On Biblical Fiction

I disagree with the claim that all atheists consider the bible a work of fiction. I am annoyed by that for two reasons. I didn’t like that someone else speaks for me about what I think or believe. Second, in my opinion, even for an atheist to make such a claim is as much folly as declaring all scripture fact.

Is the Bible a book of fiction? If you consider it either fact or fiction, perhaps it is. My dictionary says fiction is “something invented by the imagination or feigned.” Fiction is intentionally so.

Good story tellers of truth or fiction are rare and endangered artists. I humorously refer to the stories I write as lies or fibs (terms literalists might struggle with). Frequently enough, people ask if my story is true. Nothing I write is 100% fact, including this essay. Nor is anything I write total fiction.

It may be my best accurate memory. Factual journalism is challenging even for the best writers. If you’re as hung up on this as I am, try reading Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, by David Shields. Is exaggeration either fact or fiction?

I tell stories with beginnings, middles, and (the most difficult part) ends. My dreams are often related to a reality of my past. They’re not stories because they have only the middle: no backstory or once upon a time concept.

My dreams lack beginnings and transitions. They never end. I wake up or move on to another. There is no natural, spontaneous, or contrived ending. There is no moral lesson. Now, about the bible.

The point of the bible is that God inspired humans to write it. However, I am unconvinced of the biblical cannons being inspired since I believe there is nothing to do the inspiring.

For the sake of agreement, we all pretty much think the books of the bible are real and were written by people. They were also re-written, translated and retranslated, interpreted by and added-to by people other than the original, allegedly divinely inspired, authors. It all continues to happen even to this day. Yet, with all this effort, there is not even one original biblical document to read in any language.

So, which is it? Facts inspired by the divine or a bunch of nonsense and lies. While for many the answer is moot, I have never cared much. Did someone kill others with a jawbone? Did it rain for a long time causing floods? Were there wars and sieges? Did people cut off male foreskins? Were people crucified or decapitated? Was stuff copied from older stuff? Was there nothing and then six days later, everything? Did a bunch of slaves say fuck it and just leave followed by a bunch of morons who drowned? Maybe so. So what? Shit happens.

Even when I was a practicing Christian and teacher of the bible, it’s fact or fiction never mattered to me. I failed as a thumper. For me, the bible has always been a book of books about (and of) religion. But they are far from the only books of religion handed down through history.

So are these: The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys (Bahá’i); The Tipitaka (Buddhism); The Vedas and the Upanishads (Hinduism); The Quaran and the Hadiths (Islam); The Agamas (Jainism); The Tanakh and the Talmud (Judaism); The Kojiki (Shintoism); The Dao De Jing (Taoism); The Book Of Shadows (Wicca); and The Avesta (Zoroastrianism).

Omar Khayyam wrote, A hair divides what is false and true. People can call it whatever they wish. I speak for myself. For me, along with the Bible, all the above are books of religion. Each carry equal weight but have more meaning to that religious group, fact or fiction.

No god, master, translation, interpretation, inspiration, or conflagration required.



Let’s Talk Bible Poetically

Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Books of myth, fiction, fantasy, and magic,
when truth be told, are wonderous, magical,
fine entertainment.

The darkest are sadistic
lies contained in false truths told,
from pages and pulpits of religious propaganda.

Such cliched moronic nonsense would
make magical mindless fodder if only
some twinkles of truth were told about their
myth, fiction, fantasy, and magic. Of course,
I just did that, did I not?


Truths About Choices

By what process do we make most important decisions? How do most of us select a religion or denomination to follow?

The who

What do Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical Christianity have in common? With each other, about as much as they share with Judaism or Islam, and little more than those last two have in common with each other.

Within and between many religious or Christian groups the divisions are astounding, even to a cynical skeptic like me. They’ve pretty much all killed one another in the name of the god they claim to believe in. The god who knows and is responsible for everything, including them.

One thing they do share is the opinion that all atheists are immoral, criminal crackpots and meanies. Most recently I’ve been accosted for not thinking like a true American. Wowzer. Me?

Six of seven sacraments, a Boy Scout, several US Department of Defense careers (two honorably in uniform), Christian education and Bible Study teacher, Parish Council President; a father, and grandfather to about a dozen; and some right-wing crack-pot thinks it’s his job to enlighten me!?

