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I think I see the point of this nodeshell. The way I interpret it, the author of this shell, nanosecond, has the opinion that atheists are not basing their so-called "beliefs" on theological musings and rationalisations, but rather in strict defiance. In broader terms, he feels that if atheists would only read the book they're railing against, maybe they'd be convinced that it's not all that bad.

Even if it turns out this is not nanosecond's opinion, I am going to rant about it anyway.

Firstly, I am an atheist and I have read the bible. I do not reject the teachings of the bible completely - in fact, the many passages that preaches tolerance and selflessness are exemplary to my existence.

The ones that in the same vein glorifies incest, genocide, and - ironically enough - intolerance to people of different cultures and convictions, however, are not. And it is on the basis of this - that I do not wish to follow the ways of a jealous, insensitive bastard of a celestial deity - that I reject Christianity and its teachings.

There is some truth in nanosecond's postulate. There are atheists that, when it all comes down, fall squarely into the two "semi-atheist" category. Unfortunately, these are not only the majority of supposedly "free thinkers", but are also the ones making the most noise.

The two categories of semi-atheism are:

And then there's people like us. People who have read the bible, understood it, and still don't feel the "glory of god" that was promised unto us. We still don't feel the pulling of divinity, and this Jesus Christ character is meaningless to us. We don't relentlessly advertise this fact, spout garbage or rant endlessly unless provoked (which I feel I was with this nodeshell).

We simply do not wish to follow.

This is something to consider the next time you broadly generalize about a large spectrum of people.

One of the most important rules in warfare is "know your enemy." This is the main reason it is a good idea for atheists to read the bible. I'm not sure what the situation is like on other continents, but at least here in North America, Atheists seem to have a tendency to be drawn into debates when they reveal that they don't believe in God. I believe this is because some Christians feel that the atheist should be obligated to justify his or her beliefs. Another military maxim that may or may not be true is that the best defence is a strong offence. I'm not too sure about that, but it seems to have worked well in the fire bombing of Dresden.

Anyways, a good way of justifying your own beliefs, of lack thereof, is to explain, using evidence from the bible, exactly why you don't believe the same things that they do. If you can point out things such as the radically different behaviour of a God who is supposed to be perfect, and thus by definition, cannot change. Or perhaps the fact that Luke 3: 23-38 and Matthew 1: 1-16 cannot even agree on who Jesus’ grandfather was, let alone any of his other ancestors. Once you have proven that at least part of the book that is supposed to be perfect is false, you can then raise doubts about every other damned thing in there.

They may still continue to argue, perhaps saying that while the facts might be a bit inconsistent, the main message of love remains unchanged. This is when it's time to go in for the kill. The bible is filled with instances where the main characters, or even God himself, act in a manner that most decent human beings would find reprehensible. A few examples include the time God killed off every human being on the planet except for one guy and his family who "found grace in the eyes of the Lord." Or the time god sent two bears to kill 42 children because the children called Elisha "bald head." Or the time that Lot's daughters got him drunk and slept with him, both getting impregnated. The list goes on, it's a large collection of books, and it's filled with examples.

But then again, if you are too lazy to actually read the entire thing, the wonderful internet is filled with tools that catalogue and index funky stories from the bible like these, and a bunch of other contradictions and depraved acts.

Disclaimer: While belittling someone's religious beliefs can be fun, one should take care who they use it on. Done successfully, what you could be doing is completely destroying someone's view of how the world works, leaving them only with the bitter realization that death is inevitable and in the long run, life is void of meaning. Woo Nihilism Baby! People disagree on if this is a good thing. Is truth for the sake of truth better than lies for the sake of happiness, comfort, and hope for life after death? Frankly, people would be happier believing in the big spirit in the sky. You were happier when you thought that Santa brought you presents at Christmas. Is that happiness justification enough to allow people to continue believing in Santa, God, or whatever it is that gives them their kicks? The choice could be up to you, but since people might resent you for doing so, I suggest you try not to do this to family members and other loved ones. Maybe even just stick to people who piss you off.


Ok. If you do ever get into a debate with a Christian who has made a point of studying the bible, and theology in general, I rather doubt I can help you there. You best resource would probably be the Skeptic's Annotated Bible, currently located at http://skepticsannotatedbible.com

The thing about debating someone who has studied it, is that they already know your objections, and already have something prepared to counter it. It may or may not be a good counter, but let's face it, when we're debating about something that needs to be taken on faith, logical arguements get ignored, or some excuse is made up. At the best, with these people, we can point out some of the inconsistancies in the book, force them to admit that some parts of the book may not be true, and *might* be able to get them to admit that other parts of the book, parts more important to their claims, may also not be true. After all, if the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke cannot agree who Joseph's father was, then at least some part of one of those books is incorrect.

