Religious and Biblical Scholars: who are they and what do they do?

Have you ever read or heard this phrase? “Biblical scholars agree … (something, something).” The words may get couched with qualifiers like most or many, but virtually never are qualifications for such standing within any group of scholars, bona fides, or verifiable statistics provided. We are to accept something because someone said that most biblical scholars think so, when none of them has ever been asked. We are not told who they are, unless they are the ones doing the reporting.

That’s because there is no agreed-to standard or licensing agency for those referred to as bible scholars or experts. When you see that phrase, it is nonsense (BS is for biblical scholars). It is a fallacious appeal to authorities that may not exist. In fact, unless it is specific as to who makes the claim and is supported by factual evidence, it’s usually made up: a lie.

I find it odd that someone would have to resort to fiction to support a biblical claim.

Yet, there are such biblical experts. In fact, here is a post by one (because he says he is one) that talks about them and what they don’t do.

He says that biblical scholarship is an intellectual enterprise (okay, but usually tainted). He also claims that scholarship in the field of biblical studies is always linked with ideological, political, cultural, and religious commitments (i.e., biases). Most of these folks have a dog in the fight and his name is bias. He is fed opinion and religious dogma through indoctrination and education.

In the discussion, the scholar goes on to state that biblical scholars not only do not study the Bible, they are not theologians or historians, do not read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, are not objective intellectuals, and do not read the Bible for the church.

Taken individually, or even as an identified group such as Vatican biblical scholars, or those employed by BYU or Ouachita Baptist University, especially if named and verified, opinions can be taken with stronger academic validity than when the broader term biblical scholars (implying all) is used.

A person who has done advanced study in a unique field is a considered a scholar, but the focus may be unclear. One may be awarded a master’s degree in advanced studies, none of which includes anything biblical. My master’s level concentrations included Sociology, Public Administration/Political Science/Government, Education/Educational Systems Management (my MA)/Administration, and a boatload of advanced military stuff. I am a scholar of none, but Monday morning quarterback to all.

A person with a master’s degree in theology (maybe online) may not have taken as much Bible as another person with the same degree, yet an undergraduate from a Bible college may have taken several semester hours of required Bible courses or Bible history.

A person with a doctorate in theology may have a degree focused upon a specialty that was not the Bible, and it probably was filtered by the ideas of a specific religion or denomination. Or, at least, he or she had a view through that lens. I assume that these folks are the biblical scholars.

Generally, they are not secular. They are not without extreme bias (my opinion and experience), and may not be the authoritative experts we assume they are. And remember, everybody has an opinion, even scholars, scientists, experts, and village idiots.

Finally, to determine the opinions of biblical scholars, someone must conduct a survey of each and ask them questions (assuming bona fide credentials). To be valid, the survey questions must be structured and framed by experts so that the answers and assumed results are consistent, valid, and reliable.

So, when you see reference to biblical scholars, be skeptical of an attempt to persuade you with BS fantasy and lies. But you knew that. Right?

Bill

 

Poetry: When You Go

When you go to church,
synagogue, or mosque, and
you do what you are
supposed to do, and you say or
sing same, maybe even dress
as expected, but you don’t
believe in the one key
uniting thing all the
others do, or you think
they do. They may be
just like you.

You go for reasons
only you know,
maybe you don’t understand
yourself, maybe you must go.
Maybe it’s grandma, who
you do believe in, maybe
it’s for money or glory, or
sex, security, or safety.
Maybe companionship or fellows.
Maybe you are searching
for something.

Some secrets
can never be told and die
with their keepers.

Bill

God ≠ Religion ≠ God

Belief in a god or other spirits does not require practicing a religion. I emphasize the difference between the two things: a belief in a god and doing some religion. Religion makes the rules for dealing with that god, and in some cases other gods.

If something like a god exists as a spiritual or physical deity, with or without interest in humanity or any of Earth’s flora and fauna, then he, she, or it must exist outside of human contact or detection. If not, we would be able to detect a god and the whole question of existence goes away.

Then, we are left to fight over religion, something we have done for thousands of years. There could be anything out there. But, if no god exists, which seems likely without contact or detection, religion becomes pointless as rules for interacting with something nonexistent, which is silly.

