Reading the Bible, Part 8
The rest of this should go a little faster than Matthew did.
Mark and Luke:
As I expected, Mark and Luke are very similar to Matthew. Iíve heard that they all have the same source, with Mark being the earliest version. I have also heard that the last few verses of Mark, where Jesus actually appears to anyone after his crucifixion, was not part of the original manuscript. It seems like a pretty flimsy resurrection story to me, especially since people at that time already believed in prophets coming back from the dead. Some believed that John the Baptist was Elijah. Some believed that Jesus was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other prophet from long ago that had come back to life. And does anywhere actually say that Jesus was crucified for our sins? Or did Jesus simply say that following him was important and other people made up the significance of dying on the cross later?
The book of John has mostly new stories that are not in the previous three gospels, but overall nothing has changed. You have a Jew that goes around healing people, declaring himself to be the son of God, and causing the wrath of Jewish leaders. Maybe itís interesting if you believe it, but I got really tired of reading the same thing four times. I got tired of reading that Jesus made efforts to fulfill some checklist of old scripture of what the messiah was supposed to do. I got tired of reading that Jesus is the son of God, and is God, and was sent by God, and is God, and sometimes doesnít know things that only God knows, and is God, and was given authority from God, and is God, and prays to God, and is God, and doesnít want to be crucified unless thatís what God wants, and is God, and listens to God speaking from the sky while heís also God, and theyíre also a holy spirit or something. Itís absolutely ridiculous. Itís no wonder that Christians are so confused. Their whole religion is built around doublethink in addition to the ordinary cognitive dissonance a person must have to believe mysticism over reality.
I also found it striking how timid and powerless everyone was to face their enemies. I remember Moses threatening Pharaoh with plagues. I remember Elijah burning fifty men sent after him, twice! I remember Daniel and his friends facing the furnace and the lionís den without fear. Then you get to the Jewish leaders in the New Testament. They couldnít even execute a heretic without Romeís permission. And it seems like Jesus was constantly running away so he wouldnít be stoned. Or he was saying that he could call down a legion of angels to protect him, he just didnít want to. Peter wasnít very impressive either; he was afraid to say he that even knew Jesus.
While reading the Bible, I have also been reading various reviews by skeptics, Jews, and Christians to get a better understanding of historical context, cultural norms, translation notes, and arguments for and against the credibility of the scripture. After a lot of time, I have noticed that it is pointless to identify ďcontradictionsĒ in the Bible. For example, the four gospels have different accounts of Jesusís last words, the inscription on the cross, and what kind of angels were at the tomb. I see that and I think that surely the passages contradict, which is an embarrassing error that seriously damages the credibility of at least one of the accounts. But every time, someone has an answer like ďOh, thereís no contradiction. They all happened, itís just that different people were at different places at different times and their recollection was a partial account of the whole story.Ē I usually find the explanations to be contrived and unlikely, but individually theyíre usually plausible enough that I canít insist that the scenarios are definitely contradictions.
But that is irrelevant. In the spirit of the New Testament, here is a parable: Pretend that you have a friend named Bill who believes in the ancient Greek religion. Bill literally thinks that gods such as Zeus and Hermes exist, Poseidon controls earthquakes and tidal waves, etc. You desperately want to prove to Bill that he is wrong. You investigate his religious books and see a sentence that says ďOnly Atlas is strong enough to hold up the Earth.Ē Later in the book, there is a story where Hercules holds up the Earth. You tell Bill that this is a contradiction! But Bill says that the first sentence was written before Hercules was born and it does not preclude the possibility of a strong person being born later. Now, does Bill have a reasonable answer to your objection? Yes. But there is a fact that is much more important than that. And that is that Bill is extremely stupid for being an adult that believes in the Greek mythology. There is simply no justification for it. How blind can he be? Why does he believe that godly children were created in the union of sky and earth gods named Uranus and Gaia? Thatís clearly not credible! Why does he believe that the sun is actually a god named Helios on a bright chariot? Heís clearly willfully ignorant about science and astronomy! Why does he believe that an afterlife exists beyond a river named Styx? Thatís clearly a fabricated story!
If your friend is already that committed to ignorance, youíre not helping him by finding potential contradictions. Heís already proven that he has no critical thinking skills! Why dignify his beliefs by presenting him with an argument that assumes that any of his nonsense is correct? Does Bill infuriate you? Do you want to shake him and tell him to wake up? Does it pain you when he tells you that he knows that he is right and he teaches his children the same nonsense? Do you want to vomit when he wants to influence laws and your everyday life with his garbage? Thatís how I feel about all religions all of the time.