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Thu Jun 27, 2013, 06:02 PM

 

The Quickest Route to Atheism? It's Not the Bible

John Michael.
Posted: 06/27/2013 4:56 pm

Since my deconversion I have heard it repeated over and over. In atheist circles from YouTube to Reddit, it is the most overplayed trope: "the quickest route to atheism is reading the Bible." I had always taken this as a fact, and further extrapolated that it was of better use as kindling than as any literary work. I had read the Bible when I was much younger, and while it didn't kill my faith, I do remember being blindsided by its content. It's thick with misogyny and xenophobia, exaltations of seriously immoral behavior, and still it manages to be boring -- to an overzealous sixteen year old, anyway. Now, after a recent rereading of the ancient scripture, I have to question the theory that the Bible is poisonous to faith. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Bible is some of the greatest literature mankind has produced.

See, I am an atheist through and through, but I really love religious lore. Truthfully, I love adventure cartoons, but in the words of my Kierkegaardian friend, "The Bible is an awesome comic book." Fire raining down from the skies destroying whole cities; supernatural beings saving God's chosen from mobs and slow death and a roaring furnace; the rise and fall of the chosen nation in frustrating, excruciating detail. Smack in the middle of it is an erotic poem the makes absolutely no mention of God, and then God makes his big appearance as a helpful if not eccentric drifter. There is philosophy that rivals its Eastern contemporaries in timeless relevance and poetry that is beautiful even today. A philosopher I know even said to me "those writers had genius," and I think I only appreciate it now, having deconverted and read the alternatives. It's a shame so many people take this book so seriously because it really is an amazing read.

Over the Spring, I took a Bible as Literature course with a hymn writer, a doctor of divinity, and a whole slew of Catholics, Unitarians, and undefinable believers. Many of my classmates struggled with needless and confusing stories, such as the Levite's concubine in Judges, God's compensation to Job, and basically everything from Leviticus through Second Kings, but no one lost their faith. Besides me, there was one other atheist in the class, and due to my self-identifying as a "post-theist" as well as my English Major tendency to indefinitely suspend my disbelief, the rest of the class thought I was a vague theist until the very end. Despite wildly differing backgrounds and irreconcilable interpretations, we never had a fight, never an awkward moment. We understood each other and worked off one another, and while I think we all left more secure in our own beliefs, our edges were rounded off.

Truth is, I liked the Bible so much that it nearly brought me back. I had been really angry at Christianity and the Bible since my deconversion. For the first 20 years of my life, I took my Episcopalian upbringing about as seriously as one can at that age. It was a liberal church, and God was a friendly dad. I had been head acolyte and a lay minister, which meant I could serve you wine and it was still blood. I would go to my pastor's rectory after school and discuss theology with her, and for a decent period of time, I even wanted to go to seminary. My eventual deconversion had nothing to do with figuring out evolution or making gay friends or discovering the existence of jerks like Fred Phelps. I found it impossible to reconcile the image of a being that has the movements of every mote of dust planned out with the indefatigably random and bewildering unfolding of my own life, the planet, and the universe before me. I didn't want to do it, it was an Occam's Razor thing, automatic and unchangeable. Either there was a being in the sky with a seriously convoluted plan to achieve something we can't understand, or it was all made up in an ancient effort to comfort ourselves, the only sentient beings in a cruel and lonely landscape.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-michael/atheism-bible_b_3510914.html

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Arrow 22 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Quickest Route to Atheism? It's Not the Bible (Original post)
rug Jun 2013 OP
cbayer Jun 2013 #1
dimbear Jun 2013 #2
rug Jun 2013 #4
dimbear Jun 2013 #7
rug Jun 2013 #9
dimbear Jun 2013 #11
rug Jun 2013 #13
dimbear Jun 2013 #14
rug Jun 2013 #18
dimbear Jun 2013 #20
cbayer Jun 2013 #5
dimbear Jun 2013 #8
xfundy Jun 2013 #3
cbayer Jun 2013 #6
onager Jun 2013 #10
dimbear Jun 2013 #12
Jim__ Jun 2013 #15
rug Jun 2013 #17
WovenGems Jun 2013 #16
gcomeau Jun 2013 #19
Warren Stupidity Jun 2013 #21
WovenGems Jul 2013 #22

Response to rug (Original post)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 06:14 PM

1. Interesting read and point of view.

I have never taken a course, but have founds various parts of the bible alternatively boring, terrifying, inspirational, fascinating, perplexing and guiding at different points in my life.

I have never seen it as a single book, but an anthology with some of the widest variety of stories one could imagine.

Like the writer, I have found that phrase used in his title rather trite and simplistic.

But I'm no literalist and never have been.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 06:29 PM

2. It's not difficult to miss completely the purpose of the Bible, as this student does.

Understanding that it is a book of propaganda intended to acquire power is hard, because it is a well done book of propaganda intended to acquire power.

It's never wise to underestimate it.

Compare the Book of Mormon, not nearly as well imagined.





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Response to dimbear (Reply #2)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 07:27 PM

4. I never heard of propaganda that took 1,500 years to write.

 

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Response to rug (Reply #4)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 08:07 PM

7. I recommend to your attention the Zend Avesta and the Upanishads.

It's easier for western folk to see the purpose behind texts to which they aren't emotionally attached.

