Thursday, February 24, 2011

King Jamesians

One thing an atheist must understand if they wish to engage religious people in discussion is that there is no uniformity, despite how it is presented by the religious.

Often I see the argument, “X% of the world believes in God, why don’t you?” Usually X is some unusually high and inaccurate number, often over 90%.

In reality, only three broad forms of religion believe in “God,” a.k.a. YHWH, Jesus/The Father/The Holy Spirit, or Allah. What’s more, there is a great amount of inconsistency not only between these three groups (and Jews are so tiny as to be nearly insignificant), but also within.

While there is diversity within Islam, it can’t touch the shocking amount of division within Christianity. There are more Christian sects created within the last 200 years in America than there are different sects in Islam. When it comes to Christianity, you have to get the person to clearly define their beliefs, because saying “I’m Christian” is utterly ambiguous.

Outside of Catholics, those who venerate the King James Bible as the absolute and unquestioning word of God are one of the largest groups (especially in English-speaking nations like the US, Canada, Britain, and Australia). What is up with the KJV of the Bible?

To date, I have not personally met anyone else who has completely read the KJV from Genesis to Revelation, just me. I am sure I cannot be the only person, I just don’t hang out in the appropriate circles which would put me in contact with people who have. So, for those of you who haven’t… I can honestly say it was the most laborious and pained read I ever undertook.

To be fair, though, I was unable to even finish reading Atlas Shrugged. Can a Russian writer ever just get to the point in under 2000 pages? Honestly… how hard is it to tell the tale of an immature child who owns most of the toys getting fed up with his friends telling him he has to play fair, saying “Screw you guys, I’m leaving,” and going to play by himself?

There is nothing really special about the King James Bible. It is not a particularly accurate translation (though it is not remarkably inaccurate). The language is awkward and largely archaic, reading like a Shakespearean play (but without the compelling plot or scandalous intrigue). However, this is part of the appeal.

Many Protestant sects demand that their followers only read the KJV of the Bible, and I find it to be a blatant attempt to keep what is actually written in the Bible from being understood by the layperson. This is ironic, because this goes counter to the original intent of the translation: to provide an easily accessible English translation for people who are not versed in Latin. Centuries of lingual evolution has resulted in this late 16th/early 17th century language being inaccessible and obscure to the average English reader.

I have come to the firm belief that the KJV is favored by certain groups because it is so unwieldy to read. Just as Muslims demand that the Quran be read in Arabic, despite most Muslims having little (if any) real working knowledge of Arabic, a Christian minister demanding his followers only read the KJV can ensure ignorance among the congregation regarding what the Bible actually says.

One thing which I continually perplexes me when dealing with these King Jamesians is that some actually refuse to defer any Biblical authority to any non-KJV Bible… including the original Hebrew and Greek. Not all, but some Christians who adhere to the KJV as being the ultimate Word of God refuse to be engaged in any discussion of the original material.

If that weren’t strange enough, their understanding of the Bible as a historical document is also highly suspect. Those who view the KJV as the pinnacle of Christian theology are nearly all opposed to the Catholic Church… despite the fact that it was the Catholic Church (or what would become called “the Catholic Church”) which compiled the Bible from hundreds of available books. Centuries later, Luther decided to drop some books on a whim, and nearly all Protestants have decided to do the same… despite any evidence that doing so made any sense.

Saying “they are of the devil” seems to be good enough, and the world’s Protestants took the violently anti-Semitic 16th century German monk, Martin Luther, at his word…

The truth is, the compilation of the Bible (the New Testament in particular) was politically and theologically calculated, with extreme prejudice. The Bible was constructed from numerous available writings with the express goal of presenting a very specific ideology, at the exclusion of other texts, which ended up being largely destroyed in order to maintain uniformity.

Removing a few books and translating the texts into a now-obsolete English dialect is not an accomplishment worthy of being worshipped as a miracle by modern Protestants. I think it would be a miracle if a Christian ever actually read the Bible in its entirety and still believed it. There is some unbelievable bullshit in there… and I’m not even counting the talking ass. That part I find plausible; just look at Rush Limbaugh.


  1. I drew a diagram illustrated the origins of the various major Bible translations. The KJV starts from a different strand of Christianity -- for even back in the beginning there was disagreement and they come to us in translations.

    You may find this diagram is helpful in understanding the variety of Christians and their vested interests.

  2. Very interesting post. I have read the bible twice, but I never could do it with King James. But even with reading it twice, I still hung on to faith-- but questions did start to form in my mind. It was learning about the bible from sources outside of itself that made me realize that the new questions I had were certainly worth asking!

    I also think the demand by some clergy to exclusivley read King James is a control factor, as you said.

    In my opinion, your post is spot on, Ginx-- even down to the comment about the "talking ass".


  3. Sabio: I have a very different opinion of the first two centuries of Christian epigraphy. I think the bulk (if not all) of the New Testament was written in its current form no earlier than the 2nd or 3rd century (around the time of the inter-sectarian disputes, where each side proported to "find" writings to support their views).

    Uruk: I remember wanting to be a priest, and getting some of my first doubts while reading the brutality of the Old Testament. Then I wanted to be a lawyer... *shudder*

    But this isn't about my horrible life aspirations as a stupid youngin'. I think overall knowledge, as you allude to, is what leads most first-generation atheists to abandon their faith. Questions certainly help, and other times I have seen atheists win be over evangelical style, charisma and all. It would be interesting to poll atheists to see how many were convinced to be atheists by Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, or George Carlin (or any other atheist celebrity).

