Truth Believer

My wife is awesome. She is in the bathroom right now, singing her heart out with her headset on. It’s great. I’m sitting in our home office right next door and I can hear her going nuts in there.

We had a very significant talk last night. I made it very clear to her (as I will again) and wish to let all of my friends know that I am not trying to talk you into believing like me. (Well, maybe just a little.) Let me explain.

I do not want my Christian friends to stop being Christian, just like I do not want my Hindu friends to stop being Hindu. I had an employee a while back who was awesome named Shashi. Shashi is a great guy, and his wife Shree is also precious. Both of them are Hindu. When they found out that I was practicing yoga, they embraced me, gave me books, showered me with gifts, and the like. I would never ask Shashi and Shree to come to a Christian meeting, anymore than I would invite my Christian friends to go to yoga (unless I get a clear message that they are open to this).

What my wife has done is to cross over into a state in which she is very tolerant of people of other faiths. We talked about another friend (the wife of an aggressively Christian church friend named Gopal) who we will call Shruthi (not her real name). Shruthi was also a very wonderful person. She was beautiful, charming, vivacious, funny, and all that. She was also Hindu. Because her husband Gopal was aggressively Christian, he was putting enormous pressure on her to convert. He basically thought she was going to Hell. In fact, the prospect that his wife would go to Hell was driving him crazy. He proceeded to recruit other folks in the church (including my wife and I) to “witness” to Shruthi in order to convince her to “receive Jesus”.

My conversation with Shruthi was an absolutely pivotal moment for me: I realized that I no longer wanted Shruthi to become a Christian. I liked her as a Hindu. She told me that she was happy as a Hindu, that she regarded it as a path to God, and she did not understand why “you Christians” were always telling her otherwise. She was a bit annoyed actually. She made it very clear to me, though, that she was not interested in becoming a Christian and preferred to stay as she was. And I found that I agreed with her, and that I was happy to leave her alone in her Hinduism.

At that moment, I realized that I was no longer the same kind of Christian as Gopal. Last night my wife told me that she had an identical conversation with Shruthi with an identical outcome: She also did not believe that Shruthi was “going to Hell” and had no desire to convert her to Christianity. So I guess she did the same thing as me without realizing it.

Remember please that one of the cardinal points of the Christian faith (at least the aggressively evangelical Christianity that my wife and I were both involved in) is that anyone who has not accepted Jesus into their heart and dedicated their lives to Him is going to Hell, pure and simple. For this reason, we as Christians should try with all of our hearts to get all of our “lost friends” to pray the sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus into their hearts. Implicit in this attitude is the idea that Jesus is the only valid and legitimate way to God, and that Hinduism, Buddhism, and all the rest are simply lies. Again, the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on the truth.

Given that I no longer wanted Shruthi to accept Jesus, I realize now (even more than I did then) that this meant that I no longer was a Christian, as my religious group defined that term. I was something different. I call this thing I have become a Truth Believer.

Move later.

The Big Lie

My wife hit me with this one yesterday: “You know how you talk about the Big Lie? I want you to blog on that! Please!”

Actually, I was kind of planning on easing into this one. But she generally gets anything she wants from me (I’m soft that way). Like I said, I am pretty crazy about this woman.

Anyway, the Big Lie. I touched upon this a bit in one of my previous posts entitled The Compiler. In that post, I state the following:

Problem is: This preacher has been to seminary, and in order to graduate from any reasonably reputable seminary in the US, this preacher would have to learn everything that I have just said above. Hermeneutics (i.e., the interpretation of ancient texts, including the bible, for which we have only copies of the originals, and in which the copies do not agree) is a required subject in all reputable seminaries. Thus, this preacher is effectively lying, or at best withholding critically important information. You are being mislead if a preacher tells you that your current, modern translation of the bible is the “Word of God”, regardless of whether or not you believe the words of Paul to have been inspired.

And therein (as I like to say) is the rub: For some strange reason, this preacher is telling his flock a big fat whopper, and he presumably knows that is a very naughty thing to do, given his religious training. So why does he do it?

