Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Club for Atheists

I have been reading the Bible over the last couple of days.  I started this project because I read a number of atheist books recently and I am really interested in comparing what those books said to the actual Bible text.  I have a reasonable amount of exposure to religious ceremony and thought from my experiences at Bible camps, weddings, occasional church services and other sources so I feel I have a fairly decent grasp on what it is that religions say about the Bible.  I knew going in that most religions that rely on the Bible as a source and inspiration don't actually preach anything like what the Bible says but rather their own interpretation and selective choices from it.  As an example in the Bible, if an ox kills someone due to the negligence of its owner then the owner must be put to death, but if the ox kills a slave instead of a regular person the owner of the ox merely has to pay a 30 shekel fine to the owner of the slave.  Exodus 21:28 Mainstream religions do not preach that slavery is acceptable and that slaves' lives are worth precisely 30 shekels anymore, but they do preach circumcision, hobophobia and other barbaric practices that are supported by Biblical quotes.

I will be writing here and there about what I find as I read the Bible, though I must say that there are enough crazy, strange or confusing things in there that I would need a lot of blog entries to properly catalogue it all.  For reference I am reading the New Revised Standard Version;  I have the King James edition but that tome is so immense and heavy that I am not going to cart it around for the hours and hours it will take me to plow through it all.

There are some things in Genesis that are really hilarious.  To give an example, in Genesis 9:20 Noah (of the Ark) gets himself drunk and is lying in his tent naked and unconscious.  His son Ham notices this and gets Noah's other two sons Shem and Japheth to cover Noah up while carefully not looking at his nakedness.  Noah wakes up, finds that he is covered up and curses Canaan (the son of Ham) to be the a slave of his brothers.  He then follows up by blessing Japheth and Shem and condemning Canaan to be eternally their slave.

I just can't fathom this.  Canaan wasn't even involved in the covering up of Noah, and he is cursed by the family patriarch, favoured of God, to slavery.  What are we supposed to make of it?  There are plenty of other examples, including several different places where married women who were unable to conceive a child order their husbands to have sex with their female slaves in order to impregnate them.  After the slaves have children the slaves are then sometimes banished to prevent their children interfering with the inheritance of the 'legitimate' children.

Exodus has one particular thing going on that just makes me shake my head.  Many of us would be familiar with the song line

Let my People GO!

Which is a reference to the Israelites, Moses in particular, begging to leave the kingdom of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  I was familiar with the general story of the Exodus prior, that being that God sent a series of ever more heinous plagues on the Egyptians to force them to let the Israelites go.  Here is the thing that gets me though:  the Pharaoh was willing to let the Israelites go early on.  God specifically controlled the mind of the Pharaoh to force him to keep the Israelites so that God would have an excuse to impress the Egyptians with his power!  Long before the really nasty plagues started happening the Pharaoh wanted the Israelites out but God continued to force him to deny them, eventually culminating in God destroying most/all of the livestock of the Egyptians, destroying all of their crops, inflicting them with hideous boils and then murdering the firstborn of every household in Egypt.  Of course if we accept this as literal truth it is certain that most of the people in Egypt then died of famine due to losing all of their crops and livestock in a single month.  After the Israelites finally left Egypt God delivered the coup de gras, forcing the Pharaoh to order his army to pursue the Israelites into the Red Sea and closing the waters over them, killing them all.  This takes place over Exodus 7 - Exodus 14.

Edit:  It turns out that Coup De Grace is the correct spelling.  There are also some crazy French accents over some letters in the original.  From some cursory internet searches coup de gras is a fairly prevalent way to misspell it but nobody seems to support it as the correct spelling.

A God who is so interested in utterly annihilating a people that he forces their leader to oppress God's chosen tribe to give God an excuse to commit genocide is not the God of the New Testatment.  He also is not the God of the vast majority of churches.  They teach of a God of love, tolerance, brotherhood and  morality, by and large.  Thing is, when you place the Bible on a pedestal and tell people that your rituals, authority, morals and knowedge all spawn from one infallible source you suggest that the Bible is right and that the things in it should be believed.  Unless you truly believe in all the Bible says however, the stance that the Bible is right and infallible and that God is a good and loving God is ridiculous, illogical and hypocritical.  If your stance is instead that the Bible is not right and fallible, how do you justify faith in the church?

There is an idea that has been knocking around inside my head for awhile, and it goes like this:  If you agree with some of the Bible and not with the rest of it (which describes basically everyone) then you are not obeying the Bible, but rather obeying people.  Whether you are obeying another person or your own innate moral sense varies from time to time and person to person, but the clear thing is that you are not obeying the Bible.  Doing that would entail wearing tassles on your clothing, sacrificing lambs, treating slaves as worth 30 shekels and many other ridiculous things.  We all obey our own moral codes, and justifying evil behaviour by thumping the Bible does not make it any less evil.

A long way to go yet...


  1. Hey, hi!

    I landed here after following a link on Elitist Jerks, read this quite amusing story (even though I'm French, and really not into religion), and I felt I would just let you know : it's spelled "coup de grâce". ;)

    Grâce means mercy (exactly like in a duel, you'd beg for mercy) and the coup de grâce is the hit you'd give some foe while he's begging for his life, to finish him off.

  2. Uncle Arthur would be so pleased to hear that you are reading the bible but I think we ought to leave it at that bald statement, no detail.

  3. recrutement: Quite right. I am leaving the original post as written but putting an edit note in there to clarify my mistake. The internet claims that my misspelling is extremely common but that is no excuse.

    beverly: I think you are right. There are debates that are worth having and then there are debates that are not worth having and I think we would end up in one of the latter type.