I’ve recently had occasion to discuss with my Christian brothers what the proper understanding of the Bible is. Is it the Word of God? Is it proper to read it literally? Is it infallible? And so on. As I reflected on the conversation, I noticed at times we were speaking past each other. Despite being intelligent, sensitive individuals, our vocabulary got in the way of understanding one another. This happens all too often to me, and that inspired this post.
Specifically, I believe the Bible is
- A human, historical book,
- rightly called holy and sacred,
- but neither an idol nor a magical talisman.
In my experience, I’ve heard tons and tons and tons of trash talk from atheists who insist that the only way the Bible is “true” is if it is literally, historically and scientifically accurate. This is understandable given our indoctrination into truth grounded in the availability of things like camcorders. The ancients had no such luxury and they knew it. They did not write scientifically or historically in our sense but poetically, mythically to convey truth by story and symbol. Even biographies were not called “histories” but “lives.” The ancients knew this as well.
Yet dogmatic (largely atheist) critics continue, even when they are told the historical facts, to read it as 21st century moderns. All too often they then sophomorically demean the ancients and the books they wrote. The loud and proud ignorance from people who practically worship evidence is as one put it, “jaw-dropping.” Continue reading
I read the Gospels to get to know Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. For a long time I would basically gloss over or outright reject the miracles in the story as legendary accounts, particularly the birth narratives. I was deeply interested in Jesus of Nazareth the man first, because that is how he become known. I wanted insight into he who “made our hearts burn” and sparked a faith that has lasted millenia. It seemed to me that miracles and such obscured who he was: more ignorance from my post-Enlightenment indoctrination. I won’t make that mistake again.
As Bart Ehrman writes:
The Christian Gospels
- The Gospels are best seen as ancient biographies of Jesus
- Ancient biographies had several distinctive characteristics:
- They were usually based on oral and written sources (sometimes biographers showed a preference for the oral).
- They were less concerned with relating historical events than with showing the character of the main figure through his or her words, deeds, and interactions.
- They did not utilize “character development,” since most ancient people believed that a person’s character was relatively constant throughout his or her life.
- They often portrayed the main figure’s character at the very outset of the narrative.
The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings p.65, Box 4.2
One of the problems I’ve had in the past with my Christian faith was myth. This is because I had always been unconsciously credulous in accepting the common wisdom that myth equals lie. And further that people who believed myths were credulous fools. Modernity is, after all, dominated by scientific (materialist?) rationalism. It made the myths of my faith occasions for scorn and even anger. Who could believe such drivel? The ancients were barbaric, backward fools! Why should we listen to anything they had to say? Even apologetic attempts to justify these myths by fundamentalists betrayed the insecurity these myths produced because of their lack of rationality and adherence to scientific truth. And so the indoctrination went.
Well, no longer.
I decided to write about this because it makes Twitter much less of a burden. It’s too imprecise to express real ideas on a micro-blogging service more amenable to smart ass comments than smart ones, so I do so here. I borrowed heavily from John F. Haught’s book God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. Great read. He summarizes my intellectual critique of The New Atheism or as I like to call it, The Church of No-God, quite nicely. Generally when I use the word “atheist” in this post, I’m referring to this group.
Let me make clear that this post is not written to make the case that atheists should be believers nor is it an attempt to denigrate them, their personal beliefs (unbeliefs?), or choices in life. It is neither an apologetic for my spirituality nor an attempt at evangelism. I’m writing to explain why atheism has proven problematic for me, nothing more, nothing less. Take it or leave it.
Finally, this post has been edited multiple times as my discussions with saner, less ideological atheist tweeples and further reading have informed my thinking.
For several reasons atheism for me is not, as William James put it, “a living option“:
- I can’t with integrity subscribe to a professed rational philosophy that is based on a self-refuting principle, i.e. the Verification Principle.
- I have never believed religion and science are enemies or even incompatible. Even as a child, I saw their easy compatibility and complementary natures. Militant atheists aren’t going to fare any better than strongly opinionated believers/science deniers.
- I strive for consistency in my beliefs. Being an atheist would require I subscribe to moral nihilism: the logical result of “facing up to reality” or “growing up” to face of an indifferent universe devoid of meaning. I can’t abide by that because it produces evil.
- Finally, atheism is unable to give me meaning in life. Science and reason alone are painfully inadequate for assessing the important things in life and of being human: Love, Justice, Wisdom, Knowledge, and Truth. Avoiding error at all costs just isn’t worth that sacrifice.
If you care for an explanation, please, read on.
USCCB | NAB – September 19, 2010:
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! ‘When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!’ The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: ‘Never will I forget a thing they have done!'”
(Via United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)
This was the First Reading at Mass this morning on the theme of the day: socio-economic justice. I always read this Bible passage as a general attack on the exploitation of the poor and so it is. But it’s worth examining exactly what’s going on here. Diminishing the ephah and adding to the shekel is pretty straightforward: It’s evil to cheat the poor. But buying the lowly for silver the the poor for a pair of sandals hit me because it speaks to the morality of living wages and paying people below them.
UPDATE: The post has been updated for clarity and to reflect an evolving understanding of my LBGT brothers and sisters.
Recently, I was taken to task about the morality of
homosexuality gay individuals having intimate relations with their beloved and how the Bible “clearly” teaches such is a sin. Frankly, I never really believed that and having other priorities chose not to bother examining the issue other than cataloguing some verses. Other things are were important to me in my faith journey. But given all the proud bigotry I’m seeing, surrounding so-called “gay marriage” and the civil rights of LGBT persons, I decided to give it a look see.