Over the years, gods of one kind or another have been given names. You’d think they’d come with their own names, but they need us to name them. Think about it. Why would they need names anyway? Is it so we can tell them apart? We had to name them.

What ever happened to these gods we named: Baal, Isis, Osiris, Saturn, Furrina, Venus, Odin, Thor, Mars, Jupiter, Diana of Ephesus, Pluto, Nin, Istar, Sin, and Mami, to list only a few of the many who were worshipped and believed-in by millions of people? Admittedly, a few gods got their own planet.

Many people claim to believe in some god (usually it’s Jesus in these times and parts of the Universe) yet choose to practice no religion whatsoever (often because some church or preacher pissed them off). They, along with atheists and many others in between, are called nones because we mark or write none for the question that asks what religion you are.

I’ve never seen the question asked like this—Do you believe in any god or gods? That is unless it’s being asked by someone like employees of Pew Research while conducting a religion survey. Many of us lie about that part and say yes when we don’t believe. Back in the 1950’s if you wanted to file with the Draft Board as a conscientious objector, that was the first question asked.

The question usually asked is of what religion do you consider yourself a member, or something very similar. But that’s no big deal.

A bigger deal, which is much more interesting, is that there are many people participating in and practicing religious rites and rituals of one kind or another (even preachers, priests, and other ministers), but who do not believe any god exists. Some of these closeted atheists should win Academy Awards.

Other atheists are made to feel welcome at places like Unitarian Universalist churches and are comfortably open about their disbelief (I honestly don’t get this, but I’m far from an expert). Most others are faking belief (Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, you-name-it) as best they can for whatever reason they may have.

I stopped believing in a god before I stopped going to church. In fact, over the years I was on-and-off or hit-and-miss as in I’ll try this religion thing one more time. I think that’s the case for many other people. The sequence often goes like this: belief based on what we are told, doubts from thinking too much, disbelief as doubt grows, hanging in there, and finally leaving the faith/church/cult/whatever.

In my case, during the process of my deconversion (not a fan of that word, but that’s what it’s called), I held a senior leadership position in my large Roman Catholic parish (aka, church). Before I left, I was on the threshold of moving on to a new job in another state. I waited until I moved. Then, I simply did nothing. It was easy, if a bit semi-deceptive.

I thought it was better and easier to let my term expire quietly and move on rather than to go through all the business of resigning early and trying to explain why. As part of the process of finding a replacement for me, future leadership candidates asked me a lot of personal spiritual questions that I dodged or declined to answer. I recall saying, I’m not the person you want to ask that question of. I was lying. I knew the answer, but I avoided embarrassment for us both. They didn’t understand, of course, but it was better than don’t ask me, I no longer believe any of this (expletive).

Three or four years passed before I openly and clearly said that I am atheist. Before that, I knew, or at least thought I was. But saying the words to any other person seemed scary. I was wrong. It was not scary. It was just the opposite. It was a relief and not something I should have been worried about. If friends and family can’t handle the truth about me, that’s on them.

If I lost any friends I’ve not noticed. Certainly, some relationships have changed, but so what? I’m sure there were some believers who added distance between us, but others would privately confess to me that they were also atheist or some form of unbeliever, or that a loved one of theirs was.

Only a few centuries ago, Christians killed fellow Christians, Jews, and Muslims over religious differences. Now many Muslims seem set on killing the same three groups, including fellow Muslims (it’s a religion of peace, don’t ya know?). In some places, Hindus and Buddhists seem to be at it.

They are all united in that they all get their holy tit in the wringer if you’re atheist. The problems and shortcomings of religion, while denied by many, are obvious to most people if it is not their personal religion of choice we are talking about. But do they ever consider how foolish it all is if no god exists? Religion becomes a symbol of mankind’s stupidity over the eons.

Therefore, I don’t spend much time hammering religion. I can, and sometimes I must make my point. But the key question should be do you believe in any god? If so, then religion is rightfully a secondary issue. If not, then religion is immaterial.

What religion am I? It’s immaterial.

Bill

Allegory: The Man in the Room (2.0)

Note: I first published this allegory a year ago on the Our Literary Journey blog site (before I started this one). Based upon the comments at the time, it was well received. Some of you will remember it. For those who haven’t read it, here it is with some edits and corrections.

The Man in the Room (2.0)

I don’t recall exactly when I learned a man was in the room. I’m sure someone told me.

