Chapter Ten: Our Legacy: “That Old-Time Religion”
We have compared the god-men of the Bible to the gods of other cultures and found them to be virtually identical. Again, the truth seems to be that the Jews collected all the god stories they could find and claimed them as tales about their own god, and the Christians did likewise. As Barbara Walker wrote:
“the Bible is a highly diversified collection of writings, put together more or less at random over many centuries and extensively edited, revised, added to, subtracted from, mistranslated and misunderstood in a variety of ways. To regard any of it as historically accurate is simply a delusion that can be maintained only with considerable damage to the faculty of reason. . .
“scholars know now that the Old Testament contains innumerable lies, mistakes, contradictions and bits of plagiarism; for the writers were not really creative authors. They were copiers and collectors of earlier texts, which they often garbled or misunderstood. They didn’t create their own unique creation myth; they adapted it from many earlier sources.”
“The Jews would have us believe their entire book is a revelation from this God, yet how can it be since all the other races had the same material? Here we repeat, there is scarcely anything in their scriptures that cannot be found in the literature of older races. This they will deny, tracing as they do their lineage back to Adam, but their antiquity is as mythological as their history, so also their calendar . . . As for revelation, there is no such thing. All knowledge is humanly acquired sometime.”
The stories we have inherited reflect the mindset of the ancients as they attempted to grapple with theological issues and curiosity about their origin and the calamities and good fortune that came their way. While we may never have a clear answer as to who first began propagating many of these legends, we have no choice but to accept that the biblical account borrowed from other traditions.
Dennis Bratcher observed:
“Since the Israelites shared the cultural milieu of the Middle East, it would not be surprising, as pervasive as these myths were in that area, that they would use some of this imagery. . . While the specific origin of many of the symbols of apocalyptic writings cannot be traced, several basic elements . . . have a common background in Canaanite and Middle Eastern culture”.
“Preliterate people handed down their best guesses about gods and goodness by way of oral tradition . . . Their notions of what was good . . . and how to live in moral community with each other were free to evolve as culture and technology changed. But the advent of the written word changed that. As our Iron Age ancestors recorded and compiled their ideas into sacred texts, these texts allowed their understanding of gods and goodness to become static. The sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam forbid idol worship, but over time the texts themselves became idols, and many modern believers practice—essentially—book worship, also known as bibliolatry. . .
“Adherents who think their faith is perfect, are not just naïve or ill informed. They are developmentally arrested, and in the case of the world’s major religions, they are anchored to the Iron Age, a time of violence, slavery, desperation and early death.
“Ironically, the mindset that our sacred texts are perfect betrays the very quest that drove our ancestors to write those texts. Each of the men who wrote part of the Bible, Quran, or Gita took his received tradition, revised it, and offered his own best articulation of what is good and real. We can honor the quest of our spiritual ancestors, or we can honor their answers, but we cannot do both.”
Tarico’s words are enlightening. Our ancestors changed their scriptures as their knowledge advanced, but many today remain stuck at an outdated level of discernment because they refuse to move past the philosophies of the ancients.
Curtis Hinson wrote:
“In the twenty-first century, one ought to be able to worship any deity or no deity freely, but without the expectation of suspension of criticism from those outside a given view. If faith is humanistic, that is, if it contributes to human well-being and advancement, then it has value for those who practice it. If a faith causes harm and oppression, however, if it causes “Othering” (in the Lacan/Levinas sense), then it cannot be seen as a positive contribution to the world or to its adherents.
“Genocide, rape, and slavery are all described with varying levels of approval or disapproval attributed to God and the Israelites. The Israelites had a tribalistic worldview that allowed the juxtaposition of atrocities with a benevolent tribal God. The Torah contains what may be beautiful theological metaphors—yet cannot be accepted uncritically as a whole without severe cognitive and moral disconnect. With a more ancient view of canon (such as the concept even existed in proto-form), this was not an obstacle at all. Different genres (some of which are extant in modern literature), parallel but disagreeing narratives, and internal disagreements or clashes were expected, as a less literalistic and more oral view of the (then mostly oral) tradition made this a non-conflict.
“In the modern, Western Christian view, particularly the fundamentalist flavor thereof, where the canon is forced to harmonize where it was never intended to harmonize, across internal theological development, three different languages, and several centuries of history and many more centuries of textual transmission and translation, the resulting God cannot be respected as God without suspension of moral judgment and an absolute privileging of text and theology. Those of us who do not share this privileging are in no account compelled to suspend criticism. The constructed god is an assault on human progress.”
As Tarico noted, while this “focus on the written word . . . has allowed Christianity and Islam to become more powerful than any religion in history . . . it has also allowed both traditions to become stagnant and cruel.”
Our forebears recognized the need to evolve. Perhaps they did the best they could with the information available to them. I truly believe that is so of some of them. They were simply attempting to understand their world. Let’s not degrade their legacy by refusing to further their knowledge. They left us a heritage of a curious mind and a heart to discover new truth. What legacy will we leave our children? Do we want them to cling to outdated, ignorant ideas, or do we want them to add their own more enlightened thoughts to what we already have? We must set the example! Maybe that “old-time religion” shouldn’t be “good enough for me.” Of course, the truth may be that the ancients knew more than we do and we should move back beyond the time when the Jews and Catholics literalized the myths and return to the truths we can glean from nature.
Tina Rae Collins
My goal is to share my book The Judaeo-Christian Myth one article at a time. If you find these articles interesting or you don’t think I’ll reach my goal (always a possibility, I suppose), and/or you just can’t wait, you can purchase the book by clicking on the picture above or the title in this paragraph. Thanks for reading!
 Walker, Man Made God, 39-40, 99.  Graham, 231.  Dennis Bratcher, “Speaking the Language of Canaan: The Old Testament and the Israelite Perception of the Physical World: How the Scriptures Appropriate Non-Hebraic World Views,” Christian Resource Institute: The Voice: Biblical and Theological Resources for Growing Christians, cresourcei.org, 2013, web, 16 Feb. 2014.  Tarico, “These are the 12 worst ideas religion has unleashed on the world.”  “Othering is the process of casting a group, an individual or an object into the role of the ‘other’ and establishing one’s own identity through opposition to and, frequently, vilification of this Other.” Yiannis Gabriel, “The Other and Othering – A Short Introduction,” Stories, music, psychoanalysis, politics, reviews, the odd cooking recipe . . . , yiannisgabriel.com, 10 Sept. 2012, web, 12 Jan. 2015.  Curtis Hinson, message to the author, 12 Jan. 2014.  Tarico, “In Defense of Cherry Picking the Bible.”  “(Give Me That) Old-Time Religion,” traditional gospel song, 1873, written down by Charles Davis Tillman, 1889, wikipedia.org, 20 Jan. 2015, web, 23 Jan. 2015.