Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Bible — Unique or Synthetic?

Much of the criticism of the Bible as a religious text (that happens to be the basis for the most influential religion in the world) comes from a few interesting arguments:
  • It is just another religious book.
  • It is mythical and/or legendary in content, at best ahistorical.
  • It is inconsistent.
  • It is arbitrarily assembled.
  • It is a piece of artfully-assembled cold-blooded propaganda.
And so on. Frankly, I find that all of these arguments are somewhat spurious; I also find the claim that the Bible possesses a supernatural aura or built-in divine imprimatur to be spurious too.

Let me explain, from a purely literary point of view.

To deal with claims of being just another religious book, I would like to ask just one question. Do you know any other religious tradition in which the moral exemplars are such bad people? The only good one is Jesus, and he is totally unlike anybody's idea of what he ought to be. These characters possess true-to-life traits, something you can only appreciate by reading literature contemporaneous with the Bible. Such psychological consistency comes only with modern literature, with the first instances found in Shakespeare (compare his contemporaries, such as Marlowe, and you will see it at once).

To the idea of it being mythical, legendary etc, I freely admit that it sure sounds like it in parts. However, I am sure that if there were such things as angels and God and so on, any objective record would sound like it was mythical, legendary etc. As for ahistorical, I think there is far too much history in it for my liking. However, I suspect that part of the history was cobbled together from incomplete records, much as our own histories of the much-more-recent Cold War will never be definitive.

To the charge of inconsistency, I think it is inconsistent in the literary sense, as would be any collection of 66 books written by different authors. It's a bit like opening a Penguin Classics collection and expecting the style and content to be uniform throughout. Is it inconsistent in a moral sense? Actually, I'm not sure that question can be asked and answered so easily. If God says that whatever God does is right, what if he appears to contradict himself? Is he still right? By definition, yes. God tells humans not to bear false witness, but he assents to the enterprise of lying spirits (angels bearing tidings of great, err, incorrectness of fact). He himself doesn't lie, though.

The last two claims contradict each other. My opinion is that the Bible was assembled by clear criteria, and hence was not arbitrarily assembled. At which point, some people would say, "Aha! Humans assembled it, how can it be the work of God?" and I would reply, "Aha! I assembled the bookshelf, how can it be the work of Ikea?" The same people might say, "Aha! Humans assembled it, it must be propaganda, subject to human bias!" and I would reply, "Well, I needed a bookshelf, and Ikea makes good cheap ones. It's better than looking for random driftwood and rocks and building a bookshelf."

These are all just starting thoughts. Or maybe, startling thoughts for some of you. But whatever they are, I am 100% certain that the Bible is not just another religious book. It is a weird book. It is not holy by virtue of itself as a printed text, neither does God craft some runes of power into every printed copy. But it is a life-changer for anyone who can stir themselves to read it. I mean, what 1st-century book would record that the resurrected man ate bread, and then broiled fish? Bread might be symbolic, so is fish, but broiled fish? Quirky!

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home