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May 11

Evangelism at a Bus Stop

In Brief—The author discusses the Bible and points out the reasons that it presents a human-devised God and argues that neither Moses nor Jesus, the Christ, existed historically.

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Maybe it’s the sign I wear around my neck, “Please Evangelize Me!” Some years back I was sitting quietly at the bus stop with my newly-purchased bag of groceries in my lap when a young lady joined me and immediately began sharing her devotion to Jesus with me. I listened politely until I could no longer resist temptation. I guess the Devil made me do it. “I’m an atheist and believe that Jesus did not exist as a human,” I said. Momentarily stopped, she then raised her voice a few decibels and really set in. “ But the Bible says he did.” Wow! Was that proof positive or what? To me, it’s like citing DC Comics as proof that Superman exists.

The Old Testament Mythology—

It seems a good time to take an objective look at the Bible, the holy book of Judaism and Christianity. The facts presented will necessarily be brief. There are libraries full of books dealing with the points I make, and I encourage those who are interested in the subject to read some of the books that challenge your belief system. (Good luck with that!)

And man created God in his own image—  

The Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible with the first five books making up the Torah. It was written, edited and compiled by credulous men who were members of what is said to be the oldest of the monotheistic religions that emerged in the Bronze Age about 3,000 years ago. It is the initial part of the Christian Bible that is made up of the Old and New Testaments.

What shall I say of the myth of Adam And Eve? The Old Testament relates the story of the creation of humankind and how the female tempted the male to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. If we accept that interpretation, it is clear that knowledge is forbidden by God in favor of ignorance. Some modern biblical scholars tell us that those ignorant men wrote about Adam and Eve intending that they be symbols for the development of humans. They use today’s knowledge to rationalize what was in the heads of the men who wrote of the appearance of humans on Earth. Remember that these were credulous men who lived some three thousand years ago and believed that God had placed two contemporary humans (in God’s image) in the Garden of Eden. Folks, this is a myth!

According to the Old Testament, Moses is alleged to have received the Ten Commandments from God after God engraved them on stone tablets on Mt. Sinai. There is a total lack of evidence that Moses even existed or that he led the Israelites out of Egypt. In short, Moses is a myth as is the belief that the Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert.

Assuming that most readers are only vaguely familiar with the Ten Commandments and are unable to recite all of them, I invite you to read them. What you will find is a God that is insecure along with some common sense rules that have existed for millennia before Judaism came along. The Ten Commandments reveal a god that is like the men who created him.

What are the characteristics of the God described in the Old Testament? Well, let’s just say that it is not the God that fundamentalist Christians want us to believe in. This is a vindictive God who calls for the murder of enemies, that commands his followers to slay infants, that tests Abraham’s faith in him by ordering Abraham to kill his own beloved son, Isaac. Those Christians who cite the Bible as the cornerstone of their belief but are selective in what they choose to believe are often referred to as Cafeteria Christians, choosing those parts of the Bible they believe in while rejecting others.

The Mythology of Jesus, the Christ—

Now let’s turn to Jesus, the Christ (“Messiah”), to whom the young lady at the bus stop was so devoted.

Put bluntly and realistically, there is no credible evidence that the Jesus of the Judeo-Christian Bible ever existed in the flesh. Rather, the evidence points to Paul (Saul of Tarsus), a Jew and Roman citizen, as borrowing from the earlier pagan belief systems to create a son of God who lives in heaven with God, not on Earth as a human. It was later converts to the monotheistic Christianity who transformed Paul’s heavenly son of God into a flesh-and-blood human giving other credulous converts a Jesus to whom they could relate. I suggest you read The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty for greater detail. He points out that, among many other facts presented, the Judeo-Christian Bible did not just spring into being whole, but was based on the myths of pre-existing “pagan” religions.

The Jesus of the Bible as well as his mother, Mary, reflect the myths of those earlier pagan religions: God’s implantation of his seed in a mortal woman, the virgin birth, the son of a God, and the dead son arising from the grave, for example.

Josephus, a Roman Jew, is often referred to as confirming that Jesus actually lived and preached in the Middle East. Aside from the fact that Josephus is alleged to have written about as many as twenty men named Jesus and that his accounts are at a minimum hearsay and rumor, he never met the Jesus of whom he has allegedly written, and the authenticity of those writings attributed to Josephus has been questioned by a number of biblical scholars. Put clearly, it is wise to disregard the writings of Josephus as proof that Jesus, the Christ, ever existed.

The Gospels of the New Testament are believed to confirm the historical Jesus, but the Gospels were written by biased believers at least half a century or more after the presumed death of Jesus. More importantly, the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John totally omit important details of the life of Jesus while reputedly using Mark’s account as the pattern and differing significantly from that account. Scholarly study reveals that the Gospels may even have been written and edited by a number of men other than the reputed authors.

