I often criticize and argue against religious fundamentalists because I think there are more of them than people realize and that they wield a great deal of political power in this country. However, many religious criticize me and other atheists for “picking low hanging fruit.” They claim that we aren’t arguing against “real” Christians and that fundamentalists have religion all wrong. That’s interesting, because it seems that God in his all-knowingness couldn’t foresee that fundamentalists would or could “twist” his message so easily.
When I read the Bible, I view it in many different ways. The first is pretty straightforward. I can read the Bible and take it at face value. For the record, I actually think most of the Bible was intended to be pretty straightforward. When the book of Numbers talks about rape and genocide, I think the author(s) actually meant that those things were okay in the context of war. When the book of Deuteronomy talks about… well anything… I think the author(s) meant those horrible things. When Jesus talks about it being better to pluck out eyes and chop off hands in order to avoid sin, I think the Gospel author(s) meant that literally too. Okay, maybe the zombie might have been poetic license, but most of the Bible I think is pretty straightforward and I’ll get back to that.
Still, it is easy to see that much of the Bible probably wasn’t intended to be read in such a literal manner. I don’t think the Creation story was intended to be believed nor do I think the Tower of Babel story or Noah’s Ark were intended to be taken as anything more than fictional myths. The book of Revelation was certainly intended as metaphor and there are probably many other obvious examples of this. So I can understand how many Christians, in light of our current scientific and historical understanding of reality, could claim that other parts of the Bible that seem pretty far out there are metaphorical. Maybe when the Bible talks about women being the property of their father and then husband, the writers were just joking or it was just a metaphor for… I don’t really think it is a good metaphor for anything actually, but okay let’s just pretend that it was. I get it. I can read the Bible that way too. There are a few okay messages in the Bible – I guess.
God? Not a metaphor!!!! While these believers are fine with claiming that all or most of the Bible is metaphorical, the principle character, God, Jesus, Holy Spirit (one character, definitely not three different characters), is not a metaphor. That would be crossing the line. You would be hard pressed to find (although I have found a handful) Christians who would claim that God or Jesus were just metaphors.
So here’s the deal. God definitely real to these non-fundamentalist Christians and he definitely guided the writing of the Bible. Yet for some reason, any idiot can pick up the Bible and get a pretty straightforward message that is morally abhorrent. You can’t blame the fundamentalists for reading the Bible and getting the obvious messages out of it. That’s not to say that other Christians are necessarily wrong to find the few nuggets of actual moral wisdom from the Bible, but if God had any kind of guiding influence over the writing of the Bible, then he clearly didn’t think it through very well.
In short, it doesn’t take a genius to see that if you are writing a holy book there will be people who will read it in a pretty straightforward and literal manner. If you were the all-knowing creator of the universe, maybe you would be a little less cryptic, a little less metaphorical, and include a lot less obviously immoral crap.
For an all-knowing deity, God sure didn’t take into account that the average hillbilly in Kansas would read his book and live it at face value. That was kind of shortsighted for an all-knowing deity, don’t you think?
The problem isn’t with the average hillbilly in Kansas or any other fundamentalist religious believer. The problem is with the Holy Book (and that goes for the Koran as well). For example, no one would read “The Lorax” and believe that Dr. Seuss was advocating strip-mining the land for profit. Clearly “The Lorax” was not divinely inspired and yet one would be hard pressed to find even a hillbilly in Kansas who would get the wrong message from this book.
My point here is that the fault for fundamentalists ridiculous beliefs does not lie with fundamentalists, but rather with their holy books. This is the case even if you believe in the ridiculous imaginary character of God. In fact, if you do believe God had any kind of guiding influence in the writing of your holy book of choice, then you have to put the blame of fundamentalism on him. There are three options here:
1. He fundamentalists are correct and God expect people to understand much of the Bible literally.
2. God is not so all-knowing and he could actually foresee that many people would take his inspired words literally.
3. God just doesn’t fucking exist and the Bible is just a bunch of fiction written by bronze-aged, sheep herding nomads.