Thursday, February 23, 2012

Questions Asked- Chris Echols

This edition of "Questions Asked" was brought about by a conversation on my twitter account and a rare tweep who genuinely wants answers to some questions.  We come from opposite ends of the theism scale but this Tweep is genuinely looking for some perspective and some answers. 

I am going to do my best to give it to him.

WARNING- Opinions expressed here MAY kill previously held opinions

Bare with me as I detail his questions and knock them off one by one.

First he was trying to wrap his head around why I felt that the bible was not a reliable source of morality.

" let me start over. I really haven't been clear about what I do and do not believe first of all. Secondly, I'm still trying to figure out how you can infer that the bible as a whole may not be a good guide and there's a chance that it can't be reliable, but yet you count the OT law and your own interpretation of scripture as being completely reliable. I'm wondering whether or not you see that has being conflicting?"
As far as the bible not being a good moral guide as a whole, that is easy.  Do you think that you should murder sassy children?  Rape defeated women in times of war?  Force women to marry their rapists?  Kill the victims of rape? That slavery is ok?  Because the bible does.  There are many more examples of evils in the bible, but all you need is a few to see that you must use your own morality to discern what is good from what is bad.  If you have that moral code already, then what good is the bible, because you are already standing in judgment of it from before you ever read it.  It is NOT reliable because it has a VERY inconsistent view of morality. 

As for interpreting the bible, I am not.  It is very clear in the bible what they meant, and there is no interpreting required.

So no.  There is nothing conflicting in not accepting a book as a guyide for morality that condones such things.

"I'm by no means an Atheist or Agnostic, but at the same time I'm not a traditional Christian/Bible thumper who's dogmatic about really crazy beliefs, and this is why I like having civil intelligent conversations with people like yourself."
YAY me!  (My ego looks like a ladybug?  Go figure)

"1. Who says that you have to take an all or nothing literal approach to the bible? Who made that rule or what logic does that stem from? You ask why if we don't believe parts of it, why believe any of it? And I say why indeed? I've never said nor do I believe that you have to believe all of the bible. I don't see anywhere in there where Jesus requires that you believe the bible despite the inferences of my evangelical friends."
Jesus is actually VERY clear that you must believe the bible (clearly he didn't refer to it as the "bible" as it wasn't compiled as a book for hundreds of years after his "death")  as 100% dogmatic fact and that means the OT as well.  No personal interpretation is allowed, you have to believe it as it is written by the prophets.  Clearly when he makes this statement (or at least is reputed by the NT to have made that statement as there is no contemporary evidence for any of it) he is speaking about what was known as the Tanach (what we know as the OT.  As a side note, the Torah only really refers to the first 5 books of Moses in the OT and the entirety of the book is referred to by Jews as the Tanach).  So when you read of something awful in the OT, remember that Jesus himself (according to the NT) demands that you still observe these terrible tenets.

"2. You say that it's commonly known knowledge that there is no actual first hand or second hand accounts of what he said. While I agree from a 'textual criticism' point of view, I'm wondering do you have a source that you rely on for this information, over others? Just name one scholar that affirms this and we can look at the evidence and see exactly what is and what is NOT there. Personally, I've read a lot of Bart Ehrman's work, but I want to defer to a scholar in whom you trust more than others."

The NT was written anywhere from 60 to over a hundred years after the death of Jesus and only Peter claimed to have met Jesus, and even that was only in a dream.  As an interesting side note, the gospels are well known not to have been written by those for whom they are named. (here is a very interesting show to watch on this.  All sources in the video are religious scholarly sources)

"3. You ask that "if we have to 'interpret' it thin it isn't really a good guide is it"? I say that it all depends on what you're trying to do. We have 9 Supreme Court Justices that sit on the Supreme Court of the United States whose sole job it is to get a consensus by majority vote on how the Constitution of the United States should be 'interpreted'. Is the constitution a good guide? Well it depends on how you look at it. It's a guide, but if it didn't need interpretation, it wouldn't be a 'guide' it would be a 'dictate'. If you tell your child that they're on punishment and they are not to talk to any of their friends for a week, they can take that 'dictate' as a guide and say, well, he didn't say I couldn't communicate via text, he just said I couldn't 'talk' to the them. Define talk?"
Herein lies the problem, there are many very harmful things in the bible and those things will dictate how a person acts if he believes them. The bible is open to some VERY harmful "interpretations". I would prefer that a person think for himself instead of giving up his culpability for moral consequence by blindly following the bible.  IF it is not a blind obeisance, and you are "interpreting" and cherry picking the bible for the stuff that you happen to like, then you already have a moral code with which to do that which renders the bibles instructions as obsolete.  Use the moral code to interpret morality for yourself instead of allowing a book to do it for you.

