11 November, 2008

Progress Report


This book is a skeleton. It's just a framework upon which flesh shall later be draped, because as I'm writing it, I'm realizing all sorts of things that I need to look up and quote and get exactly right. So to any of you who are going to be suffering through reading this first draft: keep in mind that what you're looking at is a rickety scaffolding upon which something lasting will be built.

I'm one of those weird writers who tends to write too little rather than too much in most first drafts, it seems.

I came across a fantastic little tidbit tonight, so I'll share this section from "What to Expect if You Bring Up God," bare bones as it is:

It's not uncommon for atheists to know more about the Bible than Christians do. In fact, a Kelton Research survey of 1,000 Americans commissioned by the Ten Commandments Commission in 2007 discovered that the ingredients of a Big Mac are better known than the Ten Commandments: 80% of respondents knew that a Big Mac includes two all-beef patties, but less than 60% of them knew the Ten Commandments include the command, "Thou shalt not kill."

Most atheists could not only get that one right, but if you bring up the Ten Commandments, be prepared for the question, "Which ones?" Most Christians don't realize there are actually two sets of Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, and those sets don't mesh.

We know all sorts of pesky details. And if someone starts claiming the moral supremacy of religion and the infallibility of the Bible, we're more than happy to trot them out, chapter and verse.

Some of us can even give Biblical scholars a run for their money when it comes to describing the minutae of erroneous translations, ambiguous passages, obvious copying errors, and all of those books that didn't make it in to the Book.

Why do we know the Bible in such detail if we're atheists? Simple. We have to know our adversary. When so many fundamentalists and even moderate Christians are attempting to use their faith to dictate morality, conduct, and the course of our destiny, we have no choice but to study the scripture used to justify those things.

If you want to get into a conversation about the Bible with an atheist, just be prepared to learn things about it you may never have wanted to know. After all, it was during a Bible study course that Julia Sweeney lost her faith.

The link is here. I love that fact: more people know the Big Mac better than the Ten Commandments. Quick! Let's base all of our jurisprudence on the ingredients of a fast food sandwich!

For the record, I'm one of those who doesn't know all ten. But I know more off the top of my head than Lynn Westmoreland:

Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, his ass, etc.

Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.

Thou shalt not bear false witness.

And that's where I get fuzzy. I suppose I'll have both sets memorized by the time this book is finished and available to the general public. Wouldn't do for some snarky religious bugger to be able to recite seven or eight to my six, eh?

In case you wanted to brush up, here's both sets.


Andre Vienne said...

Isn't there another set here?


And, I'm some four thousand words behind myself. I'm going to juice up on ridiculously sugared iced tea, and go "Chaaaarge!"

Or something like that. I've already been hitting the tea.

Cujo359 said...

Here's an article where I discuss two of the commandments. For that reason alone, I'll always be ahead of Westmoreland. I think some Christians want to post the Ten Commandments in public buildings so that they can learn what they are.

I could reel off all the classic ones now, more or less in order. Having multiple sets of commandments makes the list a little murky, though.

Let's see, there's:

* You can't worship idols (variously described as idols, graven images, blah, blah)

* Honor your mother and father (good one to keep, when we take over the world ;-))

* Don't take the Lord's name in vain (yes, it really is a commandment - ironic, huh?)

* Oh crap. Brain cramp.

One easy way to remember them is to break them down into two classifictions - religious and secular. The religious ones, "no other gods", "idols", "sabbath", "lord's name", are the ones that tell you how to practice your religion. The others, the "Bottom Six", are pretty good guides to leading your life no matter what your religion.

I'm still not clear on one thing, though. Can I covet my neighbor's wife's ass? I've been guilty of that a time or two.

Anonymous said...

Why do we know the Bible in such detail if we're atheists? Simple. We have to know our adversary.

I think you're getting cause and effect reversed here. For many atheists, especially those from Protestant backgrounds, atheism is a consequence of reading the Bible. I, like many atheists, was once a Christian who sat down one day and decided to read the Bible from beginning to end.

I would also add that atheists are much more likely than the average Christian to have read some portions of The Baghavad Gita, Buddhist sutras, the Koran, Lao Tsu and Chuangtzu, the Homeric hymns, the Popul Vu, etc., etc.

In other words, I would not say that I've read the Bible because I'm an atheist; rather, because I've read the Bible, I am an atheist.

Cujo359 said...

For me, it was the opposite, Howard. I figured out that the idea of gods made no sense when I was ten years old. Really didn't have to advance much beyond the concrete reasoning stage to figure that one out.

