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Bible Interpretation Works Like the Paul-is-Dead Rumor

Have you heard of the “Paul is dead” rumor that started around the time of the release of the Beatles’ 1969 Abbey Road album? Paul McCartney had supposedly died and been replaced by a lookalike several years earlier. Fans eager for confirmation discovered clues in this and earlier albums.

  • The cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) shows the four Beatles dressed as if to a funeral. In flowers in the foreground is “Beatles” and a guitar—Paul’s instrument. The back cover shows the four Beatles with Paul the only one facing backwards.
  • The song “Revolution 9” on the White Album (1968) contains the phrase “number nine” repeated many times, but this becomes “turn me on, dead man” when played backwards. There are also clues in other songs.
  • The Abbey Road cover (pictured) of the four Beatles crossing a street shows Paul (second from left) portrayed differently once again. He’s taking a step with his right foot, while the others are all stepping with the left foot. And here again, we have the elements of a funeral: George, wearing jeans, is dressed as a grave digger; Paul, with bare feet, is the dearly departed; Ringo, in black, is a mourner or the undertaker; and John, dressed in white, is the preacher or a heavenly symbol.

You tend to find what you seek, and fans have found many more clues, though Beatles publicists rejected the story.

What could explain this? Could there have been no deliberate clues at all in these albums? Of course! The covers could simply be enigmatic or artistic, with motivated fans cobbling together what seems to them to be clues. They could find their own meaning, even if none was put there by anyone.

Comparison with the Bible

We see this with Bible interpretation: you find what you seek. Anything that contradicts the Christian’s particular view of the gospel can be reinterpreted and made captive to that view.

  • The idea of the Trinity took four centuries to congeal, with many (now) heretical views discarded along the way. Still, the modern Christian might see the Trinity plain as day in the New Testament, even seeing Old Testament polytheism as instead referring to the Trinity.
  • Jesus talks about secrets: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand’” (Luke 8:9–10). “Secrets”? Mystery religions like Mithraism or Gnosticism have secrets available only to the initiated, but what aspects of Christianity are secret?
  • We find the influence of Marcion. “No one has seen the father but the son” (John 1:18) contradicts the stories of Abraham and Moses seeing God, unless you accept Marcionite thinking in which the father of Jesus is a different god than the one in the Old Testament.
  • Also consider Jesus’ comment to a mob: “Is it not written in your Law …” (John 10:34). “Your law”? Wouldn’t Jewish Jesus say that it was our law? Not if he comes from a different god.
  • John 20:26 says, “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” This is docetism, the heresy that Jesus had a spirit body and only seemed to be human.
  • Or consider the curious “the last will be first, and the first will be last” from Matt. 20:16. Sure, some bad people are at the top of pile, but aren’t there any good people who became rich or powerful by honest toil? Not according to apocalypticism, in which our world is ruled by the bad guy and the next world by the good guy. Anyone doing well in this world can only be doing so by being in league with the bad ruler, which is why everything is turned upside down in the next world.

Each of these odd ideas is absorbed, Borg-like, into the presupposition. Christianity becomes the ultimate unfalsifiable hypothesis.

Religious belief as conspiratorial thinking

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky talks about something similar, the “self-sealing” nature of conspiracy theories. Imagine an inflatable lifeboat in which any puncture would quickly seal itself: “Any evidence against the conspiracy is interpreted to be in actual fact evidence for the conspiracy.”

For example, consider the statement: The arguments claiming that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job are pretty laughable. Ah, that just shows that the 9/11 Truth movement itself is part of a bigger conspiracy!

If the U.S. moon landing was a hoax, the Soviets had the technology to discover it and would’ve been eager to point out the lie. Ah, that just shows that the Soviets were in on the hoax!

The resurrection of Jesus just steals an element from the stories of prior dying-and-rising gods. That it wasn’t new suggests that it was made up. Ah, but that’s exactly what Satan wants you to think! And why he put those stories into history—just to fool you. (This was Justin Martyr’s argument).

But what about the verses above that are nicely explained by our New Testament being a mosaic of ideas, the aftermath of a tug of war between many different ideologies? Ah, God is simply trying to test us! His message is plain to those with the right faith.

