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 UNIVERSETHEY 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!”

  • http://www.raywhiting.com/MyLife Raytheist

    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.

    This is a false statement, on several counts.

    The Bible is not real evidence of anything.

    The Bible is not the only evidence people use to prop up a belief in their God — there's teh Koran, the Gita, the Torah, Book of Mormon, and many other "sacred texts".

    Many people believe in a god without subscribing to any particular identified "sacred text", but find their god in the writings of Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Shakespeare and other writers usually not considered sacred.

    I can enjoy the wonders of nature without reading god into it or inventing a god to explain it.

    • Adam

      @ Raytheist: My apologies. I should have been more specific. I was referring to the god of the Bible when I wrote "god". I refer to "him" as Allah or another name if referring to a god from another text. Of course people think there are other "proofs" for god (the Abrahamic one), but the bible is the only real historical reference they have (and that most refer to). I agree the bible is false and not real evidence for anything… I just wish Christians understood that. I find beauty in poetic verses and am a of Whitman and Frost. Like you, I need not assign a god to the words from these brilliant writers. that's the problem with Christians. Some really brilliant person wrote things like the sermon on the mount, but they credit it to Jesus.

      The main reason I say the bible is the only proof they have (although I disagree with it) is that science has written off all their other proofs (creation, intercessory prayer, nature, etc.). We still can't PROVE the bible is 100% false. But, when you can prove that the claims about a god are false, it doesn't leave much left to believe in.

      • Benrod44

        Let’s face it, it’s all B.S. Telling me that there is a God because the bible is proof of it, is like telling me King Kong did scale the Empire State Building cause the building is real.

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  • Prasad

    Adam,

    Strong read! You do mention a minor detail or two about the Eastern religions, about how heaven and hell are interpreted to be within oneself, and not externally. Well, there are pockets in Eastern religions (in Hinduism atleast) where they are in fact they are considered to be external. However, for the most part, what you said is true.

    While I agree with the part of personal belief being based on false evidence, the point I want to stress, is however different, and does not concern beliefs. Eastern religions have much more beyond the idea of a personal God (a Creator, or a super-human fellow), which can be taken apart by science. The notion of God as being absolutely transcendent (OK, I do know this word might be as obnoxious as "God" :P ) is found primarily in the Eastern religion, and this portion of it is regularly overlooked by both theists and atheists. The beauty of the Eastern tradition and its uniqueness (to a large extent) lies in this notion of transcendence and the reinterpretation of the entire canon of the eastern tradition based on this aspect. Even the Christians had their share of such interpreters, in some of the Gnostics (as you rightly mention about the closeness of early christianity with eastern traditions), St. Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart and the like.

    This part of religion has no concern for 'beliefs' whatsoever, for an Impersonal and Transcendent God cannot be spoken about, and any concept, any belief one might consider about such a God, even about "his" existence or non-existence is simply untrue. Of what use can such a God be, however, is a question not easily answered.

    Having said all this, I do have in mind that in practical terms the east is not different from the west, and they too, quite demonstrably, have blind faith on their religious stories and the social repercussions of such faith can be devastating to one and many.

    It also plagues me a little that in most of the atheist-theist discussion forums, no mention is made of the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, who has made some of the most fascinating contributions towards answering the question of how to read religion and its symbols. If I were to hire a man to present reasonable arguments for religion, it would be him, not the believer, nor the theologian (these people don't stand a chance against sound science). It is not all based on fear or desire, is what he would say, I think!

    P.S:: I am a reader from India and am a Hindu.

    • Adam

      @ Prasad: Thank you for your thoughts… we may disagree. But, at least you are polite about it.

  • colluvial

    The Bible isn't evidence of God any more than Lord of the Rings is evidence of Hobbits.

  • anti_supernaturalist

    Live and Let Die

    When xianity came to wield full secular power (395 CE) its coup d’etat of a dying Roman empire created a totalitarian state.

    The days of church-is-state and of church-and-state are certainly not behind us 1,700 years later, as amply demonstrated by the anti-democratic ideology of christo-fascism (dominionism) in the US.

    • 7-deadly Lies of the Big-4 monotheisms: zoroastrianism, judaism, xianity, islam:
    1. there is a supernatural dimension apart from and superior to nature
    2. nature displays divine design and evinces moral purpose
    3. time is shallow (6,000 yrs.) and will end in Apocalypse
    4. humanity represents the (non-evolutionary) goal and apex of life on Earth
    5. morality must have a religious (supernatural) foundation
    6. each person must choose between purported metaphysical good and evil
    7. truth — as revealed in some ancient magical text given by a god — is absolute

    The Big-4 monster-theisms™ with their 1-god™ never offer a choice to live-and-let-live. Conversion is not optional. The Big Lies are non-negotiable demands.

