Tag Archive: Spiritual

Who Determines What the Bible Says?

the bible says

Repost from 2015. Extensively edited, rewritten, and corrected.

Two thousand years.

Two thousand years of Jesus.

Almost from the beginning, Christians put their oral traditions, teachings, and beliefs into writing. The Bibles used by twenty-first-century Christians all trace their authority back through history to Christian writings dating from around 50 CE forward. The original writings, the first edition writings, do not exist and any claim of inspiration for the “original” writings is nothing more than wishful, fanciful thinking. Every claim ever made by the Christian church rests on text of the Bible and how the church has interpreted that text. I am aware of the fact that the Christian church has been influenced by Gnosticism for most of its 2,000 year history, but for the most part, Christianity is a text-based religion that places the text of the Bible above personal experiences and revelations. Even when personal experiences and revelations are given weight and authority, they are almost always expected to conform to what is found in the text of the Bible.

Most Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God. They believe the words of the Bible came from God or at least represent, in fallible human form, what God wants humankind to know about God, life, salvation, death, judgment, and the afterlife. Many Christians believe every word of the Bible is inspired by God, and some Christians even go so far as to say that a particular translation, the King James Version, is inspired by God. Christians who hold this extreme view believe that God has preserved his Word through time and that every word of the King James Bible is from the lips of God himself. And countless other Christians believe the text of the Bible is inerrant and infallible. Ponder that thought for a moment. Every word in a book thousands of years old is true, without error, and perfect in every way. To quote the Evangelical bumper sticker, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me.” Some Evangelicals say, “God said it, and that settles it for me. It doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not!”

Most Christians believe the Bible is truth. While they may not believe ALL the Bible is truth, every Christian, at some point or the other, says THIS is truth. A person who does not believe the Bible is truth is not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. There is a form of Christianity floating about these days that suggests a person can be a Christian and not believe the Bible.This kind of Christian says “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” He  embraces Jesus as his Savior and guide, but often has no connection with organized Christianity. However, even the “spiritual but not religious” Christian must, sooner or later, appeal to the Bible. Without the Bible they would have no knowledge of Jesus, the locus of their faith.

Other Christians are what I call cafeteria Christians. They pick and choose what they want to believe. Most cafeteria Christians believe in Jesus since they DO want their sins forgiven and they DO want to go to heaven when they die, but when it comes to the hard sayings of the Bible, the teachings that get in the way of the American dream and living the way they want to live, the cafeteria Christians dismiss such sayings and teachings as old, outdated relics of past that have no value or application today. Simply put, they want a Jesus divorced from anything else the Bible says. Cafeteria Christians become quite adept at explaining away anything in the Bible with which they disagree.

This brings me to the point of this post. Who determines what the Bible says? Who decides what this verse or that verse says? Who is the arbiter of truth? Who is the final authority?

Some Christians say GOD is the final authority. The Bible is God’s Word . . . THUS SAITH THE LORD! These well-meaning Christians think that the teachings of the Bible are clear and understandable, needing no explanation or interpretation. Why, then, do they go to church on Sunday and listen to a man tell them what he thinks the Bible says? Why do they read books and commentaries written by people telling them what they think the Bible says? If the Bible is a self-attesting, self-explanatory text, why all the middlemen?

Some Christians say the HOLY SPIRIT is the final authority. God gave New Testament Christians (Old Testament believers only got a part-time Holy Spirit who came and went at will) the Holy Spirit to be their teacher and guide. The Holy Spirit teaches them everything necessary for life and godliness. It is not hard to see the Gnostic influence in this kind of thinking. If there is ONE Holy Spirit who teaches and guides every Christian, why is there no consensus among believers on what Christians believe? Why does the Holy Spirit give contradictory instructions or lessons? Why are there so many Christian sects? Surely, if the Holy Spirit is on his game, every sect would believe the same thing and they would become ONE body with ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism.