Someone determined to hold onto their presuppositions ride in a self-sealing ideological lifeboat, but they’ve also insulated themselves against any information showing their initial views to be wrong.

I reject your reality and substitute my own.
— Doctor Who television show (1974)?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Norm Donnan

    Human nature being what it is often finds ways of justifying behavior or agendas. Other relevant examples are Evolution-we all come from star dust. Abortion- their not really a person. Homosexuality-l feel,therfore l am. Atheism-we want evidence. Global warming,God doesnt exist,ect,ect.

    • Greg G.

      Some of use reason, empathy, and the evidence provided by reality to justify our agendas.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, science is just shanghaied to argue against religion. It has never proven to be a useful way to find the truth about reality.

    • arkenaten

      Smile…spoken like a true believer.
      Come visit. There were a few folk I had in mind when I wrote this…you were one of them.
      http://attaleuntold.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/are-you-frikkin-nutz/

      • Norm Donnan

        Thats funny,which one were you? Im the man in the white coat.lol

        • arkenaten

          Really? Considering what the job was, Tour Guide for the Creationist Museum, I am not surprised you were in the white coat.
          I would have been the godless man, the one that didn’t get the job.

    • Pattrsn

      What a weird stew of vague assertions.

    • Sven2547

      Evolution-we all come from star dust.

      I’m confused by this example. Evolution is neither a behavior nor an agenda… nor does evolution have anything to do with stars. Yes, living things contain elements like Carbon, which originally comes from aging very-massive stars, but it sounds like you’re confusing aspects of abiogenesis with evolution.

      • Kodie

        Norm would never confuse anything! No, really, he is basically saying we can make up any outlandish thing, like evolution, to justify ignoring god, who is totally real and not made up, and makes all the rules we don’t want to follow, so we can kill all the babies and be homosexual if we want to. It has nothing to do with the article either, so he is not just confused about one simple thing. He didn’t know what to make of the article so goes off of some lint he found in his pocket.

      • Norm Donnan

        It’s a good example of people making “evidence”fit their agenda or belief system which you back up nicely with carbon,which came from stars comment.

        • Sven2547

          Except it’s not made up. This is based on data collected from the spectral analysis of dying, massive, Main Sequence stars. It turns out that under enough heat and pressure, three He4 nuclei can undergo a two-stage fusion process to become C12. This is the only known way that Carbon-12 is naturally created in the universe. This has nothing to do with a belief system or an agenda or even evolution. In stark contrast, your willing denial of proven scientific fact belies a very dishonest agenda.

        • Norm Donnan

          And even if this were absolutely true,so what.Thats it,we all come from star dust,thats your irrefutable fact for creation. Maybe someones agenda includes to much dope.

        • smrnda

          The problem is that Sven is giving a nice, comprehensive and informative explanation of the process. You’re using vague, clumsy language to make it seem like an absurd idea.

          Let’s say a computer is a ‘box that thinks.’ That would sound pretty ridiculous. If I told you “a computer is a machine that can run software which, using some machine learning algorithms can become competent in performing certain tasks’ I’m giving you an actual explanation.

          I find that scientifically illiterate people tend to want to dismiss science just because there’s no way to make a sound byte digestible by the village idiot. Apparently, if the village idiot can’t understand it, nobody can.

        • Norm Donnan

          No l see it for what it is,your mesmerized by the bright lights of power and think they created life.

        • phantomreader42

          No, Norm, you’re just a lying sack of shit. Until you can post your moronic delusions here by the power of prayer, without using a computer, then you can just shut the fuck up about how much you hate science.

        • Norm Donnan

          Oh masked crusader mummys calling.xx

        • phantomreader42

          Thank you for your admission that you have no way of posting your idiocy without the science you so despise, so your only choice is to babble irrelevant nonsense. Fuck off.

        • Norm Donnan

          Ha,name one scientific wonder you have even referred to never mind know what it means,now off to bed you have school in the morning.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Norm: You don’t want to go there. As Sven has pointed out, this is science. That doesn’t mean that it’s right, but it’s certainly the best explanation for outsiders to science like us.
          Those who tweak the evidence to fit their presuppositions are the Creationists, Young Earthers, and the Bible literalists who pretend that science supports their position.

