This is really just a discussion I am having a with a friend, but this seemed like an easier place to post than in facebook.
I was going to try to reply to individual points one at a time, but re-reading it all, I am having trouble figuring out what should be directly replied to – particularly without seeming like I am nit-picking – so I think I need to attempt to provide a wholistic reply, and refer to points you have raised within the wholistic reply.
Firstly, it is worth approaching this from two different angles – 1. Believing God exists, and the bible is an accurate story about God, and 2. Believing men wrote the bible in an attempt to make sense of a confusing world and God has nothing to do with it.
Believing God Exists
I’ll start with this, because your post is from this angle, so I guess this is my reply to what you are saying:
If we believe God exists, then what you describe is just a complicated, confusing story which is hard to put together and make sense of. It sounds to me like God is just as flawed as his creation (which does actually make sense) – and is stumbling through this whole process trying to figure out how to do it. The global flood beind a great example of that (or the local flood – depending on how you want to interpret that), where he decided to start again…
I don’t understand how god can be a perfect loving and just being, yet simultaneously wipe out entire populations for disobeying him/making him unhappy/not pleasing him. I can understand someone lashing out while being in love – but the word ‘perfect’ doesn’t come to mind when that sort of acttion is committed. Psychotic, unhealthy love – yes. Perfect love. No.
so, something that doesn’t quite make sense to me is how an omnipotent God couldn’t see this coming
Absolutely this is a problem, and even creating the (incredibly unpopular) assumption that God cannot see the future doesn’t explain this problem away. I cannot see the future, but I can still predict a lot of human behaviour. You could try to argue that God hadn’t had experience with humans before, and so it would be more like me trying to predict betelguesian (alien) behaviour, but even so – the ‘omnipotent’ creator should be much smarter than I am…
The Point that I think I have to make here is that if you want to believe that God is real and the bible is mostly accurate as to what God has done – then you really have to drop the beleif that God is a Perfect, Omnipotent, Omniscient, good, loving being. possibly all of the above. If you start to think of God just as ‘some guy who made our universe’ with some ability to interact and influence things, even loves us as his own children… then it all makes much more sense. But to put God on this ‘perfect’ pedestal, and then read the bible and see his actions and judgements – the two elements do not line up.
Believing the Bible is Fictional
This is where the problems arise. It is this perspective which causes Dawkins to say what he says. I find it is difficult to talk about the Bible from a disbelievers persepctive without coming across as arrogant or offensive to believers. While I find it very easy to presuppose that God exists and wrote the Bible, I have never found a believer who could easily disconnect from the ‘holiness’ of the bible well enough to really consider the remifictions of it being a work of fiction.
So instead, I am going to try something different. I am going to try to talk about Scientology, and use it to make points about the bible.
Scientology is easy for anyone to believe is fictional. It’s ‘holy book’ was written in recent history by a science fiction writer and its stories are just as far fetched and unbelieveable as any sci fi novel you have ever read.
So when this book proclaims that suffering is caused by pained alien souls infecting our psychie, and that we need to put ourselves through frequent expensive cleansing processes to remove these ‘thetans’, and that psychology and psychiatric medications (proven ones) are bad for us – it is right to disagree with Scientologists. It is right to point out that their reasoning for this belief comes from a work of fiction, and has no evidence in reality, or rational debate. It is right (morally) to observe that actions carried out as a consequence of their belief system can be very harmful to followers.
Concurrently, while observing these problems with the way their erroneously founded beliefs are causing harmful courses of action, the fact that “Xenu was really evil” has no bearing on the discussion. It is irrelevent how much the alien souls suffered when xenu blew them up. It has no bearing on the reality of the story, and the fact that the real world actions are being driven by a fairy tale.
And finally – a Scientologist would be very offended by what I just wrote. They would disagree, and feel confronted and attacked. They would disagree with my representation of the story. I missed the point. I don’t really understand it all etc. But those points – the subtle nuances of a belief system – mean absolutely nothing when the whole thing is a work of fiction, and real people are making real decisions based on that work of fiction. It also doesn’t matter one iota, if the work of fiction is “completely* internally consistent. In the end, how offended the belivers might get by being confonted with these facts is really unimportant when the fact that vulnerable people are being sucked in to a fairy tale, and using that fairy tale to decide important aspects of their lives – deciding towards the harmful options!
When you can see stories like this from the perspective of the non-believer, the problems and harm caused as a direct consequence of the beliefs are far more important and worthy of your attention than concern over the ‘offendedness’ felt by the believers as a result of your attention to it.
Scientology is actually hard to do – it doesn’t have very many offensive stand points that I know of. Catholicism is easy – like Tim Minchin said:
if you find me more offensive
Than the fucking possibility
That the Pope protected priests
While they were getting fucking fiddly
Then listen to me motherfucker
This here is a fact:
You are just as morally misguided
As that motherfucking, power hungry
In the stupid fucking hat.
Being concerned about offending believers should be far far second to concern about immoral and harmful actions conducted either in the name of, or because directly instructed to, or because of an indirect consequence of the belief derived from a fairy tale.
So, to try to bring this long story back around to the topic – when a non believer observes that a belief system fundamentally teaches people that simply ‘forgiving’ isn’t actually an option – that instead sacrifice of some sort is required – and judges that central theme to be morally reprehensible, I don’t think it matters how the story in question attempts to spin it – the idea is morally lacking.
A few other Points
bits of it are historical record (and a particularly accurate record at that)
The Da Vinci Code has some incredibly accurate history in it too. A 99% true story does not make the 1% that is wrong, true.
the secular academic consensus is that the bible is far and away the most reliable ancient historical document in existence (another another story). this means that the historical figure Jesus really did claim to be both God and saviour
Under no form of logic does that follow. No matter how well parts of the new testament have been lined up with verified parts of history, there is no way anyone can claim any sort of confidence about what jesus did or did not say, nor whether he actually existed or not. And while plenty of academics do think he did, there are plenty who do not. There is no consensus on it, and my understanding is – zero evidence for it outside of the bible (outside of ‘evidence’ from after his lifetime in the form of ‘discussion about’)
Also, I have a post under construction about the reasons for a Militant Atheism movement – explaining why Dawkins does what he does.
One Reply to “Reply to Friend’s Note”
Hey Shane, just read this, like your argument. Non-offensive, which is rare with this kind of argument! Will refer to it when the religion debate again rears its head in my world.
I thought I would add a point – there was another “prophet” who was quite well known around the same time as Jesus walked the earth – his name escapes me at this time, but I have read quite a few articles that would attribute at least some of the events in the bible to this other similarly titled prophet.
Since the books of the bible were written many years after the actual events occurred, it is easy to understand how a case of “mistaken identity” could have taken place.
Now I am going to have to go back through my notes and find the guys name. Ahhh well.