Firstly, hello everyone on this site! I was pointed in this direction from someone I respect on another completely unrelated forum. I'll introduce myself a little;
I'm 27, I have gone from being raised in primary school as a CofE xtian and immediately being suspicious of the teachings from a young age (this first time I can remember asking myself "what's the fuss??" was when I was 7 or 8 years old. By the time I was in secondary school I already considered myself at least skeptical of religion although I wasn't familiar with the term "atheist" at the time. I have always had a very laid-back attitude and prefer to try and step back from situations not only to try to figure out others' motives and possible solutions, but my own motives and problems. This never sat well with any theistic teachings I had bee taught because it meant that I was questioning everything, and we all know how much theists like to be put on the spot about things...
I've considered myself an atheist at least since I was 17 although I have been a very passive atheist until religion, specifically mormonism, crept into my life recently. I started seeing a girl who was a mormon and I though I had it made because, despite her beliefs she seemed a really nice and genuine person. I knew she had family issues and knew from the start that she was suffering from bulimia. However, as the relationship progressed I discovered that she was also an alcoholic among other lesser things. When I finally got frustrated with her hiding vodka bottles and such around the house I confronted her and suggested that we set up a meeting with an AA group (she had previously shown an interest in doing this but never got round to doing anything about it). She then announced that she credited everything good which had ever happened to her on "god" and blamed everything bad that ever happened to her on herself, so therefore refuse to do anything about her problems until there was "divine intervention". We broke up very shortly after.
That experience made me realize just how dangerous religion can be on a personal level to someone who is damaged and vulnerable. It certainly pushed me to be more anti-theist than a-theist.
In my usual manner, I have decided to read the various "holy texts" to see just what is the other side of the argument. I never like debating unless I have a good grasp of both sides of the argument.
So far I have read the first chapter of the book of mormon and could read no more. I seriously cannot understand how people can even want to believe what it contains, let alone think that it is even slightly plausible, let alone BELIEVE it!?!
I have also read most of the analects of Confucius, which I though contained some very interesting points on social etiquette and the human condition. I appreciated it's lack of deity for the most part.
My latest read, however, is the bible, specifically the King James bible. I intend to read it from cover to cover and so far am as far as "Joshua".
My take on it so far;
Firstly, for the sake of hypotheticals, I will talk as if the exodus as an event actually happened. Whether or not it did has no bearing on the details in the book and the impression it made on me.
Firstly, genesis is immediately full of holes and contradictions. I much prefer the creation story in the Silmarillion - is it far more coherent and logical (plot-wise), but when I point this out to my xtian friends they scoff and tell me that the Silmarillion is just a work of fiction. Yeah.
Enough said about genesis - I can't add anything which hasn't already been said on this site so far.
On to the exodus, including numbers, deutronomy and leviticus; the whole wondering-the-desert schebang;
I have never in my life read something so utterly disgusting and immoral. When the blood sacrifices are defined and I try to picture the scene - thousands of Jews all performing as instructed - the bloodbath is just hideous. And the idea of circumcision plucked out of the air as a method of marking yourself out from "less holy" people... Surely a tattoo would be far more effective, unless of course you are a pervert. Again, not much new to add, except...
The whole of the book so far seems to me to have been written by the servants of a warlord. The warlord in question being Moses. It strikes me that if you stand back from all of the stories and take in the bigger picture, he was clearly meant to be a leader of a people among many peoples of the time. He was slightly mad and attempted to gain authority by claiming divine instruction. However, the fact the his followers clearly didn't follow his doctrine to the letter tells me that either his people were truly "unholy and evil-hearted", or else the claims that have been glorified in this badly-written book were so unconvincing at the time to any onlookers that they were just unimpressed and if only for the strength of his character they followed him and "put up" with him as their leader regardless. After all, if I were in a crowd at the base of mount Sinai and saw two of my fellows incinerated for offering the wrong kind of incense, I wouldn't be so slack in my prescribed doctrine. Even in the bible, the evidence remains in clear print that Moses was wholly unconvincing to his own people as a supernaturally-inspired leader.
And to return quickly to the sacrifices; it seems very clear what is going on there - the priestly order are setting themselves up a racket. They do nothing but look after the tabernackle, and every time anyone in their community transgresses any of the ridiculous laws imposed, sacrifices are made which include a handy income just for the priests;
King James Version (KJV)
12If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried.
... and seasoned just so... medium rare please, with just a dash of chilli sauce - just how I like it... I mean.... ahem..... "as a great offering to the lord that you will be cleansed of your sins, child".
How is this not the most famous racket in history?
Another passage that made me spray coffee all over my desk was;
King James Version (KJV)
30And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay.
SERIOUSLY? After all yahweh had done even by that point in the book, he has the gall to suggest that Balaam was acting unfairly??? Really? Such a hypocrite!
