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Why Would an Atheist Study the Bible?
Disclaimer: I am one individual, and I do not now (or at any point) attempt to speak for all atheists. Not all atheists agree. Atheism has no dogma, no tenents, no philosophies that are shared and agreed upon by all. In fact, atheism only addresses one thing - atheism by definition means "without belief". Christians in the Roman world were originally (and ironically) called atheists - because they were "without belief" in the Roman pantheon of gods. This ultimately led to persecution until they gained power under emperor Constantine. Atheism is simply put (at least for me, since I don't consider myself a "strong" atheist) a lack of a belief in a god.
I spend a lot of my time these days in the forums debating, discussing and learning. Recently, I was asked why a self-professed atheist would choose willingly to study the bible on a daily basis, like I do. The answer seems simple to me, but I recognize that it may not seem that way to others. This hub is my attempt to explain my own position - and to try to clear up some misconceptions about myself, my history and other atheists that think the same way I do.
The Skeptic Community
My atheism states that I do not believe in any of the god claims I have been presented with - due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Like many scientists, I consider myself to be open-minded in the realm of proof. I am willing to consider evidence and weigh it against knowledge that I already have, and will continue to actively seek - probably for the rest of my life. I have a hunger for knowledge that is nearly insatiable. I love to learn. I love to learn about religion, because it seems to dictate the course of human events and society. I love to study history and to study history honestly (at least the history of the western world that I reside in) you also have to factor religion into the equation. In order to study the history of the Middle Ages, you have to also study the beliefs of the people that lived through them - and in the western world, that means studying the various branches of Christianity. Therefore, to maintain my course of knowledge and continue to learn as much as possible, I have to study the foundations that it rests on.
Not all atheists are alike, as I've previously stated, and I've encountered a fair share of atheists who are just as closed-minded and ignorant as their theist counterparts. I do not advocate that kind of behavior. I believe that in order to remain intellectually honest, you have to be willing to consider evidence on its own merit - and not on the grounds of what it could potentially imply. If evidence were presented to me tomorrow that proved beyond doubt that a god existed (whether it was the god of the bible or not) I could no longer claim to not believe in that god. I would then be left with a choice - to worship that god, or to reject him/her/it. My assertion now, and for the foreseeable future is that if the god of the bible does exist, at least as he's presented in his book, then he's fully capable and willing to interact with human beings - he just chooses not to.
The Nature of Absolutes for Deities
Truth is not relative. Human perception of it, however, is. That means that ultimately, one of the two following possibilities is absolutely true - and the other one is false.
Either a god exists, or no god exists.
If a god exists but does not manifest within the material world (as believed by deists like Thomas Jefferson, etc.) then that god is indistinguishable from a god that does not exist at all, and there would be no means by which to prove his existence. I discount that god, because there is simply no way to move forward.
If a god exists that DOES choose to manifest in the material world, however, that god is willing and capable of interacting with human beings on a personal level. That god should leave behind ample evidence to prove that he exists - and an all-knowing deity should know that the brain that he supposedly created within his supposed creation would eventually require evidence.
Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary evidence:
If I were to claim that I was the proud owner of a cat (I actually have two) it's likely that a majority of people would simply take my word for it. Having a cat is not atypical. It's rather normal - at least in certain areas of the world. I would not be asked to prove that I have a cat, or that cats exist. If, however, you came over to my house and there was no litter box, no food or water bowl, no cat toys and no cat to be seen - you may wonder if I have a cat at all.
Conversely, if I claim to have a purple pet dragon, the large majority of people would probably doubt that claim. Why? Because it's an extraordinary claim. Not many people claim to have a purple pet dragon - or a pet dragon at all (well, maybe in the atheist community they do - this is a common correlation in debates on evidence, proof and belief)
The same concept relates to the concept of a divine being who supposedly created the world, and a lot of believers use circular logic to try to rationalize a lack of evidence that supports their beliefs. They claim that creation (and I'm not admitting it is creation, simply using their language to illustrate my point) is proof of a creator. It's not. In fact, there's no evidence whatsoever that earth, life, or mankind needed a creator in the first place. They claim that the bible is proof of the biblical god - it's not. It's another example of circular logic. The bible claims that the god it describes exists. The facts, history, archeology and science of the bible (and I use the term science loosely) are not backed up by actual evidence. Sure, some events of the bible are true. Just because a book has a few true statements within its pages does not, in turn, make the whole book true or reliable. The bible also contains some very untrue claims - like the fact that bats are birds, or that the sun moves around the earth, not the other way around.
I've gone into my personal history in depth many times, so I will not delve into all the specifics in this hub. The cliff-notes version, however, is short and to the point. I was raised in a Baptist household in Southern California by a missionary and a Sunday-school (and grade school) teacher. I spent time abroad as a missionary kid in Africa. I traveled. I learned. I grew. i attended Christian school up through college, and spent the large part of my college education studying theology, apologetics, scripture (I read all of the original languages) and biblical literalism. I was always a questioner, although I considered myself to be a devout believer - up until the age of about 25. I wanted to go into the ministry full-time and spread the gospel with others. Although I always questioned bits and pieces of the faith I grew up believing, I never let it run away with me. When I reached young-adulthood, however, that gradually started to change. I started looking at the bible in a different way, and I was more vocal about the areas that I didn't think made sense. From there, I started studying the bible historically and piecing together how it was assembled. I read the gnostic gospels. i studied the early history of the church.
