Saturday, May 19, 2012

Why the Bible Undermines All of Christianity

The Bible is one of the most outlandish pieces of literature ever written. The only books still read today that provide any competition in terms of sheer ridiculosity are other religious books (the Torah, the Koran, etc.). The Koran will get its own post as it is capable of inspiring just as much fear as the thought of George W. Bush being the most powerful person in the world for eight years in a row. Since I was raised as a Christian and the majority of this country is Christian, I’m going to start with the Bible. Oh, what fun we shall have!

I went to Sunday School almost every week between the ages of 3-18. In 6th grade, I became a member of the youth group at church. When I got to high school, I also joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In college, I was a member of Campus Crusade and was in a small Bible study group. I also went to church in college and was even a Sunday School teacher for a year. When I was 20-21, I actually read the Bible in its entirety. Suffice to say, I spent way too much time with the Bible when I was younger.

And never seemed all that crazy to me when I was still a Christian. Looking back, this seems unbelievable to me. Reading some of the stuff in the Bible when not immersed in the indoctrination of Christianity is an eye-opening experience. When I was younger, I didn’t fully appreciate how preposterous this book is, because at the time I was willing to accept anything in the Bible under the premise that it was inspired by God and I needed to believe in it in order to go to Heaven. Faith will do some unbelievable stuff, as it turns out. It will allow you to read stuff that depicts God as a petty, vengeful, cruel, jealous, megalomaniacal asshole and pass it off by saying “Well, He is God. I guess He can act however He wants.”  Faith will allow you to read the Ten Commandments and think “Yep, that’s a pretty good list.”  Faith will allow you to think “Even though the fact that some people are homosexuals doesn’t affect me at all, God hates ‘em so we better not let ‘em get married.”

How is it that I allowed myself to get brainwashed into thinking the Bible was worthwhile?  Well, when you’re a kid, they mostly touch on fun stuff: Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Adam and Eve, the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah and the whale, and the life of Jesus. These stories are all pretty ridiculous, of course, but compared to The Berenstain Bears and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers, Noah’s Ark seems kinda dull. His animals didn’t even talk!  Then again, I don’t think there were any Berenstain Bears stories about the near-extermination of every species on the planet, so Noah has that going for him.

As I got older, the focus seemed to shift mostly toward the New Testament, and with good reason--if you spend too much time reading the Old Testament, your chances of sticking with religion will be about as good as your chances of becoming a Power Ranger. “Bible study” groups like to cherry pick passages that they can derive a useful message out of (as opposed to actually “studying the Bible,” which should lead to either dismissing it entirely or becoming a fundamentalist kook and stoning people for working on the Sabbath. Sadly, many people who claim to live their lives by it don’t really know what’s in it.)  If you only focus on the stories listed above, the gospels, and Paul’s letters, Christianity might not seem insane. There’s still lots of wacky stuff, of course, but a rational person could stomach it if they accepted God’s ability to perform miracles. This is why Thomas Jefferson cut out select passages to create his own version of the Bible: he was a pretty rational guy for his time, and he realized that most of the Bible is batshit crazy.

For example: Leviticus. The entire book. If you’re having trouble controlling your hunger, I heartily recommend reading Leviticus. It’ll make your appetite disappear in a jiffy. It will tell you, in great detail, how to properly atone for your sins through the use of turtledoves: “The priest will take the bird to the altar, twist off its head, and burn the head on the altar. He must then let its blood drain out against the sides of the altar. The priest must remove the crop and the feathers and throw them to the east side of the altar among the ashes. Then, grasping the bird by its wings, the priest will tear the bird apart, though not completely. Then he will burn it on top of the wood fire on the altar. It is a whole burnt offering made by fire, very pleasing to the Lord.” (Leviticus 1:14-17)  Very pleasing, indeed!  I won’t bore you with the details of all the different types of offerings one can make, but the general idea is that the animal you sacrifice needs to be free from defects, you need to be particular about where you smear the blood, and the smell of burning goat flesh is to the Lord what the smell of apple pie is to you or me (“very pleasing”).

