Hello, everyone. I was an atheist until at the age of 27 I began to study the Bible in order to debunk it. I learned quickly that the Bible was grossly misrepresented by apostate Christendom's adoption of pagan teachings such as the immortal soul from Socrates, the trinity from Plato, the cross from Constantine, hell from Dante and Milton, Easter from Astarte, Christmas from the winter solstice celebrations, and most recently the Rapture from Darby.
Though I have never and will never be a part of organized religion, my beliefs are not entirely dissimilar to that of The Jehovah's Witnesses, due to the removal of the aforementioned pagan influence. I have studied briefly the history of the major world religions, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism and Taoism and have published sacred and non-sacred texts from each of these online: The Dhammapada, Four Noble Truths, Paradise Lost, Divine Comedy, Analects Of Confucius, Bhagavad Gita, Qur'an, Pirqe Aboth, Nihongi, Kojiki, Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu.
Having been an atheist most of my life and given that nearly everyone I know is atheist, I think I understand and respect where most of you are coming from. I don't believe in "converting" anyone to anything, but I do think the atheist tends to be mislead when it comes to the Bible. Not that that matters much, except for that I do enjoy, given the opportunity, to correct them in thoughtful and polite discussion and debate.
I hope we can have some interesting conversations.
Having read the entire Bible, I am curious about just how you think I, as an atheist, was misled (not "mislead").
I haven't talked to you yet so I can't say. Maybe you haven't. The atheists I referred to there are the ones that I have talked to.
Hello David, and welcome. I hope we haven't scared you off yet! I wanted to pursue a somewhat different line of inquiry than some of the other posts, if I may. You indicated that one of your major objections to conventional Christianity is that they have allowed pagan and philosophical influences to shape their understanding of the Bible. I fully agree that such influences played a major role in the development of certain Christian doctrines and rituals, although I disagree about some of the particulars you mention (your attribution of the doctrine of the cross to Constantine and hell to Dante/Milton seem vastly implausible and much too late, historically speaking). However, these influences strike me as unavoidable and unproblematic (indeed, probably a good thing), and the exact same complaint could be made of the Bible itself.
1) Every religion is a complex product of the cultural milieu in which it emerges. It reflects and incorporates the language of its creators, their traditional ways of thinking about morality and the cosmos, and even their economic and political systems (see, for instance, Jesus articulating his teachings through stories set in the economic structures of first-century Palestine). "New" religions are never completely new: like all human innovations, they build upon elements of the past while introducing other elements that are genuinely novel. You would certainly admit that all I've said is true for all of the thousands of religions that you don't agree with: surely Islam is largely (though not entirely) a synthesis of Judaism, Christianity, and Bedouin culture; surely Mormonism is a product of its time and place (albeit a strange one); Buddhism obviously derives from Hinduism, and many other eastern religions build on both of these; and surely the numerous variations of paganism across the world are simply gradual developments on pre-existing pagan (or proto-pagan) ideas. None of these religions emerged "ex nihilo," but instead represent creative combinations of the new and the old. This is not intrinsically a good or a bad thing -- it's simply a universal fact about how human institutions and ideas evolve, and religion, it turns out, is a human institution. If you acknowledge all I've said up to this point, you have two options (unless you can think of a third...). You can either recognize, as many Christians do, that Christianity and the Bible are likewise, and unavoidably, human products (at least in part) and that they can be meaningfully analyzed with the same historical methods we bring to bear on *all* other world religions -- in which case the fact of pagan influence both in the Bible and in subsequent interpretation of the Bible would be completely unsurprising and unbobjectionable -- or you can say that the Bible is exempt from the ordinary methods and results of historical inquiry because it is authored primarily by God, and only secondarily by humans. You seem to be embracing something like the second option I've outlined. But you must realize that in doing so -- by making the Bible out to be an exception to an otherwise universal historical fact -- you bear the burden of proof. Though it is logically *possible* that the Bible truly is an exception, and that historical analysis could reveal it to be such, all that we know about *every other world religion* is against that proposition. When we have such a well-established pattern about how world religions work, with a large sample size (all world religions), basic principles of statistical rationality (for more info, read up on statistical "base rates" and the Bayes Theorem) requires that we review any particular claim about an exception with deep and presumptive (but not absolute) skepticism. Christianity says we should not have a "hard heart" and should simply believe, but historically conscious rationality tells us that we should do precisely the opposite: we should assume that the Bible and Christianity reflect the same patterns of human influence and design that we see in literally every other religion, unless you can prove (decisively) the contrary.
