An armchair polymath, for thiry-odd years I've been a student of comparative religion, theology, philosophy, mythology, literature, history, and science (after a long hiatus, I returned to graduate school and recently earned a Masters in Humanities). I've read thousands of books, have over four thousand in my personal library, five hundred of which belong to the subject of Christianity and the Bible (see partial list).
Prior to earning degrees in Philosophy, Literature, and History, I attended Northwest University to prepare for a career as a pastoral minister. I studied biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, New Testament (Koine) Greek, a little Hebrew, ancient near east history, and doctrinal interpretation. During this time I was 'on fire for the Lord'. I witnessed to anyone who would listen and brought several friends to Christ. Always a voracious reader—sometimes reading three or four books a week—I immersed myself in the study of religion and took full advantage of the extensive (and expensive) scholarly volumes in the school library.
Ironically, it was during my years at the Bible college that I was inadvertantly introduced to information that would eventually lead me to question my faith. The more I researched, the more I uncovered cogent evidence and religious information typically hidden from the general church-goer (see DESCENDING BABEL for further discussion). I had no idea. Despite attending Sunday School my entire life and several years of 'confirmation' and bible classes, I knew so little, just a narrow band of teaching that supported sectarian church doctrine. Overwhelmed by what I was discovering, shocked and apprehensive, in time I could no longer embrace the belief that the Bible was the inerrant and inspired Word of God. This realization did not come easily despite the preponderance of evidence—a million pieces it seemed the more I looked—that showed the Bible was nothing more than a man-made composition, compiled to promote religious-political platforms specific to its time. I fought this knowledge every step of the way, I wept and gnashed my teeth, and prayed incessantly for guidance. I felt as if I was going through agonizing withdrawal following a long addiction, the psychoactive drugs of indoctrination and enculturation. After four years of honest soul-searching and book-searching, I conceded the realization that I was no longer a Christian. But my religious and Bible studies did not end there. For thirty years I have never ceased to research and inquire.
Throughout the years I've made several attempts to catalogue and discuss this information, but was quickly daunted by the sheer magnitude of the task. There was just too much to pull together from so many different sources—textual and source criticism, form and redaction criticism, socio-historical and rhetorical criticism, tradition, history, comparative myth and religion, language studies, linguistics, archaeology and anthropology, etc—hundreds-of--thousands of pieces of information that emphatically controvert the veracity of Judeo-Christian tradition and the Bible. I wondered how many others had attempted this before and were forced to give it up or else restrict their findings to sizeable bites. I found it remarkable that people continued to embrace the Bible as a supernatural document with so much contrary information available. To start uncovering this information all anyone had to do was commit to a couple of weekends of honest and dedicated research. In almost no time they'd have enough information to send them down a hundred different paths of inquiry, there was just so much of it, from so many different sources. The scholarly information alone numbered in the millions.
I came to realize that most people didn't want to do the research, to uncover waiting evidence or scholarly information, for fear of undermining their belief systems. Today I sincerely believe most people already suspect deep inside what they will find, so they don't bother to look. They might scratch the surface, hash out the same 'safe' arguments that have become something of a cottage industry for apologists and skeptics alike, but when it comes to digging deep, really getting their hands dirty, feeling a bit panicky and uncomfortable, fearful even, most would rather rely on what they'd like to believe, what they already think they know, what promotes encouragement and promises them hope. This is understandable given human nature, although not very commendable. Offering up 'explanations' for a few hundred bible 'difficulties' gives the appearance of honest analysis, but what about the other five-hundred--thousand? If there are over half-a-million 'difficulties' in the Bible, doesn't this undermine the basic claim that it is the inerrant and inspired Word of God?
In the end it comes down to how honest we're willing to be with ourselves, how far we're willing to go, whether or not we have the courage and stamina to do the work, stand up to what we fear the most, acknowledge it, accept it, finally admit what we've so long pretended not to know. What follows are twenty-five things I've struggled with over the years, each in their own way, one hard-fought step at a time. I did not start out determined to undermine Christianity or the Bible. To the contrary, it was because of my love of God that I wanted to know the truth, to acknowledge and accept it, even if it became the last thing I wanted to hear, even if in the end it threatened to break my heart.
