Things I never learned in Sunday School

By Nan Yielding

First, thanks Nan for the free copy. It is an interesting and easy read. I think a revised edition is due especially because I think you have in the intervening period learnt something that maybe was not available at the time of first publication.

This book is not a polemic against religion or an apologia. Maybe we could say it is an argument against taking someone as an authority without good reason. In this respect, I think Nan makes her point clearly throughout the book.

That said, I have a few issues with the book.

On the pentatauch, she alludes to Moses writing the first five books. First comment is that the existence of Moses is highly doubtful but that’s a story for later. On the authorship of the first five books, research that I have read point to a multiple group of writers. My preface to the African Bible( used by the Catholic Church) is explicit that while it is commonly believed Moses wrote those books, this is no longer tenable.

On Jesus, Nan writes in a manner that shows she is convinced of at least two things; he existed and had a message of love that he taught. The interesting question here is which Jesus. And having read several researches on Jesus life, I would ask with Ark, which Jesus? Nan writes we are certain Jesus died but this is putting the cart before the horse.

What can be said of the resurrection? She points out the various contradictions in the narratives telling of this special event. And I don’t think much needed to be added. Maybe we can say with Mangassarian that if he went to the sky it is best to live him there.

She writes a lot on Paul which is understandable because of his influence in Christian teaching. The first question is Paul who? Does the author of Acts know Paul? And while her conclusion is correct that without the Pauline literature, we would likely end up with a different religion today. She takes it for granted that Paul was. And I would think, as the theme of the book is not taking things on authority, a little bit of rigour would not be asking for too much.

Her exposition on the devil is quite illuminating. But in that chapter she says we are certain a supreme being exists? But does it really? Are we certain about this? What is the nature of this being & though in the final chapter she makes the argument that resembles that of Aviciena( via negativa) that maybe we can’t begin to name or even describe this being, this gives us no light on whether we should assume such a being exists.

I am not convinced the argument about the Roman empire persecution of Christians hold against scrutiny. I will have to dust my books & update this criticism but her position is not tenable.

I am African and it is a pet peeve of mine when I find African deities or religions referred to as tribal gods. This is following Hegel where everyone else has national gods or just religions but the African, no. His is a tribal god. I know it is not Nan’s fault here that most literature sees Africans only through the lens of tribe.

I think on matters where there is doubt, to express certainties must surely take away from the value of the work. To claim a supreme being/ god certainly exists is to stretch credulity a little far. My other general comment that covers the whole work is on miracles. The bible which is the source document for Christian belief is said to be a miracle- that is, it is not of natural production but involves the action of god(s) in unknown ways- is in need of defence.

While reading the book, a thought occurred to me concerning monotheism. Is it a belief in the existence of only one god or the belief in & worship of only one god While not negating the existence of other gods? The israelites are told not that other gods don’t exist, just that they should worship a specific god. Or as Nietzsche put it, the other gods laughed themselves to death when one of them said I am on the only god. Am I missing something?

Happy Sunday everyone. And thanks again Nan for the book.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

21 thoughts on “Things I never learned in Sunday School

  1. Ark says:

    I consider there is enough evidence – or lack thereof – to cast doubt on the existence of the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth / Yeshua ben Josef or whichever name one prefers.

    I also consider that, based on similar criteria and other evidence, the character Saul/Paul could also be a narrative construct and not a genuine historical person at all.

    There are some who believe gMark is simply a lash-up of themes ostensibly nicked from the Old Testament. If so, then from an historical perspective, this makes the other gospels practically worthless.

    To paraphrase Life of Brian. ”They made it up as they went along!”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Barry says:

    You’ve piqued my interest in Nan’s book. I just might need to get myself a copy.

    I’m not convinced there’s any deities or other forms of supernatural beings, but I have no doubt that a great many people do have experiences they perceive as being out of or beyond this world. I experience at times something that I’m only able to describe as experiencing the divine. I rationalise this as being something that the human mind has evolved for some purpose, possibly as part of forming social groups. Unlike for many of your regular readers, religion is important to me. However, I acknowledge all religion, including my own are a product of the human mind.