I remember the intro to Richard Elliot Friedman’s book Who Wrote the Bible in which he related a story about how he came to a Christian church to talk about the Documentary Hypothesis and where the bible comes from generally. At the end of his talk, an elderly woman approached him who appeared to be slightly incensed. She demanded with some heat to know why in all of her years attending a Christian church, she had never heard this information before. Which struck Richard Elliott Friedman as odd (Friedman is Jewish, and the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia, so attending Christian meetings is not something I would imagine he would do very much). However, once he looked into it, he realized that the typical Christian is shockingly ignorant on Hermeneutics, which is, as I have said before, is a required class at any reputable seminary in the US (if not the world). Wikipedia defines Hermeneutics in this way:

Hermeneutics broadly, is the art and science of text interpretation. Traditional hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of written texts, especially texts in the areas of literature, religion and law. A type of traditional hermeneutic is biblical hermeneutics which concerns the study of the interpretation of the Bible.

You get the idea. It is simply not possible to seriously study the “art and science of text interpretation” in the context of the bible without learning the stuff I have said earlier on this blog. Therefore, the likelihood of the physical leather bound book the preacher is carrying as being “The Word of God” is about as great as the earth being struck by a comet. And, again, the preacher knows this.

So, again, why do all of the professional religious folks lie about this? Simple: The truth does not sell. And that is what religion has become: A money making organization, which is, effectively, a form of entertainment. More on this in my next post.

Compiler

In my last post, I promised to discuss other problems with the idea that the bible is the “Word of God”, especially with respect to the collection of books referred to by Christians as the Old Testament (often called the Hebrew Bible by folks who are not connected with Christianity, such as myself).

In order to do this, I must introduce the concept of Source Criticism, which is another thorny issue of the bible: This is simply the question of who wrote the various books of the bible. This brings up a rather controversial subject which I will touch on briefly, before turning to the issues of the Old Testament.

Paul is once again an excellent example. It is very likely that Paul wrote many of the books attributed to him, including Romans, I and II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and so forth. However, the authorship of the so-called “Pastoral Epistles” (i.e. I and II Timothy and Titus) is in grave doubt, despite being traditionally attributed to Paul. The reasons for this have to do with inconsistencies between the writings of Paul in the books we know he wrote (for example Romans) vs. these books. Remember that all we have is the text of the available manuscripts. Only by comparing the texts of the various books attributed to a given author, and exploring differences in style and content, can we attempt to determine if a book was actually written by the author to whom it is attributed.

In the case of the Pastoral Epistles, there are many problems. Perhaps the most glaring issue has to do with the passage in I Timothy 2:11-15 relating to the role of women in this church:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent…

The issue is that there is a glaring inconsistency between this passage and Romans 16, which contains many personal greetings for women, one of whom is identified as a deacon, another as a co-worker, and another an apostle. In order to reconcile I Timothy 2 with Romans 16, we would have to assume that either Paul was incredibly inconsistent in this area (almost insultingly so, given his greetings of these women in Romans), or radically changed his views regarding women between the times when he wrote Romans vs. I Timothy. Another scenario that seems more likely than these is that I Timothy (as well as II Timothy and Titus) were simply not written by Paul, but rather by someone else who wants us to think that he / she is Paul. In the biblical scholarship community, this person is generally referred to as pseudo-Paul.

The technical term within biblical scholarship for a book like this is “pseudonymous”. It is common in present times for an author to write under a false name: In ancient times, apparently it was fairly common (although it was considered naughty, as it is now) for writers to write under the name of another actual person, thereby borrowing their credibility and reputation, a form of identity theft, if you will. Hence the Source Criticism problem: If a book was not written by the apostle to whom it is traditionally attributed, what does that say about the authority and divine inspiration of the book? Many would maintain that a book which is a forgery and thus based upon a lie, cannot by definition be divinely inspired.

The Source Criticism problem plagues many of the books of the New Testament to a greater or lesser degree. These include all of the gospels and the book of Acts (all of which are actually anonymous books; the authorship attributed to them is simply traditional), as well as Hebrews, James, the epistles of Peter, and, of course, the book of Revelation.

