One of my favorite relatives writes:
WOW!! Great reply. I have always admired the easy way you are able to set your thoughts in order. As you know, I am a Christian and do believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of man-kind. What really interested me in your reply was how you describe Christianity as “myths”. Could you elaborate on that? I would like to be able to “do some research” and study the areas you believe are myths to see if I can come up with some tangible answers. I do like to engage in debate, but the problem that I always have when in a discussion with you is that my thought process is not nearly as quick as yours. But with a computer conversation maybe I will have a chance to study and think things through.
I prefer e-mail debates for precisely those reasons. We can examine each others thoughts, carefully weigh responses, and avoid the emotionalism, interrupting, and misunderstanding that live face-to-face debate entails.
First of all, I always have to preface these discussions with a few disclaimers. You know I am an atheist. People make snap judgments as to what that means, sometimes along the lines of “denying the existence of God.” On matters that big, who can really be so sure? All I can do is trust my eyes and the rigors of scientific method. Nothing about science disproves nor proves God.
Also, being atheist is not tantamount to anti-Christian. I think Jesus Christ was one of the greatest anti-establishment liberal extremist revolutionary thinkers of all time. There’s more than enough credible evidence that this man did exist and shook up the world. I think taking his teachings to heart and exemplifying a Christlike life is a laudable goal. I like Christians; I just wish more of them would act like one.
Where I have the problem is with literalist interpretation of the Bible and the use of that millennia-old mistranslated political document in a selective way to advance a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, classist, or anti-science political agenda. But I don’t play favorites; I’ve got the same problems with the Qu’ran, the Torah, the Book of Mormon (though my level of knowledge varies a lot with those three.)
Anyway, back to the subject: myths. This comes from my 6th-grade youth. I did a presentation on mythology and I studied the Greeks, Romans, Norse, Egyptian, and Native American mythologies. I learned all about their gods and their stories, and I just couldn’t shake the obvious question.
Why are those ancient gods and stories “mythology” but our ancient god and stories are “religion”? (I was a precocious 12-year-old. But I don’t need to tell you that; you probably can recall it better than I.) Furthermore, why is Santa Claus keeping a list of who’s naughty and nice a fable we use to keep children in line, but God keeping a Book of Life of who’s heaven- or hell-bound isn’t?
Again, I have no problem with Christianity or spirituality per se. I would just take it more seriously if it were offered up without the voodoo magic tricks. It’s 2004. I’m just amazed that people who accept the science that creates real, tangible miracles like computers, heart surgery, and intercontinental flight would still believe fanciful stories meant to quell the fears of illiterate masses twenty to thirty centuries ago.
For example, any marine biologist can tell you that Jonah could not live in the belly of a whale. A physicist will tell you that man cannot walk on water. A chemist will tell you that water cannot be transmuted into wine. Medical doctors will tell you women can’t be turned to pillars of salt. Zoologists will tell you that you can’t possibly collect only two of every animal and expect to have a healthy breeding population. Geologists will tell you the earth is much older than 6,000 years. And most of all, morticians will tell you that dead people don’t come back to life.
I always say that people who take the Bible literally are missing the point. These are ancient parables meant to convey a message. The parables aren’t literal. Like Aesop’s fables — no one really thinks that a fox really tried in vain to reach a bunch of grapes or that a dog tried to grab the reflection of a bone in a creek. The stories were meant to convey the concept of “sour grapes” and “a bird in the hand”.
So that’s my point about Christian Myths. The meanings behind the some of the Bible stories are valid philosophy, but the literal meaning is mythological.
I wouldn’t be so alarmist about Christian Myths if they were just stories told on Sunday to a receptive audience and if the separation between church and state was as unbroken as the Founding Fathers had intended. But to my (and most of the Western World’s) dismay, literal interpretation of Christian Mythology drives much of our social, economic, and international policy.
A perfect example is the recent emergence of the “gay marriage” debate. There is no rational Constitutional reason I can see why gay people should not enjoy the same civil protections as straight people. All the arguments proposed by the anti-gay crowd fall flat. If marriage is for promotion of children and family, then is my childless marriage to Iva a sham?
Some try to float the slippery slope argument: if we let gays marry, then we’ll have to let polygamists / pedophiles / bestiality people get married. Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with polygamy, but there’s nothing about allowing two people to get married that opens the door to three or more. If that were the case, polygamists could make their case based on the current state of heterosexual marriage. Pedophilic marriage won’t happen as the law is very clear about age of consent. Finally, the law does not recognize any contractual rights for animals.
When you scrutinize the rationalizations against gay marriage they just don’t hold water. Furthermore it is easy to point out the incongruity of granting a special right — marriage — to one class of citizens (heterosexuals) while withholding no other rights from homosexuals. Gays are allowed to work, pay taxes, get housing, adopt/bear children, and have sex, but not allowed to get the marriage benefits straights do.
After stripping away the rationalizations there remains only an irrational fear and loathing of homosexuality, based primarily in Christian mythological teachings, the most convincing example of which is found at:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
Well, there it is, the true word of God. That settles it for most Christians. But how bad is an “abomination”? Does that just means we can think they’re icky, but still let them have full rights in our society? Apparently not, because I read further and find:
For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people.
Which is good old-fashioned shunning. Not only should gay folks not be able to get married, they should be deported, if not out of America then at least to San Francisco and New York.
But wait, as I read further, I find that shunning isn’t enough. Why, right here in the absolute word of God I find:
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Death penalty for queers! Well, that should take care of the whole gay marriage issue. When they show up at the courthouse for a license, we’ll just stone ’em. I know it sounds severe, but if this is the word of God, and God is omniscient, then He makes no mistakes. If I am to believe that Jonah lived in a whale, Lot’s wife turned to salt, Noah collected critters for the flood, and Jesus walked on water, then I have to believe that gay folks should be executed.
That should be enough to settle this issue, but if I keep reading I realize that I’m in real trouble:
And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you. They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.
Dang! We know that committing an abomination is a death penalty offense, but who knew you couldn’t eat a lobster?
Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.
OK, so I can’t eat snakes, that’s no problem. No four-legged creatures? I don’t think I can live without a steak now and then. And “more feet”, is that insects and spiders? No thanks. I guess all I’m allowed to eat are fish, chickens, and plants.
Now, I continue reading through Deuteronomy and find I can’t sacrifice blemished sheep to God (17:1), allow my wife to wear pants (22:5), or bring whores to church (23:18).
Anyway, there’s plenty of examples of contradiction and extremism in the Bible. Some explain away the Old Testament Judaic law with Christ’s coming in the New Testament (something about Jesus repealing all that no-lobster stuff). Fine. But there’s just too much logical inconsistency for me to swallow in a book supposedly written by an infinite omniscient God.
None of my writing is going to make a difference to a true believer, and I know that. The primary virtue of Christians is being able to accept these tenets on faith, especially when faced by overwhelming scientific evidence and rhetorical logic.
I’m rambling now; nothing gets my froth up like writing about religion. But I always feel a tinge of guilt about it because my experiences with church and my beloved family. Our li’l country churches were certainly not bad places. There’s lots of good in gathering together for fellowship, supporting and loving one another, and teaching shared values and morality.
But when religious folk want to write discrimination against gays into the Constitution, repeal a woman’s right to choose, or limit what I can watch on TV, I get a little peeved. After all, when I read the true word of God, it says:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Which I take to mean:
Don’t like abortion – don’t have one.
Don’t like gay marriage – don’t marry one.
Don’t like swearing on TV – turn it off.
Those that do – God’ll getcha in the afterlife.
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