Thanks Screwtape for this suggestion for as you pointed out much of what I believe has been misconstrued. First of all I believe that the populace both believers and non believers alike fail in their understanding of what the message of scripture really is.
But... believing that the bible as a whole has one overriding message is a giant preconcieved notion, don't you think? Espeically since it's common knowledge that it's a collection of 66 books written at different times, by different people. If you want to assess it like any other work of literature, then you must first entertain the idea that it might just be 66 different books with no single message.
What do you say to the people who have read the bible and come away with the belief that there is no "one" message of scripture? To those who believe that many, MANY theologically defensible messages can be gleaned by reading the bible? And what about those who believe that the bible is simply a collection of 66 books written at different times, by different people, with different agendas to push, and often quite different belief systems?
Given the often contradictory nature of so many of the biblical stories (eye for an eye versus turn the other cheek... faith alone versus faith with works... God is love, but also orders killing on massive scales, etc), how can you make the claim that scripture has "one" overriding message?
Do you think you could be wrong about it? If not, can you please tell me where that logic goes awry?
The reason for this in my opinion is that the proclaimed and errant message that has been broadcasted by religion for so long has come under attack (and rightly so), but the attackers generally equate the message put forth by religion with what is actually contained in the writings and making that assumption is a mistake.
How so? If the only data we actually have about God is contained in one book, then how can an understanding of those writings lead one to make false or misleading assumptions? Be serious here, Truth OT. There is no external evidence in our daily lives that the Christian God exists. None. Believing in the Christian God is not a conclusion that any sane human can come to without having at least heard of the bible.
If the message of religion is not contained in the bible, then why should we think anything other than you're making it up as you go?
Concepts like an eternal burning hell, the holy trinity, original sin, the promise of the righteous dying then going to Heaven, the immortality of the soul, and the need for post 1st century believers to preach to "lost souls" that they must join a religion are all not scriptural.
Have you read the bible? Original sin might not be in there, but the holy trinity is mentioned (once, in John). Hell is described quite a few times with gnashing of teeth, and unquenchable fire, etc.
It is my contention that organized man made religion is in fact what is "heretical" to what is taught in scripture.
Man made religion, true. But couldn't it just as easily be assumed that the entire thing was made up instead of taking the extra step and saying what they taught was "heretical"? Just like every other religion in the world? Remember now, you said you were going to be honest with yourself. Can you please point to why you believe this about Christianity and not about other religions?
I wish those who study the Bible whether it be to criticize it or to follow it would treat it like other works of literature that one studies by reading it without religious blinders as much as possible as well as by keeping things in the proper context historically and based on what the authors of the respective passages dictate. In doing so, a better understanding can be reached.
I think every atheist in the world would agree with you here. The problem for you is that if you study the bible as you study any other work of literature, you will not come to the conclusion that any of it is real. That's just not possible. That's why faith was created. Because they knew nobody would believe the stuff written inside.
For instance, there is talk of unicorns, giants, people living in fish for days, walking on water... all of which, if you read it in ANY other book, would instantly send up a red flag in your mind that these are FICTIONAL stories. Given what you just said here, how could you ever conclude that the bible is anything more than fiction? A man resurrected 3 days after he died, in any other work of literature, would automatically flag the work as fiction. Use that same deduction on the bible and see what you get.
So to be honest and hopefully humble in my arrogance, I believe I undersatnd the message of scripture better than most theologians because I do not read it to defend or uphold a doctrine, my goal in studying it is simply to understand what it actually proclaims.