Longtime readers may remember that religion used to be a primary, rather than incidental focus of this blog. It may be the case that writing for Canadian Atheist and then moving to Freethought Blogs took some of the fun out of being a combative atheist. It could just be that I had more pressing questions rattling around in my brain. At any rate, I haven’t done a pure religious critique in a while, so pardon me if the rust shows through.
I read the Old Testament when I was in high school. Being a longtime fan (and voracious reader) of Greek mythology, I immediately recognized the stamp of myth on the stories of Jonah and the Giant Fish, Noah’s Ark, the Walls of Jericho, you name it. Stories are important cultural signifiers that transcend generations and give us some common ground. It didn’t strike me as particularly peculiar that a group of nomadic people whose written language arrived many generations after many serious events in their history would have kept their history alive in story form. It seems equally non-controversial to imagine that, as stories tend to do, the histories and the fables and legends became blended over multiple tellings. For someone who, even at the time, wasn’t a literalist believer, the idea that a literal super-strong Samson probably didn’t actually exist in the way he’s depicted didn’t matter much to me. What was important were the lessons of the Bible. It would take me a few more years to realize how monstrous many of those lessons actually are.
Similarly and non-coincidentally, I began to view the New Testament as a work of fictionalized history. At the time I thought Jesus was probably literally real, and that the writing in the Gospels needed to be viewed in context of the politics of the time. Understanding the tension that would have existed between, for example, the Pharisees and the Roman Empire at the time, helped put things like the Sermon on the Mount into a reasonable context – Jesus wasn’t speaking for eternal attribution, he was talking about the issues of the time. Judas wasn’t some evil conniver, he was a run-of-the-mill political zealot who sought to install new leadership by betraying the old one. And so on, in a most run-of-the-mill sort of way. … Continue Reading