Secular Fundamentalism

If you Google ‘Lidar Sapir-Hen’ and ‘Erez Ben-Yosef’, you should be able to locate an interesting article of theirs in the Tel Aviv Journal of Archeology Vol 40; pages 277-285 year 2013. The article is called The Introduction of Domestic Camels to the Southern Levant: Evidence from the Aravah Valley. This is a very proper and scholarly discussion suggesting the use of the dromedary camel as a pack animal, around Israel, cannot be dated earlier than 930 BCE. These authors have looked at all the evidence they can find before reaching their conclusion and they are properly credentialed experts. They mention in passing that this result has drawn a lot of discussion because of the “depiction of camels in the Patriarchal narrative”. What they mean is that the Bible claims that Abram was using camels about a thousand years before 930 BCE. You need to understand that to this day, the Bible especially the Jewish scripture is still considered as a genuine archeological/historical source of information. However, as good Jewish scholars both Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef were both well aware that the Bible was only written down, in Jewish script from about 930 BCE onwards so they saw no need to comment further.

These days every university needs publicity and funds, so it is probable that this paper, along with other choice papers was sent to the (American) National Geographic. I hardly need introduce this institution which is committed to gathering and dispersing quality articles on geography and historical research to the public. As sensational articles sell better than dull ones, their article gave outlines of the research under the heading Domesticated Camels Came to Israel in 930 B.C., Centuries Later Than Bible Says. The article (by Mairav Zonszein) opens: “While there are conflicting theories about when the Bible was composed, the recent research suggests it was written much later than the events it describes. This supports earlier studies that have challenged the Bible’s veracity as a historic document.” All these extra words were added even though the original archeological article showed no further concern about this, common enough, anomaly. The “challenge to veracity” is simply because modern Christian fundamentalists still argue that Moses wrote the first five books of the bible, although they have no good reasons for this assumption. Further as I mentioned these biblical records while not inerrant remain one of the best written historical records from those times.

The National Geographic article then shows explicitly the parts of the bible which claims camels were used as pack animals before 930 BCE and then continues with a fair summary of the original paper.

Now, that I have prepared you, read the following literal download, written by a journalist, Sam de Brito:
Biblical facts fall at the first hump
Comment from the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper 23 February 2014 by Sam de Brito.

All men are liars Foul-smelling and ill-tempered, camels might have gained a few admirers among atheists this month after helping science further rock the world of religion.
As reported in that muck-raking scandal sheet National Geographic, archaeologists have proved camels weren't domesticated in Israel until 930BC - ''several centuries after they appear in the Bible''.
According to traditional biblical chronology, many of the stars of the Old Testament were getting around on the one-humped dromedary a thousand years earlier, as far back as 2100BC. This strongly suggests the parts of the Bible featuring camels are not quite accurate.
The magazine quotes research published last year by archaeologists from Tel Aviv University in Israel that confirms camels played no role in the lives of biblical figures such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ''and were almost certainly inserted into the story centuries later''.
''While there are conflicting theories about when the Bible was composed … this supports earlier studies that have challenged the Bible's veracity as a historic document,'' says National Geographic.
This is surely not the most damning error or invention in the Bible but it does strike another embarrassing blow to those who insist the book is inspired by faultless divinity, rather than being an extended creative writing project penned by humans.

Pentecostal independent MP Geoff Shaw, who holds the balance of power in the Victorian Parliament, used his maiden speech to ''acknowledge the original owner of the land on which we stand … the God of the Bible'' and last week said ''I'm a Christian first and an MP is just what I do [for a living], so of course many decisions I make are based on my beliefs.''
This month Shaw flagged he'd be introducing a private member's bill so Victorian doctors who don't wish to perform an abortion also don't have to refer patients to a doctor who can.
Like the Albury pharmacy dropped 10 days ago by the Soul Pattison group for its refusal to sell condoms or the pill for birth control reasons, Shaw takes the Bible as the defining guide to right and wrong.
His NSW doppelganger is, of course, Fred Nile, who last year described a bill in the NSW upper house to legalise same-sex marriage as having ''originated in the depths of hell'' and ''an attack on Almighty God's Creative Purposes for the human race'' (the capitalisation is his)
Of course, many Christians happily admit the Bible is a metaphorical text, meant to illustrate moral lessons and not be taken literally. However, what discoveries like the camels hammer home is the good book is a creation of mortals and thus as flawed and as limited as the men who wrote it.
To say it is the final word on morality and how to lead a good life is to ignore that every other aspect of human existence, including physical and mental health, is governed by natural laws about which we learn more through science's ''best efforts''.
Secular Australians might dismiss the influence of religion in this country but it still informs institutional attitudes to gay marriage, our labyrinth state-by-state abortion laws, drug laws, the right to euthanasia, even businesses' ability to trade on Sunday - ''the Lord's day''.
Acceptance of the Bible as a work of ancient fiction strikes me as one of the most practical steps we can take to moving past the superstitions and prejudices of humankind's desert-bound adolescence. To get the party started, let's honour camels by making Sundays our new ''hump'' day.

