I get email. Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone does so there’s nothing usual in that, but every so often, my email gets well… interesting. Yeah, interesting, that’s the word. Most times, it’s from people who agree whole heartedly with what I have to say. Sometimes, it’s someone who disagrees even more passionately, and then every now and then I’m not really sure what the writer believes but the mere fact that he “believes” comes through strongly, and his creative use of ALLCAPS, incoherent platitudes and white space usually offers something amusing. But every so often it’s completely different. Is this one of those different ones? Well… I’ll let you judge. This letter was in my inbox last weekend. I left the document completely unedited save for leaving out the last name.
Name: Lee *********
hey! im a 16 year old guy trying to figure out the meaning of life….i really just want to make my own life and have no one else control it….i used to be super SUPER relgious and now im still having probelms with it….i cant find any error in the Bible i do know alot about it and every contradiction out of the some 500 in there has an intepration that makes total sense
i want to be an atheist because i want control of my own life…all my desires and my own brain
ive been a conservative CHristian up to this point but now i just dont know
i tried looking into evolution but there is so many wholes as there is in everything else
im starting not to care about religious boundaries anymore i really just want to be a humanist and live the life that makes me happy
problem is that good ole Bible nothing has been proven wrong in it(from my opinion)
i dream of a life like yours
please give some advice if you dont mind
sorry i dont type correctly haha but i would love a free thinkers insight
i just dont want to live for nothing
Hmm. I read it and alarms began to blare through my head. Part of me, a large part, screamed that this must be a set up. People, particularly Christians on the edge losing their faith, simply don’t think like this. And if I’m wrong and some actually do, I’d bet much that they don’t talk like this. What this echoes most strongly is the Fundamentalist viewpoint of why people become atheists. This isn’t some boy on the verge of reason. It’s an Evangelical interpretation of what they think that someone who throws away their faith must go through.
Allow me to paraphrase what the cynic in me is hearing. ”I want to have the life of a freethinker, to decide what’s right or wrong on my own, to be a selfish master of my own fate, Alas, the Bible just keeps proving accurate no matter how many times I have tried to prove it otherwise. In the face of all this evidence proving Christianity true, what’s a budding freethinker to do?”
I feel this is an accurate interpretation of what’s happening here. In fact, I’d bet on it, but if I close my eyes and assume it’s true — a feat I am becoming quite adept at with this study — what should I tell 16 year-old Lee? What insight does one free thinker have to offer another budding but likely fictional freethinker?
First, read what we have written so far. I have tried to do my best to point out the Biblical absurdities and the commenters here have been amazing at pointing out all that I have missed. As a team, we have nailed the Christian God thoroughly and will continue to do so for many years to come. I didn’t realized what entertainment value the Bible had.
Second, Lee, comes the natural counter to this idea “i cant find any error in the Bible i do know alot about it and every contradiction out of the some 500 in there has an intepration that makes total sense.” This glossing over the vast number of idiosyncrasies is done using several techniques. The first is usually placed under the concept of hermeneutics. Thank you to Mr. Hubbo for introducing that word into my vocabulary. I knew the definition long before I knew what it was called. Hermeneutics is a concept I have argued against in these posts and in running battles in the comments, and I will continue to fight as my last breath leaves my body. Hopefully not soon with some Christian pitchfork stuck through my chest as they’re burning down my house. What? You people don’t wake up in the dead of night screaming about horses of cross bearing psychopaths roaming the streets? Um… Yeah, me neither…
Anyway, let’s do with some definitions first. Hermeneutics, in regard to Biblical interpretation, is taking the Bible as a whole and not as a collection of parts. On the surface, this sounds like a fine idea, and overall, I would support viewing any human document hermeneutically, but when it comes to how the Biblical literalist uses it, I must make an exception. Their work in this area is simple apologetics, a defending of a position already taken using whatever sleight of hand one can use. When a literalist finds a contradiction or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable such as God slaughtering thousands of Egyptian children or destroying a civilization for becoming too great and threatening his own power, he or she only needs to pick through that vast repository of phrases to find one that tempers it or counters it or allows them to ignore it completely. Bingo! Contradiction alleviated.
This is what allows the fundamentalist to condemn homosexuality with vigor but ignore many of the other verses in the same chapter. You just get to pick and choose what you want to hear and ignore the rest. For example, “He who lies with an animal shall surely be put to death,” is followed soon after by “If you lend money to my people, the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you are not to charge him interest.” How come we never hear about that anymore. It was big in the middle ages but not now. With all the raging homophobes screaming from every pulpit about the dangers of homosexuality, someone has to explain to me why aren’t banks being burnt to the ground. We have Christians lending money at interest all the time. But of course, this lack of economic freedom would go against what we want to believe so we just ignore it. Homosexuality outlawed. Banking good. See how easy that was?
