"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

I'm reading the Bible

"You little know the effect of the Bible on me. Properly read, it is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived." Isaac Asimov.
For a little while now I have been reading the Bible. That is to say I decided a while ago to read it from cover to cover over however long it takes because if there is one thing an arrogant opinionated atheist blogger like myself should know it is the source material that the majority of the world’s religious types base their faith on.
Needless to say, It’s not an easy read. Even a casual acquaintance with the text is enough to persuade most people that it is an endeavour best left to others even if, as I have done, you avoid the florid and pseudo archaic language of the King James Version and opt instead for the New International Version, which in any event is reckoned to be a more accurate translation of the original texts.
Even so it is not a book to be swallowed all at once so I’m setting aside a bit of time each week to chew over a chunk. So far I have read through the Pentateuch, the first five books that constitute the Jewish Torah, and made some headway into the historical books as far as Kings, so I have a way to go yet, even to finish the Old Testament.
But given that the first five books are foundational to Judaism, Christianity and Islam and also set the agenda for the conservative right of all three religions I would like to make a couple of observations at this point.
The first, well-worn but worth repeating, is that the Old Testament god is not a pleasant character. I mean he admits to being “jealous” himself, but honestly this guy is positively narcissistic. He’s also an obsessive-compulsive control freak who dictates the minutiae of the Israelites' daily lives and takes murderous revenge on anyone who deliberately or mistakenly gets it wrong and displays a totally warped sense of justice that is totally irreconcilable with modern concepts of fairness.
O.K so what? You may say. He is after all the one and only God and creator of everything, he can be as big a jerk as he wants. Well yes, except that good ol’ Jehovah never claims to be the only god around (I’d heard this said but read it, it’s true) just the one the Israelites have to worship if they want all that Canaanite land for themselves. You have to wonder why they thought he was worth it. But more to the point, why do Jews, Christians and Muslims still think this genocidal, unpredictable deity worthy of pandering to today. I know Christians will say that their God is not like that, in which case it must be a totally different one; if not, Jehovah had some serious psychotherapy before embarking on the sequel.
The second observation is that the stories are so ridiculous it’s incredible that even those writing them down for the first time took them seriously. When I say ridiculous, I am not just talking about the impossible things like cramming millions of drowning species into a boat four hundred feet long, or people surviving for three days in the belly of a fish or any of the obvious fables. I mean those narratives that make no sense; like God having to send angels into Sodom to determine what was going on there, being unable to defeat enemies with “chariots of iron”, or that whole shtick with Moses and the Egyptian plagues. Whatever happened to omniscience and omnipotence (we’ve already established he’s not omni benevolent) that he couldn’t have avoided all that trouble with the wave of a celestial digit?
The thing is even if these stories have any historical credence whatsoever; they are so obviously human stories about people dealing with human limitations that the supernatural element just seems farcical. I cannot believe that only now (or in the last few hundred years at any rate) have we grown so sophisticated that the absurdity of the Old Testament is revealing itself. In any event as I said there are still millions of people who can with a straight face claim it to be literally true. I must assume none of them have actually read it, or if they have it’s a totally different version to the one I’ve embarked on.
It would be easy to suggest that as an atheist already, I am just a victim of confirmation bias and selectively noticing those passages that don’t make sense or paint God in a bad light. But honestly, you don’t have to search for this, it’s everywhere from the contradictory creation events in Genesis, to the absurd and morally repugnant near sacrifice of Isaac, the ridiculous dietary injunctions, the insects with four legs, cud chewing rabbits, and child eating bears (one of Jehovah’s most pointless retributions). Trust me the list is endless.

I have deliberately refrained from linking directly to the specific examples listed here, if you want to find them start at Genesis chapter 1 Vs 1 and take it from there.

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