It wasn't until the last few years that all of my questions brought me to a startling realization. Not only did I no longer believe any of the bible to be true - I didn't believe that the bible was the inspired word of god. Additionally, if I were to accept the bible at face-value, I couldn't condone the worship of the being it described. I started studying the concept of agnosticism, and I became involved in a lot of groups like Recovering from Religion. As I became more honest with myself and others, I realized (quite by accident) that I was an atheist - and I finally came out of the atheist closet within the last two years. My journey has not been an easy one, and I've had to rely on a lot of people with far more knowledge than I have to get me here - but the journey was worth it. I'm free. Finally.
My full answer to the question posed to me is as follows. It's my own, personal manifesto. I'm still learning - and I look forward to doing so for the rest of my life, however long it may be.
The Skeptic's Annotated Bible
The King James Version of the Bible presented from a skeptic's point of view.
My Atheist Manifesto
I do not believe that the bible is the unfailing, holy word of god, and I do not find it compelling evidence to prove that god's existence. I don't ultimately claim that Jesus didn't exist. I find it much more likely to think that the historical Jesus was not a single person, but a collection of people who all contributed to an idea that was passed on orally and ultimately compiled into what became the new testament. I cannot prove that no such person existed, so I do not claim that he didn't. However, i likewise find no compelling evidence to suggest that he did - and if he did, all of the miraculous events surrounding his life, death and subsequent resurrection have completely gone unnoticed by contemporary historians, which I find puzzling at best if this man did exist as he is portrayed. I doubt the divinity of the person of Jesus, if the person did exist historically - mostly due to the fact that early Christians did not consider him divine.
I don't necessarily think that I hold the god of the bible in contempt. I hold him in judgement, if he existed. The bible portrays an evil, egomaniac dictator who enjoys suffering, pain and torment on the creation he ultimately claims to be responsible for creating. I don't find the god of the bible to be particularly moral, and I am disturbed that the majority of Christians call the bible the good book - the book that has been responsible for more bloodshed than any other book in history. I find it disturbing that it is distributed by children - in its entirety, I might add, regardless of all the horrific stories contained within it. I don't hate the god of the bible. I don't believe in him. I strongly dislike the actions of a lot of his self-professed followers, though - throughout history, and on to the present day.
I get that the bible says "only a fool would say there is no god". what else would you expect it to say? In fact, almost all holy books of major religions say something to this effect. It is a way of discrediting anyone who disagrees with it - and giving its followers and excuse to write people off at will and claim superiority. Almost all religious beliefs are mutually exclusive. They all claim ultimate truth, while maintaining that all their competition is heresy or corrupt. The bible is not unique in this aspect, and it's a common mindset throughout antiquity that lasts up until this present day. The bible is the apparent only connection between the god found within it's pages and his creation. If it's not supposed to be read by non-believers, why does it exist? Is it not therefore just "preaching to the choir" and making Christians feel better about themselves? Yet no two denominations can agree on even the most fundamental doctrines found within it. the bible can justify or condemn just about anything - depending on what spin you choose to put on it. It can condemn and condone slavery. It can demean and uplift women. It can condemn homosexuals to death - and (to some) excuse their natural inclinations. The bible can say whatever you want it to say. therefore I find it to be unreliable.
Why do I continue to read it even though I don't believe in it? Because i have a desire to learn. It's not the only thing I study or learn about - far from it. I am fascinated by history, and like it or not, a lot of the history throughout my favorite period (the middle ages) is based in large part on religious beliefs of the people within it.
I debate on a semi-professional level, and unlike a lot of my apologist opponents, I like being well-informed. You would be surprised (or perhaps not) how many debates I've gone into with people who deny evolution because I cannot produce a "crock-o-duck" - Kirk Cameron style. their research on evolution is limited to Television evangelists, and they fail to dig any deeper. I like the fact that I know the bible so well - not to be conceited (and I'm not trying to brag) but I know the bible a lot better than some of the pastors that I regularly communicate with. It's shocking that these people are still in the ministry, but they have no idea what their holy book contains. History fascinates me. Religious history fascinates (and horrifies) me. In order to understand the psychology of some of these horrific actions, you have to understand what these people believed in - and that means going back to the beginning.
Not all of the bible is bad. It has some good advice. Ultimately, I use it as a tool to enhance my own knowledge and learning. I don't see anything wrong with that. I grew up with this kind of blind-faith, and I spent a lot of time alone. I read, because I didn't have anything else to do, and usually the only book I had to read was the bible. when I started to question what I found there, I was told to shut up and ask god. I did. That's why I'm an atheist today.
Unlike a lot of Christians I've encountered that claim persecution whenever someone even questions their beliefs, i have faced persecution from Christians. I've been beat up, mocked, ridiculed and more by people who are now pastors. Yet I was the one who was punished, because I was gay, and therefore immoral. I don't hate Christians. I hate a lot of their attitudes. In order to try to reach them, however, I have to speak on their level and in their language - and in order to do that, I have to continue my own study. I'm not an atheist because of what some believers have done to me - or to others. I'm an atheist because there is nothing to support a belief in the christian god.
Beginning Source on Evolution
Explores creation/evolution/intelligent design, gives the evidence for evolution, and tells what's wrong with intelligent design & other forms of creationism.
© 2012 Julie McFarland