Reading the Bible, Part 1
ďWeíll make a decision based on causality instead of faith, good idea!Ē -1 Kings 18:24. I have a favorite Bible verse now! Sorry, Iím getting ahead of myself. I decided to read the Bible. I wish I had started twenty years ago. I would have become an atheist much faster. The thing is, I grew up in a Southern Baptist household and I went to Sunday School and church every Sunday. I figured that I knew enough about Bible stories, so why take the time to actually read the book? But a few months ago I decided to go ahead and do it. Itís a credibility thing, I guess. Maybe I was wrong and stubborn in my younger years. Maybe the Bible really is a fountain of truth and wisdom that has touched billions over the millennia. I have read Genesis through 1 Kings and so far, nope! Itís way, way worse than I expected and below are several reasons why. On a general note, I donít want to go the obvious route and say things like ďMen canít live to be 900 years old! Two of every animal couldnít fit on the ark! The whole Tower of Babel story is kind of stupid.Ē Even disregarding all sorts of ridiculous things, I scoff at the Bibleís accounts ofÖ
My wifeís familyís preacher likes to talk about Hell. Heíll walk back and forth and wave the Bible around and say things like ďI believe in Hell! If you donít follow the Lord, youíll be thrown in a lake of fire! Itís a real place! It says so right here!Ē My past church didnít talk about Hell as much, but the message was still there: if you donít believe, you burn. I lost my faith as I grew up, but there were several years that the fear of Hell lingered in my mind. I should have read the Bible instead. Because guess who was the first person to be sent to Hell? Cain for killing Abel? Pharaoh for being such a mean slave owner? Some random blasphemer? The answer is I donít know because it hasnít happened yet! (Iíve read 11 books, Genesis through 1 Kings.) Everyone, good or bad, goes to this shadowy neutral place called Sheol. All of Godís threats are centered on destruction, not eternal punishment, because death is the same end for everybody. It is extremely obvious that the concept of Hell had not been invented yet. Why should I be afraid of something that was clearly made up centuries after the religion began?
The traditional author of the first five books of the Bible is Moses. My understanding (Wikipedia 1, Wikipedia 2, The Straight Dope) is that the books are the result of some combination of oral tradition, Moses himself, and/or editors hundreds of years after Moses. Whatever the sources, most of the Bible and its credibility relies on the truth of events during the life of Moses. So, who was Moses? My parentsí church presented him as a slave child who was put in a basket and raised as a prince, talked to a burning bush, led Godís people out of slavery, and wandered the desert for 40 years. They acted like the 40 years was just a boring version of the Oregon Trail. (Day 7000: You go hunting. You collect manna! You continue walking around.) The actual biblical narrative says that Moses was a military leader in charge of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and he was trying to conquer a nicer piece of land. Thatís a large credibility problem for me.
Dozens of gods had already been fabricated at that point in history, so I find it easy to believe that Moses created a god to motivate his soldiers. I find it easy to believe that Moses wanted his soldiers to fight boldly and follow orders, so he lied and said that they were destined to win if they behaved correctly. I find it easy to believe that Moses wanted his soldiers to put the group's interest above their personal interests, so he made up a story about fulfilling a promise to their shared ancestor. I find it easy to believe that Moses wanted his soldiers to fight without empathy for enemy civilians, so he lied and said that his magic friend wanted all of them dead. I find it easy to believe that Moses wanted his soldiers to be completely loyal, so he lied and said that his magic friend forbade them from mixing with other cultures. I find it easy to believe that the winners wrote the history books and that history was revised over centuries by people with agendas.
I find it difficult to believe that the creator of the universe just decided that the descendants of eleven brothers who almost murdered their other brother were the best people on Earth and was very, very, very concerned that they cut off their foreskins and massacre their way into controlling a small portion of Western Asia.
Idolatry on Mt. Sinai:
For you to believe the Bible, you have to believe that this conversation happened multiple times while the Ten Commandments were being written:
Person 1: Hey, we need your wifeís gold earrings.
Person 2: What? Why?
Person 1: Well, you know that God fellow that Moses always talks about?
Person 2: You mean The LORD? Our creator and protector? Who created all of humanity, the Earth, the Sun, and everything in the universe? The God of our ancestors? The God who flooded the Earth, who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? The God who turned a wooden rod into a living snake that eats other snakes? The God who turned rivers of water into blood? The God who secured our freedom with plagues of frogs, lice, flies, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and murder? The God who separated a body of water for us to walk through, then used the water to crush our enemies when they were coming to kill us? The God that continues to supply us with food and water in the desert?
Person 1: Yeah.
Person 2: And of course, we know for a fact that most of these events are not fables in any way. They are literally miracles of the living God that happened to all of us, thousands of intelligent adults, largely within the last six months. God is the reason that we are free and alive here today instead of being slaves in Egypt.
Person 1: Right.
Person 2: What about him?
Person 1: Well, we havenít seen Moses in a few weeks so we figure itís time to make a cow out of scrap metal and worship it.
Person 2: Yeah, that makes sense. Honey! Kids! Bring me your gold earrings!
If people who supposedly saw miracles didnít have confidence in God, why should I?