A recent discovery of a scrap of papyrus suggesting that Jesus was married has already been challenged on the basis of tests showing that the writing probably took place about nine hundred to a thousand years after Jesus was said to have lived. Indeed, the evidence indicates that it is a forgery.

Finally, for those whose faith says Jesus was a historical personage despite the evidence that he was a product of Paul’s imagination, I have some bad news for you.

The Bethlehem manger story is a myth that doesn’t stand up to history. The star that purportedly guided the magi to the manger has been variously described as 1) a fable; 2) a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn; 3) the planet Venus; 4) a comet; 5) a supernova. The birth of Jesus is said by biblical scholars to have taken place somewhere between April and September. Jesus was NOT born in December, but that date was picked by the early church fathers because they wanted to piggy-back on the well-established pagan celebration of the winter solstice. And these findings are from those researchers who accept the historicity of Jesus.

If you think that my recital of the facts is too abbreviated and biased, I will tell you that whole books have been written on the subjects mentioned and, besides, I have been told that my blog pieces are too long as it is.

I suggest that doubters read the books available on the subject…and I don’t mean the books that confirm their belief. Suffice it to say that while parts of the Bible are considered to be lyrical literature, most of it is beyond mind-numbing and all of it is propaganda and mythology.

12 comments

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  1. Lionel Burt

    I handle the bus stop evangelists slightly differently. I ask them “who wrote the Bible?”. They dance and dodge around a feeble response and I ask the same question again as often as it takes for them to accept that it was written by men. Whew!. Then I suggest the idea they do not believe in god, they believe in men; the same men that said they were inspired by god. At this point, your GREAT parallel ( which I will henceforth steal ) it’s like the comic book folks validating Superman.

    If that don’t jar them into a more sensible conversation, then i fear you will be flogging a dead horse.

    1. Don Bay

      You have a style I really like. You are more subtle while I am more conventional. Either way, I suspect that we are flogging a dead horse. Tons of research and beaucoup evidence show that the majority of humans believe what they believe and will not be moved by evidence that their belief is flat wrong and illogical. We may get a very small percentage to think about the issue and an even smaller percentage to change their views to the logical one, but that may be worth the effort. In any case, let’s keep working at it.

  2. Linda

    For me, if the belief in any god brings comfort or eases life’s journey or helps one to be a better or good person, I think it may be a good thing for that person. I saw this with my uncle, a devote Catholic. He was dying and he knew it. When we went to visit, he beamed and looked up saying he was looking forward to being with “Heavenly Father.” It helped him pass on with some peace and it helped his family accept his passing with perhaps, slightly less pain.

    Ultimately, I don’t care if anyone believes in a god or not. To believe in a god, you must have faith and accept blindly without proof of the existence. One believes or does not. I am not interested in why they think I should believe nor am I interested in convincing them why god does not exist because I agree with you, it would be like beating a dead horse.

    When people knock on our door wanting to give me pamphlets or talk about their god and religion, I simply say I am not interested and let them go on their way. They think they are doing a good thing by spreading His word and I assume it makes them feel better. It’s somewhat of an annoyance but only grows if they persist in proselytizing, however, I am quick to interrupt and repeat firmly that I am not interested.

    I’ve noticed that the “walkers” have chosen to by pass our house these days.

    1. Don Bay

      I consider myself an aggressive atheist and freethinker in that I am unafraid to honestly say that I do not believe in any gods. However. I qualify that when it comes to believers like your uncle who are approaching death in the expectation that they will soon be meeting their maker. This qualification is based on my not wishing to disturb their peace of mind when they have other more important matters to deal with. Put another way, I do not want to lay my philosophy on one approaching death’s door. But for those who are not in such a situation, I have no compunctions about making an effort to introduce thought and doubt about their illogical belief system.

      The question has been asked as to whether atheists give cover to more extreme religious believers to persist in their illogical belief system by not challenging “reasonable” believers. “Well, you don’t question their beliefs, so why should you question mine?” I agree: those of us who give a pass to “reasonable” believers are giving cover to those we consider more extreme. We are being inconsistent. Then there is the issue of our silence in the face of “reasonable” belief. Does silence signify consent?

      What really concerns me is the brainwashing (there is no better word for it) of children when those who are most trusted tell the child that there is a God. They are warping a young brain that deserves to grow independently, to learn to make decisions based on the best evidence. This does not mean that a child should not be taught defensible values like love, honesty and compassion, but it does mean that the child should not be indoctrinated to believe in fantasy figures without solid evidence. If I am not being clear enough here, tell me and I will make an effort to provide understanding.

