Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What the @#$%^* do I know about religion?

I'm an atheist, thank God.

Faith: not wanting to know what is true.

Praying is like a rocking chair: it'll give you something to do, but it won't get you anywhere

Christian Fundamentalism: The doctrine that there is an absolutely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, universe-spanning entity that is deeply and personally concerned about your sex life.

I grew up in a Protestant middle class family. I remember my father as a salt of the earth type of guy, a touch of the traditionalist but one which was transported into an era outside of his control: the 1950s with the rise of psychology in child rearing and the 1960s with the hippies and social revolution. He didn't know the right answer any more than any parent (including me) and considering the influences outside of the home (friends, school, drinking and drugs), my upbringing like the upbringing of most (all?) kids had an element of luck to it.

Our family started out as regular church goers but by the time I was in my late teens, going to church was relegated to special occasions like Christmas. However there was a period of years where I attended Sunday school every week quite faithfully. That is, faithful as in regularly not as in full of faith or believing.

My Sunday school teachers were lay people who volunteered their time at the church to lead impressionable young people to the Lord. I'm saying that tongue in cheek as I discovered that they more often than not followed the church designated curriculum to the letter without thinking about what it was they were teaching. As I've said elsewhere, I was an avid reader and such a literary proclivity (See the words I learned as kid?) led me to every book in the house, the library at school, and to the public library. This opened my eyes to two important genres of books: science and science fiction.

At this time I was approximately 12 years old. I was reading a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury and was particularly fascinated by the story "A Sound of Thunder". Without going into the details, the central idea was about going back in time to the period of the dinosaurs. Elsewhere I had read about dinosaurs and found the various drawings of these gigantic creatures to capture the imagination of this young boy. The problem with dinosaurs was that they existed according to science millions of years before our time while the Bible seemed to show that the world was only about 6 thousand years old. If the world was only 6,000 years old, how could dinosaurs have existed millions of years ago?

Years later, in clearing up the estate of my parents, I was cleaning out the house and ran across the "family Bible". I could remember this weighty volume as the de facto source of religious teachings, all the more holy by its size and weight. At the top of every page was marked the associated year based on the time of Jesus Christ showing either B.C. or A.D. I have never forgotten that at the top of the page where one found Genesis Chapter 1, verse 1, you could see 4004. That is, the world was created in 4,004 B.C.

At the same time, at school, astronomy was part of the curriculum. I found the study of the planets, the sun, the Milky Way, etc. to be very interesting as this seemed to correlate quite nicely with the ideas I was presented with while reading science fiction. I could argue that the secular school system played a role in disenchanting me about biblical studies.

Within the study of astronomy, I discovered that the concept of a "day" varies from planet to planet. While the Earth spins on its axis approximately every 24 hours, Mars has a rotation of 24 hours and almost 40 minutes, Jupiter under 10 hours and Mercury rotates every 59 days. The concept of a day led me to the concept of a year, the period of time to orbit around the sun. While the Earth orbits around the sun every year, 365 days, Jupiter takes almost 12 Earth years, Neptune takes 165 years and Mercury only needs 88 days.

Obviously, while we here on Earth talk about a "day" and a "year", these ideas are only relative to the Earth, the planet upon which we live. There are other circumstances where the ideas of day and year are totally different.

Back to this conundrum of the Bible and dinosaurs. Genesis stated that God made the Earth in 6 days. Dinosaurs seemed to have lived millions of years ago. Was there a way of associating 2 ideas which seemed to contradict one another?

Suddenly, it occurred to me. What if a day for God was not the same as our day? What if God's day was not 24 hours, but millions, maybe billions of years long? Jupiter takes 12 Earth years to circle the sun. If I was 3 years old on Jupiter, I would actually be 36 years old on Earth. If one of God's days was, let's say a billion years, that could mean that when God made the Earth in 6 days, 6 of "His" days, He actually took 6 billion Earth years.

