Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Meaning of Life, Part 17

Somebody ought to tell the truth about the Bible. The preachers dare not, because they would be driven from their pulpits. Professors in colleges dare not, because they would lose their salaries. Politicians dare not. They would be defeated. Editors dare not. They would lose subscribers. Merchants dare not, because they might lose customers. Men of fashion dare not, fearing that they would lose caste. Even clerks dare not, because they might be discharged. And so I thought I would do it myself.

There are many millions of people who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God -- millions who think that this book is staff and guide, counselor and consoler; that it fills the present with peace and the future with hope -- millions who believe that it is the fountain of law, Justice and mercy, and that to its wise and benign teachings the world is indebted for its liberty, wealth and civilization -- millions who imagine that this book is a revelation from the wisdom and love of God to the brain and heart of man -- millions who regard this book as a torch that conquers the darkness of death, and pours its radiance on another world -- a world without a tear.

They forget its ignorance and savagery, its hatred of liberty, its religious persecution; they remember heaven, but they forget the dungeon of eternal pain. They forget that it imprisons the brain and corrupts the heart. They forget that it is the enemy of intellectual freedom. Liberty is my religion. Liberty of hand and brain -- of thought and labor, liberty is a word hated by kings -- loathed by popes. It is a word that shatters thrones and altars -- that leaves the crowned without subjects, and the outstretched hand of superstition without alms. Liberty is the blossom and fruit of justice -- the perfume of mercy. Liberty is the seed and soil, the air and light, the dew and rain of progress, love and joy.

--Robert Ingersoll, About the Holy Bible, 1894


  1. Meh.

    A lot of horrific things have been done in the name of "liberty" too - and liberty is a value that must be balanced with other values for it to have any meaning. It is hardly any more of a moral high-ground than the Bible is, and isn't an end in and of itself, any more than the Bible is.

    I'd say there are millions who believe that "liberty" is manifest destiny, that "liberty" is worth killing or torturing for, that "liberty" justifies mass graves and genocide and firebombs, that "liberty" for some justifies enslavement for others.

    Someome ought to tell the truth about "liberty" :) The politicians dare not, because it is their rallying cry. Professors in collegs dare not, because it is their illusion that information liberates. Journalists dare not, because it is the watch-word of our foreign policy misadventures, and if we question those, the whole house of cards falls apart. Citizens dare not, because it is a way they find meaning in the horrors we inflict on others all over the world - it is for the sake of liberty. We're killing them to save them from themselves.

    Liberty is a word loved by warmongers, lauded by hero-soldiers and patriots. It is a word that drips blood in dozens of places all over the world. Liberty is the fragrance used to cover over murder, to make it palatable, to help us think we are better, we know better, we can save the world one bomb at a time.

    Much as the Bible is troubling, at turns awful, it is also at turns beautiful, sublime. It contradicts and challenges itself. It argues with itself. It leaves things unresolved. It offers fear, despair and hope as responses to suffering. It makes meaning and unravels it and remakes it again.

    Just like us.

  2. I tend to disagree, Doug. Actually, I am not sure what you are saying. Liberty is a bad thing? Imprisonment and slavery are better? Being told what to think and what to believe are better?

    What I think you are saying is that anyone can use any virtue and twist it to justify bad things. I agree.

    It would be important to flesh out an ethic of liberty and what that means and doesn't mean.

    Ingersoll's point here is that the Bible is not a value but a collection of documents with an authority structure and a theological theory that encases it.

    He is criticizing the theological theory that it is the "inspired word of God" and as such has placed halos around bad texts.

    People therefore in the name of the Bible and its god have done and continue to do horrible things.

    Ingersoll is arguing that freethinking is superior to obeying the Bible.

    I agree. Not only do I agree but I would assert that you live that way yourself.

    In every area of life, I would wager that you follow the ethic of a free mind over that of obeying the Bible.

    I would bet that your views on gays, war and peace, other faiths, the afterlife, the environment, roles for women, you name it, are shaped by the effects of freethinking not obedience to the Bible as the word of God.

    That's a good thing. Because the Bible as word of God leads to the condemnation of gays, the justification of holy war, the fear and loathing of people of other faiths, threats of eternal damnation for "unbelievers", the destruction of our natural world, and the suppression of women.

    A lot of ancient literature is filled with horrible stories. And the Bible has good stories as well. If we allow them to be human stories and not place the theological mantle around it that they are somehow more special, more true, more godly, more inspired than any other literature, we are less likely to do horrible things in its name.

    The point is that the Bible or any book (like the Qur'an) that is viewed and obeyed as the inspired word of God is destructive to humanity.

  3. "Shuck and Jive" is not a term that refers to telling the truth...quite the opposite.

    And what your problem with imprisonment and slavery...the Jews in the Old Testament, whom you have such a problem with, fought back.

    In World War Two, they didn't.

    I gather you were happier with the later result?

  4. You are hardly telling the truth about the bible, John.

    Ingersoll certainly knew that the Old Testament vision was NOT for the people to have kings...Thomas Paine based Common Sense on many biblical passages warning the people about Kings.

    They were to have a system of Judges, not all that different rrom what we have ended up with.

    And I know atheists don't like those 600 and some rules the Jews had, but they apparently...and somehwat stupidly...don't realize that in the modern secular state there are THOUSANDS of laws governing every aspect of their lives.

    And, moreover, ignorance of those laws is not a defense if you foul up!

    Ah, atheist rule, can't wait till it comes back!

    My grandparents warned me what it would be like!

  5. By the way, "Shuck and Jive" is a great name for what you are doing here.