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This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religions in it.

John Adams (Second President of the United States, 1735-1826)

In Part III of Religious Beliefs in America I report on what I consider to be the most important aspect of this series—Why People Believe.  Also, I do repeat my explanation from Part I regarding the work of Erich Fromm. Of critical importance to understanding religious beliefs is to first understand it’s psychological basis. 

Although many people filling out questionnaires or responding to telephone surveys say that they believe in God or various aspects of Christianity, very little is known as to why. Is it because of how one is raised and where? Is it simply a matter of geography? Is it because of emotional needs? Or is it all a failure to take responsibility for one’s life? Or is it out of fear and concern for the death we will all face one day and what, if anything, follows that? Or is belief in God deep rooted in the desire of the “ego” to protect the “self” at all costs, including the cost of giving up intellectual honesty?

 Aside from the issue of why people believe, or don’t believe, we also know very little about the degree, bond, or commitment individuals have to their beliefs. Are their beliefs casual and transitory? Do they change every time the wind blows, or are one’s beliefs constant and enduring? For now I will look at the reasons people believe in hopes of generally answering the question, “why” people believe.

Paul Kurtz has identified possible explanations as to why people believe “such as the need for identity, the quest for community, the role of indoctrination, the power of tradition, and ethnicity.”[1] However, he focused on two other explanations. He believes that the first explanation as to why do people believe is that believers have not been exposed to the factual critiques of their faith. These critiques apply to the cognitive basis of their belief and were alternative explanations of the alleged phenomena. This would appeal only to some people who were committed to inquiry but that also many people would use rationalization to intervene to rescue their faith.[2]

Kurtz also provided a second explanation. Accordingly, there are non-cognitive tendencies and impulses that temp believers to accept the unbelievable. He feels the disposition to believe, in spite of insufficient or contrary evidence, has deep roots in our biological and social nature.[3]

Most of us in our daily lives try to exercise common sense and reason as we cope with the many problems of everyday life. Kurtz also asserts that people do exercise common sense, and are cognitive in liberating us from false ideas in everyday life. We constantly, in everyday activities, use reason to refute unwarranted beliefs. However, he describes what he calls a “class of over-beliefs” for which no amount of evidence seems to suffice; at least for some people.[4]

Over-beliefs have a special name; they are known as “transcendental beliefs.” It is with these types of beliefs that faith, or will to believe, intervenes. “Transcendental beliefs are not verifiable and lie beyond normal observation. It is outside rational coherence and is enhanced by mystery and magic.”[5]

Kurtz believes many people accept unverified occult explanations when they are clothed in religious, supernatural, or paranormal guise.[6] Why do people believe in such things? He felt the answer lies in part because such accounts arouse awe and entice the passionate imagination. He labeled this, “the transcendental temptation”–the temptation to believe in things unseen because they satisfy inner needs and desires. More will be said of this last statement when the work of Eric Hoffer is reviewed.

All of us can find many reasons in our lives for things that seem, temporarily or otherwise–events, actions, or objects–that can overwhelm us. If one lives long enough we all encounter such things that make us afraid, to fear the known as well as the unknown. The transcendental temptation that Kurtz describes makes sense. It is a coping mechanism that helps one deal with calamity, disaster, pain, suffering, grief, sorrow, and even death all around us, and all the trials and tribulation of everyday living.

 Said another way, perhaps supernatural belief systems are the hopes and rationalizations we all use to protect ourselves in the face of personal hardship, difficulties, and sometimes tragedy. The transcendental belief is a lure (and fans the flame of unreality) which has the power to make otherwise intelligent people submit to it. It is a delusional characteristic that in other circles might be described as “mental illness.” As Kurtz reports, “It is the mystery and magic of religion, its incantations and rituals, that form the passions of over-belief, and nourish illusion and unreality.”[7]

 It is fair to say that when one person has a delusion, it is called mental illness; when millions of people have a delusion it is called religion. [I highly and enthusiastically recommend people read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins]. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins makes the same point I do about mental illness and religious beliefs. According to Dawkins, “You say you’ve experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn’t impress you. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, directly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn’t vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction). Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people’s heads. We humor them but don’t take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them. Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous.”8

 Can you imagine what it must have been like for primitive peoples, long before science provided explanations for thunder, lightening, fire and floods? Earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons and tornadoes all demonstrated terrifying power. Such natural power must have scared the living daylights out of ancient and primitive people and tribes. How easy it must have been to concoct explanations of unseen gods (The Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians were masters of such concoctions) and other things that go bump in the night.[8]

 Humans tend to corrupt their vision of reality in order to survive in a world they cannot fully understand.[9] Modern man finds his troubles no less daunting than primitive man. The fact that he now has so many competing explanations may increase modern man’s desire to escape the very freedom he works so hard to achieve. This is certainly the case as revealed by one of the seminal writers of the 1940s, Erich Fromm.

In Escape from Freedom he writes that man strives for independence and individuality, in essence to be free. History shows that freedom from external domination. According to Fromm, “The history of economic liberation, political democracy, religious autonomy, and individualism in personal life, gave expression to the longing for freedom, and at the same time seemed to bring mankind closer to its realization. One tie after another was severed. Man had overcome the domination of nature and had made himself her master; he had overcome the church and the domination of the absolutist state. The abolition of external domination seemed to be a necessary but also a sufficient condition to attain the cherished goal: freedom of the individual.”[10]

But Fromm wondered why it was, despite the long history of wars and fighting to achieve freedom, people (like in Italy and Germany during World War II) were so willing to give up their freedom so easily to a charismatic leader or dictator. He concluded that people tend to want to escape from freedom and that this process is very much psychological. Freedom, while very welcome on the one hand, nevertheless presents the individual with too many choices he must confront in his life. A few can handle this freedom. Many cannot.

The reaction to such choice is often aloneness, isolation, and a desire to escape such freedom. Often the form that it takes is to submit oneself to a higher authority, a religion, or a charismatic leader. If aloneness is the price of individuality, “impulses arise to give up one’s individuality, to overcome the feeling of aloneness and powerlessness by completely submerging oneself in the world outside.”[11] As one submits, one realizes that the price it pays is giving up strength and the integrity of the self. Once again, according to Fromm, “This identity with nature, clan, religion, gives the individual security. He belongs to, is rooted in, a structuralized whole in which he has an unquestionable place. He may suffer from hunger or suppression, but he does not suffer from the worst of all pains–complete aloneness and doubt.”[12]

 Christianity is a mass movement and, as such, provides a level of analysis as to why mass movements are found to be so attractive to the individual. One of the most fertile minds of the 20th Century was that of the late longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer (The True Believer, 1951; The Passionate State of Mind, 1955; The Ordeal of Change, 1963; and The Temper of Our Times, 1967–among others).[13]

In the True Believer he answers the question: Who is the True Believer? According to Hoffer, “he is a guilt-ridden hitchhiker who thumbs a ride on every cause from Christianity to Communism. He’s a fanatic, needing a Stalin (or a Christ) to worship and die for. He’s the mortal enemy of things-as-they-are, and insists on sacrificing himself for a dream impossible to attain (like a heaven and eternal bliss or happiness). He is today everywhere on the march.”[14] [Just consider for a moment the religious right].

 This more aggregate sociological look at what motivates people to become a true believer for some mass movement, ironically perhaps, leads one to the psychological basis for such belief in a cause. While there are vast differences between various mass movements as to purposes and doctrine, they nevertheless share common characteristics such as uniformity in all types of dedication, of faith, of pursuit of power, of unity and of self-sacrifice.[15]

 The working hypothesis found in Hoffer’s work on the True Believer is that during the active, revivalist phase of mass movements, the phase is dominated by the true believer–the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause. According to Hoffer the frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements and they tend to join of their own accord.[16]

 “A mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bettering and advancing a cherished self…Their innermost craving is for a new life–a rebirth or, failing this, a hope, a sense of purpose and worth by identification with a holy cause.”[17]

Hoffer was able to show what seems to connect an ardent follower of a mass movement and his psychological characteristics. For Hoffer, “faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves…The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause…The burning conviction that we have a holy duty toward others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft. What looks like giving a hand is often a holding on for dear life. Take away our holy duties and you leave our lives puny and meaningless. There is no doubt in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life, we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.”[18]

The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was a convinced, consistent, aggressive atheist. According to Peter Gay, “In the manner of the eighteenth Philosophes, he argued that religion and science are mortal enemies and that every attempt at bridging the gap between them is bound to be futile…By 1907, when he published Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices, in which he dwelt on the profound affinities between the ceremonies of obsessive neurotics and the ceremonies of religious believers, he had already told Jung proudly that he had got to the heart of religion: it was founded in the child’s sense of helplessness.”[19]

 For Freud man is always in conflict with his culture because of instinctual drives that are suppressed. But in order to deal with dangers outside such as nature, civilization serves a role of defending against nature. Nature never lets man control her through earthquakes, fires, floods, storms, and painfully the riddle of death against which no medicine has been found, nor ever will be. Civilization fights these forces of nature. In addition to nature and the hardship of life, civilization in turn, while being protective through communal action, nevertheless imposes privation on man and other men bring him a measure of suffering, either in spite of precepts of his civilization or because of its imperfections.[20]

Why People Believe in God

The Skeptics Society surveyed two populations for their beliefs (or disbeliefs) in God. In 1995 a survey was conducted among members of this society.[21]  A majority of members were scientists or professionals who were very well educated with a fifth who had a Ph.D. and three quarters who were college graduates. The results were surprising.