There is the world we live in and then there is the world of the Bible. In our world, the 'real world', the world of flesh and matter, there is no magic, no metaphysical conjuring, nothing supernatural or transmundane. What exists is experienced empirically—through the five senses—and therefore measurable, testable, subject to examination and experiment and ongoing scrutiny. Sure there is talk of the supernatural, of the occult, of miracles and faith healing and psychic phenomena, events or agents that can nonchalantly circumvent the laws of physics. There are books and movies and TV shows and sermons from the pulpit and paintings of supernatural entities like angels and ogres and ascending gods aglow and crowned with halos. But in the 'real world', the world outside of language and art, the world we live in each day, there none of these things. None. And make no mistake about it, science has looked.
Science has been looking into claims of the supernatural for centuries, spent hundreds of millions of dollars, rigorously tested the various assertions of preternatural behavior, and found that the world simply does not work this way. If someone claims they can communicate with your dead loved one, they are lying to you. If someone claims they can lay hands and cure cancer, they are lying to you. If someone claims they can levitate or walk on water or read your future, they are lying to you. The evidence is clear and specific: Any claim that contradicts the laws of physics is either an intentional lie or an unverifiable belief. This is not merely a 'naturalistic presupposition' as bemoaned by Christian apologists, but simply the way things are. The way this world works can be proven again and again, rigorously tested, realistically examined, with millions of experiments. If the apologists want to make 'supernaturalistic presuppositions' can these likewise be proven, tested, evidenced, anywhere in the world? Where exactly does the supernatural realm exist? Where is the only place that apologists can point to for proof?
Only at words. Because they are unable to point to anything in the world, they can only point at words in a book and forced to manipulate language in order to argue, defend, and debate a supernaturalism that is nowhere else in evidence. All things being equal, whose presupposition is the more rational, the more intellectually honest, the more coherent? The person who presupposes a natural world susceptible to and driven by natural laws based on known evidence, or the person who presupposes a supernatural world based solely on words in a book? If all the books went away tomorrow, all writing, all language, we would still be able to deduce our natural world and its natural laws. Without words what could the apologists deduce? What defines reality? Interaction with the world we live in or words in a book? If all the words in the world were suddenly removed, isn't reality that which remains? This is one of the reasons why religious books have become so important to religious believers because without having words to point to they would have no other evidence of the supernatural, and in order for religion to hold sway you must buy into the notion of the supernatural.
Most religions claim that life is more than the flesh and matter we see around us, that encloses us, of which we are composed. In addition, religions suppose some sort of spiritual or supernatural realm that exists 'behind' everything, beyond the scope of science and measurement, imperceptible and undetectable, and that our 'true selves' are really spiritual entities, not material at all. Since all this depends on claims that are outside the scope of science and therefore undetectable, how does religion 'know' to talk about it? If the spiritual realm can't be seen or measured, or Heaven, or even God, how did religion come up with attributes, characteristics, features, properties? Isn't religion simply a case of word association, of words pointing back and forth to other words since they are unable to point anywhere else? If not for words, where would God, Satan, Heaven, Hell, Eternal Life, Sin, Salvation, Jesus, Holy Spirit, et al, be found?
To date all the evidence has determined that life is strictly a natural phenomenon, that who we are—our selves—is material, a series of physical interactions, dependent upon the biochemical workings of the brain. Our sense of self, our personalities, the way we perceive the world, can be severely altered by head injury, stroke, or chemical imbalance. With a serious enough injury we can even be considered 'brain dead' although all our autonomic functions (heartbeat, constriction/dilation of blood vessels, constriction/dilation of the pupils, digestion, respiration, perspiration, relaxation and contraction of the bowels and sphincters, erection and ejaculation, child birth, and tear formation) operate normally. That sense of 'who were are' can be altered, reversed, even 'die', because it's fully dependent on our brains, a broad synthesis of our material surroundings, environment, cultural prejudices, parental influences and biases, birth order, sex, physical appearance, shared experiences, stored memory, bones, flesh, blood, eyes, ears, mouth, and a steady oxygen supply. Everything we think we are we owe solely to the state of our flesh and empirical surroundings, a process impossible to remove from the intrinsic network of matter. With all the above suddenly in absence, what would remain to 'stand' in judgment before the Throne of God, and what mechanisms (or lack thereof) would propel interaction with the Divine Inquisitor? We are natural entities, part and parcel with the natural world, expressly subject to natural laws. We are like all other animals in that respect, who exhibit no supernatural tendencies. Unless these animals appear in the Bible.
