Bible Truths

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If ever there was evidence that Christianity is an entirely human affair it’s the way believers constantly disagree with each another. If the bible really was, in some way, ‘the Word of God’ (they don’t all agree even with what this might mean) then surely it would offer greater clarity on what being a Christian entails. Given what’s at stake – heaven or hell, a life of fullness or one spent mired in sin, helping the poor and hungry or self-indulgence – you’d think God would be just a little more precise about what his expectations are.

Instead, what do we get? A rag bar collection of myths, pseudo-history, folklore, poetry, fantasy, yet more pseudo-history, letters, forgeries and invective. Muddled and inconsistent about what the Supreme Being requires of his creation, it ranges from a forever agreement that says following a set of arbitrary laws is what he wants, along with a spot of male genital-mutilation (Genesis 17.1-16), to a new scheme that involves magical incantation (Romans 10.19), to yet another that says helping those in need is what he requires (Matthew 25.31-40).

I’ve been involved at different times in my life with writing policy documents for a range of organisations. Despite creating what I’d estimate to be around 50 of these documents, it never occurred to me to cobble together myth, stories, letters and fake news in even one of them. They needed to be precise, detailing how the organisation worked, what its take was on various areas of operation and, most importantly spelling out for people as clearly as possible what was expected of them. This precision was important; the documents had to be water-tight and open to as little interpretation as possible. They couldn’t allow for the possibility of one part of the organisation acting in one way in a given area while another acted completely differently in that same area.

If I, a fallible human, could manage this more often than not, why couldn’t God? Why could he not, for example,

Declare definitively how old the Earth is so as to leave no room for dispute?

Why could he not set out his requirements for pleasing him as one single, unequivocal list? (he’s not averse to bullet points – see his ten commandments, of which he manages to present two largely incompatible versions, both of them fairly useless.)

Why could he not ‘inspire’ scribes contemporaneous with the figures in the Old Testament to record what happened as they happened and not centuries later?

Why could he not ‘inspire’ eye-witnesses of Jesus ‘ministry’ to write about it at the time, instead of waiting decades before giving the job to strangers who’d never met him?

Why could he not say decisively what happens to people when they die?

Why could he not present one definitive way of how to get in his good books instead of offering a range of confused alternatives, about which he is prone to change his mind?

And so on and so forth…

If the managing director of an organisation produced policy documents as shoddy and shambolic as God’s they wouldn’t last five minutes. Nor would the organisation.

But of course God didn’t write, inspire or otherwise cause the bible to be written. It’s human through and through, culturally-bound (to a range of ancient cultures) and not intended by its myriad authors to be a single volume. This fact doesn’t trouble most Christians; they read it selectively, if they read it at all, and believe what they are told about it. Others, who are aware of the bible’s shortcomings, have a variety of ways of negotiating around them. All of these entail great dollops of cognitive dissonance. We’ll look at some of them next time.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 9: The supernatural exists

Madeup

If you follow any Christian blogs, you’ll know that what many of them enjoy most is slagging off other brands of Christianity. They take the odd swipe at the heathen and at gay people, of course, but most of their bile is reserved for each other. They dispute the smallest matters of doctrine and principle that they are sure other groups of believers haven’t got quite as right as they have. To the outsider, it’s like arguing about whether the tooth fairy’s dress is pink or green while overlooking the fact that there is no tooth fairy.

It’s curious too because there are more similarities than differences between the varieties of Christianity. They have much more in common with each other than with the rest of us.

Most significantly, they all believe in supernatural beings. This, for me, is the greatest difference between myself and those who profess a faith. I see no evidence for supernatural creatures, places or events. The supernatural has no independent existence outside the human imagination. It is the human mind that, over the millennia, has constructed innumerable gods and their attendant mythologies, just as it has created more recently the inhabitants of Narnia, Middle-Earth and Hogwarts.

Being a Christian requires you believe in not one, but a myriad of supernatural beings, events and locations:-

While believers are adamant that there’s one God, they insist at the same time he is made up of three individuals: a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit.

They believe in angels who wait upon God the Father in Heaven – a supernatural place they mistakenly believe they’ll be going to when they die – and who, some maintain, aid them here on Earth. How many angels are there? We are told in the Bible there’s a ‘host’ of them, which sounds like quite a lot.

There are also seraphim (Isaiah 6.2) and cherubim (Hebrew 9.5 etc), third-rate special-effects creatures who act as God’s heavies.

In addition to them, there are characters from the early days of Judaism – Moses and Elijah – who have survived death and hang about somewhere or other. They make a surprise return visit to Earth in Matthew 17.3. For some, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is another of this elite group of Eternals.

And what about all of the ordinary believers Christians say have already gone to Heaven? That’s millions of dead people who enjoy supernatural existence. Roman Catholics even believe you can chat with these heavenly ‘saints’ and they’ll argue your case for you with the Big Boss.

There’s the cast of characters from the dark-side too: God’s nemesis the Devil (aka Satan, aka Lucifer – though confusingly this last title is also used of Christ in Revelation 22.16) and his armies of demons and evil spirits who have nothing better to do than take over gullible human minds. This lot live in another supernatural place, Hell, though no-one seems to know where this is either (in Luke 10.15, Jesus implies it’s inside the earth, but it isn’t).

And last but not least are the supernatural events that supposedly took place in the real world: talking animals (Genesis 3.1; Numbers 22.28), sticks that turn into snakes (Exodus 4.3), corpses rising from graves (Matthew 27.52) and a man who magically beams up to Heaven (Luke 24.51), to name but a few.

So, Christians, argue all you like about what makes your version of Christianity better than others, but don’t forget all varieties of the faith depend on believing that these supernatural characters and events are real. In fact, they’re no more real than the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses who inhabited Olympus, and at least they were interesting.