Some Christians are what I call red-letter Christians. They give weight and authority to the “words” of Jesus in the gospels, the words that are in red in many modern translations. With great passion and commitment, they attempt to walk in the steps of Jesus (WWJD). Unfortunately, they rarely consider whether the words attributed to Jesus in the gospels are actually his words. Jesus didn’t write any of the books found in the Bible, which, in my opinion, is quite odd. Most Biblical scholars question who actually wrote the gospels, and many scholars have serious reservations over Matthew, Mark, Luke or John being the authors of the gospels that bear their name.  Since the gospels are, at best, stories passed down by those alive at the time of Christ and not put in written form until decades after the death of Jesus, the best a modern-day Christian can say about the gospels is that they are words written by an unknown person who recorded what a third, fourth, fifth or twentieth party told the writer Jesus said.

bible made me an atheistClaims that the Bible is some sort of inspired text require faith. There’s no evidence for the claim that the Bible is inspired outside of the text itself.  Either you believe the Bible is, to some degree or the other, supernatural truth or you don’t. I am an atheist today primarily because I no longer believe the Bible is truth. While it is certainly a book filled with entertaining and thought-provoking stories, it is not, in any way, a supernatural text. While it certainly contains maxims worthy of emulation, it also contains God-approved behaviors that we moderns now consider at odds with human and scientific progress.

Every Christian belief rests not on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, but on the authority of a human being or a group of human beings. It is humans who decide what the Bible says. It is humans who decide what this or that verse means. Whether it is a denomination, the Pope, theologians, a pastor, or an individual Christian, it is a human who is the final authority. At best, the only thing a Christian can claim is THUS SAITH THE POPE, MY DENOMINATION, MY PASTOR, MY COLLEGE PROFESSORS, OR MYSELF! Any claim that it is God speaking or leading is a matter of faith, a matter that cannot be proved empirically. In other words, you are just going to have to take their word for it — or not.

Christians need to get off their Bible High-Horse and admit who the real final authority is. The fact that there are thousands of Christian sects shows very clearly that humans are the ones with the final say on what the Bible does and doesn’t say. It is humans who preach, write books, teach theology classes, blog, and debate. God may have said a particular something, and there is no way for us to know if she did, but it is humans who get the final say about what God actually said or what she meant to say. Every Christian statement of belief is an interpretation of the Bible. It is that person or group saying, this is what the Bible says. In other words, the person is saying I know what God said. (One of the purposes of this blog is to demonstrate that the Bible can be made to say almost anything.)

Can you name one Christian teaching that ALL Christians agree upon? Outside of the fact that Jesus was a real person, every other teaching of the so-called “faith once delivered to the saints” is disputed by some Christian sect or the other. If the Christian church was a married couple they would have long since been divorced for irreconcilable differences. Oh wait, that is exactly what has happened. The Christian church is hopelessly splintered into thousands of sects, each competing with the other for the title of God’s Truth Holder. Children in Evangelical Sunday schools learn to sing the B-I-B-L-E song. In light of what I have written above, the lyrics of the song should be changed:

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that MIGHT be the Book for me, I SOMETIMES stand alone on the WORDS OF MEN, the B-I-B-L-E. B-I-B-L-E!!

Until God shows up in person and says yes, I wrote this convoluted, contradictory book that makes me out to be a hateful, vindictive sadist, I am not going to believe the Bible is God’s Word. If a benevolent, loving God really wrote the Bible, do you think she would have written what Christians say she did? If God had control of the writing process, do you think she would have included her unsavory side? If God was involved in putting the Bible together, don’t you think she would have proofread it to made sure there were no mistakes and that the text was internally consistent?

Instead, Christians spend countless hours trying to harmonize (make it all fit) the text of the Bible. They put forth laughable explanations for the glaring errors found in the Bible. Well, you know Bruce, Jesus cleansed the Temple at the start of his ministry AND at the end of his ministry! Sure he did. I wonder if Christians know how foolish some of their harmonizing attempts sound to those on the outside of the church or to someone like myself, who has been on both sides of the fence? Of course, according to the Bible, the various harmonization schemes sound foolish because non-Christians don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of them teaching them how to make square pegs fit in round holes. And round and round the merry-go-round goes.

If Christians want to believe the Bible is some sort of truth, and worship God/Jesus/Holy Spirit based on what is written within its pages, I have no beef with them. If they want to believe the Bible and its teachings, who am I to say they can’t?  However, when they insist everyone acquiesce to their beliefs about the Bible and God, and that their peculiar belief system is the one true religion, then I have a problem. When Christians insist that the Bible and its teachings be taught to public school children or demand that their interpretation of the moral and ethical code taught in the Bible is applicable to everyone, they should expect pushback from people such as I. Since history gives us ample warning about what happens when any religion gains the power of the state, secularists like myself will continue to fight any attempt to enshrine Christianity as the official state religion.