In the Bible animals can talk, wizards and witches summon spirits, demons possess pigs, sticks turn into snakes, food falls from the sky, people walk on water or through walls or remain lost for forty years in an area roughly this size of West Virginia. In the Bible the dead can come back to life, enough rain fall in seven weeks to cover the entire planet, all sorts of magical things happen that have no basis in the way we know the 'real world' works. If you know the world doesn't work this way, if all the evidence shows it impossible for the world to work this way, then what are your reasons for believing the Bible when it claims otherwise? You'd consider yourself crazy if you believed Greek and Roman myths that claimed the same types of things, or fairy tales, or old European fables, simply because you know how the world works and it doesn't work that way! And yet, when the Bible makes claims contrary to the way you know the world works, not only do you believe and defend it, but consider all those who don't as the ones who are living in error. Is this an honest assessment? Shouldn't what we believe somehow coincide with what we actually know?
The short answer to all of this? The Bible and Christianity don't stand up under scrutiny. There are too many glaring contradictions and inconsistencies, incoherent reasoning and moral repugnances, ethical sidesteps and magical presuppositions. As a spiritual entity it is corrupt and self-serving, ego-centered, narcissistic. When Hitler's "Final Solution" was to send six million Jews to their deaths we condemned him as a monster; when the Christian God sends these same Jews to Hell we are suppose to praise and adore him as the Highest Paradigm of Moral Intelligence. It makes no sense, unless we are living in abject denial.
Instead of saying God, Heaven, and Hell, you could just as easily say Glavin, Homatron, and Jyklumoo. Like God, Heaven, and Hell, the only way you can know anything about Glavin, Homatron, and Jyklumoo is through word association. But this isn't exactly true either. In all actuality, you don't know anything about Glavin, Homatron, and Jyklumoo other than the words associated with these terms. You can't point to Glavin, Homatron, and Jyklumoo, or see them, or measure them, or know what they're suppose to be or whether they even exist, or where, or how. In fact, any words used to define Glavin, Homatron, and Jyklumoo are applied not because of anything experienced in reality, but solely out of artificial and abstract word associations. The only we we think we know anything about Glavin, Homatron, and Jyklumoo at all is through word associations and for no other reason! Since the existence of Glavin, Homatron, and Jyklumoo cannot be proven and nowhere in evidence, anything said about them is completely contrived, invented, speculative, made-up. If I say "Glavin is All-Knowing and All-Powerful" how do I know this? Since the existence of Glavin cannot be proven and is nowhere in evidence, I could just as easily have said "Glavin is ignorant and weak." Why? Because 'Glavin' is by itself a meaningless term that appropriates meaning solely from the words associated to it and from nothing else! This being the case, any words could be associated with it no matter how far-fetched, ridiculous, or contrary. You can't prove that one set of word associations is correct and a different set of word associations is incorrect, because 'Glavin' is composed of nothing but word associations. And that is the nature of religion.
Religion is nothing more than a carefully crafted series of word associations whereby X = A + B + C + D . Remove A + B + C + D and you have nothing else to show for X. While you can make these same types of word associations with a tree or a dog or a car, trees and cars and dogs don't need word associations to argue their existence or make themselves known, but terms like God and Heaven and Hell are wholly constructed by word asociations alone.
Don't believe me? You can't show me 'God' but you can show me words associations that add up to define God. Where did these word associations come from? The term 'God' is meaningless without the word associations, but what about the word associations themselves?
Let's look at the Christian doctrine assertion that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere), and omnibenevolent (all-good, all-loving). How do we know God is any of these things? Did we determine this by pointing to God or did we determine this by pointing to words?
There's a very simple test to determine the answer.