Getting back to the Old Testament, there is a critically important difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the area of both Textual Criticism and Source Criticism: With respect to the New Testament it is possible to have a conversation in which we discuss the authorship of these books, as well as imagine discrete events where the books of the New Testament were written by a single person. Thus, we could, theoretically, listen in on the Divine Conversation, assuming we could travel back in time, and read the mind of the apostle as God spoke the book into his (her) mind. With the New Testament, we can at least attempt to discover the content of the Divine Conversation in some way. The trouble with the Old Testament is that this is simply impossible. Let me explain.

When I was beginning my search, I wandered into the Duke Divinity School Bookstore in Durham, NC, the city where I live. One of the first books that caught my attention was Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman. I found this book simply irresistible. Friedman describes the Documentary Hypothesis, which is presently the best explanation we have for how the Old Testament came to be. Another excellent book on this subject is A History of God by Karen Armstrong. I have been reading a lot of Karen Armstrong recently, and I will admit that I really like her. She seems to “get it” with respect to this stuff very well.

One thing pointed out by Karen Armstrong, which is somewhat implicit in the entire Documentary Hypothesis idea, is that the God of the Old Testament was originally a pagan god, and evolved over the course of centuries into the monotheistic deity that we have today. As you may know, the God of the Old Testament is frequently referred to as El, often with suffixes like El Shaddai, and El Elyon. It turns out that there was a pagan god in Canaan at the time of the Jewish patriarchs named El. Further, this pagan god had many of the same suffixes as the God of the Old Testament. There is also some evidence (a bit more sketchy than El) that Yahweh, the other name frequently used to refer to the God of the Old Testament, was a pagan god as well. El was a sky god and a storm god, similar to Zeus in the Greek tradition or Jupiter in the Roman tradition. The center for the cult which worshiped El was around the area that is now Shiloh in Northern Israel. Yahweh was probably a god of craft, smithery, and the hearth, similar to Hephaestus in the Greek tradition or Vulcan in the Roman tradition. The pagan god Yahweh also had a daughter, the Canaanite goddess Sophia, who was the goddess of wisdom (similar to Athena in the Greek pantheon and Minerva in the Roman). Sophia is frequently referred to in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, where her name is translated “wisdom”. However, she is uniformly referred to in Proverbs as an actually person, and always in the feminine. The center of worship of Yahweh was in Jerusalem in Southern Israel.

There is a fascinating tie-in between the Canaanite god El and the God named El in the Old Testament which is contained in Exodus 32. Here, when Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the law, the children of Israel quickly turned back to paganism and asked Moses’s brother Aaron to make an idol for them. Aaron fashioned a golden calf (actually a young bull). The Canaanite god El was also represented as a golden bull in the archeological record. Apparently, Moses was worshipping Yahweh up on the mountain, while the children of Israel were worshipping El down in the valley!

The Documentary Hypothesis assumes that the people centered around the cult of El in the North developed an oral tradition which included a creation myth, a flood myth, and all the rest, all couched in terms of the dominant god being El. A similar oral tradition developed in the South around the god named Yahweh. In the 8th century BCE, the Assyrian invasion occurred, and the Northern people were decimated. A remnant made it to the South as refugees (the tribes of Benjamin and Judah in the biblical account). For a couple of centuries, the Northern and Southern people lived alongside each other in the area described in the Old Testament as Judah. Then the final invasion occurred in the 6th century from Babylon, and all of the remaining inhabitants (consisting of a mixture of the Northern and Southern cultures) was thrown into exile in Babylon for 70 years. Finally, when the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, some of the territory which is now Israel was restored to the former inhabitants, and they were allowed to return and rebuild the temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem.

At this point, we see the Old Testament suddenly burst onto the scene. Which is just weird, frankly. The Documentary Hypothesis assumes that there was a person referred to as the Compiler. The identity of this person is the subject of much debated, but Richard Elliott Friedman believes it to have been Ezra the High Priest. One of the challenges this person would have faced would be the diversity within the Israelite community. He needed to create a way for the people to gel around a common set of beliefs. For this reason, the Compiler took the oral tradition from El (referred to as the E voice) as well as the oral tradition from Yahweh (referred to as the J voice), and wove them together into the Old Testament books we have today. Richard Elliott Friedman points out that this was one of the greatest works of human genius in history. It is very possible (easy actually) to trace both the J and E voices (as well as the other two voices referred to as the priestly, or “P” voice, as well as the Deuteronomist, or “D” voice).

