A question which is bound to pop into the heads of most people on either side of Atheist vs Christian debates about the Bible goes something like:
How do Christians and Atheists read the same exact Bible and yet sometimes see totally different things?
This question occurred to me many years ago, and led to the formulation of my theory of Reading vs Reading. According to this theory, the differences arise because most Atheists tend to read what is written, while most Christians read what they have been told is written. In other words, an Atheist is reading it as he or she would read anything else, while a Christian has already been taught what the book says, so they tend not to read it accurately. It’s similar to a person trying to edit something they have written and completely missing things that they would see quite clearly in something another person has written.
By way of example, I give you a story about an episode of a particular long running debate which I had years ago with a man I worked with.
So, back in the late eighties I was working at a tool and die shop with a particularly nice young man whom we’ll call Mark. Mark and I had a long running debate on my assertion that the Catholic Church was the more sensible of the Christian belief systems I had seen. Mark was one of the many Christian Fundamentalists out there who believes that the Catholic Church is, or at least is the source of, the Anti-Christ: my late wife’s late mother always said that the Anti-Christ was actually me, but that’s a whole different story.
One evening (we worked second shift) while Mark and I were discussing whether or not ‘speaking in tongues was silly’, he told me to read Acts 1-2 and I would see his point. So, at lunch, while I sat in my car eating a sandwich I did as he suggested (I had taken to carrying a King James Bible around for just such occasions so I could point at something directly). When I read the passages he suggested I saw the part about speaking in tongues, but I also noticed Acts 1:17-19:
17 For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry.
18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.
This section of Acts is talking about choosing a replacement for Judas who is discussed above. Now, you must remember that I was reading these chapters for information about speaking in tongues, so a discussion of Judas was far from my mind, however when I read these three verses they jumped out at me like a Great Dane in a bunch of cats.
Have you seen what I saw yet? Well, according to these verses: after Jesus was taken away by the Romans for crucifixion, Judas took the money he made by betraying Jesus and bought a field with it. Then when he was walking through this field he fell down and exploded. Since everyone in town knew what had happened there, they began calling the field “Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.” I was shocked, I had never noticed this before.
You see yet? Well the story of Judas that everyone knows is the story from Matthew 27:3-8 which says that after the Romans took Jesus away Judas began to feel bad about what he had done, so he took the money he had been given back to the chief priests and elders and threw it down on the floor of the temple, then went and hanged himself. The priests took the money and bought a field to bury the poor in which is why the field “was called, The field of blood, unto this day.”
Two completely different accounts of how Judas died, who bought the field, and why it was called what it was.
When I came back in from lunch, I told Mark (who had also read the same two chapters in preparation for my opinion) that I had seen what he meant, but that what Acts had to say about Judas had really stunned me. He had no idea what I was talking about, so he re-read Acts 1, and still didn’t know what I had seen that was so shocking. It was only after I went through the verses above with him word by word after work that he saw the contradiction.
Mark had read Acts 1 a minimum of three times before he saw what I did: once before having me read it; once while I read it; and again after I told him I found something odd. Not once, even after I mentioned that I saw something odd about Judas, during those three readings did he see that verses 17-19 were in direct contradiction to something he believed, it’s as if his mind just blocked them out or changed them to fit with what he believed they should say. Yet, I saw them right away while looking for something completely different. I was reading what the words said while he was reading what he believed. This selective reading is a common sidekick to blind faith.
In the years since that night, I have seen this phenomenon a lot. It occurs quite often on all sides and tends to be a huge stumbling block in a debate. This is why I believe that all Atheists should at least have a working firsthand knowledge of the Bible. There is no better way to debate the Bible than to use the Bible. Using science, scholarship, logic, common sense, history, morality or any other thing that is not the printed words in the Bible will get you nowhere when you are talking to a fundamentalist Christian, and the Bible is the best tool to use when discussing your position with people who are losing their belief in the supernatural, but still have fear tying them to their mythology.
So I say, spread the word of the “Lord.” Show people what the good book actually says, and you will show them just how idiotic the whole thing is when it’s used to support a dying religion. If you don’t have a copy of the Bible and don’t want to buy one, I would suggest the YouVersion app. and/or Biblegateway.com. Both of these resources are free, searchable, and give access to many of the popular versions of the Bible used by different Christian sects. If these resources had been around years ago I probably wouldn’t have over a dozen different versions of the Bible in my library. By way of self-promotion I also suggest checking out this blogs sister: The Bible for Atheists. It’s a work in progress, but contains, in my opinion, some useful information.
Until next time. Beware of fanatics, and use your brain.