Tuesday, 1 May 2012

God's Communication Skills

In this post I'd like to further extend and defend an argument, that I barely touched on last time, regarding God's utter failure to communicate his will effectively to mankind.  Simply put, if God does exist, he has horrible communication skills.  As such he is culpable, at least in part, for the atrocities, and otherwise unfortunate misapplications, of his supposedly perfect word.

Robert G. Ingersoll said, "Every (Christian) sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed His will to man.  To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning.  About the meaning of this book, called a revelation, there have been ages of war and centuries of sword and flame.  If written by an infinite God, He must have known that these results must follow...".

Now wait just a minute, you might say, God is not to blame when people fail to understand the Bible "correctly".  The atrocities, referenced above, were committed by fallen, sinful, humans; it's not God's fault!  Well, first off, what proof do you have for the biased assumption (held by most modern day Christians) that believers, of previous eras, were misunderstanding the Bible?  Had you or I lived when they did, odds are that we would have interpreted relevant verses in precisely the same manner.  We are all products of the culture we were born into, whether we like it or not. As Voltaire once famously observed, "Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives, and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time."  To disagree with Voltaire on this point, is to either: a) hold an overly high opinion of yourself, or b) engage in a variation of chronological snobbery.

There are very specific passages, in the Old Testament, that have been used by Christians over the centuries to...advocate a theocracy, condemn homosexuality, ban interracial marriage, repress scientific investigation, justify racism, justify slavery, justify polygamy, prohibit masturbation, prohibit contraception, deny (life saving) blood transfusions, suppress women, suppress religious freedom and speech, kill "witches", murder heretics, and so on and so on and so on.

And let us not forget that the Bible is also partly (if not mostly) to blame for the longstanding land conflicts in the Middle East.  (How many have died as a result of this alone?)  Don't even get me started on the religious wars.

Does the New Testament fare any better?  Not really...

"There are harsh demands when it comes to conditions allowable for divorce, which say nothing about divorcing a spouse for verbal and/or physical abuse.  There are harsh sayings about hating one's parents that cultists have used in brainwashing their young converts, since they seek to separate rebellious youths from parental oversight.  There are guilt producing texts like the unforgivable sin of blasphemy, which has forced many believers to wonder if they had committed this prior to converting.  Expressed in the NT we find racism, and even anti-Semitism...We find the virtues of faith to be more important in the NT too, which has led many believers into some bizarre fatal doomsday cults.  We find texts on prayer that have led Christians to pray in faith to be healed rather than go to the hospital.  Many children have died because their parents refused to take them to a doctor for easily treatable medical problems.  We find texts that offer sexually repressing advice--including what many Christians see as the denigration of homosexuality.  We find chauvinistic passages that tell us women are to be silent in the churches, and that they should submit to and obey their husbands.  We find disturbing passages that slaves are supposed to obey their masters, which helped sustain the status quo.  Then there's the church's ultimate threat of hell in the lake of fire...Even if Christians reinterpret such passages to mean something other than what they appear to say, God is still proven to be one of the worst communicators in history.  All of this could have been prevented and clarified right from the start, and to the benefit of countless people, by even an average communicator, much less one with the alleged talents of a god."  (John Loftus, from "The Christian Delusion".  I have removed verse references to shorten the quote.)

Caltech cosmologist and physicist Sean Carroll recently made a very similar point, to the one I am making here, in this debate.  I like the way he put it...

..."a lot of people talk about the problem of evil, my favorite problem is 'the problem of instructions'.  I am personally a textbook author, I have read www.amazon.com reviews of my textbook.  But if I were God my textbook would be perfect.  If God existed, the one thing, if there were an omnipotent being that cared  about us here on earth, I would expect clear instructions.  I would expect a book that I knew exactly what it said, it was clear that it was right, and I would be able to follow it.  If God did not exist, I would expect all sorts of different books, they would contradict each other, some of them would be brilliant in parts, they would be silly in other parts, they would be uplifting in parts, they would be very depressing in other parts.  They would be edited collections, they would be personal memoirs, and they would all disagree with each other. Which of these two theories fits the data?"

