01 January 2009

WHY I AM AN ATHEIST: The Bible - Part 2





In WHY I AM AN ATHEIST: The Bible - Part 1, I told how my ultra-religious family read the entire Bible, a chapter every day, and how some Biblical stories triggered doubts about it being the word of God. If the Bible were the word of God, I found it so appalling that I didn’t want to worship that God.


Robert Ingersoll: “If a man really believes that God once upheld slavery; that he commanded soldiers to kill women and babes; that he believed in polygamy; that he persecuted for opinion’s sake; that he will punish forever, and that he hates an unbeliever, the effect in my judgment will be bad. It always has been bad. This belief built the dungeons of the Inquisition. This belief made the Puritan murder the Quaker.”

In the Bible, I discovered that Solomon had 1000 sexual partners. I learned that God created evil, that God lives in darkness, that David paid for his first wife with the foreskins of 200 Philistines, that God destroyed Job simply because Satan dared him to do it, that handicapped people are not allowed in church.
I found the character of God rather alarming. People worship and praise God and say he is compassionate, benevolent and loving. Yet, as a nonbeliever, I am doomed to spend all eternity suffering in hell, no matter how good I am. I couldn’t accept such a mean-spirited being.

Mark Twain: “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.”

Then of course, when my family read the New Testament, I learned that Jesus didn’t come to send peace on earth, but came with a sword to set men against their fathers and daughters against their mothers.... and of course this contradicted the Commandments.
My family read the Christmas and Easter stories in one Gospel. A few weeks later, we read accounts in other Gospels which were somewhat different. In a home where I was expected to believe the Bible, these accounts were different enough to seem more like the stories coming from different eyewitnesses on Perry Mason than God’s truth.
I just didn’t buy into the resurrection. I thought that Jesus hadn’t really died or else the stories of the resurrection were lies. Today, with life-saving techniques, we know people can be brought back to life, but not after 3 days and not 2000 years ago.
And the immaculate conception ----well, I could imagine if I turned up pregnant and unmarried some day, trying to pull that excuse on my parents. Soon I learned that Greek gods were always sleeping with mortals and that Christians probably stole their stories from the Greeks or earlier pagan civilizations. (See comment & my response regarding the immaculate conception.)

As a preteen and a teenager, I was smart and inquisitive. I asked questions of my parents, ministers, and Sunday School teachers.
• Why are there no dinosaurs in the Bible?
• Why would a loving God order women and children to be slaughtered? How was that following the Commandment ‘The shalt not kill’?
• How could Noah fit 2 of every species on his ark ---and wouldn’t he have to take more than 2 gazelles to feed the 2 lions? And why wouldn’t Noah have left a few creatures behind, like mosquitos or cobras? And why does a different part of the Bible say he took 7 of some animals?
• Why would God order us to circumcise babies? Wouldn’t that be terribly painful, let alone unnatural? Why would God create foreskin, then want us to cut it off?
• Why can’t God prevent an earthquake, hurricane, or airplane accident from hurting/killing people?
• Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people?
• Why, despite hundreds of people praying for a sick parishioner at the church, did the person die anyway?
• If God can do anything, why can’t he stop suffering? And if he can’t why is he worthy of worship?
• Why do we have to wait to die to reach heaven? Doesn’t God have the power to make heaven on earth?
• Why would God order a man to sacrifice his own son or daughter?
• Why are some things that the Bible says are abominations (eating lobster , pork, or rabbit for example) no longer considered to be forbidden, but being gay is still thought, by many, to be an abomination? Lots of these rules are clearly set forth in Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus, yet we ignore some and accept others. (According to the Bible, it’s OK eat locusts.)
• Why did God allow his only son to die to forgive our sins? If God can do anything, why not just forgive our sins and be done with it?
• What about Bible passages that contradict each other? How can those be the word of God?
• If only Christians could go to Heaven and everyone else went to Hell, that wasn’t exactly fair to someone who was indoctrinated into Islam from a young age, or someone who had never even heard of Christianity, was it?

Although some of these questions were from a naive youth, I would ask most of these same questions today. I still don’t have the answers.
I don’t remember even one answer any more enlightening than “God works in mysterious ways.” My father told me to pray and God would answer my questions, but He didn’t.

After several years of doubt, I couldn’t take the Bible seriously. Soon everything else about religion sounded absurd to me. By the time I graduated from high school I was an atheist, but I didn’t quite know it yet.

