Monday, March 26, 2012

On why atheists should practise what they preach

As a Christian, I often really enjoy engaging in discussion with atheists and agnostics about my faith.  Such conversations can be interesting, can broaden the mind, and can provide something of a challenge.  I feel that it is important to understand the reasons for choosing to be a Christian and to be open to questions.  Faith and worldview are two concepts which are very much entwined, and I adhere to the view that Christianity is – and needs to be to be taken seriously – a reasonable faith.

I have some good atheist friends for whom I have a great deal of respect.  Their beliefs are well thought through, and we often enjoy some reasoned debate.  However, it has come to my attention that there are atheists out there with whom it is harder to have a reasoned discussion.  Only the other day, I decided to respond to a tweet (by someone I didn’t know) suggesting that the Bible is the biggest work of fiction ever, and the resulting dialogue became quite interesting.

There were two others involved in the exchange of tweets, and I decided to ask whether or not they had read the Bible – after all, if you’re going to make a sweeping statement (for example, about the Bible being a massive work of fiction), you should probably have reason to justify it, and ascertaining what was known about the Bible was a good starting point here.

Initially, I didn’t get a straight answer.  One response was “I was bought up with the Bible,” which I took to imply that they hadn’t read the Bible per se but had some familiarity with it – especially in the context of the rest of the tweet, which included “I have read Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.” 

Of course, in this case, “I was bought up with the Bible” can mean anything from “I’ve always had one on my shelf” (in which case, I was bought up with the works of Shakespeare) to “I used to study it every day.”  Clarification was not forthcoming, so I should probably apologise to those concerned in case my assumption was wrong.  But whether or not I was right, the fact is there are plenty of atheists who are happy to make statements about the Bible (and about Christianity in general) whilst only having some familiarity with it themselves. 

I find it very strange that such people are happy to be condescending towards Christians, pointedly claiming that their own views are “based purely on fact and reason” whilst simultaneously appearing happy to make sweeping statements without doing their own investigations.  Ironically, you could argue that they have faith in what they think they know about the Bible, or in someone else’s opinion.

Additionally, I find it very strange that such people are happy to be quick to accuse others of not saying what they mean, whilst simultaneously using ambiguous statements such as “I was bought up with the Bible.” 

Twitter is probably not the place to beat around the bush unnecessarily, and a clear question – “have you read the Bible?” – can be met with a clear answer along the lines of “yes,” “no,” or perhaps “some of it.” At least both sides then know where they stand, and the discussion can proceed accordingly. To be vague leaves you open – fairly or unfairly – to accusations of hiding behind a smokescreen.

If you want to insist on fact and reason, great.  But please practise what you preach; there’s no point in being proud about your need for these things if you get uppity when someone questions the background to your own beliefs and claims. 

There are a huge number of interesting questions out there. My recent foray in to the Twittersphere touched upon such questions as “is the Bible reliable?” and “is there a creator?” and I think that it is good to explore these things.  However, if balanced discussion is the order of the day, then let’s have a level playing field.

 

 

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd be really interested in reading a historical book which deals with events presented in the bible but from other (non christian) sources. My biggest problem with the bible is that the sources feel almost cherry picked throughout the centuries to ultimately give a different version of the bible than what was first written 2000 years ago.

From what I've seen in the occasional discovery channel type television programme, in the context of a historical document the bible changes somewhat

Steve Finnell said...

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Gareth P said...

James, I think what you say has alot of merit - however I would add the caveat that really you should be getting your own house in order first.

I don't think it is a stretch to say that the majority of practicing Christians have never read the Bible cover-to-cover and are also as guilty of using individual verses out of context.

How many Christian's use Leviticus 18:22 as justification that homosexuality is a sin whilst ignoring the rest of that particular books instructions on slavery, rape, the touching of the skin of a pig and working on the sabbath.

JP... said...

There are other historical documents around from that period. See, for example, work by Tacitus or Josephus.

I'm intruiged by the comment about a different version of the Bible from that which was written 2000 years ago. Firstly because the Bible is not one book written 2000 years ago and secondly because a great deal of work has gone in to researching the early Hebrew and Greek texts and ensuring that today's English translations are in accordance with them.

JP... said...

Gareth, I agree with you.

However, in this case the debate started when an assertion was made that the Bible is pure fiction, and the idea that such an assertion needs to be justified is independent from the way in which Christians have tried to use the Bible over the centuries.

I may even deign to suggest that a full reading of the Bible is unnecessary in this case, but stand by my point that some level of understanding is important.

The assertion that the Bible is one big work of fiction is a strong statement, given that it comprises many books written over a large period of time. Considering the New Testament letters, for example, it's like making the assumption that work by the Roman advocate Cicero is pure fiction simply because he is biased or makes claims which can't be verified elsewhere.

Dave said...

Hiya I'm back!

Wowzers.

Sounds like you almost got into an argument with a young person. But in the same way I do not judge Christians based on the behaviour of some weird ass hick koran burners, nor should you judge atheists on some Twitterati, who in fairness are probably just starting to develop/explore their spiritual/non-spiritual side.

Exploring how factual the Bible is doesn't provide either side with any evidence to prove God does or does not exist.