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Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts


I Wonder (2013)

Written by Annaka Harris

Illustrated by John Rowe

After my recent interview with Horus Gilgamesh, I suppose I've got atheism on the brain.

Annaka Harris is the wife of famed neuroscientist and philosopher, Sam Harris, himself the author of The End of Faith and The Moral Landscape (and the new, about-to-be-released Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion) and - along with Dan Dennet, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, one of the so-called four horsemen of the 'New Atheism' movement. I have often enjoyed his books and watching his debates and talks online, so I took him seriously when he wrote:


A Conversation with Horus Gilgamesh

Horus Gilgamesh
“Empty stomachs have no ears.”

That's a true bit of profundity which surely ought to be emblazoned upon bumper stickers everywhere. It was uttered to the future author of the Awkward Moments Children's Bible by a humanitarian relief worker in an impoverished African country.

At the time, he'd been following a perceived calling toward full-time ministry focusing on youth evangelism and Biblical literacy in third-world countries. "A fearless young boy approached, pleading, Chakula? Maji?- the Swahili words for 'food' and 'water,'" he writes. "Unfortunately, [I] had no food or water to offer the poor child – only Bibles."

"Horus Gilgamesh" is now his chosen psuedonym. He was raised Catholic before having his so-called "born again" experience in college. But following this encounter with the boy and with the relief worker, he began to consider things in a new light.

"[I] realized that [I] was not meeting the very real needs of the people [I] was hoping to help… The pain and suffering [I] saw first-hand led [me] to be more and more troubled by God’s apparent disregard for the children of His creation. This led [me] to years of re-studying the Bible for [my]self, away from the “rose-colored” teachings of any church or seminary."

I must admit, when I first read this biography of himself – with so much sarcasm and irony everywhere I look in the world - I was surprised from what a sincere place he seemed to be coming.

I first discovered the Awkward Moment's Children's Bible when pages of it began to appear on my facebook wall last year. They immediately struck a chord, as I'm sure they did for many others. So sick and tired of Noah's ark being portrayed as nothing more than a fun, pleasant animal cruise, it was satisfying to finally see the waters filled with corpses, as they surely must have been.

Awkward Moments Children's Bible

He hasn't done too many interviews, so I was happy that he agreed to speak with me. One of the only other interviews he gave was for ChristianPost.com, a site which advertises itself as "a member of the Evangelical Press Association, a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, and a global partner of the World Evangelical Alliance."

I was sure this book would be just the sort of thing they would take extreme umbrage at, but I found the tone of the interview to be very fair and generous to Horus' perspective. The comments by ChristianPost readers following the interview were likewise encouraging. Could it be that we are witnessing a burgeoning new weltanschauung in regard to how Bible stories are viewed, that even mainstream evangelicals are growing weary of how their Holy Book is being watered down, and that we are all now in a place to look plainly at what it actually states?

The Jesus Storybook Bible

First of all, is there any one particular children's picture book edition of the bible that you find especially egregious in terms of making God seem like the nicest fellow you'd ever want to know?

This might seem funny to the many parents I gave the book to over the years, but I now think that Zondervan's Jesus Storybook Bible is particularly bad.

Don't get me wrong, I like the illustrations and I like that they cover much more of the Bible than any other children's book I've seen. However, the book seems to go to great lengths to alter the scriptures enough to paint the Old Testament God as loving and compassionate and justified in all of His murder and mayhem. Then it goes on to paint a pretty unrealistic picture of Jesus by harmonizing the conflicting accounts of the four Gospels to make up a whole new Bible where Jesus is just... perfect. In short, I think the book is full of heresy for the sake of indoctrination and a great example of why so many modern Christians grow up to be completely ignorant to what the Bible really says.

I was surprised - pleasantly - to read the Christian Post article and see that it had a positive tone to it. It seemed to me that they really 'got it.'

Have you been surprised as well by the reaction that you've gotten from different sources?

The book has been very well received on both sides of the pulpit. In short, I think this is because of our approach - using the Bible itself to comment on the historical and cultural effects of Christianity. Christians love us because we aren't afraid to ask the same questions that have been on their minds all along, while atheists love us because we are able to bridge a gap to start conversations between believers and non-believers.

Don't get me wrong - we do get a fair bit of hate mail and one-star reviews from Christians who simply don't think we have the right to question anything about the inerrant Good Book. So far none of them have actually read our book and seem to follow the trend in the U.S. where 56% of Christians can't even name the four Gospels of the New Testament.

Awkward Moment's Children's Bible

Do you think Bible stories have value, whitewashed or not?

For myself, I often feel torn in figuring out how to approach the Bible stories which I review on this site. There are certain authors and illustrators whom I admire more than others, like Leonard Everett Fisher, who do not hold back on the brutality which is a part of it all. But at the same time I have to wonder, even if an author is true to the source material, are these even worthwhile stories to tell in the first place?

This is a question that I struggle with as well. For most Christians, many Bible stories are very much worth telling because they hold the keys to their faith - creation, free will, salvation, redemption, eternal life, and so on... Yet, the church now leaves out so much that is no longer convenient to their causes.

People tend to forget that the slavery and the stoning of children for disobedience was prescribed by the Bible and carried out regularly just a couple of centuries ago. People now ignore that the Bible clearly instructs that women aren't allowed to speak in church, let alone be leaders of a church. So, is it worthwhile to tell these stories? And we wonder why Biblical literacy is so appalling among Christians in the U.S.

Study after study has shown that people don't read their Bibles anymore. They get the bullet points from watered down children's stories when they are young and grow up with completely watered down understandings of just a few "feel good" scriptures.

That's where we come in, I guess.

Awkward Moments Children's Bible

Do you have a favorite Bible story?

Lately I've just been mesmerized by the story of Jesus with the leper found in Mark 1:40-44. What is fascinating to me is that the original text of this passage is found in the footnotes of most modern Bibles. Most modern Bibles say that Jesus was filled with "compassion" for the leper and healed him. However, the original Greek 'orgistheis' clearly states that Jesus was "angry" (in fact, some translations say "filled with extreme anger") with the leper. Was Jesus filled with compassion or extreme anger? Why was this verse changed through the ages? Does this help make sense of other confusing things Jesus said or did? In short, it matters.

In Six Days

How do you see religious/atheist relations? Is there a place for religion alongside reason and rationality?

I think that there will always part of me that wishes that it were possible. I mean, we all have our own hangups and magic feathers, be it religion, or phobias, or addictions, or daydreams. Some help us, some hurt us - often without our own consciousness, really.

But then you take a step back and look at a quote from a very smart scientist like Kurt Wise, who holds a PhD from Harvard. In his contribution to the book, In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation, Wise writes:

"I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand."

When someone admits that no matter what verifiable scientific evidence and verifiable physical proof show, he'll always believe the Bible first, well, that's not having religion co-exist with reason, but extinguish it. At that point, it's obviously a problem, one that impedes the progress of society.

Last question about the book itself. What is your relationship with the illustrator? How collaborative is the process?

The illustrator (working under the pen name Agnes Tickheathen) is a good friend of mine and we developed the original vibrantly whimsical style together, borrowing from various other styles we love. The workflow starts on my desk where I research the scriptures and historical context and writing the commentary first. Then I do my best to sketch out a rough pencil mockup for Agnes along with an itemized description of the scene that I want to see painted. She then creates her own (much better) pencil drawing first - I make any necessary tweaks and she starts painting.

The only challenge is that certain Bible stories have been too gruesome or sad for Agnes to feel comfortable painting.

Agnes Tickheathen

Part of our Conversations with Storytellers series.

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