobody could settle on a definition of the religion. Eventually, Emperor Constantine created the Council of Nicaea where they discussed doctrinal interpretation, theology, and created the Nicene Creed to refute the popular rival strands of Christianity and Christian faith. Remember, at this time there was no Bible yet, as they had not yet decided which texts to include in the cannon. The cannon wouldn’t be formulated until the second Nicene meeting in 787 CE.
The first council of Nicaea discussed whether or not God was one or many. The council was evenly split (and Christianity could have very well become a Polytheistic religion) but eventually Athanasius of Alexandria used his political muscle to influence the final vote. It’s all quite interesting really. But even as they struggled through theological riddles and settled on certain texts to include or exclude, these texts would not be permanently established until the first council of Trent (16th century). That means many of the holy books of Christian antiquity are not included in our contemporary canon, such as the Gospel of Thomas, most of the Christian Gnostic texts such as the Gospel of Mary and the lost Gospel of Judas, or any of the heretical texts like the Apocrypha. So the word of God, has been drastically changed from what the earliest Christians may have been reading, or even thinking of as the defining elements of Christian identity.
One of the problems I’ve always had is if the Bible was the inspired word of God, then why did not God decide to preserve his word for posterity? Of course, I’m not the only one who thought that too many alterations, amendments, and tampering had been done to a divine text, and the biggest critic of this tinkering was no other than the Prophet Mohammad, and Arab merchant circa 570 CE. He believed that the word of God had been so diluted, so drastically changed, that even the most pious believers full of Godly spirit could not recognize it as the word of God for it had become blemished, tarnished, and ruined. Thus he went up on a hilltop cave to meditate and the God of Abraham decided to speak to him through an angel, and low unto him, Allah dictated to him a new law—and this pure untarnished newly revealed holy book would come to be known to us as the Qur’an.
It was on my third reading, and third translation, of the Qur’an that I realized how fluid it fit together. And if one were to believe God actually penned a holy book, the Qur’an has a better chance of being defended as that book—at least in aesthetic terms and coherency. But the Bible is a much richer text, full of beautiful poetry, wonderful legendary cultural tales, thrilling political struggles and intrigue, mystique and magic, love affairs and epic war stories, enchanting myths, and historical commentary all wrapped up in one neat package which you can pull from for wisdom and insight (like with any good literature)—and that’s what most Christians exalted about their sacred book, it’s beauty and literary value.
For true believers, God speaks through the Bible to them mysteriously. As a Christian, you may have experienced such revelry and inspiration yourself. You might be reading along, and something that’s going on in your life… and bam!… there’s a verse that jumps out at you and it hits the issue on the head. Then you can turn the page and find all of this wisdom, stories and lessons of ancient peoples compiled into one handy dandy self help book. The trials and tribulations of the human experience, recorded, and kept as a guide to learn from. I have never lost my admiration for the Bible. I have merely followed the historical trail, traced its assembly, and it’s very creation of which it’s still within the reach of proper historical analysis and scrutiny. I have come to take the historian’s perspective of the text, because at the end of the day, that’s what every bit of evidence shows it to be. But I still consider it a book full of many valuable and time honored cultural stories which are worth knowing.
“Incidentally, there are more reference/copies of the Bible than any other ancient doc. If memory serves the Iliad has around 650 copies.”
Yes, the Essenes, a reclusive Jewish sect, kept many copies of holy texts and reproduced hundreds of texts for cataloging and stored them in the Qumran caves. They even preserved thousands of Christian Gnostic and Pagan manuscripts as well. It’s no coincidence that the Iliad, and oral story having existed thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, the first fragments of which can be dated to 700 BCE, compiled in a time when the majority of the world was illiterate, means simply that they are much rarer and more precious. We’re lucky to have as many as we do. There are far greater fragments of Christians and Jewish documents because we are that close in history to the events, and again, the Essenes preserved them. There was no official preservation group organized for saving the ancient Greek poems of Homer though. So in historic terms it’s more miraculous that Homer has come down to us at all than the hundreds of thousands of Bible manuscripts of yesteryear.