I remember that I was stunned. Now it all made sense. It made sense how God made the Earth in 6 days, how dinosaurs existed a long time ago, and how there was no contradiction between the Bible and science. I wanted to bring this up in Sunday school. I was excited; I had a revelation to share; I had managed to solve a mystery! However, disappointment was just around the corner. The Sunday school teacher politely listened a bit then told me we all had to follow the prescribed programme and talking around the orbits and rotations of the planets to explain "God's day" did not fit in.

Needless to say, this was the beginning of the end for me; the start of my disenchantment with not just Sunday school, but religion in general. Eventually I dropped out of Sunday school... well; I first played hooky quite a bit then managed to convince my father that I would no longer even go to church. I've never gone back.

Postscript: I recently discovered the term Old Earth Creationism which in effect reconciles the Bible with scientific thought. The term day is not considered as a period of 24 hours but of some period of time which is very long: a day for God is possibly billions of years for us. Finally, some common sense. This may not 100% correct but at least it views the Bible with an interpretive eye not a completely literal one.

We are all God's children
As you can see from the above, I thought I had discovered a way of reconciling science and Biblical teachings. But such a reconciliation meant interpreting the Bible not accepting it at face value. Unfortunately I quickly discovered that while I understood and appreciated that the word "day" did not necessarily mean a period of twenty-four hours, others, many others blindly and adamantly held the idea that a day was a day and that meant 24 hours.

Later an odd thought occurred to me about the reconciliation between science and faith and the saying that we are all God's children.

When I was two years old, did my father talk to me about nuclear physics? Did he explain DNA to me? Did he sit me down in front of a blackboard and write out the calculus necessary to verify quantum mechanics? No he didn't. Why? Well, okay, the first reason is that my father didn't know calculus never mind quantum mechanics but that's another story. My point is that who talks with a child of such things? The subjects are way over the head of a kid.

I began to wonder if the same idea wasn't applicable to the human race in general. God didn't tell us about DNA before because as children we were incapable of understanding a subject that is so complicated. Ditto for quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. We, the human race, are getting a little older and are finding out things for ourselves. In a way, isn't this like a parent? A parent tries to give a kid some guiding principles but the kid must learn stuff. Didn't God give us some guiding principles (which we fail to follow or just ignore: Thou shall not kill) and now we're off learning stuff?

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
-Isaac Newton

Is the Bible the word of God?
The answer is very much dependent on which end of the spectrum you're at. If you are a fundamentalist, the Bible is THE word of God and I'm going to Hell for even asking the question. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bible is an inaccurate document written by man (well, men) and is their interpretation of both historical events and what God, if He exists, meant. It has been rendered inaccurate by the faults of transcribing the texts, of translating the texts, and of various political interests who changed the Bible to suit their needs.

Tom Harpur, an ordained Anglican priest, Rhodes Scholar, journalist, and theologian, is a proponent of the Christ myth theory. This theory states that Jesus of Nazareth was not a physical historical person, but is a fictional, mythological or solely incorporeal character created by the early Christian community. In his 2004 book "The Pagan Christ", he studies the Bible, its origins, and its development over the centuries. He claims that what began as a universal belief system has become a ritualistic institution headed by ultraconservative literalists and goes so far as to say that "Our blind faith in literalism is killing Christianity".

Pick up the newspaper and there can be little doubt that man uses God to his advantage and extremists in all camps, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, lay claim to knowing "the" truth and the will of God/Allah and act accordingly to their own interpretation of right and wrong. No wonder critics of religion put forward the idea that never has so much evil been done in the world than by those who are believers and do so in the name of God/Allah.

Final Word
You may think I'm an atheist but I always tell people that I'm an agnostic. My joke is that I want to spend my life sinning then repent on my deathbed. Of course, I vaguely remember a humorous story of somebody with a plan to do just that but they end up getting killed unexpectedly and never get a chance to repent. So it's off to Hell with ye!

