Chasing the Bus

Bible BusOnce Tony Soprano shared an insight with his therapist. He had “mother issues,” you see. Pretty serious ones: she wanted to have him rubbed out—and tried! Anyway, Tony said our mothers are like buses that drop us off and drive away. We ought to be grateful for the ride. Instead, we chase after the bus, desperate to get back on. Naturally, the wisdom of Tony is applicable to much of life, but here (all too predictably) I want to apply it to our interest in the Bible. What’a ya gonna do?

I am right now working on a book called Bart Ehrman Interpreted. Like me, he was once a fundamentalist, then an evangelical, then an agnostic, and finally an atheist. It happens to a lot of us. In this evolutionary path many factors are at work, but one of the biggies, one might even say the fulcrum, is the Bible and our devotion to it. We get on the Bible Bus in our early years, eager to ride it to heaven! We have been told it will get us there as we take an exciting ride through the exotic neighborhood of the Old Testament, the shining landscape of the New Testament, the farther lands of Church History and Theology. So in order to appreciate these sights all the more, we study up on the guidebook, the Bible and commentaries on it. But every once in a while we are surprised to hear the sputtering ring of the stop signal, and the Bible Bus pulls over to let someone off. This surprises and concerns us! Why would anyone want to disembark from the Bible Bus? It’s so comfortable! The company is so pleasant! The group singing is such fun! Why? We are mystified.

That is, until we find ourselves reaching for the stop cord and getting up from our seat. Now we know why the others did the same. The closer we studied that guidebook, the more troubled we became. There were certain… discrepancies. Hell, was the bus actually going anywhere? We could swear we saw some of the same sights more than once! Were we just going in circles? Were we even moving?


Occasionally we look at the neighborhood we got dropped off in, and it looks pretty drab compared to the storybook paradise we used to think we were headed for. And in that moment, we think, as Tony Soprano said, of chasing that bus, or maybe waiting for another one to come along. But when one does, we realize we don’t have the required fare to get on. We’re plumb out of credulity! We’ve lost the overriding will to believe, otherwise known as the will to make-believe. So we start exploring the new neighborhood. Most of us sooner or later find new accommodations, discovering that living in the real world is not so bad, that it’s pretty good in fact, better than the fantasy dreamscape that once beguiled us.

But there are some of us, like Bart Ehrman, me, and a huge number of others, who manage to sneak back onto the bus, but we’re riding on the bumper! We feel good being back on the Bible Bus—but without getting in! We got hooked on the Bible, and the hook went deep. It might be pretty hard to get it out without disemboweling ourselves! The Bible has become part of us, like it or not. But then what’s not to like?

We hopped off the bus in the first place because the bus was arriving at a crossroad. We wanted to understand the biblical text better and better, as all Bible-believers are supposed to want to do. But even to have gotten to this point we had already worked our way half-way off the bus without realizing it, because everybody in the seats around us wasn’t really that curious about the Bible. They just wanted to cling to the proof texts that promised them admission to Heaven. In fact, they may have been reluctant to explore the rest of the Bible precisely because it might complicate the picture, might loosen their tight grip on that hand full of cherished, out-of-context verses.

And that’s what had happened to us. We saw the crossroads approaching: we would have to decide whether we were more interested in Christian faith or in the Bible, because we saw we couldn’t have both. We had found that the religious beliefs about the Bible were a hindrance to understanding the Bible. “Hmmm… here’s a contradiction! But, oh yeah, there can’t be any contradictions in the Bible! So I guess they’ll have a clever solution to the riddle when I get to heaven!” But we got tired of that after a while. We began to wonder. “Suppose it is a contradiction? How would that have come about? Two different sources editorially combined? Two different writers’ opinions? But if they’re only opinions, that means they’re not ‘revelations’… But it makes more sense that way! Do I want to find out the truth? Or do I want to keep chanting those proof-texts?” That’s where we got off.

And back on, on the bumper—and under the bus, to see exactly how it worked.

