The Literal Bible: How I became a heretic.

meditate composit 4-910pxI’ve been putting off starting this blog for at least two years, maybe for the simple reason that I did not know quite where to start. It has grown out of many years of studying science and in the context of experiences that science explains away as tricks of the mind. And it has emerged through a filter of Christian teaching, which, on the whole, I still embrace, though some people would consider me a heretic. Well, if that separates me from the mainstream of modern Christian doctrine then I’ll take it. I’ll write it in big yellow letters on a bright blue and purple hat and wear it without compunction. Yessiree.

Here’s where my relationship with traditional Christianity started to sour. In my early twenties I went back to the church of my upbringing. It was one of those fundamentalist Protestant churches with some extra commandments: don’t drink’ don’t smoke, don’t dance, don’t go to movies… it was a fairly long list. The elders kept telling me that I needed to read my Bible more, so I did, and started at the beginning. The first thing I encountered was a discrepancy in the telling of the story of creation. In Chapter 1 of Genesis we have the traditional Christian seven days of creation, where Man comes last. Then there’s Chapter 2 and a whole new story of creation in which Man was there from the beginning. I reread it multiple times to reconcile the difference and couldn’t come up with an explanation.

Next I encountered the story of Adam and Eve. It was going along pretty much as expected until I got to the part where they were kicked out of the garden for eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were kicked out so that they would not encounter and eat fruit from the Tree of Life and thus become immortal, “like us.” What did that mean, “us?” Reading a little further, I find the story of Cain and Abel. Cain kills Able — no surprise — until Abel is sent off east of Eden, from which they had supposedly already been evicted. A mark is put on Cain so that nobody who sees Cain will kill him. So far there are only supposed to have been four people, and one of those has been killed. Who are these people and where did they come from? Not only that, but Cain gets married to a mystery woman and they build a city named after Enoch, their son.

After a genealogy, we encounter the Nephilim — the sons of God who had relations with the daughters of men and brought forth the heroes of old, the men of renown. That sounded a lot like the Hercules and Orpheus and Helen of Troy family. Hmmm. Is this where the earlier mysterious “us” came from? Well, they seemed to have created enough evil on the earth that God decided to destroy the whole mess — except for the one holy man, Noah, and his family.

The story of the flood is pretty familiar, but after the flood an interesting event happens. Noah decided to plant a vineyard. He made some wine, got drunk and naked and passed out in his tent. First of all, for me at that time, drinking was such a major no-no that it could have been the eleventh commandment. I thought Noah was in deep trouble, but no. It was his son, Ham, who got in trouble for disrespecting his father by reporting the incident to his brothers.

At this point in my reading I had had enough surprises. This was not the stuff they taught us in Sunday school. It wasn’t the stuff we heard in the church service. I thought I should ask the pastor about some of this stuff. A few days later I had the opportunity to do just that, so first I asked about drinking wine because besides this Noah escapade, Jesus turned water into wine. The answer came back that it wasn’t really wine as we think of it, but grape juice. They just called grape juice wine. I was so insulted by that answer I don’t believe I ever went to the church again.

Still trying to make sense of a literal and unerring reading of the Bible, I moved on to the New Testament, where I found differing versions of some of the stories.  Maybe some differences are minor, but I’m looking for unerring here.

The story of driving the swine into the lake; was it in Gerasa or Gadara? Were there two demoniacs or one?

Of the question of the greatest commandments, did a scribe ask that question of Jesus or did Jesus ask it of a scribe?

And there are other questions. Why did Jesus refer to himself as the Son of Man and not the Son of God?

When Mary Magdalene asked him where he was going he replied, “to my father and your father, to my god and your god.”  He did not separate himself from the rest of us.

When the disciples asked him why he was going he replied, “I have other sheep which are not of this fold. I must tend to them also so there is one flock and one shepherd.” Does that mean he is still coming and going and we’ve missed it?

And after Jesus left the various versions of the story began to conflict right away. Paul said we are “saved by faith alone” and James the Just called him a fool and countered that faith without works is dead.

Paul disliked Mark and wouldn’t let him go on a trip and it caused a lot of friction. Yet Mark was the first we know of to write a Gospel.

To cut to the chase, a critical reading of the Bible brings up more questions than it answers if you goal is to take it all at face value. When you look back at the history of Christianity and see all of the various gospels that were written — even just the ones we know about — you have to look at the course that was followed with some degree of skepticism. How much of the course was followed because of politics and not just a search for the Truth?

After I got away from fundamentalist thinking I studied other religions and I studied science. I had some pretty amazing experiences that none of these explained very well. I started formulating my own ideas. At one point, when I was studying science pretty heavily, I started wondering if there could possibly be any points of agreement between science and religion that might explain the experiences I was having. The old fundamentalist inner voice chimed in that I had better not try to change the Word of God. I opened my Bible and looked straight down on Romans 1:20, which says in effect, “Since the beginning of time, we can know all things about the Creator through the things He has made; even His divinity.”Ah! If it had happened any other way I might have downplayed the significance of a direct answer to a troubling question. But the answer was clear. We need to look at Religion through the lens of Science, not look at Science through the lens of religion. Now that is some scripture I feel comfortable with.

Here’s where we begin.

May 31, 2015

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