Buddhism is a religious exception. There may be others. Many followers of this path are not a good fit as I define a religion (you need a god). I see Buddhism as more of a philosophical tradition. However, much of that philosophy and tradition can be woven with other religious beliefs. While Buddhists don’t believe in any gods, there are things that can help (or hinder) such people toward enlightenment. Meanwhile, back at the Reality Ranch…

The how

The rest of us, mostly Christians in America, have several methods for choosing a tribe or religion to follow.

  1. We’re born or adopted into it by our parents or guardians.
  2. We convert into it for any number of reasons.
  3. We are forced into it in various ways.
  4. For community and social reasons. Like, we want a church home for our family, and we find something that seems to work okay.
  5. We discover it through careful analytical thought and examination of all religious beliefs, practices, philosophies, dogma, and whatever else belongs to the trappings of a religion. (Yeah, right.)

For example

My wife, Yolonda, and her three siblings were raised in The Church of Christ. They grew up in Texas. The entire family of kids moved on to other Christian denominations in adulthood because of their displeasure with the denomination of their parents.

Yolonda converted into the Catholic Church about twenty years ago (I was born Catholic), at least in part because I was giving the denomination a final attempt.

One day she said to me, “What I like about being Catholic is that you can be a normal human being and still go to Heaven.” If you know much about the Church of Christ, you know why she said that. Her decision to join me in that, and our eventual decision to leave it twelve years later, is another story. But we gave the faith lots of pray, pay, and obey for as long as we could.

Looking around

While I piddled with eastern religion and philosophies prior to the making one last run at the faith of my birth, neither of us ever took any path other than Christian and Catholic, until we both gave that up.

Looking back. the religious trek in our long marriage may seem chaotic, but that is what real searching looks like in hindsight. It’s called street cred. You must jump into the pool to feel the water. It is kind of like watching a pinball bounce around inside the machine. It seems chaotic, but the player knows what he or she is doing until the ball passes the flippers and is lost. To the ball, it is all random.

My truth

I was not born into atheism. I cannot name one atheist person I knew prior to age 21. Even after that, I’m not 100% sure I knew any names until I staked my claim. Atheism was never suggested to me as an option, nor was I forced into it. I resisted for socio-cultural reasons even as I slowly and continually moved toward it. There was no community satisfaction or social attraction similar to having a church home to being atheist.

If anything, it was the opposite as I noticed a few folks moving away from me socially. However, I did get to hear other friends confess their somewhat closeted atheism to me later. That still happens, although seldom.

My choice

I simply decided that I do not believe any god exists (as in is real), and I should be true to myself (see #5 above).

This is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, not the Bible, where Polonius says to Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I enthusiastically, atheistically, and poetically agree.



Poetry: well, shut my mouth.

My crank goal is to write
poetry banned
in Southern USA states,
especially mine,
a few up north;
and every country
in Islam.

Find me
on the Catholic Church
shit-list so only Bishops
and Cardinals may
read my magic without sin.
May they touch themselves
with impure thoughts. May I
make a Baptist want a martini.

I want the ghost of Spiro Agnew to
haunt my poems as blatant
anarchist propaganda that threatens
to sap our national strength,
(unlike criminal conspiracy,
bribery, extortion, and tax fraud).

I want priests, rabbis, and mullahs
to denounce my freedom
five times every day from
their pits of pull on up to
minareted gravelly loudspeakers.

Let me be the de Mello or Merton
of modern skeptical letters. Bless me
with the censorship of weak minded
control freaks. May the young
bogart tabooed copies of my posey
into secret unsanctioned rooms.

Damn me to literary dungeon-hood
till the cows come home
and the ravens
overtake Capistrano.

Let sweet Jesus find me
one toke over the line, sitting
in a downtown railway station,
eyes opened, hoping
the literal reality freight train
is on time.

Let them hate me
for my
country mile honesty
about reality.

Yes. This Shel Silverstein poem from “Where the Sidewalk Ends” was banned in some places.

