My journey out of fundamentalist Christianity began with an in depth study of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch). I asked myself a simple question "what if the Pentateuch was written by men for men? Could I give a thoughtful explanation for why Moses (or other writers of the Pentateuch) would create such stories. (Remember these stories were written during a time when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness - permanent camping!)
Space does not permit me to give the in-depth analysis here so I will just give the recap:
For ease of discussion I will refer to Moses as the writer of the Pentateuch, recognizing that there were probably several writers.
The Creation Story:
Why did Moses need a creation story? This is simple, he had competition. The first thing Moses had to establish was that his god was bigger better stronger and more powerful than all of the other gods. In ancient cultures everything that men could not control and did not understand (weather, sickness, infertility, the seasons, day, night, etc.) was controlled by gods. The gods were bigger than life men who lived in the "firmament" ie sky. You had to work very hard to keep the gods happy because if they weren't happy, you would have drought, or sickness, or infertility. So most of life consisted of doing things to keep the gods happy. Moses had to establish right off the bat that his god had created everything! so his god controlled everything! So keeping his god happy was the top priority!
By the way, Moses never said his god was the only god, he said his was the best god, the greatest god, kind of like my favorite sports team is the greatest, the "only one".
The Adam and Eve story:
Why did Moses need this story? For a couple of reasons. First of all Moses needed to establish in the minds of the people that women are inferior to men. The Adam and eve story does this nicely. Remember Moses is meeting with the men to give directions THEY MUST FOLLOW. These same men have to go home and tell the wife "here is what we are going to do". Women have a nasty habit of asking things like "why" and "how does that benefit me and my kids?" So Moses needed a construct that would allow men to believe that there own wives could not be trusted, after all look what happened to Adam when he listened to his wife. In addition he needed the women to believe that the men knew what was best for them, that they could not trust there own instincts.
I had to admit that the foundation of fundamentalist Christianity, and fundamentalist religion in general, was flawed and not trustworthy. The Adam and Eve story served another purpose. In Egypt there were two things the women had they did not have in the wilderness: birth control, and pain medication. Yes in Egypt archaeological digs have shown both, albeit primitive by todays standards, but better than nothing! So the Adam and Eve story (and the Creation story) conveniently COMMAND men to have as much sex as they can talk their wives into (be fruitful and multiply) and then leave the women with no recourse when it comes to the pain of childbirth, because it is God's will, i.e., the curse on Eve as a result of The Fall.
The Noah story:
What purpose does this story serve? I don't have the space to give a detailed accounting of any of these stories, remember I am only hitting the highlights with the main question being "how does this story benefit Moses?"
So how did Moses and his relatives benefit from this story? It served a two-fold purpose. First it established that his god could wipe out the entire world! His god sent a flood! I think the Noah story has some element of truth, insofar as ancient cultures experienced natural disasters just as modern cultures do today (i.e., Katrina). In ancient cultures all such disasters were explained as occurring because the gods were not happy. Moses just said that the flood everyone had heard about was caused by HIS god, the biggest, baddest, to be feared, and to be worked for god in the pantheon of gods of that day.
This story also served another purpose. Food. Specifically the food Moses and his relatives ate every single day, (including on the Sabbath day). One of the first things Moses did when they got out into the wilderness was to set up his own personal barbecue pit, i.e., the Tabernacle. Yes, contrary to popular belief the animals that were slaughtered at the tabernacle were not completely burned up, they were eaten by Moses and his relatives Aaron and Aaron's sons (not daughters!). Leviticus gives detailed instructions on how this food was to be prepared, by whom it was to be prepared, and who was allowed to eat it. Everywhere the word "burnt" is used substitute the word "cooked". Remember these are ancient people barbecuing while camping, they have no way of knowing when food is done cooking, plus they have no way of controlling the fire. As fat drips on the fire guess what you get? flare ups of flame that burn the food, hence "burnt offerings". I will quote one scripture from Leviticus 6:26:
"The priest that offereth it for sin SHALL EAT IT: in the holy place shall IT BE EATEN,..." (emphasis is mine). Lev.6:29 "All the MALES among the priests SHALL EAT THEREOF:..." (emphasis mine).
So let's get this straight. Moses and his top generals (i.e., his brother Aaron, and Aaron's sons) get to eat fresh barbecued meat everyday. There are plenty of "sins" for which it is necessary to bring your BEST lamb, calf, bull, etc. to Moses and his relatives for their daily steak, (remember the priests are eating the best cuts of meat), while the "common" people are eating seeds! Remember the "manna from heaven"? If you read closely this "bread" is made by the people at home out of seeds that they have to go out each day and gather. While at the same time they are taking their best meat to Moses and his priests to eat! Sounds like a good deal for Moses, et. al.
So back to the Noah story. A careful reading shows that Noah took MORE of the "clean" animals. What was a "clean" animal? A "clean" animal was an animal you could eat! Hence the first thing Noah did after the flood, was to set up an altar (everywhere that word is used in the OT substitute the word "barbecue pit"), and ate a real meal!
So the Noah story also establishes what food is acceptable to Moses's god. Only the freshest (less than a year old lamb), with no sign of sickness or injury (no "blemishes"), and only food from your own flocks and herds (don't be bringing me no squirrel to eat!) Get the idea?
Now I have covered three of the most well known and debated stories in the Pentateuch. By asking a simple question "did Moses benefit from these stories, and is so, how?" I was quickly able to ascertain that the "Holy Book" was written by men for the benefit of those men. It was a short leap to go from there to asking the same question about the well known stories in the New Testament. Did Jesus walk on the water? What about the virgin birth? A few simple Internet searches and lo and behold, ancient cultures have always had deities that were born of a virgin!
One by one I began to pick apart each story, easily! Until I finally had to admit this book was written by men and no more "inspired by the Holy Ghost" than say Shakespeare.
I loved this book. It was a sad day when I had to set this book down, and admit that it was written by ancient people for ancient people.
And so I had to admit that the foundation of fundamentalist Christianity, and fundamentalist religion in general, was flawed and not trustworthy.
It's an odd thing. Once you know something, you can't un-know it. Which is why I think religions work so hard to keep their people from being exposed to other points of view. Because once you see things from another point of view, you can't un-see it.