Do Religionists Actually Believe What is Written in their Sacred Texts?

Thanks to the wonders of searchable databases, locating specific provisions of the seminal religious texts has never proven easier. What used to be a cumbersome task requiring a Concordance is now the work of a few minutes at a computer. As a result, building a textual case against Biblical Morality, or against Yahweh or Allah as the Greatest Conceivable Being has never been easier. These seminal religious texts explicitly endorse slavery and describe in tooth grinding detail how to purchase slaves, how you should beat them, when you can beat them, etc. These seminal religious texts explicitly advocate for invasion, occupation, genocide, murder. In many instances, God himself directly intervenes and kills scores of innocents. At other times he merely orders his followers to do so. Moreover, God, the supposed fount of unconditional love and forgiveness, is more than willing to condemn humans to ETERNAL torture over a few measly decades of rejection. The text is jarringly clear on these points.

When these issues are raised however, when one points to the text, cites the verses and makes the case that perhaps these brutal books penned during horrific epochs in human development might be inconsistent, might be contradictory, might imply a God that is somewhat less than advertised, we are accused of 'Quote Mining.' Quote Mining? Apparently, using the literal text of a book that is allegedly literally true is inappropriate when done by atheists. Apparently we lack the proper context to understand what the explicit text means. That we need to apply incredibly sophisticated interpretative techniques and years of study to decipher what certainly appear to be explicit commands and statements of intention. Apparently these books do not mean what they say, but mean what they have been interpreted to mean by people thousands of years later.

Which really begs the question - Do Religionists actually believe what is written in their sacred texts? Do they even know what is written in their sacred texts? The recent Pew poll shows a shocking lack of understanding of basic religious tenets and doctrine by Religionists - which strongly implies that they do not really know what is written in their sacred texts, and more importantly, that they do not care. When selling their religion to the uninitiated, Christians (sorry, but I'm most familiar with their sales pitch) preach about the loving, caring, forgiving God. They severely downplay or outright ignore the angry, wrathful, vindictive, petty, vain, jealous murdering God. When Christians want to preach about hating those whom they find distasteful, gays, Muslims, atheists, they focus exclusively on the angry, wrathful, vindictive God and completely ignore the supposedly loving, forgiving God.

When pressed on the actual words in these books that are supposedly literally true, they accuse us of twisting the meaning, of taking everything out of context. Either that or they argue that the world back then was very different and that we have no right to judge - a better statement of moral relativism cannot be made. The reality is that most Religious people either do not know or do not believe in the words in their sacred texts. They believe in a highly personalized understanding and heavily reinterpreted version of the parts of the sacred text that they like and comport with their preexisting feelings and freely discard the rest. Which would be fine EXCEPT that they claim to have exclusive access to Truth by virtue of supposed revelation set down in a literally true book written by the Creator of the Great All.

Either your book is literally true from cover to cover or it isn't. If Religionists disclaim its inherent literal truth then Religionsists have no greater claim to Truth than anyone else. If they want to claim its inherent literal truth, however, then Religionists MUST provide explanations for the inconsistencies, contradictions and cold brutality of their allegedly unconditionally loving and caring deity.

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Comment by Gwaithmir on October 27, 2010 at 2:37am
Excellent essay, Jeffrey! One of the reasons I'm an atheist is because I read the bible (Catholic Version) at a young age and was appalled at what I learned. The bible is indeed a horrible book, filled with questionable theology and tales that are no more believable than what you might read in a supermarket tabloid. I didn't need Richard Dawkins to tell me that the bible God was an unethical, insecure, blundering sadist no better than Hitler.

I accessed your blogs after you mentioned them in the Atheist Writers discussions. This is the first of your essays that I've read and I'll be sure to have a look at the others soon.
Comment by Jeffrey A. Myers on October 18, 2010 at 6:29pm
Not to mention incredibly homophobic.

You're just quote mining and taking our literally true words out of context! You need to consider the... ... ... hospitality laws of the day and understand that concubines were property and that according to the rules set forth in Exodus, you can have your slaves beaten by others?
Comment by Loren Miller on October 18, 2010 at 6:11pm
Somebody please read Judges 19:22-30, then tell me how to interpret it so that it's not misogynistic and frighteningly violent ... please!

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