Over a third (35 percent) thought it “very likely” or “possible” that there is a God.  Sixty-seven percent said, “Not very likely,” “Very Unlikely,” or “Definitely Not.” Interestingly some 77 percent said they believe religion is “always” or “sometimes” a force for morality and social stability. According to those conducting the survey, while the majority of skeptics and scientists did not believe in God, a surprisingly large minority did.[22]

The question was why does anyone believe in God? These authors reported that a partial answer is based on how our brains and genes are wired. Some scientists believe that genes account for 50 percent of the beliefs in religiosity. However, that still leaves the environment to play a major role as well.[23]

A follow-up survey was conducted by members of the Skeptics Society as to family background, religious beliefs, reasons for belief or disbeliefs, and an essay question asking why people believe (or disbelieve), and why they think other people believe.[24] Some 1,700 responded to the survey, 78 percent men and 22 percent women, with an average age of 49. The following are the results of the survey for the question, why do you believe in God:

Why Skeptics Believe in God

Arguments based on good design/natural beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe. (29 percent)

  • Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives purpose and meaning to life. (21.3 percent)
  • The experience of God in everyday life / a feeling that God is in us. (14.4 percent)
  • Just because /faith / or need to believe in something. (11.4 percent)
  • Without God there would be no reality. (6.4 percent) [25]

 Why Skeptics Think Other People Believe in God

 Belief in God is comforting / relieving /consoling / and gives meaning and purpose to life. (21.5 percent)

  • The need to believe in an afterlife / the fear of death and the unknown. (17.8 percent)
  • Lack of exposure to science / lack of education / ignorance. (13.5 percent)
  • Raised to believe in God (11.5 percent)
  • Arguments based on good design/ natural beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe (8.8 percent) [26]

 Why Skeptics Do Not Believe in God

 There is no proof for God’s existence. (37.9 percent)

  • There is no need to believe in God. (13.2 percent)
  • It is absurd to believe in God. (12.1 percent)
  • God is unknowable. (8.3 percent)
  • Science provides all the answers we need (8.3 percent)[27]

 The other survey pertained to the general population. Survey of the general population resulted in 1,000 responses.[28] Average age of respondent was 42. Sixty-two percent of respondents were men and 38 percent were women.

The results were different. A belief in God amounted to 18 percent among the skeptics sample, but 64 percent in the general survey. When they looked at why people believe or do not believe they found that the three strongest predictors supporting religiosity, and belief in God, were being raised religiously, gender (more women are religious than men), and parent’s religiosity.[29]

The three strongest predictors of lower religiosity and disbelief in God are education, age, and parental conflict. In other words being male, educated, and older tends to make people less religious, while being female, possessing less education, and raised by religious parents makes one more religious. The researchers reported that socioeconomic status had no direct influence on beliefs, but political beliefs did. Conservatives were found to be more religious and liberals less so.[30]

“David Wulff, summarizing a sizeable body of literature on the subject, reported that ‘measuring piety’ as a function of religious affiliation, church attendance, doctrinal orthodoxy, and self-rated importance of religion, researchers consistently found positive correlation with ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, dogmatism, social distance, rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity, and specific forms of prejudice, especially against Jews and Blacks. That is to say, greater religiosity was associated with higher scores for these personality traits–traits that are the very antithesis of political liberalism.”[31]

Another way people believe in God (or don’t believe) is related to sociobiology. According to Morton Hunt, “Sociobiology holds that a certain part of human behavior is based on our biology–specifically, by gene-directed tendencies developed in us by evolution…complex interactions among numerous genes give us the capacity and inclination to develop into people who are either more or less violent, more or less altruistic, monogamous or polygamous, Muslim or Catholic, or whatever–depending on how our upbringing, experience, and the myriad of influences on us of the culture we are immersed in elicit the potentialities within those cogeries of genes. That’s how the individual develops.”[32]

Edward O. Wilson of Harvard made popular the new branch of human behavioral science known as sociobiology. Wilson coined the term “gene-culture coevolution.”[33] What does this mean? It means that certain psychologically based preferences charmed the development of culture. He uses the example of the development of family life in every culture in response to the infant’s and mother’s need for continuing sustenance and protection.[34]

“On the other hand, certain cultural influences reciprocally favor the selection and evolution of particular genetic tendencies such as society’s need to inhibit uncontrolled aggression by favoring people with built-in responsiveness to social control of aggression.”[35]

Morton further reports, “The primary needs met by religion, socio-biologists say, were the allaying of fear and the explanation of the world’s many mystifying phenomena. With the development of the brains’ capacity for language, human beings were able to develop concepts and have experiences that had been available to pre-humans, among them the consciousness of risks and of death, of time. The past and the futures of reward and punishment: puzzlement about natural phenomena; the satisfaction of problem solving; and aesthetic pleasure, wonder, and awe.”[36]

While primitive humans developed and experienced a sense of awe at the world around them, modern humans could think with the increased brain size and capacity with language. For early man religion had no competition for explanation. Mysteries of the world for early humans were demystified by religious explanation. Real living by people produced both positive (health returning after sickness, crops harvested, new child birth, the balance of justice among people, and pleasure in beauty and awe in the world around them) and negative experiences (sickness, hardships, crop failures, death and loss of loved ones).[37]

More than 75 percent of the world’s people try to make sense of the negative and positive experience described above by means of religion. If evil exists it is the work of the evil deity such as Satan. Or it is the product of evil desires in human beings. People pray asking the deity to make all turn out well. People seek reassurance after the death of a loved one with the hope that they will live after death in heaven. If life is terrible your reward is in heaven by a loving father. On the other hand, when everything in one’s life goes well, shouldn’t one give thanks to the one who is the supposed source of all good things, i.e., the “sky God who judges you?”

Religious explanations cover the entire myriad of experiences in life, the good and the bad. That is, all the bases are covered. Religious explanations act to bind and cement both our emotional and physical life. Religion meets the need to understand and control life. Through either ancient shamans, or modern-day priests and ministers, one is encouraged to trust in them, and submit in order to live together in harmony. The need to live together is biologically based. Finally, according to Morton, “we require social life to thrive emotionally–and, in fact, physically. Recent evidence shows that people who live alone have less immune resistance to disease than people who live with spouses or ‘significant other’ partners.”[38]

Why People Don’t Believe

In 1900 1% of the American population considered themselves atheists or free-thinkers. In 2000, that percentage had increased to 15-20% of the population. Figures in Europe are much higher. In Australia the figure is even higher, i.e., 25 percent. Given that religion has been described as the opium of the people, and gives order to their lives, why do some people not believe when the majority of people do? Don’t unbelievers, agnostics and atheists ever get caught up with the transcendental temptation?

 Kurtz believes there is a plurality of explanations.

 For those who go through conversion, the conversion is a rather rapid emotional transformation.

 For those who go through de-conversion the process (based on autobiographical accounts) is a slow, cognitive process.

 One could argue that, on average, those who don’t believe are much smarter (or have more education) than the believer. There is research evidence that the more intelligent an individual is the less likely he or she is to believe in God or a religion. Or perhaps non-believers are a much more advanced species of humans. Both believers and non-believers are a product of millions of years of evolution. Both types evolved from a common ancestor a few million years ago. There is a sequence of events that moved our evolution along on the road to modern man. Intelligence increases were possible through a series of interacting events.

We now know that the crucial turning point in our evolution was when the great apes and/or australopithecines stood up and became bipedal on the African savannah. This allowed their hands to free up, and led to a greater ability to make tools for cutting which in turn provided greater access to animal protein. More protein via meat-eating thus led in turn to an increase in the size of the brain. Those who had an edge in the brain department were more likely to survive and reproduce. All of these things helped early man on the road to language, and then correspondingly to the evolutionary development of culture.

 The Role of Experience and Culture

 What role does experience and culture play in evolutionary development? I reported earlier that 52% of Jews do not believe in a God, 21% of Catholics, and 10% of Protestants. As a group, Jews are much better educated than most other groups. But they also have cultural experiences like the Holocaust that would tend not to strengthen one’s belief in a benevolent deity. Said another way, experience in life is important as well as education in matters of belief.

There are a large number of people who regard consistent laws of nature governing the behavior of galaxies, human genes, and quarks, with the awe and respect that others accord to a more traditional God. An often stated quotation of Albert Einstein is, “science without religion is lame; but religion without science is blind.” What Einstein actually meant by the term religion is different from how the term is normally used in Christianity. For Einstein religion or religious meant the awe and respect he had for the natural laws of the universe and those discoverable through the sciences of physics and cosmology.

Albert Einstein did not believe in a personal God who meddles in the affairs of humans. To be religious, to Albert Einstein, was to enthusiastically hold in high regard the laws of physics and of the universe that he spent a lifetime trying to determine and theorize about. Ultimately, Albert Einstein was a scientific Pantheist, not a traditionally religious person at all.