Look...I get it.  I really do.  Christians desperately want to place the blame on human beings, not on God.  To do the latter is very uncomfortable, for the believer, to say the least.  And actually, in a weird sort of way, I agree completely that humans are to blame for all of these things.  But only because I think it quite likely that God doesn't exist in the first place!  What I am saying is if Yahweh does exist, then he necessarily bears some of the blame since he has been (and continues to be) a terrible communicator.  And what about the Holy Spirit?  Why has he never stepped in to clear things up?  As I've asserted numerous times over, even in the relatively short life of this blog, the Bible is not the "word of God".  The evidence for this conclusion is nothing short of overwhelming.

I'll give Loftus the last word...

"One would think with very good reasons that an omniscient God...would be the best communicator in all of history.  One would expect he would express his will in a crystal clear fashion with an eye on how believers might misunderstand it.  Or, he would have created us so that we could understand what is being communicated.  Even if not, one would expect that the Holy Spirit would do his job better.  That God did not do this strongly disconfirms the hypothesis that the Bible was inspired by him.  Today's Christians say the churches of the past that committed atrocities were wrong.  And that's correct.  They were wrong.  But not for the reasons stated.  They claim the Christians of the past were wrong because they misinterpreted the Bible. The truth is that they were wrong to believe the Bible in the first place.  They were wrong just like Christians of today are wrong, and just like the Christians of the future will be, too.  My contention is that there is not a single statement in the Bible that reveals a divine mind behind the human authors.  Everything in it can be more credibly explained by the hypothesis that it's just the musings of an ancient, superstitious, barbaric people--period."


  1. Of course, people are still using scripture to justify many of those horrible things... right now, especially egregiously, "suppress women."

    Great points made here.

  2. A viable historical solution to the “Jesus Puzzle” has taken place within the Guild of NT studies, the only discipline capable, not only of identifying our primary Scriptural source of apostolic witness, but of appropriately interpreting this source as well. However, “few are they who find it” even among well-known NT scholars. Finding it, this historical solution, is “a task to which specialized knowledge in the areas of philology, form and redaction criticism, literary criticism, history of religions, and New Testament theology necessarily applies.” (Hans Dieter Betz). “Over the last two centuries, there gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made available through objective historical research.” (James M. Robinson). Under the force of present historical methods and knowledge this new access was brought to a highly creditable understanding during the 1980’s. Schubert Ogden: “We now know not only that none of the Old Testament writings is prophetic witness to (Jesus), but also that none of the writings of the New Testament is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient evidence for this point in the case of the New Testament writings is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources, written or oral, earlier than themselves, and hence not to be the original and originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic. [“the sufficient evidence” without the agonizing detail of what they do contain which now supplies the grist for the blogosphere mythicists’ mill] - - the witness of the apostles is still rightly taken to be the real ‘Christian’ norm, even if we today have to locate this norm, not In the writings of the New Testament but in the earliest stratum of (Scriptural) witness accessible to us, given our own methods of historical analysis and reconstruction. Betz identifies this earliest stratum to be the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27). “This source presents us with an early form – deriving from (the Jerusalem Jesus Movement) - which had direct links to the teaching the historical Jesus and thus constituted an alternative to Gentile Christianity as known above all from the letters of Paul and the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the New Testament. [All are written in the context of imaging the Christ of faith, not the man Jesus]. If the Sermon on the Mount represents a response to the teaching of Jesus critical of that of Gentile Christianity, then it serves unmistakably to underline the well-known fact of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons for our lack of knowledge are of a hermeneutical sort and cannot be overcome by an access of good will (apologetics). The Gentile Christian authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves understood, they handed on only that which they were able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and which they judged to be worthy of transmission.” (More to the point they included no more than they felt to be sufficient to lend historical credence to their Pauline Christ of faith myth). This calls for a new reconstruction of post death Jesus traditions. Ed Jones Dialogue - Vridar is such an attempt, it is in the form of a letter to R. Joseph Hoffmann about the now defunct Jesus Project. It is based largely on extracts from works of Ogden, Robinson and Betz.