Here is the rub: If the Documentary Hypothesis is true, then there is no discrete point at which the books of the Old Testament were written. Instead, they were compiled from previous sources. These original sources were oral traditions and thus have been lost. Further, there may have been numerous versions of these oral traditions. For this reason, discussing things like Textual Criticism and Source Criticism with respect to the Old Testament is simply nonsense. There is no way at this point for us to ever determine the original content of these books. And for this reason, referring to the Old Testament as the “Word of God” is also simply nonsense at this point.

In my next post, I will get into more detail about the religions (and there are more than one) that are contained in the bible.

Divine Conversation

In my previous post, I presented the arguments my friend Ray used to justify the proposition that the bible is the “Word of God”. I actually left one out. Here is the complete list:

  • Folks who believe that the bible is the “Word of God” are happier in general than people who do not.
  • These folks are also generally nicer than other folks, although sometimes they can be naughty.
  • Thus, the concept of the bible being the “Word of God” has been good for people generally.
  • The men who wrote the bible were trying really hard to do the right thing, given the context of their culture at their time in history, in creating the laws and such that they did. Thus, it is possible that the books they wrote are the “Word of God” in some sense. Certainly, they deserve the status of being authors of the “Word of God” more than anyone else does.

Note that last one. It’s really important and I will be talking about it a lot in this blog. Given that it is impossible to actually prove that the bible (or any other work of human culture for that matter) is the “Word of God”, what is required is to assume (some would say invent) an event in which the content of a particular book of the bible is whispered by God into the mind of a man (or possibly a woman!) at some point in history. I call this idea the Divine Conversation, and it is central to the idea of biblical inspiration.

There are many examples I could choose, but I will pick on Paul. I rather like Paul, actually. I understand him fairly well I think. We can be  pretty sure that Paul wrote the books of I and II Corinthians. (We are definitely not so sure about some of his other supposed works, as you will see later in this blog. By the way, when I use the term “we” in this blog, I generally mean folks like me who like to study this stuff, and are up on ancient languages and the like. Other than extremely conservative religious communities, there is an emerging consensus about much of this stuff, as you will see if you keep reading this blog.) In addition, we think that we know about when and where Paul wrote the books of I and II Corinthians. Certainly, one can imagine Paul sitting there in the ancient Asia Minor of that time and dictating these letters (it seems likely to many that Paul used a secretary, possibly due to poor eyesight). If we could travel back in time to that moment, we could, possibly, capture at least one side of the Divine Conversation between Paul and God.

Of course, therein lies part of the rub. It is likely that any such conversation (if it occurred at all) would be completely subjective. Thus, not only would we have to be time travelers, we would have to be mind readers as well. But by being time travelers, we could undoubtedly capture at least Paul’s side of that conversation, and thus get to enjoy the original, unadulterated words of Paul.

And that is how we get to the Textual Criticism Problem: The manuscripts of I and II Corinthians that we have access to are very far removed from the time that Paul wrote these books. The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament are from the middle of the fourth century, and the vast majority of ancient manuscripts are far more recent, and well into the period when all dissent regarding theological matters had been suppressed. (I will discuss the loss of freedom of thought in the early Christian church further in this blog.) Thus, it is likely that the later manuscripts were heavily corrupted by corrections due to theological disagreements. (More on the divergent theological views of the New Testament authors later.)

And remember that there was no mechanical reproduction at that time. All books had to be copied by hand. Early on, prior to the development of the Christian canon, the copying was apparently not so good. (You have to remember that less than 1% of these folks were literate, and much of the copying was by illiterates who were simply copying shapes.) Eventually, once the Christian church evolved, developed a canon, and got organized, the manuscripts became more uniform, resulting in what is referred to as the “Majority Text”, which is the version of the New Testament that is used by Christian bible translators to create the modern bible translations we have today. (Frequently, more liberal bible translators will refer to the divergent, earlier New Testament texts of the New Testament in footnotes.)

