The Bible for Dummies

So, a couple of weeks ago, I had to return my copy of the Bible to the library because I ran out of renewals. Unlike the last time this happened, I couldn’t find another copy of the exact same Bible on the shelf. I wanted to keep reading the same version (NRSV), so I decided I’d just wait until the next time I came to the library to get one (probably the exact same copy I’d just returned, hehe). Basically the same thing happened with my copy of the Qur’an, except that I couldn’t even find the shelf with the Qur’ans on it. That bothered me because obviously I’d been able to find it before, and I knew I was looking in the right part of the library. Well, I guess it’s a lot harder to find a book when the various available copies take up at most one shelf, rather than several bookshelves. I did find it on a later trip to the library, but the only copies there were the one I’d checked out before (which I wasn’t sure how well I liked) and a handful of copies which were very large and heavy. Honestly, the most important factor in picking out a version of a holy book, to me (aside from obvious things like it being in a language that I am fluent in), is that it be comfortable to hold in my hands, so it is easy to carry around and read. So, I decided not to get a copy of the Qur’an from the library on that particular visit. I also passed on checking out a copy of the Bible because I already had several books checked out, and I hadn’t finished any of them, yet.

Anyway, having returned both my copy of the Bible and of the Qur’an without checking out replacement copies, I decided to get some different books from the library. I skimmed through an interesting book on Wicca but ending up checking out a book about Shinto, a book about Hinduism, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, and a copy of The Bible for Dummies. The Bible for Dummies had some information about where the Bible comes from, and that was what I was most interested in. I finally got around to poking through The Bible for Dummies today, and I was somewhat disappointed. Although it had some good information, I didn’t learn as much as I had hoped about the origins of the Bible and the various translations available. I think what I really want is a more detailed, more scholarly work on the subject, as opposed to an introductory volume which only dedicates one chapter to the subject.

The section they wrote about how to choose which translation of the Bible to read got me thinking, though. They talked about literal vs. paraphrased versions, among other things, and their primary focus was on which type of translation might be more suited for which sort of reason for reading the Bible. The generic reasons they offered as being common ones to read the Bible didn’t really match up with my reasons for reading it. What exactly do I want to get out of reading the Bible, anyway? In my project of learning about religion, I suppose there are at least three things I am looking for. One is reading various holy texts for myself to see what they actually say and to form my own opinions and ideas about them. Another is to read about religious people’s own views of their religion. In this context, believers’ interpretations of their holy text(s) are more interesting than the texts themselves (for religions which have holy texts). The last thing I am looking for is outsider views of the religion and its adherents. It’s really easy to find outsider views on, say, Islam in a majority Christian nation (books on Islam written from outsider perspectives absolutely dominate my local library’s shelves in the section on Islam), but it’s a lot harder to find outsider views on Christianity in said majority Christian nation. For instance, I found dozens of books explaining the basics of Islam without assuming any prior knowledge, but I couldn’t find any similar 101 type books about Christianity.

I guess I was hoping I’d found something of a Christianity 101 book when I found The Bible for Dummies, but it’s mostly just a Bible 101 book. The majority of the book seems to be a Cliff’s Notes version of the Bible which also explains various common interpretations of (and even objections to) Bible passages. This could be interesting to me because it’s information about how people interpret the Bible. Then again, it’s written by Bible scholars, and it’s probably not going to tell me that much about the beliefs of the average Christian, who has probably only read a fraction of the Bible. In other words, Christianity 101 and Bible 101 are very different subjects, even though they overlap.

I think I’m basically done with The Bible for Dummies, and when I return it, I’ll check out another NRSV version of the Bible and perhaps a book with more in depth information on the origins of the Bible. In the mean time, I have some books about Hinduism to read, and I’m eager to dig in to those. I barely know anything about Hinduism, and it’s also my first substantial introduction to a polytheistic religion.

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3 thoughts on “The Bible for Dummies

  1. The thing to remember about hinduism is it is not just one religion like Catholicism or even Christianity. It is more like an umbrella term like the Abrahamic religions. The same thing goes for shintoism and buddhism. Wicca is more like christianity and Paganism is a huge umbrellla for many different belief systems.

    The two biggest subdivisions of Hinduism are Vaishnavism which centers around Vishnu as the main god amongst many and Shaivism which centers around Shiva as the main god amongst many. One example, Hari Krishnas are Vaishnavites seeing as Krishna is one of the incarnations of Vishnu. But India is known as the land of a million gods for a reason.

    Shintoism in some traditions has fused with Buddhism, but not in others.

