Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I'm not going to waste my time reading the Bible

I have not read the entire Bible.

In fact, the only full stories I have read were about Creation (Ch 1 and 2 in Genesis) and the Prodigal Son, and that was because they were required for my Ancient World Literature class in high school. I know most of the stories and famous quotes just from growing up in a predominantly Christian culture (hell, I first heard the story of Moses from Rugrats), but I have not read the original text.

I don't think this is necessarily very surprising, since I was raised in a secular way. Even many Christians have not read the Bible in its entirety. But whenever I get in a discussion with a religious person and they find out I'm an atheist, the first words out of their mouth are "Well, have you read the Bible?" For some atheists, this is so annoying that they feel compelled to read the Bible just to debate better (and to blog about it):
I am told that reading the bible is a life changing experience that will fully and unequivocally convince me of the existence of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and maybe unicorns. I am also told, when I quote some seemingly strange passages from the bible, that I am merely taking them out of context, and that I would understand the "true" meaning if only I would read the bible in it's entirety. I also look forward to the day that when someone asks me disdainfully "well, have you actually read the bible?" my reply can be "yes, have you?".
While I understand their tactics and find that question equally annoying, I have no plans to read the entire Bible.

"Oh Jen," you say, "you're just being close-minded and set in your beliefs." But I disagree. To illustrate my point, here are my top four reasons why I'm not going to waste my time reading the Bible:

1. There's a double standard. Christians* claim that you can't make an educated argument against Christianity unless you have read the Bible. Yet at the same time, they have often never read any other holy book, let alone all holy books, and they feel like that's perfectly fine. Maybe if they stopped the hypocrisy of their standards, I'd consider them.

2. I don't need to completely master Christian theology before I can realize that it's wrong. As a corollary of #1, this is exactly how most Christians treat other religions. They reject Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Satanism, and Scientology without reading the Tripitaka, Vedas, Qu'ran, Talmud, Satanic Bible, Dianetics. They don't believe in ancient Egyptian, Greek, or Norse gods and goddesses, yet they haven't read every mythological story. We don't need to know every detail about how people draw astrological tables to recognize it as bullshit. One only needs to learn so much about a topic before their skeptical sensors go off.

3. Even if I did read the Bible, Christians will continue to claim that I'm taking it out of context, misinterpreting it, or just outright lying. I have seen this happen over and over again with Bible-savvy atheists who were in debates. These people are so made up in their mind that no amount of reason will work, even if you're using their own tool against them. They see what they want to see in the Bible, and quoting contradictory passages at them is futile.

4. From a purely literary perspective, the parts of the Bible I've read have been incredibly boring and poorly written. For a book that's supposedly God's word, you think he could have done a bit better. I have a queue of excellent books waiting on my bookshelf, and I much rather spend my time reading those than some 2,000 year old mediocre tome that will likely annoy me with its inanity.

I'm sure there are more relevant points that I'm forgetting, but those are the major ones to me. Maybe one day I'll read it, when I've completely exhausted my list of superior literature, or I'm trapped on a desert island with nothing but the Good Book. But until then, I don't feel the need to. I know the stories for the cultural literacy aspect, and that's enough for me.

What do you think? Am I being lazy or practical?

*Obviously not all Christians act in the way I describe in this post. I'm talking about the ones who claim you must read the Bible. I hate making these sorts of disclaimers, but I don't want people trolling me on this little thing.

82 comments:

  1. I think your points are valid. But I have to mention this: When I was your age I was ridiculously born again. Flaming. Studied the bible with passion.

    I have to say, coming from this background can really scare the shit out of theists. They fear me. My atheism terrifies them.

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  2. Certain bits of the bible are quite useful, especially the ones where Moses or Lot or some other "exemplary" character in Christianity commits unspeakable atrocities, all without comment from the man-in-the-sky.

    I would recommend to read the pentateuch, the first 5 books of the old testament, genesis, exodus, numbers, leviticus and deutoronomy. This way you get to understand the reality behind stories like the exodus, the creation stories, etc. And you get loads of stuff to use at debates, like Moses ordering his generals to rape and pillage and that whole psycho Lot story.

    The New Testament is MUCH easier to read and follow, and a lot of Christians go on about how the gospel of John will change your life and so on, so it's also good to be familiar with at least the gospels and be able to say that you have read them.

    I would also highly recommend the "Slate blogs the Bible" series, at http://www.slate.com/id/2141050/ It's an agnostic Jew reading the Old Testament from front to back and commenting on what's going on, so it's a much more enjoyable way of getting at least a general idea of what it's all about.

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  3. Denise,

    I think you have a good point, but that's a unique position that's different than mine. I think people who were once extremely devout and retain that knowledge about Christianity instill doubt in theists. But I'm a lifelong atheist, so even if I read it now, they'll claim I didn't ever truly believe it, so I don't really understand.

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  4. Santiago, I know all of those bits of the Bible - I can come up with example and stories, but apparently it doesn't count because I didn't read the original text. But even when people who have read it get in debates, it doesn't seem to matter. That's why I find the whole thing somewhat futile.

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  5. I just shrug and ask them if they've read the Principia Discordia, and know of the true non-existent goddess Eris.

    If they say no, I shrug and ignore their Biblical messes. Being a jerkass in high school paid dividends there.

    Granted, I also have a fundie roommate who has actually read the Bible, and enjoys giving me verses for ammo. I'm totally going to use that when i finally write that Left Behind inspired book that i'm planning on writing after the one I'm writing now.

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  6. When I read the Bible I was actively searching for religion. It was boring and terrible and yawn. I don't remember much of it because I read it in a glassy-eyed state. Never again.

