About

This project began as a kernel of thought while I was reading Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, having just finished The God Delusion. Being entrenched in the atheist mindset (and because I am kind of an intellectual douche sometimes), I was discussing with my wife the relative inferiority of the ten commandments’ brand of morality, and I caught myself saying “when I used to be a Christian…” My own words made me pause: used to be a Christian. It was strange, not because the feeling of alienation from the religion of my upbringing was novel, but because it was so complete that I had to pause and think if I ever had been a Christian. It had been so long since I gave any credence to the dogma, myth, rituals, and other bullshit that I had to imagine the me that bought into it years ago, when I had a Bible in my nightstand and a healthy respect (fear) for the almighty.

Being familiar with my present self and looking back on my past self generated a strange mix of emotions, almost like that bittersweet moment when you realize you no longer remember what a departed loved one’s voice sounded like: sweet because you no longer feel the loss, but bitter because of the cost of that comfort. Seeing where I had been made me grateful for who I am now, philosophically speaking, but also made me wonder what the hell I was thinking in the first place. From that strange reflection, this project was born. What would “current me” think of the ideals to which “past me” slavishly subscribed? What would the Good Book look like now that I have stayed as far from it as possible for over ten years?

And so, here it is, Habilis HomilariumHabilis as an homage to Darwin and all his successors: Homo Habilis, one of our oldest and most remarkable forebears, walking the Earth more than one million years ago. Homilarium because I am going to embark on an enlightened re-reading of the Christian Bible and comment upon it with the benefit of the knowledge, maturity, and insight I have gained in the past ten years. It will be a collection of anti-sermons, candid and uncensored (which is an idea that is frightening people who know me right now).

My Bona Fides

I was raised in the church, evangelical, born-again, one way to heaven, a million ways to hell, all that shit. From first grade through eighth grade, I attended Wheaton Christian Grammar School, where we started every day pledging allegiance to the Christian flag, praying with our teacher, and spending an hour in first-period Bible class. I went to church and Sunday school every week, not to mention AWANA (basically Jesus Scouts) and youth group. Wheaton College was at the end of my street, and those poor bastards were not allowed to drink, smoke, dance, or interact with the opposite sex. For Christ’s sake, I could see the Billy Graham Center from my house for the first seventeen years of my life.

Reverse Testimonial

I started having problems with Christianity in about seventh grade, but it stuck to me for a while after that, like a superstition that you know is silly and baseless but you show it a terrified respect regardless. Fortunately, I went to a public high school while most of my classmates at WCGS went to Wheaton Academy. I started reading more in high school, and although my school was still jam-packed with the sanctified, there were some people who weren’t middle-upper-class caucasian Christians to provide a welcome change and some secular conversation. Also, in my senior year in high school, I met a beautiful cop/preacher’s daughter who exuded wholesomeness but had the most liberal and open-mind beneath the choir robes. She lent me Don’t Know Much about the Bible, which was an incomplete but eye-opening bit of sacrilege to my starving mind. As Homer Simpson would say, it was sacrilicious.

I left Wheaton for college (public university, out west) where the superstition started to loosen its grip as I went through the normal process of questioning my beliefs and trying on new life-philosophies for size. My mom (off the charts religiosity) likes to blame the “liberals that run the universities” for “brainwashing” me out of my faith, but the truth is that no one, at any time, ever tried to tempt me away from religion in college. I took philosophy classes, religious studies classes, and other liberal arts classes on my way to an English B.A. If anything, I found them a bit too tolerant and respectful of the dogma and inflexibility of religion, and overcautious about offending any religious group. By the time I graduated, I was happily unaffiliated with any religious group, but I was only beginning my journey towards freethought. I would call this my “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” phase, which sounds pleasant and modern, but is ultimately almost as full of shit as being a card-carrying christian.

After college I went to law school, which is where the wheels really came off the tautology-train. Top tier law schools are designed to batter logic and reasoning into you for three years. If you cannot back up a position with a well-reasoned, logical argument, then your position is shit, and you are shit, and you should be ashamed of yourself, and you are wasting $40,000 per year. That’s the gist of it anyway. I became further polarized during my three years in law school. A real transformative moment for me was when I chose to write a “Law and Literature” Seminar paper on lawgivers in various religious texts, and I spent sixteen weeks digging into religious texts I had never read before: Torah, Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Zend-Avesta, and I Ching. I saw how similar they were, to the extent that they were obviously derivative. I saw how rigid they were despite the commonalities, professing to be the Truth to the exclusion of all others. The other conclusions I drew from that exercise are too numerous for this introduction, as are the details of the rest of my transformation into, well, whatever you want to call me: atheist, freethinker, Pastafarian, secular humanist.

Flash forward another five years, and I have consumed Darwin, Dennet, Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and others, and I had my moment of realization that I am not who I used to be. This is the next natural phase for me, revisiting this book that completely dominated my life for almost two decades with the accumulated knowledge and experience of nearly ten years of self-reflection and rational inquiry.