    Buddhism varies widely based on the location of the origin of the sect. For instance, Lamaism is basically an entirely different religion than Zen buddhism. If I recall correctly there are basically three major sects with different subgoups of buddhism that are of Japanese origin alone.

    Paganism can be devided basically into Four subcatagories that overlap. 1. Indigenous religions, which include everything from Native American beliefs (though many Native Americans object to being grouped in with paganism) to voudou. 2. Reconstructionist traditions which are basically people trying to put the old faiths such as worship of the greek gods back together. 3. Wicca and other similar traditions. 4. Everything else that doesn’t fit into any of the above.

    Wicca itself has many different subdivisions such as dianic wicca.

    Some reconstructionist religions focus on only one pantheon, while others combine the worship of many. And some don’t worship gods, but follow the fairy lore of old.

    Some followers of fairy lore are wiccans and not reconsturctionists.

    Pagans of different paths can be atheists (in the sense of not believing in any gods, but still believing in spiritual forces, or just not believing in any supernatural forces but feeling a sense of connection to nature.), Monotheists, usually centering around the goddess, or occasionally another god, Duotheists, usually worshiping the God and the Goddess in different incarnations, Polytheists, sometimes sticking to one pantheon, sometimes blending several, Pantheists, or Panenthiests. Some pagans are even Christian witches, and others include Jesus amongst the many deities they worship.

    Oh, and some polytheists following old traditions don’t consider themselves to be part of the pagan community.

    Your best bet for finding out about paganism is to avoid books altogether and focus on the online community. A great place to start is The Wild Hunt on patheos. Just be respectful, and if you are genuinely inquiring into what they believe, many pagans will tell you, others guard their secrets closely because of widespread hatered of their community.

    Paganism isn’t all sunshine and roses either, just because they aren’t as mainstream as christianity is does not make them any less dangerous. Dianic wicca is filled with second wave feminist ideals and many parts of it are heavily transphobic. Many of the reconstructionist religions have a big problem with racism, and some of the more conservative ones are homophobic as well. And many of the wiccans and related faiths eschew modern medicine in favor of herbal remedies and spiritual healing such as reiki.

    Large segments of hinduism and some parts of buddhism are heavily classist, and very mysogynistic.

    Shintoism is mostly a relic, Japan is mostly atheist with minority shinto, christian, and buddhist religions. And northern shinto is a completely different tradition than southern shinto.

    I looked into a lot of different religious traditions before becoming an atheist.

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  2. Yea, I’ve barely even touched the surface with Hinduism. I did already do some basic research on the Hare Krishnas because they have been proselytizing at my campus, and I wanted to figure out how they are related to or a part of Hinduism. They have a very specific copy of the Bhagavad Gita that they try to get people to read. I took a brief look through it when I was talking to one of them, and it’s very different than the copy I got at the library, the most obvious difference being that it’s a lot longer. What I found when I looked up more information is that the Hare Krishna’s version (Bhagavad Gita, As It Is) has the original language, transliteration, and word for word translation as well as a more readable English translation, and it also has a lot of commentary.

    The book about Wicca that I looked through and put back on the shelf did a pretty good job of conveying how decentralized and variable the religion is. I also noticed there was a quite a lot of emphasis, in the book, on male and female, just a tendency to explicitly divide things into binary gender categories: priestesses and priests, Goddess and God, and such. This reminded me of reading some vague mentions of transphobia and Wicca before. Is that mostly in Dianic Wicca, or is it just more pronounced there?

    Anyway, thanks for the tip about looking online for information on Wicca. I read some of the atheist blogs on Patheos, but I hadn’t thought of using it as a place to find out about Wicca.

    Half the reason I’m interested in Shintoism is to learn more about Japanese culture. I watch a lot of anime, which is definitely a good way to develop an interest in Japanese culture. Plus, since part of what I’m interested in learning is just the variety of possibilities of what a religion can be, and the differences and similarities among all different sorts of religions, to some extent I’m just as interested in a religion which is dead or dying or a relic as I am in one that is highly successful and growing or one that is practiced by a billion+ people. But, since the other part of what I’m interested in is what different people actually believe and how that affects the world and how people interact, I’ll probably spent a lot more time researching the religions that have many adherents.

    I’d argue with you, though, that Christianity is not just one religion. There are Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, etc. Plenty of these groups or subgroups thereof don’t believe that some of the other groups are even Christian at all. For instance, when I was growing up, I was taught that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t Christians. Then there are groups like the World Mission Society Church of God who believe that the second coming of Jesus has already happened, which makes me think of nothing so much as the original split between Judaism and Christianity, in that one group believed that the Messiah had already come, and the other didn’t (although there are other substantial differences as well). The difference between Mormons and the rest of Christianity is also similar to the difference between Christianity and Judaism, in that each religion has one extra prophet or messiah and some extra material for their set of holy texts when compared to the other.