        • Norm Donnan

          Oh please Bob science indeed.I recently heard a well known scientist this week when asked “what is the most profound thing you have learned from the universe” answered,”that all things that have been created came from exploding stars”.Oh dear,sucks to be you with that as your source of evidence.

        • Kodie

          You live in a cave of ignorance and are proud of it.

        • Greg G.

          Do you understand how stars work? Do you understand how modern nuclear weapons work? The process is called “fusion”. If you can get enough matter together (gravity can do this), the protons and neutrons will be squeezed together enough that the strong nuclear force takes over to create new elements (gravity can do that, too). You believe in gravity, don’t you? Cue Desertphile.

        • Norm Donnan

          yep,press things together real hard and you get butterflys trees,fish and people,oh now l get it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You could lampoon something you don’t understand, or you could just spend a bit of time and actually, y’know, begin to understand it.

          As it is, it’s clear that you’re nervous that you actually are on the wrong side of the facts.

        • Norm Donnan

          What does make me nervous Bob is intelligent people assure themselves and other gullible enough to believe then that they are actual facts.Study things that are provable and leave the star dust theory to mythical legends like evolution and Greek gods.

        • arkenaten

          One of the Quotes of the Year, by Norm Donnan.

          ”Study things that are provable….”

          Er….you mean like, Jesus and the basis for Christianity, for instance?

          Could we make this into a meme, I wonder?

          Methinks, this is DEFINITELY worthy of a blog post over at The Ark’s spot. Oh, yes indeedy! And I’ll be sure to send them over , Norm. Count on it.

          Classic. I am hosing myself.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Wow. Sounds like you’re well versed in this.

          Tell me: what study of evolution have you made? Besides reading about how it’s all BS at Answers in Genesis or Creation Research Institute, I mean?

        • phantomreader42

          But understanding things is against Norm’s religion! Learning is the Original Sin!

        • Kodie

          Technically, if you press two people together “real hard” in just the right way, you might get two cells to rub together and divide and divide again, over several months, becoming a person. You are still stuck with “blammo! LIFE” came from nothing. A fully formed human man out of dirt. Denial of chemistry and physics and biology isn’t helping you out. A man levitated out of his own body, which never ever happens, and you think that really happened. Why are you so critical of reality? You think an invisible sky friend snapped his fingers and everything was created as it stands in a few days, but you are credulous that over billions of years, stars exploded and created planets and because the conditions worked out, some chemicals formed the origin of life. Not a fully formed human man out of dirt in one day, but over millions and billions of years of evolving, adapting to the environment. You are not just in over your head, you are in a sinkhole going down.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Sucks to be me to ground my reality in science, which in turn is grounded on the scientific consensus view of the evidence? Sounds like a pretty solid foundation to me. I’ll take it.

          You got anything better?!

        • Norm Donnan

          You know l do,and you know where to get it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          On the contrary, your superstition looks just like all the others. Why pick yours over any of the others? Why pick any over rejecting all of them?

        • smrnda

          I don’t see what’s wrong with that statement. It’s like asking a movie director about what part of making a film they like the most, and someone says ‘the editing.’ He’s making a point about what of known facts he’s most amazed by. The verdict on his evidence is already solid.

          I’m a software engineer and an AI researcher. If someone asked me ‘what’s the most profound thing I learned’ it’s that ‘sometimes everything doesn’t work because you wrote == instead of “equals.”‘ It’s kind of an inside joke that I wouldn’t even expect anyone else to get.

        • Kodie

          It’s not “evidence,” it’s evidence. It doesn’t fit an agenda, it describes our world. It is information, it doesn’t care how we use it.

        • Norm Donnan

          So is the tabloid the main source of your “evidence”?

        • Kodie

          That’s what you want to be true, but you’re still wrong.

  • smrnda

    The thing about conspiracy theories is that I tend to find that people who ascribe to 1 tend to ascribe to just about as many as they can. I tend to think many if not most can be rejected just by the parsimony principle, and once you’re looking at a massive web of conspiracies, you’d need an army of super-genius super villains, and they’re about as common as unicorns.