Hegel and Kant couldn’t and probably wouldn’t have used a stupid analogy like the one I’ve beaten to death here, but they were making a related point. For them, the Bible and supernaturalist religion were storybook versions of moral instruction for the childish of mind. Kant said that the miracles were like parables, simply a means to an end; if they got their point, their lesson, across, fine. But if not, who needs ‘em? And if they do their job, who needs ‘em either?

It’s much like Zen. The monks found the old doctrines and techniques ineffective in producing Satori, Enlightenment, so they invented new gimmicks like the answerless riddle of the koan (“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”) designed to launch you off the track of mundane reasoning into a higher stratosphere. The main insight of Zen was that, a la Kant, if the old trappings of religion did not do the trick, to hell with ‘em!

But, as I said, even if they did, who needs ‘em? If they served their purpose, if they got you there, isn’t it kind of like keeping the Coke bottle after you’ve finished the soda? I love the Buddhist parable of the Raft. Imagine a man fleeing an angry mob through the forest. Luckily, he has a good head start. He stops short at a riverbank. He’s got to get across! But there’s no bridge, no stepping stones, and those crocodiles aren’t helping either! What are his options? After a moment’s thought, he begins gathering bamboo stalks and binding them together with tough vines. Soon he’s got a makeshift raft and begins poling it across the river, just as his pursuers arrive at the river. They shout curses and shake their fists, but there’s nothing more they can do. (I’m tempted to say their quarry gives them the finger, but I guess that’s inappropriate for a Buddhist parable.) Well, he makes it across. He’s safe! Now what do you think he ought to do with that raft? Out of gratitude to the raft, should he strap it onto his back and carry it around like a tortoise shell? Of course not! What a useless encumbrance it would be! Better just to dump it and get moving!

In the same way, the various features of religion are purely instrumental in nature. I just ate a couple of yummy fiber brownies. Is there any reason to keep the wrappers? No, they served their modest purpose, and now it’s time for them to exit Stage Garbage Can. You discard them precisely because they did what they were designed to do! One might object that this analogy is apt only for Eastern religions, where the goal is one’s own Enlightenment. In a paradoxical sense, it is “self”-centered. But in Western religion it is (supposedly) quite different: religion is centered on God. Worship benefits the worshipper, sure, but in the same way turning toward the sun benefits green plants, because it nourishes them. We are made to worship our Creator, so things are out of whack if we don’t. But God deserves the acclaim.

And yet I think the difference is finally overcome, since in Vedanta Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism one seeks to break down the (illusory) wall between Self and Other, to realize the unity, actually the identity, of the individual atman “within” and the universal Brahman or Sunyata “without.” This amounts to the humble self-abnegation of the individual in favor of the all-inclusive One. This seems to me quite parallel to the worshipper losing himself in the Worshipped.

Anyway, I think the Bible contradictions that shook us loose from fundamentalism are in effect biblical koans. They bring us to the end of faith and bid us jump off the track of conventional religious belief. They catapult us into Enlightenment (think equally of the European Enlightenment or of Eastern mystical Satori), and once they do, we can discard them—because they’ve served their purpose! The Bible nudged (or slapped) us awake so we wouldn’t miss our stop.

So says Zarathustra.

raft

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11 Responses to Chasing the Bus

  1. PB says:

    Perhaps it would be best to say, like Thomas Paine, a Creator is somewhere or all around us, and we need say no more. Let nature and all it’s wonder be our revelation that a Creator exists.

  2. Richard says:

    Hi Bob. I like your analogy. I’m still on the bumper, have been since my deconversion in late 1997, Just can’t seem to let go. Although I feel that religion has most often been the bane of mankind, it still holds a fascination for me, even as an Atheist.

  3. lreadl says:

    Yes. And the same goes for all who got their childhood instruction on civility and morality from parents who neither use nor revere the bible. After all, Aesop’s fables are just as instructional as the bible without the supernatural baggage.

    Good luck in your head to head with Dr. Ehrman in Milwaukee. I look forward to seeing you there.

  4. Kapitano says:

    I suppose there are benefits to believing something in your youth – or rather, to having gone through the process of examining and rejecting a dearly held belief. Indeed, that’s a good working definition of “growing up”.

