Sun | May 28, 2017

Michael Abrahams: Responding to Christian backlash

Published:Monday | September 21, 2015 | 9:14 AMMichael Abrahams


My last two articles, ‘The God of the Bible is not merciful’ (September 7) and ‘Bible tales from the crypt’ (September 14), have generated so many responses, including eight letters to the editor expressing disagreement with me, that I have found it necessary to respond to my detractors.
Interestingly, rather than deflating me, the letters and many of the responses to them have left me with a feeling of vindication, as not one convincingly presented a case to dismiss the notion of God not being merciful. One person actually likened God to a car manufacturer deliberately crashing and scrapping cars which, ironically, beautifully illustrates my point.
Also, many of my concerns about organised religion were on display, including judgemental attitudes and the intolerance of persons expressing opposing views.
Many who read and commented failed to understand that my reference to the ‘God of the Bible’ means exactly what it says: the depiction of God in the Bible. There are many interpretations and depictions of a supreme being or beings, and the description of God in the Bible is just one. Many persons assume that because I have serious issues with organised religion, I am an atheist, but I am not. I do believe that a Supreme Being, or deity, exists, but I do not buy into the Bible’s description of that being.
The Bible was written by humans, and we are flawed creatures. There is no rationale to insist that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. There are 66 books in the Bible, written by 40 authors. Most of the authors are known, but some are anonymous. We cannot honestly say that we know the motives and agendas of all of the writers and persons who put the books of the Bible together, when we know nothing or very little about some of them and their lives.
The books were initially written in different languages - Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and the entire Holy Bible has subsequently been translated into 531 languages, with more than 200 English versions. It is dishonest to insist that there have been absolutely no errors in translation, as there is no way to prove this.
So, to claim, as several of my detractors have, that God Himself said that he is merciful, therefore it must be so, is a flawed argument. In Exodus 34:6, when God is quoted as saying that He is merciful, He allegedly says, in the very next verse, that He is “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation”, actions that are in no way merciful, and contradict the preceding verse.
A Roman Catholic seminarian, who respectfully disagreed with me, stated that his church maintains that “the interpretation of the Holy Bible should be done only through the teaching authority of the Church”, a practice that I am uncomfortable with, as it sets the stage for brainwashing, manipulation and control.
One does not need to study theology to understand behaviour that is not merciful when one reads about it. Similarly, there is a tendency for Christians to object to the lack of ‘context’ when presented with unpalatable passages from their holy book. Context is indeed important, but one does not need context to see that genocide, infanticide and killing and punishing children for the transgressions of their parents and other ancestors is unmerciful.
The concept of God rescuing us from a “more sorrowful end” by killing people, as expressed by one of my critics, is again illogical. According to the Bible, God committed the biggest genocide ever, drowning everybody on the planet, with the exception of eight people in one family. But after that, man has continued to misbehave, so that attempt would have to be considered, in modern lingo, an epic fail.
What was very evident in the responses were the intolerance of alternative views and the sense of entitlement possessed by many persons of faith. I was accused of launching an assault and of seeking attention, accusations which I find to be laughable. Apparently, simply disagreeing with some aspects of Christianity is seen as an attack by some of its followers, an attitude which is rather disingenuous.
As for those who accuse me of seeking attention, their hypocrisy is more than a little disturbing. Christians in this country build many churches, insist on prayer in schools and before meetings, seminars and conferences, preach on buses, walk the streets and distribute tracts and other religious literature, and stage crusades, rallies, demonstrations, marches and gospel concerts. They have their own radio and television programmes and stations, as well as entire sections in newspapers devoted to their faith, and pressure lawmakers not to change laws that are in keeping with their religious beliefs. But when I write an article sharing my honest views about religion, which differs from theirs, I am “seeking attention”.
I urge my Christian detractors to take pages out of the books of Ian Boyne and the Reverend Clinton Chisholm, devout Christians who understood my concerns and penned articles published in last week’s Sunday Gleaner (September 13, 2015). Their articles were engaging, rather than dismissive.
I also had a discussion with Rev Chisholm on a radio programme last week, and participated in an online audio-visual debate with Cashley Brown, a pastor who opposed me in a letter to the Gleaner editor titled ‘Abrahams should stick to comedy and leave theology’. The conversations were congenial, respectful and even jovial at times, with total absence of vitriol, sarcasm or arrogance.
Religion can be discussed without rancour. What we all need to understand is that religiosity is based on belief and faith, and we are all entitled to our interpretations. Statements and questions raised by persons like myself, Patrick White and E. Elpedio Robinson, who defended me on the pages of The Gleaner, should serve as talking points rather than targets for condemnation.
Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.