    The Roman Empire was intolerant of any person or movement that questioned the authority of Rome. If it was suspected that the early Christians didn’t accept the Emperor as the highest authority, they come down just as hard on the Christians as they did on every other group that posed the slightest risk to the “peace” of the empire.

    Given that the authorship of most of the books of the Bible is uncertain, and the early Christian church was probably an underground movement opposed by both the Romans and the Jewish authorities, and most of the followers were probably illiterate, it’s it’s hardly surprising that much of the source material of hasn’t survived, making the New Testament unreliable when it comes to historical accuracy, and that includes individuals such as Jesus and Paul.

    Whether we like it or not, the Bible has played a significant part in shaping Western culture over the last 2000 years. The contents are worthless if regarded as historical documents, but they do provide an insight into a the early Jewish world view and give us some understanding of how a radical Jewish sect evolved into the early Christian Church.

    The Christian God is/was a tribal god too – the god of a tribe of Israel. I confess I know absolutely nothing of the religions and beliefs of Africa. My school boy history consisted big helpings of the cultures and religions of Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Holy Roman Empire, and post Roman Britain, with little side dishes of mythology from other parts of Europe and the “Near East”, and a large portion of pre European and colonial New Zealand from “unofficial” sources.

    What is meant by Tribal gods? Do they mean gods that are local to one tribe only? Within Māori mythology there are a few gods that are unique to just one iwi (tribe), while most gods are common across all iwi. Or are they using the word “tribal” to imply something else such as inferior or primitive?


    • makagutu says:

      You should read it. It is as personal as a blog.

      I have no quarrel with your take on religion. In fact it is a position I would adopt were my views to change.

      And I agree that the bible has influenced generations of westerners. Been used to support or condemn certain ills.

      In most Western scholarship, when tribe is used, it is almost always used to mean primitive.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Barry says:

        I would have thought that the concept of Tribal” to imply primitive would have long gone within Western accademia, although still lingering among the less well informed. Africa is a vast continent, and being the cradle of modern man, I imagine that world views and any accompanying religion will vary considerably from region to region. Māori history is quite short – around 800 years, and in that time has developed a world view and theology well suited to the environment they found themselves in.

        If that can be accomplished in less than a millenium, how much more mature could world views and theology become when they have been in development for many millennia? And I use the present perfect continuous tense deliberately. All forms of thought are (or should be) in continuous revision. My problem with some forms of religion (Christian fundamentalism for example) is that it has become frozen in time or has turned into a dead end street and followers believe it is really the end of the road.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Scottie says:

          Hello Barry. You mentioned something that got my interest when you wrote “… but I have no doubt that a great many people do have experiences they perceive as being out of or beyond this world.:. One of the things that bothers me is I know people who think their dreams and sleep paralysis is proof of either the supernatural or space aliens. Due to childhood trauma I am subject to the phenomena often where I feel I am being threatened and can not move, have someone by my bed and I struggle to respond or scream. The fact is science has explained it, there is no reason for creating a mythical component. Yet it is impossible to explain that to people who believe in magic. They wont accept the science of the situation.

          I am not implying you did so , just pointing out for those that may know people who use these examples as real life supernatural Happenings, that sorry, magical beings or space aliens have already been replace by understanding of information. Be well. Hugs


          • Barry says:

            For myself, and I suspect for many who have a similar understanding of religion, the experience is part of the fabric of life in much the same way of being in love or being in the presence of something that is awe inspiring. It’s mystical because of how it affects one’s perspective towards life, not because there’s some supernatural influence or presence “out there”.

            The fact that we now better understand the processes the body (and therefore the mind) goes through when falling in love or when going through other emotional experiences, shouldn’t detract from the “magic” of favourable experiences, which is why I have little time for those who argue religious experiences aren’t real or have no validity.

            I apologise if I’m sometimes terse when folk attempt to persuade me that my experiences aren’t real. I’m autistic and for sixty years, I had my experiences (of living in a world designed for non-autistics) devalued and invalidated to the point I doubted my own sanity and it was damaging my health. The invalidation continues, but now I understand that others are incapable of comprehending, or identifying with, an autistic experience. The same seems to be true with religious experience.