Modern Evangelical Christians love to bash what they derisively refer to as “Higher Criticism”. They ignore the obvious issues relating to the New Testament text itself. Instead they (and I was among them) retreat into the Majority Text as representing the authoritative and correct version of the New Testament. The problem is that you are required as a believer to take this on faith, and once you begin to study the issue, any faith in the Majority Text quickly collapses. In the end, the frustrating and rather unsatisfying conclusion that I have drawn after years of study is that it is possible that there was, indeed, a Divine Conversation between Paul and God (certainly, we cannot prove otherwise, barring the invention of both time travel and mind reading). However, there is no reliable and proven way to know with absolute certainty what the actual content of that conversation was. Thus, while I cannot disprove the idea that the books of I and II Corinthians are divinely inspired, at least in the original, uncorrupted version dictated by Paul, that version is irrevocably and irretrievably lost to us. What we have left is only an educated guess, an echo of that Divine Conversation if you will. Depending on the specific verse, this guess can be quite confident, or it can be nothing more than a best guess from several, equally plausible, readings. The bottom line is that the number of textual differences among the New Testament manuscripts is greater than the number of letters in the entire New Testament, and the variances among the texts include some extremely serious discrepancies for which there is no satisfying resolution. (We will be discussing these exact issues further on this blog.)

And therein lies my issue with modern Evangelical Protestant Christianity. I have personally attended many Christian meetings where a preacher holds up a leather bound bible and passionately tells the faithful that this is the “Word of God”. I would submit, based upon the discussion above, that the leather bound book the preacher is holding (which is a translation into a foreign language of a compilation of the original language from numerous ancient manuscripts, with all of the issues I identified) is not the “Word of God” in any reasonable sense, regardless of whether the original Divine Conversation was inspired. That is to say, it actually does not matter whether or not the original version of the books of I and II Corinthians were inspired: We do not have those books. What we have is some evidence of the content of those books. Perhaps if the preacher said: “This book contains an echo of a Divine Conversation! if we read this book, we might be able to guess the content of a book which issued from the mind of God!” But, of course, that does not sell.

Problem is: This preacher has been to seminary, and in order to graduate from any reasonably reputable seminary in the US, this preacher would have to learn everything that I have just said above. Hermeneutics (i.e., the interpretation of ancient texts, including the bible, for which we have only copies of the originals, and in which the copies do not agree) is a required subject in all reputable seminaries. Thus, this preacher is effectively lying, or at best withholding critically important information. You are being mislead if a preacher tells you that your current, modern translation of the bible is the “Word of God”, regardless of whether or not you believe the words of Paul to have been inspired.

In my next post, I will further explore the issues of reliability in the bible, especially with respect to the collection referred to by Christians as the Old Testament.

Inspired

In my last post, I stated the following seemingly preposterous proposition:

The collection of ancient documents commonly referred to as the bible (actually a combination of ancient Jewish documents commonly referred to among Christians as the Old Testament plus early Christian documents referred to as the New Testament) is merely a work of human culture, and not the “Word of God” in any sense.

 So there it is. I am now officially a (or is it “an”?) heretic. Great. Because, of course, this statement would have undoubtedly led to a gruesome and violent death in many parts of Western Europe and even what is now the US during significant parts of history. I hope to at least satisfy you as my readers as to why I am willing to take this position and perhaps consider adopting it yourselves.
Let’s start with a basic assumption: The burden is on religion to prove the veracity, divine authority, or such thing for their particular brand of “The Truth”. And herein lies the core issue: Each religion (at least the more aggressive western religions, as we will see) claims to have a monopoly on “The Truth”. I call this the Claim of Exclusivity, and this is fundamental to Christianity’s current claim that the bible is the “Word of God”. And the stakes are very high. We must always remember that each western religion (especially Christianity and Islam) has a claim of divine condemnation as well: If you do not accept their particular brand of religion (and often that can be quite specific), you will surely rot in Hell, at least according to what the adherents of the religion believe.
And they seem like such nice people in general. I have mentioned my fried Ray previously, and he and I had an amusing interchange regarding Christianity’s assertion that the bible (which I will stubbornly refuse to capitalize in this blog) is the “Word of God”. Once I challenged this assumption for Ray, he proceeded to try to justify it. Basically, Ray’s arguments for the authority of scripture look like this:
  • Folks who believe that the bible is the “Word of God” are happier in general than people who do not.
  • These folks are also generally nicer than other folks, although sometimes they can be naughty.
  • Thus, the concept of the bible being the “Word of God” has been good for people generally.

