An Atheist Reads the Bible

A godless heathen’s religious experience

Archive for November, 2007

Genesis 3

Posted by Urbane Spaceman on November 30, 2007

The Fall of Man

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?
2 The woman said to the serpent, We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,
3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’
4 You will not surely die, the serpent said to the woman.
5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Now I had always been told that the serpent in the garden was Satan himself, disguised as a snake, tempting Eve. Here is a fairly typical argument for that one. Not only is there no mention of the snake being Satan but Satan has not even been introduced as a character yet.

I have to say though – that’s a fair temptation. Eat this apple and you will become a godlike being. Seeing as all god had done was issued a blanket “stay away” command with no explanation is it in the least surprising that Eve fell for this? If you ask me the serpent is far more likely to have been god testing his own creations and letting Satan take the fall for it is just mean.

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Doesn’t seem like Adam needed much persuading though, or was he already under the thumb?

7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

OK, now they’ve eaten the fruit, which apparently means they can distinguish good from evil, and their first act is to be ashamed of being naked. Would this not imply that nakedness is evil? I’m sure the Catholics are happy about that but I have to ask: if nakedness is, in fact, evil, then why did god leave them naked in the garden in the first place? Why didn’t he create Armani on the seventh day?

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
9 But the LORD God called to the man, Where are you?

This blows the omniscient god theory out of the water – he couldn’t even beat Adam in a simple game of hide and seek!

10 He answered, I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.
11 And he said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?
12 The man said, The woman you put here with me— she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, What is this you have done? The woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate.

I sense a wrath of god passage approaching …

14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.

Nice easy scapegoat there – the poor old serpent. If it was Satan disguised as a snake then it’s a bit mean to punish the poor old snake. If it was god that set the whole thing up then it’s even worse as he knows for sure that the snake’s innocent and is just using it to divert attention. If it was indeed just the snake having a bit of a laugh then why try and “interpret” it as meaning something different. Why not just say “snakes are mean and sneaky”?

Of course that would beg the question of why god created an evil creature in the first place. After all everything’s still pretty new here, so all these animals (including Adam and Eve) only have the traits that god gave them. Another pointer to the fact that poor old Eve was set up by god to take the fall for all of mankind. I’m not liking this god chap much so far. He sounds like a bad project manager or management consultant – take the credit when all goes well but when he’s cocked up it’s time to shift the blame to the closest unfortunate.

15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Now this is harsh. Man will suppress woman and woman will basically really bug man. It seems that any relationship issues you may have can be blamed directly on god and his little temper tantrum here. On the other hand Dr. Phil and John Gay (Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: How to Get What You Want in Your Relationships) have made a pretty good living off it.

16 To the woman he said, I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

Whoah!! And if you thought he’d been a bit nasty so far here’s a really bad one. I’m now 100% positive genesis was penned by a guy, and a guy that had never been in the same room as a woman in labour at that.

17 To Adam he said, Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

So the moral of this is, what precisely? Don’t listen to your wife? Incidentally it would seem that this is the first time the word wife has been used, although I haven’t noticed god presiding over any ceremonies.

This one really doesn’t make too much sense though. Does it mean that Adam’s not allowed to eat apples, and where does the assumption that it was an apple tree come from? God just calls it the “tree of knowledge” and leaves it at that. It would seem more likely that if Adam’s not allowed to eat this any more then the fruit was something unknown to us which god subsequently destroyed (or left growing in the garden of Eden, from which mankind is shortly to be banned. Oops, sorry, that was a spoiler…)

God obviously wasn’t thinking long term though. I don’t have a lot of painful toil when I nip down to the local shops to get something for dinner. Unless I take the kids with me – that can sometimes be painful.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

Yadda, yadda, work for your food, aha, here we are. Now you are MORTAL! The implication here of course being that previously Adam was going to be around for a pretty long time, but now that god can’t trust him any more (having fallen for god’s sting operation) he’ll now only have a limited time on the earth.

I would imagine by this point Adam’s pretty relieved about this. He’s just been told the cushy life is over. Eve’s going to nag him for the rest of his days, which he’s going to have to spend trying to grow enough food to stay alive. Death will probably come as somewhat of a relief to him.