But I've been exposed to the myths and the truisms of Christianity for so long that I've absorbed them anyway. Our culture is full of references to Biblical passages, so much so that even Babylon 5, which was written by an avowed atheist, made such references on a regular basis.

The commandment I forgot - adultery. Just slipped my mind, really. I'm not adulterous, at least not in the more modern sense. Seems like that subject was covered by the "no coveting" one, but others may reasonably disagree.

Anyway, here are the Ten Commandments as I'd rewrite them:

1. You will worship no gods. Think for yourself.

2. Worshipping idols is just as bad as having gods. If you worship some thing more than your own life or the people you care about, get some counseling.

3. Take a day off once in a while. All work and no play is not a good lifestyle. If it's always Sunday or Saturday, that's OK by me.

4. Be careful what you say. Some words can't be taken back.

(And now, the Bottom Six)

5. Don't kill people or animals unless you have to in order to survive. If you have to, keep the carnage and pain to a minimum.

6. Don't steal from them, either.

7. Don't be envious of your neighbors or friends. They have their own problems. They're just not yours. If you borrow their stuff, give it back.

8. Someone who will leave their partner for you will probably leave you, too. Do you want to break up a friendship for a quickie?

9. Honor your mother and father. Call them once in a while.

10. The truth is often harder to speak than a lie, but it's also easier to remember. People will usually trust you more if you tell the truth. So start early.

Now, post that in the Capitol Rotunda.

Blake Stacey said...

I honestly don't see what's so bad about coveting the possessions of one's neighbour. Sure, it could lead to bad times, but even then, is it as bad as murder? Fuck no.

A little envy can be a great motivator: what if the possession of my neighbour is a doctoral degree? I think it's OK to be a tad jealous of that, if my jealousy pushes me to work hard. What if my neighbour is Neil Gaiman — am I then forbidden from wanting to write a novel?

"Don't let yourself be consumed by envy" is a fine suggestion. Is it a fundamental precept of morality, infractions of which are as severe as the violent taking of another human being's life? I say again: fuck no.

On the "Bible school makes atheists" topic:

Scholar of religion and author Bart Ehrman went from evangelical Christianity to a more moderate, warm-and-fuzzy variety after studying Biblical texts. Later, the Problem of Evil pushed him all the way out of the Christian fold into an agnosticism which is for all practical purposes atheism. See his book God's Problem (2008).

Biblical scholar Hector Avalos was a child evangelist who went to college specifically to learn about the Bible and be better armed when trying to convert atheists (and Catholics) to Christianity. His faith started to crumble when he discovered just how much violence the Bible crams into its pages.

Cujo359 said...

On further reflection, I rewrote the first of my commandments thus:

1. You will worship no gods. Don't get the idea you should be worshipped, either. Above all, think for yourself.

If you check the link I left in my first comment, you'll see why I edited it a bit.

Cujo359 said...

Just writing things in the same list doesn't automatically equate them, Blake. Besides, this is a rewrite, not an original work. An homage needs to be somewhat true to the original.

I agree that a little envy does no harm. Perhaps in the next edit I'll make that clearer. Or maybe not. I really don't want to make others envious of my perfection.

His faith started to crumble when he discovered just how much violence the Bible crams into its pages.

Some missionaries came by, and crammed one of their pamphlets into my door jamb. The first point it makes inside is:

"Does God Really Care About Us?

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: God never caused that which is wicked. 'Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly.' says Job 34:10."

These folks need to go back and read Exodus and Joshua.

Blake Stacey said...

I was thinking more about the original lists than your version (sorry for the confusion). While listing things together doesn't imply exact parity, I think it does tend to leave the impression that the severity of the items listed are at least roughly comparable, unless a statement is made otherwise. If I were making a catalogue of "Bad Shit You Shouldn't Do Because It Hurts People", murder would be up top, and adultery might well be down in the second dozen. Yeah, it's rotten, but Hell, it's not even guaranteed to end a marriage, depending on the people and the situation involved. Such things as marriage counselors do exist; magicians to raise a body from the dead are more difficult to find.

Cujo359 said...

Ah, yes, the old Catholic version - "thinking about masturbating is a sin, just like murdering someone slowly with a blunt object."

Never made much sense to me, either.

In fairness, if you actually murdered someone that way, you had to have thought about it first, which counts as at least two sins. Still doesn't make much sense to me, though.

Unknown said...

I've never coveted my neighbors ass. Ewww, you haven't seen my neighbor but the word "Troll" comes to mind.

Leave it to me to bring a bit o' levity to these proceedings. Later....