It is the final proof of God's omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us.
-Peter De Vries, "The Mackerel Plaza," 1958

Does God exist or not? But more importantly, does it matter? It is interesting to note that certain truths like The Golden Rule show up in all of the major religions. Whether it's Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or even Wicca (modern witchcraft), everyone seems to understand this concept to be fundamental to all human beings. When people dismiss religion, they are not dismissing the ideas. The Golden Rule is a good idea even without the idea of an almightly being. No, people dismiss religion because of the narrow-minded literal interpretation of the scriptures which leads to a self-proclaimed moral superiority over the rest of the world and the hatred of homosexuals, women, Muslims and anybody who disagrees with them. But not me. I'm an agnostic, thank God... maybe.


Wikipedia: Bible
The Bible is a canonical collection of sacred texts in Judaism or Christianity.

Wikipedia: Criticism of the Bible
In modern times, the view that the Bible should be accepted as historically accurate and as a reliable guide to morality has been questioned by many mainstream academics in the field of biblical criticism. Most Christian groups claim that the Bible is inspired by God, and some oppose interpretations of the Bible that are not traditional or "plain reading". Some of the most conservative Christian circles, namely the King James Only movement, believe the King James translation of the Scriptures is the only accurate English translation of the Bible, and accept it as infallible. Christian Fundamentalism—as well as much of Orthodox Judaism—strongly support the idea that the Bible is an historically accurate record of actual events and a primary source of moral guidance.

Wikipedia: Old Earth Creationists
Day-age creationism is an effort to reconcile the literal Genesis account of creation with modern scientific theories on the age of the universe, the Earth, life, and humans. It holds that the six days referred to in the Genesis account of creation are not ordinary 24-hour days, but rather are much longer periods (of thousands or millions of years).

The Straight Dope - May 25/2012
Was Jesus copied from the Egyptian god Horus? by Cecil Adams
There’s a hardening realization that, setting aside obvious supernatural elements, we’ll never know which if any parts of the Gospel describe actual events and which are made up.

Tom Harpur: The Pagan Christ
This is Harpur's most radical and groundbreaking work to date, in which he digs deep into the origins of Christianity and how the early Christian church covered up all attempts to reveal the Bible as myth. What began as a universal belief system has become a ritualistic institution headed by ultraconservative literalists. As he reconsiders a lifetime of worship and study, Harpur reveals a cosmic faith built on these truths that the modern church has renounced. His message is clear: our blind faith in literalism is killing Christianity.

Wikipedia: Tom Harpur
Thomas William ("Tom") Harpur (born 1929) is a Canadian author, broadcaster, columnist and theologian. An ordained priest, he is a proponent of the Christ myth theory, the idea that Jesus did not exist but is a fictional or mythological figure. He is the author of a number of books, including For Christ's Sake (1993), Life after Death (1996), and The Pagan Christ (2004).

Wikipedia: Christ myth theory
The Christ myth theory (also known as Jesus mythicism, the Jesus myth theory and the nonexistence hypothesis) is the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was not a physical historical person, but is a fictional, mythological or solely incorporeal character created by the early Christian community.

Amazon: The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light by Tom Harpur
Harpur, a former Anglican priest and professor of Greek and New Testament at the University of Toronto, delves into the foundations of the Christian faith, questioning the historicity of the Bible, reinterpreting the familiar stories and restoring what he considers the inner meaning of scriptural texts. "Taken literally, they present a world of abnormal events totally unrelated to people's authentic living today." He documents the many traditions that predate Christianity and parallel the familiar Bible story. He sees Christianity, and the Bible itself, as a rehash of these traditions, merely imitative rather than a record of actual, historical events. He goes so far as to question the existence of the historical Jesus. Harpur believes that the early church establishment, through deliberate acts of suppression and the destruction of books that might challenge the orthodox view (most famously in the Alexandrian Library), shaped a rigid institution unable to cope with an evolving world. He insists that a major change must take place in order for Christianity to survive. His solution is termed "Cosmic Christianity"—a radical reinterpretation not just of the Bible but of the nature of the Christian faith and its links to the world's great spiritual traditions. Harpur's arguments, themselves a rehash of earlier scholarship, are unlikely to convince readers who are not already inclined to his views.


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