An essay by - Heather Spoonheim

 

All too often I hear fellow Atheists say, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using a comic book as proof of Superman.” I always find this statement offensive because it shows a very malicious irreverence for a book that I greatly revere. I would like to encourage Atheists that are in the habit of using the above remark to consider saying, instead, “Using the Bible as proof of God is like using the Iliad as proof of the Greek Pantheon.”

I ask for this rephrasing not only because of my personal reverence for the Bible, but because it is a much more accurate comparison. The Bible, like the Iliad, is an important historical document that opens a window into the minds of antiquity. When I use the phrase, “historical document”, please do not falsely infer that I am implying that the bible accurately documents historical events by modern standards; I am simply stating that the Bible is a document of ancient origin which provides us with an invaluable glimpse into history. This glimpse offers astounding insight into the development of a mythology that has shaped the western world and an understanding of the very processes that generated the myth itself.

Comic books are entertaining and intended fictions that are known to be fictions by their contemporary readers. Comics are an integral part of contemporary society, and perhaps it might even be argued that they cast light on the way we view the world around us; it must be noted, however, that we have libraries full of literary works that reflect contemporary thought but access to the literature of antiquity is much more restricted and should therefore be much more highly regarded.

The repugnancy with which many Atheists view the Bible is unwarranted and only ever rationalized by those who are unable to dissociate the document from the institutions that assert the mythology to be literal. If these same institutions had determined to assert the literality of The Iliad instead, The Iliad would now be the book of western Atheist scorn. From an historical perspective, however, both of these books are truly a treasure and both should be equally cherished.

The Iliad mythologizes some ancient legends by documenting them in a very poetic form. The bible, on they other hand, not only mythologizes ancient legends, but then goes on to include roughly a millennium of reactions and extensions to that mythology. The bible is more than just a book; it’s a compact library of the works of authors whose lives spanned a thousand years. Few, if any, of the books in that library are works of fiction.

Some of the earliest authors collaborated over centuries to produce a wonderful collection of legends that some early Semites used to imagine their origins back to the first human beings. While these legends in and of themselves are mostly fabricated, it is likely that many of them have seeds in actual events. Those that were purely imagined weren’t likely intended as fictions but rather as proposed explanations for the origins of man and his world.

Some authors documented how early kings declared their lineages to tie directly into the earliest legends. This is not an uncommon practice in monarchies and there are monarchs today whose lineages do not stand up to much scrutiny. Such documentation is an astounding example of how far back this sort of practice goes.

There are excellent examples of ancient prophecy that use prophetic language that humbles modern prophets. Good prophecy is not fiction at all, for it is a poetic reflection of the mindset of an age. Good prophecy promises justice in times of injustice, peace in times of war, and war in times of monotonous peace. A lot of truth about the present can be found in prophecy, just not in the future that the prophecy predicts.

There are books of law, colourful descriptions of battles, and early observations of nature that are all painted in the context of supernatural beings interacting directly with the physical realm. This supernatural context is not added as a tool of fiction but represents, in fact, the way in which Bronze Age authors viewed the world around them. To this very day we paint our narratives of war as battles between good and evil, although nowadays we more frequently use the terms freedom and fascism. Acts of nature still fill us and our descriptions with supernatural imagery.

My point is that we would all be rather insulted if the sum body of all of our writings were viewed in a thousand years as amounting to nothing more than pulp fiction. The literature of an age reflects its zeitgeist. Reexamination of history often shows us just how much colour was added by our grandparents and reveals details that they could have never imagined. I can’t imagine how my grandfathers would have felt had they lived to learn the true nuclear capabilities of the Soviets.

The bible is much more than fiction. It ties all the hallmarks of good mythology together with historical events as they were known and understood at the time. It reflects the way in which Judaism defined itself and its pride. It illustrates the elation and the horror with which a culture might greet the fulfillment of one of its most hallowed prophecies. It tangibly illustrates the passion with which mankind seeks to escape his own mortality. So compelling is its promise of eternal life and happiness that it has been able to inspire or absolve all of the atrocities ever committed by those who knew it.

So elastic is this mythology that it can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. It can be reshaped to provide absolution to anyone and eternal damnation to everyone else. It can even continue to shape minds that have become fully cognizant of the myth so that they will persist in clinging to the central notion that there is a god and a purpose behind everything. In consideration of all of this I resubmit that this astounding Bronze Age library of mythology blended with history deserves more reverence than a comic book.

Views: 470

Comment by Christopher Bricklemyer on March 21, 2011 at 8:12pm
I have always compared the Bible to Dracula. It is also written in the epistolary style (and centers around a man that has returned from the grave.) ;)
Comment by Sam Watson on March 21, 2011 at 8:55pm

The Bible is bogus. Hardly evidence of anything who's the author of the Bible? God? hahahaha

Can't help laughing sorry!