For years, I watched as other people behaved as if they knew he was there. This was serious business. People (called martyrs) died because of this man. As a child, I never doubted what I was told about the man in the room. I not only believed he was there, I also knew a lot about him. He was old with a long gray beard, but handsome. He was quite distinguished and grandfatherly.

The man in the room was more important than anyone, even more than the President or the Pope. The President, and especially the Pope, also believed there was a man in the room. The Pope even had secrets that the man had entrusted to him. The man in the room was even more important than I was, or my parents, or any king.

Everything was about this man.

People wanted me to devote my life to the man in the room. We gave up things and made sacrifices either for him or to him. We did good things, like give money and stuff to the poor and needy because the man in the room wanted us to. The more we showed that we cared about the man, the better we were treated by our teachers, preachers, and parents.

The man in the room made the rules for everybody. He picked special adults and told them what the rules were for all of us. Everyone I knew agreed that there was a man in the room, and he was in charge forever. He was super powerful. He could do anything. He was in total control of everything. He could be invisible and even bring dead people to life.

He had always existed and always would.

Eventually, I learned that the man in the room made everything; even me, and you, and the Pope. I learned that he made me for a reason. I was to love and serve him and to do his will outside of the room. Everyone was. Even people who didn’t know it were supposed to serve him. That was my first world view, my purpose for being, but I didn’t fully realize it.

People would talk to the man in the room. Sometimes, they would ask for something. I was taught how to talk to him. I did this for a long time, but the man never talked back to me. Apparently, he only talked to certain people using his thoughts. That made sense. I sometimes asked the man for things. I was told he was always watching me, so I assumed that was why he never gave me anything I asked for.

I knew people went into the room to see the man. One day, I decided to follow some people, hoping to see him. When I opened the door and stepped in, I saw no one, not even the people I had followed. It was an empty room and there was no man or any person to be seen. I wondered why I had seen no one else and why he apparently left the room when I entered. I had been assured that he always remained in the room.

I decided to find out why I had seen no one in the room, especially not the man I was searching for. Since everyone was so positive about the man, I was sure that I had made some mistake.

After leaving the room by the only door, I decided to ask my mother why I had not seen the man. Mom got nervous and seemed upset. She told me to ask my father. I did. That was a mistake. Dad became angry and sent me to my room. He told me that next time he might beat some sense into me.

I decided to try a more neutral person.

I asked one of my teachers who I could trust if there was a reason that I couldn’t see the man. I could see the irritation in her expression, but she kindly explained to me that if I could not see the man, it meant that I did not believe strongly enough. I needed to have more faith. If I believed strongly enough, I would see the man.

As I asked others and I talked with friends, I realized that some people did not see the man either. A few of them never went into the room, or they denied any room existed. But they never told me that there was not a man to be seen. Most others told me that they did see the man. I was told that those of us who did not see the man were at fault. The issue was our lack of faith. And my lack of faith was evidenced by the fact that I asked too many questions and talked about it too much.

I thought the problem was clearly with me. I could see the room, but never saw the man. Others did. I needed more faith. I simply had to try harder.

If others could see him, why not me?

Years passed. I lived my life and almost forgot about the man. However, the man in the room issue never went completely away. People began to assume I could see the man, just as they claimed. I stopped talking about him as though I could not see him. In a way, I lied by pretending.

For a while, I returned to the room often. I decided to ask a man in the room expert if there was reason for my failure and if there was anything I could do. Again, the blindness was my doing. If I would believe more, I would see him. That still made sense to me.

I wondered how to have more faith.

Since I was certain that there was a man in the room, that it was my lack of faith that prevented me from seeing him, I decided to take even more drastic action.

I became a man in the room fanatic. I joined organizations. I took all the classes and attended all the learning groups I could find. My expertise grew and qualified me to teach classes to both children and adults regarding the man in the room and the things they should do to be better followers. Eventually, I became a man in the room leader in a large and important relevant group.

I held firmly to the belief that there was a man in that room. Finally, one day I saw the room again. No one could have done more than I to be a true-blue follower, believer, and expert. I had not seen the room in years, but then one day there it was.

That was my moment, my time, my life-long goal of seeing the man was to be that day.

I proudly opened the door and triumphantly marched into the room, and there sitting in the chair in the corner was me as a child.

