If I am an atheist then why do these pages contain so much about the Bible? Doesn’t that prove I am a closet believer? Am I just another bible basher misleading people by pretending to be a secularist while really being an evangelist?
The short answer to the latter two questions is, “No”. I am no longer a believer in any ethereal being. I am convinced that the physical universe is all there is with nothing behind it, except, perhaps, those strings we are told formed the universe, and since they are hypothetical I propose to ignore them. I am not here to evangelise. These comments are just my thoughts developed during my lifetime on a variety of subjects and reflect how I now view life, mine in particular, and the society in which I live. That is, they reflect my personal interest in things that have influenced me for the last 70 years or so.
It should not be unexpected that my thoughts and opinions would include some that come with a religious influence, nor that much of that influence would come from the bible. I was, after all, a firm believer and member of a bible based Christian group for many years, and that following indoctrination every week at Sunday School for most of my formative years. During that time my life revolved around bible references, explanations and interpretation, doctrine, prophecy and the usual related materials. I was steeped in it and some of it has undoubtedly soaked in or rubbed off, whichever you prefer. At the same time, not all the influences from the bible and religion, which are often two different things, necessarily result in my opinions being in agreement with what the bible says and what religious groups preach or practice, again often two different things. I disagree fundamentally in several important areas with main stream religious thought, including the subjects of abortion, homosexuality, right to die, morality, tax exemption and a host of others. I have concluded that a lot of religious practices are rationalisations of already held opinions rather than objective bible interpretations, particularly in areas which depend on the relationships between religious groups and public policy in society. Much of the bible commentary I make attempts to show how much religious doctrine may diverge from what was originally written, or how society has changed over the millennia, thus also changing the paradigms on which those original doctrines were based.
There is no doubt that the bible and Christian religions in general have had a major influence on western society and in Europe especially, where Christian churches of different stripes dominated the political landscape for centuries, only recently losing much of their influence. Is it any wonder, then, that European society is so strongly reflective of Christian values? It is not absolute, of course, but most Europeans are instinctively aware of actions which are antipathetic to society’s norms, those norms being based on almost 2,000 years of Christian indoctrination.
This is not necessarily to be understood as a criticism or defect in European society nor of those other nations which derived the underpinnings of their national identities from that source, the USA, Canada, South America, the Caribbean etc., rather, it just recognises it for what it is and that it is neither good nor bad, desirable nor undesirable. It simply acknowledges and accepts that some areas of the world have societies based on different paradigms than others. The same point can be made about Middle Eastern countries, with societies heavily influenced by Islam and the Koran, by the nations in the Indian sub-continent who are heavily influenced by Hindu philosophy, or the Far East nations who are Buddhist. Other nations and groups, for it does not always involve a whole nation, may have other influences. Aboriginal societies throughout the world may have completely different perspectives on the same issues and may be in agreement with or strongly opposed to the viewpoints of other groups. Human society is not monolithic, there is not one “right” way. There may be many routes to a satisfactory life, differing throughout the world, and even within a single society.
Often, however, various segments of society try to give greater credence to their particular perspective by referring to an outside source as an authority. In western society that is usually the bible, since the claim of the religions common in the west is that their beliefs and practices are based on that book. Sometimes, then, it is necessary to check what the bible actually says on various issues and, if necessary, confront those who claim the bible either forbids or insists on some activity when their claim is actually a distortion of what was originally written. Not that the bible is any more a credible witness than any other book, but those who say that their beliefs are based upon it should be held accountable for those times when they ignore or distort it.
Do not be misled by the language I use when I am referring to the bible. It is merely a way of expression. It is the same as used by religious people themselves to emphasise the assurity of their belief and comes from a description of how Jesus spoke in Matthew 7:29, where it says, “For he taught them as one having authority.” Today, this is perhaps more likely to be expressed as, “It’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it.” In other words, speak with conviction and your listeners are more likely to accept what you say or, at least, give greater credence to it than they otherwise would have given. Do not misunderstand. What I say here is an expression of my personal opinions, nothing more.
I am sometimes asked if I am a Christian. Like many labels there is more than one answer. In this case it depends on what is meant in the person’s mind by the word, “Christian.” This can be defined different ways as, for instance, in the online British Dictionary:
The online thesaurus gives the following as common synonyms for “Christian”:
Synonyms for Christian
The point is that the word is not exclusively used to refer to a member of a religious group. It is also commonly used to describe forms of behaviour, usually high toned in expectation.
The third and fourth definitions of a Christian are of interest as they imply that a person does not have to be a member of a Christian church to be a Christian. It says that the term may be applied to someone (or something), “of, relating to, or derived from Jesus Christ, his teachings, example, or his followers”, or simply by exhibiting some of the characteristics traditionally espoused by Christians. Societies that are related to or derived from the teachings of Jesus, even if not followed in their entirety, can be called Christian. European society and its nations fall into this category. It is such a common use of the term, in fact, that another, related term has arisen to describe that part of the world whose political systems meet that definition, i.e. Christendom, that part of the world that is based on Christian teachings. All its members are also properly described as Christian if they do not explicitly reject the description. In order to differentiate this type of Christian from the religiously committed Christian, the expression “cultural Christian” is sometimes used, that is, a person who was born into a Christian society and educated in its paradigms, and whose life decisions reflect that early conditioning even when formal religious commitment is lacking, and even when belief in a spirit entity is rejected, i.e. atheists and agnostics.
To answer the question then: Yes, I am a Christian in the cultural sense, but No, I am no longer a Christian in the religious sense.
To reiterate, the reasons that I may refer to or have an extended commentary on what the bible does or does not say can be summarised as:
This should not be taken to mean that only what is in the bible has any religious validity. There are other religious writings which may be equally valid. Certainly, the followers of other religions consider their own scriptures to be the pillars on which to set their lives, and who can say they are wrong? Religious doctrines arise from various sources at different times, and who is to say that they should not be followed when they are innocuous? However, when those doctrines are not innocuous, and are even harmful, then they should be challenged. Religious affiliation is supposed to be a positive force in peoples’ lives, not a harmful one. It should lift them up, not tear them down. It should help them live their lives in a more fulfilling fashion, not be the cause of greater distress. That is why the claims of religious leaders that only they comprehend the will of god because only they understand what he has written may be challenged.
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