Finally for now, the repetitive lists and endless genealogy... oh the endlessness! This book is clearly written by a committee consisting only of psychopaths and people with severe asperger's syndrome (not to offend those with asperger's) to appeal to those not quite ready to grasp the diverse literary nature of The Cat in The Hat.
Sorry if this isn't the most coherent intro you've read - it's late, I've just received my site approval and I just wanted to get that point across while it was on my mind. More commentary to follow.
A quick side-note; what is the old testament's obsession with (for example, Josh 23.6) "Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left;"
Surely that is totally extraneous - the number of times it talks about turning to the right or to the left; what on earth is it trying to say?!? It seems to be taking itself out of context to appear more babyish and null.
And on the subject of extraneousness, it seems so petty of yahweh to keep repeating "...I who brought you out of Egypt and released your house of bondage etc.etc.". Is he so pathetic that he has to dine out on his many-times-backfiring plan? GET OVER IT!!!!
Talking of which, I once went to a house of bondage. I don't see why they would have wanted to escape...
Chris, first of all welcome to community! You had a very interesting history and experience for sure. I think it's great that you are questioning and seeking answers and instead of simply continuing in a path of nontheistic thought, are actually trying to educate yourself in what religions try to offer.
I will caution you however. When it comes to 2000 year old texts like the Bible especially, some external sources and such are needed to better understand it. It seems to me that you are very confused from the Bible's strange wording. My first recommendation would be not to read the KJV. There are some blatant mistranslations in it, and the english is simply outdated. Many of the words therein are no longer used. At all. Although all translations have their faults, and trust me they do!, I would recommend something closer to the RSV, ESV, or Holman versions. They are often times more accurate and easier to read.
Another thing I want to caution you concerning, please be wary of judgement makings when reading such old texts. Culture was different, they way people think were different. Many times people want to read it and say it's all ludicrous. Certainly it may seem absurd for people to believe that such writings are God's timeless mandates to mankind, but the content and context of the texts are actually fascinating. So before freaking out, laughing, and mocking, please take the time to honestly look into your questions.
Now before I continue, you may be thinking my... defense of the Bible is an odd one for an Atheist. So let me stop here and explain. ;) I was born and raised a Christian, and lived as one very avidly for 21 years serving as a youth leader, participating in missions and the like. I then went on to Bible school where I studied the Bible and Theology for 5 years in a scholarly and academic focus. I still nerd out over Bible studies much like those people on the History channel nerd out over Greek mythology. It's a passion for me, and a fascination, even after leaving the faith business. So don't mind my defense of it, there are actually a growing number of Atheist Bible scholars now a days!
Read on and you will see that this offering was to feed the priests. It is a fellowship offering, not one for sins, and is done in freewill of the person as a thanksgiving to the Lord. You can relate it, in modern context to... buying a fruit basket for your pastor. Yes, God's commands for sacrifices can be a little specific, but there are often reasons for that.
The Balaam story is indeed interesting. And YHWH did not say anything, the she-donkey did! ;) Careful reading!! They're not as absurd as they may seem, although surely a talking donkey is strange. And yes, Balaam was very unfair to the donkey. The donkey was steering him away from the angel who was going to kill him, and all Balaam did was beat her! Poor donkey!
As for your critique of the genealogy... why? The Jewish people held their genealogies as very important, why does this bother you? Perhaps its presence in a holy text may seem odd to you, but for an ancient culture who held great symbolism in their descendants, their tribes, and where they came from, it's actually quite understandable.
As for: "to the right hand or to the left"
You will find many such idioms throughout the Bible. We call them Hebraisms. Ancient Hebrew was a very word poor language, therefore one word often meant many things depending on how it was conjugated, used, and in what context it was. Also, repetitions can be a genre specific tool. Like in poetry how we would use alliterations.
Keep the questions coming though! I hope I don't seem rude, I just find the Bible fascinating and ancient cultures so curious! I also am studying to teach the Bible and Philosophy on a college level, so you'll forgive me if I gush and lecture a little bit. I hope you enjoyed it. If it's annoying to you, just tell me off. Otherwise, if you'd like, I'd love to help walk you through the Bible! You'll find it more interesting that way I'm sure, or at the least, less confusing!
Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time for such a long response. All comments are always welcome :-D.
If I may address your points in order;
Firstly, the language used in the KJV isn't confusing for me - I fully understand the message being sent across. Your comment about the accuracy of the KJV is an interesting one though, I have heard a good deal about this before and on reflection, from this standpoint the KJV was not the best version to pick up in the first place. My comments on the phraseology was more an outburst of frustration at the repetitive nature of the book, my point being that I find it hard to believe that people still hold this book in high esteem and claim it as the best book there is.
