While some fundamentalist Christians believe that the Bible was divinely written by God, most Christians reject the idea that the Creator of the Universe actually sat down and physically wrote a book series. It seems that atheists aren’t the only ones who think this is utterly ridiculous. If the Creator of the Universe did write the Bible, than it would contain far fewer errors and atrocities and hopefully far more wisdom and morality. It would certainly be far more scientifically and historically accurate. So if these Christians agree with atheists that the Bible was definitely not physically written by the Creator of the Universe, than how can they worship it as a sacred holy book?
The claim is that the Creator of the Universe “inspired” it’s writing. What does that mean exactly? Gene Roddenberry inspires me, but I don’t think I am using the word “inspires” in quite the same way as some of my Christian friends. For me, inspiration is something that I think about and moves me creatively by igniting my intellect and emotions. This spark of creativity moves me to act in a creative fashion such as a poet being inspired by a sunset.
When most Christians use the term in relation to the Bible, they seem to mean more. They seem to be suggesting that an actual divine influence has been at work in the form of a metaphysical Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit was able to communicate sacred revelation to the human being penning the holy text. In other words the Bible wasn’t just inspired by an idea of God, but was actually influenced through the Holy Spirit’s interactions with men by God literally.
It isn’t that my mainstream Christian friends think that some guys thousands of years ago were thinking about some vague higher power concept and then became inspired and wrote the Bible all on their own. These Christians seem to believe that the Creator of the Universe literally put the thoughts into the heads of these writers. The Bible may have been physically written by men, but most Christians believe that it was spiritually written by God… sort of.
If the Bible were merely inspired by the idea of God the same way that Star Trek was inspired by the adventures of Horatio Hornblower, than the Bible should be considered wholly fictional except in places where the historical accounts are collaborated by non-biblical writers. People are then free to pick and choose (i.e. without contradiction) parts of the Bible they feel give them wisdom and reject the parts of the Bible which are immoral and silly. We would treat the Bible the same way we treat any great work of fiction.
On the other hand, if the Bible was inspired in a more metaphysical manner through some sort of literal divine influence, than we should expect nothing less than absolute perfection in every detail. This book should be the most brilliant book ever written and should not only be clearly written, but should transcend space and time the way it’s author God is alleged to transcend space and time. Either the book’s content should be the stuff which stands up to the test of time, or God should have added a “To be continued” clause at the end of it so that when we get to a certain level of wisdom, morality, or scientific advancement, God could guide us further. In either case, anyone who reads the Bible should be completely wowed by it. It should be a masterful work of literary genius that should put Shakespeare to shame.
The problem is that the content of the Bible does not stand the test of time and is far from a masterful piece of literature. Clearly this book is not the end all and be all of God’s collective wisdom to humanity. So how do we deal with this obvious contradiction? Christians have figured it out. God despite creating humans in his own image doesn’t seem to have hands. So God send this Holy Spirit to indeed metaphysically inspire the writing of the Bible. The problem was that he had to inspire flawed humans and while God is by definition supposed to be perfect, it seems that he couldn’t communicate his divine thoughts to these men perfectly at all. So man’s interpretation somehow got mixed into God’s spiritually inspired magnum opus. To make a long story short, God wrote the Bible perfectly in the minds of men and those men f@#%ed it up.
So what we are reading as the Bible isn’t fully accurate according to these Christians. The ideas are the ideas of the Creator of the Universe, but the details are a little fuzzy and often times even a bit unclear. Sometimes the Bible even says the exact opposite of what God means. I mean Jesus did say that his followers have to hate their entire family and yet no Christian believes that is what he actually meant.
Oh, and most importantly, anything that we as a society today might consider to be morally repulsive that was written in the Bible (like slavery, incest, the mauling of forty-two children by a couple of bears, etc.) was not God’s infallible morality, but was rather the parts of the Bible that men screwed up. Stoning, mass rape, genocide, holy wars, etc. were not God’s ideas. In fact, if you read the Bible and find that you disagree with something, than you can rest easy knowing that God probably didn’t write that part. That part was almost certainly written by some evil, greedy, self-centered, sinner. But if you find a part of the Bible that you do agree with… that was God… apparently.
Check out the rest of the Atheism 101 Series.