Daily Archives: 2010-03-25 21:54:50 UTC

The Benign, Attractive Persona of the Bible

One of the books I read while in the process of questioning my faith some years ago was The Mind of the Bible Believer by Edmund Cohen. I loved parts and hated much of it. My copy of the book is still penciled through with many indignant notes I made at the time. Now I can look back and see these notes as indicators of how I was struggling at the time with leaving religion and how there was much I could not immediately bring myself to admit.

He begins a chapter on “The Evangelical Mind Control System” with a section headed the same as this post. I have seven penciled marks in this two page section (pp. 170-1), questioning and disagreeing strongly with what he wrote. I read it now and see what a different person I was back then.

He begins:

The best things in the Bible are superficial. . . .

What I mean by persona of the Bible . . . is an apparent relevancy of teaching and promise of benefit that finally turn out to have totally different from what the new inductee was led to think. . . . Little by little, newcomers are brought along to understand the teachings to mean something altogether different from what appeared on the surface — and oriented toward the next life, not this one. But one kind of promise, the kind that indicates a tranquilized, soporific, guilt-assuaging state of mind will be experienced, is kept, albeit by a means with a net detrimental effect on mental health.

This was written in 1988 before the advent of “prosperity gospel” fad. But then again, the idea that God blesses materially the righteous has been around ever since the Protestant Reformation. I recall living in dire economic straits through much of my religious life, and whenever a small blessing or boon, however temporary, came my way, I would be so thankful for such a small or momentary blessing, or slight relief. It mattered not that my basic condition was not substantially better. One learns to interpret the smallest and ephemeral chance lucky breaks as showers of blessings from heaven.

Cohen shows how the believer is weaned away from

the surface notion that ministry to assuage physical want and suffering is called for, toward the view that only ministry of the salvation message is proper, to bring the huddled masses of the world into bliss in the next life so as to make irrelevant whatever whatever they may have suffered in this one, and away from the notion that freedom in the Bible means political freedom, toward the “insight” that there is no such thing as freedom, except from bondage of sin.

This is surely one of the most pernicious of biblical/evangelistic teachings. How many wives endure beatings because they feel they must never let a sinful thought or feeling raise itself against their husbands. How many injustices are observed with an aloofness borne of one self-obsessed with the purity of one’s own thoughts and feelings. Or with a Pharisaical detachment that convinces oneself that nothing significant can be done in this life, so all one can do is pray for the next one to come. (I know, Pharisees weren’t historically like that as a group really. I’m using the term with the meaning it as come to acquire from the gospel teaching.)

the believer must be weaned away from the come-on notion that healing of his own or his loved ones’ physical illness — or this-worldly personal success or prosperity — is in view, or else practical experience will conflict with the religious scheme and discredit it. . . .

Yup. Exactly how it was. And it’s deadly. Too many die in the process. Both from the administration of prayer instead of medical care and from poverty that is inevitably associated with a shorter life-span for a host of reasons.

the more deeply indoctrinated convert softens himself up to be sold some reactionary political teaching, and if he gets well enough indoctrinated to know that teaching to be unbiblical, he goes on doing his discipline relentlessly and ends up despising nothing so much (or so defensively) as genuine human spontaneity and cheerfulness.

And there are real innate radicals and lefties in such religions. But they keep it under wraps and manage to think in some kind of double-bind.

But that last sentence there brings to mind a brief discussion I once had with a Bishop, John Shelby Spong, whom I thanked for his book that helped me on my way to atheism! 🙂  He’s heard it all before, of course, because he remains disappointed that his own biblical studies mentor, Michael Goulder, became an atheist. I remarked how much more relaxed and “at peace” I felt since becoming an atheist, which was ironic because I always thought as a believer I was imbued with a real inner peace of God. (Recall, rather, Cohen’s more honest description above: “a tranquilized, soporific, guilt-assuaging state of mind“.) Spong replied that he has noticed this many times with those who leave the faith and become atheists, and noted how there really is “an uptightness” about so many (most, I think) believers. And that’s what came to mind when I re-read that last line of Cohen’s above, “despising nothing so much . . . as genuine human spontaneity . . .” That, thinks the believer, is the way to sin.

If a picture is worth a thousand words a joke is equal to the two pages I discussed here:

Sam and Joe are taking a walk, when they come upon a church. A sign says “CONVERT AND RECEIVE A THOUSAND DOLLARS”. Sam says “You stay here. I’m going in to convert. “Some time later, he comes back out. Joe says, “Well, did you get the thousand dollars? “Sam says, “What’s the matter? Is that all you people think about?”

the joker The Dark Knight

Image by ♠NiJoKeR♣ via Flickr

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Another Professor’s Response to Earl Doherty

Given the hostility some mainstream biblical scholars have demonstrated (recently, again) against Earl Doherty’s argument for a mythical Jesus, I am copying here the bulk of a comment by Stevan L. Davies, Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University, that he made in response to the peremptory reactions of a number of his academic peers to Doherty in 1999.

Davies is not a mythicist. (Well, I am assuming he is not. I don’t really “know”. He wrote Jesus the Healer, summarized here.) His following statement is copied (with permission) from the 1999 Crosstalk discussion forum where a number of scholars and others discussed the historical Jesus and Christian origins. In the course of these discussions, the topic of Earl Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle was introduced, Earl himself joined the discussion on February 10 (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/5011) and a very lively series of exchanges followed. After one of the contributors complained that he wanted to hear no more about a new  paradigm regarding the historical Jesus, Professor Davies wrote:

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