Thursday, May 8, 2014

Reading the Bible More Frequently Made Me an Atheist

Working overnights means that my nights off usually involve a great deal of web surfing and reading, with time for gaming. It’s part of being awake when most people in your social circle (and the U.S. for that matter) are asleep. I make it a habit of visiting Patheos.com frequently due to the variety of religiously-themed blogs the site provides. One I visit frequently is The Friendly Atheist, written by Hemant Mahta. Another I’ve found is Formerly Fundie, written by Benjamin Corey. Corey is part of the Progressive Christian group of blogs the site provides, serving as a foil for the more-conservative Evangelical group of blogs on Patheos.
One recent blog entry by Corey (the link to which is above) makes the claim that reading the Bible more frequently will make a person more progressive on certain subjects. It’s a well-reasoned argument but it is entirely based on cherry-picking passages from the Bible. I would encourage anyone reading this essay to read Corey’s list to get his perspective.
My take is different, otherwise why write this essay. I agree with Penn Jillete when he remarked that reading the Bible thoroughly is a great way to become an atheist. Taking the Bible as a whole document is far different than finding passages one agrees with already and highlighting those. Some Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig have stated that atheists take the Bible more seriously than Christians. I see it like this: Most atheists treat it for what the book is—a document written by human beings. Atheists aren’t the ones claiming that the Bible is the inerrant word of a divine being.
The list I’ve compiled is as much a response to Corey’s list as it is a statement concerning my views. I firmly believe that reading the Bible over and over again from start to finish will lead some people to atheism.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I see arrogance that humans are somehow more special than all other forms of life.
     There is a profound and disturbing egotism at the center of Christianity: the universe was created specifically for us. The solipsism required for the decree is frightening. One has to believe that a divine being in control of a possible multiverse is invested in a bunch of moody primates in one tiny star system. The belief instilled by this book is ultimately selfish, self-serving, and exactly what an egotistical human would write.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I see a book used to keep the poor and oppressed from striving to change their lot in life.
 This is a general observation on my part. I’ve spent much of my life studying history and religious history. Religion has almost always been used to both affirm and maintain the status quo of a given culture. From the Medieval concept of the Golden Chain to the modern Prosperity Gospel, the Bible has been used as a placebo to keep lower social classes satisfied with less. This is the true meaning of Marx’s comment about religion being the opiate of the people.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I see a document declaring me sick and then demanding I accept a dictator into my life to get better.
Christianity is by default totalitarian. The effect of the original sin concept means we must accept the mistakes of previous generations. We must accept Big Brother: The Celestial Edition in order to be moral. This is not morality; this is fiat-control.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I see an excuse for churches to demand income from followers in return for promises to be cashed in later.
Aside from the selfish worldview, the Bible encourages submission to an earthly authority who claims to provide the means to reach celestial rewards. This point ties into number two on this list. Churches often use their position of authority to obtain wealth and power of a few select individuals. The fact that the Bible encourages blind faith often leads Christians to ignore obvious warning signs in predatory churches.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I see churches steeped in wealth, privilege, and political power as one of the biggest forms of hypocrisy.
For a religion supposedly devoted to spiritual concerns, Christianity seems to be preoccupied with temporal, earthly power. A repeated concern in the gospels is wealth as a distraction from spiritual growth. The focus of many Christian denominations on wealth and status reveals the real drive of these groups is not the health of the soul but the ability to control this world. Take for example the Dominionist philosophy, which directs Christians to take control of the government to enforce a Biblical society. Think of it as the Christian version of Sharia Law.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I realize religions need to be taxed like any other business.
To paraphrase George Carlin, if Christianity (and other religions for that matter) wants to be involved in politics and domestic policy, let them pay their admission fee. Even Christ commanded to give Caesar his due in the gospels. Modern churches, especially the mega-churches, bring in millions of untaxed income. Churches should be taxed as part of a community and take tax revenue earned to address come economic concerns on a federal and local level.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I realize the Christian god as a Mafioso bully who demands obedience or else.
Any leader who demands a man kill his only child as proof of faith is not worthy of leadership. Any leader who believes bloody human sacrifice is a fine substitute for personal accountability doesn’t deserve to lead. The god of the Bible claims to be unchanging and eternal, which means a deity who advocates slavery and child rape should be obeyed without question. I say fuck that. We’ve seen in our history characters similar to this deity and none of them did much to further aims of peaceful, lawful society.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I see how easy it is for Christians to cherry-pick passages that line up with their own ideology.
Time and again when I read Christian blogs or listen to Christian pastors, I find they are using the Bible to justify their own prejudices. A great example is Pat Robertson, who uses the pulpit as a mask for homophobia. It is far too easy to find passages in the Bible that can justify any position. One would imagine an all-powerful deity would have known better than to rely on mutable text to convey its message.
-The more I read my Bible, the more I see the utterly nihilistic and fatalistic death cult that Christianity is.
Christianity and the Bible state this is a fallen world, a world beyond redemption. Some Christians wait with bated breath for the Rapture and the subsequent Tribulation. A common question atheists receive is “What purpose is there in life if there’s no god?” This is nihilism, pure and simple. And if a Christian believes their god directs the events of the universe, this means there is no free will. We are left to the whims of a distant figure we receive no tangible response from. This world doesn’t matter to Christianity, only the next one possesses importance. Life is therefore meaningless and simply an inexplicable stop-gap before paradise.
-The more I read the Bible the more I realize a deity that revels in carnage and bloodshed is not worthy to judge me.
Reading the Bible frequently felt like reading the justifications of a battered spouse. The most common refrain I hear is that if god does it, it is moral. Which means slavery is moral, killing nonbelievers is moral, killing gay people is moral, forcing rape victims to marry their rapist is moral, and last but not least, torturous human sacrifice is moral. Any being that thinks these actions should not only not have the right to judge anyone; it should not be running a small kiosk, let alone a universe.

        Read the Bible without study guides. Read the history of the region depicted in the book to gain the proper context for the period. Read the book completely from Genesis to Revelations. The world could use a few more atheists. At the very least it could use more Christians who are aware of their supposedly inerrant “holy” book.

1 comment:

  1. Baptised a Roman Catholic, first school run by the CoEngland, secondary education at a Catholic School... you'd think I'd be convinced of the bible... but I am in fact if a label is needed, an atheist. I wholeheartedly agree with the egotism that accompanies the notion that the earth was made for us. I happen to believe mother nature will expel a huge sigh of relief when we finally face our extinction.

    The nature of humans dictates that we need something to believe in, whatever it may be, and religion fills that need...(I am aware it's not the only thing that fills it!) though 'Atheist' is another of those labels that chafes a little. I do not understand why this book, or indeed any book, is fought over and argued over so vehemently.

    My take on the whole thing is people need to make up their minds themselves, and I am happy to let people take their own time to do this, and I wholeheartedly believe that children should be left until they are old enough to make this decision with all the information and time to digest it, at their fingertips.

    I do struggle quite badly with the problems of 'discussing' the book... why do we need a discussion? I don't believe it, you do, what's there to discuss? Why do you need to continually tell me about it, as if I got it wrong and you got it right in class that day.

    I don't care what you believe, I don't care right up to the point that your beliefs drive you to think you have the right to encroach on my life. And I would hope that I return the courtesy. Read it, don't read it, believe it, don't believe it.... but perhaps we can all agree on the need for coffee and croissants this wet and grey Saturday morning :)

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