 

Comment by Wesley on March 21, 2011 at 10:25pm

Heather,  How much of 'the bible' are we talking about here?  I'd say there's a significant portion of it that IS comic bookish...written or rewritten by authors with agendas to their own ends..  Thats a LOT of the history associated with what many call 'the bible' today.  Its that part of the history that I find most interesting.

 

There have already been many books once associated with 'the bible' that have been cast out as inauthentic...(for political and other reasons)(they called them comic books and banished them) lol

 

The old testament is a history of an oppressed people...who saw enemies on all sides.  It is only logical that their insecurity forced them to project a god who was mightier and greater than all others.  The tone of god in the old testament is more forceful, uncompromising and unforgiving than his tone in the new testament.  

The writers give god his tone or voice..and there is a history to examine by studying these writings..but its extremely hard to know what and when something was written.. what has been changed over the years etc...

 

The writers of the new testament clearly had their own agendas....(and there were several)  What we have today is a mishmash of many different thoughts and ideologies..and we have yet to decifer all the history of its evolution.

 

In this way..it is a history and one yet to be completely exposed.  This doesn't make any difference to the fundy biblical literalist...who thing most academic biblical scholars are "of the devil".

 

There are several good books on the history of the bible.

 

Comment by pat schreer on March 21, 2011 at 10:31pm
Oh , thats right, if you want to go to the library to find any bible , you must look in the mythology section. case closed. And by the way, the lliad doesn't threaten anyone with hell and damnation!
Comment by Sean Fraser on March 21, 2011 at 11:06pm
I agree that the Bible is a glimpse into the way ancient people thought and interpreted the world, and because so it is an important historical document. However, none of the stuff in it ever really happened. Book full of stuff that didn't really happen= fiction.
Comment by Jake W. Andrews on March 21, 2011 at 11:16pm
I think the point of comparing comic books to the bible, is mostly a question of veracity. The Bible, and any selection of comic books, are not written in the same style, but when it comes to the truth, both are of the same nature. You are correct to say the argument from analogy is wrong, given that it is a logical fallacy. The point of comparison is not to deride the Bible, in fact, any atheist, including yourself evidently, is quite the opposite by citing the many atrocities within the text (which is no laughing matter, I can assure you), but that it is no more "truthful" and "honest" than any other religious text. Your point about the Bible being non-fiction, is that it was written...and written a long time ago. As the antiquity of the document only proves that it is old, and it was subsequently written, it verifies neither the veracity nor the divinity (if they are not one in the same in this context) of the document. So if it is any consolation to you, I would compare the Bible to say Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. As a collection of stories, was the "friar working with the devil" to be taken as literal too? I will chalk this up to another mystery of the supernatural!!
Comment by Marshall on March 21, 2011 at 11:27pm

I would liken the bible not to a comic book, but rather to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Both are books that give us great incite into the motivation of great evils, but neither are worthy of being revered. I'll be honest, I'm kind of frightened by the fact that any atheist could revere a book that openly advocates genocide (on numerous occasions); infanticide; animal cruelty, human sacrifice, slavery, racism, and torture. I'm fascinated by the book, and understand its historical value but it would not be something that I could ever be said to revere.

Comment by Marshall on March 22, 2011 at 12:08am
not sure my previous post was written in black.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on March 22, 2011 at 12:31am

You know, considering that most the nasty stuff is old testament, and most of the old testament is actually part of the teachings of Judaism:

 

Why aren't the Jews just as vocal about anti-gay politics?

Why aren't the Jews accused of as many atrocities as Christians? (Israelis are another issue)

Why do Atheists never seem as vocal against the Jews as Christians?

 

To those who still cling to categorizing the book as fiction:  Do you really feel that Leviticus, which records ancient Jewish law, is Fiction?

 

Just a little food for thought.  I do appreciate all the feedback.

Comment by Atheist Exile on March 22, 2011 at 1:50am
I agree with most of what your wrote and don't disagree much with any of it.  I've never compared the Bible to comics and have always considered the Old Testament to be an interesting insight into ancient minds (with striking similarities to modern minds).

When it comes to using the Bible as proof of God, I always point out that doing so is recursive reasoning.  Claiming the Bible to be divinely inspired is circular logic because one must assume God existed to inspire it in the first place.  That pretty much shoots down the authority of scripture.

The Old Testament (which I've been rereading for the last few months) paints humanity as fickle and disloyal creatures with short memories who follow the crowd and are prone to idolatry.  Humanity hasn't changed much since then.

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