Forgive me, but I had to point out to Ray the obvious fallacy (which you undoubtedly see already). I will do so again here: It is exactly like believing in Santa Claus. Why do parents so stubbornly refuse to tell their offspring the truth about Santa Claus? Simple. They want to continue to manipulate their children so that they will obey. Santa provides great leverage. Even if the child is in on the deal, Santa still works. The child knows that Santa is a fake, but why “out” dear old Santa? The child gets such great stuff, after all. As for the parent, he or she probably knows that the child (who is not stupid after all) has calculated the speed required for Santa to visit each and every home on planet Earth in a single day, and has realized that it significantly exceeds the speed of light. Thus, Santa would have to be divine to accomplish this feat. For this reason, for many years, I have thought of Santa as the Christian patron saint of capitalism. More on Santa and the whole Christmas thing later.

Religion (assuming Ray’s explanation to be the most correct one for believing religious tenets), can thus simply be thought of in this way: It is, well, exactly like Santa. We believe in Jesus (or Buddha, or Mohammed, or whatever), because we need a reason to live a better life. I love the definition of religion from Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Paraphrasing, Vonnegut invents a character named Bokonon who recognizes the need to create a new religion. Because of the great suffering of his people, he creates a set of comforting lies he calls foma. Basically a foma is a harmless lie which, if you believe it, will give you hope and cause you to live a better life.

Early in my Christian period, I had a friend (who later attacked me by the way) who was kind of sketchy. Joe, the leader of the Christian commune at which I was living, had a habit of adopting derelicts (one of whom he had live with me for a while). Mike was an ex-con with a very pretty but very pregnant young wife. Mike liked weed and other drugs though, and had trouble settling down with his wife. Mike once told me the following very revealing thing about himself:

Even if it’s not true (referring to our particular brand of Protestant Charismatic Christianity), we are better off. We live a better life by believing. I am here, with my wife. I am not doing drugs or alcohol. I am taking care of my kids. You see that, right? We are better off even if it’s all lies.

What I did not learn until later was that Mike had converted in jail, and had received probation because of this. He was also physically abusing that pretty young wife. But as long as he would remain in the religious community, he had a way of remaining at large (provided that he did not do drugs or alcohol, attended regular meetings, and so forth.)

This what I call The Payoff: Each religion provides a benefit for believing. In the case of Christianity this has historically taken the form of a tight (often secret) community, with all that that entails. There is no doubt that religion has provided a powerful set of networks which have been a central way of grooming leaders within our culture.

Back to the core issue of this blog: Whether the bible is the “Word of God”. The central tenet of modern Evangelical Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity (yes I will be this specific in this blog) is that the bible was effectively faxed from heaven in its current form. Thus, the bible is literally a word for word speaking from the Mind of God. I have actually argued this point with various Christians (some of whom were, admittedly, very conservative) and have been told by them that the King James translators were guided by the Hand of God. (No kidding.) Thus, the King James translation of the bible (and no other translation) contains the correct and true reading of God’s Word. (If you were born in a country that does not speak English, I guess you are out of luck.)

And, of course, every single detail in the bible is literally true and correct in every way. You can argue with these folks all you like: Trust me, I used to be one of them. I certainly was not capable at that time of admitting the possibility that I might be wrong. This is the central marker of religion: An extreme reluctance to admit the possibility that what you have been indoctrinated to believe might not be true.