Also worth noting is that, according to higher criticism and New Testament scholarship, much of the Gospels seem to be modeled from and directly influenced by the Odyssey and Iliad and other pagan sources. I think that’s more noteworthy than how many surviving fragments of the Bible there are, considering it’s not that surprising we have surviving fragments of such a young literary tome in the first place. We have less surviving work of Aristotle than the Bible, so antiquity doesn’t necessarily equate to value or worth, since for me having any of Aristotle’s work preserved for us to enjoy today is more miraculous than any other ancient manuscript’s existence that I can think of.
“My point is that the words given in the Bible are accurate and many literary studies both secular and Christian have been done to show that. Simply put, Jesus existed historically… (Josephus also records events of Jesus)”
I’ve actually read Titus Flavius Josephus’ Antiquity of the Jews while I was still a believing Christian. I read him specifically to defend my ardent claim that Jesus was the real deal, just as you have. As it turns out, Josephus turns out to be an untrustworthy historian. Even so, when I looked into it—the story is much more complicated than what is commonly let on. It is true that there is one line in Josephus’ Antiquities which reads:
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities of the Jews; 18.63-64)
The problem here is that this entire segment which mentions Jesus the Christ is a complete forgery added by later Christians. In fact, the forgery is so blatant I don’t even need to go into detail but to point out that Josephus was writing in the 1st century (circa AD 37-70), and there are a couple problems to consider:
1) Josephus was a Jew, and so would never refer to an Ascetic Jewish Prophet who had died and left prophecy unfulfilled as the Messiah, let alone a savior of the gentile nations. No orthodox Jew of antiquity believed Jesus was the chosen messiah, because he died and did not fulfill Jewish prophecy. It’s clearly a Christian consideration, utilizing a colloquialism “Christos” from a much later date, and so marks it as a later addition.
But the biggest give away is the second fact:
2) the earliest Christian writers like Origen and Justin the Martyr who frequently quote Josephus often quote from that very section without the section about Jesus being the Christ. And since their account of Josephus is from an earlier source (or sources), an un-tampered with and unadulterated source, we can reasonably be sure that the later addition of Jesus being referred to as the Christ is a Christian forgery from after, at the least, 100 AD (CE).
Besides all this, at the time of Josephus’ writing the Synoptic tradition of Mark, Mathew, and Luke were not yet established/produced… so those stories would not have been part of the written culture. They may have existed orally (big maybe), but at the time of Josephus’ account of the “Christ” (from the Greek Khristos) Jesus had not yet been defined as the Messiah, as his legend would not have had time to spread to Rome let alone permeate the thoughts of all of Greece, as there was just not enough time as of Josephus’ writing. So the time frame is incompatible with the terminology and taking it into context the situation seems unashamedly fabricated in order to align with later Christian assertions.
There are more problems than these including but not limited to: wrong vocabulary usage, interruption of style, utilization of a different style, other conflicting variations such as the earlier Syriac version, etc. which all prove quite conclusively that the amendment is largely forgery. Just imagine if you were reading Shakespeare’s King Lear and in the middle of the play you found a paragraph from Catcher in the Rye. Its language and contemporary vocabulary would stick out like a sore thumb! A style and prose so out of time and place that it is so blatantly obvious that it was added later by other authors. And that’s exactly what we find with Flavius Josephus’ controversial section with regards to the Christ.
References and Resources on Josephus Flavius:
“While alive Jesus claimed to be God, taught truth, served people, performed miracles, healed people, etc. He was also crucified, died, and buried. The subsequent resurrection of Christ is also a historical fact… Do you deny this piece of history?”
Mind you, Jesus nowhere claims to be God, or divine like God, anywhere in the Synoptic Gospels. He several times recites that he is on a divine mission to usher in God’s coming Kingdom, and that he did not come to abolish the law of the Torah but to see it fulfilled (which it wasn’t). Numerous times he cites his servitude and duty as a human servant of God, but it is only in the book of John that we get the eternal Savior half deity hybrid business. This shows that the fourth Gospel’s author’s tradition follows that of the Pauline invention of a risen Jesus who conquers death and becomes more than a mere mortal, he becomes the embodiment of God’s divine son. But this notion of Jesus being one with God, the Father, is largely a latter Christian invention championed by Paul—and Paul alone. Never-the-less it ultimately became the popular version of the story that got passed around so that we would have later New Testament manuscripts.
