God Gets a Big Fat “F” as an Author

The Bible as Word of God: Fatal Flaw #2 (out of 5)
Surely one of the biggest PR challenges in Western history has been making the case that the Bible is The Good Book. Of course, the church had a free pass for a long time; it could get away with claiming the Bible as ‘word of God’ for the many centuries during which the laity had no access to scripture. The faithful could see scripture depicted on the ceilings and walls of the great churches and cathedrals: much larger-than-life, idealized portrayals of Bible heroes. It’s easy to get away with myth—and disguise the mistakes—when you’ve mastered awesome production values.

Even after Martin Luther had shifted authority from the papacy to the Bible—and it was finally translated into the vernacular—there was little capacity or inclination to read the Bible critically. It was holy writ, a relic to be venerated, and apologists could be trusted to find the ‘spiritual truth’ lurking behind the most hideous parts of the canon.

But the reckoning finally came. Eventually it occurred to serious thinkers that the Bible should not be exempt from critical scrutiny. For the better part of two centuries scholars have debated and studied every verse of the Bible, and, truly, its status as ‘word of God’ has been wiped out. Even many devout scholars did not let their piety stand in the way of honest analysis of the sacred documents. Well, for the most part, but it has been an uphill battle rescuing enough of the Bible to make it worthwhile.

Being under no constraint of piety, however, secular thinkers are dumbfounded that the Bible remains an object of veneration. Fatal Flaw #2 in the ‘word of God’ argument—come on, Bible believers, fess up—is that far too much of the Bible is pretty bad. Even the many negatives about Jesus are on full view in the gospels; how in the world can Christians ‘love their Jesus’? If God inspired the Bible he deserves a failing grade.

My article on Fatal Flaw #1 can be seen here; the Introductory article is here.

Am I attacking a straw man? A fine example of apologetic special pleading is the claim that God used imperfect humans to create the Bible texts, so, of course there will be rough edges and imperfections. Nice try. How come an all-powerful God couldn’t find a way around human limitations? The awful material in the Bible, moreover, goes far beyond ‘rough edges and imperfections.’

I write in the Gideon Bibles that I find in hotel rooms: “Please read this book. It contains all the proof you’ll need that there is no God.” This reflects the sentiment of many others, e.g.:

• Mark Twain: “The best cure of Christianity is reading the Bible.”

• Andrew Seidel: “The road to atheism is littered with bibles that have been read cover to cover.”

• A. A. Milne: ““The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.”

• Isaac Asimov: "Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."

• Penn Jillette: “Reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism.”

These pithy sayings have been floating around the Internet for a long time, but for those who want to do serious homework on how bad the Bible is, check out these links…just for starters (so much has been written on this topic):

• Hector Avalos, The Bad Jesus: The Ethics of New Testament Ethics

• Dan Barker, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction

• Franz Kiekeban, Bad Arguments in the Bible

• David Madison, Getting the Gospels Off on the Wrong Foot

• Valerie Tarico: Why Is the Bible So Badly Written?

• Steve Wells, The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible

Christianity Opted for the Biggest Scam

Religion was invented because humans craved a way to get right with the gods, and priests claimed to be specialists: They knew the rules and rituals that worked. But the ultimate connection to the gods—most highly sought after—was an eternity of bliss in their presence. Why not sell that?

A young friend once asked me, long ago, how Christianity has been so successful, so popular, if it is wrong. “Because it promises people they won’t have to die,” was my answer. Christopher Hitchens was pretty sure that religion wouldn’t disappear “…until we get over our fear of death.” I prefer the cynical punch offered by a Facebook friend: “As long as people are afraid of death, they will continue to embrace religion. What a bunch of pussies.” Our little share of life—being here for a blip in eternity—isn’t enough, dammit. We’re terrified at the prospect of ‘the end.’

Hence the inventors of Christianity selected this ultimate wish-list delusion as its specialty. In one text Jesus supposedly said that eternal life was within reach for those who followed the law—and distributed everything to the poor. But then along came shrewd theologians who added huge measures of magical thinking:

The apostle Paul: “…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

In I Thessalonians he assured his readers that their dead relatives would rise from their graves—no doubt transformed into ‘spiritual bodies’—to meet Jesus in the clouds. (4:16-18) The theologian who wrote Luke’s gospel saw the sinister side of the dramatic arrival of Jesus. Noah’s flood had been a catastrophy—the earliest genocide ‘on record’—and he was hoping for a repeat. This is the script he gave to Jesus (17:26-27): “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”

[So Jesus expected most people to be destroyed during his ‘special days’? When people say that they ‘love their Jesus’…have they thought it through?]

The author of John’s gospel was fully on board and saw Christianity as a private cult. He created this gem of magical thinking, one of the most disturbing texts in the New Testament…why don’t Christians wretch?

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.’” (6:53-57)

The dishonesty of the eternal life gimmick is not hard to grasp. There is no evidence whatever that a species of mammals on one planet has discovered beliefs and rituals that can promote a chosen few of them to eternal status in the Cosmos. Religious quacks, shrewd theologians of all persuasions, have been selling a product they don’t have. The very concept is absurd—especially those versions that include dead relatives waiting for loved ones to show up.

Such foolishness should be a source of shame. The quotes I have just offered from Paul, John and Luke are sufficient to make the case that the Bible has enshrined cheap, abusive, manipulative ideas. It’s not hard at all to spot the obviously bad stuff, but here are ideas that so many Christians adore and cherish—yet somehow fail to grasp the ghastly theology that owes so much to the cult world from which Christianity emerged. If a wise and powerful god couldn’t rise above such trash in fashioning his message for the world, then he deserves an “F.”

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published in 2016 by Tellectual Press.