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  7. There are parts of the Bible that I, as an English major, should by all rights have read... like Revelations, as the imagery used in those passages often resurfaces in Victorian poetry... but I didn't. I DO want to be one of those Bible know-it-all atheists, but I'm not sure I have the will and self-control to actually read the Bible. However, I have been considering reading the skeptics annotated version of the Bible, because I think that might actually be really interesting. Would you read something like that? And for anyone who has read this version, is it good?

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  8. Hi! I'm Allison and I got to your blog through friends. Love it, and I hope you don't mind a stranger commenting.

    Anyway, my favorite response to those who ask "Well have you read the bible?" is "Which one?" I took this fantastic class in college about the problems with translating the bible, how often it has changed, and the fact that there's no one author, and therefore no authority on what's in it. It is terribly subjective as well as one of the most edited pieces of writing ever. Did you know that when translated certain ways the whole concept of a singular god changes? I mean, even god "himself" can't be pegged down as a consistent idea, even in the bible. So take that! The bible is linguistically problematic, so how could it be the absolute "truth?"

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  9. Hi Jen. I think you're being very practical, especially because of the fact that arguing with Christians over the Bible is maddeningly pointless. There's absolutely nothing anyone can say to convince them that the Bible is invalid.

    Being someone who came from a devout Christian background, I would have to agree with Denise that this gives an upperhand when talking to Christians. They really are terrified to think that one of their own has become an atheist. However, you're right that they would dismiss your opinions because you've always been an athiest and were only reading it to find faults in it. They even dismiss ex-Christians most of the time as being "deceived" by Satan and his lies.

    I can remember specific conversations I had with people from my church when I was first becoming agnostic. Without getting into too much detail, they ended up telling me that there are certain parts of the Bible we shouldn't "take literally", other parts were "mistranslated", and only certain aspects of it apply to our lives today. So basically, whichever parts of the Bible they want to follow are the parts that matter.

    Overall it's a pathetic tool on the Christian's part. They pick and choose what they want to use and the rest isn't to be heeded. Personally, I think we're better off aiming for the young generation who aren't yet stuck in their beliefs rather than trying to debate those who will never change their mind.

    PS: I just found your blog today and decided to read/comment. I hope this is okay and not too creepy. :)

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  10. Another point could be that most of the time they are debating either A. You being an atheist, or B. Evolution of some sort. Whenever I am having these kinds of debates its always great to counter with, "Well have you read any of our books?" Because the majority of them have not. Reading the bible does not make you some sort of authority on all other topics.

    I happen to be one of those people who has read all of the bible. Took me a year when I was fourteen. I told my mother that I didn't get it. She told me to go back and read it again, but this time OUT LOUD. Soooooo I did. The only thing I accomplished was to annoy my little sister. The bible made me sick to my stomach. I had an easier time reading 'It.' At least there were steady morals and a coherent story line.

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  11. *except for the spider-clown twist at the end....

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  12. Don't do it Jen. It is not worth it. Stick with the premise that the bible is not "gods word" but written by many authors over a 1000 years and edited by committees of corrupt and power hungry humans on numerous occasions (producing various versions and editions) including at the well known Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. It is a very interesting historical/mythological document, although one that has had a huge (and thankfully decreasing) influence on western (and some eastern) cultures. Use Darwin, Newton and Einstein (and the like) as your weapons of choice when battling the deluded and ignorant.

    Quatguy

    BTW - I am a ludite and cannot figure out how to post my comment using my name. I can only get it to work if I post as anonymous as I do not have a URL.

    Keep up the good work, love your blog

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  13. You should read the LOLcats version of the bible. Much more entertaing, but it still contains all of the same storeis. :)

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  14. If you're going to judge Christianity as wrong then to actually make an educated argument you shouldn't avoid reading the Bible. If you have other things to do that keep you busy that is understandable. But when you come to the point of writing off stuff it makes little sense to not examine the evidence. The Bible is part of that evidence. Also you didn't say "Inspired word of God" a number of Christians put an emphasis on the inspired part of that title. There is an argument not to take all parts of the Bible literally.

    And that is on top of the issue that it really helps to have historical and/or cultural knowledge to understand parts of the Bible. If people don't have it than then they may miss something even if they memorize the whole Bible. This fits in with there being different ways to look at/understand different parts of the Bible.

    You are right that many Christians don't look at the writings of Hindus or vice versa. If you had one or the other running around saying it (Christianity or Hinduism) is wrong and a blight on society then it would be fair to ask for evidence to prove the point. Ditto for atheism. We can guess or say what we think is probably right about religion. But that isn't the same as knowing.

    Back to what I said before, if you are busy and just have other things to do you may be being practical.

    But if you have decided that you don't need to know about "Christian theology before I can realize that it's wrong" that is much more likely to be lazy because you are taking a stand without exploring if it is fair to take it.

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  15. Revelations is fun and trippy. And I hear there's some good porn in the song of solomon.

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  16. Anonymous said, "BTW - I am a ludite and cannot figure out how to post my comment using my name."

    Why are you posting on a blog if you are a luddite? That seems a little, well, ironic.

    As for reading the Bible; My wife is a Christian and (when the topic comes up) tells me that I didn't read it right, although I have read the Bible from beginning to end. She on the other hand has not read the whole thing. So you are definitely right. It's an interesting book but there are so many other interesting books out there and so little time.

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  17. I have to disagree with you here. I think everyone should read the Bible at least once. Like reading all of the classics and having a familiarity with various other mythologies. For millennia literature, art and even science drew their inspiration from the Bible. Even modern writings become richer, more accessible, if you have a exposure to things to which it alludes.

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  18. Your fourth point is one of the oldest critic to the bible. I think the pagan philosopher Porphiry said that the hebraic bible and the christian gospels were works without literary value nor philosophical deep and written in a market's greek.

