Why Atheists Need to Understand the Bible- A Response to My Critics

Why Atheists Need to Understand the Bible

By David G. McAfee

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            Religionists have two primary ways of spreading doctrine: heredity (the passing of religious customs from generation to generation) and formal outward conversion (door-to-door and conversational peddling of religion). Regardless of which religion is being practiced, there are various cited cases of conversion and indoctrination of children- it is clear, however, that the latter is a more effective tactic in the expansion of a belief system. Each religion (at least all successful ones) has a built-in form of reward and punishment system that ensures- to a high probability- that the beliefs and practices are passed successfully from parent to child.          

           In order to think about this phenomenon in practical terms, I apply the analogy of Santa Claus. I am not necessarily equating the idea of a “God” to a jolly, Christmas, caricature- but it is interesting to note that many families raise their children by enforcing a belief in Santa Claus. And if nobody ever told the child that he doesn’t exist, it is reasonable to conclude that many children would mature and maintain the belief in Saint Nicolas and possibly raise their children with those same beliefs and so on and so forth continuing the practices associated with the benevolent gift-giver and his holiday.

            It is because of this ‘gift’ of faith that most religionists (often in accordance with their respective doctrines) raise their children to mirror their own religious traditions and transform the blank slates that are their children into followers of a system which they rarely question and often neglect to follow the basic tenants and principles of the faith. There is one major flaw in this technique employed by virtually every religion in the world- and that is that, in order for a theistic system to spread and remain relevant- it depends on faith, in other words ‘ignorance’, many times at the opposition of common sense and scientific facts. I’ve found that, through the spread of knowledge and reason, it is possible to combat theism and restore the United States of America to its secular roots.

            I’m not saying that it is an easy task to ‘deconvert’ or even hold a logical dialogue with some religionists; after all, in many cases, they have devoted their entire lives to honoring and revering their “God(s)”. There are, however, many people who are both intelligent and reasonable, yet they have never questioned their inherited theistic traditions- these people I refer to as “religious by default”. While, if asked, these people would likely classify themselves as ‘believers’ or ‘followers’- they may not strictly follow, or even be fully aware, of the basic tenants of their religion. In North America (and Europe), the ‘default religion’ is usually a sect of Christianity, this is important because these softer Default Christians, as opposed to evangelical, fundamentalist, and extremist Christians, make up the (silent) majority. It is upon this realization that I suggest a ‘Secular Surge’, on behalf of Non-Theists around the world, in order to spread logical thinking and knowledge at the expense of blind faith- in order to ensure that science, society, and government are no longer impacted and restrained by the archaic pillars upon which supernatural religions, cults, and theism in general are built.

            In order to have any hope of accomplishing such an incredible task- it is first necessary for the secularists and non-religious people to become well informed in that which they will attempt to refute- this includes taking Religious Studies courses, attending a church or other religious institution, or even a close-reading of the canonical Sacred Texts. I write this in response to the many e-mails I have received on why I focus so much of my time studying traditions that I believe to be false and often, harmful. I believe that, as a secular activist and Religious Studies scholar, it is often helpful to know more about the religions that I spend my time denouncing than the majority of its followers.

Thank you very much for your time, and please be sure to SUBSCRIBE for updates on future posts,

David G. McAfee


14 responses to “Why Atheists Need to Understand the Bible- A Response to My Critics

  1. It is important the people actually read the Bible if they are to discuss Christianity with Christians. I’ve a degree in theology and was a practicing Old Catholic priest for years. The fact is that almost no one really reads the Bible. What people hear in churches are either snippets taken out of context – from a Lectionary or they attend churches where the preacher only uses those verses that support his main thesis – whatever it might be.

    I’ve taught Bible study for years. During the last 10 years I’ve used materials from the current cirtical studies of the Bible. When you read what they are saying about the Bible at the Westar Institute and the Jesus Seminar – you soon come to realize that the Bible is entirely a work of historical fiction and mostly fiction, very little history.

    I still have very good friends who are Christians from a wide variety of positions. Those of the more conservative end really know almost nothing about the Bible. Even when they read it, they cannot understand it because it was written in a world and from world-views that are radically different than educated people have today.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. as a former preacher, i would have to say that those that choose it, choose it because they are looking for reason and answers, and it fills the void when they find it. but a calm logical talk, explaining the point of view of science, can reach some of them… thanks

  3. Now, I can understand the Atheists difficulty in taking the step of faith necessary to believe God. What I don’t understand is how an atheist finds comfort in the complete absence of purpose and meaning, other than to live for himself and in pleasing himself in anyway he sees fit until death takes him. And if man has no creator and therefore no spirit which communicates with this divine creator then he is merely a straw man, living in a straw box, trying to fill his straw brain with straw facts that also have no meaning.