Without pointing to words, without relying on word associations, what can you tell me about God? If you can't tell me anything without refering back to word associations, then the word associations themselves—omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent—are meaningless since they also or composed of associations that cannot be proven and are nowhere in evidence. For example, what does it mean to say that God is omnipotent (all-powerful?) Is there really such a thing as omnipotence or does its very definition entail contradictions and paradoxes? This quote by Epicurus (341-270 BCE) clearly exemplifies the issue: "Is God willing to prevent evil but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?"
It's almost like an elaborate con game is going on. The term 'God' is meaningless without the word associations, but the words used to make the associations are also meaningless since taken together they are inherently contrary, paradoxical, and still manage to beg the question. And isn't all doctrinal language just this way? You can't point to God, so you make word associations instead. You can't point to life-after-death, so you make word associations instead. You can't point to Satan, so you make word associations instead.
Without words, without making word associations, there would be no knowledge of the Soul or Heaven or Hell or Judgement Day or Eternal Life, etc. Even the notion of 'Sin' depends on word associations, for what is a 'sin' without the declaration of sin? It may be said that "it's a sin to tell a lie" but the 'sin' and the 'lie' are both products of the 'telling' word associations.
Without language, without words, you cannot tell a lie and you do not sin. Both come into existence with a declaration and not before. And, if you think about it, the same can be said for 'truth'. Outside of telling, there is no truth. Like God, like Heaven, like Hell, you can't show Truth. Truth is a product of language and requires words to exist. Prior to language, notions of God, Heaven, Hell, Soul, Salvation, Truth, etc, are not an issue. With language they are defined using any consensual word assocations that anyone can make. This being the case, such words—because they can be defined as anything—are ultimately meaningless, hollow, and empty. Reality is not based on definitions or word associations or quotes from a book. Reality is what you have after all the books have been put away and you keep your mouth shut. Reality has been around for billions of years and language for only a few thousand. You don't need language to know reality. Anything that requires language to make itself known is not reality but the artifice of words, simply word associations, predicates on paper that can nowhere else be seen.
According to a literal reading of the Bible (as opposed to a more tenable figurative or metaphorical interpretation) Adam and Eve were created fully formed and adult as part of God's initial six day act of Creation. Although apologists evoke all kinds of side-stepping sophistry to explain it away, a close reading of Genesis 1 - 3 demonstrates there are two separate 'Creation' accounts that are mutually exclusive (Genesis 1:1-2:3 & Genesis 2:4-25) and contain contradictory elements easily deconstructed by the Documentary Hypothesis. Despite which account is cited, is the 'Creation' story in Genesis compatible with the way we know the world works, with the findings of science, with our 21st century understanding of biology, geology, astronomy, cosmology, etc? Is there evidence demonstrating that most of the early stories of the Bible were borrowed, assimilated, and reworked from earlier Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Greek, et al, myths to accommodate a distinctly Hebrew retelling? Not withstanding the narrow doctrines espoused from the pulpits and casually accepted by congregations in the pews, what do higher-educated, well-read, and well-researched Bible scholars believe? Do all the known facts support a literal supernatural six-day Creation or a Hebrew Creation Myth appropriated from the evolved mythology of other Ancient Middle Eastern cultures? Which explanation is the more sensible (and the least complex by way of Occam's Razor) in light of what we know regarding Ancient Middle Eastern religion?
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According to the Apostle Paul (e.g, Romans 5:12), the inheritance of a sinful and inherently evil human "nature" is universal and unconditional (i.e., every human being is automatically marked by sin and death at birth because of the original disobedience of Adam thousands of years ago and that's just the way it is, so quit your whining), however God's Plan of Salvation is not unconditional and universalAugust 18, 2010/U> something to make it happen—you need to repent, accept Jesus, be "born" again, become baptized, etc). It seems, therefore, that human depravity August 18, 2010/EM> and more powerful than Jesus's ability to save (since salvation is conditional and not universal). My having to ask to be saved is a condition of my salvation, but I didn't have to ask or do anything at all to be branded by sin and death. In other words, sin is unconditional, but salvation is not.
