Holy books and the problems they cause.
There are so many holy books, just as there are so many gods and so many religions. In this article we will consider the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
For those keen on chapter and verse to suppport our arguments we recommend The Skeptics Annotated Bible - which also covers the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon.
We have probably read more holy books than most religious people - after all, how many Muslims have read the Tanakh or Torah, how many Judaists have read the New Testament, how many Christians have read the Qur'an?
Note: we differentiate between "Jews", those who consider themselves ethnically Jewish, and "Judaists", those who practice the religion of Judaism. The two are not the same since there are thousands of Jews who are atheists - Woody Alan for example - and there are thousands of Judaists who are not Jewish - Ivanka Trump for example.
Holy books as an argument against the god idea
Many people abandon religion because they have asked the obvious questions about holy books:
- If there is one god why are there so many holy books?
- If god is so powerful why didn't she write the holy book herself, why go through (often illiterate) intermediaries?
- If god is good why are holy books full of slavery, violence, rape, murder and wars?
- If god is so all-knowing, why do holy books lack clarity, why do they require so much interpretation?
- What is the point of a holy book if selective reading and interpretation can justify almost anything?
- Why are holy books so poorly written - try reading the Qur'an!
- Why are holy books so miserable and negative, more often saying what not to do rather than what to do?
- Why do holy books set so many limits on human life experience, why are they so controlling?
- Why are holy books so mysogenistic - why do they treat women as chattels and second class citizens?
- Why do holy books support the patriarchy?
- Why do holy books put the accent on the next life rather than this one?
- Why do holy books have such a problem with sexuality?
"Get out of jail free"
We do not accept "free will" as an argument - that's simply a "get out of jail free" card invented to overcome some of the major problems faced by all religions - "it's not god's fault, it's your fault for making the wrong choice."
This has caused endless trouble throughout the centuries: "man is born full of sin" leads to the massive psychological hang-ups and guilt complexes that follow so many religious people even when they abandon their religion - ask any lapsed Catholic!
One thing you can say about god, she has created a vast industry based on the interpretation of her holy books.
The primary reason for the splits within religions, leading to hundreds of different sects, is interpretation.
For example, during the first 300 years following the birth of the alleged Jesus, Christians killed one another over what their holy book said about his nature - was he man, was he god, was he a bit of both? Few Christians are aware of the fragile thread their religion hangs on.
Religious fundamentalists and literalists exist because they understand that when you let the interpretive cat out of the bag you are on a hiding to nothing.
The problem with the literal reading of holy books is that they are frequently contradictory. In one part you can read that god supports you when you grind your enemies to dust under your feet and while another part tells you to love your enemies as yourself. One part tells you that it is as easy for a rich man to go to heaven as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle while another part tells you that greed is good - that's the part used by many religious leaders to justify their wealth, their palaces and their private jets.
Creating the yardstick
Who is to say that the interpretation of the Qur'an used by ISIS to justify slavery, rape and murder is "wrong" while the interpretation of a "moderate" and "politically acceptable" imam is "right"?
What yardstick is used to make the judgement? Who creates the yardstick? Who is to say which yardstick is correct? Who is to act as a guard against the inhuman interpretation of holy books?
We, those of us independent of religion, those of us with no sectarian axe to grind, must create the yardstick. We must say that any interpretation that calls for harm is wrong, anything that puts gods above our fellow human beings is wrong, anything that is life denying rather than life enhancing is wrong.
Holy books are not history
Many religious people think their holy book is a true history of their religion - or even a true history of human beings.
All holy books start with a creation story, a creation myth, and such stories existed long before the Abrahamic religions were thought of.
There is a reason why the Tanakh, Bible and Qur'an share so many stories - they come from the same pagan origins. The Tanakh takes many of its stories (the flood for example) from "The Epic of Gilgamesh" written almost 2,000 years BC.
It is interesting that we have ancient tablets containing the Epic of Gilgamesh but we don't have ancient writings covering the life of the Christian Jesus.
The Christian Bible takes the Tanakh as its starting point (The Old Testament) and adds stories about its Messiah (The New Testament) - highly selective stories written long after his alleged death by people whose identity is not known and who were certainly not present when he was alleged to have lived.
The Qur'an is based heavily on the Tanakh (there were lots of Jewish merchants living in pagan 7th century Arabia at the time) though it is plagued with inconsistencies, innaccuracies, self-interest and sexual lust.
Evolution of holy books
Gods were created by men in the image of men.
Holy books are not history, they were written by men to explain the (at the time) unexplainable, to justify belief in a god, to provide group identity and to create rules to control societies.
Over time holy books were edited and enhanced to make them fit the model required - as in the Council of Nicea in 325 which attempted to define what Christianity was so Constantine could use it in an attempt to unite his empire. (The argument continues to this day.)
Eventually holy books became frozen - only to face thousands of years of translation and interpretation.
The interpretation of holy books has become the most signifcant cause of violence over thousands of years. Those going into battle (most often for the greed of their leaders) do so knowing they have "god on their side" because of the interpretation placed on their holy books by their holy men. Religion becomes the state, the state becomes religion - so anything can be justified "in the name of god".