I am a profoundly ignorant man and the more I disagree with people the more I demonstrate my ignorance. This seems to be a commonly held position among those who disagree with me. They can’t believe I am stupid so they have to believe that I just don’t know what they know, because if I did then surely I would believe what they believe. My ignorance can be cured by getting me to read their little book.
I get hundreds of comments from Muslims decrying my ignorance telling me that I don’t understand their religion. This is not true. I don’t agree with their religion. I understand it just fine, and better than they do.
A few years back I was constantly getting similar criticism from Christians. I didn’t understand their faith. I was misrepresenting Christianity, I was profoundly ignorant of the content of the Bible. Had I even read it? No. Not all of it. But I had read enough to know what it was all about, what it was and what it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t the inerrant word of God. I knew it wasn’t either the first or last word on morality. I knew it wasn’t a good book, let alone THE Good Book. But no, I could not say that I had read it all, so they came back and said that I should not pontificate from a position of ignorance. They might have used shorter words.
But it’s huge. And dull and repetitious. And most Christians have never read it all either.
But they were not going to shut up until I did it. So I did. All I can say is that it was a once in a lifetime experience. Never again.
Guess what? I was right and they were wrong. I did not come away thinking that Christians were right and I have been wasting my life. It was rather like my vasectomy, extremely uncomfortable at the time but something I am glad I have done and put behind me. But do it again? Too much of a pain in the bollocks for no possible benefit, not likely. By reading the whole Bible as if it was literature, as if it was an ordinary book, starting from page one and reading right through to the end, every page in order, I learned a lot. I learned things which Christians, who dip in and out of it, never learn.
I saw what wasn’t in it. Hundreds of pages with not the slightest hint of a belief in anything after death. Do you remember the prayers of the Israelites for the soul of Moses? There isn’t any mention of any, for the very simple reason that the people writing the story had no concept of life after death. These people believed their god showed his favour with long life, a fertile wife and productive flocks. Moses lived to 120, showing that he was favoured by God. And that’s it. Dead and gone. Enoch doesn’t die, basically, because nobody got around to reporting his death and Elijah didn’t die because God wanted him in heaven, and how was a man going to get to heaven except in a fiery chariot and what good would it do if he had died first? Come on you don’t think people have hidden spirits which survive death do you? Nobody in the first two-thirds of the Bible entertained such silly notions. Only a person reading it page by page would spot what wasn’t there, what was conspicuous by its absence. This is why Christians rarely encourage people to read the old testament first but instead suggest you start with John’s Gospel. Of course words which Christians use to describe life after death do occur in the King James Version of the old testament, but they are distorted translations of the original Hebrew. The lack of belief in any resurrection, actually a lack of understanding or even knowledge of the concept, is crystal clear if you read it with an open mind. Christians believe there are morals lessons appropriate for modern times and expositions of modern theology in the Old Testament, they just can’t give you chapter and verse.
I also learned a lot about the beauty of the English language. If you decide to read the Bible make sure you read the King James Authorized Version, you will spot hundreds of phrases used in everyday English in their natural habitat. Yea verily.
But morality? Not a lot. The moral lessons in the bible are abhorrent: if you want an attractive wife rape a virgin and buy her from her father, at a discount as damaged goods, after all, she’s not a virgin. It is better to have your daughters raped than your male house guests. Killing your child is better than breaking a rashly made promise. Slavery is perfectly normal. Cheating and deceiving are just standard operating practice for the Ancient Hebrew, if it is foreigners who lose out then it’s even heroic behaviour.
Now, what happens when I am debating with Christians? They still call me ignorant. They tell me to read the Bible. So I tell them I have, and … they don’t believe me. All that effort for nothing! It seems disagreeing with them proves my ignorance and nothing can disprove it other than agreeing with them!
Now it is mostly Muslims who accuse me of ignorance. I know nothing about Islam apparently. Have I read the Qur’an? Well, I know what it is and I know what it isn’t and I’ve read enough bits to get a clear picture of it. Do you really have to eat a whole turd to know what it’s made of? I also know many people who have read it all who share the same analysis of it as I do. Of course, that isn’t enough for them. So… I read the Qur’an as well. And what do you know? Now they still call me ignorant and they tell me to read the Qur’an to get wise so I tell them I have and they call me a liar. Whoopi-fucking-do.
It is very tiresome having the same argument over and over again. The only way I can demonstrate that I am not ignorant is to agree with them. It doesn’t matter how little understanding you show if you show belief. Three-year-old children know more about the religion of Islam than I do, apparently. But they don’t know what any of the words mean, just the order they come in. There are Muslims who can recite great chunks from the Qur’an who couldn’t translate or paraphrase any of it, they only know the sounds. In contrast, I know the story of Muhammad. I know who he was and what he did. I have the great virtue of not having to believe anything I see no reason to believe. I don’t have a faith. I don’t want a faith. I don’t need to believe that Muhammad is a false prophet, whatever that means, because I have no reason to believe there has ever been any other kind of prophet. I don’t have to believe he was any more or less sincere than any other figure in religious history. In contrast, many Jews and Christians have to uphold the notion of real prophets and false prophets, so that some people can say nothing wrong and others can say nothing right.
I don’t need to believe that Muhammad was a charlatan. I just do. This is just the same as I believe that an orangutan is a large reddish haired great ape which lives in the forests of Borneo and places nearby. It is not an article of faith for me, it just fits quite well with all the knowledge I have on the matter and nothing about it seems difficult to explain, which would have been the case if I’d misheard it as living in Bournemouth. If I come across other evidence I will consider it. But to accept that Muhammad really was visited by an angel from God would require me to believe in
- Magic and the supernatural
- The honesty of religious figures who have visions in the privacy of caves and go on to say that god wants him to shag their friend’s nine-year-old daughter and be treated as the special one
- The reliability of evidence given by members of new cults
Come on, I am more likely to be convinced that orangutans emerge from eggs laid in underground nests.