      It could well be that this deserves discussion in a regular posting, but whole libraries are available to those who want to learn more. Readers should me know what they think.

      1. Linda

        I think the religious extremists will be here no matter what as we so often hear the “reasonable” believers express openly their opposition to extremists. Thus, if believers cannot convince their own kind that they have gone beyond their faith, certainly atheists will be even less convincing. this may sound odd, but I believe it is how man uses his faith that matters most and not the actual doctrine.

        Life is hard. I have seen how my mother’s side of the family, who are devout Catholics, have relied on their faith to help them through and continues to help them through some very difficult times in their lives — having children with serious illnesses, as well as the adults in their lives. It gives them comfort and strength to work through these times and continues to give them hope for recovery or a better life for their sick children or family member. Importantly, it gives them the strength to continue their search medically for a cure or remission. Simply put, their faith works for them and while it does not for me, I clearly see how it benefits them and their children.

        Does silence signify consent? Yes, i think it says i am allowing you to believe in your chosen faith even while I do not. i don’t think this is a bad thing nor do I think it gives power to extremists. I see it as tolerance and I see my relative’s tolerance of my questionable belief in their eyes.

        i agree that imposing religious beliefs on children indoctrinates them but I can also tell you that as a young child who attended Sunday School of my own accord, at the age of about 12, I realized my Sunday School teacher believed the stories in the Bible to be actual events and not mere fables with a moral. This hit me hard and scared me a little. I soon attended less and less often until I stopped all together.

        1. Don Bay

          As is your personal philosophy of honestly stating your view, the issues you raise in your comment are interesting and worthy of consideration. I will give you my abbreviated perspective on those issues.

          Assuming what a person is thinking can be dangerous unless the assumption is supported by valid evidence. The belief that your relatives derive emotional support from their strong religious beliefs is based on what may be a faulty assumption. Years of research show that humans have an innate drive for benevolence, for goodness. Therefore, it’s safe to believe that your relatives would be good people even without their strong religious belief system. Additionally, implied in your assumption is the belief that religion is a necessary foundation for goodness, that the absence of religious belief suggests that the atheist is somehow deficient in moral fiber. That you are such a decent, moral and compassionate individual reveals the hollowness of such a view.

          Does silence imply acceptance? Or put as I recently wrote it, “does silence signify consent?” Maybe. It depends on the situation.

          Regarding indoctrination of children, you are one in a million. Your early doubt at age 12 is rare. The overwhelming majority of children believe what a trusted adult tells them, particularly when it comes to God. When a Sunday School teacher affirms the existence of God or Jesus, they believe it. You are an exception. Pump that up a hundred-fold, as we can see in the documentary “Jesus Camp,” and you can appreciate the danger in indoctrination, even the soft indoctrination that occurs every Sunday in churches across America. Incidentally, if you want to get your blood boiling, watch “Jesus Camp” free on the internet. Fortunately, this one example is no longer in business because of the bad publicity. Do you think for a moment that such indoctrination no longer takes place?

          In any case, thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond to some of the issues you raised. They’re worth discussing even though the religious extremists in every religion will continue to peddle their often dangerous ideas to the credulous in our species.

          1. Linda

            Just to clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that people would not be good people without religion or that it is a necessary foundation for goodness. Both are far from what I believe. I am just saying, for a large number of people, religion has its place in their lives and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t work for me. It works for them.

            For my relatives, my evidence is in their emails and postings, prayers to God, crediting God, thanking God or trusting God when they are confronted with hardships. They are comforted by their belief.

            Enjoyed this discussion immensely!

          2. Don Bay

            Best guess is that your religious relatives are aware of your “soft atheism” and may be trying in their own way to win you into the fold. I am also inclined to think that their proclaiming their faith serves to reinforce their beliefs. Methinks they protesteth too much.

  3. Kathlena Contreras

    I think one’s spirituality is a personal journey. As soon as someone starts proselytizing their belief system, it’s an imposition, an implicit message of, “What I believe is right. If you don’t believe as I do, you are wrong.” It’s this attitude, and not belief in and of itself, that causes conflict.

    I agree with Linda, that as long as a person isn’t harming others, they should be allowed to pursue their own path to enlightenment and betterment without hectoring or judgement. If harm is being done, the harm itself should be addressed, not the excuse used (religion, ideology, etc.) for doing harm.

    1. Don Bay

      “Harm.” “What’s the harm?” Harm does not necessarily mean blood on the floor.