            I also have little time for those who claim any authority for their (religious) beliefs. Many who claim to follow a religion are in my view living it second hand by obeying dogma that has its source in the experience of others, and insisting the dogma should apply to everyone.

            My experiences are mine, and mine alone, although it’s really, really nice to be in the company of others who hold similar values to my own. I’m also cognisant of the fact that any description of my experiences are limited by the necessity of using language through which to convey them.

            Oh! And go easy with the hugs please. As an autistic I loathe hugs (other than cuddles with my spouse). The mere mention of the word has much the same effect on me as scraping one’s nails across a chalkboard has on many other folk.

            Liked by 1 person

        • makagutu says:

          I think, my theory, is that religions that are written down remain frozen in time. Any attempt to change, modify is resisted frantically by the conservatives in the group while a religion or culture that remains open to enter or opt out is easily adjusted to fit the circumstances.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Barry says:

            It is very apparent to me that many belief systems, whether religious or not, become frozen the moment they are documented. Not healthy in my opinion.

            It’s one reason why I find the Quakers so attractive. “Continuing revelation”, the idea that no belief should ever be set in stone is a cornerstone of Quaker philosophy. It’s one of the reasons why we refuse to have anything that looks remotely like a creed (the other being that my beliefs may be inconsistent with yours) and why our books such as Queries And Counsel are revised every 10 to 15 years. Other documents are revised at least once every generation. It’s also why it’s fine for beliefs to vary from person to person and why no one is expected to hold beliefs they held 5 years ago or will necessarily hold in 5 years time.

            All beliefs should be held tentatively. It’s a concept that seems to baffle believers and atheists alike 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Nan says:

    OK, Mak — obviously I must come to my own defense! 😉

    The book was published in 2012 — and it was in the works for about five years. As is obvious from my blog posts, as well as the several comments I make elsewhere, MANY of my personal beliefs/perspectives have changed since then.

    Another important point — I essentially wrote the book FOR Christians. My intent was to take their beliefs about some of the more popular Christian tenets, dispute them, and provide evidence why they should rethink them.

    Further, I never intended the book to be taken as a “scholarly” work. I provided lots of resources so readers could investigate my points on their own — particularly if they disputed what I had written.

    I truly appreciate your review, but I do think we’re seeing my intent for writing the book from different perspectives. Nevertheless, your points are well made and were I to ever do a follow-up (HIGHLY unlikely), I would definitely take them into consideration.


    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      Nan, you need not defend yourself.
      In my introductory paragraph I acknowledge that it is not an apologia or a polemic against religion. And admit that you must have changed some views and the book would do with a second revision 😀.
      I should have indeed alluded to the fact that you provide a lot of references. My bad.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m very tribal, meself. Me ‘n me cannibal atheist pals make up a tribe of folks we call the “Eat ‘Em Up” group. We likes ta eat Christain babies, Trump supporters, and conservatives from all over the globe. Oh, we’re also lizard-skinned aliens, but that’s neither here nor there. $Amen$

    Liked by 2 people

    • makagutu says:

      This is a tribe i would like to join. Is their membership fees


    • Ark says:

      Lizard-skinned aliens who consider the Qur’an is the be all and end all of literature?


    • Barry says:

      I don’t know how to break this gently to you Inspired, so I’ll just say it. There’s no such thing as a Christian baby. Take a seat. All babies are atheists. Their parents may or not be Christian, Trump supporters and/or conservative, so they are fair game – enjoy them. But leave babies alone. They are neither Christian, Trump supporters, nor conservative. They are cute, and whether or not that’s a valid reason for consuming them, I’ll leave up to the conscience of each individual.


      • basenjibrian says:

        True all this. But you forget something….babies are also TENDER. So very, very tender. 🙂 Why chew chew hew, tough stringy adult Trump supporters when their babies are so much more toothsome.

        Inspired: You should check out the death grind metal band MORTICIAN. Especially their classic late 80s album “Hacked Up For Barbecue” Me thinks it would be good dining music for you!

        Liked by 1 person

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