Atheists are often accused of not being nice, for a variety of reasons. One is, we have no outside moral guidance such as scripture, so we obviously have no morals – like morality is this unintuitive concept (hey, some people assume you are as godawful stupid as they are.) Mostly, however, it’s from the idea that we don’t let people slide on concepts like special pleading, arguments that are considered exempt from either support or logic. What’s funny is, in many ways we’ve been way too nice, and I propose that it should stop immediately. There’s such a thing as letting bullshit go on for far too long.
A prime example was recently discussed at EvolutionBlog and Why Evolution Is True. We have, yet again, some religious apologists making a case for biblical scripture being figurative, rather than either metaphorical or literal, and chastising anyone for not taking this into account. And this is simply a variation of every theological argument proposed in the last century. What’s missing, and what is always missing from every assertion of this kind, is any reason whatsoever to believe it. This discussion shouldn’t even be happening, but it is, solely because we’re being too goddamn nice about it.
Let’s pin it down specifically: the bible is wrong. The earth is not flat, the sky is not a ceiling, light comes from stars, humans evolved and are much older than scripture relates, birds did not form from the air and mammals did not form from the dirt, and on and on and on. Every last thing that it states, that was not obvious to the people living at the time, is wrong. That’s a hell of a lousy track record. We have tons of facts to support this rampant inaccuracy too. Tellingly, this is pretty well established now even among most theologians. Which is where the special cases start rolling in.
“But,” the theologians trumpet, “the bible is not meant to be taken literally!” Which is a crying shame, I think, for everyone in the fifteen to twenty centuries before they arrived at this remarkable conclusion, because every religious person did believe it was literal before then. Absolutely no one, not one theologian, proposed that scripture was not a (divinely dictated, mind you) accurate historical document – it was only when we ran into distinct issues with what was related therein that someone suddenly announced the particularly literary devices of “figurative” or “metaphor.”
Now, there are good reasons to use both figurative speech and metaphors, but only when the reader can actually see them for what they are. Mistaking them for fact means they haven’t been used effectively, which makes the bible the least successful piece of literature in history. Perhaps this means that god is indeed perfect, but his editors suck balls? [There’s a straw for the theologians to grasp desperately at, free of charge.] Moreover, figurative and metaphorical writing usually have a particular structure to them, something that easily denotes “fable” but allows the reader to make a comparison to real-world situations. In other words, they’re used for fiction. There aren’t too many historical documents written figuratively, nor any freaking reason to do so. In fact, it’s probably the last thing you would want to do when providing historical information, except for perhaps writing it in Pig Latin.
So, cards on the table and– oh, look! An elephant, right here in the room! Such claims for literary devices within scripture are simply desperate measures to try and rescue a belief system from its fatal flaws. You know it; I know it; they know it. It’s infantile and petty. Why should we have to provide some kind of respect to anyone who proposes such, as if the idea has the least little merit? Why, even, should we listen to any explanation from someone before they have managed to convince all of the other theologians, so there’s at least consistency in the approach? Does it serve some purpose to listen to every insipid guess at why such scripture appears grossly inaccurate, from someone who does not even have the basic honesty to consider that it appears inaccurate because it’s simply made up? Why, pray tell, should atheists feel obligated to be the only ones in the room with an open mind? Is this getting us anywhere?
Just blurting out some excuse isn’t enough. There has to be a reason why such a situation would be not only evident, but preferred. Seeing such aspects as “the fall” and “original sin” as only metaphors means that they do not have the properties they had when literal, which completely trashes their value in the first place. Why should anyone need a savior when the threat isn’t real? Large sections of scripture are intended, so we’re told, to be the operating manual of mankind, yet they’re wishy-washy and vague? Okay, someone may be vapid enough to believe such a premise (or, more likely, too lazy to ever examine it in the first place,) but it’s insulting to expect everyone else to be as stupid. Worse, that we’re not being fair in considering it. I’m funny this way, but I think treating a stupid idea as stupid is the very definition of fair.
A theory is not composed of one stab in the dark. It must explain all of the evidence that we have, and logically produce the results. If that legwork hasn’t been done by the supposed masterbrain forwarding the proposal, there’s no point in wasting any time at all listening to them. We should feel completely free to tell them to go home, do the whole problem, show their work, and above all, convince the majority of chuckleheads who even want to believe scripture in the first place that this is a viable theory, before attempting to put it past those who really couldn’t care less and have absolutely no use for it. Because, and I know this comes as a shock, the world works just fine without mythology, and proving scripture provides value only to those who stand to gain some power or indulgence from it. Claims of moral guidance have had two thousand years to establish themselves as valid – that’s probably a sufficient length of time to see that they’re not working as planned.
Perhaps it’s time to stop being polite by letting every nitwit with a sudden idea blather about literary devices and special rules, and instead require some distinct benefit to be proposed, from the very start. Everything else works that way. I think it’s time for theologians to grow up and take responsibility.