    But I’d rather it didn’t take decades of heartache to reconcile oneself to what is in retrospect obvious. Life is too short to spend half of it figuring out what to do with it.

  5. leesal says:

    I watched Joel Osteen this AM along with his 10,000 member congregation and thought Gee, I really missed it, I could and did preach all that wonderful love and mercy stuff. God is in charge of everything and He’ll surely watch over you and bring you through victorious regardless of the challenges.
    Then I remembered Epicurus:
    “If God is willing but not able to prevent evil, then He is not omnipotent.
    If god is able but not willing to prevent evil, then he is malevolent.
    If God is both willing and able then whence cometh evil?
    If God is neither willing not able, then why call Him God?”
    Well guess what, I too had to get off the bible bus and face reality…..that god is simply our invention to sooth our passive brains. Shucks!!! It was fun while it lasted! Best to all, Lee Salisbury
    PS Time for more important things like watching the Ryder Cup

  6. leesal says:

    Jesus would never let this happen to America????? We’re God’s favorite nation, the apple of His eye!! Cause we believe the bible … Yup!!
    https://www.youtube.com/embed/hC3VTgIPoGU?rel=0

  7. JimWorkman says:

    I enjoyed your essay. I got on the bumper in my sophomore year at The Cincinnati Bible Seminary (now Cincinnati Christian College); I slipped out the emergency exit, although it was closely guarded. I got an A.B. and two chapters into my B.D. thesis from the bumper, and then jumped off at the University of Cincinnati intersection and became a psychologist. I hitchhike occasionally, way out on the bumper, trying to observe how the thing keeps running. Then we almost get sideswiped by the sports bus, then the political bus; perhaps to ride is human.

  8. Phyllis.Stein says:

    I sort of wish Dr. Price would get off the whole overfriendly approach to Ehrman re: the upcoming debate. As an outsider to the whole field of New Testament studies, and with only a recent interest, it seems to me Ehrman has written a few good books, but isn’t a particularly strong thinker and has some real problems with intellectual integrity. Nobody in this day and age ought to be able to appeal to consensus and to authority as relentlessly as he does and be taken at all seriously, intellectually speaking. The endless quibbling about the proper credentials (Ehrman even questioned whether Thomas L. Thompson had sufficient background to open his mouth), along with the collarless shirts and black jackets, etc., the exorbitant speaking fees – and even an entrance fee for the privilege of reading his blog – all suggest somebody who has taken it upon himself to be a sort of functionary, a Grand Representative to the media and to other parts of academe of this rather backward, pathetic field. One can easily say his outmoded Schweitzer-esque version of the so-called historical Jesus is simply a means to that end, being the safest strategically centrist position, again calling into doubt his intellectual integrity.

  9. Phyllis.Stein says:

    Three cheers for Robert M. Price after his performance in the ‘debate’ with Bart Errorman- er, Ehrman recently. I waited with bated breath to find out – Did Dr. Price defeat Hillary – I mean, Ehrman in the debate?

    Well, many have said that Ehrman, for his more assertive presentation, was the ‘winner’, and perhaps to those who don’t know any better, it was so. But I rather think, having listened to an audio recording of the exchange twice (I wasn’t physically present, or as Price said to great effect in a joke about Burton L. Mack, ‘the tomb was empty’), that while Ehrman might have (trivially) won the battle, he very clearly lost the war. Price was very gracious, even infinitely gracious in his own presentation, giving Errorman – er, I mean, ehr, Ehrman enough rope to hang himself, and looking back twenty or fifty years from now when the shrewd judgment that is ‘common sense’ renders its judgment on the problem, Dr. Price will have ‘won’ the debate in spades. Ehrman’s shock that Price invoked Zoroastrianism in his discussion of Judaism, Errorman’s (truly unbelievable) insistence that we know details of Paul’s life because they are presented in Acts – all the way down to his disingenuous suggestion that because Celsus didn’t doubt the existence of a ‘founder’ of the Christian religion that this amounted to firm, reliable contemporary knowledge of the historical Jesus – all this really means that Price’s hands-off approach exposed the actual – dare I say – cynicism and nihilism at the heart of New Testament Studies. Errorman himself, to my mind, amply inflated his expertise by saying that in addition to being a New Testament scholar he was a scholar (in the professional sense) of ancient history – but this is doubtful. Really, in New Testament Studies you have a lot of people lost in the wilderness, pulling in one direction, all supporting one another – people who can be fully, completely, and fatally wrong.