Morton Hunt put his finger on the characteristics of the unbeliever when he said, “Perhaps unbelievers do not so much reject the religious needs and impulses of the human race, as adapt to them in realistic and humanistic terms, replacing the fairy tales of conventional religions with the more intellectually demanding tales, provided by modern science, of natural laws and of the demonstrable, repeatable evidence of cause-and-effect relationships…perhaps unbelievers differ from the great majority of human beings in one other way: possibly unbelievers are psychologically adult, needing no invisible parent figure, able to face the reality of life and death without fear (or at least live with that fear), and too sensible to believe in anything that has no proof, any explanation of the world that is either impossible or absurdum.”[39]

 The Caring Hypothesis and Death

 Most of the variables so far used do describe why people believe in a God or heaven seem to dwell on the naïve nature of people, and because of fear of the unknown. This is because there is strong institutional support for maintaining those beliefs. This author proposes a new hypothesis on why people believe that relates to fear but also ties in to the social nature of caring about others. I think there is a positive motive, most likely unconscious, as to why one wishes to believe in a God and heaven. This might be characterized as The Caring Hypothesis and Death.

Most of us care deeply about the people we live and socialize with in our lives. Caring for people is one of the greatest activities to give people meaning and purpose in life. One’s spouse, significant other, children and/or friends collectively comprise, along with perhaps humanity in general, the nexus of caring for others–all others.

Because we care so deeply for others we would like there to be a safe place for those we love after death. An invisible caring entity (The Sky God who judges you) that looks after those we care about is very appealing. The old expression, “Life’s a bitch and then you die” doesn’t make one feel any better even if the expression is sometimes true. An eternal life for those we love, without pain and suffering, is very appealing.

This desire to help our loved ones in all things makes the suspension of disbelief also appealing despite our normal observation that when life is over the body decays and rots in the grave or turns to ash following cremation.

 Five billion years from now the earth will be no more, and everything will all become stardust again. As nice as that thought of becoming stardust can be for people, it is not as appealing or compelling as eternal life.

We do everything in our power to deny the obvious–to engage in denial. Fairy tales are much more appealing than rotting corpses, pain, loss, and personal suffering by those left behind. “He’s in heaven now dear” said a relative to the grieving widow, or among those who really believe in their hearts, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” These people would rather say, “He’s in a better place now.” Yeah! Well better than what?

The Burden of Proof

When it comes to non-believers there are 1.1 billion worldwide. They are a sizable minority compared to the other 4.9 billion inhabitants of the earth who identify with some religion. An Agnostic may be defined as a person who believes that the existence of God, or a primal cause, can be neither proven nor unproven. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word meaning “unknown” or “unknowable.” The term agnostic needs to be contrasted with the term “Gnosis” or Gnostic where the later term means knowledge.

Another term used to refer to one’s position on God or primal causes is Atheist. Atheists, as a group of non-believers, have certain disadvantages in their position taken. The first disadvantage is a verbal assertion about what is unknown, unknowable, supernatural, or invisible. That assertion is–that something does not exist. Such an assertion is patently “unscientific.”

By asserting that something does not exist one immediately clashes with what science has long held as its own limitation. That is, it is impossible to prove a negative hypothesis. Science doesn’t work that way for what data would one collect (and data is the cornerstone of all science) in order to test one’s hypothesis that something does not exist? Put very simply–it is impossible to do that.

Ironically, to make an assertion about non-existence of a God is strikingly similar to the person who lives by faith that God does exist. Many people don’t realize it but the religious zealot and the atheist share a common perspective i.e., they are both trying to make a “leap of faith.” The believer and the non-believer share the same podium in that respect. Nevertheless, there is an important difference here that does favor the Atheist over the Theist or Deist. And that difference is the burden of proof.

The burden of proof does not lie with the atheist or the scientist to prove something does not exist. Such proof technically lies with those who make claims of a supernatural nature; otherwise claims are only assertions of belief unsubstantiated and without the benefit of actual proof. What is different between the atheist and scientist on the one hand, and the true believer or religious zealot on the other, are their tools of measurement, willingness to measure, and the approach taken.

Interestingly, the invisibility of the subject matter of religion or science isn’t even the issue. Why? Because even where invisibility of the subject matter is concerned, it is measurement, and a willingness to measure, that does matter. For example molecules, atoms, protons, and even the elusive neutrino are invisible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, they can be measured for their proof of existence. God is alleged to be invisible to the naked eye, yet theologians and fundamentalist “true believers” of all types have yet to provide proof of existence through any kind of “measurement.”

Said simply, they have failed to provide the needed proof to substantiate their supernatural claims. It is interesting to note that the 20th Century’s greatest scientist Albert Einstein never attributed bizarre supernatural forces as an explanation for the fundamental laws of the universe.

 Why America is turning more Secular

 The data from the Barna survey strongly suggested that the slide toward syncretism may be responsible for the decline of Christianity in the 20th Century. Evidently, the democratic trend toward freedom of religion and freedom from religion took heart in America. However, the net effect of these changes within and outside Christianity is the move toward a more secular society.

There are three basic reasons American society, in particular, is becoming more secular: (1) The religious right is trying to invade secular society, (2) scandals within the church has lowered its status in the eyes of the public, and (3) simultaneously, science education and technology has come to dominate the social landscape of our culture through laboratory research, and through educational programs on television and in the classroom.

 It is also true that alienation produced by fundamentalists gone amuck with their disdain for liberal and mainstream Protestant denominations created an atmosphere where younger potential converts automatically looked askance at religious institutions altogether with contempt. As stated before, until mainstream and liberal churches gang up and fight fundamentalists politically and socially, they will continue to lose adherents, and suffer from the consequences of a right-wing extremist theocracy.

Adding fuel to the decline in Christianity is the undeniable scourge of sexual abuse of innocent children at the hands of Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, along with many other types of church workers. Not only have these offenders brought dishonor and disgrace to themselves as individuals, but have lowered the value and status of the various religious institutions they represent. The outcome of these and other scandals has harmed and denigrated whatever value remains of religious institutions in America. Such disgrace and dishonor has resulted in the continued decline in attracting new people to the faith of Christianity.

Squabbles both inside and outside the church will continue to paint a picture of church leadership as incompetent. Cognitive dissonance perceived by others as phoniness and hypocrisy in actual conduct by believers, will continue to cast a light on the bigotry and hatred that has lessened the status of religious institutions everywhere. If Jesus were alive today he would be ashamed of what has happened in Christianity during the last 2000 years in His name. The following quote is worthy of repeating. As Mark Twain said in the 19th Century, “If Jesus was alive today there is one thing he certainly wouldn’t be–and that is a Christian.”[40]

Joseph Campbell discussed in his book, The Power of Myth that every culture holds dearly to its myths. And there is a tendency in every culture to believe one’s own. Why people hold on to their religious cultural myths has been the subject of this blog. Holding on to cultural myths (for all you sociologists) is a product of learning in small social groups. But it is also due to the vast institutionalization of Christianity in America. Such mythology does have power that has persisted into the modern era. Some of the reasons have been discussed in this series of blogs. But cultural wars employ many of the same tools such as television programs that provide an instant audience of millions of people.

Right now as one scans television’s power they’re several first rate channels on DISH and cable networks. They include: The Science Channel, Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, The History Channel, and many other programs found on NOVA. In addition the Science Channel in 2008 brought back the award-winning program COSMOS, originally written and hosted by the late scientist, Carl Sagan.

Collectively, these kinds of programs can have a profound influence on shaping and developing young fertile minds, and help stimulate opposition to the mythology of the Christian world. Organized religion, including Christianity, is all about social control of its adherents. But in a true democracy like America, Christian radio and television exists right along as competition for the attention of people. There is “Freedom of Religion” in our U.S. Constitution. But guess what? By implication there is also “Freedom from Religion” as well.

 


[1] Paul Kurtz, “Why Do People Believe or Disbelieve?” In Science and Religion: Are They Compatible, ed. Paul Kurtz with assistance of Barry Karr and Ronjit Sandhu  (New York: Promethius Books, 2003), 283

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 283-284

[5] Ibid, 284

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 285

[8] Polytheism and paganism involved characteristics of animism, shamanism, and anthropomorphism. 

[9] Ibid, 285

[10] Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1941), 3-4.

[11] Ibid, 29

[12] Ibid, 35

[13] Eric Hoffer published ten books between 1951 and 1982, and an eleventh was published after his death in 1983.

[14] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (Perennial Library Harper & Row Publishers, 1951), back cover.

[15] Ibid, Preface.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid, 23

[18] Ibid.

[19] Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, with a biographical introduction by Peter Gay (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961), xxiii

[20] Ibid, 19-20

[21] Michael Shermer, How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God (2nd Edition) A.W.H. Freeman/Owl Book, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), 74-75

[22] Ibid, 74

[23] Ibid, 75

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 77

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid, 78

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid, 79

[30] Ibid, 80

[31] Ibid, 81

[32] Morton Hunt, “The Biological Roots of Religion” Paul Kurtz ed. In Science and Religion (New York: Prometheus Books, 2003), 303

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid, 303-304

[36] Ibid, 304

[37] Ibid, 305-306

[38] Ibid, 305

[39] Ibid, 308-309

[40] Mark Twain was also known as Samuel Clemens.