  4. I wasn't ready to "call" myself an atheist when I read Dawkins, but deep down inside I had already become one. I think I just needed to bounce my new way of thinking against someone who was openly atheist-- to see if I really was one. I did this first when I read Infidel, then Dawkins.

    I doubt many first time atheists read Dawkins and change drastcally. The book that shook me most was The Bible Unearthed. Now that book is what really sent me over the edge.

    I have a brother who was a big Carl Sagan fan. He was watching Cosmos when it first came out on TV. I was too little to pay attention to it back then. I noticed he was never religious but I couldn't understand why.

    I found out why when I found the title The Demon Haunted World on his bookshelf and started watching Cosmos just a few years ago for myself on DVD.

    Had I grew up with that, I might already have become atheist much sooner than I did.

  5. I think for me it was Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that put the idea in my head.

  6. There is something about the KJV that feels more authentic and historical, but I still don't disagree with a thing you've said.

    I don't envy you reading the KJV from start to finish. My own cover-to-cover reading was with the New King James Version, which retains some of the character of KJV but is much more modern.

  7. I have spent considerable time with the NKJV, and it's much easier to read... which is probably why it never caught on. I think you nailed it when you said the KJV "feels more authentic and historical," because religious people really get off on feelings. Plus, anything you don't understand easily must of course be more intellectual and true to the mystical original... right?

    If they really want to write a Bible translation in a way no Christian would read, they should translate it like a science text book.

  8. Very engaging post. I’ve never been able to sit through too must of the KJV for any great length of time. Consequently, I’ve never actually been able to finish it. Not to mention, when I read the New Testament, I’m enraged to think that anyone could consider Jesus exceptionally moral, more of a proto-totalitarian.

    Apropos your speculation about the proselytising power of predominate atheists, for my part, I’d have to say it wasn’t until after reading Dawkins and Hitchens that I dealt firmly with the labelling issue. Before that, I had always been interested in religion and defined myself vaguely as agnostic being uncomfortable to just bite the bullet and declaring like Shelly: “Thro' deficiency of proof, an Atheist”.

  9. I'm also a "deficiency of proof" atheist.

  10. If there is no God and nothing but material, why discuss this?

    You believe in yourself so much.

    You have so many questions.

    I am happy you had any kind of interest in fairness.

    Often you see arguments. I'm sorry.

    Censorship is oppresion. Demanding sects are not good. Blindly following without thinking for yourself is sad.

    Please educate us on the "originals."

    Define your words.

  11. Six days a week, I discuss religion very little, and I discuss theology on Thursday largely beause that was the original intent of my blog (hence the title). However, I intend to purchase a URL and rename my blog at some point, at which time religion will only be mentioned in passing.

    I'll give it a shot at answering your other remarks, but if I'm off, please feel free to elaborate.

    I don't believe in myself in the sense that I believe anything amazing about myself. I'm not particularly bright, I'm not particularly well read, but the few things I have read and the little bit of the world I do understand do encapsulate Western religions. Ask me how to fix a car or a leaking pipe if you want to see me openly admit I have no clue at all, but when it comes to religion... I am legitimately shocked when I learn something new about any of the Abrahamic religions.

    I'm perplexed by the questions statement, as well as the comment on fairness and the following one about arguments.

    Censorship is indeed oppression. It is a rotten shame the early church has left such a meager written record of dissenting opinions. It would also be a horrible mistake for people to try to destroy the Bible (though good luck tracking down every copy... one could spend the rest of their life just trying to rid hotels of them). Demanding sects are bad and blindly following is without thinking is also something I can agree is wrong.

    When I speak of the "original" texts, I do need to clarify. We don't have a great record of early writings when it comes to the New Testament (and nothing even approaching contemporary for most parts of the Jewish canon). I also refer to the original text in a sense of language, where it is best to understand the original Hebrew in the Old Testament and the original Greek in the NT. Any translation (even the Ltin Vulgate) are impossible to truly analyze with any truth when looking for original intent.

    In order to fully understand the Bible, one must be willing to research the original languages and the cultures of the time in order to fully understand the Bible as a work of literature.

    I hope that cleared things up.

  12. Lauralee said: If there is no God and nothing but material, why discuss this?

    Some atheists used to believe in God and are still coming to terms with their non-belief. Other atheists still find religion a facinating topic. Other atheists still discuss God because they believe many who worship God take their beliefs too far and cause problems in the world-- despit any claim of good will concerning the tenants of their faith. And some atheists-- well, they'd just as soon be doing anything else besides discussing God.

    Your question is valid, however; so is the answer from Ginx in my opinion. This is also the reason why I haven't posted on my atheist blog in at least a month now. I've just tired of talking about God so much-- except on a few occassions such as now. I'm reminded about my past and I marvel at how caught up I was, and how I ever mamaged to be pulled away from faith in God.

  13. I'm also fascinated by Norse mythology, do you suppose maybe deep down I think Thor is real?

    You might not be far off if you do... at least I can hear thunder. Plus, this god has a hammer, and your god was nailed to a cross. Poetic symbolism?


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