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Response to dimbear (Reply #7)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 08:23 PM

9. The Zend are the commentaries on the Avesta.

 

Not quite a proper analogy.

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Response to rug (Reply #9)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 09:34 PM

11. As an afterthought, I should have wondered whether the 1500 years you have in mind

were the years c. 600 BCE to c. 120 CE which seem to include all the writing of the Bible.

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Response to dimbear (Reply #11)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 09:48 PM

13. Yes, I meant the entire time the Bible was written.

 

From around 1400 BCE to 100 CE.

The OP is about the entire Bible. Notwithstanding contemporary references and purposes, I don't think Obadiah, for example, was written to propagandize Christianity.

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Response to rug (Reply #13)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 01:16 AM

14. Of course, it was Malachi that was written to propagandize Christianity, or so some say.

But--your belief that the Bible goes back that far is a hard stretch. Hebrew hadn't evolved to the point it could carry the burden yet.



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Response to dimbear (Reply #14)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 11:12 AM

18. That would be a neat trick since it was written 400 years earlier.

 

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Response to rug (Reply #18)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 05:21 PM

20. The reason Malachi bookends the Christian version of the Hebrew scriptures, but does not

bookend the Jewish version of the Hebrew scriptures.

Or so some say.


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Response to dimbear (Reply #2)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 08:00 PM

5. I would say exactly the opposite.

The bible I see as a compilation of what people felt were the most important religious writings of the time and culture.

The book of Mormon seems much more like a book written as a piece of propaganda.

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Response to cbayer (Reply #5)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 08:11 PM

8. From a little emotional distance, they all look alike.

You have to give this much to the Bible: while it's not at all what it claims to be, it does its job. Witness western history.




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Response to rug (Original post)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 07:25 PM

3. Let's start a bible reading campaign!

And see where we end up. Most who claim to be "Christian" don't even go to church, much less sit through reading the whole thing.

Christianity has become politics.

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Response to xfundy (Reply #3)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 08:04 PM

6. Horse malarkey.

First, being christian and going to church don't necessarily have to be correlated. I would say that if someone says they are christian, it is more meaningful in terms of whether they follow the teachings of christ, than whether they go to church or not.

While there is no doubt that christianity, and in particular the religious right, invaded american politics in a big way, there remains much christianity that is much more that politics.

But if you are an ex-fundy, then your view may be colored heavily by your own experience.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 09:19 PM

10. Obviously, Route 491...

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Response to onager (Reply #10)

Thu Jun 27, 2013, 09:39 PM

12. The film "Route 666" didn't do it justice. n/t

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Response to rug (Original post)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 06:41 AM

15. "... a man trying to tell his distant ancestors the truth ..."

Does he mean descendants? He ends with an interesting paragraph. But, I can only make sense of that sentence if I substitute descendants for ancestors:

Reading the Bible as literature prevented me from taking the words literally, and in doing so helped me to end my anger at the passages depicting great violence and clearly outdated morality. The more one learns, the more one sees that no idea is original (to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 1 : 9), and so trying to credit any one source as the epicenter of knowledge is as futile as it is ill-advised. You risk losing your sense of humor about it, and yourself. And isn't that what we have now? A bunch of people who refuse to admit that their ideas might be wrong? Honestly, I think we believe the same thing but, in the words of Albert Einstein, "What separates us are only intellectual props." If you really believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, how can you properly live by it without knowing the language for yourself? If you think the Bible is a useless stack of fairy tales, how can you denigrate it without examples of its obsolescence? And absent any spiritual motivations, how can you justify not knowing about the foundation of Western culture? Stop making excuses. Read a book a day, read about the books and their individual histories and translations. Grant these hidebound desert-dwellers the right to be wrong and I think you'll see what I did: Not a God trying to reach his creation, but a man trying to tell his distant ancestors the truth as best as he knows how.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #15)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 11:07 AM

17. I think you're right.

 

It really doesn't make sense otherwise.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 09:31 AM

16. Poetry only

If one reads the OT paying attention only to what God does and says one is left wondering if the old boy is in need of therapy.

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Response to rug (Original post)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 01:43 PM

19. Author appears confused...

 

His argument that the bible isn't the quickest route to atheism seems to rest on the general impression that if you DON'T take it literally and DON'T think of it as some actual factual claim that God exists then it can be kinda pretty in some places and not so outrageously immoral or intelligence insulting since it's all just fiction so no big deal.

Yeah...?

But for anyone wanting to address the fundamental question of whether God actually really exists or not (as in, whether to be atheist or theist) that's not how you're going to be reading the book. If you are reading it that way you're kind of past the whole atheism vs. theism question at that point.

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Response to gcomeau (Reply #19)

Fri Jun 28, 2013, 09:34 PM

21. besides it is really kind of shitty compared to the stuff the greeks came up with.

 

if you are going to read ancient literature the greeks are the place to go.

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Response to Warren Stupidity (Reply #21)

Tue Jul 2, 2013, 07:05 AM

22. Agree

Hasn't everyone read The Odyssey and The Iliad?

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