10/23/2006                                                                                       View Comments

Spinning the Bible: The 2000-Year-Old Scam

The Bible is unquestionably one of the most written and talked about -- if not the most written and talked about -- book in the world. It may also be one of the most lied about.

I know that's harsh. But bear with me. It is the only charge that can conscionably be leveled by a person who believes in science and reason as the paths to truth.

There are basically two ways of learning the truth: reason and faith. They have been in conflict for millennia.

Almost everything about our daily lives requires the processing of information and, oftentimes, we must act upon that information. So the questions of what we believe and how we believe, even if we don't think about them, are very important. Some people subscribe to science. Some to faith. Some try hard to reconcile the two. Others, as we’ll see, don’t even bother.

Most of us in the industrialized Western world in 2006 live by science and reason. "Science" is more than computers and labs and people in white coats. It is a way of believing and knowing. For thousands of years, beginning with the crudest tools and the mastery of fire, human beings have learned about their world and improved their lives through experimentation and experience or -- via writing and other media -- through the experience of other, reliable sources.

The other kind of knowing, faith, is belief without proof. Things are true because we so much want them to be true, or it seems that they ought to be true, or they fit well with beliefs we already have, or the right people are recommending them to us, or – very important -- people have been repeating them for thousands of years...and perhaps for other reasons as well. Belief without proof is nothing more than belief founded upon perpetuated hearsay and accumulated say-so.

You would think that the two kinds of knowing would be incompatible -- that if you don't believe without proof, then you would not be able to take part in most organized religions. But the fact is that a great many people manage to do just that. Surgeons don't pray for instructions on how to operate on the patient; they get those from knowledge and experience. But these same surgeons may also go to church or synagogue on the Sabbath.

I don't pretend to know what's going on in people's minds. I do believe, from watching and listening to people over the years, that the attendees at any religious service (Christian or Jewish, at least) represent a wide spectrum of belief, from sincere subjective experience of the supernatural to “what the hell am I doing here?”

Many attendees can apparently accomplish some sort of compartmentalization. You leave your wits and your skepticism at the door and go along with the show. Everybody else is doing it.

And the priest/minister/rabbi really seems to believe it. In fact, he/she is kind of dressed for the part, like some sort of medieval priest, and in synagogues, there’s the scroll in the box, so people can pray to it just as those ancient shepherds did. In Judaism, the pray-ers dress up too, with prayer shawls and skullcaps.

And so everybody goes ahead and does exactly what people have been doing for thousands of years, pretending, for that hour or two, that they are ancient or medieval folks who believe in an invisible deity, whereas in fact, in the other 99% of their lives, they are modern people who know things through knowledge and experience.

There are many reasons why people consent to the inconsistent, demeaning behavior that most prayer and worship services involve: early indoctrination, immense social pressure, fear of death, charming and comfortable stories, inspiring songs and rhetoric, not to mention a lifetime invested in it and, probably very important for some, the sense that Someone is in charge. No wonder they come back, week after week.

If prayer and worship are dependency addictions, then the clergy person is the key enabler. He or she performs the absolutely essential task of convincing the attendees that the ancient texts that form the core of their religion are tremendously meaningful.

The fact is that they are not.

How could they be? They're ancient texts. Some of what they say has stood the test of time. Much has not.

Many Westerners are unfortunately very nearsighted about their core texts. Side-by-side comparison with Eastern philosophical and religious tracts of the same period shows that the latter are much more sophisticated in terms of their psychological and spiritual insights.

But to most clerics, objectivity is not an issue. They are not content with merely translating ancient texts, difficult and uncertain as that is. They reinterpret them. They spin them.

They make the Biblical passages say what they do not, by a variety of techniques (which I spell out and document in my book). These include:

  • freely mixing their interpretations with actual Biblical quotations and paraphrases, even in the same sentence, thereby leading people to think that the document says what it does not say;

  • quoting out of context, thereby making a passage seem to say what it does not say;

  • quoting passages together that are far removed from each other in the original document;

  • quoting selectively (ignoring, for example, God's horrible plagues on the Israelites, the arcane rules and regs in Leviticus, or the exquisitely grotesque curses in Deuteronomy);

  • sometimes just making stuff up!