Gloss: In the first line (title), Crank in the sense of having or expressing feelings of joy or triumph.
Agnew was investigated for those crimes (and subsequently resigned as VP of the USA), but that is essentially what he had to say about the song, One Toke Over the Line (which was also banned).


Extra: Yeah, right. If you wanna hear from a couple old folk rockers (older then I), and the story of their one hit, the video is not high quality and about 7 minutes, but not bad. I watched the video of the Lawrence Welk Show number they mention being sung. The ironic humor is of that is beyond great and they agree.

And That’s a Fact, Jack.

Back when years began with nineteen instead of twenty, my head was topped with slightly thin, dark-brown hair with hints of gray near the temples. I had the look and was living through a time known as midlife.

I was treated well — an “expert” in my field. While I enjoyed it, I often felt that expectations of me pushed the limits of my knowledge and capabilities. As in baseball, I won some and lost some. Thinking back, I now realize that I was dealing with a minor form of imposter syndrome.

Eventually, I got comfortable saying, “I don’t know.” That helped, as did, “I don’t care” and “I was wrong.” I am cautious with those last two. Not caring may be offensive. Admitting error requires sufficient contrary evidence. To this day, I do not need to know how the Cosmos came into being. I’d like to know. But regardless of how it happened, it is what it is.

Back then, I carried a blue, loose-leaf binder notebook. I inserted humorous quotes and sarcastic cartoons into the outside front cover. One serious insert I wrote proclaimed, “I have not decided everything yet. If you quote me, I may have changed my mind.”

That was my way of declaring that I was still figuring things out: learning. While I had a few firm opinions, I was a true believer of nothing.

I learned to be careful sharing my thoughts and to couch my reasons. I tried to be clear about what I think versus proclaiming what fact is. I still do that.

Since college, I’ve been a fan of Eric Hoffer’s book, The True Believer. I don’t think I “got it” until the last five or ten years. While I want to take a clear side for moral reasons, I also do not want to become blinded to truth and reality. I wasn’t neutral, but I wanted as much rational, logical certainty about my own beliefs as I could muster. I was naïve to think most others felt the same. Thankfully, many people are reasonable and rational, even if not as many as I’d like.

I began to realize that people I knew were masquerading as intelligent, open-minded, caring souls, but were disguised true believers. I should have known. I was often disappointed.

I like M. Lamar Keene’s expression for what causes people to believe things proven to be false: the true believer syndrome.

He asked, “What is it that compels a person, past all reason, to believe the unbelievable. (sic) How can an otherwise sane individual become so enamored of a fantasy, an imposture, that even after it’s exposed in the bright light of day (sic) he still clings to it — indeed, clings to it all the harder?”

While Keene and Hoffer were each referring to different types of true believers, they are clearly related phenomena, although not as unusual as I used to think. Today we find them deeply involved in religion and politics. Are they dangerous?

I prefer being a skeptic to the mental chains of a true believer. If I must have a syndrome, I choose imposter.


Are They (Christians) Lying Hypocrites?

I normally don’t, but some of us refer to Christians as liars and hypocrites. Many Christians refer to others (Muslims, Jews, skeptics, etc.) the same way. Few details or logical explanations are usually provided, but examples abound. For me, personal attacks define the difference between being anti-religious (about people) and being anti-religion (about dogma, creeds, rules, and policy).

I agree that religious populations are replete with deceit and scandal. Every sin has probably been committed by many members of every religion, often in the name of God. We’re human, but why might followers of Jesus be highlighted more than any other group as possessors or perpetrators of such failing attributes? I pondered this and did a bit of looking stuff up. But mostly I think I thunk it through. You judge.

There are almost 8 billion people on earth. Nearly 350 million of them live in the USA. Of those populations, 2.5 billion world-wide are Christians, or about 31.3%. In the United States, 213 million, or about 61 to 65% of the total American population claim to be of the Christian persuasion. I pulled those estimates from various internet sources and rounded up, but things change. According to various sources, while total populations are increasing, the percentages of religious believers are declining. That’s still a lot of liars and hypocrites.

At one time or another virtually everyone of us will tell a lie of some sort (the G. Washington myth notwithstanding). A good many people, if not all, will also behave in ways that do not conform with their personally claimed moral standards. That defines hypocrites (frauds, charlatans, and phonies). In my opinion, dishonesty is indiscriminately part of our human condition or nature regardless of race, creed (religion or none), sex, national origin, age, political affiliation, or shoe size. To deceive is unfortunately human. A gift from God or Satan’s tool?