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

Another implication that the men and women created in genesis 1 don’t seem to exist, as supposedly god created them first. Or are we talking a different race here?

21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

I’m really hoping we’re talking about animal skins and some decent sewing skills here, because otherwise, eeeww, it seems to suggest that they didn’t have any skin. I think I’ll just put this one down to poor writing and/or translation so that I don’t have nightmares.

22 And the LORD God said, The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live for ever.

Now this is interesting – “The man has become like one of us”. US !! Who exactly is god talking to here?

There is a word in hebrew – Elohim – which is used in the hebrew version of the bible and would tend to reinforce this concept of plurality. The bible doesn’t seem to make much of it apart from this and I’ve really never heard any christians bring it up.

Should christianity and it’s offshoots be re-classed from monotheism to polytheism? That would confuse an awful lot of people.

23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

I’m beginning to think this garden of Eden lark was some kind of early reality show, along the lines of “Big Brother” or “I’m a celebrity idiot, get me out of here”. I can just see the Elohim sitting around somewhere working out which species to get thrown out of the garden next and devising elaborate ploys so that they can bring about their own downfall.

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Genesis 2

Posted by Urbane Spaceman on November 29, 2007

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

Time for that beer at long last.

3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

So god rested on the seventh day. I can’t say I blame him, it sounds like a pretty busy week – I’d have taken the Sunday off too (or would that be Saturday? There always seems to be some confusion over this one, if only he’d mentioned what day he actually began creation we’d be OK).

I would like to know though why that supposedly means that the rest of us aren’t allowed to do anything on the sabbath. Just because god wanted a lie in on the Sunday why can’t I mow the lawn on one of my (two days a week only) days off? Seems a little unfair really and for no good reason.

Adam and Eve

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens—
5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground,

So presumably we are talking about the second day, the fourth day and the fifth day, when all life sprang up, with a bit of a break on the third day to sort out night and day. Presumably not having that would have played havoc with circadian rhythms.

And what’s with this “LORD” stuff? Why is the single initial capital letter not suitable for this? It’s really pretty unsubtle and you can imagine god telling his scribes – “Make sure everybody knows I am their lord and master”. Then when the second scribe had finished brushing away the remains of the first for daring to ask “how?” he just went for the most blatant method possible.

6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground—

This is the earth that was seabed until not so long ago.

7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Out of the dusty ground, that’s just been watered, so probably more mud than dust, springs forth man.

8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.
9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground— trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This is getting really disjointed. When did he create Eden? Before or after he created man. If I was looking at this for a screenplay I think I’d be giving up about now or suggesting a rewrite that actually sets the scene in a reasonable chronological order for the viewers.

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.
11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold.
12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)

Woohoo! We’re only up to chapter 2 of the whole bible and already it’s telling us that gold is good. God is a stockbroker!

13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.
14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

God obviously never had to deal with unions. You can imagine the conversation:

Adam – Err, god, hi. Do you think we can talk?
God – What is it, my son?
Adam – Well, I’m working my ass off here, putting in ten hour days, tending your magnificent creation.
God – Yes?
Adam – Well, frankly, what’s in it for me?

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;

Hardly an above average salary with a nice pension. Especially with all that gold knocking round just down the river.

17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.

Now really. That’s a little obvious isn’t it? Put a gun on the mantlepiece in act 2 and you just know what’s going to happen later on.

18 The LORD God said, It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

I was wondering about how Adam named them all in different languages, then I remembered we haven’t heard anything about Babel yet, so I’ll pass on that one for the moment.

21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh.

And left him in a bath of ice?

22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said, This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.

There are some sources that say that Lilith was Adam’s first wife and Eve was created later. Others that suggest Lilith came to Adam when he was separated from Eve, but I’ll avoid digression as we’re just dealing with this version of the bible for the moment. I might get to the apocrypha later.

There is of course an implication here that wo-man is inferior simply because she was created “out of man”. This inferiority is somewhat of a recurring theme throughout the whole book.

