Friday, March 2, 2012

Barmy Bible Study - Literalism 101

Many Christians - especially fundamentalist Christians - make time every day to read the Bible. They earnestly desire to gain insight and a depth of understanding through their study. But there is a notable problem: all of that reading does not seem to produce the results that dedicated study usually produces. What I mean is that believers' constant reading and studying of their religious text never seems to result in actual understanding of what the Bible is communicating to them.

Most people, upon setting themselves the task of reading a text with the sincere intention of understanding it, seem capable of grasping the meaning of the words they are reading. It can be more challenging to understand allegorical accounts or mythology or dense writing full of metaphors and hidden meanings of course, but still. A sincere reader, devoting daily effort to the task, surely would seem to be in a position to succeed? One would think.

More to the point, reading a text with no mythology, allegory or metaphors involved, but simply the literal truth as revealed by a supremely omniscient, omnipotent god ought to be much easier and straightforward. The god has revealed the truth, and in its omnipotent way has surely revealed it in a form its worshipers will be able to understand. It ought to be the easiest thing imaginable, this exchange of holy writ between a believer and the all-loving god whose only wish is to welcome that believer into its presence. The believer must surely only need to read the words to understand their unambiguous meaning. 

And yet, no! That does not seem to be the case at all for Bible-believers when they read the Bible. I don't think it is because Bible-believers are any less intelligent than other people. Quite the opposite,  in fact. I am convinced that it probably is their intelligence which prevents them from grasping the literal Truth™ contained inside the Good Book™. Well that, and what remains of their human empathy after a really thorough religious upbringing. Understanding the Good Book™ requires nothing but Faith™ - demands it,  really - but even the most fervently Faithful are usually unable to completely overcome their innate rationality and humanity in order to make sense of it.

For Faith™commands that round is flat, evil is good, mythology is science and hate is love. The taxonomy of Faith means Opposite Day, every day, and that fundamental lie is very difficult to fix fast in an intelligent believer's brain. Bible belief demands that the Faithful call cruelty kindness, the profane holy and falsehood truth. The remnants of empathy and rationality inside a believer's brain recoil in horror from this affront to human decency and dignity. As a defensive response, I suspect the believer is rendered incapable of understanding the starkly simple words of Holy Scripture.

Or, it could simply be a case of failure of imagination. Either way, I have decided to step in to help.

Like all atheists, I am uninfected by Faith™ (not to be confused with faith, of which I have as ample a supply as the next person). I do not experience the type of cognitive dissonance that is experienced by a true believer. I know the Bible is all mythology and propaganda - an old-fashioned handbook for crowd control - and so I have no expectation at all that anything in there is literally true;  no internal struggle between what I know to be false, immoral and horrific but which a religion insists I call true,  moral and beautiful. When one is thus unencumbered, the verses in the Bible can be plainly understood.

In the coming weeks, I am planning to do my part for society by holding weekly Bible Study classes for adults* right here on my blog.   Morally conflicted Bible-believers' troubles are over! I intend to illuminate for them, in simple prose, what it is that their Holy Bible is actually saying. 

Time slot will be Wednesday evening  (the usual Bible study time at the local megachurches,  if I remember correctly)  for as long as I can stand it necessary. Be sure to bring a copy of your Bible!  Suggested text for the class is below,  but really - any old Bible will do.

Link to Class Text

*Classes restricted to age 12 and older.  The subject matter in the Bible is not appropriate for children.

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