    Paul Kurtz- “Using the powerful critical tools of science and logical analysis, modern man now recognizes that the universe has no special human meaning or purpose and that man is not a special product of creation.”

    P.K. Is examining science in the “box” of science to arrive at this conclusion; That man has no meaning and no purpose in the universe. He goes on to say, “If man is a product of evolution, one species among others, in a universe without purpose, then man’s option is to live for himself…”… See More

    Clarence Darrow says this; “The purpose of man is like the purpose of the pollywog -to wiggle along as far as he can without dying; or to hang to life until death takes him.”

    Charles Spurgeon- “The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father.”

    • Shawn, as has been noted, it is an assumption that “meaning” can only be derived from deity (belief in, et al). Have you experienced something of great beauty in your life that you didn’t automatically ascribe to deity (though you may have done so later when queried on it)? Do you perform every action of your daily life as devotion to deity? For example, every time you hug your loved ones, children, family, friends– is it simply for the sharing of a fulfilling relationship or do you consciously perform this action as worship to God? Do you find interaction with people in your life meaningful on its own? Why or why not?

      My point is that almost no one employs this need to ascribe “meaning” to every facet of their lives because those facets, in and of themselves, are deeply meaningful.

      I was raised fundamentalist, went to seminary right out of high school (17) and spent 3 months as a missionary between first and second years. I left the church completely at 20 without looking back once because I got what Jesus was teaching, and saw quite clearly that the church had missed the mark. It was all about compassion, for me, and seeing clearly that the message of the church was one of exclusion, bigotry, and eliminationism. The message was not love or sharing or giving or compassion, and I knew that I couldn’t be part of that.

      What I learned is it does not matter what religion you ascribe to, and ultimately that religion does not matter at all. What matters, what is lasting in this world, is how we treat others. That’s really the whole of it. My experience of the world is richer because I do not have the filter of deity placed upon it, but can connect with all within my capability because I no longer shield myself from those riches out of fear that I might “sin” or “displease God”. Nor am I waiting on some “sign” or divine confirmation that I walk the path of my life, or that I allow others to share it with me, or that I must restrict myself to an arbitrarily approved church group. There is no more intermediary to my participation in the universe. And this is true freedom.

      It is the mistake of many Christians to assume that because someone chooses not to participate in the reward/punishment regime of Yahweh that we are not capable of morality, self-moderation, or comprehension of societal regulations. This is absurdly false. A cursory understanding of history will demonstrate that human beings developed these systems long before Christianity even existed. A conversation on the actual “morality” of OT text is unnecessary to those of us who have actually read through the Bible (I have thrice). And you insult us, sir, most egregiously, to assert that we who choose not to follow your doctrine are not capable of feeling and caring for others. You are arrogant and make yourself ridiculous in this forum to post such.

    • . What I don’t understand is how an atheist finds comfort in the complete absence of purpose and meaning, other than to live for himself and in pleasing himself in anyway he sees fit until death takes him

      I beg your pardon. I have 3 beautiful boys, a wonderful husband & amazing, loving parents. We do all that we can to ensure our kids are well fed, have a safe environment to play in, & are kind to each other.
      We treat others with respect, enjoy the many wonderful things in life, & live by the law. We most certainly DO NOT live a life with complete absence of purpose & meaning & we are FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

  4. Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth

    Amen and indeed1 Note the silly ratonalizatins of apologists lke Gleason L.Arcehr on the contradictions and the intent of the egregious passages.
    Ignostic Morgan

  5. Shawn
    Your assertion is simply wrong. The quotes you choose to support it neither justify nor make it correct. It is simply incorrect to imagine that there is a complete absence of purpose or meaning without faith in a mythical god. To be human is to determine and grapple with purpose, not merely to submit to a belief system.

  6. I admire those atheists that can find the time to refute religion based on the inconsistencies, inaccuracies and intolerance of their historical scriptures. We don’t all have the time to do this. My response to pushers-of-faith is: What gives your faith, which is based on an ancient text, more credence than any other faith based on an ancient text? And why does your god/gods rely on spreading it’s message on an ancient text at all? Why does their god not speak to us today?