At this juncture you need to start being more concerned with dates and writing styles, and all the lost Christianities up to this point, because the book of John almost didn’t make it into the canon. In fact, at one time it was removed, because it was viewed to be too Gnostic. But yes, Jesus does claim to be the Son of God in John, so if you’re reading all four separate Gospels as one account—then you can reach such a conclusion. But if you do that, then you need to worry about the irreconcilable discrepancies which arise between the Gospel accounts.
Suddenly you have thousands of problematic issues to contend with, such as Jesus contradicting himself, even to the point of negating what he said, there are contradictory resurrection accounts, incorrect historical accounts (King Herod never slaughtered any innocent children—this is a historical fact—our pal Flavius Josephus would have surely mentioned it if he had), a consensus problem which is detrimental to the whole belief that Jesus was immaculately conceived, incontestable discrepancies which reveal stories may have not happened as told (such as the multiple inscriptions and deviating readings of the sign which labeled Christ King of the Jews) and so on and so forth. There are literally thousands of problems which can’t just be ignored—because for the Christian they do matter. But because they are so difficult to reconcile, most apologists gloss over the facts or ignore the issues completely always making ad hoc adjustments to their claims to adapt to any criticisms that they aren’t equipped to handle.
But to answer your question of whether or not I think Jesus was a real historical figure, the answer is yes, I do believe Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. However, I believe that much of what we know about the person is not historical, but rather, legendary. There are many many many many many reasons for why I think this. But it mostly has to do with my understanding of mythology, how it functions, and how it arises, and how folk religion forms, and how these can sprout into full religions. There’s a new book out by Robert Wright called “The Evolution of God” that I’m dying to read. I’ll probably order it from Amazon.com soon. In the meantime, it might help to reacquaint yourself with the myths of Heracles, Horus, Krishna, Adonis, Osiris, and Mithraism. While I believe Jesus was a real historical person, there are just too many suspicious plagiaristic elements to the fantastic elements of his life which seem to be retellings of these other myths.
After reading a plethora of material, and weeding out the bits of truth which mach what historians and scholars agree as trustworthy compared to those that don’t jive with the facts, that, in my opinion, myth was grafted onto the person Jesus of Nazareth thus creating a legendary figure—not quite fact, not quite fiction, but something of mythical proportions. And I think this at least sums up one of the leading qualities of the New Testament version of Christ. Even C.S. Lewis recognized Christ as a Corn God, a resurrecting seasonal deity, who coincides with the Jewish calendar. Of course, I can’t go into detail here about everything, but I recommend reading The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man by Biblical historian and theologian Robert M. Price, and The Masks of Christ by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince are all great books which look at all the variations of Jesus and asks what it all means.
“There is much to be said on the topic of Jesus’ resurrection and I have been brief. Many “scholars” secular and Christian claim the historical evidence is overwhelming.”
Nay! I strongly, and with critical support, disagree. In fact I object. The evidence (if you can call it that) is not overwhelming. It’s overwhelmingly disjointed and incoherent. It’s overwhelmingly unjustified, unverified, and unproved. This makes it completely and utterly unreliable. That’s the opposite of being evidence for support. In fact, you have failed to offer a single name of even just one of a handful of names of reliable historians who could be considered professional experts in the area of biblical history or critical scriptural analysis.
However, I would agree that there is enough evidence to deduce Jesus of Nazareth was, at the least, a real historical figure. But to claim he rose from the dead is an unfounded claim, and one which proves ones extreme favoritism towards religious orthodoxy over objective investigation and examination every time it is espoused. An objective thinking person would not state the events happened as a foregone conclusion when there is no conclusive evidence. Rather, at the most they would remain skeptical and keep a critical eye of any such unconfirmed events, especially when there is not enough reliable evidence to conclude beyond a reason of a doubt that it did occur, but that we can’t necessarily rule out that it didn’t either. However, if the resurrection claims of the NT can be falsified by forthcoming evidence, such as a reliable extrabiblical source which shows the post-resurrection story was added years later to the Synoptic texts, such a clue would lend credibility to the skeptics who claim such an event is likely to be untrue.