    The other thing is there have been real conspiracies, and they tend not to be that elaborate, creative and don’t tend to last that long. The tobacco industry conspired to deceive the public on the dangers of smoking and covered up evidence, but that conspiracy didn’t last long.

  • Mick

    I wonder how many Christians would be left in the world if the preachers ordered that tithing and church attendance were compulsory in order to get into heaven.

  • MNb

    Someone has done much better than the ” Paul is dead” theory:

    http://www.revisionism.nl/Moon/The-Mad-Revisionist.htm

    Why use only one logical fallacy if you can use them all?
    Have fun! But Poe alert.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      A perfect storm of fallacies?

  • Pattrsn

    Northrop Fry, in The Great Code, talks about how the constant creation of smaller myths is necessary to the maintenance of great myths, like the various christianities.

  • Kodie

    I kind of get a kick out of those very special kinds of Christians who pore over the bible looking for clues and codes. That’s just a weird hobby.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yeah, but why did they catch 153 fish? Why that exact number? And why were there 12 tribes of Israel? And why did it rain for 40 days? And why does God have 3 parts?

      Numerology is a science, people. You ignore it at your peril.

  • avalon

    There’s two stories in the bible about Moses striking a rock with his staff and causing water to come out (Exodus 17 & Numbers 20). These occur in two different towns at two different times; one at the beginning of the 40 yrs in the desert and the other at the end of the exodus on the opposite end of the desert. If you don’t make any assumptions about the bible, you’d guess that a town made up a story to explain their spring that flowed from a crack in a rock and that a second town liked it so much they used the same story again. Both stories call their spring the “waters of Meribah”.
    But somewhere in the distant past someone starting assuming these collected stories were the ‘inspired word of God’, perfect, infallible, etc… So, with these assumptions, how do you explain these two stories at two towns at opposites ends of a 40 yr journey across the desert? The answer the apologists came up with is that it MUST have been the same rock. That is, Moses struck a rock at the beginning and it followed him for 40 yrs right to the end of his journey!
    Paul states this explanation at 1Cor 10:4, “For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that FOLLOWED them…” He adds to the story thusly: “…and the rock was Christ.”

    Since we already had the Beatles, I thought it only fair to mention the Rolling Stone(s).

  • Brian Westley

    OK, on to important stuff:

    I reject your reality and substitute my own.— Doctor Who television show (1974)?

    Google sez this is from “The Deadly Assassin”

    The closest I can find in “The Deadly Assassin” (1976) is this clip:
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x9c8iq_the-deadly-assassin-part-7_shortfilms&start=342

    (The Doctor’s leg is injured while inside the Matrix (the other one))
    Doctor: “I deny it … I DENY IT!”
    (leg wound vanishes)
    Voice: “You are trapped in my creation, Doctor — my reality rules”
    (leg wound reappears)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I found it on the internet(s). Therefore, it must be correct. QED, I win.

  • arkenaten
    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Nice!

  • Y. A. Warren

    It matters little to me what “the historical facts” are. What matters to me is the distillation of the message of Jesus, which has little resemblance to what we call “Christianity.” I see the distillation as a revelation that harmony with “God” is based on responsibly compassionate engagement with all of the eternal universe created in The Sacred Spirit that always was and always will be.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You’ve stated your personal theology, but is there any reason for an outsider to see that you’ve made a sensible choice? Is there any evidence to argue for the rightness of your conclusion?

      • Y. A. Warren

        You may notice that I enclose the word “God” in quotation marks. My “theology” is in the manifestations of what fill me with awe in the physical universe of my experience. The only evidence I have for something sacred that is an option available to those with the gift of free will is the experience I have of harmony-enhancing synergy when I am with those who responsibly share compassion for the earth and others.

        Emotions may be chemical reactions which are neither right nor wrong, but they, like beliefs, exist in humans and inform their choices in what we call life. I choose to believe in an eternal sacred something because this offers me a pleasant sense of peace with the limitations and the excitement of inclusion of my physical presence on this earth.

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