    My own loss of faith began when I actually started reading the Bible for myself. Conclusion? You would have to be delusional to think it holy.

  7. Arguably it is easier to explain why a religious text doesn’t work than to explain the mechanics of the universe and natural history. An even weaker link is the questionable motives and hypocrisy of many (most?) religious leaders. Like most works of fiction the bible has pockets of wisdom. But unlike most popular fictions there is a vast amount of barbarous ignorance and serious continuity issues. Most people don’t even know what kind of vile evil is in the bible they claim to have read and understand. Psalm 137:9 comes to mind. Showing people that they carry a book every Sunday, supposedly the timeless word of god, that encourages bigotry, violence, slavery… (it’s not a “good” book) forces them to make a better informed decision about whether want to make a truly informed decision. Most people feel trapped by peer pressure or personal circumstance. Even if they want to see reason they may not feel that option is open to them. But, it’s a start.

    **Shawn, I’m reminded of the movie Good Will Hunting. Particularly I’m thinking of the scene wherein the college student, Clark, argues with the protagonist. Our hero points out that everything Clark offers is merely a parroting of someone else’s ideas. “Don’t you have any ideas of your own?”

    Your “straw man” argument is something of a straw man argument. Consider everything you enjoy and value in life: watching the TV, a good meal, a piece of art a piece of music, watching children play, being recognized for doing something well. Assuming for a moment we are offspring of the creation of the creator, everything you value only has value because it glorifies the god. Assume for another moment, and you may have to try a little harder, that even though you believe everything is for the glory of the god there is no god (call it pretending if you have to). In this scenario you believe it is for the glory of the god but it can’t be since there isn’t one. Therefore the value is either different from what you think it is or there is no value. (Hold on, two more scenarios.) Scenario three: There is no god (pretend, go on) but you can’t help but value the things you value. You might have to conclude that subjective value on a personal and social scale may actually be real value. Scenario four: You still don’t believe in the non-existent god and you realize that everything you thought you enjoyed is a lie (due to the lack of glory and objective divine value) and you can barely bring yourself to eat (even though everything tastes the same) because there is no objective point to it. And for a bonus fifth scenario imagine you belong to any other faith. You would probably still feel the same way in spite of the change of deity. Both deities can’t be the one true god can they? So what you believe has greater impact than the reality or fictionality of all mighty. Can we trust you to draw your own conclusions.

    Most of the religious apologetic dribble (I hope you’ll forgive me for being dismissive) I encounter rely on faulty premises. If you want to test the quality of an argument the premise(s) is a good place to start. I wish you good will and good hunting.

  8. Thanks for a thoughtful and considered article. More intelligent discussion helps all of the human race. There is currently some debate in Australia about the tax deductible status of fringe churches & cults like Scientology. Religion has many dangers and is blind to its own problems.
    This is not to say merely being an atheist or agnostic will make for the best life. Being a good human being is always something of a challenge, and most people do “good” if they are religious or not.

  9. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  10. Thanks, David. I have read your writings about readiing the bible. It is a pity few Christians read it. Roman Catholics are discouraged from reading the OT. It must embarras the Church, especlaiiy stuff like Numbers Chapter 31. At JESUIT College we never got up to that book. We did Genesis and some Exodus, then skipped to the next book of lying … See Morefiction , the NT. Last year I read from Genesis to Kiings Ii and got so pissed off with it I tore up that bible.

    The “Holy” Bible as stated by most posters here is FICTION. It is the worst book of fiction ever written and should be classified horror/fiction – not suitable for under 18.

    Roman Catholics are never taught the TRUTH. They can’t handle the Truth (Jack Nicholson). Will RC’s ever know the truth about the Council of Nicea?

  11. I agree with this, to an extent. I’m an atheist, and atheists for the most part train themselves with a few scraps of scripture with which to refute any argument given to them by Christians who, in turn, have the same few snippets with which to refute the atheists.

    And round and round we go!

    What I don’t agree with is the need to deconvert anyone. In the same way that I don’t really want Jehovah’s witnesses banging down my door, I don’t really feel the need to be evangelical in my unbelief.

    But that’s just me I guess.

  12. Pingback: Advice for a Young Freethinker « The Secular Writings of David G. McAfee

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