Divine Inspiration: Living Reality or Decrepit Dogma?

Those who are interested in communication between theists and atheists may want to check out Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. If you do not believe in God, you may have friends or relatives who quote Scripture. How do you respond to them? And if you are a believer, you may have wondered to what extent sacred writings reveal divine inspiration. Possible answers include not at all, somewhat, mostly, or entirely:

  1. Not at all. Sacred texts are not based on divine inspiration, either because there is no God or because God doesn’t lead people to write holy books.
  2. Somewhat. God has influenced the Scriptures, but these writings were also shaped by human weakness and prejudice.
  3. Mostly. Taken as a whole, Scripture reflects divine inspiration.
  4. Entirely. Every word of the Bible is divinely inspired.

We could add an option 4A: Entirely, with minor exceptions, such as human errors in copying texts. But God prevents serious errors from corrupting the divine message.

A great many people accept 4 or 4A. But in Did God Really Say THAT!? I try to conclusively prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the only possible options are 1, 2, or 3. Browse through the site and tell me if you think I’ve succeeded.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on this page.

The Hundredth Post

This is my one-hundredth posting in Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground. I’ve enjoyed the chance to share ideas, and it’s been exciting to see that people from all over the world visit this site. Yesterday someone from Turkey viewed one of my posts, and a few days ago I had a visitor from Nepal. I’ve had over 7000 page views so far.

I plan to continue this blog, but I admit I’m currently a bit distracted by my current book project. I’m writing about philosophical and scientific attempts to understand the mystery (or mysteries) of consciousness. I’ve been researching this topic for 20 years, and I’m afraid the project has been even more time-consuming than I anticipated. But I’m halfway through my fourth draft, and I hope to finish by this fall.

At some point I’ll begin a blog on puzzles about consciousness. I also plan to resume Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. I’ll let you know when those things happen.

Finally, here’s a special thank-you to those who have subscribed to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground. It’s good to connect with people who truly care about building bridges, bringing people together instead of pushing them apart.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

More on Random Bible Readings

[For the past few weeks this site has included posts from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s the latest entry, slightly modified, plus an additional comment. Because I’m going to be extremely busy this spring, this will be the last entry on the Bible blog for a while. I’ll continue to post on Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground.]

In my previous posting I reported an experiment in which I opened the Old Testament at random five times and glanced through the text of the two facing pages before me. It turned out to be very easy to find verses that did not seem divinely inspired. I could imagine a loving deity shuddering at the thought that these passages are part of a book that people read for divine guidance.

Example: Execute anyone who has the wrong theology, which is commanded in II Chronicles 15:13.

Now let’s try the flip side of this experiment. Read five randomly-selected two-page segments from the Old Testament, looking for statements that do sound divinely inspired, or that at least express keen insights.

Here’s what I found when I tried this, and I realize that “your results your vary.”

The pages I picked at random began with Leviticus 8:31, Judges 20:44, II Chronicles 15:7, Proverbs 8:35, and Jeremiah 39:4. Out of the five two-page segments that began with these verses, I found uplifting material only in Proverbs. Even in that section most statements were common-sense platitudes that essentially told the reader, “Be good, work hard, and treat others well.” No doubt we need to hear such messages repeatedly, but a normal individual of average intelligence should discover these principles without a revelation from on high.

Here are the verses that seemed insightful, beyond mere “let’s-be-good” platitudes:

“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8)

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19)

“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)

I especially appreciate the first of these items. It pushes against the peculiarly-common human inclination to waste time arguing with fools. I still fall into that trap at times, so it’s a good lesson for me personally.

Again, try this yourself. Open the Old Testament to five different places at random, revealing ten pages. Look for passages that sound like genuine divine revelations, statements which give you that spine-tingling feeling that something transcendent has broken into our human world. (In the New Testament, “Love your enemies” is a good example.) See what you learn. [End of post from Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible.]

Note: I used to see the Bible as roughly a 50-50 mix of helpful and unhelpful passages, with lots of uplifting verses along with many erroneous and morally inferior teachings. But now it’s beginning to seem as if the dangerous and morally repugnant passages predominate.

In a few weeks I’ll resume blogging about the Old Testament and then move on to the Gospels and other New Testament material. I’ll cross-post most of these entries on Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

Reading the Bible at Random

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s a recent entry.]

This blog deals with the question of Biblical inerrancy. Is every verse of the Bible literally true, due to being inspired by a loving and all-knowing God? As I have indicated, I am impressed by the very large number of Bible passages that do not seem to have been inspired by such a deity.

Today I tried an experiment. I opened the Old Testament at random five times, and briefly scanned the text of the two facing pages before me. I was wondering how often I would find the sort of troubling statements I’ve discussed in earlier posts. The pages I opened to began with Leviticus 8:31, Judges 20:44, II Chronicles 15:7, Proverbs 8:35, and Jeremiah 39:4.

This experiment has its limitations, because to understand a Bible passage one has to read it in context. Old Testament material is often part of a long historical account of the nation of Israel and its relationship with surrounding nations and with God. But even without spending much time establishing context, it was clear that certain Biblical themes are very often encountered:

God wants us to carry out elaborate rituals to do penance for our sins. Carry out these rituals precisely “lest you die” (Leviticus 8:35). Example: “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not rend your clothes, lest you die….” (Leviticus 10:6).