The Israeli archeologists are probably agnostics who are simply concerned with archeology and not religion. However the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) are for all Israelis the de facto constitution of Israel. Independently from the religious content these documents are recognized as one of the best historical accounts of the pre-Christian era.

I would always prefer a politician who is honest enough to declare and abide by their principles. In a democracy no individual can control legislation. I would encourage Shaw and Nile and even Muslims or Buddhists, even though I may not vote for them. However, I would be horrified if Sam de Brito asked for my vote.

Sam does admit: “Of course, many Christians happily admit the Bible is a metaphorical text, meant to illustrate moral lessons and not be taken literally.”

Depak Chopra says: “So many agendas work against finding the divine that the situation has given rise to a cynical joke: God handed down the truth, and the devil said “Let me organise it.”

Now I will add more material that I previously edited out.

CHRIS: Hello Terry, I read your last essay and I found it rather upsetting.
TERRY: It wasn’t meant to offend. What upset you?
CHRIS: I thought it put us fundamentalists in a bad light.
TERRY: So you consider yourself a fundamentalist, do you?
CHRIS: I believe the Bible is inerrant.
TERRY: Some Christians call me a fundamentalist because I use the Bible as my primary source and guide for spiritual inspiration; but I guess you mean that a Christian fundamentalist is a person who believes the Bible is inerrant.
CHRIS: That is correct; I wouldn’t call you a fundamentalist because you are often quoting Buddhist or Muslim sources.
You make believers, like me, sound old-fashioned, silly and dangerously stubborn.
TERRY: Not old fashioned, as the definition of ‘inerrant scriptures’ came quite recently. Inerrant scriptures is a modern idea. Surely I don’t think fundamentalists are silly if I admit to being one myself.
Further, I was at pains to counter the unfavourable journalism that delights in making fundamentalists sound menacing and dangerous. Journalists are a good example of people who exploit fundamentalism for control in religious and political ideas.
CHRIS: Yes but I still felt you were getting at me in the way that you wrote.
TERRY: If so, then your feelings effect your judgment, as I wrote in my first essay “In truth our everyday analyses always depend on prior beliefs and desires. If we want to reach a certain conclusion, our brains will alter the way we perceive and weigh data and analyze arguments. And – most important – our brains do this beneath our level of awareness.” Your feelings led you to conclude that I was attacking you when I was consciously doing nothing of the kind.
CHRIS: In that case, despite claiming to be a Christian fundamentalist you are also supporting Muslim fundamentalists. Say what you like, there is general agreement that these people are dangerous terrorists.
TERRY: Haven’t we already covered this? There are just as many reports of Christian terrorism as there are of Muslim terrorism; both today and in the past. You would be the first to admit that the Irish terrorists were not acting in accord with the teachings of Jesus.
CHRIS: Maybe, but the Koran tells Muslims to kill unbelievers.
TERRY: That has been put to me before so I looked this matter up. You are probably referring to Sura 9:5 which reads: “When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Take them and confine them, then lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and establish the prayer and pay the obligatory charity, let them go their way. Allah is Forgiving and the Most Merciful.” Now, if the Muslims followed these instructions to the letter, then they clearly must not kill unbelievers without giving them a chance to repent; thus public bombing, without warning is contrary to the instructions in the Koran. Further, Muslim terrorists have no brief to kill fellow believers and again we can say they are not acting according to the Koran.
CHRIS: Yes, I suppose by a similar argument we can assert that Christians are breaking the sixth commandment (Do no murder) when they martyr fellow believers or take part in modern intertribal genocide.
TERRY: There is however a philosophical argument that distinguishes between Christian and Muslim ‘inerrant’ fundamentalists.
CHRIS: What is that?
TERRY: Well an initial Koranic verse, Sura 2:256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion. Righteousness is now distinct from error. …”. If you think about it, this seems to contradict with the first passage quoted above; this is something that is officially admitted by Muslim teachers. These teachers say that Sura 9:5 overrides Sura 2:256, because it was given later in the revelation to Mohamed. Thus some contradictions are admittedly found in the Koran and therefore the verses cannot be considered equally inerrant!
CHRIS: Wow, do you say they admit the Koran has errors?