This same verse condemning gays is preceded by this little gem. “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken for he is his property.” Beating slaves to death is fine as long as you don’t do it too quickly. Yeah… Now this one was big prior to the civil war but isn’t used much today. Why? Is morality relative? These are just two of thousands of instances of God either being a bastard or out right contradicting his own teachings.
The reason that an advanced use of hermeneutics is so useful in plastering over the vast gaps in sheer Biblical decency is that it allows anyone to pick and choose the parts that they want to follow and ignore that parts they would rather forget. If you start with the firm conviction that God is perfect and the Bible is inerrant combined with your own preconceived notions, it is a simple matter to come up with an interpretation to suit what you already “know” is true. You don’t change yourself as much as you change the Bible to suit you. In the brilliant words of George Bernard Shaw, ”No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means.” (Thank you to Daz for that.)
Hermeneutics is often accompanied by the whole “That was the old covenant. Jesus sacrifice brought a new covenant to us.” So God changed the covenant from a harsher on to a nicer one? Why? Did the perfect God make a mistake with all the evil he did with the first one? And if so why do we still pick and choose only the parts of the Old Testament that we want to follow and not the whole thing? Who chooses those parts? Why do we swear by one verse and ignore the whole next page?
These two Biblical polishing techniques are then followed with the only available option to Christians when confronted with the idea of a wicked God: they make excuses for him. He killed all the children of Sodom and Gomorrah and Egypt because the parents were evil (evil here simply means not following God’s arbitrary commands) and therefore the children would be evil. This has been pointed out on more that one occasion that this is why God punishes to the third and fourth generation. God punishes children for the sins of their parents. But ask yourself Lee, if we followed the same technique and butchered the children of our enemies on purpose, would we be doing the right thing or the wrong? If we purposefully tortured and killed children in our wars and conflicts would we be honorable or despicable? WWJD? Isn’t this the ideal Christians strive for? But alter it slightly and make it “What would Jehovah do?” Should we be butchering the Iraqi children as we speak? Should we take the babies of criminals and butcher them on the court house steps all in the name of justice? No? Are we not following his example? Why can God do anything he wants and name it good simply because he’s the one who did it? Might doesn’t make right, yet here he is committing genocide and his apologists smile and tell me about perfect justice and perfect love and how those flawless concepts necessitate genocide. Perfect justice involving the slaughter of innocents? Perfect love? Perfect bullshit!
And ask yourself this, Lee, if the Bible is so consistent, why are there so many different interpretations of it. Why are there so many Protestant sects in the United States and around the world — 30,000 by one estimate — that have a radically different outlook on what that book really says? Why has the interpretation of this book changed dramatically through history? Every sect whether present or historic uses a different approach to hermeneutics to get that book to say what ever they want it to say. Then they claim to be one of the few groups of people on the planet who really knows the truth and then often try to convince all the other people of the validity of their claim… Usually at the point of a sword, This infallible book has been the inspiration for the crusades, the inquisition, the conquest of other lands and vast religious wars that have left entire regions decimated. The Bible was used extensively to justify both sides of the American civil war or for that matter, most any civil wars. How can so many people get so many different meanings out of a single book that is supposedly perfect? And why do those meanings usually reflect what the people really want to do anyway?
Think about it Lee. It’s because of those very contradictions. It’s because of those flaws. Those terrible differences in tone and decency have given people all the tools they need to give divine justification to whatever the hell they desire. Even a brief but honest reading of history of the western world demonstrates the truth of these statements. The cross has been at the forefront of atrocity after atrocity. God strides hand in hand with every tyrant for every despicable and depraved act. Virtually every call to war, genocide and massacre that the western world has been responsible for has held the cross high and asked for their God’s blessing while crushing any resistance underfoot.
So, Lee, I ask you to do one thing. Read the Bible, but not as they, the preachers and bishops ask you to. Don’t be praying for “God’s” guidance while you read. Don’t make excuses for the evil contained there in. Read it with an open mind. Or even better, read it how you would read the Koran, that is looking for the brutality and evil. Read it how you would read the nonsense in the book of Mormon. Then ask yourself if the behavior exhibited by your God is rational and decent. Ask yourself that if any human ruler emulated this behavior and actions that you would think as highly of him as of your God. Or would we be going to war just to stop him?
Then ask yourself this, Lee: what evidence is there for a God aside from the Bible, a book that shows it’s inadequacies with every page?
And Lee? We don’t live for nothing. We live for what we choose: our wives, our children, our friends and our life. Life is too beautiful to be wasted following what someone else says is God’s will. Free thinkers think! First! Foremost! Primarily!