On Holy Scripture and the Reading Thereof

One of the things that I learned after becoming an atheist is the dearth of religious people, particularly religious moderates, who have read their own holy text.

I've read the Bible, I've read the Talmud, I've read the Koran and Hadith, the Book of Mormon, Buddhist cannon, the Hindu cannon, what passes a Wiccan fundaments, I've read the Chinese philosophies that people confuse as religion; I've read as much as I can find and devoted as much time as I can spare to learning about them.

They all have varying degrees of uselessness, some are quite dangerous, nearly all have justifications for violence and cruelty. What strikes me when I talk to people who follow these religions is not how they interpret biblical genocide, but how they don't know it.

I once challenged a Christian to rattle off the 10 Commandments in no particular order and whichever variant he chose and he could not; when I was dared I rattled it off, in order, with the appropriate variants among the books. I'm not attempting to stroke my ego here (I do that enough as is) I just want to demonstrate the kind of gap that I find between the volume of religious knowledge I have compared against those who say they believe it. (When he challenged me to disprove the Second Law of Thermodynamics argument against Evolution, I challenged him to recite the Second Law of Thermodynamics and how many Laws there were -- with expected results.)

I can certainly understand why priests, imams, rabbis, and ministers would steer their flock away from their respective good books. I know why spiritual leaders opt to read scripture to their congregations as opposed to asking them to go home and read it for themselves. Any one of them who actually read it would have more than enough to at least make them reconsider their membership in the faith.

What I don't understand is why the religious don't take it upon themselves to read it. It is, after all, THEIR book, it is the cornerstone of THEIR faith, it is that to which they submit their eternal soul to; one would expect that they would at least be curious as to its contents.

I once considered that their faith shielded them from the necessity of reading the word of their respective gods, but unless they're willing to submit that their spiritual leaders, who by necessity HAVE read their holy book, are of weak faith I don't find the faith defense for the scriptural ignorance of the religious a reasonable one.

Whatever the reason: intellectual lethargy, intellectual dishonesty, or simple willful ignorance, I keep finding myself in situations where I know more about the opposition's argument than they do.

edit: grammar

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Comment by Greywolf on July 20, 2009 at 12:20am
I totally agree that one must be rather merciless when dealing with the zealots; no matter how "good" they are as world citizens. What they are trying to get over on the non-believers is pure nonsense. And as such, must be exposed for exactly what it is. But, you're right; beating the theist in honest, thoughtful debate can, and often does, generate hate on their part. A definite lose-lose situation.

I, personally, don't care to "convert" anyone to atheism that isn't interested in doing so on their own. I'm usually on "defense" not offense. (Though my blog outside of Atheist Nexus might be considered going on the offense. But, hey, no one is forced to read my stuff. And everyone has a right to disagree with me.) I don't go around invading Christian websites and attacking their beliefs. They do that to us. The swine. (My apologies to the "real" porkers!)

And you touched upon something very important in dealing with the Jesus people in debate: You've got to know your "stuff"! Otherwise don't "debate"! You'll only get them all dandered up and ready to rip their clothes off for Jesus if they make we non-theists look foolish (and beaten) in the back-and-forth. Leave it up to the "pros" to put the nut-jobs in their place.

Last word: I repeat myself here, but it really does make me feel bad taking off the kid gloves and pounding the genuinely good Christian in an all-out assault on their baseless beliefs. But it's either that or let the lemmings continue to be bamboozled by brainwashed brainwashers into promoting utter nonsense with a callous disregard for the truth to no good end. And it's they who come looking to make converts, not us them.
Comment by Greywolf on July 19, 2009 at 11:42am
Good thread going on here.

With respect to Amer: I'd just like to say that one of the most painful things I have experienced in defending my atheism is just kicking the bejeebees out of good, well-intentioned Christians in theological debate—and I mean really good people who are as sincere as all get out but pitifully lacking in a true understanding of the MAJOR problems hidden within their holy writ—only to feel enormous guilt for having done so after seeing their crest-fallen, depressed faces. Not a good feeling to be left with. Nothing to be proud of. But, hell, these people want to turn our country into a theocracy. And that we cannot allow. They must be resisted tooth and nail; no matter how painful that may prove to be.

