Some perspective (before I add my perspective) — I’ve said before that I’m grateful to Hebrew School for making me the atheist I am today. And I mean that genuinely. I come at atheism have been served the kool-aid, having sipped the kool-aid, and having found the kool-aid wanting.
I may not have been sure, as a kid, if the emperor was naked or not, but I was dead certain that the kool-aid was being wildly oversold.
But I learned things of great and real value there. I learned about my culture. And I learned not just about the religious faith of my ‘people’, but how the very nuts and bolts of that faith worked. Judaism is like that. It WANTS you to ask questions. Doubt doesn’t make you a heretic (except in the extreme communities), it makes you more certain — or more likely to ask more questions.
One of my Hebrew School teachers was an older gent named Henry Hyman. I have only incredibly warm memories of the man. He was lovely and though religious himself never ever EVER pushed his faith onto us. We had to go to it. If we were inclined to.
One of the things Henry Hyman taught me (and I’m paraphrasing here but this IS the gist of it): The bible is NOT a work of history. It is a work of religious thought.
I would even add it is a work of LITERATURE.
And that has always been the context in which I’ve personally understood Abrahamic faith’s foundational texts. As literature and religion.
But I live in America. I live in a country where people spend MILLIONS OF DOLLARS on giant-sized replicas of boats from stories they heard (and I MEAN heard vs ‘read’). I live in a country where 40% of THE ADULTS think Evolution is bullshit, that the world is ten minutes old and that Elvis is alive and rides dinosaurs somewhere.
I live in the country that invented Mormonism & the Prosperity Gospel. Creative to be sure but… C’mon…
If I had one of my very good and genuinely beloved theist friends with me, I’d ask them this: “Was Jesus truly a perfect man?”
And my friend Theist would reply (I’m guessing): “Of course. Jesus was probably the ONLY perfect man — ever.”
“And you’re sure about that?” I would ask.
“Positive,” Theist replies.
“You said ‘probably the ONLY perfect man’,” I would point out. Not the only?
“The only,” Theist replies.
“Did Jesus write the bible?” I would ask next. Did Jesus physically sit down — writing device in hand — to ‘pen’ his story?
Of course not — Theist says, rolling his eyes. Other people did that.
Were THEY perfect?
“No,” says Theist wearily, wondering where the fuck I’m going with this.
“How did the bible get written?” I would ask next. “What was the literal physical process?” Now, that’s not an arcane question. What I’m asking is real — to get to where we are today, at SOME point SOMEONE had to write all this down and set in motion everything that became the Abrahamic religions.
The words did not write themselves. Or did they?
Let’s explore that for a moment — yeah — what if the words ‘wrote themselves’? How would that have worked? Bolt of lightning? Pretty spectacular but — no one mentions it (spectacular as it is) – kind of makes one doubt it.
The words just… ‘Magically appeared on the parchment’? Can you repeat that process? Cause otherwise, I ain’t buying. The words did not write themselves.
Did some sort of ‘Hand of God’ magically poke down from the heavens and ‘pen’ it? No — it didn’t (and THAT’S weird because this Yahweh fellow doesn’t add up. He’s powerful and clever enough TO CREATE THE WHOLE UNIVERSE out of nothing — to people the earth and provide water, light, dark, food in a particularly Edenic environment and yet… he can’t figure out how to put a few words down onto parchment himiself.
He has to go through US. Cause we’re so ‘trustworthy’ in his eyes…
Let’s go with Theist’s argument for a moment. Let’s GIVE Theist his Deity. Yahweh is in The House! And Yahweh has decided it’s time to make The Truth known to his ‘Finest Creation’ — the thing he has made in HIS own image: MAN.
So Yahweh looks around (where’d all these people come from?) and finds a SCRIBE he thinks he can work with. He locates a desk for the Scribe. A comfortable chair. Light’s good (the Scribe won’t hurt his eyes). And Yahweh says, “Scribe — start writing — everything I say — no questions.”
The Scribe shrugs. And Yahweh starts to dictate…
Now — the question. Is the Scribe ‘perfect’? Is he a perfect man? Is he capable of 100% perfection? According to my pal Theist — no, the Scribe is NOT perfect — only JESUS is perfect. So my Scribe — by Theist’s own agreement — is IMPERFECT.
The vessel chosen to transmit the Divine Word of Yahweh is IMPERFECT.
That’s not a small problem. But it does point right at the ultimate flaw in all theistic faith. At some point, one person had to ‘sit down’ and ‘pen’ the foundational document that became the basis for that faith.
It cannot just spring from the ether. The words cannot just materialize on the page. Someone has to do the dirty. Complex higher concepts — whole lineages and stories — must be not only transmitted FROM THE DIVINE and UNDERSTOOD but then RE-TRANSMITTED as well by the Scribe — and in a way that your average illiterate, uninformed, backwards-as-fuck (living in Judea) plebe could grasp and, hopefully, take to heart. Cause otherwise, what’s the point? Why TELL your story if you don’t intend to SELL your story?
So, Scribe sits down and begins writing away. But is Scribe really getting it all? And who IS Scribe exactly — that’s important. Writers don’t write in a vacuum. Who they are, their life experiences, what concerns them deeply — these all color every last bit of how Scribe does what he does. But we don’t know any of that about Scribe.
We have to ‘trust’ that Scribe got it right. But how could we tell? There’s no way to check Scribe’s work — and Scribe was not perfect, right? We agreed to that already. And I can appreciate that you can have faith in a giant, powerful force-of-nature that alternately calls the shots and doesn’t but you cannot tell me that you have faith in SCRIBE.
Because you DON’T KNOW SCRIBE. And though they may be Yahweh’s words, they must STILL be ‘refracted’ first through the prismatic, complex brain of Scribe — whoever he is.
And that’s the problem. It wasn’t Yahweh who PHYSICALLY WROTE THE WORDS ‘In the beginning’ (or their Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent). It was Scribe.
And the absolute truth is — we cannot KNOW what Scribe was thinking when HE wrote those words. Was he divinely inspired? Meet writers. They almost all feel that way.
One of the things Christian scholars wrestle with is the First Cause. What started it all? What preceded the godhead?
I would refocus the question slightly — what preceded ‘the idea’ of god?
The real difference between atheists and theists occurs in the unseen ‘flash of light’ that occurs in Scribe’s mind. Was it the divine that moved Scribe to put pen to paper?
Or was Scribe just one hell of a scribe?