As for the Gnostic Gospels, many of them would be canonical if we had full versions when the Bible was assembled. The Church fathers wanted to include the Gospel of Thomas, but it was incomplete. The Gospel of John got omitted and then put back in later. The fact of the matter is, many Gnostic and early Christian writings are closer to Jesus life than even some of the later Gospels of the NT. The Gospel of Thomas, Mary, and others are dated to within the same time period as many of the Synoptic fragments. As mentioned, the Egerton fragment is slightly older, if not exactly the same age, as the earliest Gospel fragment called the Ryland’s fragment.
Your analogy falls flat, because you assume all Gnostic texts were written hundreds of years later, but the mysterious Lost Gospel of the Egerton fragment is a Gnostic text and our earliest surviving Christian manuscript. Some of the Gnostic texts supplied the early Church founders with a myriad of theological considerations and are the very origin of “Christian thought” and much of their teachings lived on for centuries in Christian tradition. Although many were found to be much older than initially thought, but so too were many of the standard Gospels (the book of John and Revelation for example are dated to the 3rd and 4th century). And the earliest Gnostic texts are closer to the events of Christ than a majority of the canonical variety. So how come you dismiss them so easily? Again, I would suggest you’re not being objective enough with the evidence we do have.
Please read these links for a quick overview of what I am referring to:
“Ultimately I cannot prove God, because I can’t show you God. But for the same reason, you cannot un-prove God.”
True and true. I can’t un-prove something that is either unprovable or has not been proved. Although I think you mean “disprove.” Even so, the Rabbi David Wolpe took a stab at addressing this issue in his apologetics book Why Faith Matters. He states, much rather like you imply, that it’s not about proof—but about faith. But faith is a belief in the belief of something.
If you believe Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead, and that there will be a second coming sometime in the future, then he’s only got a few hundred years or so to make his big return before he makes Biblical prophecy obsolete. But if you believe in it, you must believe it to the point of being convinced it must be so, otherwise your devotional convictions wouldn’t amount to much. That’s the definition of being a believer. So I don’t expect my words to convince you otherwise, because as you will certainly remind me, faith is a personal matter.
Yet if you ask me, a God that makes a promise to reveal himself, but then never does, is either a God which doesn’t much care for us, or a non-existent God. I have to then think about the probabilities, even though I cannot prove nor disprove the existence of the God you speak about, I can be fairly sure that his absence is pretty much a sign of disinterest or non-existence, and what I know of religion a personal God who is supposed to love us would not abandon us in such a cruel, capricious, and callous way. Meanwhile, such an observation fits fairly well in the parameters of what we would expect to find if God was entirely non-existent.
“However, If Evolution had been proven, any scholar would have to agree. One of the most fundamental questions (which I also posed to you) is how can an evolutionary process ADD information to a gene?”
The genes carry information down through the lineage, and the DNA retains all the information from our first ancestors to the present. So is your issue then with the first forms of DNA and how life somehow arose with the encoded information to pass on? Adaptation and mutation can account for new additional information being imprinted on genes, but I think what you’re getting at is the initial onset of life and how any information was added? I’m not a cellular biologist so I couldn’t tell you. You’d have to ask one, but Jerry Coyne, who I keep mentioning, is a specialist in just that field. Although, I have a sneaking suspicion that a fully educated geneticist, cellular biologist, or molecular biologist may be able to answer that question. Because I suspect there is an answer to that question, and because I’m the wrong person to ask, I will let you continue educating yourself on that matter to see what turns up. My question about biological life is different. I want to know how from inorganic proteins we can get living cells? In other words, my current predicament is trying to figure out how from dead stuff compiling together we can get an algorithm for living stuff. That’s an answer I’ll eagerly be waiting for.
