Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Bible is not to be trusted

It's true that Christianity (and, of course, all religion) claims to have answers to questions better left to scientists than poets, and it's true that religion's 'answer' is all-encompassing and science is still riddled with gaps; but beyond these things, beyond the so-called 'question' of evolution, beyond the origin of the universe and the beginning of man, there are plenty of additional problems with religion.

This is one of the problems that I've had with the book Answering the New Atheism by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker: they set out to destroy Dawkins' argument, but fail to provide a reasonable justification for their own story. They assume that the atheist's argument is the deviation from the de facto position and that their argument is fine the way it is. I understand that the intent of the book was merely to cast doubt on Dawkins' books and to give nervous Christians a reason to continue thinking as they have been. This is why the book is only convincing to those who already agreed with the authors. But if it stems an effect (and I contend that it does not), it does nothing to address the cause. The sinking ship of religion is full of holes; only faith is able to plug the holes (in this metaphor, faith is actually a SCUBA tank and enough imagination to believe that the ocean floor is really the high seas). One massive hole is the Bible itself.

The Bible is kind of a bizarre item in the Christian catalogue, because it is arrived at through completely circular reasoning: It is true because it says it's true. Let's ignore that. Let's also ignore all the other books that did not make it into the final draft. Instead, let's ask ourselves why the Bible is so difficult to understand and so unclear about practically everything. Our souls are on the line and the only way to redeem them from the fires of hell and eternal torment is buried inside this ancient book. So it seems relatively clear, from some certain passages, what is required for passage into heaven. Why, then, are there so many denominations? It is because the book itself is unclear. There is no other explanation. And some of these schisms are over the slightest things that were thought at the time (and still are, apparently) to be extremely important. Things that should not have much impact on the ultimate goal, which is salvation. It should go without saying that every member of a particular denomination thinks that their interpretation of the Bible is the correct one and, therefore, all the others are incorrect. I'm not necessarily faulting these people for this; the Bible is very confusing and contradictory. Some differences in interpretation are significant, others are not. The point is that, if God is truly a loving being, and if our souls are truly on the line, and if there is really only one way to get into heaven, then he is a cruel, cruel being.

Instead of a kind and loving god watching over us, or even a just god, stick and carrot at the ready, he is like a malicious joker, setting humanity loose in a twisted maze with a pit of fire at the end of each path save one. This is not the sort of god who deserves praise and adoration, even if he is real. Why is it necessary to speak always in riddles? If this is a test of faith, then why also test reading comprehension and the competence of centuries of translators? If god is infinite, loving and wise, then surely he could have made his inspired and revealed word a bit more clear, a bit more obvious.

Some might say, as I mentioned above, that God wishes to test our faith. If the Bible were too clear or if God were more apparent then there would be no need for faith. Again we shall ignore, for now, all the problems that come along with this divine mind game. Instead, I will point out that, according to the Bible, there is still plenty of room for dissent. Satan himself was an angel of one sort or another and he abandoned God, choosing instead to face a certain dreadful fate (although, I have to wonder how the story would have gone if the Old Testament had been written with the thought of hell in mind - would the writers have created such an obviously foolish character?). In fact, Christians constantly delight in reminding atheists that they actually do believe in God, despite what their foolish hearts tell them. Don't you think that God really owes us a better revelation?

For me, the Bible (and all other 'inspired' religious texts) is transparently false. In the end, it does not matter if a god was responsible for the beginning of the universe (although I do not see any reason to suppose this to be the case), because there is no reason to imagine that this god would demand anything of us.

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