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  19. I have't read the whole Bible, but reading the resurrection story in each of the 4 gospels is pretty interesting, I'd recommend reading that. The most common thing that comes up in the debates I've had with Christians is that the resurrection is a fact, there were eyewitnesses etc. So I read the gospel stories on it, it's not very long, and was surprised to find glaring inconsistencies between each gospel. Yes I know I should have expected it since the bible is full of contradictions, but because of the big deal that is made about the resurrection being a 'fact' I thought at least the Bible would make the story clear.

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  20. OK then, I am a reformed Luddite who is trying to learn the ways of the world. thanks for your help.

    Quatguy

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  21. I tried reading the bible when I was ten. I had previously read a picture book bible as a young child so I knew some of the stories. It was such utter jibberish. I tried to get my mother to explain how the incoherent words in the bible got turned into the rules doled out at church. She couldn't. I was left feeling angry that this book, the bible, that was supposed to be full of wisdom and truth and guidance, was incomprehensible. It was going to take way too much energy to try and understand the insane garbled text of the bible, so I gave up on trying to read it as a ten year old and have never felt the need to return to it.
    I don't think it's lazy. I thinks it's pragmatic--there are just too many other good, accessible books I would rather read.
    Reading the bible isn't going to change an atheist's mind or help him/her to understand Christians/Christianity any better. Does knowing more about the tooth fairy help one to understand a five year old child any better? No. Understanding the psychology behind the need for tooth fairy stories is useful.

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  22. Being an atheist who's read the entire bible (sans the genealogy and skimming most of Psalms), I think it's not worth it. Most of it is pointless drivel. The parts with Jesus have some good ammo to throw at Christian apologists, but most of the rest of it is only of interest if you're really into the mythology or specific doctrines of Christianity.

    If the only reason you're an atheist is because you don't think the bible is the word of god, then you should probably have read it. But if you have reasons for not believing in some sort of deity besides that, then you don't need to have read the entire bible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist or judge Christianity as wrong (especially as not all Christian morals and beliefs come from the bible). Besides, one can learn about Christianity without reading the bible--up until Martin Luther, that's how everyone but the priests learned and how most Christians still learn today.

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  23. Even if I did read the Bible, Christians will continue to claim that I'm taking it out of context, misinterpreting it, or just outright lying.

    Yep, you are an atheist so you aren't able to read the Bible with "discernment from the Holy Spirit". Whatever the hell that means.

    I agree that you don't need to read the entire Bible to know that it is a cobbled together mishmash of myths, biased history, and poetry from an ancient nomadic people that didn't know much about the universe. However, like I said yesterday, it's always good to know simple counter-apologetics. Reading "God is Not Great" is a good start. Skimming throught the Skeptic's Annotated Bible is always good for a laugh. I'd suggest going through their highlights first.

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  24. I've read the KJV Bible at least twice all the way through, and studied it at length duing my time as a believing Mormon.

    Let's just say that the early Roman Catholic church had the right idea when they only allowed the clergy access to sacred texts. Familiarity with the Bible is not exactly faith promoting.

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  25. Your points are perfect, Jen. Those are the exact same reasons for which I myself never have or will read the Bible – too many valid reasons not to, and damn near no good reasons at all as to why I should.

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  26. Actually Lisa, one of the common problems people (such as police investigators) have to deal with is witness accounts of an event that don't match.

    So having different accounts of the resurrection doesn't prove it didn't happen/was made up.

    I think there are games and tests run by examinations that show people can readily mess up the details of something they saw.

    And I suspect you didn't note the "inspired" as part of the Inspired Word of God. Inspired doesn't mean literally accurate, you can hope so but there isn't any guarantee (just look at the number of movies inspired by true events that end up changing major parts of the situation).

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  27. Jen - lurker here, 1st time poster. In debates, I've pointed out that the Bible is the most owned, yet least read book in the United States. Additionally its embarassing (to theists) that those who've actually read the bronze age text thoroughly are more likely to be atheist. Only by avoiding large chunks can a Christian claim its a/the "Good" book - and avoidence is obtained by allowing a pastor/preacher/priest select passages for you.

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  28. I'd say practical. Genesis 1 and 2 are all you need to know it's bunk, anyway and you've read that.

    My only disagreement is that *most* Christians haven't read the bible.

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  29. I grew up in a moderately faithful protestant family, I ran into some of the big issues pretty early on (the problem of evil being the main one) that the sunday school "teacher" couldn't answer so she suggested that I read the bible to find the answer. Bad idea, I got part of the way through the old testament and realized that God was an ass that was unworthy of regard. Things escalated between my 11 year old self and the nice sunday school lady from there, turns out I was only suppose to read and believe specific parts of the Bible and the book really meant This even if it plainly said That. There were also issues with the Bible making plain statements about things like humility and charity that were being completely ignored. By the time I was 12 I had completely rejected Christianity.

    In my experience, the bible isn't needed to understand christianity at all. The modern church is so divorced from the text in beliefs and behaviors that there is little if anything in common. As others have already pointed out most christians haven't read even a small part of it either. There are some parts of it that are ok as mythic fantasy but over all the only reason to read the bible is to get a better understanding of how rotten the whole of modern christianity is.

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  30. You are completely right right in that it wouldn't make much of a difference.
    I live in Denmark, pretty secular, but still christian cultural. One of the funnier things to witness in the hinterlands here, is a Jehova's Witness visiting an Inner Mission (the latter is your basic christian fundamentalist, in its local form). These two can continue to hit each other over the head with bible quotations for hours, claiming that the other guy got it wrong, or had the wrong interpretation.
    So even amongst christians, it doesn't matter wether you've read the whole damn thing!

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  31. I'm like Denise, but I see your point that being biblically literate won't scare the wheezers as much if you never were a believer. Of course you're right about not having any impact on the godbotherers because "The Devil can quote Scripture" and so forth, but you might consider how you might be able to help doubters and waverers if you were more literate.