The men of that era often slaughtered each other over theological and moral issues (Judges 20-21). God supposedly intervenes in such military campaigns (Judges 20:28). Physically seizing women and forcing them into marriage was considered acceptable behavior (Judges 21).

Those who do not accept the established religion shall “be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman” (II Chronicles 15:13).

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….” (Proverbs 9:10). “The fear of the Lord prolongs life….” (Proverbs 10:27).

Military invasions, victories, and defeats often result from obeying or disobeying divine commandments. “Because you sinned against the Lord, and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you” (Jeremiah 40:3).

I can imagine someone contending that all of these passages reflect God’s will, but it would be a bit of a challenge to make that case.

Try it yourself. Open the Old Testament five times and read the two pages revealed, seeing if you encounter statements that do not seem divinely inspired. And do the same for the New Testament. (I’m obviously not saying that every human action reported by Scripture is divinely inspired. The question is: Does it seem as if God wanted the text written as it was? Does God, for instance, want people who don’t believe in the correct theology to be put to death?)

Try it. Think about it. If you pray, pray about it. See what you discover.

Roger Christan Schriner

To  subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

The God of War and the God of Love

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s another entry.]

I once thought Bible passages portraying God as commanding (and committing) mass murder could mostly be found in its first few books. Mark Johnston’s Saving God, however, makes a more troubling case:

“Yahweh’s thoroughness in inciting and supporting mass killing is consistent, and extraordinary” (p. 58). The idea that God “is a very dangerous person to mess with . . . is a central theme of the prophetic literature of the Bible. That will be denied, but only by those who have skipped over, or forgotten, the rather demented reiteration of the theme” (p. 60).

I found this comment disturbing, but I have to admit that he’s right. So does Johnson believe that God is a mass murderer? I don’t think so. As I read him, he does not see the Bible as a perfect record of God’s messages to humanity. Instead, Scripture shows how people’s understanding of deity changed down through the centuries. At first Yahweh is portrayed as a “jealous” war god. Later prophets spoke of a god of love.

For Johnson, it’s important to recognize how frightening God seemed to the early Hebrews. As Psalms 111:9-10 puts it, “… Holy and terrible is his name! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Those who play down God’s ferocity “underestimate the dramatic character of Yahweh’s transformation, his second life as the advocate of justice and compassion” (p. 63).

In Sunday School, many of us were taught that God is love. That’s one reason the passages I have been discussing seem alien and even reprehensible.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

God’s Difficult Relationship with Israel

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s another entry.]

I have been emphasizing the first five books of the Bible because they contain so many disturbing passages that claim to express God’s will. But such questionable verses can be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (which became the Christian Old Testament).

There are troubling passages in the New Testament as well, but perhaps not as many. If that is so, it’s partly because the Hebrew Scriptures focus more on the history of Israel. In most of the historical sections God is either smiting Israel’s foes out of love for his chosen people, or using Israel’s enemies to punish them for disobedience. Here are a couple of examples which are distressing enough that you may just want to skip past them:

Zechariah 14:2: “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished …” The text goes on to say that God will then turn around and attack those who have invaded Israel.

Hosea 13:16: “Samaria shall bear her guilt because she has rebelled against her God; … their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.”

I apologize for presenting such grisly material, but if we want to know whether every verse of the Bible is literally true, we need to know what’s in that book.

What shall we make of the way God seems to see-saw back and forth between boundless love for the Israelites and blistering rage against them? Does this love-hate relationship really reflect the behavior of a perfect being?

Here’s another interpretation which seems more likely: Sometimes the Israelites won battles and wars, and sometimes they lost. Humans often explain victories and defeats by saying that great forces controlled the outcome – fate, karma, gods, demons. So when they won a war – or today, after a team wins the Superbowl – God was with them. When they got clobbered, God was punishing them for their sins. This sort of thinking reflects human ignorance, not divine inspiration.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

And What about Collective Guilt?

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s another entry.]

In my last few entries I’ve been discussing inherited guilt and punishment. A related idea is collective guilt. According to the Bible, if most people in some group do bad things God may punish the whole group. In fact, God may do that even if only a few group-members transgress.

Or even one! In Second Samuel 24, David, ruler of Israel, ordered his assistants to carry out a census. Even though God had actually put this idea into David’s mind, God was very angry that David wanted his people to be counted. “David’s heart smote him after he had numbered the people.” He confessed that he had sinned and asked God for forgiveness. God then proposed three possible punishments, and he and David agreed that the punishment would be a three-day pestilence.

The pestilence was not directed against David, but against his people. Seeing their terrible suffering David protested, “but these sheep, what have they done?” Actually God had already decided to cut the pestilence short, so for David’s sin only 70,000 of his people died. Could have been worse.

The theme of this blog is: “Did God Really Say THAT!?” In this case the answer is, absolutely not. A loving, all-knowing, perfect being would not kill 70,000 people because their leader took a census. That Bible passage cannot be accurate.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.