Holy Books – All Things to All People

These are puzzlements!
-- King Mongkut of Siam (allegedly)

How is it that Christianity and Islam are both sources to claims of peaceful intent and despicable savagery? Jesus Christ is regarded by some as the “Prince of Peace,” yet the religion bearing his name spawned the Crusades, the Inquisition, the usages and practices of the Malleus Maleficarum, and too many other atrocities to count. Muslims worldwide declare that Islam is “a religion of peace,” yet violent organizations from Al Qaeda and the Taliban to the Islamic State do not blink when they associate themselves with Islam and assert that Muhammad himself would approve of what they do. The contrasts and contradictions could not be more glaring if they were rendered in midnight black and bleached white, not just begging but screaming for an explanation. As with many such things, the explanation is at once simple and not so simple and may be found in both cases by going back to the source.

The problem with Islam is the same problem with Christianity – a foundation which can be read to get anything out of it the reader wishes to get, which is to say, their respective holy books. Both the bible and the quran can be painted with the same brush as it comes to this and followers of either book cherry-pick in similar fashion to reinforce mindsets already established in their own heads. When the practitioners of both these religions can have the courage to acknowledge that their source material is seriously flawed, self-contradictory, and in need of revision, I'll feel like genuine progress is being made. Sadly, the only ones who seem to be doing so to this point are those who have abandoned their faiths for atheism.

David Silverman said it in his book, Fighting God: “All religion is cafeteria religion,” and the evidence backs up his claim. If a believer’s natural inclination is toward peace, verses or surahs which speak of peace, goodness, and universal brotherhood are easily found. If their bent is toward conflict, us vs. them, and war, there is no shortage of quotes available to support their position. Thus these holy books become all things to all people. All that is necessary to complete the process is a touch of willful ignorance of the other side of the coin. Jesus’ admonition about being neither hot nor cold in Revelations appears to get no traction here either, though really no one should be surprised. Those dedicated to a given side in this business are less than likely to acknowledge the validity of the other:

A man hears what he wants to hear,
And disregards the rest.

-- Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

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Comment by Bertold Brautigan on June 4, 2017 at 10:12pm

Loren, your characterization of clergy who just keep on keeping on with the bullshit is apt. I think Silverman nicely whittled the question down to its barest essence: There are two kinds of preachers, liars and victims. And the absolute worst sort of atheist is the preacher in the liar category. 

Comment by Richard M. Thomas on June 4, 2017 at 9:38pm

I think I would have to agree. But where does that leave us atheists? I guess it is that only time will work things out. I just hope that religion doesn't destroy the human race before us atheists and reason can dispel of religion, however that may come about. Again, I say it takes time, a long time, probably, but we can help the process along by what we do and say, I think. 

Comment by Loren Miller on June 4, 2017 at 9:31pm

Richard, the purveyors of that holy crap are a completely separate matter.  Many of them keep at it, knowing it's crap, because they don't know any other way to live.  It was out of a recognition of that issue that The Clergy Project was innovated: to provide priests, ministers, preachers, rabbis and others of that ilk a path to a secular life.

Of course, there are also those who either know it's all lies and profit from those lies or those who have so polluted themselves with the Kool-Aid that they don't know the difference.  Such people may truly be beyond help.

Comment by Richard M. Thomas on June 4, 2017 at 8:17pm

I fully agree, but how do we get those preachers to mend their ways, I've tried to point out to the pastor at the church I attend with my Christian wife that the Bible is errant. He was willing to admit that there are copy errors, but really nothing more. But that the Bible maintains its essence so to speak in light of pseudonymous authorship, and that there are additions, deletions, variations, and contradictions. I pointed this out specifically saying it this way, but he was unmoved. So then, what will it take to convince them that God is a bloodthirsty, homosexual hating, send an atheist to hell for no reason, maniac!? I'm being silly, but seriously, what will it take to start making some positive changes in the clouded thinking of believers? Loved your post.

Comment by Loren Miller on June 3, 2017 at 6:11pm

Joan, your first paragraph reminded me of a favorite nugget of wisdom:

Extremism is not a problem if your core beliefs are truly non-violent.
-- Sam Harris

Comment by Joan Denoo on June 3, 2017 at 12:57pm

Loren, you get to the source of all this nonsense of religion being a peace process. We know all too well that both Chrianity and Islam spread by shedding blood and those who caused the most destruction of people and places became heroes or saints of one kind or another. 