    I do agree that taking it neat is not the best way, as a lot of it will make no sense (or the wrong sense) without expert guidance as to the background history, politics, linguistics and so forth. I must go check out that Jewish annotator; funnily enough, Christian theologians never ask the nearest rabbi how he understands something in Torah. This I know because one of my friends is Professor of NT Studies in a theological college and we often discuss exegesis.

    Finally, Jen, I would recommend that you read Ecclesiastes in the KJV for the beauty of the English. Followed by the Book of Common Prayer. People brought up on the KJV simply write and speak better, they have cadence in their blood.

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  32. Yeah, I realise that eyewitness testimony isn't reliable :) In fact, that's what I used to say to Christians when they were using that as proof. Then I read it, and now I have something better to say.

    Christians rarely mention to you these inconsistencies when telling you of the eyewitness testimony. And eye witness testimony is the ONLY evidence they will give for their believe the resurrection is a fact. I asked for some eyewitness testimony other than what is in the Bible, and all I got e-mailed was rubbish articles pretending to be journal papers (I'm not saying there isn't evidence of testimony from sources other than the Bible, only that I don't know about it and when asked didn't receive any).

    To me when reading the gospel resurrection stories, it's pretty clear they are borrowed from each other. To me it also seems that the later gospels add parts to the story to dismiss any objections people may have had about the story in the earliest version. And Mark, probably the earliest gospel, didn't even mention the resurrection - the part of it that does was added later. So much for the eyewitness testimony.

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  33. Jen,

    You had made good points here.

    Lisa,

    Christians often fail to provide a consistent presentation of their evidence and witness. They are very much like a bunch of con artists who just say whatever to get a person to believe. They are pure evil. For this reason, I disregard their evidence and discredit any witness they call onto the stand and go straight to the verdict: guilty.

    They are guilty of falsifying evidence, lying under oath, mass murder (inquisition), corruption (too many to count in history and now), obstruction of justice, etc...

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  34. I would also point out that one need not waste time studying fashion design to have an opinion about the Emperor's new clothes.

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  35. Snorre

    Did you time the debate? When you said they could go for hours that may just be the short version of the discussion.

    Jen

    That is why I tell fundamentalists that they are still taking things on faith-they have to have faith that things played out as described and that they understand it properly.

    Egoist Paul

    You do realize that at various points in time atheists have done each of those things.

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  36. To Anonymous who says "...various points in time atheists have done each of those things.":

    It is true that some people who have done those in history are atheists. You are missing the point. My point is that Christians today are committing a philosophical crime which is equivalent to the crimes I named in my previous comment.

    And why are you remaining anonymous? Are you afraid of showing your true self?

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  37. As was once said about Shakespeare: You can't really understand the Bible unless you read it in the original Klingon.

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  38. You've put it very well. They'll attack you either way (if you don't read it: "you've not read it!"; if you read it: "you got it wrong!"), so it's cheaper just knowing what the book's about than reading the whole thing. Specially because I've read it (I had to at school) and I don't think it would change your mind. After all you're rational don't you.

    Gawd I don't know why they read the whole thing when they have modern super technological online bibles where you can go directly to any chapter and even search for words so you can see what the bible says about whatever. Like stoning. (argg you've put it out of context!! Under certain circumstances, stoning is okay!!! graaargh)

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  39. Reading straight through I would recommend against. Reading certain books within the Bible is another matter.

    I would second reading Ecclesiastes.

    For the living know that they will die;
    But the dead know nothing,
    And they have no more reward,
    For the memory of them is forgotten.
    Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished;
    Nevermore will they have a share
    In anything done under the sun.
    Go, eat your bread with joy,
    And drink your wine with a merry heart;

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  40. Egoist, are you saying that all the Christians I know are doing this... including a friendly old Lutheran lady who spends much of her time taking in abused pets?

    Also I'll ad the tag "pplr" when I post, less anonymous.

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  41. Anonymous:

    Yes. Christian is defined as a person who believes in Jesus Christ.

    A friendly old Lutheran lady taking in abused pets is irrelevant to my judgment. If you want an explanation, I can give it to you. She probably felt guilty because her religious background.

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  42. So how, exactly, is she committing crimes?

    -pplr

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  43. Anonymous,

    Believing in Jesus Christ without evidence and possibly the doctrines packaged with it is a philosophical crime.

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  44. "To me it also seems that the later gospels add parts to the story to dismiss any objections people may have had about the story in the earliest version."
    They are all arguing a particular corner against someone else's corner. IOW, the Gospels are -- wait for it -- blogs

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  45. There are a couple of interesting reasons to peruse the Bible... you know how things like Reefer Madness seems just bizarre and deranged to the current generation? The Bible is like that, amplified. It's so weird, and kind of fascinating, to have available a long book which we know is, at least, quite old.

    Acclimating yourself to that weirdness is fun, and you might stumble upon flagrant contradictions that no one's ever noticed before! A lot of the easy ones are taken (e.g. Moses informs followers not to kill, then God commands them all to kill each other), but I don't doubt there are at least a handful still in there.

    That was a digression, though. Bottom line: I agree that reading it isn't a prerequisite to skepticism about far-fetched Christian claims. We shouldn't feel unjustified in disregarding the celestial teapot, even before reading all treatises on tea.

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  46. EP,

    Seriously? Religious people don't have simple human feelings like compassion in your world of thought - pardon me, philosophical crime, and take care of stray pets only out of guilt or to earn heaven points?

    I hear there are pills for that kind of hyperbole.

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  47. (Hugo Grinebiter)"...funnily enough, Christian theologians never aak the nearest rabbi how he understands something in Torah."