To get a "feel" how I feel about the good Christian out there, I kindly invite you to peek at a blog I did on just that subject. It's titled "The Atheist and the Good Christian". And, Yes, we sometimes do inadvertantly "hurt" good Christians when defending our non-belief. I call it collateral damage. But bear in mind that most of these "good" Christians have no respect whatever for our beliefs (meaning lack thereof). They don't mete out the same kind of respect towards us as we often do towards them.

A huge disappointment for me is how many of the "good" Christians fail to denounce their Christian brethren engaged in truly reprehensible atheist-despising. A Huge disappointment. I here echo the sentiments expressed by Jack. Showing deference to the good Christians seems to rub-off on Christians who aren't deserving of it in the least. Such is the nature of religion.

You are what you are. And we'll naturally respect, even admire good people doing genuine good regardless of their religiosity or lack thereof. Just wish the feeling would be far more mutual in regards to we non-theists.
Comment by Louis on July 19, 2009 at 4:00am
I don't agree. My problem with religious moderates is that they always provide a smoke screen for the fanatics and crazies. Saying we can't judge their beliefs, can't judge the church for the awful things it does.

They may not themselves be crazy but they facilitate craziness.
Comment by Jo Jerome on July 19, 2009 at 2:51am
Spot on blog post here Jack. When Xians ask what turned me away from the faith, my favorite answer is, "I read the bible."
Comment by Louis on July 19, 2009 at 2:38am
I didn't want to give the impression that I actively seek confrontation and debate with others; I don't; it's neither worth my time nor effort. If I gave that impression, I'm sorry my words weren't chosen well enough.

The times I do debate are when I'm invited to. One of my closest friend is a born-again Christian and he occasionally invites me to his religious discussion groups before we go play godless Dungeons and Dragons and occasionally I oblige. Otherwise I'm happy to let a benign belief be, no matter how stupid I think it is.

I'm just commenting on the quality of knowledge that the faithful have of their own faith.
Comment by unholyroller on July 19, 2009 at 2:03am
The cult I was raised in used to warn it's members against "selfish personal bible study". Just about says it all, huh? I translated that to mean "DO NOT read anything except what we tell you to....we will tell you what to believe, eat, wear, etc. Being a contrary child, I started to read the babble and study every other religion and phiosophy I could find....the rest is history. Ask me again why I'm an atheist.
Comment by Louis on July 19, 2009 at 1:36am
I absolutely know what you mean Grey.

One of the oddest things I learned after I was outed was that neither of my parents, who are still devout Catholics, had read the Bible -- it was I who was the odd ball for having read it.

Even though I could care less about the Scripture itself, I was taken aback that Christians would consider that I was doing something wrong for having read THEIR holy book.

Truly odd.
Comment by Greywolf on July 19, 2009 at 1:26am
Most Christians "believe" because they want to pure and simple. They could give a hoot about the "historicity" of the events spelled out in the bible. Try looking one of em' square in the eyes after having them read, say, Matthew 27:52-53 and ask them if they really believe that the resurrected from the dead "saints" actually sashayed their once dead butts into Jerusalem where they were seen . . . by everybody but the beat reporters for the Jerusalem Daily it seems. Or how about them explaining how Jesus includes Judas among those who would be ruling over one of the twelve tribes of Israel from a heavenly throne. The faithful don't really want to be bothered by such "silly" stuff. They just want to believe and consider we non-theists sad-sacks trying to rain on their parade.

Go ahead and ask em' what is the name of the disciple that replaced Judas? Most of em' couldn't tell you and think it no big deal. They want to feel "holy'' and morally superior to we atheists. Now some of em' should think of doing serious stand-up with material like that.

Bottom line: They got the numbers and society thinking we're sludge on a stick. And that's not going to change much in the very near future. But given more time, we'll do alright.

Their disdain of us is entirely baseless. And so is the reality of their faith. But that's how world stands today. Not much you can do about it.

Oh, remind the next Christian you debate that William Tyndale was burned at the stake, in large measure, for translating the bible into English and getting it published. Now if that don't beat all! How frickin' dumb-ass of the nut-case morons.
Comment by Karla on July 19, 2009 at 12:55am
And that, Kristi, is the reason I keep coming back - answers!!!
Comment by Kristi Leitholt on July 18, 2009 at 11:37pm
See, this is what I love about this place: I can ask a question and it gets answered!!

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