Sunday, August 28, 2011

How I Became and Atheist, and Why Knowledge is a Threat to Christianity

As I perused the " Tough Questions Answered" blog, I found a post titled "Why Talk So Much About Atheism?"--which has compelled me to talk about it. The author of the post, Bill Pratt, contends that atheism is somewhat of an anomaly of academia, as he states: "...the percentages (of atheists) go way up for those who inhabit the highest levels in academia."

As an academic myself, I entered the academic world as a theist (Methodist), and eventually became an Ignostic Atheist via the study of World Religions, Christianity, Philosophy, and Logic. So why did this happen?  If Christianity made sense, it shouldn't have.  If Christianity made sense, the knowledge I gained should have made my faith stronger--but it didn't.  My "conversion" if you want to call it that, came via an "epiphany" I had while I was sitting in my car waiting for a light to change. I was a junior in college at the time, and knew little about my own faith when I heard something on the radio that "clicked"--and I knew that what my parents had taught me to believe about their god was more than likely bogus.  It took an angry driver behind me to bring me back to reality, and I then began to research the topic even further--beyond the classroom walls. I began perusing old bookstores, and university libraries in search of answers to "Tough Questions" and I found the answers to many of my questions in books that I still use to this day.  I began by studying Introduction to Old and New Testament texts used in many seminaries today, and then began exploring other more obscure texts that are not as widely known. I also made a point of studying with Mormons, JW's, Quakers, and members of other groups in order to get a better understanding.  I was shocked to eventually learn that many members of clergy are either agnostic or atheists themselves after going through seminary.

As a philosopher, I make a point of reading texts from various perspectives--for and against.  I found the following texts to be quite useful as they offer logical and historical perspectives rarely found in modern scholarship. These texts are, "Materialist Approaches to the Bible," God and the Gods-Myths of the Bible," "The Bible Unearthed," and "Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions"--which is my favorite as it compiles much of the knowledge found in various other texts into one.  God and the Gods-Myths of the Bible particularly interested me, as it offered explanations for the ORIGINAL texts of the bible--not the Humpty Dumpty translations most are familiar with. In one example found on page 55 of the book, the author, Walter Beltz, a historian at the University of Halle in Germany, explains how Zipporah, the wife of Moses cuts off the foreskin of her son and then offers it to Yahweh as a substitution for the sacrifice of her "first born" son--which was a common Jewish tradition, and not an anomaly. (Exodus 4:24-26) I was shocked to learn this, so I went to a Hebrew scholar who confirmed that what the book said about sacrifice was true. Now, most translations of the bible contain various additions and explanations used in an attempt to make sense of these passages. In the words of Walter Beltz:

In these two verses, Yahweh appears only once as a noun subject of masculine gender naturally, the masculine personal pronouns must refer either to him or to the son. They cannot refer to Moses, because there is no mention of him in the passage immediately preceding this one. There the topic being discussed is Pharaoh's first born, which obviously gave the narrator a cue to bring up this story. Hence, the meaning must be that Yahweh wished to take Moses' first-born son because the first-born male belonged to him by rights. He was entitled to the boy. Zipporah, his mother, circumcises her son-an old relic of the matriarchy-and touches the foreskin to Yahweh's genitals. This is the only way to make sense of her pronouncing the formula. "You are my bridegroom of blood," as she performs the act. For she is initiating Moses' child into a marriage with Yahweh, and he becomes Yahweh's child. Instead of the life of the boy, only a part of the penis is sacrificed. ...But devout readers were always scandalized by the anthropomorphic treatment of Yahweh, and tried to smooth over the offensive reference to his genitals by inserting the name of Moses. Elsewhere, however, old portions of biblical mythology do not shrink from anthropomorphizing Yahweh.
The original myth present in the passage unmistakably points to the fact that Yahweh, as an ancient fertility god, had a claim on the first-born males. In Crete and Phoenicia, boys were at one time sacrificed to the supreme goddess, after the priestesses had engaged in cultic intercourse with them (the 'sacred marriage') This story of Zipporah's touching the god's genitals with her child's foreskin and saying "You are my bridegroom of blood," fits in with such ancient notions." (God and the Gods-Myths of the Bible" p. 55-56)

When the Pew Forum did a survey on religious knowledge, college graduates were found to have more religious knowledge than other groups, and atheists know more about Christianity than most Christians do. This is why education is seen as a threat to the Christian church, as when we have the means and the knowledge to examine Christian dogma critically, it fails to measure up. Even early church fathers realized this, and it is why the bible was kept in Latin for centuries as a way to keep it out of the hands of lay people. It was only when the printing press was developed and the bible became more available that Christians had access to it, and even then, the British Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530), foresaw the effect the printing press would have on Christianity, and said, "...if they did not destroy the press, the press would destroy them."

It is because I learned how to think critically and logically, and because of the information that was available to me that I became an Ignostic Atheist. I believe there are better explanations than saying "goddidit." Knowledge is power, and it is a means that allows us to sweep nonsense out of the way in order to see the truth more clearly.  Knowledge, and those that possess it are a threat to Christianity because they are able to illustrate effectively just how absurd Christian dogma truly is.

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