    But yea, I can definitely see your point when you say that Hinduism is more like a class of religions, like Abrahamic religions, than like a single religion. All the more reason to correct my deficit of knowledge about it. *grin*

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  3. Ok, many wiccans are duotheistic meaning the worship two gods, the divine feminine and the divine masculine, or the god and the goddess. These people may or may not see the various pantheons of gods as incarnations or aspects of these two and some are primarily duotheistic, but see an unknown creator of the two. This places a very binary male female context, some of these have a high priestess and high priest with the priestess being higher ranked. They are quite binarist but not transphobic, trans men are men and trans women are women. Others who are duotheistic see “two-spirit people” as capable of accessing both the divine feminine and the divine masculine, and therefore, hold a special place as having more access to the gods as priests. How they define two spirit can be anything from genderqueer to dual-gendered to anyone who falls under the trans* umbrella. The ones that see trans men and trans women as two spirit are transphobic in the sense of not seeing them as real men or real women, and all of the ones that see two spirit people as special are guilty of othering trans* folks.

    Now with Dianic Wicca, you are talking about a group of religions. Not all are the same. Some believe in both the god and the goddess, but only worship the goddess. Some just believe in the goddess. Some branches accept men into their circles, and some don’t.

    Many branches of dianic wicca that don’t accept men are highly transphobic. They say that Trans women bring male energy into their circles, and so do not allow them. Deconstruct that statement.

    Others are entirely based on a highly problematic combination of political lesbian seperatism, second wave feminism, TERF, and what people call “woo” or crazy new agey spirituality. Now this group is a minority even within dianic wicca.

    Oh, and I agree with you that christianity is a class of religions. What I meant by that is that say Shiavism is to christianity and Vaishnavism is to Islam what Hinduism is to the Abrahamic religions. In other words, Hinduism is a super class of religions. And many things that fall into Hinduism do not fall into Shiavism or Vaishnavism. Although Shiavism and Vaishnavism do not accurately correspond to Christianity or Islam. Am I being clear, or just being more confusing. Also I was saying that Wicca is on the same class level as Christianity with Paganism being the super class. Or to put it differently. Kingdom= Abrahamic, Hindu, Paganism, Buddhism Phylum= Christianity, Islam, Vaishnavism, Shiavism, Wicca, Reconstructionism Class= Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, Dianic Wicca, Astartu Order= Evangelical Christianity Family= Baptist Genus= Southern baptist Species= calvanist southern baptist Subspecies=First baptist calvinst southern baptist and then there are the different breeds within the subspecies. Maybe that will make a little more sense.

    As for shintoism, I started investigating it due to my love of anime. Most of the books on it are very expensive, So I would recommend trying to get your local library to order one for you. You can learn a certain amount through documentaries, but basically, it comes down to worship of the Kami, which are basically spirits that reside in things, but at the same time are those things, such as old trees. It is at heart, a variation of Animistic beliefs. Although, some Kami are not nature spirits. But if you just want a reference for anime that deals with Kami, I recommend the book “Essential Visual History World Mythology” by National Geographic. It has a basic outline of all the major world mythologies from greek and roman, to norse, to japanese and chinese, A history of the mythology of india, from the vedic times to modern hinduism. and even goes into south american mythology. It does a piss poor job on Irish mythology though. If you want more information on that, I can give you a few resources.

    As far as patheos goes, like I said, the wild hunt is basically the biggest, oldest pagan blog out there and serves as a community blog, so if you follow it and the commenters long enough you will get links to several other places to learn, but it will also let you in on the culture, just like the Friendly Atheist does for the Atheist Community.

    Patheos also has this feature http://www.patheos.com/Library.html which gives a brief synopsis of various religions as they are supposed to be practiced. It doesn’t really help with how they are actually practiced though. Talk to a couple of non-fundamentalist catholics, and you’ll see how far doctrine actually gets you. Also, talk to the super fundamentalist catholics and you’ll see how different their beliefs are from doctrine too. I grew up catholic so I have quite an insight into that culture. Blogs about religion, from any religion (with the exception of paganism which grew up around internet culture), are not going to be how 90% of the people actually practice their religion, because most people honestly don’t care that much. For instance, most of the Catholics that I know hate the Catholic League and Bill Donahue because they make ordinary Catholics look bad.

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