"I think because we're humans with brains, we often find a way to make a dictate work out in our favor."
Exactly, so why do we need the book in the first place?  We are already doing things our own way regardless.

BINGO!  Wait, let me start again... BULLSEYE!

"4. You say if I don't believe the bible literally, then it has no value. A million meanings mean no meaning. Says who? Are we to apply this to everything in life, or just the bible?"

No, a million interpretations mean that the guide has no value.  Each person is deciding for themselves anyway, so why add the book to confuse things?  Here is the point.  If you are using your own moral guide to decide what is good and what isn't in a book, then that book really isn't your "guide" at all.  The moral compass inside you with which you adjudicated the book in question is, in fact, your real guide.

"Here's what I believe:"

I'll answer these one by one...
"My belief in Jesus and God has way more to do with my personal experiential relationship with the spiritual than with the text of our collection of 66 books."
Great, but what is "spiritual"?  How do you know that Jesus is the right extension of that spirituality?  How does one have a relationship with something that isn't real?  If something manifests, then it can be observed.  There is simply no obvservable evidence to support spirituality, nor any version of a god, let alone what version of god it is or what he likes or dislikes.  It is all speculation.

Here is my answer to "the spiritual" relationship with God.

I believe that convictions about God may be arrived at through wise reasoning, but the individual becomes God-knowing only by faith, through personal experience. In much that pertains to life, probability must be reckoned with, but when contacting with cosmic reality, certainty may be experienced when such meanings and values are approached by living faith. The God-knowing soul dares to say, "I know," even when this knowledge of God is questioned by the unbeliever who denies such certitude because it is not wholly supported by intellectual logic. To every such doubter I can only reply, "How do you know that I do not know?"
First off faith is a very poor reason to believe.  Faith only means, "belief".  So you believe because you believe?  That is circular reasoning.  As far as the unbeliever, we see that there is no evidence, and saying that your reasons are outside the scope of our understanding then you are saying that you have the ability that you at first say we do not.  To know the unknowable.  For every other belief, you have evidence to support that belief.  Why not this one?  Personal experience can't give you insight into something that it denies me.  You are interpreting your personal experience to back up your belief.  That is called confirmation bias.  If you were born elsewhere this "experience" would have led you to believe in Allah.

In other places, "Shiva" or "Thor". 

MY personal experience leads me to follow Odin.  That and he'll kill me if I don't.

You have skipped a few steps in your logic.  FIrst you have to establish the existence of a divine artificer, THEN you have to try to determine his identity.  Not the other way around.

Either way, you have no evidence (and if you did, you would be the first), so I have to dismiss the idea.  That is the intellectually honest thing to do.  You are positing a claim for which you have no evidence.  That doesn't bring any cognitive dissonance to the fore?

I know it did for me.

"So while I don't take every single thing in the bible literally, I believe that it's useful, just like Grimms fairytales are also useful to teach morality to young kids."
HOW is it useful if you have to use previously garnered knowledge to decide what is good and bad in it?  That same knowledge could just be passed on without all the nonsense in the book.

"But if you can find it in your heart help a brotha out, email me at..."

No worries brotha!  I hope that this was what you were looking for.


  1. Thanks a lot Jason, I really appreciate this and I totally get where you're coming from. Tell me this though, what was your previous experience with religion? Was it someone in your family who was ultra religious? Do you have a post regarding your previous experience with religion?

    I'll work on my reply in the meantime and maybe post it on one of my blogs... This is going to be fun and I hope mutually stimulating and beneficial.

    1. I have a post about my early experiences with religion, or at least how the concept of hell manifested in my life as a boy, but nothing that was a critical moment for me thankfully losing my faith. It just makes no sense. After a few conversations with you, I don't think that your life would be any different without it either. You seem like an intelligent guy who doesn't accept the immorality of the bible nor do you pay heed to the terrible portions of it. So if you are already deciding for yourself. Why not take the next step? At least try to find something that supports the idea of a god. If there isn't anything (and I have never found that there is) I think that you will find it is a very freeing experience. A very empowering one. Making you realize that this is it. We are all we have. Lets not waste the opportunity. I enjoyed the convo!


    2. Ive been looking for the link where u talk about your early experiences with religion, but I can't find it. Can u direct me to it?


    Here you go djnoynze! Thanks for the interest.