Secondly, regarding Lev. 7:12, the idea that this whole setup was in order to feed the priests was exactly my point. A racket. The "fruit basket for your pastor" does indeed apply, but more than that it is apparent that a portion of many other forms of offering include a cut for the priests. In a world where basic survival is a primary concern (food, shelter, etc.), creating a situation where a section of society does not need to work and yet gets given a monumentally large amount of food by his congregation certainly sounds like a racket to me. It's true that the people involved in the racket are denied the inheritance of land, but I think that's a small price to pay for a life of ease. The impression I get is of wandering scroungers.
Regarding Numbers 22:30, it's true that yahweh gave the ass the power of speech, but the angel itself (a manifestation of god, or at least a representative) grills Balaam with the same hypocritical reasoning. The fact that yahweh sees fit to give the ass a voice to complain just seems to cement his/her/it's hatred for the human race. There is no-one mentioned in the book so far (with the possible exception of Moses) who can similarly reprimand yahweh for his actions against individual human characters.
I understand the point about the genealogy. Again, it was more an outburst of frustration brought about by having to trawl through that section of the book. For what many people call "the best book in the world", it's a remarkably un-gripping read.
I am doing a lot of background reading regarding the bible - I find it a fascinating book in the history of the way it was put together and have just been trying to read it to see what the people mean who tell me that it's the "good book". I can certainly see the various political motives and social plagiarisms, and while I find it very interesting as a possible report on historical events taken with a very generous pinch of salt, I find the manner in which it is written to be very much piecemeal and self-contradictory, even hypocritical. It is on this aspect which I am primarily commenting.
Thanks again for the interest.
Hi Chris! I'm glad the comment was welcome, I can be a little long winded sometimes. ;)
Totally agree with this, "find it hard to believe that people still hold this book in high esteem..." It's very strange to me that Christians have this mentality. How on this earth can a book written 2000 years ago be at all relevant? How can it be read to be literal, direct, and timeless commands from God? Surely God is the "same yesterday, today, and forever" but even the Bible shows signs of God adapting and changing for the culture shifts that take place. Or, rather, the Bible shows signs of people's perceptions of God changing... Hehe.
That's an interesting perspective of priests... I suppose in a world where what they're doing is in tribute to a God that does not exist it would seem what they did was useless. However in an ancient theocratic society their roles were of utmost importance, and their work was never done. I wonder if it could be seen as a life of ease?
And Numbers, true. I'm not sure I see it as an expression of God's hatred for mankind.. but after a re-read, it seems curious that God gets so angry at Balaam. The question "why" begs, but is unanswered in the text. Therefore it's somewhat difficult to draw an opinion of it for me... I know there are some extra-biblical texts about Balaam, I'm curious as to how they explore these gaping holes in the story!
Anyway... I'm sorry if my comment came across as demeaning at all or judging your opinions. That's now how I mean to tone what I write. I just like to share what I've learned I guess. I hope it's not imposing. Either way, I look forward to seeing your thoughts on the rest of the Bible if you continue to read and share it here. If you have questions I could possibly answer I'd love to give insight based off of what I know.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspectives here!
No problem at all and no offence taken. If I'm wrong about something I prefer to know than be left ignorant.
I would be interested to read some of these extra-biblical texts on Balaam. I wonder how much agreement there will be between those and his brief feature in the OT.
Also, check on my blog - I've got a couple of "brainfart" posts regarding my readings which need comment ;-)
Will definitely be checking out your blog! As long as my comments aren't imposing. ;)
And yes... the texts on Balaam.. out of curiosity I looked into it. Apparently there's a questions as to if there was a "Book of Balaam" written. There is often mention in the OT of other books, but many of these have never been found. Some texts speak of Moses writing the Tanakh and then returning later to write the portion of Balaam, so it seems there may have existed another text... but who knows?
There has to be some folklore or oral tradition between the writing in Numbers and elsewhere though... Mainly because of the gaps and the things not clarified. For example I just found that later on in Joshua 13, Balaam is spoken of as slain, and he is described as a "one who practiced divination." This description would make more sense if it were spoken of in the Numbers passage, but it is not. So why is it mentioned in Joshua....? Hmm...
And then in 2 Peter 2:15, it seems this thought was taken even further! Do a Biblegateway.com search for "Balaam" and look at the restults, especially those in the NT. I think it's very interesting.... I don't think it can be said to be contradictory, if anything it shows an attempt from people reading the Numbers passage to fill in the gaps themselves to make their Bible make more sense... Really curious...
This only works on the flawed premise that religion give us our morals. What are you getting at?
Napoleon was an Atheist and not always principled, as a soldier or as a politician, and he saw the practical effects of religion on a nation.
I agree that it's a flawed premise that religion gives us our morals.
It should be remembered that Napoleon pre-dates Darwinism.