Sunday, February 05, 2006

What's the fastest way to become an atheist?

Just watched an episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! on the Bible. The exclamation mark is well-deserved – a well put together, surprisingly thoughtful, fun, no-nonsense show that really hits Christianity where it hurts, i.e. in the Bible. I have no idea what the actual reaction to that show was in the States. But a particular comparison comes to mind - Penn and Teller have all the bravery and love of freedom and reason that the magazine editor who printed the Muhammad cartoons would like to believe he has but does not.

And Penn is right about the fastest way to become an atheist – “Just read the damned Bible.” Watching Bullshit! comes a close second, though; and is more fun.


At 13/3/06 9:42 pm, Anonymous Ryan said...

Just finished watching the episode. Despite its irreverant and many ad hominemesque comments about believers, I was glad to see that they interviewed the two men they did.

However, though it was said that they were not pulling texts from context, they then, not a minute later, said that there is no structure to the book. Now, if they were unable to discern the structure, how could they be sure they could use the texts in proper context? I believe they failed in this respect.

The show was good for some soundbites, but anyone with a critical mind would be left unsatisfied. Their brief treatment of intricate questions was, for that reason, nearing on propaganda.

One must come to the canonical texts with a literary understanding. They rightly attack a stictly "literal" understanding, but fail to grasp how myth and history were interwoven in the ancient near east, and in that sense can have historical reliability.

At 23/3/06 1:02 pm, Blogger Notorious Apostate said...

I think you are too harsh on Penn and Teller. One thing to remember is that this was supposed to be a humorous take on the issue. Having said that, I think they do a pretty good job of making important points. But, to take your objection one by one:
One doesn't have to discern the structure of the book to be able to recognise context. Imagine a novel that cuts back and forth so much in time that it is impossible to tell what happened when. Still, the relevant context of someone saying that we should blow up the Eiffel Tower might be that this is a negative character thus making the claim that the author supports terrorist attacks on the French clearly a case of something being taken out of context.
In what sense unsatisfied? If someone felt that Penn and Teller said everything that needed to be said and the issue was closed then, yes, they would be wrong. However, if someone (such as myself) felt that they made a valuable contribution and raised important points in an often clever way then I don't think that undermines their (my) claim to have a critical mind. Humour has a long and valued history as a tool to be used against hypocrisy, ignorance and arrogance. Sometimes it is necessary to lampoon and, in the process, to simplify the situation. The humourist's reputation depends upon it being judged that the caricature they drew is faithful to the spirit of their target.
You are right, of course, that you must come to canonical texts with a literary understanding. But the people who were sent up by P&T lack such an understanding, indeed such an understanding is antithetical to how those people understand the Bible. It is just the same as when humanists say that Jesus was a great man who said many wise things. To a theist this is heresy as the point of their faith is that Jesus wasn't just a great man but a god. This point is neatly got at by P&T when they catch the Bible scholar on the horns of a dilemma: either the crossing of the Red Sea was a miracle, in which case it would silly to believe in it, or it wasn't a miracle, in which case it provides no evidence for the existence of God.

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