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Introduction

The dominant religion in America today is Christianity. However, it has been changing in size (diminishing numbers of adherents) and character for a very long time. There are many other religions in America; but focus in this Blog will be on Christianity.  I have decided to initiate a three-part series on religious beliefs in America including its conceptual diversity, and some demographic characteristics of groups by religious/nonreligious affiliation. In addition, what people believe about God, Christianity and various aspects of the Christian Bible is also covered.

However, the most important part of this three-part series will be (Part III) to explain why people believe as they do. People’s cherished beliefs usually are based on their values. But why people hold the beliefs (or values) they do is seldom explained or addressed. In this first Part (Overview), I critique a recent book, Four Gods (2010), which describes the diverse conceptual ways Americans currently view God. It will be followed by highlight material from the 2008 ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey), some sociological facts on religion in America, pertinent research including the relationship of intelligence to religiosity or religious beliefs, an informative section on Atheism, and an historical look at how early and modern Christians view Christianity. In Part II what specifically people believe will be covered in terms of biblical stories and other aspects of Christianity.

In Part III material will be presented as to the BIG QUESTION–Why do people believe as they do? For the religious and the nonreligious alike, what I’m about to share with you should help you understand the psychological and sociological nature of American’s religious beliefs.

Background

From a 21st Century Perspective

 The word superstition is one of the most provocative words in the dictionary. Well, how is it defined? It is defined as:

 1.  irrational belief: an irrational, but usually deep-seated belief in the magical effects of a specific action or ritual, especially in the likelihood that good or bad luck will result from performing it. 

2.  irrational beliefs: irrational and often quasi-religious belief in and reverence for the magical effects of some actions and rituals or the magical powers of some objects. 

Superstition has always been a part of culture, usually learned from individuals, small social networks like the family, and is reinforced when larger social entities become involved, such as communities and large nation-states. When many superstitions become institutionalized and integrated into a cohesive social entity they take on a new name—it’s called religion. Early man believed in the existence of spirits; later man largely during the Axial Age (800 B.C. to 200 B.C.) adopted a new concept that was parallel to a world ruled by spirits. And that new concept was the idea that the world was ruled by invisible entities called Gods (For example, Greek, Roman and Egyptian Gods). That idea became further refined into the belief that there was just one god (Monotheism). Beginning a few hundred years ago a new concept was being discussed, especially during and following the Renaissance or Age of Enlightenment. And that concept was the belief in no God or gods, called Atheism.

Belief in a God or spirits (or many Gods i.e., polytheism) has always been, like all superstitions, a cultural phenomena. The origin of religion itself goes back some 200,000 years ago to it’s beginning with Animism. All belief systems are a product of Culture; and culture is a set of customs or beliefs obtained from learning in social groups. This was as true during the Axial Age as it is today.

Recently, two sociologists from Baylor University published a new book (2010) called America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God and What That Says about Us. Their book presents data on religious beliefs today centering on the type of God conceptualized by many people who profess to believe in a God. The typology the authors use draws upon the finding that religious people, primarily Christians, have differing beliefs about the character of the God they believe in.

Paul Froese and Christopher Bader argue that many of America’s most intractable social and political divisions emerge from religious convictions that are deeply held but rarely openly discussed.

Drawing upon original survey data and in-depth interviews the authors argue that America’s cultural and political diversity is due to these differing opinions about God. Their typology falls into four distinct groupings. These four distinct groupings are: The Authoritative God–who is both engaged in the world and judgmental; The Benevolent God–who loves and helps us in spite of our failings; The Critical God–who catalogs our sins but does not punish them (at least not in this life); and The Distant God–who stands apart from the world He created. The authors suggest that these four conceptions of God form the basis of our worldviews and are among the most powerful predictors of how we feel about the most contentious issues in American life.

I found the use of the typology used in the book to have value in shedding light on the notion that interpretation of religious concepts (like the character of God) is far from a universal belief “in a sky God who judges you.”

In other respects however, I dispute many of the statements made in the book mostly because the religious views of the American people were not accurately accounted for by the authors sampling design.  Several other scientifically constructed surveys such as ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) in 1990, 2001, and 2008 produced quite a different profile in religious beliefs than that found in the Four Gods study. The ARIS time-series results found that Christians, as a group, are declining in number in deference to other non-Christian viewpoints. And, in fact, other data suggest that Christianity has been declining since 1900.

It turns out the methodology in Froese and Bader’s study was lacking, i.e., sampling was not randomly done and there were self-selecting individuals in some locations. Prior research on the topic was not presented for the reading audience to review, and the tone and many comments in the book suggested religious bias in the authors. Funding for their project was from the Templeton Foundation, a very conservative organization that has been heavily criticized for its biased agenda by funding research that attempts to force-fit religious paradigms within science and vice-versa. It’s like trying to integrate or combine Logos with Mythos. Basically, they are two different things, with different purposes. They also inaccurately stated that atheists comprised only 5% of the population. That is contradicted by every ARIS survey taken since 1990 (See ARIS Survey for 2008 following).  Also, the idea that people have differing conceptions of God is hardly new. Early Christians had varying views on God and what Jesus Christ was all about.

What follows in the next section is a more accurate portrayal of religious beliefs in America.

AMERICAN RELIGIOUS IDENTIFICATION

SURVEY (ARIS) 2008

Principal Investigators: Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar

Highlights

 The 2008 ARIS survey was carried out during February-November 2008 and collected answers from 54,461 respondents who were questioned in English or Spanish.

The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.

• 86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.

• The historic Mainline churches and denominations have experienced the steepest declines while the non-denominational Christian identity has been trending upward particularly since 2001.

• The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.

34% of American adults considered themselves “Born Again or Evangelical Christians” in 2008.

The U. S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every five Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.

• The “Nones” (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.

• Asian Americans are substantially more likely to indicate no religious identity than other racial or ethnic groups.

One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not expect a religious funeral at their death.

Some Sociological Facts Regarding Religion Today

One major theme of this Blog is that there has been a significant social decline in Christianity. And since 1900 the number of people who regard themselves as Christian has declined by 13%. In terms of other demographic changes the following has been observed:

Since the late 19th century, the demographics of religion have changed a great deal. Some countries with a historically large Christian population have experienced a significant decline in the numbers of professed active Christians. Symptoms of the decline in active participation in Christian religious life include declining recruitment for the priesthood and monastic life, as well as diminishing attendance at church. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of people who identify themselves as secular humanists.

Other interesting sociological facts include the observation that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today, and is nearly universal in many countries from western Africa to Indonesia, where there are close ties between government and religion.It is also noteworthy that Hinduism is undergoing a revival. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shintoism are the religions with the largest number of adherents in the Far East, and have greatly influenced spirituality in the West, particularly in the United States. Among major world religions Hinduism is the fastest-growing religion in the United States.

Intelligence and Religiosity

 One of the things psychologists and sociologists do is study respectively individual and group behavior. Much social science research has been conducted since the early part of the 20th century. One area that has received a fair amount of research and evaluation is intelligence and religiosity.

In 2008, intelligence researcher Helmuth Nyborg examined whether IQ relates to denomination and income. His results, published in the scientific journal Intelligence, demonstrated that on average, Atheists scored 5.89 IQ points higher than Dogmatic persuasions. “My hypothesis is that people with a low intelligence are more easily drawn toward religions, which give answers that are certain, while people with a high intelligence are more skeptical,” says the professor. Many other studies have been conducted on intelligence and religiosity. Burnham P. Beckwith paraphrased and summarized the following from The Effect of Intelligence on Religious Faith, Free Inquiry, Spring 1986. He reported on several studies between 1927 and 2008. These pre-Nyborg studies included the following:

1. Thomas Howells, 1927
Study of 461 students showed religiously conservative students “are, in general, relatively inferior in intellectual ability.”

2. Hilding Carlson, 1933
Study of 215 students showed that “there is a tendency for the more intelligent undergraduate to be sympathetic toward … atheism.”

3. Abraham Franzblau, 1934
Confirming Howells and Carlson, tested 354 Jewish children, 10-16. A negative correlation was found between religiosity and Terman’s intelligence test.

4. Thomas Symington, 1935
He tested 400 young people in colleges and church groups. He reported, “there is a constant positive relation in all the groups between liberal religious thinking and mental ability…There is also a constant positive relation between liberal scores and intelligence…”

5. Vernon Jones, 1938
He tested 381 students, concluding “a slight tendency for intelligence and liberal attitudes to go together.”

6. A. R. Gilliland, 1940
At variance with all other studies, found “little or no relationship between intelligence and attitude toward god.”

7. Donald Gragg, 1942
He reported an inverse correlation between 100 ACE freshman test scores and Thurstone “reality of god” scores.

8. Brown and Love, 1951
At U. of Denver, tested 613 male and female students. Mean test scores of non-believers = 119, believers = 100. Percentile NBs = 80, BBs = 50. Their findings “strongly corroborate those of Howells.”

