This series ambition is to write posts for religion-free folks (see the table of contents) to offer them basic Bible literacy as an intro to Judaism and Christianity and to explore religion in general. The Bible is a very long and old text and so expecting even a believer, yet alone a non-believer to read through it is unrealistic. And reading it without guidance and expecting to understand it, is naive. For those reasons, there are thousands of books out there to readers over these hurdles. But this series is for non-believers and it is not meant to be exhaustive, but to offer enough stories to make the reader savvy enough in Bible stories to get a greater appreciation of allusion in common culture, movies and literature to Bible themes. While doing this, I hope to also offer some comparative religions material but even more importantly, show how religion works, which is more important than what religions say they believe. To repeat, here are the themes I will pursue:
Religion-Free Perspective: An introduction for non-believers
The terms “non-believers” or “atheists” or “agnostics” are all labels developed from the perspective that “believing” is the norm and thus pejorative. Here we describe all those people in a positive light as “religion-free”. This would be much like using the term “Child-free” couple vs. a “Childless” couple.
The religion-free folks I have in mind for these posts are those who really have very little knowledge of Judaism and Christianity — not those raised in the some tradition who then rejected it. Thus I am talking to those raised minimally as only cultural members of those faiths, or those who were raised religion-free and who have only some exposures to religion. I have a few people in mind as I write these, and hope they and a few others find this series helpful. Please write ask questions, add points or make objections in the comment section. Believers are also welcome to jump in and comment, but I will not welcome proselyting here. This general rule for this blog and more are listed here.
Bible Literacy: Understanding Biblical Allusions
The Bible, like all religious texts and traditions, is loaded with stories that are packed with moral messages, principles, and wisdom (good and bad). People who have not read or studied the Bible will miss many allusions in literature, movies and even conversations. So even some familiarity with the main stories can broaden your enjoyment of other material.
Many Christianities: Understanding Biblical Controversies
There are as many different types of Christians as there are believers in every other faith. And each will tell you that their version is the best, or at least a real good version. And for Christians, they all use the Bible. So I will tell stories and occasionally show the difference in the ways different Christians treat the same stories.
The versions of the Bible stories we have today have changed over time and their are contrary stories out there. We will explore some of these ideas.
Comparative Religion and Comparative Thinking:
Broader than just understanding the various kinds of Christianities is understanding how all religions struggle with similar issues. Actually, all large systems wrestle with similar issues. I will try offer readers comparisons to help see the deep issues that are often hidden by the superficial explanations offered by any religion or system. Systems are not the sum of their parts, but how those parts all relate to each other and function.
Religion as a Tool: Understanding how religion works
Religion is complicated. Christianity and Islam will tell you that correct belief is central to true religion. But the most important thing to know about a religion is not it’s beliefs (though you will need those), but how those beliefs are used by its believers.
Most Westerners, exposed culturally to Christianity, even if nonbelievers, are subconsciously hypnotized by this idea that a religion is its beliefs. Most folks feel they will understand a religion if they just read a list of their beliefs and maybe some of their history. But religions use their beliefs like tools to pursue social and personal goals. Mind you, believers themselves may tell you that it is all about correct beliefs, but they are wrong. And thus that will be the bias of this series.
This principle of understanding religion as a tool will be the most difficult to convey. You almost have to understand 3 or 4 religions to start understanding the patterns. In this series I hope to pause and illustrate some of the shared ways religions which have very different beliefs, nonetheless link the ones they have to accomplish very similar things to one and other.