The child looked up and said, “I have been sitting here your entire life. I wanted nothing more than to meet the man in the room. For over 50 years, I have waited and searched, while you have worked and prayed and believed. But, look around. There is no man in this room and there never has been. I have gone to other rooms with the same discovery.”

I felt broken and deceived. I had wasted so much of my life hoping to see a man who never existed. Again, I walked out through the only door. When I looked back, the room was gone. I thought, and I wondered, and read and studied all the possibilities. I felt myself changing. I began to say negative things to people regarding what may be in the room.

I had lived most of my life with almost constant thought about the man in the room. Over many months I slowly became a person who openly expressed doubts.

Then one day a friend asked if I still believed that there was a man in the room.

I looked at my friend and said, “For more years than you have been on the earth I have searched for the man in the room. I did more than enough. I have decided that I was deceived. After a lifetime of trying to find a man, it is my conclusion that he does not exist and never has. The man is a myth and has always been.” I was relieved to know that I had finally found a truth that escapes so many.

One day, someone else asked, “What is the point of you saying that there is no man in the room?”

I responded, “There is no room, only one told in stories. There is no man, invisible or otherwise. Too much life is wasted over nothing. Either there is man, or there isn’t. Faith is irrelevant. Belief does not make it so any more than failure to believe makes it not so. It is reality based upon evidence.”

Another man overheard that comment. He approached me and said that I may not make such a statement if I have no proof that there is no man in the room. He said that I was asserting a fact that I could not prove. He wanted me to say that I only believed or assumed that there is no man in the room.

I objected by claiming that I was asked a question (what is the point?) to which I provided my best answer. I postulated nothing. My answer to the question is not an affirmation that there is a man, but an admission that there is no evidence that there ever was a man in the room. Since he was not in the room when I looked, that was all the proof I needed. The fact that others believe there is a man in the room because someone told them has no bearing on reality. It only supports what they already believe.

My conclusion is different than their belief. No one ever told me that there was not a man, only that there was. When I tried to find the man, or to ask why I could not see him, no one said he was not there. They only told me that my inability to find him was my fault.

I no longer believe what people told me. But since I did everything I could, and I did what they told me I must do, and I still did not find any evidence of the man, I concluded he does not exist.

One of the things that helped me with my conclusion is the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the resulting idiom regarding pluralistic ignorance. I should have known from the beginning that there was no man to see because I could not see him. That should have ended it. But I did not want to accept that what people were telling me were the same lies they had been told.

Almost everyone I knew insisted that I was wrong. When I realized that the Emperor was naked, I knew why I wanted there to be a man in the room. I wanted there to be a man, and I wanted him to be as I was told he was. I wanted to be like most people. I’m not.

Now, I know the truth. I need no proof of what does not exist.

Bill

What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose on earth?

I dug into the conclusion of Sam Harris’s book, Waking Up: A guide to Spirituality Without Religion, for those questions. They’re common. Religious people of all sorts use them to challenge nonbelievers because they are so esoteric and intended to flummox. There are others with the same intent. Religious folks think, no god means no meaning or purpose. Interestingly, people who do not believe in any gods see it in the opposite way, particularly regarding religion.

No one need answer such questions, but we certainly may. I personally would enjoy such a discussion with almost anyone. If my life has no meaning or purpose, just WTF have I been doing for the past six decades?

Questions like this remind me of memorizing the answers in the Baltimore Catechism during early elementary school. Two relatable questions from that book are:

Question 6: Why did God make you?
Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever (sic) in heaven. (life’s meaning?)

Question 9: What must we do to save our souls?
Answer: To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart. (life’s purpose?)

Catholic grade school children had to memorize the questions and answers word for word and were given grades on the subject.

I would paraphrase a quote often inaccurately attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, Preach the gospel. When necessary use words. There is no evidence that he ever said that, but it is a good point whoever said it.

I also like a phrase that writers attempt to apply – show, don’t tell. I cannot change the world, what other people think, or undo the past. But I can (for the most part) choose my behavior and actions. I hope you understand my meaning and purpose.

For both the meaning and purpose of life, we must live into our personal meaning and each of us create our own purpose by making the one life we have something of greater value. I think we should be caring with nature and other people. We should embrace life’s natural compassion, charity, community, and contemplation. We don’t need religion or a god for that. In my opinion, they get in the way of thinking.