    Lewis Black did a bit on that IIRC. It's probably out there on YouTube unless HBO is aggressively enforcing copyright.

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  48. Johann,

    Taking care of stray pets isn't relevant to my judgment. It is just an episode a typical Christian would do to a discussion like this in order to evade the real judgment.

    Compassion and taking care of the weak and damaged is her own choice. Her action may and may not related to Christian, but it is Christianity that is on trial, not her. I emphasize IT IS CHRISTIANITY, NOT HER.

    When a criminal commits a crime, what they do after the crime and conviction does NOT exonerate them.

    Christianity is guilty as charged.

    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/justice.html

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  49. ...aaaand here is the Lewis Black exegesis:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrlWOhtj3g

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  50. @bcoppola: Thanks! I didn't know this guy before, but I'm delighted to make his acquaintance.

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  51. Speaking of Ecclesiastes: I was a kibbutz in the Seventies and had a Hebrew Bible (both testaments, a missionary thing) to help me learn the language, which was most instructive. There was a kibbutznik who raved about his favourite book, which he called Kohelit. He was not a believer, he just loved the poetry. I was similarly raving about Ecclesiastes in the KJ version, which is some of the best poetry in the English language, and ultimately we discovered that we were talking about the same book. In both languages the title merely means "priest".

    I tried to read my favourite passages in the original, but wasn't good enough. Hebrew is a fascinating language, ultra-compact and gnarly. In the original, see, the Ten Commandments are mostly just two words; and given that there are no vowels, you could actually chisel the lot onto two slates, as per advertisement. They're mostly negative + gerund, as if we were to say, "No killing! No thieving! No cheating! No coveting!" Hebrew poetry doesn't use rhyme or metre, but runs on repetition of a thought in different words -- see Erp's extract, or anything in the Psalms. This means that, unlike the poetry of most languages, it can in fact be translated without losing anything.

    Erp's passage is rather like the Rubai'yat, isn't it? A very long way from pie in the sky when you die. So is Job:

    Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
    Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that i should suck?
    For now I should have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept;
    then I had been at rest,
    With kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places for themselves;
    Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver;
    Or as a hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.
    There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest.
    There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.
    The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.


    Jen: there's something at the end of Kohelit you can agree with: "Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh". :-)

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  52. EP
    &
    Johann

    Actually, I left the computer and fell asleep watching TV (I woke up a bit later powered down each).

    Anyway.

    Ayn Rand..... basically she is an apologist for having government not "interfere" with the "free market". If you look at the last paragraph in the lexicon that EP cited you will notice how she gripes about letting those who she claims didn't earn something enjoy it. That boils down to main a GOP or CEO argument for less taxes on the wealthy and higher pay from the company. That they earned it. The problem with this is when does doing a job get transformed into stealing? If you massively overprice yourself and actually manage to get others to overpay you do you really deserve it?

    Problem with sometimes they really worked hard. But did they really earn the level of reward that they are getting? Moreover, I'm trying to think of the book now and I'll cite it if I remember, a number of inventors & scientists pushed forward to make some of the discoveries they did not to be rewarded with wealth but to improve life in some fashion for people in general. The person who came up with either a polio or small pox vaccine (cannot remember the name and that would help this morning) chose not to patent it so that others could produce it and push that particular disease away from society at large and prevent future suffering. He lived off his salary as an researcher and didn't get a nickel in royalties.

    At some point Ayn Rand gets around to condemning acts of charity like this. I've seen others say she is one of the biggest proponents of being selfish in the last century.

    FYI If the Frontline (check out PBS) that was a few weeks ago was right those who were in favor of deregulating the financial industry were followers of hers. This opened the door to major financial collapses that helped get the current recession going.

    She isn't a hero to me.

    -pplr

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  53. Anonymous:

    There is no such thing as overpay. All prices of goods and services in a market, including wages, are determined by the laws of supply and demand. Working hard does not always get you the highest salary. It is the market that determines the salary. If a CEO gets paid a high salary and bonus and is approved by the board of the company that act according to the shareholders' interest, it is nobody's business other than the shareholders'. No even the government should intervene.

    Inventors and scientists get the same treatment. If their inventions or discoveries don't turned into a product or service and market it properly, then they just don't get paid as much. It seems fair to me.

    Ayn Rand did not condemn charity. Charity, in her philosophy, isn't the essence. I don't know what charity you are referring to. What did she say to condemn it?

    The cause of this financial crisis isn't free market. Its root cause is the Affordable Housing Program in which it forces banks to lend to those who cannot afford at the expense of those who can. The result is a slow growing disaster since the 1990's. It blew up in 2007-8 because of a combination of many factors such as fraud, real estate speculation, subprime lending, credit crisis, etc... Obama's administration bailed out several companies and tried to modify the loans just to prolong the pain. If the government didn't not intervene, then we could already have a healthy economic recovery much earlier.

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  54. That's funny. I read this in the middle of arguing with a christian on twitter.

    After she posted "i did find the Truth in the ONLY Book that is public domain to all men. it wasn't hidden in a cave or under copyright"

    I responded with "same could be said for Qur’an, Book of Mormon, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist Sūtras, etc. Bible isn't special or very good"

    And her response? "what are those? i have never heard of them, other than the first, which is only a fraction of the Old Testament"

    Which did not come as a surprise. Most christians I know have little to no understanding of other religions.

    For the record, I have read all of the writtings I mentioned. For the Qur'an, Bible, and Book of Mormon, I can honestly say that you are not missing much. The Qur'an is the most boring book I have ever read. The others are not much better.

    I read them because I came out of a super conservative religious upbringing, and I needed to understand religion.

    Being raised without it would be much better.