9. Michael Argyle, 1958
He concluded that “although intelligent children grasp religious concepts earlier, they are also the first to doubt the truth of religion, and intelligent students are much less likely to accept orthodox beliefs.”

10. Jeffrey Hadden, 1963
Found no correlation between intelligence and grades. This was an anomalous finding, since GPA corresponds closely with intelligence. Other factors may have influenced the results at the U. of Wisconsin.

11. Young, Dustin and Holtzman, 1966
Average religiosity decreased as GPA rose.

12. James Trent, 1967
Polled 1400 college seniors. Found little difference, but high-ability students in his sample group were over-represented.

13. C. Plant and E. Minium, 1967
The more intelligent students were less religious, both before entering college and after 2 years of college.

14. Robert Wuthnow, 1978
Of 532 students, 37% of christians, but 58% of apostates and 53 percent of non-religious students scored above average on SATs.

15. Hastings and Hoge, 1967, 1974
Polled 200 college students and found no significant correlations.

16. Norman Poythress, 1975
He found Mean SATs for strongly antireligious (1148), moderately anti-religious (1119), slightly antireligious (1108), and religious (1022).

17. Wiebe and Fleck, 1980
They studied 158 male and female Canadian university students. They reported “nonreligious S’s tended to be strongly intelligent” and “more intelligent than religious S’s.

Student Body Comparisons-

1. Rose Goldsen, Student belief in a divine god, percentages 1952.
Harvard 30; UCLA 32; Dartmouth 35; Yale 36; Cornell 42; Wayne 43; Weslyan 43; Michigan 45; Fisk 60; Texas 62; N. Carolina 68.

2. National Review Study, 1970 Students Belief in Spirit or Divine
God. Percentages: Reed 15; Brandeis 25; Sarah Lawrence 28; Williams 36; Stanford 41; Boston U. 41; Yale 42; Howard 47; Indiana 57; Davidson 59; S. Carolina 65; Marquette 77.

3. Caplovitz and Sherrow, 1977
Apostasy rates rose continuously from 5% in “low” ranked schools to 17% in “high” ranked schools.

4. Niemi, Ross, and Alexander, 1978
In elite schools, organized religion was judged important by only 26%, compared with 44% of all students.

Studies of Very-High-IQ groups.

1. Terman, 1959
Studied group with IQ > 140. Of men, 10% held strong religious belief, of women 18%. 62% of men and 57% of women when claiming “little religious inclination,” while 28% men and 23% of women who claimed it was “not at all important.”

2. Warren and Heist, 1960
They found no differences among National Merit Scholars. Results may have been affected by the fact that NM scholars are not selected on the basis of intelligence or grades alone, but also on “leadership” and such.

3. Southern and Plant, 1968
42 male and 30 female members of Mensa. Mensa members were much less religious in belief than the typical American college alumnus or adult.

4. William S. Ament, 1927
C. C. Little, president U. of Michigan, checked persons listed in Who’s Who in America: “Unitarians, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Universalists, and Presbyterians are … far more numerous in Who’s Who than would be expercted on the basis of the population which they form. Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics are distinctly less numerous.”

Ament confirmed Little’s conclusion. He noted that Unitarians, the least religious, were more than 40 times as numerous in Who’s Who as in the U.S. population.

5. Lehman and Witty, 1931
Identified 1189 scientists found in both _Who’s Who_ (1927) and American Men of Science (1927). Only 25% in AM of S and 50% of those listed in Who’s Who reported their religious denomination despite the specific requests to do so, “religious denomination (if any).” Well over 90% of the general population claims religious affiliation. The figure of 25% suggest far less religiosity among scientists.

Unitarians were 81.4 times as numerous among eminent scientists as non-Unitarians.

6. Kelley and Fisk, 1951
Found a negative (-.39) correlation between the strength of religious values and research competence.

7. Ann Roe, 1953

Interviewed 64 “eminent scientists, nearly all members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences or the American Philosophical Society. She reported that, while nearly all of them had religious parents and had attended Sunday school, ‘now only three of these men are seriously active in church. A few others attend upon occasion, or even give some financial support to a church which they do not attend… All the others have long since dismissed religion as any guide to them, and the church plays no part in their lives…A few are militantly atheistic, but most are just not interested.'”

8. Francis Bello, 1954
Questionnaired or interviewed 107 young (<= 40) nonindustrial scientists judged by senior colleagues to be outstanding. 87 responded. 45% claimed to be “agnostic or atheistic” and an additional 22% claimed no religious affiliation. For 20 most eminent, “the proportion who are now a-religious is considerably higher than in the entire survey group.”

9. Jack Chambers, 1964
Questionnaired 740 US psychologists and chemists. He reported, “the highly creative men [jft- assume no women included] … significantly more often show either no preference for a particular religion or little or no interest in religion.” Found that the most eminent psychologists showed 40% no preference, 16% for the most eminent chemists.

10. Vaughan, Smith, and Sjoberg, 1965
Polled 850 US physicists, zoologists, chemical engineers, and geologists listed in American Men of Science (1955) on church membership, and attendance patterns, and belief in afterlife. 642 replies.

38.5% did not believe in afterlife, 31.8% did. Belief in immortality was less common among major university staff than among those employed by business, government, or minor universities. The contemporaneous Gallup poll showed 2/3 of US population believed in afterlife, so scientists were far less religious than typical adult.

From Beckwith’s concluding remarks:

Conclusions

In this essay I have reviewed: (1)sixteen studies of the correlation between individual measures of student intelligence and religiosity, all but three of which reported an inverse correlation. (2) five studies reporting that student bodies with high average IQ and/or SAT scores are much less religious than inferior student bodies; (3) three studies reporting that geniuses (IQ 150+) are much less religious than the general public (Average IQ, 100), and one dubious study, (4) seven studies reporting that highly successful persons are much less religious in belief than are others; and (5) eight old and four new Gallup polls revealing that college alumni (average IQ about 115) are much less religious in belief than are grade-school students polled.

I have also noted that many studies have shown that students become less religious as they proceed through college, probably in part because average IQ rises.

All but four of the forty-three polls I have reviewed support the conclusion that native intelligence varies inversely with degree of religious faith; i.e., that, other factors being equal, the more intelligent a person is, the less religious he is. It is easy to find fault with the studies I have reviewed, for all were imperfect. But the fact that all but four of them supported the general conclusion provides overwhelming evidence that, among American students and adults, the amount of religious faith tends to vary inversely and appreciably with intelligence.

There are no entirely satisfactory measures of intelligence, nor even satisfactory definitions of what is to be measured. Intelligence seems to be something, though, and every tack we take in trying to catch the elusive winds of thought carries us further toward workable definitions. Is intelligence a good memory, the ability to sculpt, make a diving catch in center field, play blindfold chess, construct sentences of “learned length and thundering sound”, or time a punchline?

SAT tests, IQ tests, success in life, measures of fame and esteem in peer groups all fail to give that satisfying, final readout of how smart or stupid any given person is. The evidence we have indicates that the more we know about the real world, the less likely we are to believe in an imaginary one.

  WHO ARE THE NONBELIEVERS AND ATHEISTS?

Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of dieties. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

The term atheism originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god”, which was applied with a negative connotation to those thought to reject the gods worshipped by the larger society. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase in criticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves as “atheist” appeared in the 18th century.

Today, about 2.3% of the world’s population describes itself as atheist, while a further 11.9% is described as nonreligious. Between 64% and 65% of Japanese are atheists, agnostics, or do not believe in God. In Australia the percentage of atheists is close to 25%. In Europe, the estimated percentage of atheists, agnostics and other nonbelievers in a personal god ranges as low as single digits in Poland, Romania, Cyprus, and some other countries, and up to 85% in Sweden (where 17% identify themselves as atheists), 80% in Denmark, 72% in Norway, and 60% in Finland.

Atheists tend to lean toward skepticism regarding supernatural claims, citing a lack of empirical evidence. Atheists have offered several rationales for not believing in any deity. These include the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, and the argument from nonbelief. Other arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to the social to the historical. Although some atheists have adopted secular philosophies, there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.

In Western culture, atheists are frequently assumed to be exclusively irreligious or unspirtual. However, atheism also figures in certain religious and spiritual belief systems, such as Jainism, and some forms of Buddhism that do not advocate belief in gods. Hinduism also holds atheism to be valid, but difficult to follow spiritually.

Diversity of Opinion in Early Christianity

 There was no New Testament for early Christians. The books that were eventually collected into the New Testament had been written by the 2nd century but had not been gathered yet into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture. The best way to determine if early Christians held differing opinions about Christ and Christianity is to know what their beliefs were and how they differed.

For example, according to Erdman, “The wide diversity of early Christianity may be seen above all in the theological beliefs embraced by people who understood themselves to be followers of Jesus.”  Erdman goes on to cite an impressive offering of different beliefs among early Christians of the second and third centuries. Among those Christians, some thought there was just one god, and others believed there were two gods. Some thought there were thirty and some even believed there were 365.