And therein lies the thing that I want to ask for from my friends, and those who are kindred souls (I hope you are out there): I will certainly admit that I could be wrong. Please be kind enough to return the favor. I will not take kindly to a Christian soul telling me that I am going to Hell (although that may not stop you). I like to think that I am as spiritual a man as anyone I have known. Certainly, I work at it pretty hard. Thus, I will not accept the concept from any religion that their brand of “The Truth” is the only path to God.

Like I told my son tonight: I do not want my Christian friend to stop being Christian any more than I want my Hindu friend to stop being Hindu. All I am asking for is that all of my religious friends admit that they could be wrong. I will surely do the same. I would submit, though, that it is physically impossible to admit that your religion might be wrong, while asserting that your religion’s particular book is the “Word of God”.

It may even be impossible to believe the “foma”, the comfortable religious lies, while admitting they could be wrong. It would defeat the purpose of making you a true believer, if the possibility existed that the religion could be wrong. Thus, I may effectively be asking for the end of religion. I am not sure that would be a bad thing, although you may disagree. Certainly, for me, I will no longer believe the convenient lies. I choose to seek what I call the Non-Cultural Truth. Assuming that religion is culture, then there is a possibility for a core of Truth underlying all religions. Many have sought this. I may be on a vain quest, but it is certainly one which I relish. Join me there, please.

Clouds

My wife is the most beautiful person that I know. I have observed her for many years. Since I am pretty crazy about her, my attention is definitely focused on her most of the time.

She has been a Christian since she was 8, wandering though the various denominations in America. Presently, she is nominally a Baptist, as she was when she first got “saved” 47 years ago.

My wife’s relationship to the scriptures is fascinating to me. I once described to her what I perceived to be her approach to the scriptures in an analogy that I call “clouds”. Since then, I have used this analogy with other Christians with varying results. In the case of my wife, when I told her the analogy, she replied “Yes! You finally got it!”

So here goes. With respect to the scriptures, my wife reads maybe 15% of the bible, max. The ugly, depressing, crushingly dull, and appallingly violent parts she simply ignores. Most recently she has found a devotional (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young) which she effectively uses as a filter: She simply reads the verses in this book rather than reading her bible itself. In the process she neatly skips the uncomfortable parts of the bible. She also sees amazing insights in these verses. They “jump off the page” for her, and she finds all kinds of satisfying enlightenment and transformation through this process.

I have repeatedly told my wife that I envy her: She is like the person who, gazing at the clouds, sees in them all manner of beautiful things: People, animals, trees, and so forth, all bathed in this amazing golden light.

My relationship with the scriptures has been very different from this: I became a Christian in 1983, having been evangelized by a man who read the entire bible cover to cover four times a year. I absorbed the bookish quality of his faith and proceeded to study the bible exhaustively. First I simply read the bible cover to cover more times than I can count (certainly more than 20 or so). Once I became dissatisfied with simply reading the scriptures, I began to study more deeply. I learned Hebrew. (Interestingly, I did not pursue Greek as most bookish Christians do; I was far more interested in the Old Testament than in the New Testament, and this has had a profound impact on my journey: More on this later.)

In this respect, I moved down the path of being less of a cloud-gazer (similar to my wife), and more of a cloud-studier. Similar to the relationship that a meteorologist has with clouds, for example. In the process, much of the magic of the bible was lost to me. Instead, I gained a deeper and more realistic understanding of what this collection of ancient documents really is.

Eventually, I learned enough Hebrew to read the book of Ruth. In the process, I became immersed in the Jewish culture, and this lead to exploring works of ancient Jewish literature. I became at least familiar with the Talmud, the Midrash, and ancient Jewish authors like Josephus. This lead eventually to the worst question that you can ask as a Christian which is:

Where does the bible come from?

Stop!!!! OK, I have your attention, hopefully. Huge disclaimer: If you value your faith, do not read on. I am absolutely not responsible for the consequences of you reading this material at this point? Got it? Let’s move on.

Here is the First Proposition: The collection of ancient documents commonly referred to as the bible (actually a combination of ancient Jewish documents commonly referred to among Christians as the Old Testament plus early Christian documents referred to as the New Testament) is merely a work of human culture, and not the “Word of God” in any sense.