Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Holy Scripture

There are certain basic facts one has to remember about the bible.  First, the writings included were chosen by church leaders in the fourth century from many alleged holy writings.  Many of those not chosen survive to this day.  When you read them, you realize that they all were probably equally valid and were all part of a deliberate effort at myth-making by early church leaders.  In other words, they were written in order to give those early leaders a story to tell that would help them market their church to potential converts.

One sometimes hears that the books of the bible were chosen at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.  To the best of my knowledge, however, this is not true.  Instead the Council of Nicea was convened to determine whether Christian churches should be teaching that Jesus was god or not.  At that time, this was still a hotly contested issue even among the highest church leaders.  Emperor Constantine called the Council to force the leaders to agree on this point.  I suspect he leaned toward teaching that Jesus was divine.  That is certainly what the council decided, which has been known since then as the "Nicene Creed".

This is something that many modern Christians don't know.  Informing them of it is a good idea.  It won't de-convert them, but it is one of those little "thought barbs" that I recommend tossing into their brains.

"Did you know that for 300 years after Christ's death, church leaders disagreed over whether Jesus was just a man, the son of god, or god?"

"If the early church leaders, who lived much more close in time to Jesus, didn't know whether he was divine or not, how could anyone alive today know?"

Apparently a few years later, Constantine ordered a compilation of holy writings into book form.  The writings chosen, of course, were those that reflected the Nicene Creed by depicting Jesus as divine.  Those that did not were rejected.  Even the books chosen for inclusion are often ambiguous on the issue of Jesus' divinity.  It can be useful to point this out to believers:

"Both the bible and the idea that Jesus was divine really date to the 4th Century--300 years after Jesus died."

Those first bibles have all been lost to history, though fragments of copies survive.  One, the Codex Sinaiticus (found at a monastery in the Sinai), is said to contain the complete "New Testament".  Again, you can point this out as a "thought barb":

"Not only was the bible not put together until centuries after Jesus died, none of the early copies survives intact."

I strongly recommend that non-believers read as much of the bible and other holy writings as they can--though I know it can be quite boring--because it reveals so much about the way the religious think.  Much of what it actually says and stands for are things many of the religious would find disagreeable if plainly stated.  Non-believers need to be aware of these parts because what they imply about religion is very negative and they can be used to remind us what we are fighting against and why it must be fought as well as awakening the brainwashed to the evil in which they have unwittingly been taking part.

Reading the bible alone would be enough to turn any intelligent, compassionate person away from religion.  That is one reason so few true believers actually read it and so many of the clergy and experts in theology are secretly atheists.  Church leaders knew this could happen, which was why it kept the actual text to itself, in Latin, for so long.  People who translated it into the local languages were actually burned at the stake for their trouble.

In modern times, religious apologists have actually started to deny that translations were banned.  They say that only "unauthorized" translations were banned.  Well, how many were authorized?  Zero.  Furthermore, private ownership was banned by the Synod of Toulouse in 1229.  So, the issue of translations was moot because only those who couldn't read Latin would need a translation and those who couldn't read Latin were, for the most part, not allowed to own a copy of the bible at all.  This dishonest subterfuge that religious apologists are trying to use to avoid admitting the totalitarian nature of their church deserves its own post but also needs to be briefly mentioned here.

For a long time, the dominant version in the English speaking West, including the U.S., was the King James translation.  The prose in that version has a beautiful rhythm to it, but that same rhythm combined with the archaic vocabulary used render it hypnotic to the point of being soporific.  It's no wonder so many believers have never actually read their holy bible.  They can't really understand what it is saying and find themselves becoming bored and sleepy when they try to read large portions.  When they do read any of it, they only read little bits taken out of context--usually only those selected and interpreted by their clergyman.

That hypnotic rhythm combined with the archaic language also helped the churches in their subtle use of mild hypnotism as a method of reinforcing their control over the flock.  I will write a post about this later, but there is scientific evidence that the perception many skeptics have of mass hypnosis when watching certain religious events is based on fact.

The best thing about the King James version (and other versions are often not much more readable) from the perspective of the clergy is  that it is so archaic that the shocking parts sound respectable--or almost indecipherable.

The language of the King James version makes everything sound like a distant fairy tale.  It usually is a distant fairy tale, but, considering how seriously it is taken by so many, I think it is better to read it in an unvarnished, straightforward translation in order to grasp what is actually being said.  Reading it as a fairy tale somehow takes the horror out of it--it makes the horror unreal.  It is this distant fairy tale quality, along with the pathological respect for authority that so many religious people have, that explains why they are unable to see that what they are reading is a tale of a murderous, racist, narcissistic psychopath.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that the believer sees the stories of the bible in that way:  half fairy tale, half real.  They are just real enough to infect his mind with some horrific notions, but if he is forced to consider the tales told in the bible, he will shy away from them, call them parables, etc., rather than admit to taking such horrors seriously to heart.

Once again, however, it is a very good idea to be familiar with the most horrible stories, so that one can throw them in the conversations as "though barbs".  I recommend following them with a plain spoken statement of what they imply about god and religion.  Of course, you shouldn't expect this work immediately.  Like all thought barbs, you just have to throw them in and walk away.

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