Here’s what I am saying to Christians. Take the Bible, go to your houses of worship and believe and worship as you will. However, I expect you to keep your beliefs to yourself. If I don’t ask, you don’t tell. Stop all the theocratic, God-rule talk. Stop trying to turn the United States into a Christian nation. Stop demonizing everyone who disagrees with your beliefs. In other words, treat others with decency, love, and respect. Stop being a religious fanatic who thinks everyone should hear about your version of the Christian God and embrace your peculiar beliefs.

Do you think American Christians, especially conservative Catholics and Protestants, Mormons, and Evangelical Christians, can do what I mentioned above? Not a chance! They will continue to push, fight, and infiltrate until they have no more soldiers to fight with. They are like a disease that is only curable by death. The good news is that this brand of Christianity is slowly dying and, in time, long after you and I are dead, the American Jesus will have drawn its last breath. (Please see Why I Hate Jesus.)

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Book Review: Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho

manuscript found in accra

Manuscript Found in Accra is written by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. The book was translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and is published by Alfred A Knopf.

The publisher graciously provided me a copy of the book to review. Manuscript Found in Accra is 190 pages long and can be read in several leisurely sittings.

This is the first Paulo Coelho book I have read. Quite frankly, until the publisher representative contacted me, I had never heard of Paulo Coelho. This is my loss, since millions of other people know who Paulo Coelho is. According to back flap of the book, Coelho has written numerous books; books such as The Alchemist, Aleph, Eleven Minutes, and The Pilgrimage. His books have been translated into 74 languages and over 140 million books have been sold.

Manuscript Found in Accra is best described as wisdom literature. Drawing on the collective wisdom of the world’s religions, Coelho tells a masterful story that forces readers to contemplate and consider their own lives, and the meaning, purpose, and direction thereof.

While the book is littered with religious and spiritual references, it is not strictly a religious book. Coelho takes readers beyond the boundaries that sectarian religions erect and encourages them to see the wisdom found not only in religious texts but also in the collective experiences that humanity shares.

The main character of Manuscript Found in Accra is the Copt. The book focuses on the Copt’s interaction with the people of Jerusalem on July 14, 1099.

Roman Catholic Crusaders have surrounded Jerusalem. Attack is imminent. Many of the residents of Jerusalem will flee before the battle, yet others will stay to fight, knowing that they will likely die. Before this historic battle takes place, the Copt asks all the people to come to the city square. He asks the leaders of the three Abrahamic religions to join him there.

The Copt is described as:

…a strange man. as an adolescent, he decided to leave his native city of Athens to go in search of money and adventure. He ended up knocking on the doors of our city, close to starvation. When he was well received, he gradually abandoned the idea of continuing his journey and resolved to stay.

He managed to find work in a shoemaker’s shop, and—just like Ibn al-Athir—he started recording everything he saw and heard for posterity. He did not seek to join any particular religion, and no one tried to persuade him otherwise. As far as he is concerned, we are not in the years 1099 or 4859, much less at the end of 492. The Copt believes only in the present moment and what he calls Moira—the unknown God, the Divine Energy, responsible for a single law, which, if ever broken, will bring along the end of the world.

The people, along with their religious leaders, gather in the city square, the very same city square where Jesus was condemned to die. The Copt says to the people:

From tomorrow, harmony will become discord. Joy will be replaced by grief. Peace will give way to a war that will last into an unimaginably distant future…

They can destroy the city, but they cannot destroy everything the city has taught us, which is why it is vital that this knowledge does not suffer the same fate as our walls, houses, and streets. But what is knowledge?…

It isn’t the absolute truth about life and death, but the things that help us to live and confront the challenges of day-to-day life. It isn’t what we learn from books, which serves only to fuel futile arguments about what happened or will happen; it is the knowledge that lives in the hearts of men and women of good will…

I am a learned man, and yet, despite having spent all these years restoring antiquities, classifying objects, recording dates, and discussing politics, I still don’t know quite what to say to you. But I will ask the Divine Energy to purify my heart. You will ask me questions, and I will answer them. This is what the teachers of ancient Greece did; their disciples would ask them questions about problems they had not yet considered, and the teachers would answer them.

Someone in the crowd asks, what shall we do with your answers?

The Copt replies:

Some will write down what I say. Others will remember my words. The important thing is that tonight you will set off for the four corners of the world, telling others what you have heard. That way, the soul of Jerusalem will be preserved. And one day, we will be able to rebuild Jerusalem, not just as a city, but as a center of knowledge and a place where peace will once again reign.

A man in the crowd says, we all know what waits us tomorrow. Wouldn’t it be better to discuss how to negotiate for peace or prepare ourselves for battle?