I am probably one of the few non-clerical Jews who has read the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) cover to cover.

I read the Jewish Publication's Society's meticulously revised, authoritative, and generally highly understandable translation. Countless scholar-hours went into making this the extraordinary work that it is.

I read it because, for one thing, I had long had misgivings about the Torah. I wasn’t sure how they got all that profundity out of this ancient document.

I read it because I really wanted to find out what was in there. I was growing alarmed by the explosive growth of superstition and fundamentalism during my lifetime (I had at least expected secular humanism, with its long and distinguished history, to get a fair hearing, but it does not).

Finally, I read it because I kept losing arguments with a rabbi who kept telling me what was in the Torah -- and I couldn't refute him. Now I can.

In addition, I got some surprises, one of which was to discover the prevalence and all-pervasiveness of what I call "rabbinical spin" -- the dishonest language practices listed above. Rabbinical spin is the only way in which the ancient texts can be "rescued" (that’s the actual word used by Jewish clergy).

In the case of the Torah, spin (often politely called “commentary” or “interpretation”) is the only way in which the text, which dates from the 8th century B.C.E., can be made relevant and palatable. After all, it’s the product of a very few ancient priests (probably four, plus an editor), aided by centuries of copyists and editors, known and unknown. It’s no wonder that some of it is, as we would expect, simply beyond our ken. If you want quick evidence, just look at Deuteronomy 25:12.

Some time ago, it was decided by the predecessors of today's rabbis that the words of the ancient text would be preserved, along with the skull caps and prayer shawls, to keep Jews in line, to keep rabbis in business, to keep questions to a minimum, and to preserve the all-important continuity of tradition.

To a secular humanist like me, the price is too high. I can’t leave my wits at the door. I want honesty in my life, and I want honesty in my religion. Honesty means accepting the Torah -- and all ancient texts -- as what they are, and no more.

They may or may not have important information for us. In the case of the Torah, my judgment is "not much." I went through all of its commands and directives and counted only 29 that are relevant to modern people (and that's by a generous count). I enumerate these in my book.

Now I am going to come to a conclusion that's probably as shocking as the assertion that I opened up with, but I hope you’ll get used to it: a secular humanist respects the Torah more than a fundamentalist.

We accept the Torah for what it is. We accept it as a window on our ancestors' world. We accept it as a reflection of how at least some of them viewed their past and imagined the creation of the earth. We accept it as a good first draft of morality, although other, contemporaneous societies were more advanced.

The humanist accepts the Scriptures. The believer distorts them. Think about that the next time you attend a religious service.

________________________

Alan M. Perlman is a secular humanist speaker and author -- most recently, of An Atheist Reads the Torah: Secular Humanistic Perspectives on the Five Books of Moses. For information, go to www.trafford.com/06-0056.

13 comments:

Bentley said...

To participate in a belief and religion one must long to be very closed minded.

To be closed-minded, one must be afraid to embrace reality for fear of punishment based upon what one thinks, what one thinks is what one chooses and desires to believe.

To believe in the Bible, one must have a desire to believe and know less than what is known today, in this present reality.

The believer must be willing to agree with ancient ignorant thinking, one must reverse and extract their present day knowledge learned by common reasoning and science and revert to dumbed-down thinking and commit to faith, based upon a belief that cannot be true nor proven and willing to agree with ancient ignorance.

The believer must be willing and long to reject science and technology and be willing to trade his/her born-with common sense for a myth based upon emotional fear, that is the reason one must be born again, one must revert to ignorance and imbecilic thinking to abide to the teachings with conformity.

The believer must believe that the Bible or Koran contains all knowledge available to man that can be obtained, and this knowledge was handed down or openly shared (inspired)to man from God as a gift from this God's own kind generosity, thus any knowledge learned by man on his own, could only be against God and it could only have came from Satan and demonic possession or anti-god.

Therefore the Bible or Koran holds all knowledge there is and ever to be learned, anything else learned outside of the Bible or Koran could only be from Satan and his angels.

Bentley said...