I’ve heard it called, “telling an untruth.” But exactly what constitutes a lie? My dictionary says it’s making an untrue statement with intent to deceive, or making a misleading, false impression, or one that may, or may not, be believed by the speaker or writer (i.e., the liar).

I think one must intend to deceive to properly wear the liar moniker. I also think saying what one believes, even if it’s wrong, is not at the same level of lie as an intentionally deceptive one. Even small lies, like fibs, require knowing it’s not true to fit my definition. But is that good enough? Maybe not.

Ideally, something is either true, or it is not, yet gray areas abound. This is where a college course in logic or argumentation becomes useful. For example, let’s assume there is no god (easy enough for most readers of this blog). A true Christian believer comments here that, “there is a God, and all atheists are going to Hell.” That is what they believe: God is real and vengeful. I’m 99% convinced the Christian is incorrect, and I am willing to say so. That is what I believe. One of us must be wrong. One of us is telling an untruth. But is either of us also a liar?

Here’s the rub. While I have no interest in de-converting anyone, I would be happy to answer any questions. I would also be delighted if I contributed to someone walking away from their religious beliefs, all of which I consider to be bullshit. But I say “I don’t know” – a lot.

On the other hand, the Christian is bound to “spread the word” and to “bring sinners to God/Christ,” to evangelize and to proselytize. If it would serve the greater good and save someone’s soul, even to intentionally lie may be seen as a service to God, thus morally good. The greater good refers to the adage, the ends justify the means. They’re reluctant to say “I don’t know” because that could mean a doubting spirit, agnostic thinking, or religious ignorance.

One of us is believing and saying something that is not true. We both think it’s the other guy. Are we both justified as seeing the other as a liar? Either a god exists or not. Period, but that’s unprovable. Is one of us lying? Intent matters and we each think we are correct. Neither of us is attempting to deceive anyone, even if one is more aggressive in behavior and playing by different rules.

While I invoke intent in defining lies, I do not with hypocrisy. Voices from my childhood, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

When I completed teaching a class on The Problem of Evil, someone asked me how I reconciled what I had just taught with what I believed. I said that I didn’t, but I lied because I did. I struggled because what I professed to believe was not what I thought deep down. My interpretation of scripture and my beliefs were not what others thought they were. It all worked out, but it took years. What I said in the class was the truth as I saw it at the time. What I professed to believe was not. Enter a bit of cognitive dissonance. But was I a liar or hypocrite?

So yes, Christians are liars and hypocrites. So are all members of every religion and of none. Some of them are aware of it, but I suspect most are not. In my opinion, they are no more deceitful than most other groups, particularly other religious groups. I can’t change that. I can only change me. No matter what, I’ll never be totally correct or completely certain. I’ll remain forever skeptical.

I shall also try to remain civil and to understand our human nature. I wish everyone would.



Essay: Why So Negative?


I forget what she was talking about, but when I brought up reality, she said I should not be so negative. In her thinking, reality was bad. It was negative, and anyone who talked about it was likewise. In her defense, her life with a non-supportive alcoholic who eventually drank himself to death was certainly a negative reality. We were not discussing any specific topic, but even the term was a turnoff for her.

When I think about what she said, which basically shut me up, I always get philosophical and default to the line from Hamlet: “Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. Well, then it isn’t one to you, since nothing is really good or bad in itself—it’s all what a person thinks about it.” I can’t say the line applies in every case. But sometimes it is precisely what we think about some reality that defines it for us.

I agree that reality is relative. And what isn’t? The thin line between one’s perception of reality and imagined non-reality, such as dream-based events, is the conscious choice between what is and what isn’t. But does any of that mean the one is negative and the other not? Is either reality or non-reality truth? Imagination is real. If one hears voices, the voices are really heard in the brain even if the source of a voice is either unknown or assumed.

I also agree with my friend who saw my broaching of reality as negative or dark for her, even if not for me. Much of reality sucks. Her experience was not mine. We make the best of life if we can make anything. But some might say the reality is that we can move on and find another, conceivably better, life.

