In Let Us Philosophize (1998) I concluded the chapter on Religion as follows:
The one perfect religion that has ever been given to mankind has been grossly misunderstood, neglected and almost completely forgotten; the religion whose prophet claimed no knowledge, no wisdom, no power, no authority — whose name was Socrates. Socrates may have had the temperament of a mystic. Yet we acclaim him as a philosopher precisely because he went beyond mysticism. He demanded that whatever we hold valuable be fully intelligible. He was deeply religious; he sought the fullness of the inner life. But he was not content with a mystical richness of life, and there lay his glory.
No specific knowledge, no body of doctrine, can secure our salvation: Only a free, ever-creative mind will give us salvation. Not any body of knowledge, but the creative pursuit of understanding, makes us into what we crave to be — whole human beings. That should be the ideal of education.
Deeply Blasphemous hits the proverbial nail on the head with their article about the bible as authority among Christians. The point made is that when Christians argue with non-Christians or even with other Christians, they always, always bring up two points: whether or not the other person they argue with was or is a “true” Christian and resorting to the bible as the final authority on all matters discussed (even though the non-christian would never agree to resorting to this). While not addressing the obvious problems of finger-pointing about whether one is a true believer or not, DB puts it this way about the second point:
So what happens is every discussion about a matter of weight with a Christian is transformed into a discussion about the true meaning of the Bible. Discussing the age of the earth? Go to the Bible. Discussing politics? Go to the Bible. Discussing feminism? Go to the Bible.
This is a form of conversation stopper, then. When a Christian brings up a Bible, what they’re saying is they’re appealing to an unimpeachable authority. And what I think is important, here, is the authority isn’t the Bible. The Bible is a vast, sprawling work that is complex, and often contradictory. The Bible says a lot of things in a lot of language, and is literal in places, metaphorical in others, with no clear distinction between the two. The authority is the person’s interpretation of the Bible.
THAT my friends is where the rubber always meets the road when discussing the bible. We are never discussing the bible itself because the contradictions and silliness of accepting ancient texts as an answer to modern problems is a moot point. No, what we are always discussing is the Christian’s belief about what the bible says. What ordinary Christians are attempting to do is untrained literary analysis of a text they’ve not studied in its original languages. Because after all is said and done, the bible is nothing more than another mythological text in the style of Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Hesiod’s Theogony. These texts highlight a culture’s relationship with the gods. The stories are moral tales that explain the beginning of the world, how people “fell” into their bad habits, and the results of tempting the fates. There’s nothing wrong with learning the moral lessons found in each, but there is something wrong in worshiping the text as if it had every answer known to humankind!