As such, is the curse of Original Sin more powerful than the sacrificial death of Jesus? Is the unconditional curse of sin stronger than the conditional power of salvation? If I am born depraved because of the unpetitioned stain of Original Sin, why would I (or how could I) ever petition to be saved? Wouldn't my very depravity actually prevent me from ever pursuing the right thing (e.g., accepting Jesus)? According to Pauline doctrine, I am born accursed with spiritual blindness by no fault of my own and then damned because I am spiritually blind. Is being born with this blindness my fault? If it is, then why? If it isn't, then whose fault is it? Who, really, is to blame for keeping this curse alive?
Either help me safely across the street or push me gleefully into onrushing traffic, but don't threaten me with damnation to an Eternal Hell because I was 'created' already cursed with spiritual blindness. Either the concept of Original Sin is a false and a poorly interpreted doctrine or it is a Zen-like stepping stone used to measure one's true spiritual journey. If God is love, why am I going to Hell? If you're so spiritual, how can you casually accept the idea of Eternal Damnation? Wouldn't an ethical person reject his-or-her own salvation strictly on moral principles? Wouldn't that be the right thing to do? To stand up to God and consciously choose to become "dead again" after becoming "born again" or at least try to rally the troops to storm the gates of Hell in order to free those in endless bondage? I'd rather spend eternity in Hell knowing I did the right thing in voicing my disgust at the concept of an Eternal Hell than one second in Heaven knowing I did nothing at all because I was selfish, complacent, or fearful of punishment. In the presence of the doctrine of Eternal Damnation, isn't seeking one's own salvation ultimately a cowardly and immoral act? Isn't rejecting the author of Eternal Damnation as reprehensible and deplorable actually the more ethical and moral choice?
Let's face it. Despite making altruistic claims to the contrary, I'm convinced most Christians believe the way they do for two main reasons:
Closer examination will reveal both these reasons are equally morally and ethically reprehensible while proving themselves flip-sides of the same shameful coin.
According to Christian doctrine, nobody deserves going to Heaven (i.e., Eternal Reward) because of (1) the inheritance of the Original Sin of Adam and (2) personal sin, and it's is only through the intercession of Jesus Christ that Christians are allowed to go to Heaven (i.e., earn Eternal Reward). As such, since most of the world's population are not Christian this means that the majority of people will feel the Wrath of God and be condemned to Hell (i.e., Eternal Punishment). In other words, Christians are all to happy to accept Eternal Reward knowing that (1) they don't really deserve it and (2) most peope will be condemned to Hell. This stance is neither moral nor ethical. A person of higher moral and ethical standards would (1) reject salvation as (a) undeserved, (b) capricious, and (c) self-serving, and (2) stand up to God and appeal for those he has condemned to Hell. Anything less shows the true moral character of the so-called 'righteous' believer.
What inspires faith, or rather what incites it, is belief in an afterlife. Never mind there's nothing in the physical world or the mechanics of natural law to support such a claim except sacrosanct promises conveyed in ancient texts (though tradition is no argument, despite what some apologists might have you believe), second-hand stories of black tunnels\white lights\shadowy figures (limbic system reaction to anesthesia or trauma or stress; psychological disorders; fraud and confidence games), or spurious claims of past life regression (via reincarnation), all in direct denial of what we can be empirically aware, might physically touch in regards to death – roadside carrion, the coppery taste of blood in your mouth, cadavers putrefying in zippered body bags, the moldering dead. But belief in an after-life is essential to a fundamentalist's faith, and its purpose is two-fold:
How ingenious of church doctrine! Promising a paradise it never has to deliver and threatening a punishment it never has to inflict (to date no one has returned from the dead to make a formal complaint, demand his or her money back, grouse about the squandered years, denounce the celestial promises, the vitriolic threats of the church, etc). According to conservative Christians, we don't need to defer to reason, proof, evidence, logic, critical thinking, or rational thought (after all those things are actually worldly and unsavory). All we have to do is believe. All we need is faith! So what if our religious belief system is ultimately incoherent, illogical, rife with contradiction, and ethically the moral equivalent of the Nazi Holocaust (not possessing a clean bloodline the Jews are carted off to the camps and ovens, and after dying carted off to the fires of Hell because they are not Christians)—what does it matter as long as we are saved? As long as we're in Heaven? As long as we don't have to suffer for all eternity? If our children don't make it, our spouses, our parents, brothers, sisters, friends: no problem! Just as long as we make it! Just as long as the God of Love doesn't inflict his eternal torture on us!