–HH

Note: I will be using the translation known as “Young’s Literal Translation” because, well (A) it’s public domain, and (B) I’m guessing that a literal translation will be even more ridiculous than the NIV or Living Bible translations I read as a youngster.

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8 thoughts on “About

  1. Probably you came from a very conservative American Christian community or perhaps from some American creationist groups, making it no wonder you started to doubt the believes. We do hope you shall be able to find new insights and will be astonished at the revelation of the Holy Scriptures. But to be able to see more of it truly you shall have to get rid first of the dogmatic teachings you had in childhood. We would recommend you to try to put any dogma’s away and just to read in the Bible what you find black on white. so when you read God, that you not think Christ Jesus but take the words for what is written “God”. In such instance we are sure you shall get to know the figures of the Bible and the Truth shall be much clearer than you would expect.
    Lots of success on your quest.

    • If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that reading the text literally is exactly what I am trying to do with this project of mine. I have indeed found new insights, but they are overwhelmingly unfriendly insights about this book. I am finding it obtuse, contradictory, theologically and philosophically bankrupt, and frankly, it is disturbing. The dogma and ritual I was force-fed growing up the church was problematic for its own reasons, but I am finding that it actually made the religion somewhat more palatable than a plain reading of the Bible. Sunday school teachers tend to strip out the parts about fathers throwing daughters to angry mobs to be raped, and also to infuse the text with some semblance of a moral code, where the text lacks any useful moral or ethical precepts on plain reading.

  2. My condolences to you for having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian household and community while being possessed of a reasonably competent brain. I have often thought that if I’d grown up fundamentalist, being taught a literal interpretation of the Bible, I’d have ended out an atheist also.

    Reading the Bible as a document meant to be taken literally seems to work for many people who either think fairly simply in the first place, or are able to successfully compartmentalize their religious faith from their ordinary working knowledge of the world. However, for those who think more deeply and clearly, and who want to see and understand all aspects of life and literature from a reasonably intelligent and rational perspective, a literal reading of the Bible falls seriously short.

    Fortunately, in the same way that much of human literature was never meant to be taken literally (nothing that occurs in most novels ever actually happened in reality), but to express deeper themes about the human condition, so the Bible also can be read from a cultural and psychological standpoint as literature expressing deeper themes of human experience. It really doesn’t matter very much whether most of the things in the Bible ever actually took place historically as they are narrated there. Do we trash “Star Wars” because it’s 100% fictional, and never actually took place?

    Believe it or not, even though I am a Christian minister, I find your analyses of the various chapters of the Bible to be quite entertaining. However, seriously, they all assume the same mistake that the Christian fundamentalists make: that the Bible is meant to be taken literally, and that all of the meaning is on the surface. There are far more intelligent, analytic, psychological, and scientific ways of reading the Bible. Don’t let your fundamentalist upbringing shunt your mind into a big ol’ side track when it comes to reading the Bible with intelligence.

    Kudos to you for sticking with an analysis and critique of a book that you have lost faith in. I do hope that you will spend some time exploring non-Fundamentalist and non-literal ways of reading the Bible. Maybe you will come to a better understanding of what this ancient text is really about. It wouldn’t necessarily mean you would “believe” the Bible any more than you do now. But your stuff would be more convincing if there were some real Biblical scholarship behind it, and not just the rather brain-dead fundamentalist Christian garbage that you were brought up with.

    If you want my general take on the Bible as a non-literal, spiritual document, go to my blog and find my post titled, “Can We Really Believe the Bible?”

    • Hey, thanks for your comment. I’m completely in agreement about a reading the Bible literally, but what I have learned on this most recent re-read of the Bible is that I don’t even like it as fiction. Even if you read it as allegory or parable, it’s still distasteful. I think of it not as Star Wars but more like Ayn Rand’s books, which I find morally repugnant. I don’t have any problem with Star Wars because nobody straps a bomb to their chest and shouts “Luke Skywalker Akbar” and blows up a bus. I have a problem with Atlas Shrugged because people actually ascribe to “rational self-interest” and I think moral capitalism is a disgustingly selfish and unethical way to live.

      That said, I’m trying to approach the Bible with an open mind, so I’ll take a look at your post, and while I’m continuing my read-through of the Bible I’ll be sure to point out any moral teachings I find that aren’t distasteful to me.

      • I’ll be very interested to hear your reactions to my piece on the Bible. In case you have any problems finding it, here’s a direct link:
        http://leewoof.org/2012/09/25/can-we-really-believe-the-bible/

        Whether or not it’s your cup of tea, the main point is that there are a lot better ways of reading the Bible than reading it purely literally.

        But even from a literal perspective, it helps to read the Bible based on its own cultural context. Projecting present-day culture and ethics back into cultures that existed thousands of years ago is simply not an intelligent way of reading the Bible.

        And speaking of culture, for the purposes of argument, even if the Bible is God’s Word, God must still speak to the humans who wrote it down in terms that they can understand, based on their level of cultural and intellectual development. Otherwise the human authors would have no idea what God is talking about, and they would never bother writing it down.

