Saturday, April 30, 2011

The bible as tribal literature

A salient phrase in Greta Christina's biting criticism of religious morality spawned this topic: the "tribality" of the Bible.

Speaking at Alternet, she says (regarding how believers might respond to the bible's atrociousness):
This is wrong. This is vile and indefensible. This kind of behavior comes from a tribal morality that humanity has evolved beyond, and we should repudiate it without reservation.

Since we have no evidence that god (yahweh, zeus, odin, allah, etc) exists, and we can construct no rational argument why such a being - creator of, supervisor of, intervener in, the universe - could, would or should exist, we conclude that the bible cannot be eyewitness accounts of god, because there is no god to witness. What are we left to conclude?

The Hebrew bible is a tribal mythology. It may be the recorded verbal history passed down by pre-Hebrew people - stories that attempt to explain how they came to be on this earth - stories that attempt to explain their present situation in relationship to whatever the antagonist(s) of the moment are, antagonists who may be modernity - farmers as opposed to herders, villagers as opposed to nomads - or they may be specific people - Amalekites, Jebusites, Canaanites, Stalactites, Stalagmites, Nanites ... whatever.

The bible authors have no way of knowing how they came to be, how their world came to be, how the world works, how they work. When faced with uncertainty and the need to explain, they constructed the early stories in the bible (Genesis, Exodus ... Deuteronomy), combining their creation, an explanation of their circumstances, and some rudimentary health, sanitation and moral guidelines that would keep the tribe together and somewhat healthy. You might also impute to the story-teller/law-giver a desire to have influence over the layman. A religion is born.

I'm not an expert, but this certainly seems plausible - that the bible is tribal myth, apologia and rudimentary social guidelines - much more plausible than an indisputable, evidence-based, independently verifiable recording of actual supernatural beings and their words and actions. We can imagine supernatural beings at work - billions do, billions have in the past, billions will in the future - but it is extraordinarily, maybe incalculably more implausible than the rational, evidence-supported natural causes that we see.

Primitive tribal utterances are no foundation on which to base our understanding of the universe, and the purpose, meaning and ordering of our lives.

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