And, if one part is incorrect, it's probably safe to assume that some other parts are incorrect. Maybe Jesus didn't walk on the water, maybe he just gave a talk by the beach. Maybe he didn't rise from the dead, maybe he just got taken down from the cross too early, before he had died.

Defeating people in structured debates wasn't the point of this writeup. I don't go out of my way to convince people they shouldn't be Christian. However, people do go out of their way to convince me that I *should* believe in god, and his only son. This is what pisses me off.

Therefore, when someone comes to me spouting off nonsense about how God is all loving and holy and stuff like that, I really do prefer it if I can have a few examples of how the BIG MAN himself has acted in not so nice of a fashion, or how his appointed PR reps on earth have been rather despicable.

When I have someone come to me and tell me that homosexuality is an abomination to God, because Leviticus tells them so, I want to ask them if they still make a habit of sacrificing animals and burning them to please God, like it tells them to in the first chapter of that same book.

I don't give a shit about formal debates. I only care when other people's religious beliefs adversely affect my life, or the lives of others, either through personal interaction, or passing of legislation based upon it. I mean, homosexuality is still illegal in how many states in the US? And why? Eh, I think you get my point.

In my third year of grad school, I shared an apartment with an undergrad I'll call "Kate". Kate was an intelligent, pretty California girl who was double-majoring in English and economics. We didn't have a lot in common, but we got along well as housemates.

One afternoon she came home from class and threw her book bag down on the kitchen table.

"Fucker," she muttered under her breath.

"What's the matter?" I asked. I was curled up on the couch reading Dorothy Nelkin's Selling Science for a media class and trying not to nod off from the dry academic writing.

"My English professor. He gave me a "C" on this stupid book report because I missed this stupid reference to Samson and Delilah. Whoever they are."

I blinked. I was a second-generation agnostic. I had been to church just a couple of times with friends after they'd invited me and I'd thought it impolite to refuse. But I'd read the Bible out of curiosity as a kid, and I'd read or heard the story of Samson and Delilah in dozens of different incarnations as a teenager and adult. How had Kate lived her 20 years on the planet without encountering it?

"We shouldn't have to know stuff from the Bible," she continued. She said "Bible" like she'd just found doggie doo on her shoe. "That's religion. It doesn't belong in an English class. Stupid Bible freak."

I started thinking of the thousands of "stupid Bible freaks" across the ages who'd read the Bible, been inspired (whether entranced by the glory of God or enraged by dogma), and proceeded to create stories, novels, plays, paintings, songs and symphonies based on the tales and ideas therein. Writers and artists from Michelangelo to Shakespeare to Mark Twain to The Grateful Dead have created wonderful works that reference the Bible.

You surely don't have to be a Christian to appreciate them, but you do have to know a little something about the Bible verses and stories they're based on to fully understand them.

Listening to Kate the English Major complain about having to know Bible references was a little like hearing someone in med school complaining about having to know a little Latin and Greek terminology.

I tried to think of something tactful to say to her. "Well, you're going to run into a lot of Biblical references in English literature," I said. "So, you might want to give it a read sometime. I think I might have a copy somewhere--"

Kate cut me off with a look of pure death. "No way. It's bullshit, and I'm not reading it!"

I opened my mouth to argue further, then decided against it. She was an adult, and she'd clearly made up her mind. It was her grade and her education.

"Suit yourself. Sorry to hear the prof's being such a pain," I said, and went back to my book.


Cletus the Foetus says, "You know, a stronger argument would be that an atheist studying literature should be familiar with all mythology, be it Classical or Christian. I wonder if she thought of it in that perspective though."

No, she didn't, and at the time, I either just plain didn't think of taking that rhetorical tack, or I didn't think it would sway her.

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In my experience with the study of comparative religion and Biblical history, the most strong and frequent responses to the topic of Bible (in)fallibility are extreme ones. There's the vehement materialist response which uses the evidence in support of the Bible having been tampered with in order to bash any and all aspects of spirituality and religion and usually claim that any God powerful enough to have all the answers wouldn't lock them up in a book for everyone to mess with. Then there's the fanatical Christian response which denies the very information at hand and accuses its sources and advocates of being blasphamous and/or athiest.

It's a shame because it really keeps people from bringing up the topic: your chances of being yelled at by one side or the other are astronomically high. But the really sad part is that it's not necessary for you to take one of those sides in order to explore this issue. Let me tell you, you can accept the information in question and remain a believer with integrity, if you so chose.

Let's figure out just what we're talking about when we refer to this "information" or "evidence." The Old Testament was an oral tradition originally. There is absolutely no knowing what changes took place before it was written down. When it was finally put to paper, it was translated from Hebrew to Aramaic to Greek (following Alexander the Great) and it was not until the second century CE that the contents of the Old Testament became at all fixed.