There were Christians that thought God created the world; other Christians thought or believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. (Why else would the world be filled with such misery and hardship?). Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity as a place of imprisonment, to trap humans and subject them to pain and suffering.

There were Christians in the second and third centuries who believed that the Jewish Scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”) was inspired by the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by the God of the Jews, who was not the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by an evil deity. Others believed it was not inspired.

In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that Jesus was both divine and human, God and man. There were other Christians that argued that he was completely divine and not human at all. (For them, divinity and humanity were incommensurate entities: God can no more be a man than a man can be a rock.) There were others who insisted that Jesus was a full flesh-and- blood human, adopted by God to be his son but not himself divine. There were yet other Christians who claimed that Jesus Christ was two things: a full flesh-and-blood human, Jesus, and a fully divine Christ, who temporarily inhabited Jesus’ body during his ministry and left him prior to his death, inspiring his teachings and miracles but avoiding the suffering in its aftermath.

Finally, there were Christians who believed that Jesus’ death brought about the salvation of the world. Others believed that Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the salvation of the world. There were other Christians who said that Jesus never died.

At the time the New Testament was written (The Gospels that were included in the New Testament were all written anonymously), and later assigned the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as reputed authors, there were other Gospel books that were becoming available as sacred texts that were being read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world.

But all these other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses were viewed as heresy by the orthodox religious authorities of the day. As rich and as popular as these books were among early Christians, they were excluded from becoming part of the sacred scriptures or canon of Christianity. What eventually became the 27 books of the New Testament is only a subset of all Christian literature that was once available to all Christians.

At the root of the development of orthodox views only of Christianity–was politics, even in the ancient world. Holding a conservative orthodox view of Christianity today is, as it was in early Christianity, to see only one view of Christianity. Just because it’s a politically derived set of canonized scriptures doesn’t make it any more descriptive of the historical Jesus than if the literature of those branded the heretics of Christianity had succeeded instead in dominating the sacred texts of Christianity.

Modern Day Differences of Opinion

Despite the orthodoxy of winning the battle to control the scriptures of early Christianity, large differences today exist among the world religions and the many denominations within Christianity itself.

Any particular church’s doctrine may be at great variance, not only with other world religions and other denominations within Christianity, but with the very tomb of religious cannon itself that they promote as their source of authority–the Bible. We see wide variation of opinion regarding Christian doctrine. Differences of opinion are the rule where the Bible is concerned, not the exception. One group that has received a lot of media attention is known as the Jesus Seminar. This is a group of academic scholars who question the truth behind the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith.

According to Lee Strobel,

The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith: the Jesus Seminar believes there’s a big gulf between the two. In its view the historical Jesus was a bright, witty, countercultural man who never claimed to be the Son of God, while the Jesus of faith is a cluster of feel-good ideas that help people live right but are ultimately based on wishful thinking.

One of the great apologists for Christianity was C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Many younger generations may more likely remember C.S. Lewis for his creative fictional work, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” C. S. Lewis was one of the great defenders of the Faith since his conversion to Christianity in 1931. There were many Christians at Oxford in the 1940s. Many, like Lewis, felt that both the pros and cons of the Christian religion should be discussed openly. This led to the foundation of the Socratic Club. C.S. Lewis served as its president until 1954 when he became a Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge University, England.

Many scholars today probably would dismiss Lewis’ logic as nothing more than Socratic debate double-talk, or that his underlying assumptions about the relationship of natural to supernatural things or events made no sense at all. There was one statement in the Preface to Lewis’ book that did make a lot of sense. That is, Walter Hooper wrote, in the preface to Lewis’ book, God in the Dock, “Regardless of one’s education, it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.” The methodology, of course, of knowing what something is about, should be based on observation, knowledge, and interpretation of the facts and assumptions made.

Interpretation of the bible itself is made further difficult by the conflicts between various texts. There are texts within the New Testament that conflict with one another as well as conflict with those sacred texts that were rejected by the Orthodox Church. These rejected texts may have been more representative of who Jesus was and what Christianity was about than those texts that eventually became the “Orthodox view” of the bible people read today. For example Elaine Pagels reports in, Beyond Belief–The Secret Gospel of Thomas, “Christian mystics, like their Jewish and Muslim counterparts, have always been careful not to identify themselves with God. But the gospel of Thomas teaches that recognizing one’s affinity with God is the key to the kingdom of God.” Pagels goes on to say that,

Orthodox Jews and Christians, of course, have never wholly denied affinity between God and ourselves. But their leaders have tended to discourage or, at least, to circumscribe the process through which people may seek God on their own. This may be why some people raised as Christians and Jews today are looking elsewhere to supplement what they have not found in Western tradition.

Will Christianity Decline in the 21st Century?

It is a fact that there has been a 13% decline in the number of adherents to Christianity since 1900. And, it is very likely that the Christian religion will continue to decline as society moves further into the 21st Century.

This decline will force people to face the reality that previous explanations for how the world about us works—just doesn’t possess the influence they once did. Many people will find this upsetting, especially because their belief in a supernatural “sky God who judges you” is now being questioned like never before. As Christianity declines, many people in the religious community will believe that their values are being threatened and their influence diminishing.

I hope that such people will understand that social change throughout history is both normal and inevitable. Given the vast diversity of America culture today, I hope that most people will see both social change and diversity as an opportunity to redefine their perceptions regarding reality, and begin to focus on a more inclusive, rather than exclusive, set of values. Many people may wonder what caused the decline in Christianity. At this point in time eleven general causes have been identified.

The reasons for the decline include:

The growth of secularism and the changing religious landscape

The growth of Atheism

The influence of modern science on society

Social changes in beliefs

Global awareness of different cultures and other belief systems

Disdain for fundamentalism at home and abroad

Increases in educational level of the citizenry

Increasing unwillingness of people to accept naïve supernatural explanations

A modern information explosion in all areas of knowledge

A more liberalized, democratic, and less dogmatic society

And recognition that all values were up for grabs during the 20th century, including freedom from religion

Conclusions

This Blog has attempted to look at different religious beliefs and perspectives in America. Just as Americans are a very diverse group of people, so too are the religious beliefs of Americans. The more dogmatic among us view their beliefs as cast in iron or concrete. However, the facts demonstrate that religious beliefs are constantly changing. Social change is the poison conservatives fear the most, and revere the least.

The data in this Blog may be painful for some. That’s unfortunate. So, how do we overcome the social stranglehold religions have on a person’s ability to think clearly, factually, and logically? Bright people, especially very bright people, are not shackled by the chains of superstition or religious dogma because they are endowed, not just with high IQs, but more importantly, with a healthy skepticism. Those less endowed with gray matter between their ears grasp for certainty in their lives; there is nothing wrong with wanting certainty.

However, the mature adult, whether super-bright or not, needs to take responsibility for one’s own life. That takes courage and determination. Once fairy tales are dispensed with a kind of new freedom of the mind is achieved. However, that freedom has a price to pay. Erik Fromm wrote a seminal work during the 1940s, Escape from Freedom. In Escape from Freedom he writes that man strives for independence and individuality, in essence to be free.

History shows that freedom from external domination. According to Fromm, “The history of economic liberation, political democracy, religious autonomy, and individualism in personal life, gave expression to the longing for freedom, and at the same time seemed to bring mankind closer to its realization. One tie after another was severed. Man had overcome the domination of nature and had made himself her master; he had overcome the church and the domination of the absolutist state. The abolition of external domination seemed to be a necessary but also a sufficient condition to attain the cherished goal: freedom of the individual.”

But Fromm wondered why it was, despite the long history of wars and fighting to achieve freedom, people (like in Italy and Germany during World War II) were so willing to give up their freedom so easily to a charismatic leader or dictator. He concluded that people tend to want to escape from freedom and that this process is very much psychological. Freedom, while very welcome on the one hand, nevertheless presents the individual with too many choices he must confront in his life. A few can handle this freedom. Many cannot.

The reaction to such choice is often aloneness, isolation, and a desire to escape such freedom. Often the form that it takes is to submit oneself to a higher authority, a religion, or a charismatic leader. If aloneness is the price of individuality, “impulses arise to give up one’s individuality, to overcome the feeling of aloneness and powerlessness by completely submerging oneself in the world outside.” As one submits, one realizes that the price it pays is giving up strength and the integrity of the self. Once again, according to Fromm, “This identity with nature, clan, religion, gives the individual security. He belongs to, is rooted in, a structuralized whole in which he has an unquestionable place. He may suffer from hunger or suppression, but he does not suffer from the worst of all pains–complete aloneness and doubt.”

During the twentieth century psychology, sociology, and anthropology gave society great tools for understanding itself. To this, we are all indebted. The eleven reasons listed above for what has impacted changes in Christianity all add up to one undeniable fact: Christianity is in trouble and will likely continue to spiral downward in size as fewer and fewer people buy indiscriminately into its primarily emotional, and correspondingly vacuous logical basis.

