A Primer on Atheism
I am an atheist, and that means simply that I do not accept the existence of a supernatural controlling entity in this universe. I can allow for a small, unlikely probability that such exists but beyond that I find no reason to behave nor live as if there is a master entity that needs me to conform to its described moral authority. I use the word described here in the etymological sense. From Wiktionary:
From Middle English descriven < Old French descrivre < Latin dēscrībō (“‘I copy off, transcribe, sketch off, describe in painting or writing’”) < de (“‘off’”) + scribere (“‘to write’”);
The source of the moral authority is inscripturation, which is written and copied doctrinal text made by people to source their claims of the knowledge of the Word of the Master Entity (by whatever name.) Both Hector Avalos and Bart Ehrman have dealt convincingly with the weakness of the claim of supernatural authorship of the Bible as used by Christians.
And I appreciate their work, I really and sincerely and truly do. But, the fact is that I am rather indifferent to The Bible. I have read it and I tried to live by it as a youngster and teen because I believed that studying the Bible is important to living a Christian Life. Now that I no longer am a Christian, and practice no religion, I don’t need to know more about the Bible except as a source of cultural literation as referenced in common phraseology and poetry. I only need it as much as I need a background in Shakespeare or Roman, Greek and Celtic Mythology. I only need it enough to know what is referenced when a writer or a speaker I encounter uses something from the Bible. That’s it.
I am aware that my own background in religion and my own personality colors my sense of indifference to the Bible. I grew up Catholic, and for my early years our exposure to the Bible was largely limited to those passages read by the priest or lecterns at Mass. Catholics don’t have a tradition of regular Bible reading, and that is one of the reasons that Fundamentalists think that Catholicism is Satanic. Catholics, instead, derive doctrine from Earthly authority as expressed by the leaders of the Church and inspired by two of the three members of the Trinity. (No one can understand a word from the glossolalial Holy Spirit!)
It was as a born-again Christian, a brief embarrassing period of my life as a teenager, that I bought a Bible complete with a leather book jacket and decided to read the whole thing through. It’s a confusing book. It is all over the map with weird contradictory stories and moral codes. Other people have gone into detail on this, so I don’t really feel the need to waste more time on writing more about what you likely already know about The Bible. Keep in mind that it is not a book, it is a set of books that are joined together by Canonical Authority as determined by councils of theological scholars who decide what to keep and what to toss. This is all supposed to be under the divine inspiration of the Laird Above All. The one who speaks to some but not others and seemed to describe a society in which those in power were to maintain power in order to keep us safe from God’s Wrath.
I didn’t care for The Bible all that much. Except for the titillation in Song of Solomon, the rest was a book of genocide as Joshuah and David and those warrior kings cleared the way for the Jews to colonize Palestine, a book of nonsensical rules to keep women and slaves and children in their place and to justify killing gays, a book that taught that we are worthless to God because of our sinful nature and needed to accept Jesus’ death and resurrection for us to even entertain the idea that we will get the opportunity to worship him directly in his presence for eternity when we die. Ugggh! It is a book intended to create a fear as dreadful as the madness demanded by Cthulhu, the fear of Apocalypse, war, pestilence, hunger, famine and extreme natural disaster followed by an eternity of either bliss or agony. To me, eternal bliss is as horrifying as eternal agony: mind-numbing boredom followed by more mind-numbing boredom ad-infinitum.
So, the prospect of eternity with a choice of six on one hand and a half-dozen on the other doesn’t lead me to a Pascal’s Wager reliance on the Christian Faith to protect me from Hell. If I am wrong, I am wrong but I doubt it.
I am indifferent to the Bible and don’t need to spend a great deal of time debunking it to justify my atheism. When I was newly atheist back in the nineties, I belong to an atheist society and one of my fellow members spent a great deal of time posting “Shocking Biblical Contradictions” in public forums. I read a few of his posts, which were series of verses from the Bible that directly contradicted each other. Nice. But I soon grew bored with the idea. Since my atheism had little to do with The Bible, I wanted to look at atheism outside of the context of a debunked Christianity.
And I still do. The local group of which I am a member often has speakers and guests on our media outlets who have written books disputing the historicity of the events as described in the Bible, or more contradictions in the Bible, or the failures of textual criticism to establish the Scriptural Authority of the Bible. I confess that I quickly tune out. I tune out of discussions of interpretation of the Koran, the Talmud and the Veddas. And while I found the Poetic Eddas fun to read, I spend more time on interpretation of the theological guidelines therein than I do with other scriptures.
I am also indifferent to Christian theology. It doesn’t help me guide my life other than to amuse me that there are doctorates built on arguing over nothing more substantial than the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.
This is why I find amusing the criticisms of writers such as Dawkins and others. His books on religion betray a lack of depth of knowledge of Christian Theology, apparently. But why should we give the matter so much importance? I guess so that smart people can justify their faith, and their faith can’t be attacked by atheists if we don’t use the most sophisticated arguments of the atheists of centuries past. Without advanced theology, we have no business discussing the lack of evidence for the existence of God, right?
PZ Pharyngula wrote the famous “Courtier’s Reply” to explain the weirdness of the claim that atheists need to have advanced degrees in theology in order to justify being atheists. It’s a transparent allegory, easily recognized as a claim that the onus is on the the theists to prove their case. Atheists are free to just get on with your lives to live them.
I am indifferent to the Bible and Theology, intellectually. My concerns come in when they are used to create a false moral authority that interferes with personal liberties, as in what is happening in Australia now. (That’s just one example.)