I fully disagree. The Bible offers solutions for the problem of sin for which God implanted inescapably into the human condition, a problem for which the only punishment was eternal death and suffering. Christian theologians offer a theological solution for the conundrum of theodicy, but the Bible itself never addresses the problem proving it doesn’t address the issue of suffering at all. But nowhere does the Bible offer solutions for everyday problems. It offers wisdom in the form of poetry and prose from which we can garner grains of pertinent insights, like any other text, but in addressing real human issues—it fails miserably. Nowhere is the word “moral” found in the whole Bible. The ethics of the Bible are stamped with the sophistication of the first century, and are certainly outmoded too. Especially since it allows for further oppression, inequality, and imposed pain and suffering on innocents. I don’t want to get into a “quoting” war, but the Bible justifies selling children into sexual slavery, supports the trafficking of women, and even Jesus says it’s alright to beat your slaves. The Bible cites that it is our God given duty to stone homosexuals, but also those who work on the Jewish Sabbath (which would be every Christian I know).
Now, how could any decent person with an inkling of kindliness in his nature be convinced that the violent, abusive, barbaric forms of cruelty such as slavery, racism, sexism, sexual slavery of minors, the murder of homosexuals, and human trafficking is somehow—a sign of God’s unending wisdom and love? And again, I remind you, nowhere does the Bible talk about morality. Morality always takes the form of “moral laws,” i.e. rules, which are not concerned with every human beings unalienable rights, but the obedience and servitude of those who have no choice but to worship God. The Bible says you have the choice to worship God or not, but those who choose not to believe in God, will burn in hell for all eternity—more suffering for an offense to God’s pride.
And for me the logic is obvious, as the comedian Eddy Izzard has said, when it comes to such black and white terms which pretend to offer a choice but in actuality only allow for one reasonable reply (avoiding the unnecessary pitfall that there could be a third alternative), when the answer is limited between a rational and irrational option, the answer is obvious, “Cake or Death?” Well, duh! I have no choice. Nobody but an insane person would choose death over cake, so the question isn’t even a fair or democratic one. It’s rigged, biased, and imposes and impossibly harsh punishment for those who disagree—which shows that it’s likely a manmade scheme. And this form of totalitarianism does not impress me.
People often cite the Ten Commandments as moral codes. Mostly they’re not. What does not boiling a baby goat in his mother’s milk have to do with being a better person? Or what does not coveting your neighbor’s property including his ox, land, and chattel wife have to do with humane animal treatment or sexual equality? Such a commandment may guarantee that I’ll be a less covetous person at the end of the day, but that donkey may still get beat to within an inch of his life every day, that ox may be worked to death, and the wife will never have any rights. And that’s presuming that I would want so and so’s stupid donkey, old worn out beast, and ugly dog of a wife in the first place… and that’s perhaps presuming too much. Besides, desiring things combined with material necessity induces good economy and healthy competition, so wanting things isn’t necessarily bad—it supplies us with jobs so we can support our families and put food on the table. But instead of Jesus telling people to take up a life of poverty without a thought for tomorrow (an apocalyptic and immoral prospect), where’s the commandment that says, “But if though be persistent in coveting and hording wealth while others suffer poverty, you shall be expected to pay back your fortune for those less fortunate” is what I’d like to know. It seems to me this would be a much more moral verse than throwing everything away and taking up the life of a monk. Instead of abandoning one’s goals and aspirations, hopes and dreams, where’s the verse on the moral law of reciprocity? (And the Parable of the Money Lender does not count since it basically equates to etiquette on Jewish banking and tax practices under the Roman regime, and goes back to local taxation and economy; which requires labor and monetary exchange; and a stock market; and this contradicts Jesus preaching to leave behind everything, abscond, and become a vagabond like him.) And where’s the commandment against genocide, child abuse, or for that matter, not deep fat frying all of your food?
In order to be considered a moral book, you have to have a book which seriously addresses the problems of human suffering—not one which, more often than not, sustains them. And although many of these problems are contained in the stories of our brief human history, very few of them are ever adequately addressed in the Bible. Vicarious redemption shifts your responsibility onto another, and this I find an immoral proposition too. Jesus dying for our sins is a wonderful concept, it makes a profoundly moving story, but to expect as much gives us no further reason to be responsible—at least not without the added threat of death and eternal punishment—and then we’re back to the same problems we began with. And the promise of heaven and eternal life, bliss, and our every wish… well then, there would never be anything worth suffering for. That’s not a way for me. Especially if I know others are suffering because they simply didn’t agree to the scheme. That’s sick and perverse, and totally immoral.