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  55. Reading the Bible probably isn't worth it. It can score some points against folks in debates, but there are other ways to do that. I think you can do a lot better by reading about the Bible, if you see the distinction. Look for works on the Bible as literature, for example. They break down the text and try to explain - as best we can 2500+ years later - what the original authors and redactors were trying to accomplish.

    Frankly, I find that having read some basic textbooks about biblical studies has prepared me a lot better for debating, as well as giving me a decent understanding of what the text was intended to mean.

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  56. I'll third that you should read Ecclesiates. It's beautiful, and also fairly atheistic. You should read from "vanity, vanity, all is vanity" until you get to the repetition of that phrase about 8 verses before the end of the book. The prologue and epilogue have definitely been added to make the book "palatable" for inclusion in the cannon, because the insides is just so disturbing to believers.

    Also awesome is Job, but go for the philosophy and realize god is going to act like a dick as usual. But the way the people work out their theories of why things happen, right and wrong, etc, I think is pretty timeless.

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  57. In this particular case, I find myself agreeing with the Christian on the topic of Ayn Rand. I can't stand that crazy bitch.

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  58. EP,

    Breaking this up into parts.

    You are assuming there is no such thing as a market failure.

    Letting supposed supply and demand laws run everything can have some pretty bad results. Yes I understand that we get market price out of where there is a balance between what suppliers want to charge and demanders are willing to pay. That even works out well for many things. Except say politics and food.

    The market system is also a system of rationing by wealth. You have the money you get it, you don't then no. With food this causes a problem in that you can be sending food away from starving people who are poor towards richer people with no hunger because the latter has more money despite less need. In historical terms this happened to the Irish during the potato famine. The Irish were starving and the British landlords sent wheat grown in Ireland elsewhere because they could get a better price there. Capitalism being used to excuse sending a ship full of foodstuffs away from an Island with people starving to death, literally, in the streets is hardly a warm image.

    With the political/legal system you have laws and codes being written to benefit those willing to put out the most cash. One of the criticisms of banking deregulation was that it passed not because it was actually good for society or economic stability in the long term, or even that sensible on its own, rather it passed because enough political figures needed deep pocketed individuals to support them and in the favors for money dealings that washington is sometimes known for (wink & nod rather than write out contracts so legal charges aren't brought). Many people would think of this as corruption but it is legislation distributed by free market means.

    Getting back to vaccines. If you want to wipe out a disease that is causing many people harm you are dealing with a health issue above and beyond if someone gets a new car or TV. The latter issues can be settled by the market without someone's life being at stake. So rationing those by wealth makes some sense then, or at least causes no overt harm.

    Small pox (a disease that can kill people) cannot be wiped out (done for the safety of society at both the individual level and higher) if done my market means. Selling the vaccine to only paying customers continually leaves a vulnerable group of individuals that can serve as carriers for the disease. In order to take it on vaccines will have to be distributed without regard for if the individual receiving it can pay.

    Thus to prevent future stress on society as a whole as well as potentially horrible suffering on the individual level free markets must be set aside for some things.

    pplr

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  59. continued

    You are also assuming that inventors have the time to go into business to market their goods after taking the time to come up with them. It is quite possible that they either cannot do both effectively or that, given the high failure rate of initial attempts at getting a working device (such as a light bulb), a potential inventor will feel that greater wealth can be accumulated for him/herself by dropping further research on a potential success and redirecting efforts towards quicker and more guaranteed profits (these profits can even be larger for the inventor individually than if he/she continued to work on creating soemthing and that thing turned into a success).

    Rand, from those excerpts of hers I've read, tends to say that things that don't result in wealth exchanging hands are immoral and to be loathed. That the only worthwhile activity is a business transaction.

    To use a quote from a movie, that "Greed is good".

    Problem is there are times when it isn't and can really mess things up in the long run. I've already mentioned how it would have turned campaigns to eradicate disease into failures.

    Greed can also result in horrible things that give someone a profit-child labor and slavery both come to mind, they had to be banned via government intervention in the market rather than because of supposedly liberating benefits the market provided.

    Oh, and getting back to CEO pay. Claiming that the law of supply and demand is at work ignores the possibilities that people just as competent could (and already have) worked for less and that CEOs are incapable of collectively gaming the system to be paid more than they are worth.

    -pplr

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  60. CEO pay is what it is because there is a small supply of sociopaths and yet demand for them is very high.

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  61. Herd immunity contra profitable selling of vaccines is a wonderful example. I'd add cholera. Only way to beat it is sewage infrastructure paid for out of taxes. The British ruling classes went for that in the nineteenth century because they realised that cholera would not confine itself to the filthy warrens of the urban poor, or "lice" as Rand would call them, but would have the impudence to kill the nice rich people as well. Permit me to doubt, as a European, whether Americans have yet understood this. Private security guards on gated communities don't help you against lethal pandemics bred by the poverty you have so gleefully brought about.

    Rand is fundamentally an old-style aristocrat who regards you, me, Jen, the whole lot of us, as subhuman. She would probably say that she would respect us for our individual accomplishments, of which I would expect that we have many between us, but you know what? I don't believe her. Pity the Bolsheviks didn't send her to Siberia when they had the chance.

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  62. Anonymous:

    If a market is truly free. Foods will be available to those who produce. A poor man who doesn't work will not get any food. That's fair.
    Ireland wasn't a free economy at that time. There weren't a lot of international trades. If the British lords allowed cheap imports, then the Irish would still have foods.

    In a truly laissez faire capitalism, you would have a minimal government. Lobbying/bribery from the rich to establish laws in the wealthy's advantage in expense of the poor would be minimized. When there is a small government, it is relatively easy to maintain its integrity. The rest is left to the market.

    Child labor isn't really a problem. It should be allowed as long as it is the children's wish to work in a factory in exchange for a pay.
    A child who grows up working is more likely to succeed when they become an adult. Government intervention will just create a black market and drive away investors. When investors are driven away, there will be relatively fewer jobs and more labor, which drives the wage levels down, and the overall economy suffers.