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

And why should they? Shame is a natural consequence of a social order along with all it’s mores and rituals. Religion plays a significant part in generating shame in people so it’s somewhat ironic that one of the first things the bible establishes is that before there was religion (while they are still innocent and haven’t eaten any forbidden fruit) there was no shame. It’s a subtle admission that seems to be oft overlooked.

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Genesis 1

Posted by Urbane Spaceman on November 28, 2007

[CUT TO]

Nothing, total blackness, zilch.

Here we are, probably the most famous opening sentence of all time. There was nothing and the, BOOM, suddenly there was something.

The Beginning

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Except that there wasn’t nothing was there? There was obviously god, otherwise he couldn’t have done very much creating. Oh, and if you’re a Douglas Adams fan you’ll know that there was also the “Big Bang Burger Bar” floating around somewhere, casually flipping back and forth across the moment of creation.

So we’ve got nothing, and god. Damn, he must have been bored. Alright, so the universe didn’t exist so there was no time to speak of, so presumably time couldn’t drag on but still, eternity in nothingness with not even a dodgy Dan Brown novel for company. Not so exciting.

There are just so many questions left hanging here it’s unbelievable, and (not to spoil the plot or anything) they never get answered! That’s right, the rest of the book just skips the big issues such as:

– Where exactly did god live before he created the heavens?

It seems rather odd to just assume that god existed in a complete vacuum before he decided to create the universe but I have yet to see a satisfactory answer as to what was there before.

– Who created god?

If the universe is so complicated that it must have been created then surely it’s creator is pretty complex too, so where did he/she/it come from?

Of course it doesn’t actually say that god created the universe, just that he created the heavens and the earth. It’s possible this refers only to the actual planet Earth and the atmosphere he wrapped around it which enables us to look out into the rest of space. Would that be less impressive? Probably, from an overall point of view, but if you told me you could create a planet I’d still be impressed. Perhaps god was some sort of extra-terrestrial terra-former?

2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.
4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
5 God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. And there was evening, and there was morning— the first day.

So after creating the universe he nipped down to earth and found that it was a bit dark, so he created light. This of course begs the question of what all the other stars in the universe were emitting before god ‘invented’ light.

Of course if he only created the earth then the light was already in place so why didn’t he just come back during the daytime, or possibly nip round to the other side of the planet where it was probably light. Even with no moon there is still a decent amount of starlight, so either way you look at this one the idea of god creating light just doesn’t make any sense.

Then we have the statement that light is good so it must be separated from darkness, implying darkness is bad! Pretty sure god would be up in court for inciting racial hatred if he did something similar today.

6 And God said, Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.
7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so.
8 God called the expanse sky. And there was evening, and there was morning— the second day.

So according to this there is water (the sea), then above that there is sky (OK so far), then above that we have more water, since the sky was only put there to separate the water. No mention of anything else, even things that must have been reasonably obvious at the time, such as the moon. Obviously there is water vapour up in the atmosphere, or we wouldn’t have a great deal of weather (not of the wet variety anyway) and perhaps I’m just being picky saying that that counts as the sky anyway, after all science wasn’t so advanced at the time, so let’s just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that the author of genesis (wait, isn’t that ultimately god the infallible?) made an omission and forgot to mention all the things beyone the water in (above) the sky.

9 And God said, Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear. And it was so.
10 God called the dry ground land, and the gathered waters he called seas. And God saw that it was good.

Now it appears that to start with the Earth was covered in water (since the spirit of god hovered over the deep etc.) and god decided to gather the water in one place, thus exposing the land.

There is one minor flaw with this … if you moved all the water to one side to expose the land you would also have to raise up the land, otherwise the water would either go flooding back into the gap or you would be left with a rather improbably tower of water with nothing holding it in place.

Obviously another minor omission. I’m sure it meant to say that god raised the sea-bed, displacing the water and creating land.

11 Then God said, Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so.
12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
13 And there was evening, and there was morning— the third day.

So far so good, we’ve got spontaneous vegetation, all growing out of what was, until half an hour beforehand, the sea-bed.

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,
15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth. And it was so.
16 God made two great lights— the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.
17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth,
18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.

Didn’t we already cover creation of light? Or was that some great cosmic torch (flashlight to our American friends). If that’s the case what on earth was he doing fumbling around in the dark, with a torch when he could have just created the sun?