The original language of the New Testament in written form was Greek, although Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic and NO original copies still exist. The oldest currently intact copies date from the second century CE. One of the most important notes here is that before the Bible was "canonized," there were many, many other gospels with equally large and powerful congregations following them. Among these gospels were the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Hebrews, the Gospel of Egyptians, the Gospel of Ebionites, and many more. The only deciding factor as to what books would go in and what books would stay out was the Council of Nicea which convened in 325 CE. This council was put together and convened by Emperor Constantine. This council was made up of men. Not phrophets, not saints, not even clergy although there is no vouching even for the integrity of priests, as we know. Imperfect men of flesh and blood decided what books would make up what we call the Bible. They decided upon the understanding of Jesus' Godliness to be the Trinity (an issue that church goers were all very divided on) despite the fact that Constantine's Christian credentials were weak to say the least.

Emperor Augustine then complained of the "infinite variety" of Latin translatoins of the Bible that had begun to float around. And so, later, pope Jerome decided upon a Latin translation, drawing on the many available varieties and, only with the approval of the Emperor, the Latin bible was standardized in 405 CE.

The first English Bible was completed in the late 1300s by John Wycliff, an instructor in religion and philosophy. He was promptly banished and his translation considered to be blasphemy as it had not been contracted by the monarchy or church. John Hus found himself in a similar situation and was burned at the stake. Many translations followed. around 1524, William Tyndale, an Oxford and Cambridge educated linguist, who was influenced by Erasmus and Martin Luther, published a New Testament translation based on medieval Greek copies. Then Mike Coverdale's Bible appeared based on his translation of German and Greek translations, as well as drawing from Tyndale's work. John Rogers and Richard Taverner also published their particular translations drawing from and adding to each other and to Tyndale's work. This was all eventually edited by Coverdale into the Great Bible, which the King approved. The Roman Catholic church created its first English Bible, the Douay version, based directly on the Latin Vulgate. However, King James I wanted a fresh start, and pulled together Oxford and Cambridge scholars, as well as Puritan and Episcopal priests. This large group used the Catholic Douay, Luther's German translation, the available Hebrew and Greek copies, and to a very large extent Tyndale's work, and created the King James Version.

Of course, language is a fluid thing. Just how fluid can be seen in just a few examples: In 1611 "allege" meant "prove," "prevent" meant "precede," and "reprove" meant "decide." This is only at the surface of our problem as it is impossible to make an accurate translation of something the oldest available version of which is a copy of a copy of a copy. Of the many equally old copies we do have, they all vary. The decisions reguarding which versions would be "standardized" and which would not were left to men in political power and church driven bureaucratic power. Many a king and many an Emperor meant for the translation he approved of to be profitable and advantagious.

Certainly in modern times we do our best to look at what the oldest ones say, what most of them say, which ones are more likely? However, this approach still leaves the truth in the hands of human judgment. Humans are capable of error. Our linguistic issues are compounded by the fact that no two languages are identical, there can be no absolute correspondence between languages. Hence, there can be no fully exact translations. There is a Greek word in question that could mean a thought, a word, a discourse, a narrative and many other things. A translator must chose what the feels is the best eqivilent.

No one who spoke these ancient languages is around to explain any discrepancies. And, of course, languages continually change over time. New words are always being added and others take on different or added meanings. For example, only recently have we begun using the word 'Internet' as part of the everyday speech. And the word 'cool' does not always refer to temperature. Therefore, it is obvious that words do not have only one meaning, and many are not used in the same way that they were used in the past.

And of course, there is a problem of cultural understanding. Our knowledge of the ancient cultures from which the Bible emerged is imperfect at best. We cannot understand all references in the Bible without understanding their significance to their original target audience.

It probably looks like I've just tried my hardest to strip Christianity its entire following but I swear to you, that's not my goal at all. As I said in the title of this node, I don't think that you have to give up a faith in Christianity in order to accept the facts above. If you're Christian and you want to stay that way, you just have to do a little work.

Because it doesn't seem to me like it should be a surprise that the Bible's been through such a gauntlet. You can believe that every word of the Bible originally came from God but that doesn't necessarily have to entail believing that God was there at every mouth and every pen that was responsible for the Bible's transmission. A guiding principle of Christianity is man's fallibility and so, of course, even the holiest of books, in the hands of man, will be full of errors as a result of that fallibility.

I've certainly heard many of the angry Christians of the extremist side I mentioned at the begining of this write up claim that the Bible is infallible just because it says it is. This is quite circular. Any book or indeed, any bathroom wall could claim to be the infallible word of God and thus, apparently, never be argued with. The answer, I think is in believing that God did in fact speak to prophets, God did intervene in the world in mysterious and miraculous ways.

The only catch is also believeing that he then left his creation to deal with this stuff. We're forced to have a little integrity about our beliefs. You have to decide what you think is true, you have to feel for God in your own life, you don't get to pick up a book, read it and claim to have all the answers.

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