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Old 07-27-2001, 11:44 AM   #1
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Question Survey: The value of the Bible.

I am interested to learn the opinion of members and Biblical experts particularly on this question:

Is the Bible chock full of nonsense and hence completely worthless, or is it an attempt to record older wisdom, correct or otherwise, using allegory and symbolism which has been overlooked thanks to the efforts of zealous true-believers, who think everything is meant to be taken literally?

This shouldn't be understood as a false dichtomy; other responses are invited. I suppose what i mean to ask is: is there any value in it at all?
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Old 07-27-2001, 11:56 AM   #2
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The bible was one of the key things that finally brought about my athiesm and critical thinking skills.

So, in that sense, the bible is invaluable!
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Old 07-27-2001, 12:17 PM   #3
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I must say that while I find religious fundamentalism to be absurd, I also have little regard for those who loudly and provocatively denigrate the bible as a "pack of lies". The Hebrew Bible, in particular, can not be assigned a single literary classification. It contains history, civil law, cultic law, poetry (some erotic), legend, aetiology, polemic, victory song, lament, wisdom writings, apocalypse, and even liturgical drama (see K. Baltzer on deutero-Isaiah). It gives us a fascinating window into the past, and given its significance in the world today and particularly in the West, where it has inspired countless artists, poets, philosophers, leaders, and common people of all type, it seems that it is a document worthy of special consideration.

As a Jew, even though I am an atheist, I feel an affinity to the Hebrew Bible in the same way that a modern Greek might feel toward the Homeric epics, a secular Arab to the Qur'an and Hadiths, a modern Hindu to the Mahabharata, or a contemporary Navajo or Sioux to his or her own rich oral tradition.

But you don't have to be Jewish or Christian to be fascinated by the Bible, just as you don't have to be Greek to love the Iliad. Were it not for the existence of those religious individuals who insist that the Bible must be universally relevant, would anyone bother to denigrate it so? If you met a person on the street who insisted that the Odyssey or the Enuma Elish was an evil pack of lies, you'd rightly think that he had just been released from the lunatic asylum.

So to those who read the Bible critically because they are intrigued by its complexity, I say "bravo, let us discuss!" To those whose only interest lies in uncovering contradictions or adducing objectionable passages just so they can twit the religious, I say "get a life!"
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Old 07-27-2001, 12:44 PM   #4
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Well, Apikorus, I have to disagree with one of your points. You suggest that those who try to find contradictions should "get a life." I don't know if you read Newsweek, but two or three issues back it said some estimated that born again Christians are the fastest growing religious group in the US. With growing born again Christianity comes born again political power for the far right. In the US, religion is politics. So we have to combat that which is not just a religious force, but a socio-political one.

Now I do agree that the Bible has immense value for the reasons you stated. Additionally, I think that the Bible has "spiritual" value for even nontheists. Many of the teachings of the Bible are quite wise--Ecclesiastes for instance, and many Proverbs. Many things that Paul and Jesus said should be considered. Maybe the best philosophy sometimes is to "turn the other cheek..." Maybe we really are "nothing" if we don't show love for one another (1 Cor 11).
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Old 07-27-2001, 01:05 PM   #5
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I have never met a single religious fundamentalist who could be convinced of the absurdity of his worldview merely by adducing difficulties with the biblical text. This is truly a medieval enterprise, and the apologists have had centuries to concoct their rationalizations. Besides, these people can cite biblical verses which prove that anyone who attacks the bible is the antichrist. You can run rings around them, but you'll almost never get inside their ontological/theological fortress. So the argument that we should all be well-versed in biblical absurdities in order that we might combat the Christian right strikes me as rather misguided. Your efforts would be better spent sending a check to the ACLU and reading a good book.
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Old 07-27-2001, 01:08 PM   #6
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Originally posted by telemachus:
<STRONG>is there any value in it at all?</STRONG>
But of course!

From the Bible comes Christianity.
From Christianity comes the Christmas Holiday
From the Christmas Holiday comes 50% of the retail economy.
From the retail economy comes the driving force of the US Economy.

I shutter to think where we'd be without it...
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Old 07-27-2001, 01:15 PM   #7
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I think that hostility to the Bible is a reaction to those who wave it around as absolute truth, as something that it is wrong to criticize.

I'm sure that if there was some belligerent neo-Hellenic cult that claimed that the Iliad and the Odyssey were literal history and that the electricity theory of lightning was a fraud invented by the enemies of truth and virtue who wanted some pretext to deny Zeus, then this cult would provoke a similar sort of hostility.

Something like that did happen in the Usenet newsgroup a few years ago, when a certain Kalki Dasa distinguished himself with obnoxious advocacy of Hare Krishna beliefs along with rejection of evolution. His quote of the Hare Krishna chant got mercilessly satirized.

I will concede that some parts of the Bible are, at least to me, worthwhile, such as the Book of Job. This story is almost certainly fictional; it describes a triumph over Assyria that is recorded nowhere else, whether in the Bible or by the Assyrians themselves. The story is that Job is sent to tell the Assyrians to repent of their sins, which Job is reluctant to do. Dr. Isaac Asimov, in "Lost in Non-Translation", compared this to a Jew being sent to Berlin in the 1930's to get Germany's leaders to repent. Dr. A points out that the likely message of the story is that one should not presume even the wickedest of people to be beyond redemption.
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Old 07-27-2001, 01:17 PM   #8
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Even though you were clearly joking, I have to say that, no, Christmas is the "Christianized" winter solstice celebration. I'm sure we would have some kind of celebration without Christianity.


As for the Bible -- It is important, without a doubt, for its sway on mankind. Its value is in the eye of the beholder, and dependent on your worldview. If you value freedom and the modern world, its contributions and value to this age are dubious and certainly not comprehensive. Some of its influence in the U.S., for instance, is still clear (if sometimes just to provide comedic fodder for Eurpoeans), but we are as much Greco-Roman society as Christian.

[ July 27, 2001: Message edited by: Zar ]
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Old 07-27-2001, 01:32 PM   #9
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Er...Job is great, but I think you mean Jonah, lpetrich.

Yes of course if we were inundated with fundamentalist Zoroastrians quoting from the Bundahisn, I'm sure their sacred texts would also be subject to ridicule. But as is the case with the bible, this ridicule is reactive and superficial and is unlikely to change anyone's mind. Perhaps it might succeed in galvanizing the opposition, though. Still, it all seems a bit silly to me.
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Old 07-27-2001, 01:52 PM   #10
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Apikorus makes a good point, I enjoy much of the Bible and am fond of many of the stories, which makes me so angry with fundamentalist for insisting this stuff MUST be taken as word for word truth spoken directly by the creator of the universe, it spoils everything. Not to mention the possibility of starting a third world war over a few hundred square miles of desert real estate or bringing the dark ages back to the USA.
There is great metaphor in many of these stories, Adam & Eve, the new homosapien species living a peaceful life as hunters & gatherers in the 'garden' then as they work their new brains and move toward the complexities of civilization with all it's advantages & disadvantages, their newly found conscience making laws of good & bad, unlike their primatve 'animal' ancestors. The transision from primative to civilized man.
I've always enjoyed the Noah story, but to be told it must be believed as an actual historical event or burn in hell is insane.
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