    At the risk of heaping on the praise, I think – contrary to a superficially-derived opinion – that Dr. Price’s performance in the debate shows he is ***irreplaceable***. Who else among New Testament scholars can simultaneously talk about comic books, Lovecraft, and Derrida? I’ve been listening to ‘The Bible Geek’ back catalog (as fans lovingly call it) for some time. In every case, where one might expect Price to have a weak or superficial opinion, he amply disappoints by providing an opinion that is comprehensive, credible, and intellectually honest. I listened just the other day to his answer to a listener’s question about Derrida, and found the answer rigorous, reliable, and without a trace of bullshit (auf Deutsch: Bullgeschichte). What can one say? Perhaps confirming a Marcionite or Gnostic view of the world, it’s a perverse state of affairs that Robert M. Price has to appeal to fans on Patreon for financial support when he is the most versatile and probing of thinkers (to him alone the Dutch Radicals still exist), while a hack like Bart Errorman has bestselling books, shows up to debates with collarless shirts happy to pour disdain down on audience questioners (e.g. Frank Zindler), and generally offers sophistic arguments that in the end only have a basis in a certain social milieu, i.e. that of ‘New Testament scholars’.

    I look forward to a post by the Bible Geek here on the blog about the debate, or a comment or two on the podcast.

  10. Strong Waters says:

    What if overcoming the image of God in the Bible was the point of the Bible? Is it possible the path of your own work reflects the ultimate goal of all creation? Fear is overcome by love, which is necessity to your own work to disallow untruth. If it is true that love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13), and God is love (1 John 4), then perhaps the ultimate statement we can produce is this: We cannot know God until we overcome our own. I think you have come as far as this, but miss the point perhaps.

    What happens when you find the cure to the sickness called being a Christian? I do not use this question with bias against being a believer, but only in reference to overcoming the sickness itself. In my humble opinion, wickedness and self-righteousness are one in the same. What is the primary Strong Force in nature holding all quantum processes together? Neutral (neutron) and Positive (proton). In other words, neutral is the unity of both charges in one, denying the negative’s influence. Can a bucket be filled with one substance apart form displacing another? In truth, the bucket is always filled. Neutral charges do not repel or attract. From the Bible, neutral is “do not judge.” Positive charge is protected by the work of the neutral. Negative is the electron, or weak force breaking symmetry. Invariance is the work of the Neutron in relation to the positive. Invariant symmetry never changes, but translational symmetry does. Translation leaves the invariance untouched. Do you doubt this? Look it up. Translational symmetry only has one infinite direction. Up by dimension.

    Translate: Do not judge. Cling to the positive only. How can the Bible be complete without the presence of translational symmetry and symmetry breaking? It can’t. The Son is a Relative to God. Seeds must divide before expressing new things.

    Where does this leave our own condescension and bias against the process? Like any good Judo practitioner will teach you, “Think for the other person in the manner in which they should be thinking for themselves.” Use opposite force against the person throwing it your direction. Throw them in the “relative” direction they are already going, then teach them how to overcome their own weak force. This is the art of war. This is the necessity of translation of invariance, or the breaking of symmetry in nature. NEW things require the shedding of blood (individuation). This process requries babel to be translated back to invariance. Stones of the temple are evidence the invariance is still there. It’s the pint of seeing them crumble. We MUSt be born again, rebuilt from the first simulation to the last.

