The Instruction Manual?

(This is my reaction to session 5 of the Alpha Course. The first reaction and explanation is here, and last week’s is here.)

Well, I hate to say it, but I think I may have to give this session short shrift; it’s been a week, (such a week), and all I have is my scant notes on the session. (No wonder Stephen Butterfield uses a tape recorder.) And the worst part is that this session is the one I finally spoke up and got involved in conversation!

Ironically, I can impart less about that small group time than any other as I was so busy being involved, I didn’t write any notes. But I’ll try to see what I can recollect. In any case, I’m sure you’re not too disappointed, dear reader, considering the novellas I’ve been writing for my last four session reactions!

So, this session was entitled, Why and How Should I Read the Bible. Nicky Gumbel makes a summary argument for why to read it with the points: It’s the most popular book, the most powerful book, and the most precious book.

First of all, the fallacy of the appeal to popularity can be dismissed by simply pointing out how popular Harry Potter, the Twilight series, Stephen King, and Greek myths are 3,000 years after their original believers, but the popularity of these things makes no difference upon the reality of the material. Popularity does not make a thing truthfully valid. Hey, the Koran is as popular with almost as many people, does that increase its validity and necessity?

Don’t forget, the popularity of the Bible was given a leg up by the fact that all of Western Europe was forced between 500 and 1600 AD to be accepted as almighty truth by the point of a spear and the flames of the stake. Such popularity campaigns kind of help ingrain the book as a cultural icon.

So Nicky calls the Bible “God’s revelation of himself.” (I see the problem I’m going to have by doing a gloss over on this subject — conciseness means increased snarkiness. Well, I’ll try to be kind…) You have all the wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge in the world, I bet you, a puny human, could come up with five ways better to reveal yourself than to do it in the form of a book, of disparate writings by humans, written and collected during a time in human history rife with superstition and mythology. A book of writings is likely the very worst possible choice one could make to transmit the ultimate rules, plan, and guidance for humanity and the depiction of salvation from eternal torment. Not only is it subject to lack of historical credibility and thus is usually rejected by most everyone who reads the Bible who was not raised to believe it, but its ambiguity and internal inconsistency and just plain un-wise content has itself been a terrible source of pain and death and war and strife and conflict among believers themselves.

One of the points in the book we have regarding what Nicky would discuss, lists “historical difficulties.” I was intrigued, but I think Wife was even more so. When the video said “Nicky discusses historical difficulties… which have now now been resolved,” and then went back to Nicky already in progress, she scoffed out-loud. I don’t blame her; that’s a pretty big thing to just skip over.

I can only assume he supposedly addresses issues like how there’s no record anywhere outside of the Bible of the Egyptians having Hebrew slaves, in fact, they were trading partners with the Hebrew tribes, not slavers. And the Egyptians were neurotic record-keepers. No record of any Harod ordering the murder of firstborns, and that’s a pretty big thing for historians who recorded the acts of Harod to have just missed. There’s inconsistencies regarding what king was ruling where, when; and contradictions of such facts even within the Bible. There’s stories of wars in the Bible that never took place. This is tip of the iceberg — the Bible is filled with “facts” that are either completely missed by the countless non-religious scholars, and “facts” that don’t jive with overwhelming historical contradicting evidence. I’m curious how Nicky dismisses all of it.

He claims that the Bible is therefor an authority for teaching, rebuking (nice), correcting, and training in righteousness. And why can he say it’s an authority? Because it itself claims itself to be an authority. How convenient.

One of the claims he makes that really perked my ears was the claim that the Bible is an excellent guide for how to care for children. Oreally?

1. God tells Abraham to kill his son, and Abe’s going to do it. (Doesn’t matter if God pulls a “psyche!” right at the last minute.)

2. Lot offers his daughters up to a mob to rape and beat, and even uses their virginity as a selling point.

3. God kills all the firstborn of Egypt, which presumably includes children and infants, all of whom had nothing to do with the Pharaoh’s “hard heart.” …which God himself hardened.

4. God provides rules for selling your daughter into slavery.

5. Rules for killing your unruly son.

6. The act of childbirth is inherently sinful and leaves the mother unclean until burnt offering are made.

7. God commands Moses to kill everyone in a town, except the virgin girls (many of whom must presumably be children), who he will then take for wives (read: sex slaves).

8. If a man rapes an unbetrothed girl (and in those times, an unbetrothed girl still living with her father is likely very young), he may then pay the father a fine and take the girl for his wife.

9. If you make God angry, he will burn you and your children to death.

10. Ah, a goodie from this book “100% inspired by God”: Psalm 137:8-9:

“O daughter of Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall he be who requites you with what you have done to us!

Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”

11. A great prophet full of God’s devotion, asks God to smite a group of children making fun of his bald head, so God obliges by slaughtering the children via two bears, leaving the town in mourning, but not so much as a howdy-do about it.

Yeesh! That’s not even scratching the surface of the OT! It’s filled with laws, rules, and stories of atrocities and horrors committed against children. But the NT doesn’t get off that easy:

12. Jesus tells his disciples to leave their families and consider them dead. Not just that, but according to Luke, actively hate your family: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

13. Jesus tells a young man who just lost his father to “Let the dead bury their own.”

14. Prophesies that “Brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death” by his arrival.

15.

Mat 10:35
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

Mat 10:36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.
Mat 10:37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;”

16.

Mar 7:9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!
Mar 7:10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’;

These are the words of the kind and loving Jesus. I’m sorry, but this Jesus character is no less a jerk than the OT Yahweh. But the greatest preacher of Jesus’ continues the family values hatefest:

17. Paul’s view on marriage is pretty clear: Don’t. Unless you just absolutely must have dirty, sinful sex, then you might as well marry.