Part II of this series will show that religious people are still trapped inside the conundrum of ancient scripture and cultural thinking patterns of 2000 years ago. The one unfortunate thing about reliance on an ancient document for one’s direction in life is that many Americans rely on something they have very little knowledge of in the first place. Also, saying one should have faith—is a “cop-out.” What people need is not faith, but greater reasoning power. Whether one is talking about educational attainment, IQ scores, SAT scores, GPA, or attainment of great success in life, the evidence leans toward convergence of all these indices. That is, there is a convergence of the research evidence which shows that the more intelligent an individual is the less religious he tends to be. As quoted earlier in this Blog, “The evidence we have indicates that the more we know about the real world, the less likely we are to believe in an imaginary one.”

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It is between fifty and sixty years since I read [The Apocalypse] and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy or capable of explanation than the incoherence of our own nightly dreams.

Thomas Jefferson (Third President of the United States, 1743-1826)

 So what is truth anyway? Is my truth the same as your truth? Is truth absolute or is it variable, conditional, a product of culture, or depend entirely upon the interpretation of the word itself? Is truth only a matter of faith or are there empirical ways of getting at the truth? Well, it appears that truth is not absolute. Truth is, quite simply, what we agree it is. It is a matter of consensus that can change over time. Scientific truth operates in this conditional sense of everything being subject to change. So, why not any other “type” of truth?

Theologians, when discussing truth, would answer that everything has a cause and that cause is God. In their opening pages to their book, The Idiot’s Guide to the Bible, the authors ask a thought provoking question in their own right. If everything has a cause (as theologians assert) then what caused God? Theologians, of course, don’t answer that question and can’t answer the question.

At one level these questions are asking for an answer that is logical, empirical and straightforward, based on reason and facts. Most of us lead lives that are rather pragmatic and ordinary where we tend to answer everyday questions using facts and reason. At another level some questions simply have an underlying dimension of value judgments. The answers to these value-laden judgmental type questions also tend to be value-laden, judgmental type answers.

It should be obvious the judgment type answers to value-laden type questions are not facts or data; they are nothing more than statements of value or preference. For example, people on both sides of the abortion issue often ask and answer questions that are riddled with value judgments. Another example of a value judgment question (it must be remembered that many cherished beliefs are really cherished values) is–what is the purpose and meaning of my life? Since everyone presumably would have a different purpose in life, what this question is really asking is, “Does my life have value?”

 Science of course is unable to answer judgmental or value-laden questions such as meaning and purpose, or the ultimate value of one’s life. Theologians and ministers ask these types of questions and provide these kinds of answers every day. 

 At times it is true that scientists also make value judgment statements about the value of research findings, and the delight and joy at making discoveries and unraveling the laws of the universe. There is value when science does succeed as when cures are found for illness, and new medicines created in the laboratory. However, that is where the similarity between science and religion ends. Real knowledge and scientific methodology separate physical science, medicine, and the social sciences from religion. While the physical sciences (chemistry, biology, physics and medicine) came on strong from the 17th century, the social sciences of psychology and sociology made their strong entry and debut into the world of science, and scientific methods, during the twentieth century.

Knowledge in medicine and the physical and social sciences are contained in books, articles in magazines, newsletters, the Internet and small publishing houses that cater to the publishing needs of scientists everywhere. And such a body of knowledge spreads back in time regarding the content of the material.  In addition there are over 1500 formal academic journals published around the world each month. Each journal usually covers 10-12 articles on new research findings that have passed muster by a professional peer-review process.

Unlike the quality and quantity of authoritative serious knowledge created and reported upon by scientists today, religions rely almost exclusively on ancient documentation to support their belief systems. In order to provide religious answers on meaning and purpose special documentation is needed.  In Judaism, it is the Old Testament known as the Hebrew Bible. In Christianity it is the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In Islam it is the Koran. Scriptures are used to teach adherents and to serve as justification for a particular belief system.

This is only speculation, but perhaps the first writers of the Judaic and Christian gospels needed to “market” the material as–you guessed it–“The Word of God.” If God is the real author and architect of the bible, He would be much better than some nondescript followers of Jesus. Ever wonder why there is so much debate as to who wrote this chapter or that chapter in the Bible?

One must remember that in the timeline for authorship in the Old Testament their mythological stories were created by men centuries before the New Testament. In order to garner support for the New Testament someone among Jesus’ later adherents to the new religion came up with the bright idea that wouldn’t it be nice to hijack the scriptures of another religion and call it their own. If Judaism’s Old Testament were borrowed, wouldn’t that increase the probability that other non-Christian Jews might throw their support to the fledging Christian religion?

 Interpretation of Scriptures

 In Christianity one problem that surfaces is that the documentation provided is itself highly problematic and questionable as a source of any kind of authority in its own right. In the case of the 27 books of the New Testament and 39 books of the Old Testament, interpretation of scriptures is not a straightforward process. Far from it! Differences of opinion differ everywhere from biblical experts, scholars, and from biblical archaeologists on the one hand, to practicing priests, ministers, and Christian schools on the other. Believers differ greatly on the matter of whether scriptures hold any “truth value” for them.

One important reason scriptural interpretation is so varied is that the Bible itself is believed to have had many authors and many scribes to convey its content. Richard Dawkins has commented that, “The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like: ‘Who wrote it, and When?’ ‘How did they know what to write?’ ‘Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?’ ‘Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that colored their writing?’ Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul, which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life. All were then copied and re-copied, through many Chinese Whispers generations by fallible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas.” [i]   

If one thinks that these differences of interpretation of the Bible are occurring only in the modern era, he or she is poorly informed. Before the orthodox only abbreviated viewpoint of Christian literature was assembled into what we call the Bible today, the rich tapestry of comprehensive writings on Christianity from many different sources were, for the most part, circulating throughout the ancient religious communities of the Middle East.

 Diversity of Opinion in Early Christianity

 There was no New Testament for early Christians. The books that were eventually collected into the New Testament had been written by the 2nd century but had not been gathered yet into a widely recognized and authoritative canon of Scripture.[ii] The best way to determine if early Christians held differing opinions about Christ and Christianity is to know what their beliefs were and how they differed.

For example, according to Erdman, “The wide diversity of early Christianity may be seen above all in the theological beliefs embraced by people who understood themselves to be followers of Jesus.”[iii]  Erdman goes on to cite an impressive offering of different beliefs among early Christians of the second and third centuries. Among those Christians, some thought there was just one god, and others believed there were two gods. Some thought there were thirty and some even believed there were 365.[iv]

There were Christians that thought God created the world; other Christians thought or believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. (Why else would the world be filled with such misery and hardship?). Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity as a place of imprisonment, to trap humans and subject them to pain and suffering.[v]

There were Christians in the second and third centuries who believed that the Jewish Scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”) was inspired by the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by the God of the Jews, who was not the one true God. Others believed it was inspired by an evil deity. Others believed it was not inspired.[vi]

 In the second and third centuries there were Christians who believed that Jesus was both divine and human, God and man. There were other Christians that argued that he was completely divine and not human at all. (For them, divinity and humanity were incommensurate entities: God can no more be a man than a man can be a rock.) There were others who insisted that Jesus was a full flesh-and-blood human, adopted by God to be his son but not himself divine. There were yet other Christians who claimed that Jesus Christ was two things: a full flesh-and-blood human, Jesus, and a fully divine Christ, who temporarily inhabited Jesus’ body during his ministry and left him prior to his death, inspiring his teachings and miracles but avoiding the suffering in its aftermath. [vii]  

 Finally, there were Christians who believed that Jesus’ death brought about the salvation of the world. Others believed that Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the salvation of the world. There were other Christians who said that Jesus never died.[viii]  

At the time the New Testament was written (The Gospels that were included in the New Testament were all written anonymously), and later assigned the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as reputed authors, there were other Gospel books (to be discussed later) that were becoming available as sacred texts that were being read and revered by different Christian groups throughout the world.[ix]

But all these other Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses were viewed as heresy by the orthodox religious authorities of the day. As rich and as popular as these books were among early Christians, they were excluded from becoming part of the sacred scriptures or canon of Christianity. What eventually became the 27 books of the New Testament is only a subset of all Christian literature that was once available to all Christians.

At the root of the development of orthodox views only of Christianity–was politics, even in the ancient world. Holding a conservative orthodox view of Christianity today is, as it was in early Christianity, to see only one view of Christianity. Just because it’s a politically derived set of canonized scriptures doesn’t make it any more descriptive of the historical Jesus than if the literature of those branded the heretics of Christianity had succeeded instead in dominating the sacred texts of Christianity.  

 Modern Day Differences of Opinion

 Despite the orthodoxy of winning the battle to control the scriptures of early Christianity, large differences today exist among the world religions and the many denominations within Christianity itself.

Any particular church’s doctrine may be at great variance, not only with other world religions and other denominations within Christianity, but with the very tomb of religious cannon itself that they promote as their source of authority–the Bible. There are wide variation of opinion regarding Christian doctrine espoused by skeptics, the general public, evangelicals, born-again Christians, notional Christians, agnostics and atheists, and differences by age, gender, and race.

Differences of opinion are the rule where the Bible is concerned, not the exception. One group that has received a lot of media attention is known as the Jesus Seminar. This is a group of academic scholars who question the truth behind the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith.