Stated bluntly, faith or belief in an after-life is the single-most cause of suffering and foolishness inflicted upon the human race, by the human race, and for several reasons:
'Me first' believers are unethical and immoral, period, if they can consciously and deliberately accept going to Heaven while knowing the majority of the world's population will be spending the rest of eternity (that's 1010000 years x 1010000 years x forever) being deliberately tortured in Hell.
They are unethical and immoral if they can, with a clear conscience, praise and worship a Deity who will condemn a person for all eternity (that's 1010000 years x 1010000 years x forever) for behavior and/or choices made (or not made) during his-or-her incredibly short human lifespan (that's 70-80 years vs. Eternity).
They are unethical and immoral if they do not reject this behavior on the part of the Deity outright, confront the Deity for being the architect of the atrocities of Hell (at least the Nazi Holocaust only lasted a few years), reject their own salvation on moral priciples, make plans to charge the Gates of Hell and free its prisoners, or offer to take another's place in Hell as an act of Unconditional Love. As long as there is a Hell—even the slightest threat of Hell—I could not morally or ethically consider that kind of Deity a god worthy of worship or emulation (whether Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) but a tyrant more in keeping with Hitler's "Final Solution" and the fiery stoking of the ovens.
What I find inconceivable is how any Christian considers this Deity worthy of praise and worship, unless beneath it all it's really about enlightened self-interest, not caring how many others will suffer just so long as he-or-she can avoid the flames. If this is the case, then they've become just like their chosen Deity—shameful, unethical, immoral, and incredibly selfish.
Side Note: If Jesus died for my sins then how come I can still go to Hell? This means there must be a sin that Jesus didn't die for, the ultimate sin, the biggest sin of all—the sin of my not accepting him. If that's the case, then what kind of Savior is this? He'll die for my lying, he'll die for my cheating, he'll die for my thievery, or adultry, or murder, but when it comes to my not acknowledging him that's where he draws the line. He'll die for all my sins, except the one that really counts. If Jesus is the 'Son of God' I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Don Cupitt has said it best: "All the doctrinal themes are meant gradually to sink in and become part of one's own being—which gives rise to the paradox that when you have fully become a Christian, you aren't one any longer." And so, over the years, I've evolved and discovered that I can no longer be a Christian. I've found it impossible to constantly work at justifying what is blatantly selfish, offensive, horrific, and cruel. Maybe that's the final test, the secret test, the real test, come Judgment Day. Are you willing to hand your salvation back to the Deity and reject Heaven outright because accepting it would be just plain wrong? Perhaps that is what is meant by the first shall be last, and the last shall be first, because many are called but few are chosen...
Anyone who takes the time to deliberately study Ancient Near East texts, history, archeaology, and mythology, will quickly discover that much of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was appropriated and assimilated from earlier cultures and religious traditions (specifically the Sumerians, Babylonians, Canaanites, Hittities, Syrians, Egyptians, and Persians/Zoroastrians). This is not some Bible-bashing liberal idea contrived from thin-air but a historical and verifiable fact derived from physical evidence and conscientious research.
Remember, because they were at various times a 'conquered people' the Hebrews would be impacted and influenced by the traditions and ethos of those doing the conquering. If Christians (as well as Jews) would dedicate a little energy investigating Ancient Near East texts and mythology they would see how Old Testament stories were adapted, modified, and evolved from older myths and legends.
Why aren't Christians told about all these Ancient Near East texts and mythologies that pre-date the Old Testament when attending church, Sunday school, or bible college? Why do you suppose? What is particularly interesting is that after they are shown how the Hebrews "borrowed" these older stories and altered them for their own religious uses, most Christians will still continue to believe in the legitimacy of the Old Testament. Why? Because they would rather 'believe' in comforting religious stories and cling to hope in an 'afterlife' than face and recognize their denial of death and fear of annihilation.
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Copyright © 2007 by Craig Lee Duckett. All rights reserved
LAST UPDATED: August 18, 2010
August 18, 2010