18. Paul honors Abraham and Lot as good men of God, because they were willing to kill and torture their children in the service of God.

This is the inspired word of God? Beautiful and revealing? And this isn’t even a sliver of the bloodthirsty, vindictive, hateful, psychopathic content of this supposed guidebook for life.

Robert M. Price, biblical scholar, fellow of the Jesus Seminar, and unbeliever, comes to the defense of the Bible in a speech that you can hear of the Point of Inquiry podcast. I admit, it’s a good speech and it’s one of the reasons why I love Bob Price. In essence, we shouldn’t hate on the Bible any more than we would on The Iliad or any other ancient work of literature. They’re all filled with both beauty and horror. And indeed, that’s true. The Bible, like any ancient work of humans, does have some shining glimpses of impressive human artistry and innovation and pathos. But the problem is, the Iliad is not being held up by people as a guidebook for life, as the inspired word of God, as perfect and divine, and as a reference to answering life’s questions. Millions of people do use the Bible for such lofty goals. On its own, Main Kampf is an interesting look into the mind of a megalomaniac paranoid sociopath. It’s just a book. But when neo-Nazi’s hold it up as a guidebook for how to treat other races and how to behave, one is justified to vilify the book itself.

Would people still be racist a-holes without Hitler’s autobiography? Yeah, sure. But would people also perform child genital mutilation (circumcision), be as fervent in homophobia, be as bigoted and hateful toward women, as warlike against other cultures, as arrogant in the absolute certainty of what they believe an uberbeing wants them to do in regards to others’ rights and liberties, if they didn’t have this book of despicable inhumanity as their Word of God to guide them? I don’t know….

Back to the course….

Nicky makes this absurd comment that “God didn’t say ‘don’t murder, steal, commit adultery,’ because he wants to take away our fun — but because he loves us.” First of all, which god? Because oddly, pretty much every human culture regardless of what god they believed in, has/had rules regarding doing harm to other people. It has nothing to do with God saying don’t, it has everything to do with a codification of what humans already know (aside from socio- and psychopaths) due to our evolved sense of empathy — that pain and harm sucks, and it feels terrible to do pain and harm upon another person we can identify with. Our sense of empathy tells us this, not some revelation from a god. Plus, we evolved, like pretty much every primate, to thrive in a community. As a species and as individuals we do a lot better in groups than we do individually. And to allow this to happen, we have to not harm each other just as we don’t want others to harm us. This is evident in primates, it’s evident in every human culture that’s never come in contact with Judaism or Christianity.

A Greek philosopher once wrote: “Is what is morally right, right because God approves of it or commands it, or rather, does God command it because it is right?” Think about that.

If it’s the former, than there is no objective morality and God is just making it up as he goes. By what should we judge God’s morality? If God says slavery is good, and sending your daughters out to be raped is just fine, is it so simply because he’s the tyrant to be obeyed lest he squish us? That’s not morality, that’s dictatorial decree.

If it’s the later, then why is God necessary then? If he’s just the middle-man for morality, the fact that humanity near-universally has come to similar beliefs in regards to what’s generally moral, indicates God is superfluous, and if anything, we are not only right but justified by necessity to question the (im)morality of the Bible.

Small Group

I wish I could talk more about small group, but I don’t remember much. I don’t recall what prompted me to start talking, but I recall asking a pointed question that resulted in some discussion. But the most important thing I recall, is I was met with general positivity and not like I was offending or insulting anyone. *whew!*

I tried to be very conscientious of how I was coming across, asking about… I recall a bit! Asking about why wait until anywhere between 20,000 and 4,000 years to send himself/Jesus as a solution for salvation is he’s all-knowing. Why not just start with Jesus/salvation if he knew he was going to have to anyway. Acts like the flood simply point up how he doesn’t seem to be all knowing if he admits to making mistakes and doing (lame) “solutions” that don’t stick. Wouldn’t it be better for him and humanity if he allowed reasonable suffering and forgiveness at will, instead of through the torture of Jesus centuries later?

Much of the conversation was around similar topics, and all I recall getting for answers were opinions like, “because,” “free will” (?!), “I don’t know.” Which, of any answer I’m most OK with, it’s “I don’t know.” It’s the most honest answer there is. (Although, most religious people who are cornered into saying “I don’t know” often don’t act like it. Most of the time they’re claiming this about God’s intent and that about God’s will and the other about what God wants, as if they know the mind of God. But, well, in a way they do, don’t they?)

God’s will always seems suspiciously like the will of the individual who claims to know God’s will.

Update: now that I wrote my reaction, I read Stephen Butterfield’s reaction to Week 5. As usual, his response is quite cogent, succinct, and well-written. (Hmm, it also appears the Gumbel film he’s watching is a little different that ours.)
Here’s a good bit from Stephen’s blog:

Moving into top gear now, Gumbel adds that the Bible is “a love letter from God”.

A love letter?

I must admit I haven’t had many love letters in my life, but the ones that I have received have been conspicuously lacking in grizzly tales of mass human slaughter, rape, and torture. If I were to receive a “love letter” from a lady whose career highlight to date was the extermination of the entire worlds population (with the exception of 8 individuals), and that such a lady also had an unhealthy fascination with torturing homosexuals and the non-religious, I think it’s safe to say that her letter would hardly ‘warm the cockles’ of my heart. And I doubt that I’d be inviting her over to my parents’ home for Sunday luncheon anytime soon. I’ll go out on a limb here and admit that those kinds of “love letters” are, to me, a tad unattractive. Maybe that’s where Gumbel and I differ.