Truth in the Holy Books ???
I truly appreciate the Holy Books, aka the Bibles. They are Pulitzer Prize writings… works of high literary art. They tell compelling stories that give great comfort and insight into life, and into the spiritual struggle that human kind has been engaged in for thousands of years. But, as hard as it is to do so (for a kid who spent most of his educational life in Catholic schools)… I must say that when I exercise my God-given free will, my God-given intellect, my God-given deductive reasoning, my God-given sense of logic and my hard earned skill of critical analysis, I cannot (cannot) accept that the Gospels are, indeed, the actual words and thoughts of God… from God’s mind and lips to the human hands of the biblical scriveners. Stay with me for a moment. Hear me out, please.
Given the great disparity in the highly sophisticated human mind versus that of the animal kingdom, isn’t it a fundamentally self evident truth that the animal kingdom (although able to see us humans and follow our prompts) cannot read the minds of us humans… especially when we are not even in their view ??? Hey, we can’t even read each other’s minds. Extrapolating further, given the infinite capacity of God’s intellect, and given the finite capacity of our human intellect… isn’t it also a fundamental, self evident truth that us humans cannot read the mind of God ???
Deductive reasoning and human logic tells us “humans of finite intellect” that we are not intellectually capable of reading the mind of our unseen God. Yet, we humans have many, well intentioned, but controlling men from across the globe telling us we don’t have to read the mind of God to know what God “intends” for us or “expects” from us… because, well because, God’s actual words about his intentions and expectations were penned in the Holy Books by the human writers to whom God spoke. For Jews, it’s Moses and the other writers of Old Testament. For Christians, it’s Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (not to mention the other New Testament writers whose Gospels were discarded by the wayside, including the so-called Gnostic Gospel writers… claimed to have been written by apostles, Peter, Phillip, Thomas and Judas). Same thing for the Muslims. It’s Muhammed and the Quran, giving the tribal followers of Muhammed the never ending job of finding and punishing the infidels.
Am I to believe that the words of one God created the so-called three Great Religions (Jewish, Christian and Islam) with each religion professing to be the “one true religion,” supreme and unerring unto itself… with each of the so-called three Great Religions ready and willing to kill off the heretics and infidels from their own group and from other religious groups (as part of God’s will) ???
My finite intellect, exercising my God given volitional power of “free will” and my God-given cognitive power of intellect, leaves me with four possible choices, of “beliefs”…
• Become a convert to Judaism, and “believe” what the Old Testament says.
• Become a convert to Islam and “believe” what the Quran says.
• Stay with my Catholic School background, and “believe” without debate… that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had a pipeline to God, and faithfully wrote down what God told them to write (all of which was unerringly translated to English over Centuries).
• Pick and choose what I like about the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Gnostic Bibles, the Quran (or other Holy Books from other religions), and become an ecumenical member of all of God’s religions.
At the risk of being (again) labeled as a “Cafeteria Catholic”… I am “momentarily” drawn to option four, above. But, I must respectfully decline even that invitation of exalting any of the Holy Books (Old Testament, New Testament, Gnostic, Quran) as a model of the one “Truth” where the actual words of God can be found. Call me a Doubting Thomas… if you will. But (rather than put my God-given free will and my God-given intellect to bed, and become a “true believer” through the indoctrination of any particular Holy Book of any particular religion), I believe it a better service to the existence of God, to the miracle of life I received at conception, and to the free will and intellectual powers bequeathed to me as a child of God… to scrutinize the Holy Books with logic, deductive reasoning and critical analysis, and see how their claimed “infallibility” stands up to such scrutiny. With (hopefully) no sense of hubris or lack of humility, I must report that a general scrutiny of the Holy Books leads me to doubt that any of them carry the full endorsement of absolute Truth.
1. If we have only one God, why do we have so many different, monotheistic religions with so many differing Holy Books… all claiming to be the one true “Voice of God” ??? Logic alone tells us… someone is conning us. Translated, why didn’t God just endorse a single religion’s Holy Books, and leave it at that… so we could all rally around a single voice of a single God ???
2. Assuming the words spoken by God were accurately heard and precisely written down by God’s Gospel writers (itself a leap of faith), the Holy Books are not a model of clarity. Many times, the Holy Books are vague and ambiguous… subject to “interpretation”… “subjective” interpretation. Therefore, the actual meaning of the Holy Books of the New Testament (even if accurately heard, accurately recorded, and accurately translated) is just an “invitation” to “interpretation (subjective interpretation by the masses). And what do we know today, in the third decade of the 21st Century about subjective interpretations ??? As the German Philosopher and writer, Goethe (1749-1832 AD) said about “subjective interpretation”… “we tend to find what we are looking for.” As Plato (427 B.C.-347 B.C.) said, “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.” As Paul Simon said in his song The Boxer, “All lies in jest, ’til a man hears what he want’s to hear and disregards the rest.” How much of the Bible is lost in subjective interpretations of confirmation bias ??? as well intentioned men and women seek out that which they want to find ???