      An open, honest, well-qualified atheist or agnostic will find it well nigh impossible to win public office despite the clear words of the Constitution. In many parts of America, indeed, the world, a Jew will be unable to become a member of a club or s/he will be subjected to slurs or discrimination from those who embrace other religions. A peaceable, hard-working, Muslim will not be just suspected of terrorism and spied upon, but s/he will find it difficult to find a job. A city allows a creche in the public park or the Ten Commandments to be placed in a public building but denies those of a different or no religion the right to erect a symbol of their belief. A community political/business meeting is opened with a sectarian prayer. A woman planning an abortion is subjected to harassment from religionists as she approaches a clinic. A gay is denied the right to marry the person s/he loves or will be unable to rent an apartment because of her/his genetic inheritance. Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court believes in the divine right of kings (or presidents). In every case, those not sharing the majority religion are treated as second-class citizens. The body politic is adversely affected. Harm comes in different forms and grades. It may not be blood on the floor, but it is harm nonetheless.

      Think about this! The built-in assumption is that religious belief is isolated within the individual and that such a person who is otherwise a decent human being is not harming another. Really? And this is not even considering the harm to the individual of embracing a belief in the supernatural. What about the indoctrination of innocent children? Spirituality? What a vague and meaningless word. But most importantly to this discussion, stop and give some thought to “What’s the harm.” The harm is considerable.

      1. Kathlena Contreras

        I didn’t specify “harm” as “blood on the floor.” The examples you cite are indeed all “harm.” But I can just as easily cite harmful actions driven by ideology. See atrocities committed by various communist states for examples of this. All this has less to do with religion than it does with tribalism: us vs. them. Here’s an example: I live in a very conservative area. As a small business owner, I have to be careful about expressing my liberal beliefs. I can literally lose customers over them. Yet this is ideology, not religion.

        Again, if harm is being done, let the harm be addressed, not the excuse made for it. Harm can come from many, many motivations besides religion. In fact, I’d argue that religion is only a secondary motivation– as I say, an excuse.

        When you say, “harm to the individual [for] embracing a belief in the supernatural,” you are making a value judgement. This harm is in your eyes. You use the words “ignorance” and “credulous,” which are demeaning and judgmental. Many people who believe in deity, or in something beyond what can be physically perceived, give much thought and study to their beliefs. Who’s to say they’re wrong? No human being has all the answers.

        What you call “indoctrination of innocent children” is simply acculturation. This is what human beings (and even some species of animals) do with their young. It’s no different than teaching a kid to cut down a tree, bring it in the house and hang shiny objects on it at midwinter. Or that driving a car is a rite of passage. Or any of the myriad other things human beings do in their cultures that make no objective sense. One might not agree with it, or might think it silly, but it’s simply part of that culture. A study of anthropology demonstrates this.

        Finally, I deliberately used the word “spirituality” to encompass more than religion. It is neither “vague” nor “meaningless” (more demeaning, judgmental words in this context). It’s a quest for inner growth that can also encompass thought and philosophy. And whatever one’s belief system, it isn’t something that can or should be pushed on others, which I think was the whole point of the post we’re discussing.

        1. Don Bay

          “Blood on the floor” was intended as an extreme example of harm. It was mentioned as the outward limit of harm. More importantly, every one of the examples I gave of harm has its roots in religion, not in ideology or anything other than religion. All are examples of the harm growing out of religious belief.

          Those who dispute my view of the harm of religion fail to understand the basic limitations imposed by belief in the supernatural. It may well be that culture determines belief, but that’s not an objective standard. Rather, it is an excuse for settling for a cultural basis for an entirely objective foundation.

          Rites of passage like driving a car or learning how to cut down a tree are irrelevant. They are learned actions, but they don’t determine how a human reacts to outside stimuli. Religious belief is an implanted virus based on a lack of understanding of the natural world. Religion grows out of Fear, Ignorance and Brainwashing (See my posting on the FIB Theory). It’s not “in my eyes,” it’s an objective observation. “Ignorance,” by the way is defined as a lack of information. I have pointed this out on several occasions in my pieces.

          “Spirituality” is a mushy term that basically refers to a feeling of transcendence. Atheists and agnostics occasionally experience a sense of transcendence. It originates in the brain. Humanity has historically transformed that feeling into some form of religion. The feeling comes from the brain. That’s an objective fact.

          Indoctrination is brainwashing. Regardless of whatever spin that’s put on it, it’s a form of abuse that cannot be morally defended. It’s taking, for example, an innocent child’s inherent curiosity and twisting it, turning it into something that a given culture feels is desirable. It is corrupting the natural tendency of a child to look for answers that will guide it toward adapting to its environment. Put another way, it is unnatural and limiting.

          I don’t expect others to hold my belief system, but I don’t shrink from attempting to get others to see the flaws in their logic. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t get him to drink.

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