    What if God’s way is to overcome an adversary by necessity, thereby rendering the enemy a guardian? In ancient times, the guardian was a trusted relative (E=MC2) charged (no pun intended) with raising the land owner’s sons. How? By working them in the field and harvest as simple slaves. From this, they learned to overcome the guardian and inherit the land. What is the key? Overcoming the guardian restricting them from the inheritance of the same land. Why? So they learn to eat, producing their own bread for the next family.

    Galatians 3

    23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

    What is set aside while the guardian holds us in custody? The truth of what we gain. Who / What is the goal? The Father’s House. Why did Ruth uncover the Feet (Seed) of the guardian she was gleaning behind (so to speak)? Was she a Gentile? Who was working in parallel to the fallen guardian’s poor teaching (Ezekiel 28)? Was the guardian in a state of rebellion himself? Yes. Yahweh is the Devil. Exodus 4 shows you who the Father is in relation to his FIRST son (Israel). Adam is God’s Firstborn. Who was the Spirit ruling as Guardian? Himself (His own Host). It’s an image. He judged himself as the coming scapegoat he became. Was the lord reborn in baptism? Yes. The guardian was also learning from the land owner. The parables of the vineyard should not make sense to you.

    Aleph Bet in Hebrew is Strong House, or the word Father. Letters write word. WORD is the basis for creation. You can’t come to the Father (Aleph Bet) unless you come through the WORD (Guardian / Law of nature). While the Bible may be an image of our guardian, what does the flawed guardian teach us about gleaning seed (ears)? Ears must open in soil before producing fruit. The fruit is the point of the harvest. Which is greater, the Father of the House or the Guardian learning from the Sons as a Relative to the owner of the land?

    Who wrote the graven image as a copy of the original words in the seeds? What if overcoming the image of God in the Bible was the point of the Bible?

    Who owns the land and writes the WORD by his letters? The author. The Author is only relative to himself, which is the reason we must overcome our own God to find the true.

    Ear in Hebrew is the Seed, the ear we hear with and the world balance (as in the two water sacs in the Cochlea).

    Add a Hebrew Hey to ear, meaning ‘behold’ in Hebrew.

    Hear

    Add a Tav (two crossed sticks), which is the plowman’s mark in the harvest.

    HearT – The soil.

    Ears must open in the soil for the contents (token) of the seed to germinate.

    Move the Hey (where you behold) to then end of the word Heart.

    EartH – The literal soil.

    Babel is still alive within the letters (Aleph Bet). WORD is what they produce. The fruit of knowledge is what it produces (technology in our case). What if the WORD is the pathway to the real story from the letters? DNA (Aleph Bet making WORD). What is the image of this Living Word? The Bible. All copies have entropy. The Bible is bound by death, a temple crumbling, as you so aptly point out. Do we have evidence for DNA being the Living Word made by Letters? Yes. Truth can be known from the crumbled temples of old. Faith is required to collapse the wave function back to invariance.

    Faith unlocks the doors of the temple. While you are correct to see the relative to God in the word, could it be that you have missed the mark? What if faith pushes you one step further in the harvest? What do you do with the seeds you have gathered in relation to the furrow you are plowing? Are you ALSO a relative?

    Water and Light are produced by faith. In physics, this is the collapse of wave function. Symmetry must break for new things to grow from the recombination of WORD. Individuation requires the shedding of blood. Baptism requires rebirth to harvest more seed.

    In Latin, E means ‘out of.’ Volution is circling a central hub. The hub does not change. It can only be translated out across the wheel. Baptism is for one purpose. Involution is relative to evolution. You must enter the whirlwind for bread to rise from yeast.

    That’s the way I read your blog. There is a higher axiom to this wheel.

  11. Jarek says:

    Chasing ? After 40 years of studies you both are the drivers. Masters.
    Bart is successful widely because of his writing style very good for mass reader. Simple language, simple explanations ready to read without Wikipedia and dictionary. His honest offer is well presented and not offensive for personal believes of majority. Probably his a great scholar but I am not a proper judge on this field.
    Your proposal is more cogent for me after Ehrman’s books also.
    Sir Roger Penrose recent book is a critique of quantum mechanics, string theory and inflationary cosmology called:
    Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy.
    He is in the same bus with others.

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