2) When we turn to the Bible, many scholars say that far from discovering an exception to the universal pattern of the world religions, we discover a paradigmatic example of that pattern. (I recognize that many Christian scholars -- and even more untrained Christian apologists -- claim otherwise.) This is an area that I don't know too much about, apart from my own reading of the Bible in its English translation and a well-written book by Robert Wright called "The Evolution of God." But I came away from both experiences with a strong sense that the Old Testament itself does not reflect a single, consistent, monotheistic conception of God, but rather a gradual evolution through various types of polytheism ultimately culminating in monotheism. Aren't there several places where God refers to itself in the plural form, suggesting that it is simply one member of a committee of controller deities -- perhaps the chairperson, but certainly not the exclusive man upstairs? Aren't there numerous instances in which Yahweh and Old Testament human exemplars speak of the "gods" of other nations as though those gods were real, at war with Yahwah, and in need of elimination? (I recognize that there are other passages indicating that those gods are not real -- but that's my entire point. We're looking at stages of historical development across different authors, not a universal anti-polytheist narrative that consistently threads through the entire Old Testament.) Isn't Yahweh the god (with a little "g") of a particular place (Israel), a particular community of people (the Jews), and even of particular persons (Abraham and Isaac), at war with the gods of neighboring communities and peoples, before he becomes the single God of the entire world? In other words, aren't the earlier depictions of Yahweh much like the place-bound deities with narrow and well-defined spheres of influence that are so commonly found in many pagan religions across the world?
3) On a normative level, what's so bad about pagan and philosophical influences on the development of Christianity? You cite Plato and Socrates, and in my experience, those fellas are often (though not always) far more insightful than the Bible. More generally, though, I submit that it's a good thing that religious development often strives to harmonize and incorporate disparate threads. That's part of why religion is sometimes able to bring different kinds of people, and indeed different societies, into fruitful relationships with one another. That process reflects dialogue, empathy, compromise, and cooperation, all of which are good things. Fundamentalists dislike these processes because they generally insist on the purity and absoluteness of their narrow view of the world. But that strikes me as a vice, not a virtue.
I hope Dave doesn't pass over your observations. A response to your ideas from him would be helpful to the discussion..
Ed, Justin - yes, it's very clear and interesting. I think it's a great strength to incorporate multiple viewpoints. After all, why should one source have all the answers? It doesn't happen. The truth is large and complex, and requires many points of view in order to make it clear.
Am just not so optimistic that Dave will respond. He has not shown up in the last 24hrs or slightly more.
Having been atheist for sometime you must have at some point thought religion to be "man made" so, when you decided to believe again did you immediately subscribe to your current beliefs or was their a buffer of a more general deity? Deism or what not?
I only ask because I wonder about your path to the god/religion that you think is the true god/religion. For me If there is no real evidence for "god" then there is no reason for me to subscribe to any particular religion. Were you sold on a concept of god first or were you sold on a religion that has its own concept of god?
Interesting comments from you and Justin. Yours is shorter so you first.
I have always, and still do think that religion is man made. I have two distinctly different concepts of what it means to be religious, which differs from most people, I think. The first is a very basic concept of strictly held to beliefs. Everyone, in this sense, is religious. The second is organized religion. There has never been a religion that remains true even to itself. With the possible exception of Shintoism, simply because it is founded upon a cultural adaptation of various gods from the outset. Shintoists will change the gods at a whim, the importance is the bi annual gathering of villages.
Christianity and Taoism are the most obvious cases of religion transmogrifying the original teachings. I don't mean learning and growing but rather distorting and adopting beliefs contrary in order to appease the masses. I've mentioned this in Christianity, but in Taoism, for example, beginning in the Warring States Period of China's history as a sort of leaving the world and approaching nature and the nature of things in its most simple, graduating into superstitious priests for hire to bless supermarkets. Buddhism was an attempt to escape the metaphysical and social trappings of Hinduism only to surpass it in difficulty unobtainable to the people.
God doesn't change any of this. The ancient Hebrew, with Jehovah among them, fell short and was rejected. Paul warned of the apostasy already taking place in early Christianity.
There is no "true" religion, either of my own personal beliefs or especially of the organized appeal to the masses. We are all trying to figure things out from an imperfect position.
So I wasn't sold on a concept of a god, though I learned early on that the word god doesn't mean much. Only that one is mighty. Jehovah became the God, or mighty one, of Israel. God doesn't necessarily have any supernatural qualities, and yet the supernatural isn't testable by science.
I was never sold on religion.
By definition then, you are a common deist. You don't subscribe to religion, just its product: God.
Nothing special to be honest, I thought your stance was about something more interesting/complex. Why the big fuss?
Well, first of all, I don't know what a deist is but I highly suspect I aint.
Like I said, my beliefs are most similar to the JW's. Nothing special. The big fuss comes from y'all. I think its fascinating. Obstinately persistent and predictable, but I'm sure you would say the same to me. Once you get the chip off your shoulder and stop thinking like I think I'm superior, we can have some good discussions.
@ David Henson
The only thing this group is persistent about is evidence. You've been asked over and over and you don't have any. Your assertions do not count as fact and you've already been proven irrefutably wrong about your biblical interpretation starting in book 1.
You can cry all you like, lash out, spew lots of rhetoric persisting that your view is correct - but at the end of the day you'll still be asked for evidence.
I don't know what a deist is
"Doing this" for 2 decades, huh?