The Bible – Part Two, Excerpt
Just below is an excerpt from my book The Lies, The Truth, The Way. I wrote it three years ago. At the time I was a Unitarian Christian with universalist leanings and Buddhist sympathies. I have, since then, completely rejected Christianity. I am now an agnostic Buddhist. The following excerpt was written when I was much more sympathetic towards Christianity and, thus, less direct in my prose.
Here’s the excerpt:
May as well tackle the biggest taboo first. The Bible, that most venerable and venerated of books, upon which the whole of Christianity is supposed to be based upon, did not fall from the sky like manna from Heaven. I am often amazed at how little Christians actually know ABOUT the book. Oh, sure, they know what it says, they quote it, they reference it, they base their lives upon this or that passage. But they never question where it came from. “The Bible is the Inspired, Infallible Word of God!” This statement in some form or other graces the top level of every doctrinal statement. But why? Where does it come from? How did it get here?
Have you ever read the little blurbs most bibles have at the beginning of the Books of the bible, or the stuff included before Genesis, between the Old and New Testaments, or at the end? Almost every edition has some essays and explanation about the translation, manuscripts and stuff like that. Nobody reads them. People jump right to Genesis 1:1 or Matthew 1:1, or whichever passage is being discussed. When I got around to reading some of those notes and essays I started seeing things in a different light. Moreover, I discovered that good old King James and friends did not have the Bible handed to them on a Holy Mountain. There’s a whole lot more to follow about the origins of the bible and the misconceptions people have of it but here it is in brief.
The Bible is a collection of writings which we call “Books” which were originally separate texts and part of a much greater collection of writings in ancient times. There is almost no agreement on the precise origins of all the Books. The Old Testament is not actually a “Christian” manuscript. The “Old Testament” is the Hebrew Bible, used and revered by the Jews. The New Testament, on the other hand, is a collection of writings which were assembled, more or less, in the fourth century. I say more or less because that grouping, called the canon, has been disputed, some books removed, and others argued over since then. You might find it interesting that the Gospel of John almost didn’t make it into the Bible because it had Gnostic-sounding passages and Revelation was almost excluded because it made God look like a bad guy.
The “Scriptures” which Jesus speaks of in the Gospels were not the Gospels. How could they be, they hadn’t been written. Jesus referenced what we call the Old Testament but one which included the Apocrypha, books and portions of books which were taken out of the Protestant bible a few hundred years ago. When the church was young dozens of Gospels and hundreds of letters were floating around. Some of them were a bit wacky. Others almost became part of the canon. The claim is that the close-calls were judged “uninspired” but the truth is they were rejected, like the Gospel of John almost was, because they had content that the convention establishing the canon did not like.
Christians are taught the contents Bible but almost never the origins of the Bible. Why is that? Is it because we don’t need to know how a car works to drive it? Maybe. I think there are other reasons. Ministers learn about the bible. Pastors and church leaders in the various denominational organizations learn about Bible origins. Theologians learn quite a bit about the Bible. Oddly, though, the more someone knows about Biblical origins the greater the distance between them and ordinary parishioners or members. It’s not simply because of a difference in class or education or position, either. Trust me on this.
The origins of an automobile are well known. The van in our driveway came from a plant somewhere. You can go to the factory, see how it’s constructed. You can read bulletins, speak to dealers, even learn about how it works. You have confidence in the car you drive so you don’t feel the need to learn everything about how it works, though you should know how to change a flat, put in oil and water, and change the wipers. You trust your life to that car because you have confidence in it. You’d have less confidence in a car you’ve never heard about being offered by a guy in a weird orange-red striped suit with a shiny silver tooth who says, “never mind” about the safety, reliability, or history of the four-wheeled machine. But that’s what you do when it comes to the Bible.
You trust your soul to the words in a book which is handed to you by other folks, most of whom you don’t know from Adam, and “explained” to you because you don’t, apparently, have the right gifts or brains to understand what it says yourself. Ministers, evangelists and the denomination hands to you all you “need to know” supported with a collection of Bible snippets. “Just believe!” But beyond the clichés and assorted points there’s sometimes confusion and never any explanation. Think about it.
There’s a very popular Christmas movie called “The Polar Express.” It’s a cute little movie. My kids love it. The whole “message” of the film is “believe!” Just believe! Believe what? That there is a Santa Clause? Well, that’s great, especially when we grow up and figure out there is no such guy, or when we’re six and our parents can’t afford to provide what we want Santa to bring. But pastors and denominations do exactly the same thing. They say come ride the Glory Train and just believe! Excuse me but you’re going to have to do better than that.
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