Sunday, 2 December 2012

No God In The Bible

Prof. Bart D. Ehrman
Reading Bart D. Ehrman's excellent and very readable book, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible, I was struck by the following:
At about the time I started to doubt that God had inspired the words of the Bible, I began to be influenced by Bible courses taught from a historical-critical perspective. I started seeing discrepancies in the text. I saw that some of the books of the Bible were at odds with one another. I became convinced by the arguments that some of the books were not written by the authors for whom they were named. And I began to see that many of the traditional Christian doctrines that I had long held to be beyond question, such as the doctrines of the divinity of Christ and of the Trinity, were not present in the earliest traditions of the New Testament but had developed over time and had moved away from the original teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

These realizations had a profound impact on my faith, as I think they did on that of many of my fellow seminarians at the time and continue to have on many seminarians today. Unlike most of my seminarian friends, though, I did not revert to a devotional approach to the Bible the day after I graduated with my master’s of divinity degree. Instead I devoted myself even more wholeheartedly to learning more about the Bible from a historical perspective, and about the Christian faith that I had thought was taught by the Bible. I had started seminary as a born-again fundamentalist; by the time I graduated I was moving toward a liberal form of evangelical Christianity, one that still saw the Bible as conveying important teachings of God to his people, but also as a book filled with human perspectives and mistakes.[my emphasis]

Ehrman, Bart D. (2009-02-20).
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) (p. 16).
Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.
What struck me most was not the fact that so many seminarians promptly put aside all they've learned about the history of the Bible, which casts so much doubt on it's authenticity, and revert to the simple devotional approach they took to college with them. I have come to be totally unsurprised by the intellectual dishonesty which underpins much of theology and especially in those who make, or intend to make, a living selling it to mostly theologically unsophisticated people. What struck me was the final sentence, emphasised above.

What a useful device that must be in the hands of 'liberal' evangelists now freed from the constraint of having to defend the entire Bible as the literal, inerrant word of God. They can now trawl through it, discarding all the bits they don't agree with or know are going to be hard to sell, or which may give rise to awkward and embarrassing questions, as human perspectives and mistakes. They can now pick out the parts they want to sell, to support whatever political objective they have or to justify whatever currently needs to be justified as the 'will of God', by declaring them to be important teachings of God to his people.

It's a striking parallel with another theological device used in respect of science. With the above approach, 'God's message' is assumed to reside in anything which can't be dismissed as a human 'mistake' either by historical analysis or by finding it so repulsive that no one could imagine a benevolent, loving god, like the Christian one supposedly is, saying it or commanding it. With science, theology assumes God sits in the gaps in science until proved otherwise, whereupon God's importance is no less diminished and it's presence no less diminished for having to occupy fewer and smaller gaps.

What theology doesn't do, which would be the intellectually honest thing to do, is first establish the existence of the god in question before it gets the default credit for everything until proved otherwise. God is simply assumed without question or fuss and an entire 'philosophy', together with its employment opportunities and comfortable income, is built on an unsubstantiated assumption which is in practice carefully ring-fenced and exempted from serious questioning.

Just as there has never been any reason to conclude a scientific investigation with the answer that a god must have done it, and just as there has never been a need to include anything supernatural in any scientific explanation of any phenomenon, so there should be no need to include a god in any explanation of the Bible.

With no evidence for any gods, no need to include them in any explanation of anything and no justification for sitting them in any gaps or assigning responsibility to them for words in any book, and with so much accumulating evidence that none were involved in either place, the most intellectually honest - the most vicarious explanation and the explanation with fewest entities and least complexity - is that there are no gods.

Putting gods in gaps and attributing words in books to them has no more validity than doing the same with fairies, hobgoblins or pink unicorns. Fun for children maybe, but we really should have grown out of that by the age of about twelve. And we certainly shouldn't be giving money to those who do it for a living.


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