Time and reality are relative to the individual. While the reality of the passage of time should be the same for each of us, that is seldom the case. Memories of the same event differ between individual witnesses. Experiencing current events is the same. When I walk out of a building and it is raining, I’m usually delighted. Then I hear others complaining about the nasty weather. It’s the same reality: a rainy day.

My response is to ask, what is non-reality? Why do I insist that it is necessary and okay to deal with what is real? Either it is what it is, or it’s not. Depending on the individual, the same real (or even imagined) event may be seen as either good or bad. The truth should be reality, but black or white is too often gray. So then, even truth becomes relative and based on outlook and experience.

If we see reality as negative, does that mean we conversely see non-reality as positive? And what of truth? If truth is negative, is untruth then positive? Maybe some think so.

I Don’t Know

If my grandson were to ask me if I believe in God, what answer should I give? My choices would be: yes, no, maybe, or I plead the Fifth (I refuse to answer on the grounds that if I tell you, it might be life-changing for both of us). He has not asked, and I have not asked him what he thinks. If he would simply ask me if there is a god, I could say I don’t know.

If my father had ever asked me if I believed in God, I would have said yes. Today, that would be a lie, but it would still be my answer. One does not have deep metaphysical discussions with an Archie Bunker type, especially an angry one. I try to choose my battles carefully. I would probably tell my mother the truth, well…maybe, but I don’t know if I would. More on her another time.

I cannot recall the last time anyone asked me if I believed in God. Most people seem to assume I do, and I did used to act as though I did. I only recall one time when someone asked me if I was atheist. It took me two days to answer. While I knew what I was, I felt the need to ponder my response. I had to decide if I wanted to admit it to anyone (especially to me). Prior to that, I had only implied it to one workmate, but I disguised my comments as dismissals of religion. The elephant in the room (belief in a god) wasn’t questioned. I think he assumed I did not believe because of what he said about his father, a long time Mormon convert who never saw the light, vis-à-vis my statements.

When atheists lie about it, it’s euphemistically referred to as being in the closet. It is not telling the truth, so it’s lying. Millions of people all around the world do it every day for good reasons. Most of those reasons are more defensive than deceptive, but often are not without regret and guilt.

This is not about truth and lies. It’s about role playing for your own good and the good of others. I think it’s better to be out of the closet because the cognitive dissonance (guilt) associated with trying to live a dishonest life is troubling and wearing. It feels better, but there is almost always some price to pay for that kind of honesty.

In a scene from the movie The Big Sick (a good, dramatic but light romantic comedy from 2017) where the main male character, Kumail, (finally) confronts his Pakistani parent’s religion, culture, and traditions; his father, a Muslim, asks him “Do you not believe in Allah?” To which Kumail answers, I don’t know what I believe. I have not prayed in years. I don’t know what I believe. I find that answer courageous, and I see his father’s response as controlled and reasonable. (I could not find a clip of the scene.)

Movie character or not (it’s based upon a true-life story), my thought was, not prayed in years and confused beliefs, He’s atheist. Just because he will not say it, that doesn’t mean it’s not the case, right?

Saying I don’t know has to do with knowledge. Agnosticism does also. It’s simply saying I don’t know or I’m uncertain. In a way, it’s pleading the 5th without saying what one believes. Either you believe something, or you don’t. Who knows? Nobody!

It’s also why I don’t know should be an acceptable answer. I like to say there are no gods, but I would not say I know there are no gods. Yet, the latter is what many people think I said. It is simply what I think or believe to be the case, based on the lack of evidence. Few would ask why I doubt any god’s existence. But they would challenge me to prove the negative.

There are times when I am asked questions, and I pause before I answer, often for so long that the questioner begins to lose patience with me. I always want to be sure I can give my best answer. Well, not exactly always.

Sometimes, if I have been sipping some of nature’s finer spirits, I will answer any question immediately, with confidence and authority. One could correctly say I am full of shit, but it’s alcohol. Sober, I am more likely to say I don’t know.

One other answer I like to use either sober (or perhaps while wondering what kind of THC that was) is: I don’t care. That is truly my favorite, although I find ways to dress it up at times.