This isn't the kind of post I'd normally make. What I'm trying to do, normally, is to share ideas I find interesting or puzzling, and perhaps provoke some discussion of them in the comments thread so as to get new and better insights. I may illustrate some of these ideas with personal anecdotes, or give a bit of personal background as to how I came to be thinking of them, but the posts themselves are not intended to be about me. They're about the ideas.
Yet I have noticed, particularly when I post about religious ideas, that some commenters feel the need to try to convert me to their religion. In the past I've had long religious discussions in email as a result of articles on my old web page, also aimed at convincing me to adopt this or that set of beliefs. I've also enjoyed my discussions with the Jehovah's Witnesses and other proselytizers who come to me door on occasion.
I do enjoy such discussions, but they're not always directly appropriate to the topic at hand. While it might well be true that if I believed this or that claim about the Gospels, I'd no longer care about the question posed in a blog post, the fact is that I am at the moment interested in the question, and so might any reader who took the time to read the original post.
So the purpose of this blog posting is to provide an appropriate comment thread in which to persuade me that I should accept the Bible as the literal Word of God, and of whatever it is that you might think follows from that claim. I don't mean to imply that people posting in this thread are unwelcome to contribute in other comment threads as well, but I do request that comments be related directly to the subject of the posting that starts the thread.
I suppose I should begin by giving my reasons for not currently accepting the Bible as the literal word of God. For one, there's a basic epistemic hurdle: the only basis I've seen for taking it as God's Word is that, well, other people have earnestly said it is, and I while I tend to trust people as being generally honest, I don't trust them never to be mistaken. True, there are some passages in the Scriptures that make some claims to divine authority, but those also suffer from a similar problem: just because someone claims to be speaking the Word of God doesn't mean he is. He could be lying, or sincere but deluded.
But another reason is that, in my reading of the Bible so far, most of the books do not claim to be divinely authoritative, and in many cases identify themselves as the works of identifiable mortal humans. Indeed, pretty much all of the New Testament consists of epistles from this or that disciple (Paul being the most voluminous) to various recipients, preaching about God but for the most part not claiming to be God. The Gospels, too, are presented as the testimonies of authors known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and thus presumably represent the differing perspectives of individual humans on the events described within. And in the Old Testament, though tradition states that Moses himself wrote the Pentateuch, that seems unlikely, given that he dies before the end of Exodus, and no explanation is given as to how he'd be a reliable authority on the events of Genesis. (One might assume God told him, but that can only work to sustain the premise that the Bible is God's word; it cannot count as evidence for the premise.) Plus, having just finished Psalms and now slogging my way through Proverbs, I can't help but see a lot of this stuff as historical text written by people with political agendas (Solomon proposing to cut the baby in half as a veiled threat to tear apart the kingdom in a civil war, for example) and self-indulgent ego-fests like Mao's Little Red Book. (Seriously, Psalms seems like a collection of King David's Greatest Hits (and some not-so-great which no one would dare to call less than great), while Proverbs reads like Solomon sat down and scribbled out a couple of hundred, perhaps planning on selecting just the best for a small collection of pithy sayings, and some toadying yes-man of an editor told him, "Sire, they're ALL so good! I couldn't bear to cut a single one!" Even though an awful lot look like edits and re-edits of the same trite observation.)
So in other words, it really doesn't read like God wrote it. Not that I have any idea how God writes (though I'd kind of expect high standards), but I don't see anything about the style, structure or organization that sets the book apart from any other human creation. In short, it looks to me like exactly what you'd expect from a collection of ancient myths, historical/political texts (and a few straight attempts at narrative fiction, poetry and philosophy, like Job, Psalms, Proverbs and the Song of Solomon), combined with the newer quasi-historical accounts and evangelical letters of the New Testament, all arbitrarily selected by the Council of Nicea in accordance with the dominant religious agenda of the time. I see no compelling reason to see it as anything other than a human text, about God, perhaps, but not by God except in the same empty sense that everything else is as well.
That's how I see it, anyway. I hereby cordially invite any and all of you use the comments thread to persuade me why I should (or shouldn't) adopt a different view of the Bible.