Belief in god v.s. Belief in the bible – Why do they have to be associated?
So, I read a post recently from the President of the American Humanist Association, the USA’s oldest and largest humanist organization. In it, David Niose writes:
Even if we assume for the sake of discussion that some kind of “creative force” (let’s call it “God” to make them feel good) may have “caused” the big bang, that does not do one thing to support the notion of Christianity, an ancient belief system reliant on claimed prophecy, a theology that utilizes ambiguous ancient texts that can be interpreted to support any social or political or moral position. Only willful blindness (or intense family and social pressure) can allow an educated, intelligent young person today to voluntarily attach himself or herself to such a belief system.
It got me thinking (as reading often does). I wondered, why is it that so many people attach a belief in god to a belief in the bible? I understand the reverse. If you believe the bible to be true, then, you sort of have to believe in god. But, why does believing in god require belief in the bible? Is it because the only proof for god is what is written in that ancient text? Probably. But, let’s discuss this to try and get to a deeper understanding.
Sociologist and historians have now discovered nearly 5,000 “gods” that man has created since his existence. Some are very obscure like Athirat, the Canaanite consort of El who protects their seventy children, and Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of good fortune and beauty and is the consort of Vishnu. Others are well known like Zeus, Thor, Athena… and, well, GOD – the Abrahamic God. You can see a big list here, if you are curious about other gods from around the world and throughout history. Everyone of these gods and goddesses had stories associated with them. Many were written down, others were just passed on verbally. Most were both… told for generations then finally written down at some point in antiquity. Yeah, they all share a lot in common and several are direct rip-offs of other ones.
The three most obvious commonalities amongst the bigger gods is this: THEY ALL “CREATED” THE UNIVERSE, THEY ALL GAVE COMMANDS, and THEY ALL HAD A VERSION OF HEAVEN AND HELL, in some way. What does this tell us? Well, first of all, it tells us that man has always desired an explanation for existence and the natural world. They could look up in the sky and in the world around them and see all kinds of things they didn’t understand, so they made up gods to answer those questions. We know this about every religion. Yet, those they still follow a particular brand of god think the myth only applies to the other gods… not their own.
Secondly, man needed a moral compass. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t know what to do or how to act. But, just like when your parent tells you to do something as a child, you think it’s really important. This isn’t because you didn’t know already what to do, but it gets put on a higher level of importance because someone you revere said it. It’s the same with gods. We know, for instance, that the last 6 of the 10 Commandments from the bible are the same as Hammurabi’s code, which came long before the Moses story. So, man had these rules in place for some time. We knew that killing, stealing, and lying made for a bad society and a tough place for people to live together and trust one another. Yet, when the story is changed and the rules are carved into stone with fire from the hand of the “Almighty God”, these rules seem a lot more important. And, I think wise men knew this. They knew that giving god the credit as the author, and associated breaking those rules with eternal damnation, was a much stronger way to keep order in the communities around them. If only they could see the mess it’s created since then!
And, lastly, and most importantly, the “big” gods all have a version of the afterlife. Just like in Christianity, Egyptian, Sumerian, Aztec, Mayan, Norse, Asian, and Indian gods had a heaven and a hell – a bad place for bad people and a good place for good people. Why? It’s just part of the human condition. A conscious being is, in a word, prideful. We like to think ourselves special and unique. Therefore, the idea that we will die and cease to exist scares us. Funny, we don’t seem to worry about all the time before we were born when we equally “didn’t exist”… but I digress. We have an internal need to think that our “soul” and all the knowledge we have gained while we are here keeps going. So, we create an “afterlife” – a place where we go once we shed this mortal coil. And, since we don’t want to think that all those bad people around us get to spend eternity with us (since we are of course faultless) we create a bad place for them to spend their dead years.
Western Religions make it a more external place. Christians call it Heaven and Hell. The Greeks called it Elysium and Dis (Tartarus). The Celtic called it Tir na N’Og and Annwfn. The main difference between eastern and western concepts of heaven and hell, is that in the west, the paradise and the purgatory are places that exist outside while for eastern philosophies, hell and heaven are inside one’s mind. For eastern religions, the only thing that judges a person is his own consciousness and not an external being.
Some scholars suggest that in primitive Christianity, which would derive from eastern schools of thought, the differences between western and eastern thinking were even smaller. When Christianity was modified for political purposes during the councils, it was established that “God is outside” as a way to offer redemption through the Church. No matter the culture or nation, the heart of every religion is the same – all of them say that a person will face the consequences of actions, thoughts and intentions and that cultivating love and wisdom is the path for happiness, be in the physical world or in the afterlife.
The reason I think this is all important to understand first is because when you look at the truth claim for a god, all we really have is the stories told about that god to test it. Since no god has ever made an appearance in modern times, we have only ancient writings to determine which to believe in and which to set aside. As atheists, we set them all aside for the same shear lack of quantifiable evidence across the board. But, others don’t.
I’ve met several Christians lately that accept science, evolution, and the fact that the bible is very flawed and written by man. Yet, they still believe in god (for a host of reasons – mostly internal feelings). They can believe in god without believing the bible, or at least most of it. They think god still created the universe and will come back someday to end the world. They believe he resides over heaven and is waiting for us when we die. They believe he gave us rules by which to live life, even if they are hidden amongst loads of bad text in the current bible. Yet, they don’t believe many of the bullshit stories from the bible like Noah’s Flood and the miracle claims of Jesus. Some, don’t even believe in Jesus… just a creator god who has done nothing since creation but wait for us to join him when we die.
What does this tell you? GOD IS A PERSONAL THING! If he was real, there would be a shared acceptance and common understanding around the world and through time. But, this isn’t the case. The details and stories, although they share traits, differ widely based on culture and time. There isn’t one set rule book for all of mankind or one explanation of creation, heaven, hell, etc. BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE! It’s easy for atheists to see this, but believers don’t. They keep on believing that their version of things is the right one. They fail to see that if they were born in a different country or a different time, they could easily be in a different religion.
Bible believers HAVE to believe in god, or the bible doesn’t make sense. God-believers don’t have to believe in the bible. They may have unsound rationale for their beliefs, but at least they don’t have an attached dogma. And, that’s where it gets difficult. The ones that pick and choose scare me. I know what an atheist thinks of the bible (it’s all false). I know what a fundamentalist thinks of the bible (it’s all true). The ones in between worry me. They can cherry pick scripture and create their own dogma. To each his own. They can either rationalize or immunize themselves from many of the harms associated with religion. They can say they like certain parts of the bible but don’t believe in others. Shifting belief based on evidence is great. Doing based on what feels right for you… that’s not.
So, the big question. Can you believe in the bible without believing in god? NO. Can you believe in god without believing in the bible? Yes, but you shouldn’t, since the bible is the only real evidence anyone has for god. And, since the bible is clearly a flawed historical document, you can’t parse out what was divinely inspired (if any) and what was added, edited, and revised by flawed men over the last 20 centuries. Associate the bible and god if you want, but it makes it much easier for us atheists to simply say, “No, thanks, we are good without either of them!”