And surely the sun and the moon would be part of the rest of the universe which he either created on the first day or isn’t mentioned anywhere?

19 And there was evening, and there was morning— the fourth day.

You know I’d always been told that god rested on the seventh day, but he does seem to be sleeping at nights, even, strangely enough, before he’d acrtually created night and day.

20 And God said, Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.
21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
22 God blessed them and said, Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.
23 And there was evening, and there was morning— the fifth day.
24 And God said, Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind. And it was so.
25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

And here comes a whole can of worms for evolutionary scientists to deal with. This passage has got to be in the top 10 most troublesome bible quotes. Creationists and intelligent designers (oh, wait, they’re not religious are they, so we should include it in the science curriculum at school) seize on these six small verses as actual ‘evidence’ that god did indeed create life and it didn’t evolve at all. In fact not only did he create life but he created it fully formed in all it’s varieties.

I guess they missed out verse 25a, which must mention something about burying fake fossil records to confuse future biologists, paleontologists and the like.

26 Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.

It’s always good to know that we’re more important than everything else. Now I know it’s OK to hunt to extinction or eradicate the rainforests in the name of progress because they’re only put there for our convenience anyway.

Perhaps the author could also have mentioned what we should do when we’ve used everything up?

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Wait, don’t I remember something about Eve, the first woman, being created from Adam’s rib? I guess we’ll get to that bit later.

28God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

“Fill the earth and subdue it” … suddenly politics and big business makes a lot more sense. The author probably thought it would be confusing to write “dump nuclear waste with a half-life of tens of thousands of years where it will kill many animals, pollute the seas, create vast slicks of oil to obliterate birds and animals along entire seaboards”. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

You know, I’m starting to get the impression that, had god been a human, we wouldn’t find him chained to a tree protesting the local bypass. I’m pretty sure he’d be driving some heavy machinery with a bumper sticker saying “Smite is right”.

29 Then God said, I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground— everything that has the breath of life in it— I give every green plant for food. And it was so.

As god had only just created man I’m sure he must have known that diets high in meat content are likely to cause heart disease and cancers. It’s nice that he’s equal opportunity though – we can eat the common cow and the rare Bengal tiger with equal good conscience. At least there’s nothing here equating to halal killings, we should be thankful for small mercies.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning— the sixth day.

No three day weeks for god! It must be time for a cold beer by now.

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What am I doing and why would I do it?

Posted by Urbane Spaceman on November 27, 2007

For quite some time now I have posted on various forums and commented on a number of blogs. Quite often the subject of religion comes up and, being a somewhat outspoken atheist, I can’t help myself – I go diving straight in.

I was raised in a christian* environment, although it wasn’t especially strict. I read a great deal of the bible when I was younger, so when a christian calls me out on it I can usually say “yes, I’ve read it, have you?” It really is astounding how often that shuts people up and never fails to surprise me how many people with rather extreme views don’t seem to have actually read the document they are taking these views from.

My childhood was a long time ago though (unfortunately) and my recollection of much of the bible is rusty at best, so in order to be able to respond to some of the more outrageous arguments I hear I decided to read it again, cover to cover.

Then I thought, why not document it too. I’m sure it’s been done before and it’ll be done again but this is a personal exercise to improve my bible knowledge, so I have no worries about going over ground that has already been covered by others. I’ll be taking one chapter at a time and providing commentary to a greater or lesser degree, depending on how interesting that particular chapter is. I imagine there are places where it may get a little dull (I seem to remember a whole lot of “begat”s near the beginning somewhere!)

I may also consider posting the odd story about any interesting arguments or discussions I’ve had. If I do this the sites and other debaters will remain anonymous, mainly so that I can go back and bait them some more later without having this thrown in my face.

So, if you want to follow along while I do this, welcome.

* Lower case ‘c’ is deliberate. I will not be capitalising** god either unless it’s a direct quote. Jesus and Christ will get the capitalisation simply by virtue of being proper nouns and for no other reason.

** As you may have noticed I use British spelling. That is because I am British, oddly enough, so please don’t get irate when you see an “extra” ‘u’ or an ‘ise’ instead of an ‘ize’. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be spelled.

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