    If an inventor has no time, they can hire people to do it. Banks and high risk tolerant investors can fund their project. There are angels, venture capitals, research grants, etc...

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  63. I'd agree with your assessment, Jen, and I'd add to point #3: not only would they insist that you're taking it out of context, etc., but they'd often go on to recommend that you read multiple biblical commentaries--C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, etc.

    I still remember the shock and disbelief in my fiancee's eyes when my dad asked her to read St. Augustine's "Confessions" before making her mind up about Christianity.

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  64. I posted two rather long rants on exactly this type of argument

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  65. Personally I like reading some parts of the Bible - Proverbs, Psalms - because I studied literature and I like the language and imagery. But I can't imagine it as a basis of spirituality or even religion. It's rambling, incoherent, and contradictory, and if you want to be a good Christian, you definitely should not read it - every chapter will leave you shaking your head thinking, "WTF...?" But as for a "practical" or "usable" Bible , I think the Jefferson Bible is a good thing. Thomas Jefferson made up his own Bible, including only the philosophy and moral teachings of Jesus, and left out all the immorality and supernatural hocus-pocus(i.e., the other 90%).

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  66. I'm an atheist and I'm currently reading the bible. I'm enjoying it a lot - it's like an old bent fairy tale. I'll be reading the Koran and then going on to every other religious text I can find afterwards.

    Jen, although I have a lot of respect for you, I think this post has exposed a lot of your lack of knowledge and arrogance towards other people. What right do you have to speak about something, let alone critisize it, when you haven't read it?

    I have to disagree with you here. I think everyone should read the Bible at least once. Like reading all of the classics and having a familiarity with various other mythologies. For millennia literature, art and even science drew their inspiration from the Bible. Even modern writings become richer, more accessible, if you have a exposure to things to which it alludes.

    I have to agree with this.

    1. There's a double standard. Christians* claim that you can't make an educated argument against Christianity unless you have read the Bible. Yet at the same time, they have often never read any other holy book, let alone all holy books, and they feel like that's perfectly fine. Maybe if they stopped the hypocrisy of their standards, I'd consider them.

    This is a stupid reason not to read whether it comes from you or them. Going 'You're a hypocrite, so I'll be one as well' only lowers yourself to their level.

    2. I don't need to completely master Christian theology before I can realize that it's wrong. As a corollary of #1, this is exactly how most Christians treat other religions. They reject Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Satanism, and Scientology without reading the Tripitaka, Vedas, Qu'ran, Talmud, Satanic Bible, Dianetics. They don't believe in ancient Egyptian, Greek, or Norse gods and goddesses, yet they haven't read every mythological story. We don't need to know every detail about how people draw astrological tables to recognize it as bullshit. One only needs to learn so much about a topic before their skeptical sensors go off.

    This is true, you don't need to be a master of theology to critisize religion. But it would help you not look ignorant when asked to talk about these matters.

    3. Even if I did read the Bible, Christians will continue to claim that I'm taking it out of context, misinterpreting it, or just outright lying. I have seen this happen over and over again with Bible-savvy atheists who were in debates. These people are so made up in their mind that no amount of reason will work, even if you're using their own tool against them. They see what they want to see in the Bible, and quoting contradictory passages at them is futile.

    This is true also. But why are you concerned about it? You'll know better, you'll have experienced it for yourself and have an opinion that isn't based on what other atheists say or quote. You'll probably know more than the theist.

    Would you seriously only value The Bible as a tool to argue with other people?

    4. From a purely literary perspective, the parts of the Bible I've read have been incredibly boring and poorly written. For a book that's supposedly God's word, you think he could have done a bit better. I have a queue of excellent books waiting on my bookshelf, and I much rather spend my time reading those than some 2,000 year old mediocre tome that will likely annoy me with its inanity.

    See this is one of your valid points. If you just can't get into it, there is no point forcing yourself.

    I'm a lover of literature, so I really appreciate it. Personally, I think it's exciting. It's got wars, blood, guts, sex, incest - the whole lot.

    Also, I read someone saying that Jen should read the skeptics annoted bible. You do realise this is the equivalent of a creationist reading Ray Comfort's version of 'The Origin of Species' instead of Charles Darwins? I'm not against someone reading the skeptics version after they have finished The Bible, but doing it beforehand reeks of intellectual dishonesty.

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  67. I'm not being a hypocrite because I don't think you should have to read every book to make a decision based on that religion. I know Thor and Zeus and Isis are all fictional without reading every bit of their mythology - I don't think Christianity or any other modern religion should be held to different standards. My point is that I'm not interested in reading the Bible for point #4, and I shouldn't be forced to read it either, especially if it's not going to accomplish anything.

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  68. Actually, "thewrittenwordreviews", I think you've exposed a lot of your own arrogance in your post. It comes off as snooty and condescending, particularly when you get to the "as a lover of literature..." bit, which implicitly suggests that Jen is not. In layman's terms, I see what you did there.

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  69. I'm not being a hypocrite because I don't think you should have to read every book to make a decision based on that religion.

    I understand the point you are making. It would be impossible to read about every religion and mythology.

    The difference between Thor and The Bible is that the Bible is a major influence on the culture we currently live in, the modern western culture. To ignore The Bible is to ignore our cultural history and the current reality of many people. Hence it makes you look ignorant when you say that you don't ever want to read it.

    My point is that I'm not interested in reading the Bible for point #4, and I shouldn't be forced to read it either, especially if it's not going to accomplish anything.

    Fair enough for point 4 - but don't set up an entire blog talking about the crapness of a religion that your ignorant of. Again, you're doing the equivalent of a creationist making a 'Evolution is false' blog when they haven't read 'The Origin of Species' or read any current evolutionary science.