You may be wondering what sins require an offering. Well, for starters, it is made very clear that unintentional sins are just as bad as intentional sins. So even if you only accidentally touched a woman while she’s on her period, you are still guilty and need to find yourself a nice goat to go slaughter at the altar. Here’s a list of things that the Lord disapproves of:
  • Eating fat (7:24)
  • Putting coal in an incense burner (10:1)
  • Mourning by letting your hair down (10:6)
  • Eating bacon (or ham or pork) (11:7)
  • Eating shrimp (11:10)
  • Giving birth, particularly to girls (12:2, 5)
  • Ejaculating (15:16)
  • Menstruating (15:19)
  • Having sex with any of your father’s wives (18:8). Yes, this means polygamy is cool, just as long as your wives aren’t related to each other (18:18)
  • Being a homosexual (18:22)
  • Eating a three day old offering (19:8)
  • Harvesting the edges of fields (19:9)
  • Gossiping (19:16)
  • Wearing clothes from two different kinds of fabric (19:19)
  • Eating fruit from a field during the first four years you plant it (19:23)
  • Trimming your sideburns or beard (19:27)
  • Getting tattoos (19:28)
  • Working on Saturdays (19:30)

If you don’t atone for these sins, you will either be executed (if it was a capital offense) or God will: give you terrors, wasting diseases, and burning fevers; prevent your crops from growing; send animals to kill your children; send armies to get you; destroy your food; make you eat the flesh of your children; and cause you to flee to the land of your enemies where you will live in constant fear (chapter 26).

So. That’s Leviticus. People think being gay is a sin because God said so in the same book He said eating bacon, masturbating, beard trimming, and wearing cotton/polyester blend shirts are sins (Paul also mentions homosexuality as a sin, but this is where the idea that being gay is “bad” originates). As Jesus would say: let he who is without sin cast the first stone, bitches.

Many people are aware of the Koran’s insistence that infidels need to die. However, while people like to think of Christianity as a kind and loving religion, the Bible also demands killing those that do not adhere to God’s rules. For example, check out chapter 13 of Deuteronomy. Seriously, go read that. Did you notice that it just told you to kill me?  Straight up. I am at this very moment trying to lead you astray from the Lord your God, and God was quite explicit in saying that you should stone me to death for this. Not only that, you should go ahead and kill all of the other heathens in my town that I’ve lead astray. Then you should kill our livestock while you’re at it. Then you should burn our town to the ground, and never rebuild it. This is what Deuteronomy says in chapter 13. It’s very straightforward, and while some of the Bible may be open to “interpretation,” I have a hard time seeing how this passage could be construed any differently.

Before you dismiss this by saying that Deuteronomy and Leviticus are really old books and maybe something got lost in translation or maybe that only applied when God was a vengeful asshole, keep in mind that these are the same books of the Bible that include the Ten Commandments (chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, chapter 19 of Leviticus) that people seem to think are significant even though an incredibly tiny percentage of people actually follow them. The Ten Commandments are so incredibly messed up that I’ve devoted an entire post to them (which you can read here), so I won’t dwell on them here. Suffice to say that within the same book of the Bible where we supposedly derive our morality there’s a chapter telling you to kill heathens...even though one of the commandments is “Do not murder.”  Yeah, good luck sorting out that contradiction.

(To be clear, I’m not asking that you execute me. I would strongly prefer that you didn’t, actually. Just take comfort in the knowledge that God will judge me and send me to Hell!)

Just for fun, here are a few other things Deuteronomy will tell you:
  • Don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk (14:21)
  • You should kill those that worship the moon (17:3)
  • You should not sacrifice your children as burnt offerings (18:10)
  • You can get out of fighting a war if you planted a vineyard but haven’t eaten any of its fruit yet (20:6)
  • If you can’t figure out who committed a murder, just kill a cow (21:4)
  • You need to give a larger inheritance to your firstborn son, even if you like the mother of your other son better (21:16)
  • You can stone your son to death if you think he’s a worthless drunkard (21:21)
  • God hates cross-dressers (22:5)
  • You can’t join the assembly of worship if anyone between you and your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather is a bastard (23:2)  (Maybe this explains why the rabbis were so pissed when Jesus showed up at their temples...)
  • God doesn’t want to see your shit, so cover it up when you’re done (23:14)
  • You must marry your brother’s wife if he dies. If you refuse, she must pull your sandal off and spit in your face (25:9)
  • Finally, what might be my favorite Bible verse ever: “If two Israelite men are fighting and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, her hand must be cut off without pity.” (25:11-12)  How awesome is that?!  This is the ancestor of warning labels that say things like “Do not stick hand in blender while operating.”  You know some broad interfered in a fight by yanking on some balls and Moses was like “that is NOT cool. I am totally forbidding that. Ugh. Women.”