    You must conform — abase yourself. Let your wishes, desires, and plans be dictated by some god-proxy: priest, pastor, imam, rabbi. Of course, hypocrites play a double game, but accept its rules.

    And, if you’re too honest or too brave to be a hypocrite? What then? An outcome depends — on how much power over life and death true believers have.

    No psychological difference exists between the Taliban in Afghanistan and xian bible-worshipers (fundies) spread like metastases across the US. Without a vigorously enforced secular state, anti-supernaturalists would burn at the stake or receive a bullet in the head.

    For all true believers, this is their doctrine: “those not with us are against us” (Luke 11:23 NIV), or as Ian Fleming says, Live and Let Die.

    the anti_supernaturalist

  • Prasad

    @Adam :

    Not sure in what details we disagree. Have you been aware of the aspect of the eastern traditions I mention and Joseph Campbell?

  • http://alien-designing.com ttownbeast

    Fascinating, but what about a belief in the concept of a creator deity as a personal conclusion and having no expectation of an afterlife because we on this single world are not as important as we make ourselves out to be. Or perhaps believing no deity exists yet believing in an eternal life of some sort. Or is this better for a discussion outside the bounds of the topic of biblical influences?

  • Mario Melendez

    Dear Adam, you say:

    "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."

    I respectfully disagree. A non-fundamentalist Christian can both a) try to understand the complexities of hermeneutics (including all advances in the study of "who" wrote the bible and how it was written) and welcome the new questions it can bring and, B) Still believe the bible is "true". In fact, part of the problem here that may help your analysis in the future is the word "true", when it comes to the bible.

    By the way, I wish you luck in your search for questions and answers as you follow your path.

    peace,

    Mario

    P.S. You don't have to fear non-fundamentalist Christians, no really :)

  • tom

    one thing could be added to the article that would change perspective a lot. Deism, which was popular in the 1700′s and actually the closest thing to a belief/religion you could say this country was founded on. belief in a God that created the world and left it as “his sole revelation” and doesn’t interfere in the affairs of men. Deism rejects religion, a messiah/savior (Jesus), and whatever the Bible says. basically focuses on how wonderful the natural world is, as “God’s creation”. a refreshing compromise between religion and atheism. not to plug that belief, but the article left off as if there were nothing but a negative conclusion. there was more to the story.

  • Mike

    WOW… one of the best reads I've had in a long time. It's 'mentally refreshing' to have the power of basic reason and critical thinking liberate myself from indoctrinated rubbish that deep deep down my healthy levels of skeptisism allowed me to feel and doubt so that more understandings of real life truth could be introduced. Over all, extremely well written and honestly supports the unraveling of the "religious garbage" that has been forced onto to me as a kid. With that, I still know, from experience that I am an energy being having a human experience. After several out of body experiences, that belief is solid. I'm a firm believer in the "spiritual realm" along with science supporting the fact that energy cannot be created or distroyed but rather changes from one form to another.

  • Mike

    I will also add that I've realized that I don't need to follow or practice a set religion but rather in this day and age learn from many religious beliefs, and form my own beliefs or non-beliefs with the foundation of compassion, kindness and respect for others and nature. Deepak Chopra, Carolyn Myss and yes Joseph Campbell have been a major help with what they teach and profound insights into this human experience. God to me is simply energy in various forms and we are the experiencers with lessons to learn. I'll also mention that learning the chakra system has been a great help. I'm thankful I found this website. Very interesting responses. Insightful.

  • Devin

    Great and interesting read.  

