Dark Verses

I recently ran across this blog, which I found quite engaging. The author (named Tracy as I will refer to her in this post) claims to promote a state of being “radically free”, and generally, I would say she is on a good path towards that goal.

But she still continues to engage in one (in my opinion) form of delusion: She continues to maintain that the bible is the Word of God, or “revealed truth” as I like to call it. This particular Christian dogma takes many forms. In its most extreme fundamentalist form (which Tracy obviously rejects), the bible is to be read literally, as a historical document.

While Tracy certainly does not hold to that view, she does tend to quote the bible in support of her position. I call this “bible bashing”.

Bible bashing occurs when a person regards the bible as authoritative for human living, and the expression of divine will. I no longer hold that view, and I believe a careful and systematic study of the bible will reveal what I have discovered: The bible as we know it is a work of human culture. A collection of literature, nothing more.

How do I know this? Easy. First, I look at the 85% of the bible that almost all Christians (and Jews for that matter) tend to ignore. I call these the “dark verses” (hence the title of this post). These are the verses that show the character and nature of the god described in the bible. Which is a pretty poor character in my view, and I think most reasonable folks would agree.

Take a story that Christians love: The story of the flood, Noah, and so forth, which is contained in Genesis 6-9. This is a story which I personally taught to my children as  a bedtime story. My wife and I even decorated our children’s bedrooms with pictures of the ark, animals, and so forth.

Let’s get real. This is a terrible story. In this story, the god of the universe, the creator of all the stars, galaxies, and so forth, decides that he is annoyed with mankind, because they are engaging in all sorts of behavior of which he disapproves. (No explanation is ever given as to why this particular god has an opinion about things like foods, sexuality, what day we should rest, etc.) Anyway, because mankind has failed to measure up to his standard, he has a simple solution: Wipe them all out.

Imagine the young mother at that moment, holding her newborn infant in her arms while god causes the waters to rise. She struggles to keep her baby above the surface of the waters. Eventually, she is overwhelmed, and her baby falls into the water and is drowned as well.

Now, several questions are patently obvious:

  • Would you worship a god who would kill an innocent infant in cold blood for the purported crimes or his or her mother, or other adults in his or her culture? I mean come on here! Supposedly, one of the basic tenets of Christianity is redemption which is a beautiful idea. The gist is that all humans are capable of being fundamentally good, if simply given a chance. Everyone has the potential to be redeemed. Not this baby apparently. At least not in god’s eyes. He or she never gets a chance to prove what kind of life he or she would have had. In my mind that god is a monster, a genocidal maniac who makes Hitler look like an alter boy.
  • What are the crimes of which this culture is guilty, and which is connotated to justify mass genocide? Homosexual practices for one. Does anyone in our current culture maintain that because of homosexuality that our culture deserves to be wiped out? (If so, I would suggest that you are a bit out of step with modern values.)
  • Oh and the other crime: Worshipping the detestable gods of their religion. Which I have pointed out before is simply code: Religious documents of all stripes invariably refer to the practitioners of another religion as wicked idolaters. That’s right before they decide that these folks deserve to be killed.

Many other examples could be chosen. I have pointed out all of the incredibly cruel, misogynistic, bigoted and just plain stupid things in the Old Testament law. And the New Testament (especially the later books like the Pastoral Epistles and the Book of Revelation) are little better. Even the gospels do not escape from the issue of dark verses.

I will not belabor the point further. My real purpose in this blog post is to beseech all of my fellow humans: For the sake of the planet, for the sake of human suffering, please, please, pretty please, drop the silly pretension that your particular religious text (whether it is the bible, the Quran, the Vedas, the Gita, or whatever) is the revealed truth. It is simply not possible for all of these books to be faxed from heaven: They are wildly inconsistent, after all. (The bible is even internally inconsistent, which is also true of many of the other texts which claim the status of revealed truth).

As long as there are millions of believers who maintain that their particular book is the revealed truth, and yours is the work of demons, we are all going to remain stuck in a persistent state of being assholes who bash each other over the head with these books. Can we stop doing this now, please?

Larry

I met an interesting man recently, named Larry. We were total strangers when we met, but circumstances threw us together, and we ended up having dinner. In the course of dinner, we shared our views on spiritual matters. This discussion was very fascinating to me.

Larry is a putative Christian at the moment, but I suspect that is in flux. I sensed from Larry a bit of dissatisfaction with his current state, which I generally heard as this:

  • The existence of God is required due to the existence of the physical universe. I have previously talked about the anthropic argument (that is, arguing for the existence of God based upon the evidence of nature). I find this position fairly satisfying, actually. I am continually struck by the wonders of nature, and how they seem to speak loudly about the existence of God. Certainly, a person of faith receives a strong jolt of confidence when he or she considers nature.
  • If God does exist (see above), then He / She would naturally want to communicate with His / Her creations. That is a very common argument, but it does not necessarily hold water in my view. I call this belief the Personal God. That is, the creator of the universe, with all of the trillions of galaxies, etc., wants to have a personal relationship with me, which includes monitoring my very thoughts (including this one!) in real time. Several issues:
    • Many philosophers conclude that if God does exist, it would be utterly impossible for Him / Her to communicate with us. This view of God is referred to as the Divine Watchmaker. Deism holds this view, for example. Many founding fathers of the US, including Thomas Jefferson, for example, were famously deists. Thus, the idea that God is personal does not necessarily follow.
    • Even according to early Christian doctrine, it is not actually possible for God to “want” anything, due to His / Her eternal nature. This was the view of Augustine, for example, who famously stated that a special place in Hell was reserved for those who asked silly questions about such things. Augustine believed that God existed outside of the physical universe, and thus was not bound by space or time. Since He (we’ll stick with the masculine for the moment) does not exist within time, He is in the Eternal Now. Thus, He is perfectly wise, perfectly happy, perfectly at peace, etc. In that state, according to Augustine, God has no unmet desires and thus it is not possible for Him to “want” to be in relationship with His creation, or anything else for that matter.
  • And here is the clincher: Assuming God exists and wants to have a relationship with His creatures, then the Bible represents his attempt to do so. Bingo! And therein lies the rub. That simply does not follow logically, period. The collection of ancient documents we refer to as the Bible is simple one of dozens of alternative religious texts that exist on this planet, each of which is regarded as sacred. For example, the Buddhist scriptures represent the accumulated wisdom of the religion we know as Buddhism. Similarly the Hindu religion has several texts including the Gita, the Vedas, etc. And, finally, Islam has the Quran. One thing I did when I lost my faith in Christianity was to read many of these texts, and consider the claims made by each of them. I concluded that:
    • The competing claims of each religion cannot be reconciled.
    • There is no compelling reason to accept the writings of one religion (including the Bible) over any other. All religions have a similar basis for existence. Christianity is not unique in this regard, despite the claims of those within Christianity. Each set of writings of a given religion is a work of human culture, nothing more. Yes, they are beautiful. Yes, they can be transformational. But that does not make them divine, even if God exists.

The only reason that Larry accepted Christianity was because of his cultural context. If he had been born in Saudi Arabia, he would make a similar argument for Islam. Ditto for Bangalore with Hinduism, Tibet with Buddhism, etc.

Now, assuming that the Bible is not the Word of God, where does this leave me (and Larry)? Figuring it out on our own, I suppose. Based upon recent life experiences, I conclude that I am much better off doing that than trying to adhere to the teachings of an ancient religion based upon the assumptions of a different culture.