 According to Lee Strobel,

 The Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith: the Jesus Seminar believes there’s a big gulf between the two. In its view the historical Jesus was a bright, witty, countercultural man who never claimed to be the Son of God, while the Jesus of faith is a cluster of feel-good ideas that help people live right but are ultimately based on wishful thinking.[x]

 One of the great apologists for Christianity was C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Many younger generations may more likely remember C.S. Lewis for his creative fictional work, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” C. S. Lewis was one of the great defenders of the Faith since his conversion to Christianity in 1931. There were many Christians at Oxford in the 1940s. Many, like Lewis, felt that both the pros and cons of the Christian religion should be discussed openly. This led to the foundation of the Socratic Club.[xi] C.S. Lewis served as its president until 1954 when he became a Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature at Cambridge University, England.

 Many scholars today probably would dismiss Lewis’ logic as nothing more than Socratic debate double-talk, or that his underlying assumptions about the relationship of natural to supernatural things or events made no sense at all. There was one statement in the Preface to Lewis’ book that did make a lot of sense. That is, Walter Hooper wrote, in the preface to Lewis’ book, God in the Dock, “Regardless of one’s education, it is impossible to decide whether Christianity is true or false if you do not know what it is about.”[xii] The methodology, of course, of knowing what something is about, should be based on observation, knowledge, and interpretation of the facts and assumptions made.

 Interpretation of the Bible itself is made further difficult by the conflicts between various texts. There are texts within the New Testament that conflict with one another as well as conflict with those sacred texts that were rejected by the Orthodox Church. These rejected texts may have been more representative of who Jesus was and what Christianity was about than those texts that eventually became the “Orthodox view” of the Bible people read today.

For example Elaine Pagels reports in, Beyond Belief–The Secret Gospel of Thomas, “Christian mystics, like their Jewish and Muslim counterparts, have always been careful not to identify themselves with God. But the gospel of Thomas teaches that recognizing one’s affinity with God is the key to the kingdom of God.”[xiii] Pagels goes on to say that, “Orthodox Jews and Christians, of course, have never wholly denied affinity between God and ourselves. But their leaders have tended to discourage or, at least, to circumscribe the process through which people may seek God on their own. This may be why some people raised as Christians and Jews today are looking elsewhere to supplement what they have not found in Western tradition.”[xiv]

 Where Does the Old Testament Come From?

 It is important for people to understand that,

 The stories of the Bible evolved slowly over centuries before the existence of orthodox religions. Many belief cults spread stories and myths handed down by oral tradition from generation to generation long before people wrote them down. Many of the stories originally came from Egyptian and Sumerian cults. All of these early religions practiced polytheism, including the early Hebrews. Some of the oldest records of the stories that later entered the Old Testament came from thousands of small cylinder seals depicting creation stories, excavated from the Mesopotamia period. These early artifacts and artworks (dated as early as 2500 B.C.E.) established the basis for the Garden of Eden stories at least a thousand years before it impacted Hebrew mythology.[xv]

 How eventually were they written, depended upon different languages. According to Martin Manser, “The two main original languages of the Bible were Hebrew and Greek. The Old Testament was mostly written in Aramaic. The entire New Testament was written in Greek, the language commonly spoken and written throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.”[xvi]

Today there does not exist any original writings of the Old Testament. What does exist are hundreds of fragments from copies that became the Old Testament. The original material of the Old Testament was handed down as mythological stories via an oral tradition. However, when scribes got into the act they began to use Cuneiform tablets, papyrus paper, leather etchings and the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.[xvii]

 The writers, or scribes of the Old Testament, as mentioned wrote in classical Hebrew except for some portions written in Aramaic.[xviii] 

 The traditional Hebrew scribes wrote the texts with consonants but the Rabbis later added vowels for verbal pronouncing…In the second century C.E., or even earlier, the Rabbis compiled a text from the manuscripts as had survived the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E…This text incorporated the mistakes of generations of copyists, and in spite of the care bestowed on it, many errors of later copyists also found their way into it. The earliest surviving manuscripts of this text date from the ninth to eleventh centuries C.E. It comes mostly from these texts which religionists have used for the present Old Testament translations.[xix]

 Where Does the New Testament Come From?

 In a nutshell,

 Scholars have long debated whether Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John actually penned the Gospels. Because John and Matthew were thought to be original disciples and Mark and Luke were companions of Paul, their names may have been used to add credibility to the account. Many scholars argue that the gospel writers were disciples of disciples or members of communities who were influenced by Paul or the disciples.[xx]

 Pastor William R. Grimbol regards the Gospel writers as editors. According to Grimbol,

 Although the primary sources for the story of Jesus are the Gospels, the Gospels are not firsthand accounts. The writers of these books were not reporters. The Gospels were recorded several decades after the events of the life of Christ. They were written from the perspective of looking back upon Christ’s life and forward in anticipation of his return. The Gospels were not your average history books. The gospel writers gathered many patches of oral tradition concerning the life of Jesus. Each gospel writer received several of the same patches, some that were slightly different, and a few that were unique. Each gospel writer then weaved these patches together with the thread of his personal faith standpoint.[xxi]

 There is great discontinuity in the bibles that were created. First, the material of the Bible came from many unknown authors spread over a great expanse of time. One Thousand Two Hundred and Fifty years separates the beginning of the writings on the Old Testament to the end of such writings (1450 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E.).[xxii]

It is believed that any New Testament writings didn’t begin to be written until more than 30 to 95 years after the death of Christ.[xxiii] It is believed that Christ died in 30 C.E.[xxiv]  “The Gospels cannot really be dated, nor are the real authors known. It is based on speculation that Mark was the first, written between 60 and 70 A.D., Matthew second, between 70 and 80 A.D., Luke (and Acts) third, between 80 and 90 A.D., and John last, between 90 and 100 A.D.”[xxv]  The Epistles were written by the Apostle Paul long before the first Gospels were created. These Epistles were written between 48 and 58 C.E.[xxvi]

“All of the Gospels except John contain possible allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was destroyed in 70 C.E., and thus it is likely they were all written after that date.” [xxvii]  Also, there appears nothing in Paul’s letters that either hints at the existence of the Gospels or even of a need for such memoirs of Jesus Christ.[xxviii]

Some scholars believe that in 90 C.E. Old Testament books called, “The Writings,” were created as part of the Christian Canon. The Writings included Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Chronicles.[xxix]

It is also reported that, “The oldest copy of the New Testament yet found consists of a tiny fragment from the Gospel of John. Scholars dated the little flakes of papyrus from the period style of its handwriting to around the first half of the 2nd Century C.E. The language of most of the New Testament consists of old Greek.”[xxx] In 150 C.E. two important events occurred: (1) the four Gospels were collected and put together, and (2) The School of Alexandria was founded in Egypt, quickly becoming a major center for both Christian Theology and Greek Philosophy.

What many Christians fail to understand is that, in addition to the four Gospels of the New Testament, there were many other texts created by the early Christian religion. But these texts were suppressed [These texts will be discussed in detail in Part II]. They were known as the Agnostic texts, and were very important to early Christianity.[xxxi] The first recorded use of the term “Christian” occurred at Antioch, Syria, home of one of the first Christian Churches.      

The backdrop of the path of how today’s Bible became what it is, is based on modifications over the last 2000 years. According to the history of the Dark Bible, “There has existed over a hundred different versions of the Bible, written in most of the languages of the time including Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. Some versions left out certain biblical stories and others added stories.

The completed versions of the Old and New Testaments probably got finished at around 200-300 C.E. although many disputed the authenticity of some books which later ended up as Apocrypha (un-canonical or of questionable authorship). For example, the book of Ecclesiasticus appears in the Catholic Bible but not in Protestant versions.”[xxxii]     

 In Part II of Problems of Interpretation of the Bible several areas will be covered including: Texts that were banned from the Bible, the problems connected to literal, figurative, and symbolic interpretation of scripture, the differing characterization in the Bible of God as a Loving God or a Murderous Thug, and the contradictions in the Bible as to whether the path to salvation is through Faith or Good Works.


[i] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion ( Boston & New York: Houghton, Mifflin Company, 2006) 92-93.

[ii] Bart D. Erdman, Lost Christianities—The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 3.

[iii] Ibid., 2

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid., 3

[x] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 124

[xi] C.S. Lewis,  God in the Dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 8

[xii] Ibid., 9

[xiii] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief—The Secret Gospel of Thomas, (New York: Random House, 2003), 75

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] The Dark Bible: A Short History of the Bible  n.d. [online]; accessed 5 Sept. 2005; available from  http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible2.htm

[xvi] Martin Manser, Bible Stories, (Bath, UK: Miles Kelly Publishing, Ltd., 2000), 8

[xvii] The Dark Bible.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Pastor William R. Grimbol, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Life of Christ, (Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2001), 7

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] The Dark Bible.

[xxiii] These dates are a matter of conjecture. No one knows for sure when they were written.

[xxiv] Richard Carrier, “The Formation of the New Testament Canon (2000)” [online]; accessed 10 Apr. 2006; available from http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix] Individual books of the Writings occurred much earlier. They were not put together into a collection until 90 C.E.

[xxx] The Dark Bible

[xxxi] Ibid.

[xxxii] Ibid.

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