As nihilistic as that sounds, reality is not subjective but how we interact with it is.

Nobody knows all the answers. What’s the meaning and purpose of life? I have my thoughts … so do you. I create my purpose of life and it is to live the best life I can. If you need more than that, good luck. Questions about life’s meaning should be multiple-choice. I feel like the meanings of my life are the same as they’ve always been. It has nothing to do with any god and never has regardless of what the Catechism said.

Philosophically, there are people who make the claim that life has no purpose and is meaningless (i.e., nihilists). Yet, those people go on living for some reason. I wonder why. Maybe their purpose is to run around telling everyone else how meaningless it is. I disagree even though many inside-the-box believers insist that such claims to meaning and purpose without god and religion are pointless.

If other people need god or religion to give their life purpose or meaning, who am I to take away their crutch? I know from my experiences with reading and talking to others that admitting the truth about god and religion changes little about life’s purpose and meaning. In many cases, life becomes more meaningful within the reality of this one life and this one world, right here, right now.

And if you are up to it—-

Two More Atheist Stuffs

Morality

Let me try to get this right. If I say that I doubt the existence of any gods thus far divulged by humanity, people like Steve Harvey, Oprah W., the late George H. W. Bush, and millions of others will stamp me an immoral and untrustworthy person no matter how I live my life. Bush would even deny my citizenship (with all due respect for his pardons for the Iran-Contra criminals).

If I say I believe in a god, especially if it’s theirs, then I am not branded quite as despicable. And if I’m a truly saved Southern Baptist, my behavior becomes irrelevant because I believe and done got saved (once saved, always saved). If I say I believe, even if it is a god damn lie, it’s good enough.

I doubt that any believers feign atheism. But I am certain that many atheists or agnostics, by either omission or action, pretend to believe in a god when they do not or have serious doubts. I have, on occasion, either gone along with something religious or kept my mouth shut about it, and sometimes I still do. It’s not an easy thing to do either way. While I am not closeted, I don’t wear atheist on my shirtsleeve (except for this blog) because it makes my life and that of my spouse safer.

What is so wrong about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do? Do we all need biblical reference or religious dogma to back up our choices of right and wrong? The truly sad part of this is that I suspect more than a few agnostics and atheists buy into the myth that religious people are more moral because they belong to a religion or believe one of those gods exist. There is no evidence for the claim that believers are more moral than atheists. We’re all just a bit brain washed!

For all of us, morality exists on a continuum and may change with circumstances. But what is more immoral, judging others as bad or evil simply for what they believe? Or, judging people based on their behavior regardless of religion or spiritual path?

Numbers

When research groups like Pew, Gallup, Harris, and others attempt to determine something, they take a poll by asking questions. Why would someone say they are atheist or do not believe in god if it might cause them a problem? Try this.

Q> What religion are you? A> Ummm….none.
Q> Do you believe in God? A> Ummm, uh, kind of, yes, I think something.
Q> Do you masturbate? A> Absolutely not. Never.
Q> Do you think God is watching you? A> What?

One guy called The Atheist Experience and claimed 95% of people believe in a god. His estimate went unchallenged and only his logic error was addressed. I agree with what Christopher Hitchens opined on the topic of percentage of believers and non-believers. I think that much more than 20% of US Citizens are atheist (although a yes or no answers can be hard to get). Only a small percentage of us admit/claim/embrace it. No one knows and will never know how many or what percentage do not really believe in any gods.

When I read the Pew numbers for the central Texas county I live in, it claimed 60% were nones; meaning they do not practice or align with any specific religion. Every atheist in this county falls into that group, including me, whether we admit atheism or not. However, there are certainly exceptions.

If you want more, this link has an excellent article on the subject.

 

Bill

Poetry: Reality Pray

objecting to your prayers feels like
I am rejecting your love,
your caring, your helping me
get past a difficult time. I am grateful
for you and that you care and that you love
or care about me.

yet, if you really care
look at me—touch me,
talk to me. a hug is okay.

but please. must I accept that you will
shoot a quick message to your almighty
who will then correct or change the cold facts
I now face? please stop denying reality
and pretending your prayers
make a difference or change anything.
they do not!

the only miracles are those events
science, money and power create.
thanks anyway.

with love and appreciation,
bill