    I am for all reasons a believer in God, not just because I was raised in the church, but because I have ask myself questions and studied the fundamentals of all sciences.  In all of my studies of physics, chemistry, and biology, I have never once found meaningful evidence that God could not exist, but only the immense possibilities of an all mighty creator of all things.  You may call pure ignorance? yes, but do not dismay all possibilities of this world until you look at everything you know with the understandings that it is wrong.  We live in a physical world that is governed by a law of physics that makes everything function around us, however there is space in this universe where what we know is right is fundamentally torn apart by the sheer existence of the original thought of what is real to begin with.  If such a place can exist, where what we know is right is wrong, then can’t something we “know” is wrong be right?  The world we observe is only one possibly realm of the physical world, held together by the recycling of the atoms held together by energy and  in a certain arrangements of these atoms, gives us different materials, either it being dirt, air, or our own body. With more emphasis on the latter, our physical body is useless with the sense of energy which accompanies our consciousness.  Energy in the full sense of the term is what gives us consciousness.  This energy is embedded in an favorable anatomical object that controls our physical bodies.  If we sit back and think about this energy, we can imagine that this energy is what the universe was created from.  Out consciousness tells us what is right and wrong, which is ultimately from the energy from which God created.  Through our consciousness, we are guided and led down a morally gratifying life.  We are led by the “voice of God” (Consciousness) that leads us down a righteous path.  One does not need to believe in the bible to have faith in God, but an understanding of nature and life around us.   Now, this may sound a little contradictory, but I do believe that the word of God does exist.  However, not in the bible.  The bible may have once been a reliable statement of the word of God, however man is corrupt and with this corruptness lead man falsifying the bible to farther favor himself.  However, the fundamental principles still abide. Starting with the “creation.”  Please explain the fundamentals of the Big Bang Theory with vocabulary and knowledge of of time genesis was written.  First of all you can’t and secondly it is not necessary to explain the big bang, because it doesn’t matter to the significance to one’s life… Just an idea. 

  • david

    It appears that you like to gamble you life and eternity on your all knowing conclusions. I rather choice life in the creator of life. He has clearly given us instruction of the way to life. Keep thinking! 

  • Stormysky

    I’d like to hear your take on me? I don’t believe in the bible, yet I believe in a higher power. I don’t cherry pick any scriptures to suit me yet I believe in something greater. I’m not sure what religion I am, if that’s even what you would call it is. Theist? Deist? Freethinker? I don’t think I’m someone who falls in the middle of your generalization.

    • Ryan

      That would be Deist.

  • Miche

    I believe in God/Creator. I don’t believe in the bible as God word. God doesn’t need a book to promote Himself

  • wirenut94

    I believe in a Higher Power (God) but have issues with “organized religion” and the Bible. The Bible may have started out as God’s word but through misinterpretations and revisions by men, who could have altered it for their own reasons, much of it contradicts itself. My beliefs are more of a Spiritual nature and I truly believe that we are all “spiritual beings” experiencing a “physical life” in human bodies. Our consciousness is WHO we really are.

  • wirenut94

    I believe in a Higher Power (God) but have issues with “organized religion” and the Bible. The Bible may have started out as God’s word but through misinterpretations and revisions by men, who could have altered it for their own reasons, much of it contradicts itself. My beliefs are more of a Spiritual nature and I truly believe that we are all “spiritual beings” experiencing a “physical life” in human bodies. Our consciousness is WHO we really are.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002944881557 Shawn Maple

    I have no religion but I do believe in a higher power due to I cant believe that all of what is came to be by accident, it seems impossible that we and nature are so well created yet are a mere accident that happened.

  • David

    Clearly most of you have never studied the Bible. Go ahead, pick it up and give it a read. God’s word has stood the test of time, and nothing has been proven wrong (as God is perfect). The context in which the books were written has to be applied to the text. In a country in which everything has to be politically correct, most of us take things out of context to fit our views or beliefs. The Bible has been kept in the correct context and is very much true to the word as the original Hebrew and Greek.

    • DJaco

      the bible was composed 700 years after Jesus died. It was also the product of men who sat in a room and decided what to include and what to exclude. There’s no way your claim of perfection is accurate!

  • me

    All reasoning about God is useless, whether in favor or against.

  • franco

    All of you are liberating me from ego and social central views of the Absolute, thanks! Also, you folks are without the moral crisis that fearfull believes produce by means of ostracism and loneliness dew to
    social totalitarianism and pear pressure. It seems that the majority in society give away their natural atributes to reason and free will, for they move so quikly to fit in to conventionalities and seldom stops and taste the love for analysis, originality, and freedom. Are not analysis, originality and freedom divine qualities? It seems that not according to dogmatic structural belief. Why then even have faith. Dogmatism and faith are psychologically opposed, one takes freedom away the other gives it back. It takes faith to feel free to say “I don’t need books, churches, temples, gurus, others, codes, priests, theologies, theogony, organisations, patrons, etc…to feel purposefull, lovable and loving, ethical, uncodified and safe”… Peace and Love to all