I was reading a schlock novel recently, one partaking in the Da Vinci Code craze, and one chapter dealt with a history of the Bible which is starkly different from what most Xians (and atheists) believe. The reaction of atheists to this is probably quite different from that of a typical Xian (let alone a fundamentalist). Atheists will typically respond with surprise, and yet without surprise. Xian responses will probably centre around complete denial.
Very little actual documentation from Jesus' time exists. Actually, it closely approximates none. The discussion in the novel I was reading (The Last Templer) was a succinct synopsis of its early history, but being a work of fiction I wanted to take a deeper look. While not a novel I would put in the same class as The Da Vinci Code, this part seems to have been well researched. The first big surprise lies in that not one of the four gospels was written in the time Jesus supposedly lived. In fact, none of the authors is really known. Their authorship is ascribed to the four apostles without any real evidence. The earliest, Mark, is a good 40 years after Jesus' death. That's 40 years of playing the telephone game without any newspapers, video feeds or audio clips. Matthew was likely written between 70 and 100 CE, Luke between 50 and 100 CE and John anywhere between 90 and 120 CE. With only oral tradition keeping the story alive, what are the chances of the Jesus story being at all accurate, even if such a man lived? Certainly, since it is more likely that Jesus was a man with a vision, the story of Jesus took on a life of its own. It certainly bares a remarkable resemblance to the story of Horus. I've recently had an interesting thought about the Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead three days following his crucifixion. That number 'three' has some significance in relation to crucifixions: if the victim survived three days the sentence was considered to have been fulfilled and he was released. I wonder if, along with the telephone game, this somehow mutated into being raised from the dead.
There were many more gospels than those attributed to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, as the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in 1946 demonstrated. If there were many such codexes available at the time, why only these four? Well, the blame comes to rest with Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century CE. Essentially, he took the gospels which were consistent with who he believed Jesus was and considered the others heresy in his Adversus Haereses. Well, that seems somewhat arbitrary, doesn't it? To further distance the church from gnosticism, which many of these codexes espoused, he declared these four gospels divinely inspired in an all too human manner. I have yet to discover on what basis such a statement was made.
So, what do we have? A religion based upon stories of a man that may or may not have existed (but the one in the Bible certainly did not), and which suspiciously strongly resembles earlier mythologies; of the many written works only four which were reasonably consistent were chosen in an ad hoc manner, arbitrarily declaring all others as heresy. It simply stuns me that after all this people can still possibly believe.
This is the power of blind faith (NOT faith!). Faith is trusting someone with a task because you know from previous experience that they always keep their word. There's a history, something to fall back on as a predictor of outcome. Science is like that. I have faith in Science because it works! Blind faith, on the other hand, is like the manual for my Focus SVT telling me my car can actually fly and believing it. Not many of us would take that without a grain of salt and would like to see some evidence. Why not for the Bible? Why is religion exempt from skepticism? I have no idea. Every part of one's life should be looked at critically!
Often, as discussed in this novel, people will look to the good that Xianity has brought, like the code of morality and ethics. But it has done far more harm than good, as history shows. The moral tenet, Thou shalt not kill, only applied to fellow Jews. It was quite alright to kill gentiles. There were even rules on what to do if in your fervor in slaughtering a group of gentiles a fellow believer was also killed. (It was decided that this is okay, the loss of one believer was considered acceptable in eliminating numerous unbelievers.) It's modern meaning post-dates Jesus. Indeed, the holocaust could not have happened without Xian anti-semitism. The Crusades had little to do with freeing the Holy Land and more to do with lining pockets. The biggest problem is that because religious people look to obey a higher power, turning their backs on their fellow humans. The moral and ethical codes presented in the Bible are out of date, as I've demonstrated in an earlier blog. It was meant for an earlier society, where technology meant a new way growing whatever it is they grew out there.
In fact, religion is not the source of morality and ethics; it codified these principles which exist whether religion does or not. Xians would have us all believe that morality was given to us by god. But if you witness an act that you find morally reprehensible, did you have to consult scripture to come up with a moral value judgement first? I doubt it. You made a mental calculation using moral grammatical rules that bypassed your conscious mind. Morality is inherent within each of us, not obtained from some old book. An evolutionary origin to morality explains a great deal about the diversity of morality and ethics which religion does not. If you would like to see where we really get our morals from I strongly recommend Marc Hauser's Moral Minds for further study.