P.S. The believer of the Bible or Koran now thinks they have now acquired special wisdom and knowledge, thus not easily obtained, but only by faith and accepting a belief that the Bible and Koran holds all knowledge obtainable by man, thus making the believer very wise and more knowledgable and spiritually superior than the less-than humans (Atheists that subscribe to present day knowledge and science,) we the Satanists choose to reject ignorance, lies, superstitions and myths.

Leonard said...

This may come across as very ignorant and boorish, but if you are stripped of superstition and myths, why do you call yourself a Satanist?

ps. The Deuteronomy text instructs believers to cut off the hand of a woman, who, to protect her husband from an assailant, has grabbed said assailant by the balls.

We should FORCE all Christians to sit down and read ALL of the Bible, a chapter at a time. I wonder how many would just get up and walk away. "This is bullshit. How could I believe this?"

Anonymous said...

There are basically two ways of learning the truth: reason and faith.

HUH?!?!?
"Faith", by definition, has no check against the real world: thus, how can one know that what faith tells you is true?

"Reason" is hardly a better guide: Aristotle, to name but one, "knew" all sorts of things "by reason": most has not, repeat NOT turned out to be true.

Anonymous said...

["Faith", by definition, has no check against the real world: thus, how can one know that what faith tells you is true?

"Reason" is hardly a better guide: Aristotle, to name but one, "knew" all sorts of things "by reason": most has not, repeat NOT turned out to be true.]

The difference you see is that Reason is, well, Reasonable. Sure aristotle (and a couple of other assorted beard-and-toga types) got a heck of allot wrong but if you showed them why they'd most likely admit it and so our understanding evolves.

Now, prove a priest why he's wrong and rather than change his viewpoint to what is blatantly correct he will just come up with some more bullshit stories to cover his ass while he gets ready to throw amnesia dust in your face and high-tail it to the state line.

But, point taken, faith is a poor tool for finding the truth.
It's kinda like Betamax vs VHS, Betamax is clearly the superior but VHS has better marketing...

Emanuel Goldstein said...

I was raised by atheists, so I am immune to their LIES and BULLSHIT

Jim Arvo said...

Hi Goldie, haven't seen any of your thoughtful comments around here for a while.

You know, I was raised by Christians, which is one of the reasons I'm "immune" to their dogma (or, as you so colorfully put it, their "LIES and BULLSHIT").

Take care.

boomSLANG said...

Apparently, he's not quite "immune" enough to not loiter on a mostly Atheist website, playing a the role of a "victim".

Boo, hoo, hoo...Santa's not real...oh WHO can I blame?...::sniff sniff::..

JAYBIRD said...

i see whos looking to blame Broomslahg.....sniff, sniff,snort....

boomSLANG said...

Loving Christian said:

i see whos(who's) looking to blame Broomslahg.....sniff, sniff,snort....

Who do you blame for your 4th grade grammatical skills? Satan?

www.Godisimaginary

Malcolm Hutton said...

Earlier this week I received an email from my cousin which began with "It is really surprising how all the quotes you sent have never been told as far as i know. I have never read them" I think this sums up the attitude of most who still treat the Bible with respect. They have never taken much notice of what it says, only what they are being told and taught. No wonder it was not only illegal to own a bible until about two centuries ago, but those who were found with one could be executed.

The contradictions and errors begin in the first chapter of Genesis. By chapter two it just becomes laughable. God tells Adam that he will die that same day if he eats the fruit from the tree. He doesn't - cracks up some 930 years. So God told a huge lie. On the other hand the Serpent tells Eve that she will not die, and she didn't. So the Serpent tells the truth.

Surely that gives the whole game away?

boomSLANG said...

On the other hand the Serpent tells Eve that she will not die, and she didn't. So the Serpent tells the truth. Surely that gives the whole game away?

Well, if that doesn't give the whole game away, surely a serpent speaking the human language does. "Who", BTW, is then later "punished" by being made to crawl on it's belly, forever.

Oooooo...so many choices when you don't have legs! LMAO! Sssssssss!

Albert said...

In some way what is even more distressing is the way "liberal" theologies put a spin on the bible trying to turn its stories into metaphors and "overarching metanarraratives".
www.geocities.com/paulntobin/liberal.html