Tuesday 20 September 2011

No, don't worry. I am NOT going to get all Bible-preachy!

I couldn't let this 'event' go without a few pithy comments:-

I've just completed my SIXTH cover-to-cover reading of this book.
This time it's been read over 14 months, a couple of pages (sometimes more) per day - with my making, or rather, adding to, notes from previous readings.

My first time of reading was when I was around 20 and, being then a still-practising and seriously devout Catholic, read the 'Church approved' version - the Douay-Rheims translation. The exercise was more of a 'duty' on my part then, though there was no outright instruction, as such, that one ought to read it through. At that stage of my life the reading would have been unquestioning and blinkeredly uncritical .

My next two forays were into the more modern Church of England 'New English Bible' published in the 1960s with translations claimed as being not only up-to-date but also more accurate. (Even the Lord's Prayer was revised! - And why not?)
I suppose after then, at around the age of 50, I was having serious doubts about the veracity of the Bible. (I'd kept my Catholic faith up to my mid-20s, but even after discarding it, still considered myself a Christian for about a further 25 years, being quite an active member of the Gay Christian Movement for some of that period).

Then it must have been on my fourth read-through (now it was the turn of the authorised King James version) that I felt that my disbelief was starting to outweigh any residual faith I was still clinging onto. Some of the narrated incidents, claimed as historical fact, were striking me as not just implausible but practically inconceivable, even preposterous. Furthermore my notes started throwing up inconsistencies and contradictions (just within the four gospels alone, for example) as well as, frankly speaking, obvious injustices being held out as being manifestations of 'God's wisdom' - and therefore not to be challenged.

Now after the sixth read my notes have expanded even more. Each time I see a lot of things not noticed before. It would be easy to say that I'm now only looking for things to criticise (which was certainly not the case for at least the first three readings) but I do make a conscious effort to stand back and observe the subject-matter dispassionately.

   I'd be willing to bet that most people in the U.K. who define themselves as 'Christian', even Church-going Christians, have never read the entire Bible through even once. So why do I do it?  Simple. Intellectual curiosity! I can't stop wondering why it is that so many people find this book so appealing. There's a compulsion about this inquisitiveness.
At the beginning my own readings started as a self-challenge. Then it became a desire to share what others were experiencing, as though I am the one missing out on something. (I still get this feeling of exclusion when there's a piece of music, or even a type of music - in my case, jazz - which I can see gives enormous pleasure to many, yet I myself cannot appreciate it.)  But the result of my Bible-study has been that every time that I notch up another reading I become even more convinced that it's largely fantasy (not completely - I do believe that Jesus actually existed, - and was almost certainly crucified) but masquerading as fact.  It's hardly the reaction which might be hoped for by those hard-line Christian zealots who exhort us all to read the Bible every day!
Well, who's to say that my views won't change sometime in the future? But time is running out for me - and fast. Anyway, I don't particularly want to undergo a re-conversion, feeling perfectly comfortable (in fact, more comfortable) in my current highly sceptical state of mind.

I was actually going to make this blog into a listing of some specific examples of things I've found in  the 'Holy Book' which are inconsistent, unjust and contradictory. I may indeed do that in a future blog, but I know it's bound to raise hackles in some quarters and I don't particularly want to offend any of the score or so of the band of kind followers to my blog, each of whom honours me with their time, something which really causes me to feel humble. But we'll see......

Okay, then. Now that this particular task is over, tomorrow I'll start on my eighth through-reading of the Koran. So, let's think -  which of the six translations I possess shall I read this time round?


  1. Hello Ray:
    As practising members of the Church of England, when in Britain, and also drawing upon a Catholic and Non Conformist childhood, we are filled with complete admiration that you should have read the entire Bible not once, not twice, but six times. We doubt that we could claim to have read as many pages!!

    Our loss of course, for it is rich in language, is an enduring part of our heritage and culture, as it is for many throughout the world, and does, naturally, provide an insight into not only different customs and traditions but also a source for so many of our codes of conduct if not our laws. And, as you will be only too aware, understand and appreciate, whilst we fumble in the dark, it is so often a point of reference to be found in so much other literature. And then, so importantly, the Bible allows for an appreciation and interpretation of so much in the world of art, particularly but by no means exclusively the Old Masters.

    Oh, Ray, what a head's start you have over us.

  2. Hey there Ray, what an amazing man you must really be, cover to cover not once but many many times. A task that I would not be up to, having read a large part as a child, I know for me how hard going that was.
    I admire you for the fortitude you show.
    I agree with Jane and Lance in their comment that the bible has done a whole load of good, which may come as a surprise to hear from someone like me. But the good may be supplemental additions to life, paintings, church architecture, artefacts, public morals and life guidelines for example. All of which should be celebrated.
    Of course, on the other side of the fence is the multitude of life devastation, distraction, violence and war it has also caused.
    The Quran is another fine work, with good bits, bad bits and to my mind a lot more fantasy given as fact. But, maybe that’s the point, maybe they are both so popular because we as human thinking beings prefer to believe in fantasy then we do the reality of man?