    It cuts both ways, not just when Christians don't read outside their sphere.

    Actually, "thewrittenwordreviews", I think you've exposed a lot of your own arrogance in your post. It comes off as snooty and condescending, particularly when you get to the "as a lover of literature..." bit, which implicitly suggests that Jen is not. In layman's terms, I see what you did there.

    It was not my intention to come across this way. Would you like prefer it if I wrote "Dang, I love them book things!". I'm guessing that Jen does read quite a bit. In layman's terms, stop trying to put words in my mouth.

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  70. What a passive-aggressive little snob. It helps your credibility if you make your point in a way that doesn't leave you completely unlikeable.

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  71. The religious actions of individuals are more important to me, and more often than not those don't actually line up with what's in their holy book.

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  72. What a passive-aggressive little snob. It helps your credibility if you make your point in a way that doesn't leave you completely unlikeable.

    I'm not interested in being liked.

    Seeing as I was mimicking your method of attack, that would make you passive aggressive also.

    The religious actions of individuals are more important to me, and more often than not those don't actually line up with what's in their holy book.

    I agree with you here. I think its alright to critisize individuals and organisations based on their inhumane or obviously hurtful actions. I often agree with many of the points you bring up about the Christian community.

    However, critisizing The Bible itself, or theological Christianity as an institution is wrong if you haven't read their texts.

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  73. Yes, because every post on my blog is dedicated to criticizing the Bible and theological Christianity.

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  74. Then you're not interested in your points ever being effective. If you approach every situation as you've behaved in this thread, you will spend a lifetime frustrating your own efforts by putting the people you converse with on the defensive before they can even begin to address your argument. Approaching a blogger by accusing them of being an ignorant hypocrite right away, for example, is a good way to alienate them from listening to anything further you have to say. You're your own worst enemy. No one is interested in what an asshole has to say, since usually their unnecessarily aggressive manner is a cover for their own insecurity.

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  75. Yes, because every post on my blog is dedicated to criticizing the Bible and theological Christianity.

    I didn't mean to imply that all of your posts are. However, I’ve been reading for a while and I notice that a great deal of your topics are on religion (based on the numbers in your categories).

    Julia,

    Firstly, I haven't been rude to Jen at all. I opened my discussion by telling her how much I respect her opinions. Then I answered each of the points she made. I haven't sworn or flamed, I've simply called out things where I've seen them.

    If Jen, and other atheists for that matter, behave in a hypocritical manner after watching the hypocrisy of Christians I’m going to come down extra hard. We as a group should know better. Don't expect me to be soft on people who have the intelligence and educational facilities to know better.

    So Jen, let me recap. Although I understand many of your reasons for not wanting to read the bible, it is foolish of you to enter discussion about it without doing so. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly the same as a creationist running their mouth about Evolution.

    I'm a direct person. I'll concede that in text sometimes this can come across as abrasive - this is something that I might have to modify when commenting on the internet. I'll work on it.

    No one is interested in what an asshole has to say, since usually their unnecessarily aggressive manner is a cover for their own insecurity.

    I suggest that you stop trying to deconstruct my psyche by a few odd comments. This whole passive aggressive and insecurity commentary is - if we trust your psychoanalytic logic - more likely to be your own projection onto me.

    You have some interesting points about debate and delivery of discussion, but when you start generalising it ruins it.

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  76. What is with people confusing Julie with Julia?

    Anyway, you came into this thread in a condescending and dismissive manner, and you were responded to accordingly. If you honestly think that the only thing that constitutes rudeness is swearing then you have serious social interaction problems. Stop trying to pass the buck and address your own issues.

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  77. I have read the bible. More than once. Some of it in classical languages. You're right. You don't have to read much of it to know exactly what it is (a collection of misogynist, racist, culturally bound texts written over centuries mostly as political propaganda when not as mythology) and what it is not (divinely inspired, holy, or morally decent).

    If one wants to read it for literary or historical value, fine, but otherwise, there's plenty of other books on the shelf more worth reading than that one.

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  78. Jen and the rest of you might be interested in this essay by an "old" atheist: "Is The Bible Worth Reading and other essays" (1911) at infidels.org

    Can't paste URL, so here's the path. Go to www.infidels.org>library>historical documents>Lemuel Washburn>Bible Worth Reading

    It's a short read. Basically, "no".

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  79. There is absolutely no reason to read the bible front to back. I mean, I did as a teenager, but not much stuck.

    But as an annoying adult, I discovered this great tool called "the Internet." Pretty much any argument you want to make is out there somewhere. And it can be kind of entertaining, as well.

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  80. I've probably read at least 3/4 of the Bible and trust me save yourself the time and burn the damn thing. It's a god damn snooze fest.

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  81. JESUS CHRIST LOVES YOU ASK HIM TO COME INTO YOUR HEART AND ASK THE HOLY SPIRIT TO TEACH YOU WHEN YOU READ HIS WORD , I WILL PRAY WITH YOU TOO I BELIEVE YOU WILL SEE MORE REASONS TO READ HIS WORD YOU ARE JUST A NATURAL MAN IF YOU READ AND DO WHAT THE WORD SAYS YOU BECOME A SUPERNATURAL BEING GOD BLESS YOU

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  82. Other reason why: Because it is probably a misinterpretation and translated to English far from its original meaning. You would have to become a competent interpreter of Hebrew and Koine Greek and find the documents that the original incompetents misinterpreted and do it right and it would take years of study that you can't possibly have the time while you're doing something better like being a scientist or a doctor. The Bible also keeps the nuthouses quacking at full capacity. A book that popular in nuthouses must be nuts and it is in every hotel room which is a bad sign.

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