How do peaceful people stand against violence sanctioned by religion? I am sure that is the question some asked in Çatal Hüyük, in what is now Turkey, when the horse riding, wagon pulling savaged invaded their land 4,000 years ago. The population had no physical barriers and no weapons of war. Their burial sites before the invasion revealed no deaths caused by trauma. When the combatants swept through, they left behind piles of dead men, male children, old people and kept the virgins for their pleasure. According to Marija Gimbutas, because the soldiers moved on, leaving behind pregnant women, the women raised their savage-fathered babies as their ancestors parented, peacefully. No slaughtered burials occurred until 2,000 years ago, another hoard of savages swept through, killing the males, elderly, and women who were not virgins. They stayed and participated in parenting the next generation and the artifacts tell a story of enslaved women with signs of having performed heavy work. The muscles attached to the bones look different than in individuals who had no signs of heavy and hard labor. These people became the Turks, well known for their skills of tactics and tolerance of savagery. 

According to Gimbutas, these war-like people held belief systems that sanctioned invasion, savagery, and both were used by the early religions of that region, Christianity and Islam. 

"The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn't, we will kill you."

~ Sam Harris,  (5 May 2008). "Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks"Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 19 March 2011. (updated 25 May 2011)

We know that Buddhism has elements of violence in their tradition. There are ancient records of violent groups among them. In modern times, Buddhists take up the bullets and bombs to protect themselves from violent Islamist. We also know of offensively violent Buddhists.  

"While Buddhism is associated in the Western mind with pacifism, Buddhist nations such as Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka have been engaged in vicious conflicts."

Conflict in Buddhism: 'Violence for the sake of peace?

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/22/world/asia/buddhism-violence/

From where do peaceful, just, non-aggressive traditions come? Are there any nations that stand successfully against the violent ones?

“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion.” “Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things."

Steven Weinberg, theoretical physicist, University of Texas at Austin. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the theory of electroweak unification. He is the author of the best-selling books "The First Three Minutes" (about the very early universe), and "Dreams of a Final Theory" (about the quest for a unified theory of physics.)

Comment by Loren Miller on June 3, 2017 at 6:52am

And believers don't see it because they've been taught not to, not to question, not to be skeptical and absolutely NOT TO DOUBT.  This is why guided bible study as opposed to just READING IT is so necessary.  My question is whether even those who lead such studies are aware of the liability entailed in just starting at Genesis 1 and going from there.  What happens if you get some hotshot who notices that the sequence of events in that first chapter doesn't match up with the second?  What if someone notes that Yahweh stated that Adam and Eve would DIE if they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they didn't?  Then there are all the issues tied up with Noah's Ark, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot's incest with his kids, and we haven't even finished with Genesis yet.

Sure, a skillful leader might be able to navigate around some of the difficulties involved, but they'd better hope that the curiosity has been culled out of his students.  Otherwise, the ride just gets bumpier.

Comment by Michael Penn on June 2, 2017 at 7:17am

Perfectly put, Loren. The problem is that none of the believers can see this. When you talk with them you get back things like "no true Christian blah blah blah." They think they have an absolute here in saying this and what they have proven instead is that they are all different. They just keep on making it up as they go along and they never understand why you don't go along with them.

Comment by Loren Miller on June 2, 2017 at 7:02am

The question remains, Michael, WHERE do they get Jesus from and WHICH VERSION do they get?  Is it the one who says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" or "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me?"  This is yet another symptom of a system where people don't READ the bible but HAVE IT READ *TO* THEM. 

Whereupon, another question comes up: what are the issues and agenda of the person doing the reading?!?

Comment by Michael Penn on June 2, 2017 at 6:21am

Yes, that great movement going on today in which the holy book really doesn't matter so much. It might be flawed a bit so all you need is Jesus and that solves everything. By all means hedge your bets and get yourself covered. If you get that far with it you can build universities dedicated to your god, but build them in your name. If their is a god he will never see through this hypocrisy.

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