22 January 2013

Is being skeptical of the Bible like being a Sandy Hook conspiracy nut?

Jack Hudson says it is:

The foundation of such conspiracies rests on a pernicious distrust of authorities and the media as well an overblown sense of skepticism that proffers if one wasn’t present for the events themselves one can’t trust the accounts of others.

I have found that in many ways skeptics of Christianity are similar. Their arguments against the New Testament accounts sound very similar to the claims of the Sandy Hook truthers – that the accounts are inconsistent, that those giving the accounts aren’t reliable, that there are unreported facts which undermine the ‘official’ story or show that the story we are getting isn’t complete. The fact that people can question the reality of widely witnessed events days after they occurred show our inherent tendency to doubt; and the tendency of some to doubt no matter what facts are presented.
With a very generous nod to this fantastic post from NonStampCollector, I'd like to take the opportunity to run with that analogy.

First, let's say that the first written reports of the Sandy Hook shooting weren't written until many decades after the shooting itself. The earliest report, to be analogous to the emergence of the first written gospel (Mark), would emerge around 2052. Prior to that, all reports of the event would be entirely hearsay, and you'd have to trust that no important details were obscured or altered in the retelling. But to really make it Biblical, the first written reports would have to be in some other language than the English spoken by the eyewitnesses. Once again, you'd have to trust that nothing important got lost or altered in translation.

But of course, to be like the Bible, those early copies would be super secret, and the originals would be lost as various factions of Sandy Hook devotees insisted on retelling the story differently. And to keep this really accurate, there can't be any modern technology like the printing press, photographs, or the internet; every copy of a copy has to be hand-written – which, like the hearsay accounts, is each in a different language than that spoken by witnesses of the original events. Let this hand-copying continue for several centuries (at least), so that ultimately the copies that survive are riddled with contradictions, errors, omissions, and additions.

No Biblical analogy would be complete, however, without adding some supernatural elements to the equation. Let's say that the story, as told in those copy-of-copy manuscripts, recounts that these were not ordinary children – they were in fact human incarnations of deities, and they willfully allowed themselves to die in a ritual sacrifice to save humanity from its own nature. They ascended bodily into a beautiful afterlife, and you can communicate with them telepathically. Oh, and if you don't buy all this stuff? Then when you die, these children will send your eternal soul to the worst place of suffering imaginable, where you'll linger forever and ever.


Let's contrast this with what the Sandy Hook conspiracy loons are saying. They're claiming (I'm sure there are variations, but this is the most common I've heard) that the government hired (trained? brainwashed?) some troubled young man to murder a bunch of elementary school kids in order to sway public opinion against gun ownership, allowing the government to usurp the second amendment... maybe in preparation for the rise of a military dictatorship! There are a litany of reasons why it's all pretty absurd, but what eyewitnesses actually saw isn't really even relevant to the whole conspiracy theory. It couldn't be less like skepticism of the reliability of the Bible. Let's revisit what Jack said:
The foundation of such conspiracies rests on a pernicious distrust of authorities and the media as well an overblown sense of skepticism that proffers if one wasn’t present for the events themselves one can’t trust the accounts of others.
I think that's an oversimplification of the psychology behind conspiracy theories (Michael Shermer has written some great stuff on them), but obviously a non-believer's skepticism of the Bible has pretty much nothing to do with the notion that we can't trust the accounts of others. It's more that some accounts are buttressed by solid empirical evidence, and others – like the gospels – are plagued by dubious claims that undermine their credibility.

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