        The trick to reading the Bible intelligently from a theistic perspective is to sort out what’s divine from what’s human. This does not mean rejecting the human part. It means recognizing that the divine message is delivered through particular, time-bound human cultures, including the mores and customs of those cultures.

        And incidentally, this also means that many of the moral teachings in the Bible are adapted to cultures that were not as well developed ethically and morally as ours is. So even reading the Bible from the perspective of moral codes is not the ultimately best way of reading it. The Bible in its literal narrative contains both great and terrible morals.

  3. I agree that there are better ways to read the Bible than literally, but that does not make the Bible a good book, just (perhaps) less bad. But I have so many problems with it that transcend its inapplicability to modern cultural norms.

    Firstly, if God wrote a book (or inspired people to write a book) that was central to their theology, he should have either (1) made it timeless and relevant to more than just its contemporary culture (in which case you should read it literally), or (2) he should have continued to supplement it or supplant it to keep it relevant to evolving cultural norms. Is his morality universal and repugnant or is it evolving with cultural standards? If the former, what kind of God anchors a static morality in an undeveloped and savage past? If the latter, then why do we need God if he is just codifying things that we humans innately, biologically feel, and he hasn’t bothered to update his outdated morality. The morality of the Bible retards the progression of human morality, it doesn’t advance it.

    Secondly, if you have to separate the sublime from the ridiculous in the Bible because it was written thousands of years ago when you could rape a woman as long as you paid her father, wouldn’t your time be better spent thinking intelligently about your own personal ethics and morals rather than trying to tease them from the noise of this silly ancient book? For that matter, if the Bible is a product of a certain ancient culture, then why is it still relevant at all? Why wouldn’t I consult a contemporary source of moral instruction?

    One of my biggest problems with the Bible is that it distracts people from thinking about what is right and good and what maximizes human happiness, because they are trying to divine from this conflicted external source whether or not God says they can eat ham, or whether God says gays can marry, or any number of other issues.

    • In other words, lots of people are going to the Bible for the wrong reasons. Perhaps for the cultures in which it was written the Bible was about whether to eat ham or whether gays can marry. But that’s because those cultures were mostly pretty external and material in their focus, and were not interested in spiritual matters much at all. So if God was going to talk to them at all, it had to be about mostly external things.

      As for why the Bible is still relevant at all given that it was written in certain ancient cultures, any real and satisfying answer has to assume that God is not an old fool, but is actually smarter than we are, and is able to write a book that has far more complexity to it than appears on the surface. If you think God is an idiot, then yes, the Bible is just a stupid old book that should be thrown in the trash can. But if you consider for a minute that if God is said to be infinite, eternal, omniscient, and all sorts of other omnis, then if God does indeed exist, then God must have had more in mind in composing the Bible than those ancient cultures and the literal story that is found in the text of the Bible.

      I’m not saying you have to believe that God exists or is infinite and all that stuff. I’m saying that if you want to have a real discussion about God and the Bible, and consider the issue from a fair and rational perspective, you have to posit the best possible rationale for God and the Bible, not set up stupid straw men that are easy to knock down. So the question then becomes: If God is omniscient and omnipotent, all loving, all wise, and all that stuff, and the Bible is God’s Word, then what does that say about the Bible?

      From my perspective, it says that there are far deeper levels of meaning in the Bible than what appear on the surface. The best human literature (as in, literary masterpieces, not science textbooks) has multiple layers of meaning, and speaks of deeper human realities in the guise of external human events. Moby Dick is really not about chasing a whale, even though that’s what the narrative of the book is about. Isn’t it possible that God is actually a *better* author than Herman Mellville, and is able to couch even *deeper* meanings within the literal narrative of creation, floods, drunkenness, towers to heaven, war, rapine, pillage, angry prophets, and promised messiahs?

      As far as supplementing the Bible for evolving cultural norms, don’t forget that the New Testament did indeed supplement the Old Testament after at least portions of the latter had been around for maybe a thousand years or so. Also, the Bible is not the only sacred book that carries messages from God to human beings. Every major religion has its holy books, and some minor ones do, too. And there are still people having spiritual experiences and writing them down for others to read and learn from. I do happen to think that the Bible has certain qualities and depth to it that most of these other writings do not have. However, I don’t think the Bible is the *only* book that ever has or ever could have those qualities. It just happens to be the primary sacred text of Christianity, and of Judaism before it, so it carries more weight than most of those other texts. And, as I said, I believe it has more depth than most of them, also.

  4. Hi habilishomilarium,

    In response to a comment from a reader on my blog, I’ve now written in fairly brief and organized fashion some of the same stuff I’ve said here in response to your commentary on the Bible. It’s in this post:

    Is the Bible a Book of Absolute Nonsense?

    Executive summary: It is surprising to me that so many atheists have adopted the same low-level, literalistic interpretation of the Bible as fundamentalist and evangelical Christians. Neither the Bible itself nor our knowledge of the cultures of its original authors supports such an interpretation. Even from a secular, non-theistic perspective, there are much better and more intelligent ways of reading the Bible.

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