Now, I believe that the Bible is a book of fiction. I happen to love fiction and I think fiction can teach truths about life. However, I could learn most of what I need to know about life from many other books of fiction ---and without the guilt.
Most of the Bible was recorded years or even centuries after the supposed events, so I do not believe it is the word of God, but the words of men either trying to interpret what they thought was the word of God, or attempting to convince readers that they knew what God wanted.

Susan B. Anthony: “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

Writing the Bible, decades after the events (if they actually happened) would be like my attempting to write an account of the Kennedy presidency with no written records, no TV, no audio or video tape. I lived through those years, but little of what I remember is from actual memory. Most of it is from books or film that I have read or seen many times in the years since 1963. Taking everything I can remember, I might be able to write two or three pages. Of course, like men who wrote the Bible, I might misremember or, without written, audio, or video proof, I could make up the rest.
The men who wrote the Bible had no special powers. They were humans like you and me. God didn’t guide their hands when they wrote the Bible any more than he guided my hand in writing this blog post.
Why do people believe that 2000 years ago, magical things happened that don’t happen today? But then I remind myself that many people believe in astrology, ghosts, and miracles. They think they see images of the Virgin Mary in their toast and are sure their dead parents are watching over them. I call it wishful thinking.
People think God talks to them or to religious leaders. If God talked directly to anyone, then everyone in the world who prayed for guidance would receive the exact same message and there would not be multiple religions and denominations.

Despite my having read the Bible through my teen years, I haven’t read it much since, although I do use internet Bibles to find passages on occasion. Most of the atheists I know, know the Bible much better than I do, and I know it better than most Christians.
Many Christians are taught a few nice Bible stories in Sunday school and they might listen to Biblical verses at church services, but most know little about what the Bible really says.
In a recent survey by the Pew Forum, 45% of U.S. adults seldom or never read the Bible. Surprisingly only 39% believe it is the literal word of God. A full 18% believe it was written by men and is not the word of God at all. Only 1% said living life in accordance with the Bible was necessary to be admitted to heaven.
A Gallup survey found that less than half of Americans can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis), only a third know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (Billy Graham is a popular answer) and a quarter do not know what is celebrated at Easter (the resurrection, the foundational event of Christianity.) Sixty percent cannot name half the ten commandments; 12% think Noah was married to Joan of Arc. George Gallup, a leading Evangelical as well as a premier pollster, describes America as “a nation of biblical illiterates”.

Mark Twain: [The Bible] “is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.” (Letters From the Earth)
copyright 2009 by C. Woods

Look for future posts in my ongoing series of Why I am An Atheist.



10 comments:

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Love that Bible sticker!

Lee said...

I'm hanging out for Bill Maher's film, Religulous, to make it to Australia.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I discovered your blog, so much of what you say in this post is as if it's come straight from my own mind. LOVE the sticker, I might nick it! I was a total and unquestioning believer up to being about 30, then my belief simply went - disappeared, whoosh, vanished (I was a late developer - didn't have your enquiring mind, as a child, teenager, young adult I simply accepted everything without questioning). Now I understand that the God these folk worship is simply something created by man, with human feelings, thoughts, etc. I will definitely be back:) PS: if you've got Lee and J Cosmo hanging out here, there could be some fun;)

C Woods said...

Welcome Anonymous and all others.

Let me tell you a funny story about the sticker. I'm not sure if it was exactly like this one, but I bought about 50 similar stickers about 25-30 years ago from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They were designed to stick on Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms, but I hadn't traveled much for about 5 years and still had most of them. One time, I was at a yard sale and asked to use the bathroom. I noticed the owner had about 100 Gideon Bibles stacked in his basement. When I inquired if he worked for the Gideons, he laughed and told me he was an atheist. When I told him I was, too, he said he traveled for business (to a different city nearly every week.) He admitted," I steal them so I'll have something to take with me if I'm ever invited to a book burning." Actually, he was trying to keep people from reading them ---but I told him that reading the Bible is what convinced me (& a lot of others) that religion was myth & superstition. So, I found my stickers & took them to him. He placed all I had in the Bibles. He planned on taking a Bible, with sticker attached, on each business trip and putting it back in a hotel room.

sarniaskeptic said...

Great post - as promised, I'd take some time to read through your blog and I really enjoyed this article. (I wish I had the patience to write something so long and thought out :) ).

