Atheists Promote Bible Reading?!

Finger pointing to the moon

Fifty thousand people a day read atheist science blogger PZ Myers' posts on his blog, Pharyngula. You know we're living in an odd world when Myers and other vocal atheists are encouraging people to read their Bibles. "There's no surer way to make an atheist than to get someone to actually read scripture," says Myers. This is so, he and others claim, not only because of how unrealistic and uninspiring a mythic-biblical view of creation is compared to an evidential-evolutionary understanding, but also, especially, because of the horrific, terrorist-like way that the Bible portrays God (e.g., see Richard Dawkins' potent January 25 editorial in The Washington Post, "Haiti and the hypocrisy of Christian theology".)

Genesis 6 and 7, for example, tell of God planning and executing the slaughter by painful asphyxiation (drowning) of billions of innocent animals and millions of children and their parents in Noah's flood. Deuteronomy 3:2-6 and 7:1-2 has God commanding the ethnic cleansing of 15 to 20 million inhabitants of Canaan, including women and children. And the Book of Revelation envisions God in the future, with Jesus' assistance, brutally torturing countless animals and human beings of all ages, including children and infants.

A central message of the Hebrew scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament, is Obey the Lord or die. The New Testament version is Believe in Jesus or fry. Either way: "Do what I tell you to do or you'll be stoned to death", or "Believe what I tell you to believe or you'll be tortured forever," are not messages most of us would expect to hear from someone who truly loves us. Atheists know this, and they also know that many believers will realize it too if they carefully read their Bibles.

Imagine someone inviting you to learn about "the greatest king who ever lived." The story they then told you included more than a few instances of this king ordering the wholesale slaughter of women and children and the extermination of entire cultures, as well as threats of everlasting torture. Now imagine that when you asked questions about those particulars you were told, "Oh, don't worry about those things. Instead, concentrate on these other stories that show what a kind, loving, generous king he really was."

For most of us, it wouldn't matter how many good works the king had to his credit, because the stories that revealed his genocidal nature were just too gruesome to forget. Respect and adoration of this monarch would not be our natural inclination.

The argument is rather straightforward: If causing a few thousand people to suffer for a few hours earned Mohammed Atta and the rest of the 9-11 perpetrators the label "terrorists", then what should we call someone who creates a system wherein untold billions of people are intentionally tortured for quadrillions of years? Self-proclaimed "spiritual atheist" Michael Earl, author of "The Ultimate Terrorist" and Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You, makes this point forcefully when he says: 

If we want to know why people kill in the name of God, and why they have been doing so for thousands of years, we must face one simple and obvious fact that almost nobody wants to confront. The fact is this: the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—the God of monotheism—is a terrorist. In fact, he’s the ultimate terrorist. It is an undeniable fact that the God described in the pages of the Holy Bible and Holy Koran is a bloodthirsty, ruthless, destructive terrorist.

This is not mere hyperbole on my part; it is an easily verifiable fact. By every definition of the word terrorist, God qualifies. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”

When we look at an event like the conquest of Canaan, the huge massacres of millions of women and children, we must not lose sight of the fact that these actions were carried out in response to orders from God. The Bible makes that absolutely clear. When we read the brutal Law of Moses, where people’s brains are being bashed in with rocks for breaking the Sabbath, for having sex with the wrong people, for believing the wrong things: all of these atrocious laws can be traced back to God. And when we read in scripture about hell, about billons of unbelievers being tortured in fire for all eternity—this is God who is orchestrating all of this.

God, by any stretch of the imagination, is a terrorist. God employs the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear—and he does it for religious reasons. In anybody’s book, that’s terrorism.

So long as the Bible is seen as the sole, accurate source of our images and understandings of the divine, it should come as no surprise that a thousand people a day are walking away from evangelical churches, that liberal churches are shrinking even faster, and that the ranks of atheists and secularists are swelling.

Christianity will continue to lose influence and numbers, and atheists will continue to encourage people to read their Bibles, until Christians of all stripe and color realize that:

  • biblical portrayals do God no justice
  • God has been speaking and revealing truth for centuries through scientific evidence

Here's my vision of the future:

Thinking of divine revelation in mere mythic ways will last a few more decades. But knowing that God communicates most clearly and compellingly through evidence will change everything. Christianity itself will have a born-again experience by mid-century.

Looking back a hundred years from now, few things will be seen to have had a greater positive impact than the transformation that occurred when Christian leaders worldwide began teaching and preaching how “God’s Word” is not limited to the Bible but is revealed in every fact discovered by science. Practically overnight the science versus religion war will end, and the Church will not only regain its moral authority but will become a force for evolutionary and ecological good in the world that simply wasn't possible before.



The Salvation of Religion: From Beliefs to Knowledge

"What Reality in Human Experience Do We Point to with the Word, 'God'?", a pdf of a short essay by evolutionary theologian and bioregionalist, Gene Marshall. This chapter from one of Gene's books is foundational to an evolutionary understanding of the divine. (The pdf shows up sideways, so you'll need to print it out. It's only 10 pages.) 

• Chapters 4-7 and 18 in my book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World, which has been endoresed by 6 Nobel laureates and other science luminaries, including noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum.