Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bible Thumper to AthiestBible Thumper to Athiest by Tom Crawford
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Before writing my review, I'd like to remind you that I am not averse to atheist literature. Some of it is very good indeed. For example, excellent atheist books I have read recently include David Eller's Ahtheism Advanced and John R Shook's The God Debates. I mention this because I am going to go against the trend by other reviewer's of praising this book and giving it high ratings. And my comments about the book are not because of any bias I have against atheist literature. That said ... on to the review ...

This is the worst book I can remember reading from an atheist perspective. The book is essentially in two parts. The first part is a brief description of the author's journey from "bible thumper to atheist". The second section is a series of 388 questions about the Bible and related matters.

The autobiographical section is interesting in providing some background of the author but is pretty superficial with little depth of reflection on the dynamics of his movement from fundamentalist Christian to becoming an atheist. It is primarily descriptive and, of course, needs to be accepted at face value as someone personal experience.

The largest section of the book - the 388 questions - is atrociously superficial and demonstrates an ineptness of dealing with hermeneutics. At no point does Crawford show any indication of having interacted with biblical scholarship, modern critical hermeneutics, or literary analysis of ancient texts. It is as though Crawford hasn't moved on from his Christian fundamentalist approach to reading the biblical text and now criticises the biblical documents from an equally naive fundamentalist, albeit atheistic, position. This should be disappointing to atheists as it is doesn't represent an intelligent, sophisticated critique of Christianity or the biblical documents.

Some examples: Crawford writes:

... the Bible tells us that God created everything and it therefore follows that if he created everything, then, by definition, everything must include evil.

There is most definitely a significant problem of evil for Christians to deal with. But evil is not a "thing" that can be created like a tree or rock or person. It is a moral category. Constructing the problem of evil in the way that Crawford does is naive and philosophically ignorant. Crawford also completely ignores the important free will defence which, although it may be criticised, is something that any critic of Christianity needs to be aware of.

Another example is Crawford's handling of the book of Job. He makes the sweeping statement that 'Christians believe this story to be true.' Many, many Christian scholars would understand Job to be a sophisticated folktale consisting of a combination of prose and poetry to raise questions about suffering rather than to answer them. Crawford's approach to Job is simplistic and ignorant of the contemporary scholarship of the book.

The examples could go on and on. He criticises the OT for not mentioning Satan, not realising that most biblical scholars recognise that the OT writers did not have a well developed concept of Satan. Throughout the book, the author displays a complete disregard for the cultural and historical contexts of the texts he is 'analysing' and raising questions about. He also ignores the presence of metaphor, hyperbole and other literary devices and raises questions that are the product of reading the text in a fundamentalist literalistic way. Crawford also ignores the symbolic nature of apocalyptic literature such as the NT book of Revelation. Nor does he seem to demonstrate any understanding of the translation of an ancient text, criticising translators for changing the words of the Bible on the basis of manuscript analysis.

My criticism of Crawford's analysis of the Bible is not meant to imply that there are no serious questions to be asked of the biblical text. There are and some of them are intractable. But Crawford's book is not the place to go to find out what they are. If anyone were to take Crawford's questions and repeat them to educated Christians it would be laughable and only bring embarrassment.

So if someone is looking for a serious, substantial critique of the Bible, don't start here.

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