The Copt turns and looks at the religious leaders to see if they have anything to say, then he turns back to the crowd and says:

None of us can know what tomorrow will hold, because each day has its good and its bad moments. So, when you ask your questions, forget about the troops outside and the fear inside. Our task is not to leave a record of what happened on this date for those who will inherit the Earth; history will take care of that. Therefore, we will speak about our daily lives, about the difficulties we have had to face. That is all the future will be interested in, because I do not believe very much will change in the next thousand years.

The people proceed to ask the Copt twenty questions. Each chapter in the book details the Copt’s answer to their questions. The questions and answers deal with matters close to the heart of all of us: love, fear, loss, death, beauty, courage, friendship, and dreams. Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, Manuscript Found in Accra is a treasure-trove of wisdom. It is a book that can be read over and over, with each reading giving new insight.

My favorite chapter is one where a person preparing to die in battle the next day asks:

We were divided when what we wanted was unity. The cities that lay in path of the invaders suffered the consequences of a war they did not choose. What should the survivors tell their children?

The Copt replies:

…do not seek to be loved at any price, because Love has no price.

Your friends are not the kind to attract everyone’s gaze, who dazzle and say: “There is no one better, more generous, or more virtuous in the whole of Jerusalem.”

Your friends are the sort who do not wait for things to happen in order to decide which attitude to take; they decide on the spur of the moment, even though they know it could be risky.

They are free spirits who can change direction whenever life requires them to. They explore new paths, recount their adventures, and thus enrich both city and village.

If they once took a wrong and dangerous path, they will never come to you and say: “Don’t ever do that.”

They will merely say: “I once took a wrong and dangerous path.”

This is because they respect your freedom, just as you respect theirs.

Avoid at all costs those who are only by your side in moments of sadness to offer consoling words. What they’re actually saying to themselves is: “I am stronger. I am wiser. I would not have taken that step.”

Stay close to those who are by your side in happy times, because they do not harbor jealousy or envy in their hearts, only joy to see you happy.

Avoid those who believe they are stronger than you, because they are actually concealing their own fragility.

Stay close to those who are not afraid to be vulnerable, because they have confidence in themselves and know that, at some point in our lives, we all stumble; they do not interpret this as a sign of weakness, but of humanity.

Avoid those who talk a great deal before acting, those who will never take a step without being quite sure that it will bring them respect.

Stay close to those who, when you made a mistake, never said: “I would have done it differently.” They did not make that particular mistake and so are in no position to judge.

Avoid those who seek friends in order to maintain a certain social status or to open doors they would not otherwise be able to approach.

Stay close to those who are interested in opening only one important door: the door to your heart. They will never invade your soul without your consent or shoot a deadly arrow through that open door.

Friendship is like a river; it flows around rocks, adapts itself to valleys and mountains, occasionally turns into a pool until the hollow in the ground is full and it can continue on its way.

Just as the river never forgets that it’s goal is the sea, so friendship never forgets that its only reason for existing is to love other people…

I heartily recommend Manuscript Found in Accra. I am an atheist, and I know that some of you might find my recommendation of Paulo Coelho’s book strange. Yet I found the book affirming many of the humanistic values I hold dear. Yes, Coelho is a religious man, a practicing Catholic, but can we not all learn from people who are different from us, people who, despite our differences, hold a common humanity with us?

This is the first  spiritually oriented book I have read since leaving Christianity almost 5 years ago. For a time, the wisdom-well was poisoned and I could not read books with any religious or spiritual sympathies. But now I find myself yearning for books that speak to my humanity, books that call on me to reflect on who and what I am and how I want to live my life.

The strict materialist will find little to like in Manuscript Found in Accra. But for those who dream of a better tomorrow, who still have hope and seek a world of peace, Paulo Coelho’s latest book will inspire and provoke us to be better human beings.

You can buy Manuscript Found in Accra here.

Note:

TLC Book Tours handles some of the book reviews I have done. If you have a book that you would like to publicize please contact them. I have found the staff at TLC Book Tours a delight to work with.

No Bible No Christianity: Why Do Many Christians Distance Themselves From the Bible?

bible

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. St.Augustine

Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. St. Jerome

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. Irenaeus

This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. Cyril of Jerusalem

“The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” Gregory of Nyssa

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right Basil the Great

There is no Christianity without the Bible. Bruce Almighty, Bishop of Ney

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17

I am becoming increasingly weary of attempting to interact with Christians who refuse to see that the Bible is central to their faith. It seems that an increasing number of American Christians are uncomfortable with the teachings of the Bible. They think by saying I don’t worship the Bible, I worship God, or I am a follower of Jesus, not a follower of the Bible that they are somehow free of the Bible and its uncomfortable dictates.