  3. J & L - I saw your very favourable comment yesterday morning, in fact shortly after I'd loaded the blog. But, as I've explained to Jason, I was so taken aback by your (and his) positive response(s) that I was rendered speechless for a time; the reason being that I was very apprehensive about writing the blog at all on a subject where my own viewpoint might be deemed offensive - and one of my weaknesses is that I do so HATE to hurt the feelings of others, a trait I wished was mot part of me.
    However, to get to the subject matter, I must say that within the Bible I do find 'Sahara Deserts' of total boredom, especially in the Old Testament, only relieved by the very occasional oasis of interest. In fact In the O.T. I'd say that 90% of it is, to me, somewhere between a hard slog and an extended yawn. (In the New T. I'd put it at about 40.)
    People with a lot more erudition than I own, do, as you yourself suggest, that the language of the Bible is wonderful - expressive and musical. I don't quite go along with that. It has its moments, to be sure - the Psalms, the Book of Solomon, the Sermon on the Mount and a few more - but overall I don't think it's all that remarkable. What I do find strange is that the classic King James version, a translation accomplished by, I believe, a team of 47 clerics, theologians and scholars, came up with a version which uses no more than around 7,000 words (plus their derivatives), whereas Shakespeare, who was just still alive at the time, in all his works, employs over 30,000 words - and that by just the one man. It strikes me that the Bible must then necessarily use rough approximations of translations - which, are, consequently, open to both differing interpretations as well as inaccuracies.

    But no one can deny that the Bible, in whatever form, has been hugely influential to Western Society - not always positively, by any means. Perhaps my own feelings have got a bit jaded by reading it through from first page to last so many times, rather than dwelling and meditating on what are considered to be its salient and meaningful passages. I don't know. But at this stage in my life I really do feel that its merits have been overplayed - while its baleful influence is understated. But one's feelings are always in a state of flux. However, for about the last twenty years they've all gone in one direction - towards the negative side. We'll just have to see how I feel after I've finished my seventh reading!

    But thanks so much again, for your generous comments,

  4. Hi Jase, thanks do much too you too, again.
    I totally agree that the Bible subsequently became the cornerstone of a Christianity, whose appurtanences in culture - and the arts, above all - so enriched all our lives that it would be a sad individual who'd claim that we would have been better off without them (the 'trappings', that is.).
    I might take issue with you a little more about what it has contributed towards public morality. Of course we all know the horrors inflicted throughout history (and, sadly, still in the present day) in the name of the Bible as being the literal word of God, so there's no need to re-tread that ground.
    But I see even now an alarmingly growing thought that only religion can provide a proper moral framework - evidenced more and more by the present Pope's obsession with his warnings against increasing secularism (for which, I have no doubt, he means 'atheism'). This frightens me, even though I can see why he says that - viz. self- and Church-preservation. There is no doubt at all that he considers religion as superior to its absence.(ANY religion? I really wonder - although he dare not go down that road, yet!) Actually, when I was religious I used to think that too. But now I feel I'd far rather trust an atheist than an ardent member of one of the Abrahamic religions. In fact, since discarding my Christianity, I'd say I've become MORE moral - and I could point to areas where that is so, but that's maybe for a future blog.

    As for the Koran, oh dear! I hear all this talk about its beauty, its profundity, its tolerance - but I hardly see ANY of these in this work - or are we really all expected to understand Arabic to comprehend its true meaning?. In my opinion. the God of the Koran is very much the same God as in the Christian Old Testament - irascible, moody, capricious, untrustworthy, uncaring - and violent! If we saw these same characteristics in a human being we'd rightly give him a wide berth. Yet, time after time we are 'reminded' in the Koran that Allah is 'most loving' and 'most merciful'. Sorry, that just beats me!
    But I'll read it yet again with the aim of somehow discovering why this work appeals to so many millions. I daresay I'd be told that I properly need an Islamic instructor to coach me in these meanings which are currently 'hidden' from me. I find it very odd that there are even some who convert to Islam after reading the Koran in English translation as I do. I totally fail to see its attraction. But persist I will.

    It's such a fecund subject, Jase, that I could go on longer, but I think that's enough for now. Perhaps I'll re-visit the topics of the Bible and 'The Holy Qur'an' in a future blog. In fact I KNOW I will. Meantime, gratitude to you again for giving of your time to me. Cheers.

  5. Hello Ray:
    Thank you so much for responding in such detail to our comment. You make a number of most interesting points in your argument based on, and this is putting it overly simplistically, the worth and richness of the Bible. In many ways we should cede to what you say. You have, after all read it whereas we, and possible many others who make claims about it, have not in any depth or detail.

    As for being hesitant about posting something like this we see no reason at all for you to have any doubt. None of what you write here, nor could we imagine anywhere, is in any way offensive. Blogs such as yours, which is one of its major attractions for us, whilst being varied and eclectic do, in fact, have something to say, to think about and debate. This we welcome and so much appreciate.

  6. Thanks for that further comment, J & L. I could go on at even greater length about both your own thoughts as well as the subject matter itself, but I think I'll call it a day - at least for the moment. It's sure to come round again in a future blog, but not for a while yet.
    On the general question of causing offence, I've never yet received a single negative comment on any of the blogs I've posted since starting 4 or 5 years ago - at least not yet - unlike at least two bloggers whom I follow. While grateful for that (I know I could feel wounded) I think it rather reflects my ultra-carefulness in what I say, which is not exactly a positive trait when one tries to be honest.

    Btw I wrote a lengthy comment on your own blog of yesterday (on Vienna) but it seems to have disappeared into space. It may have been too long, something I now realise is not advisable when you get so very many comments as it is. Have to make sure that my future contributions display some concision.