I’m not going to waste too much more time going over how ridiculous the Bible is, but here’s a brief list of highlights off the top of my head: a woman being created from the rib of a man, the entire human race spawning from two people, a family not only building a boat large enough to carry two of every animal on Earth but also successfully gathering them all up (led by a guy who lived for 950 years), a woman giving birth even though she was a virgin, people being resurrected from the dead (including Jesus himself...after three days), people speaking in tongues, some dude living inside a large fish for three days, the Red Sea being parted so that people could walk through it on the floor, spontaneously combusting bushes, walls collapsing because some people shouted at them, and for good measure a book that approximates an early attempt at a trashy romance novel (written by a guy who had 700 wives AND 300 concubines, so you know he clearly valued relationships for more than just sex).

Oh, and I should give a shout out to the book of Revelation, which was written by a guy who may have been high on psychedelic drugs at the time. There is obviously no way to prove whether or not the author of a book written 1900 years ago was on mushrooms at the time or not, but it would certainly explain a lot. The mushroom known as “fly agaric” was all over the Northern Hemisphere, and some guy wrote an entire book exploring the theory that mushrooms may have been responsible for all kinds of “visions” throughout history. Again, there’s no way to prove that Moses or John or anyone else ever took any of these shrooms, but, again, it would certainly explain a lot.

I literally opened my Bible up to a random page in Revelation and picked a random paragraph: “The locusts looked like horses armed for battle. They had gold crowns on their heads, and they had human faces. Their hair was long like the hair of a woman, and their teeth were like the teeth of a lion. They wore armor made of iron, and their wings roared like an army of chariots rushing into battle. They had tails that stung like scorpions, with power to torture people. This power was given to them for five months. Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon--the Destroyer.” (9:7-11)  The rest of the book is just as crazy. It should be noted that this is the same book that makes people think that a “rapture” or “day of judgment” is going to occur sometime. Because, you know, clearly the man who wrote this book was sane.

So. That stuff all exists in the Bible. I did not make any of it up. It is clearly ridiculous...but for some reason people still love to quote it. People quote the shit out of the Bible!  Everyone wants to use the Bible to make a point, and they are not ridiculed for doing so. That people still put stock in the Bible (or any other holy text) is nothing short of ridiculous. To borrow a quote from Sam Harris:
 “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”
It is simply stupefying to me that people still have any shred of reverence whatsoever for a book written between 1600 and 3500 years ago. Even though Genesis covers events that supposedly took place as early as 6000 BC, it wasn’t written until sometime in the 1400’s BC. The gospels were all written 60 years or later after Jesus died, and none of the authors were disciples. It is full of contradictions (see this list for a bunch of examples, although I will freely admit that it would be a stretch to classify some of them as “contradictions”). There are a multitude of different translations of it. There are a multitude of different “interpretations” of it. Some people take it literally and some do not, and those that don’t cannot agree on what exactly is meant by those passages that cannot be taken literally.

At the time it was written, people thought we lived in the center of a relatively small universe, had no idea the Americas existed, didn’t know what germs were, found slavery to be a natural and acceptable practice, had multiple concubines, enjoyed stoning others, thought birthrights were the best way to determine leaders, and regularly made blood sacrifices. But we’re supposed to take this book seriously?  Really?  Really?!

There is simply no suitable rationalization for taking the Bible seriously. Much like the credibility of a witness in court is demolished when they are caught in a lie, the credibility of the Bible has been destroyed by time. Once you know a witness is willing to lie, you can’t trust anything he says. Once you realize that many parts of the Bible are complete bullshit (see above. Or, you know, just look around and realize that you’re living in a society that eats bacon), you can’t trust any of it. You can’t just throw out the parts of the Bible you don’t like and pretend that they don’t exist. The God of Abraham and the God of Jesus were the same guy, and Jesus studied the scriptures of the Old Testament like a good boy. In fact, Jesus was mad about supposed religious leaders that did not keep to the laws: “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:2-3) Furthermore, even though it’s largely disjointed and irrational, we’re told that it was all inspired by God: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  Like it or not, the Bible is completely outdated and completely unsuitable for dictating how people live their lives.

If we take the logic a few steps further, we see a rather large problem. Christianity is built on the Bible. Without the Bible, there would be no Christianity. It is considered to be the “Word of God.”  However, it’s pretty clear that we cannot take this text seriously, at least not in a literal sense. In fact, most Christians will admit that those who do take the Bible literally are crazy and are offended when non-believers try to place “moderate” Christians in the same group. Admitting that we cannot take it literally and outright ignoring certain passages that do not fit with the modern world and our current moral and ethical code is an admission that the Bible is not perfect (and far from it). Yet, this is what the entire religion of Christianity is based on: a poorly written book full of contradictions and directives that we can all agree are irrational today.

The Bible has not stood up to the test of time, and this is not debatable. Why is it, then, that we’re still debating whether or not Christianity is a viable worldview when it’s entirely based on garbage?

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