No Bible Christians like to remind me that the early church operated according to oral traditions, as if this is somehow the end-all answer to my criticism. The problem with this line of thinking is that the oral traditions were codified in the letters that make up the New Testament, and this was completed within eighty years of the death of Christ. Go ahead and focus on the oral tradition of the church, but that has not been the standard for the Christian church for 1,900 years.

Take a look at Jewish temple practice during the lifetime of Jesus. Were they people of a book? Sure. The Scriptures were central to their religious practice. The first converts to Christianity were Jewish. They were very familiar and comfortable with the propagation and use of religious texts. For those who continue to disagree with me on this subject, I have several things I would like for you to consider.

When you attend Church this Sunday, how much of your religious practice will be according to what your particular denomination believes the Bible teaches concerning the proper way to worship God? (whether you believe in the normative or regulative principle) When you recite the Lord’s Prayer or the creed of your church, what is their foundation? Oral traditions or the Bible? When your pastor stands up and preaches, what will he be preaching from? Oral traditions or the Bible? Would it be okay for your pastor to set the Bible aside and spend his time talking about this or that oral tradition, with you having no way of knowing whether he is telling the truth? What is your church’s objective standard of truth?

When a person says they are a Christian he or she is saying they are a follower of Jesus Christ. By their profession of faith they are willingly submitting themselves to the teachings of Christ. Where are the teachings of Christ found? How does one become a follower of Jesus Christ? Where do we find the necessary steps for becoming a Christian?

Your church has certain practices and beliefs because they believe that the Bible clearly teaches them. Even people who love to sit on the three-legged stool of Bible, reason, and tradition seem to forget, as they are busy extolling how reasonable their church is, that ONE of the legs IS the Bible. Even tradition oriented churches like the Roman Catholic Church appeal to the Bible as a rule and standard.

Imagine for a moment a world without the Bible. Would you naturally come to the same beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity, etc? Of course not. There is little historical proof apart from the Bible that Jesus ever existed, and no evidence that a person named Jesus was born of a virgin, worked miracles, or resurrected from the dead.

For those who contend they can have Christianity without the Bible, please tell me how that is possible. Without Jesus there is no Christianity and without the Bible there is no Jesus. The foundation of the Christian church is the Bible, or perhaps better put, what the Bible says about God, Jesus, and salvation is the foundation of the church. Evangelicals go to churches that proudly say “Thus saith the Lord” . The Thuses are codified in the Christian Bible. Every Sunday, Christians gather together to worship their God, and in doing so they prove that the Bible is central to their faith.

Even liberal Christians are held captive by the Bible. Every liberal Christian, at some point or another, must say this or that part of the Bible is truth. No matter how much some liberals try to distance themselves from the Bible by appealing to tradition, reason, common sense,or their theology training, sooner of later they must return to the Bible as the ground of their faith. It is the Bible that tells them of Jesus. They can’t get that information anywhere else but the Bible.

It is quite amusing that I believe in the Bible more than many Christians do. I don’t see it as a divine text nor do I think any god had anything to do with its writing, but I do recognize that the foundation and hope of the Christian church is found within its pages. Either you believe the Bible is truth or you don’t. Either it is your rule for faith and practice or it is not, Either you embrace the God and Jesus of the Bible or you don’t.

I get it, the Bible is a book hopelessly out of touch with the 21st century. It is a book that endorses things we now consider immoral and criminal. It is a book that glorifies a God that is mean, vindictive,violent, and petty. The problems with the Bible are legion. It has errors, mistakes, and contradictions, but it is still the foundation of Christianity. If a person is not willing to embrace the Bible, then it is time for them to admit they are not a Christian. They might be spiritual or think Jesus was a great teacher, prophet, or example, but they are most certainly not a Christian. (I am not talking here about belief-independent cultural Christianity.)

For twenty centuries, the standard of the Christian church has been the Bible. Regardless of what part reason and tradition played, the central focus of the Christian church is the teachings of the Bible, particularly the teachings of the New Testament. Those attempting to jettison the Bible while still claiming to be a Christian are actually promoting a new religion, a religion that is not found in the history of the Christian church.

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