At the end of the day, suffering is a fact of life. I feel that only by limiting such suffering can we live a more humane, peaceful, happy life—but there will always be suffering. As for the Bible, it gives us every opportunity to doubt its agenda. Is it concerned with limiting the suffering in the here and now? I would argue that it doesn’t. It promises a final solution, which can only come after we have passed on, but as for the desperation, pain and suffering of human existence, it tells us not to eat pork. I mean, really? A divine book would tell me how to cook my pork just right so that I get the most succulent and disease free morsel of fatty meat I’ve ever tasted! And what’s more, it would be able to teach me how to clone that pig so I could feed all the starving children of the world, who God seems to not care too much about. They didn’t sin. They were born into a world of famine and hunger and grow up sitting around for something to sustain their life, and most wither away and die. And the Bible says absolutely NOTHING on how to address this problem. Believe in Jesus? Will that put food into their starving little mouths? Why didn’t Jesus teach them how to magically multiply the fish and bread? He obviously knew how, right? Well, that’s just not good enough for me, and it’s certainly not good enough for them.
You quote the book of Romans to me, but again, I’d ask… how does this solve the agony of starving kids in Uganda or the misery of the genocide in the Darfur region or the tsunami victims of Thailand or the hurricane victims of New Orleans? Should not a moral book contain a way to address the problems human suffering? (If not it can hardly be called a moral book can it?) What does it say about the nature of a God who seems to allow for such suffering, as you imply by suggesting we a surfs and incapable of living up to God’s standard—a proposition I find lacking in moral sense altogether.
Even Thomas Calvin attempted to rectify this issue by suggesting everything was predestined. I suggest you read C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain since he took a mighty stab at just this question. Which may make more sense if it were true, which I don’t think it is, especially since David Hume reminds us that if everything is predestined we lack free will, and without that a person of faith could never truly have the free choice to believe in God. Ultimately philosophical sophist theological considerations need not apply, since they unanimously fail to address my imminent concern of how to fix the problems of suffering and help those in need right now. Simply preaching the Bible won’t do it. How do you fix their problems without oppressing their culture and attempting to override it with an ideology foreign to tribal peoples? And even if they did convert, start following God’s law, what is to suggest the evil tyrannical regimes would just let them live peacefully? They would still be slaughtered in the hundreds, and the children will still be starving. Humanitarian aid work is a step in the right direction, but then religion offers other obstacles too.
For example, in the meanwhile the Catholic Church will try to put them out of their misery prematurely by sponsoring the spread of AIDs all across Africa (a perverse notion they got out of the Bible, you can bet on it). But no matter, these poor retched people will be that much sooner in the arms of a loving and comforting Jesus. Yippy-skippy! Meanwhile, an unhealthy Christian revitalization of witchcraft is spreading like wildfire through Africa, where small sickly children and old people are being murdered for the supposed crime of witchcraft and sorcery—all in the name of Jesus! Yet the only thing the Church has done is to distance itself and say, these are hypocrites, not real Christians. But then what was the Protestant Reformation about if not a clash between orthodoxy and heresy? Should we allow those like John Calvin and murderous lunatics plaguing the Dark Continent to get off scot-free with their criminal deeds simply because they say they are affiliated with the great Christian name, or else deny anyone else being related to their variety of Christianity because they disagree? Does that change the fact that people are killing in the name of Jesus in the 21st century because they have a legalist understanding of the Bible and takes it literally when it says to stone witches to death? I find that not doing something about it, or taking adequate measures to combat and counteract this unfortunate series of events, is entirely neglectful, not to mention hypocritical but bigoted as well.
If you’re like me, a nonbeliever and a rationalist, and you’re faced with this dilemma, you don’t sit around waiting for heavenly bliss in the afterlife, because for me there is no such thing. You suggest that sin acts as a retarding agent which has afflicted the whole of the human race, but that’s only if you believe in talking snakes mind you. It becomes that much more vitally imperative to address such real world issues now, and even if you don’t agree with my philosophical views, you can at least agree with this: it’s never too late to start help alleviate the suffering of countless others. In fact, we may even agree that it is necessary.