Atheists and Christians may not agree on everything, but one thing is certain: They want you to read the bible. When I first decided to write this article, I was planning to compare quotes about why a Christian and an atheist may want others to read the bible. But considering the fact that (as I wrote in my last article) I was threatened with a lawsuit from a Christian website, I won’t be doing that. Instead, I’ll just use my own words: Christians think that reading the bible will make you believe in God. Studies show otherwise.
In fact, when it comes right down to it, what do people know about the bible? An article from the Pocket Testament League (PTL) finds 5 reasons why the bible is “the most important book on Earth.” Reasons include how it changed the world, people are willing to die for it, and it has a message of freedom. There are others that try to explain why the bible is true, such as from the Essential Bible Blog, which mentions such gems as its global influence, acceptance by many historical leaders, and literary consistency.
It’s not hard to see flaws in lists like these, such as the fact that many other books (such as the Muslim holy book) are accepted by various leaders, and there are millions of people who would die for them. But lesser is the number of believers who acknowledge that such lists are already wrong or inherently contradictory to begin with. For example, though freedom may come in certain stories within the bible, the fact still remains that God allowed his own people to have slaves:
20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.
Well… thank god for the mercy, right? If a slave was killed after a beating, the beater would be punished. Great. But of course, if a slave managed to live through it, then I guess it’s fair game. Or as Christians call it, morality.
Such negative aspects of the bible are rarely acknowledged (or defended) by Christians, especially those who believe in the literal word of the bible – which, by the way, is only a recent practice. Therefore, the question remains: Why don’t they?
Are believers hypocritical in their beliefs? Do they think the literal word only applies when it’s convenient? Perhaps they understand that these are just stories (not literal) and should not be taken too seriously? Then why, if that’s the case, would we take any of it so seriously…?
This article is not about specific claims in the bible or about answering specific questions about the bible’s validity. The argument I intend to make is that Christians are ignorant.
Ignorant does not mean stupid.
Christians are certainly ignorant, at least compared to their atheistic counterparts. What are they ignorant about? Well… let’s focus on one thing: The bible.
Most highly religious cultures (America, Israel, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.) have people of faith, not because of a life-long pursuit of knowledge. Rather, they begin to believe simply because everyone else does. Their parents tell them it’s true. Their aunts and uncles also believe. And their friends, teachers, and everyone else they know do too. This is a cultural phenomenon that usually happens at an age before the child really understand what s/he is even preaching. Many documentaries I have seen included adorable young children who hold up deplorable signs of hate, because their parents are involving them in such activities.
I have less to say about the other religions, but I imagine the same phenomenon exists with non-Christian religions as well. Namely, people believe because they grew up having always believed. It is not the case that they actual know the content of the book they claim is their holy one – “the most important book in the world.”
Never mind the studies that suggest atheists are more intelligent than religious people, or that analytical thinkers (in problem solving tasks) were likely to have lost their religiosity (Shenhav, Rand, and Greene; 2011) whereas those who go more by their intuition (and therefore get the answers wrong on problem solving tasks) tend to believe in a personal god. I also want to focus less on the psychological relation between analytic thinking and a reduction in religious belief. Instead, I want to talk about the simple act of reading the bible itself.
The survey I want to cite was done in 2010, and Newsfeed introduced it like this:
Have a question about religion? You ought to ask someone who has completely rejected it.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, atheists and agnostics tend to know more about religion than members of most faiths, the Los Angeles Times reports. For example, most Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the founder of the Protestant movement. Atheists took the top spot in the survey, followed by a tie between Mormons and Jews.
Indeed, the survey found that atheists know more about religions and the bible than Christians do. NPR notes the lack of basic religious knowledge from many of the survey respondents:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.
Technically, we don’t know why atheists do better. But the following video gives one theory.
“Atheists and agnostics spend a lot of time fighting with religious people about religion, so they have a need… you know, on the basis of their argument, to learn about Christianity and about Islam, etc. But I think the other side of it is really that religious people just know very little about their own traditions or the religious of others.” -Stephen Prothero
I have to disagree with Professor Prothero on the explanation for these results. He basically posits that atheists actively seek ways in which to reaffirm their already-held convictions. Perhaps this is true (and this still says plenty about the ignorance of believers). However, I tend to agree with what Penn Jillette from Penn & Teller: Bullshit! said on their episode on the bible:
Whatever you do, don’t read the bible for a moral code. [. . .] Read it because we need more atheists. And nothing will get you there faster than reading the damn bible.
Perhaps this is why so many atheists expose their children to religion at an early age. Rice University produced a survey a few years ago which showed that many scientists bring their children to churches in order to expose them to religion. They want their children to make up their own minds. Therefore, whereas Dr. Prothero was saying that the atheism causes them to seek out information on the bible, I believe that the more information you get on the bible, the more likely you are to become an atheist.
Obviously, the consumption of information is not the only factor, but it’s certainly much easier to reject the notion of a personal god when you are not surrounded by friends, family, peers, and a community, who all believe in such a deity.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that BibleStudy.org (BS) – the site which threatened me with litigation – suggests that God can speak to you via the bible. (Sorry, friends. Since I didn’t actually quote you, so you can’t threaten me with a lawsuit again.)
Maybe that’s true, but from the studies I just mentioned above, I think I’ll get my knowledge of the bible from an atheist, thank you very much. Not from BS.