I think that the bible is the greatest tool one can use to convert to atheism. I'm holding a bible study at my place on Tuesday nights because (and it is proving my suspicions to be true - at least with the current group) I don't believe that xtians have ever read (fully, anyway) their own damn book.

Nunsuch said...

Good stuff.
But you're incorrect as to the definition of Immaculate Conception. It doesn't mean what you think it means (And Protestants don't believe in Mary's Immaculation from original sin. Look it up).

C Woods said...

Nunsuch ---i stand corrected. My dictionary defines it as:

the doctrine that God preserved the Virgin Mary from the taint of original sin from the moment she was conceived; it was defined as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in 1854.

Thanks for stopping by.

kop_op said...

Reminds me of this young girl's prayer:

Holy Mary,

Since you have conceived without sinning,
please make it possible for me to sin without conceiving.

Did you know it?

Greetings,

Federico

SKnapp said...

Most of your criticism of the Bible can and has been easily answered over the years. You act as though Christian apologetics does not exist and has not already answered these questions.

Christianity is the most scrutinized philosophy in the world and yet, continues to grow worldwide. And as the Western world falls away and begins to show clear signs of decay, the rest of the world is embracing Christianity and seeing the blessings of believing.

For a proper understanding of the Old Testament, try reading the prophets and what Jesus said in Matthew 19 regarding marriage but applies to many other areas of the Old Testament. My point is simple: the Old Testament is more critical of the actions of the Israelites than any other group and God permitted certain things (like divorce) because of the hardness of their hearts, not because that was his original intention.

You may have read the Bible but you do not understand the Bible and the major themes of Christianity. You are tripped up by portions that seem abhorrent until viewed through their proper lens. Purposefully sending a disease that has killed people into someone seems pretty abhorrent, no? But that is exactly what we do with vaccines, a wonderful invention. But it is only through the big context and proper lens does it change from a horrific act to a gracious one.

C Woods said...

To SKnapp:

You said: "You act as though Christian apologetics does not exist and has not already answered these questions."

Well, of course the questions have been answered, but are the answers correct? It you ask me what 2+2 is and I say 5, I've given an answer, and I may be able to come up with some round-about way of arguing that 5 is the right answer, but is it?

Have you read Bart Ehrman? He was a born-again Christian who believed the Bible was the inerrant word of god. He is a Biblical scholar who learned Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic so he could study Biblical writings in their earliest forms ---there are no original forms, only copies of copies of copies if copies of copies..... In his "Misquoting Jesus" he shows how scribes either made errors in copying scriptures or purposefully changed them. So what you believe is the true word of god is filled with errors. And now, some conservative Christians are changing the Bible to give it a more conservative slant. (See my post "Rewriting the Bible.") This is actually what has been happening over the past 2000 years ---people change the Bible to make it fit their own belief systems. The King James version was edited to change the verses that indicated it was OK to oppose unjust rulers, for example.

You said: "Christianity...continues to grow worldwide."

There is some some controversy over which religion is growing faster worldwide. Most increases in the population of any religion are due to births. The world's largest religions that are showing increases that outrun birth-rate include Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. There is often little coverage of the "No religious denomination" category (which includes deists, agnostics, atheists, skeptics, secularists, freethinkers) although some evidence suggests they are growing rapidly. In the United States the so-called "Nones" are the fastest growing religious status; Australia, Canada and much of Europe have seen dramatic increases in the numbers of non-religious people.

According to the latest U.S. survey by the Pew Forum: "The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion."

The trend is also happening (albeit more slowly) in Latin America ---where Catholicism was deeply rooted merely 50 years ago.

(See my posts titled: "Why are there atheists?" "Godless numbers rise" "Secularism rising" and "Religion is 'out of date'")

You have the mistaken belief that if I understood the Bible, I would believe. What more do I need to understand about it being OK to bash babies' heads against a wall?

There is no way to apologize for that, so Christian apologetics is really making excuses and trying to do some fancy footwork to justify horrific acts and behaviors, trying to make it seem like the Bible is not saying what it says.

Even Bart Ehrman, one of the world's foremost Biblical scholars, who must understand the Bible better than you or I, has given up on Christianity. Not because of the errors in the Bible, but because he cannot justify disease, suffering, or acts of nature that kill innocent people. Most people attribute evil to free will, but disease or hurricanes have nothing to do with free will. I'm sure you believe they are acts of god ---and if they aren't, why can't an omnipotent god prevent them?

(See post: Does god exist? by Snowbrush)

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