As an unregenerate, dyed-in-the-wool Doubter I have fairly radical views about religion. Not according to me, of course, but probably the religious would see it that way. But one thing that's always perplexed me is what I understand to be a central tenet of fundamentalism: that everything in the Bible must be literally true.
I've learned to my surprise over the years that many people who have argued religion with me haven't actually read the Bible, which I find curious. One friend told me that she knows what's in it because she hears about it from her priest, and that's enough for her.
Well and good, but still, I'd recommend reading the Bible as well as at least a few lay commentaries on it. I'll set aside atheistic favorites like Doubt: A History by the talented Jennifer Michael Hecht (she's also a poet) or the delightfully entertaining Ecce Homo! by the French materialist Baron d'Holbach. And I'm actually not a big fan of "The New Atheism"—Hitchens, Dawkins et alia—which as a rule I find tendentious and ponderous as well as partially if not largely irrelevant. For believers, I don't think logic enters into it, so logical refutations are sort of talking past the point.
If you appreciate blasphemy rendered with a sharp stick and lemon juice, though, you'd enjoy the d'Holbach, the world's first modern biography of Jesus of Nazareth. Pity it can hardly be found. The edition I have is the 1977 Gordon Press reproduction of the first American translation of 1827; the book originally appeared pseudonymously in 1770—in Amsterdam, I believe—as Histoire critique de Jésus-Christ. Its author put himself in considerable peril by writing it. Its English translator, one George Houston, c. 1799, whose words were the basis for the "rev. and corr." American First, was tossed in jail for two years and fined just for translating it. [UPDATE: It's actually on the web, in its entirety. The web version is apparently the British translation, with footnotes that the first American edition lacks. Amazing! Thanks to Matteo for this. —MJ]
But I digress. As I was saying, I'd recommend reading, preferably simultaneously, at least two translations of at least the New Testament (although the Old is astounding and hence, really not to be missed). For those who prefer to read English, I'd recommend a reader's edition of the famous King James Bible, rendered at the end of the Elizabethan era and a masterpiece of translation in its own right (I have a thing for Elizabethan translations, including the KJV). Augment that with something such as J. B. Phillips' New Testament in Modern English. Not only are they Englished quite differently, but the translators in either case had quite different sources from which to work. Then there are commentaries for both the credulous and the skeptical which further illumine the experience. (The one I wanted to recommend I can't find...I wonder if I loaned it to someone.)
In any event it seems basic to me for both believers and non-believers to discover first what we are talking about.
If one actually reads the Bible, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that the literary methods employed are things such as allegory and extended metaphor, tales with morals, mythos, parables, symbolism, and poetic justice. In other words, you can't read it "literally"—or you miss many of the points entirely!
"No, no, you must take Aesop literally. This one's not about human beings preparing for the future, it's only about one actual ant, and one actual grasshoppper, who plays the fiddle. No, 'fiddle' is not a euphemism for the way grasshoppers make noise by rubbing their legs together! This grasshopper played an actual fiddle, made of wood with catgut strings and a horsehair bow. The point of the story? Just that an ant is more likely to make it through a winter than a grasshopper is. Why would you even ask? It has no meaning beyond that, and there is no lesson or moral or significance in the story for people; am I an ant? No. Are you a grasshopper?! No. Don't be stupid...."
Some Sunday thoughts
But here's the point about Creationism. If you believe in God, and God (who created us) gave us our brains, and the brains God gave us are capable of understanding the mechanism of how He made the world and everything in it, how could anyone plausibly refuse such a gift? Evolution is simply God in action; our ability to understand it also has to be a privilege granted by God, does it not? Why did God both create DNA and also let us detect and decode it, if He didn't want us to understand the mechanisms of His creation? Since you really can't understand much of anything about the world without understanding evolution, averting one's eyes—deliberately choosing to remain in ignorance—is to refuse one of God's greatest gifts...if all gifts come from God.
I've simply never seen the religion and evolution as being incompatible, is all. Unless you insist on reading the Good Book's creation allegory literally, which seems on its face like a fool's errand to this infidel. But then, I'm just imaging or postulating the position of the believer, not being one myself. Maybe I don't get it. It simply seems to me that if I were a religious person in the time of Darwin, my reaction would merely have been, "Ahh! So that's how He did it."
I'm just sayin'.
"Open Mike" is a series of off-topic essays by Yr. Hmbl. Blogger that appear only, but not always, on Sundays.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.