TERRY: Well Muslims never supposed otherwise and it is only recently that Christians have added the new idea that the Bible has no errors. The whole concept of ‘scientific’ inerrancy is only one hundred years old.
CHRIS: OK but the Bible does not contain such obvious contradictions.
TERRY: Perhaps not, but this may because we have been retranslating and reapplying the text for two thousand years. Many Bible verses contradict scientific sense. Rather than discuss Genesis can I give a simple and (I hope) harmless example.
CHRIS: Fair enough, go ahead.
TERRY: Last year I was sitting in church and heard a passage read from 2 Chronicles 13 and the moment I heard it I knew it was in error, the numbers were clearly wrong.
CHRIS: What did it say?
TERRY: verse 3 reads “And Abijah set the battle in array with an army of valiant men of war, [even] four hundred thousand chosen men: Jeroboam also set the battle in array against him with eight hundred thousand chosen men, [being] mighty men of valour.” Then verse 17 reads “ And Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter: so there fell down slain of Israel five hundred thousand chosen men.”
CHRIS: What is wrong with those verses?
TERRY: The numbers are too big by a factor of a hundred.
CHRIS: How do you know?
TERRY: Take Jeroboam’s army, if he lined it up in battle array ten men deep, the line would stretch for 80 kilometres, It would take hours for the order to charge to spread down the line. The army would stretch over the whole width of Israel. Verse 17 says that five hundred thousand Israelites were killed, to say nothing of the wounded and unknown number of men of Judah who must have died in the conflict. You can’t leave corpses all over the countryside and burying them without bulldozers would take months. Lastly feeding and setting up porta-loos for your army and the prisoners of war (who would be doing the burial work) would be a problem that could not even be solved by modern day logistics.
CHRIS: Yes the numbers might be overstated but the other details are correct so why should that bother you?
TERRY: Well I taught physics to many students and I would be expected them to pick errors like this as a matter of course. You wouldn’t expect them to sit in church, perhaps for the first time, hear this passage and be impressed by the truth of the Bible.
CHRIS: But if they asked about it, this would be explained to them.
TERRY: Oh no this would not happen, not in a modern fundamentalist church. In my repeated experience if you ask for clarification of these matters you will meet an emotional and hostile reaction; when it comes to the Bible there is no room for error or dispute.
CHRIS: Oh you are exaggerating as usual.
TERRY: Far from it I could spend an hour talking about such personal encounters I have had before and after church, this is why I chose a fresh and relatively harmless example, rather than picking on a more well known Bible discrepancies.
CHRIS: Yes, but that is your fault as you are always arguing with people in churches. Why don’t you just accept what is being said and listen to the gospel?
TERRY: Look I can look after myself and besides I don’t have to go to church if I don’t want to. And I certainly don’t want to go just to get caught up in silly ignorant arguments.
CHRIS: But is there any point in this nit-picking?
TERRY: It is not nit-picking. A fundamentalist once buttonholed me, unasked, and ear-bashed me for twenty minutes to tell me that the theory of Evolution is the greatest barrier to young people accepting the gospel (well his version of the gospel). About the same time a student came to me, at university, because he knew I was a Christian and in all seriousness he asked me: If he was to become a Christian did he have to believe the world was made in six days? I would say that for the modern educated young person this new fundamentalist theory that the Bible is inerrant is a serious barrier that prevents proper understanding of the Bible.
CHRIS: You are being too harsh, the fundamentalists mean well.
TERRY: So did Judas and the priests in the gospel story. These people have such a heavy emotional attachment to biblical truth they cannot see the practical and spiritual truths and they have made the Bible an idol! You must not even think of challenging their interpretation, because they act as if they have the truth and you are directly challenging God. Misquoting Jesus in another context, we could say “God is of age ask Him.”
CHRIS: But how can person know what to believe in the Bible?
TERRY: I think the answer was given by Jesus in John 16: 13. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, [that] shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.”
CHRIS: Yes but …
TERRY: I have deliberately centered this discussion on the Koran and the Old Testament. Can’t we have a break and discuss the New Testament some other time?
CHRIS: Yes a good idea, we have covered enough ground for the time being. Do you want a coffee?
TERRY: I always do, that is why I am trying to give them up.

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