What Impressed Me About the Bible
Following Jesus Christ is the best decision of my life. I grew up in Moscow, Russia. My family left the country during a time of turmoil, and we settled near a church somewhere else. I was a staunch atheist, loved to argue, but also loved to learn. I visited that church for about a year, and curiosity got the best of me. I converted to Christianity and never looked back. Years have passed.
Today I decided to record some of my memories and experiences from that year of learning about Christianity. My raw and mercilessly critical vitriol was disarmed quickly by the church people. They are so nice and so successful in life in ways that matter. Once I got to know them personally, any antipathy I had for Christians was drowned with envy. I still had the antipathy for religion, however. I started and stopped reading the Bible several times, getting lost in some chapter in Leviticus or Numbers. I listened to sermons. I talked to Christian friends. I still did not like religion.
My Marxist materialist background had impaled my intellect on a reductionist spike. Religion is opium for the [stupid and simple] people. The Catholic Church invented the Bible to brainwash people into giving them money and suppressed science. Jesus belongs on the same shelf with Hercules and Baba Yaga. So I thought. After years of growing intellectually, I got wiser on Marxism and on materialism. But at the time of my conversion, the benefits of this knowledge were far out of reach.
It was the Bible itself that began to unravel me. It just did not fit what I had heard about it. It is the maverick of books. I read communist Soviet propaganda. It always had a clear enemy, a clear goal, a set of means for reaching the set goal, and a set of reasons why those exact means, however barbaric, are entirely justifiable in accomplishing the goal and dealing with the enemy. That’s statecraft. The Bible also has those elements, but they are so strangely different. The goal is reconciliation and the means is persuasion, in general. Violence is occasional. I did not expect that - revolution requires an ongoing rioting of malcontents. Where is the riot?
Christianity is the only world religion that originated by growing upwards the social ladder peacefully from slaves and pariahs to emperors, and it commands sternly “be content and thankful for everything.” How does this work? Who is going to follow the meek and content Mr. Messiah? Here are three things that I noticed about the Bible that completely deflated my Marxist reductionism.
1. The Bible is Critical of the Establishment
If you gather all the lines of direct speech in the Bible, they can be summed up as follows: “Hey you who are in charge, you are doing it wrong!” The Bible calls everyone for repentance, but it picks especially on persons in positions of responsibility and authority regardless of which faction they represent. I did not expect that. I was told that the Bible was changed a million times to fit the whim of certain elites. Then, why is Jewish nationalism so mildly stated? Why is the Bible so filled with rebukes? Why are the challengers of authority so stingy with endorsements? How do those words survive subsequent modifications when power changes hands?
2. Biblical Characters are Deeply Flawed
Jesus is the only character in the Bible presented in an entirely positive light. The rest are vexed with a mixture of fear, unbelief, immorality, complacency, vanity, and even tragic stupidity. Just look at king David. The king was confronted by a prophet for murder and adultery! Let this sink in. I cannot fathom how this story was not the first one to be wiped from public records or at least “smoothed over,” if not by David himself then by one of his descendants. If the Bible is in the service of the elite, how does this story benefit the elite? Why is it still so raw?
3. The Bible is Heralded by a Diverse Group
Every religion or philosophy has a “control group.” Those are the priests, the scientists, and the propagandists of that group. Those are the people that, when they state something in public, are perceived as authoritatively representing the views of that philosophy or religion. Rightly, any worldview with ambitions for universality and a narrow control group is viewed with suspicion. A “cult” is simply a group of people bound to a very tight control group. Arguably, the opposite also holds true: a broad and diverse control group invites credibility.
In other words, it is less likely that a movement could be manipulated for personal political gains if its authority figures are numerous, diverse, and spread out. Each of them, striving for gain, would either splinter the movement or have some sort of an equalizing effect on each other. Christianity did, in fact, splinter under those tensions eventually in 11th century and then again in the 16th. But that is a long way from the Marxist mythological take on the Council of Nicaea, where supposedly the Catholic Church decided the books and the doctrines for the rest of Christians.
The ignorance of our age! If you learn nothing else today, learn this: around 2nd century the Bible was getting translated and edited into Syriac, which grew into a family of the most common versions of the Bible up until around 12th century. The Syriac version of the Bible, known as Peshitta, was in circulation in lands known today as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Uzbekistan, and even parts of China. How much control did the Catholic Church exert over Peshitta? None. So how come the differences between the Vulgate and Peshitta translations are so insubstantial? What is it exactly that the Catholic Church changed? How did they manage to teleport all over Asia, collect all the books in languages they did not speak, and change them just right so that our copies today in our museums are in doctrinal matters practically identical?
The charge that some group manipulated the text of the Bible for gain makes no sense. The Bible was and is kept by an exceptionally diverse group of people. Among its contributors and keepers are powerful people and lowly people. People with bushy beards and without any beards. Different races had left their mark. People of different intellectual ability and educational background. People of varied political persuasions and cultural traditions. Male and female participants had dominant parts. They were all so different that there is demonstrably only one thing in common among them. They would all say: “Jesus Christ changed my life and I bear the same one witness with the rest.” What is their gain in making those stories up? The closer they were to the events, the more they had to lose.
I consider being tricked by either a salesman, a scammer, or a propagandist the most embarrassing moments of my life. It has happened to me in the past. That one time, the scammer was secularist reductionism. I am still embarrassed that I fell for it. If enough people say something, it must be true, right? No. Check everything, and dare to explore the inconvenient. Perhaps, some of the things you learn might surprise and impress you like they did me. Maybe they will not impress you much. You may be hard to impress and that is OK. Just do not mistake obtuseness for skepticism.