3. My 45 year history as a practicing Trial Lawyer also informs that a simple law passed in today’s 21st century, in a single language and for a single culture is often ambiguous, and subject to differing interpretations… resulting in majority of five U.S. Supreme Court Justices saying that a given statutory law passed a few years ago definitely says AB&C… while an almost equal number of Supreme Court Justices (four) say, it doesn’t say that at all. How much more uncertainty is there in the Bible… a Bible of ambiguous words, phrases and concepts, written decades after the life of Jesus, written numerous Centuries ago, written in numerous languages other than English, and translated over the Centuries to many other languages for numerous other cultures ??? Logic alone tells us “truth” and “reliability” of the Holy Books cannot be assured (as their supporters claim to be the case).
4. The story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis is the story of God’s Creation of man and woman, followed by Paradise Lost (John Milton)… because Adam and Eve, contrary to God’s command, ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge (of good and evil). The Jews, however, were not the first people to pen such a creation story. The Babylonian story of creation came before the Adam and Eve of the Old Testament. How the Babylonian story unfolds is different, but the Babylonian version is the same story of God’s creation of mankind. Since the Jews were captured and enslaved by the Babylonians, it is more than plausible that the Jews were aware of the Babylonian story of creation before Moses supposedly penned the Adam and Eve Story of Creation in Genesis. See the Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve by Stephen Greenblatt. Genesis, discusses the creation story of the first humans, Adam and Eve on the 6th day, standing-erect, “walking on two feet”… humans who simply dropped into the historic record in B.C. fully formed. Yet, the historic record of humans from skeletal remains and fossils, tens of thousands of years old, scientifically shows that humans are far, far older than all the “begats” of the Old Testament, and that the evolution of today’s homo sapiens (as scientifically established by Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species) is based upon tens of thousands of years of evolutionary natural selection… not a one time cosmic event with an Adam and eve dropping into Earth’s historic record at a moment in time, fully formed, standing erect and walking about on two feet. Solid evidence of Man’s historical record shows that man and woman did not just arrive in a fully formed fashion as the first “begatters”… of the Jewish, Old Testament as Genesis claims. How do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
5. After strong, initial rejection of evolution by the Roman Catholic Church (a rejection that to this very day lives on in the Christian Evangelical community), a very conservative Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, produced his 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis (Of the Human Race), that (in rather haughty and controlling language) allowed Catholics to, at least, discuss the scientific concept of evolution. Then, on 10/22/1996, another very conservative Pontiff, Pope John Paul II, in his message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, stated that, “Today, almost a half Century after publication of the Encyclical [Pope Pius XII’s Encyclical, Humani Generis] new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than an hypothesis.” Finally, on 10/27/2014, Pope Francis, a more liberal Pontiff, stated to the very same Pontifical Academy of Science that, “Evolution in Nature is not inconsistent with the notion of Creation.” If the Bible captures the literal word of God, how did the Old Testament get the Adam and Eve story so wrong, for so many centuries while stifling the science of evolution with the threat of death and imprisonment to so many ??? Think of the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925 in Tennessee with John Scopes convicted of the crime of teaching his public school students evolution along with the Creation story. See the Spencer Tracy movie, Inherit the Wind. Again, how do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
6. Ditto for the story of Noah and the Great Flood (also from Genesis). The entire story of Noah’s Arc presents many similar dilemmas. One such dilemma was recently depicted in a cartoon in the New Yorker Magazine where (after the great flood receded). The cartoon shows a male and female Emperor Penguins, standing on dry land in the Middle East desert at the bottom of Noah’s Ark. The male penguin, looking over his shoulder and up the gang plank to Noah, asks, “What’d we suppose to do now; schlep all the way back to Antartica.” Is there a little hyperbole in the story of Noah’s Ark ??? Again, how do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
7. The great mind of Galileo (1564-1642 AD) borrowing from the great mind of Copernicus (1473-1543 AD) told the world that the Sun (not the Earth) was the center of our Universe (really our Solar system). Since Galileo’s science contradicted the New Testament language that proclaimed our Earth to be the center of the Universe (“from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof”), Galileo’s scientific theory was labeled “heresy”… forcing Galileo to renounce his scientifically correct theory or be condemned to death. Galileo recanted, and lived to see another day, while the Roman Catholic Church of 1993 under Pope John Paul II finally acquitted Galileo posthumously, three and a half Centuries after labeling him a “heretic”… subjecting him to capital punishment for contradicting the Bible. Again, how do we separate Bible truth from Bible fiction ???
So, am I to give up my God-given volitional power of free will and self determination and my God-given cognitive power of intellect, logic, deductive reasoning and my critical analysis skill to those demanding my allegiance to the “unprovable” beliefs of religion ???… those who insist I let them and their interpretation of the Bible control my life… such as the great, right wing, Christian thinkers of the 21st Century… Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett “I like Beer” Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and the Notre Dame, Homecoming Queen, Amy Coney-Barrett (who didn’t even have the sound parental judgment to put masks on her young, helpless children when she attended her own Covid super-spreader inauguration) ??? I know her response, “God will provide.” My reply, “God provides for those who provide for themselves,” and, for those who “knock on the door… it shall be opened.”
I take no pleasure in doing so, but I am compelled to say that, although I find the Holy Books to be filled with great writing and good stories about the relationship between God and his creations, I cannot, ultimately, rely on the Holy Books for Truth. My first football and baseball Coach, Benedictine Priest, Father Livius Poali, once wrote in the St. Scholastica Sunday Bulletin that he had finally finished reading the Bible from beginning to end. He commented that he was more impressed with the Bible as a story that described the relationship between God and humanity… rather than than the infallibility of the words therein. Jesuit like, No ???