Response to the Third Deadly Question

Miraculously, I still stand.  Onward and upward to the third of the four questions atheists will not address.

Atheists and religious nut-cases read the Bible with extremely similar hermeneutics.. please explain. (ex: applying Israelite law code that to a non-Jew/Gentile follower of Jesus while totally disregarding Christ’s exposition of Old Testament law. OR taking a parable of Jesus way out of context to say we should kill people who disagree with us. Most atheists I’ve experienced handle the Bible in a more pick-and-choose way than almost any Christian I know who has studied his/her Bible.. and I agree that most claimed Christian don’t study their Bible. It seems disingenuous to tell people to not pick and choose from their religious text, but then to read the Bible in such a way that ignores any explanations to difficult texts, and they are difficult).

This is something atheists never tackle?  Really?  For the love of Loki on a raft, learn to google.

For the record, polling indicates that atheists on the whole know more about the various religions, like Christianity, than the adherents themselves.  So don’t try and paint atheists as the ignorant ones here.

And this is a fairly lofty expectation of you!  Not only must atheists read the bible in full (something most believers have not done) while taking the words on the page at their definitions, we must dedicate ourselves at least in some small way to the study of the various explanations for why the book seems psychotic in a lot of places.  Have you studied all the rationalizations for why the Koran seems to be a barbaric text representative of a time when we were ignorant of almost everything we currently know (not unlike the bible)?  If not, how could you expect this of us?  Just how much of our time should we be honestly expected to put into the book before we can say, “Kill people on a Saturday?  That’s a fucked up idea” and close the thing forever?  Surely god would realize that this would turn off most people with a functional cortex (after all, he made us that way) and chosen another, more effective way to go about it. 

Anyway, I do not believe atheists are confused about the bible, but even if I conceded that point you surely cannot blame us.  According to the World Christian Encyclopedia there are over 34,000 branches of Christianity all claiming to have made the correct inferences from scripture (so much for god not being the author of confusion, eh?).  You are asking me to believe that you have succeeded where virtually every other theologian throughout history has failed.  I don’t buy that.

Now you could try and blame all the Christians for slouching in their study and not applying the requisite amount of care to read god’s well-communicated message.  However, this makes absolutely no sense when you have a basis for comparison.  Compare the widespread confusion amongst people taking the bible seriously to any legitimate academic discipline like astronomy.  There are not various branches of astronomers, there are only astronomers.  The conclusions held in the field of astronomy are so undeniably supported by the evidence and are conveyed with such crystal clear composition that it could not be any other way.  And this is based solely on the communicative efforts of mortals.  Is it so wrong to expect god to be a better communicator than humans?  Even if I admitted that we didn’t get the bible right (or that you were for some reason the arbiter of whether or not we got it right), how can you blame us and not god?

You said it yourself: “It takes a lot of work to properly exegete a text.”  First, even the theological experts cannot agree on what many texts ‘properly’ mean, so I don’t give you any credit when you say you’ve properly managed it.  And that’s just the point: why is it hard?  If god wants to communicate his message without error, then the difficulty makes no sense (nor do all the errors).  If god wanted us to understand, why not make it easy?  You’re shooting yourself in the foot here.

For example, consider Mark 7 where Jesus clearly says that people should not wash their hands before eating.  Jesus clearly had no understanding of germ theory.  You may argue that Jesus meant something different than what he said, but by doing so you’ve made my point for me.  If Jesus really wanted people to wash their hands before they ate, surly he could see where the confusion would arise saying the opposite.  For instance, if I wanted an omelet for breakfast, I don’t tell the cook, “Hey, would you mind killing the next person who asks for salt?”

Perhaps Jesus could have said, “Ok look, there are little living things on you, so tiny you cannot see them.  Those, not demon possession, are what make you sick.  You can make sure you’re sick less often by washing your hands before you eat.”  Boom!  I just conveyed the idea in a more effective way than god.  If god exists and wants to communicate, my ability to do this makes zero sense.

So in the end, my response to this question is that it is unlikely that the bible communicates clearly and that we’re all just failing to read English, as you seem to imply.  I think it’s more likely that the bible is a muddled, poorly written book full of blatant contradictions and tall tales of physical impossibilities, and that thousands of sects of Christians have constructed their own elaborate (or simple) rationalizations for this in order to pass the thing off as consistent (because otherwise, god would be a huge moron at best).  If god wanted any sane person to take the bible and its claims seriously, he should have written the thing at least as well as scientists write their literature, or with half the eloquence of  J.K. Rowling.  Don’t ask me to accept that god means something other than what he says, or that the English words in the bible mean something different than their usual definitions, and don’t ask how I’d rationalize the contradictions in the damn thing. I think it’s a useless pile of ignorance and that the most productive use of it in that breadth of human history is as a paper weight.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.