The agnostic recipe for accepting religious teachings without cognitive dissonance:

  1. Read sacred texts with care. Take notes. 
  2. Acknowledge human authorship of said texts in historical context
  3. Separate and discard practices and behaviour reliant on belief in omniscience, omnipotence or omnipresence. 
  4. Separate and discard practices and behaviour which denigrate any group of people as “less than,” or “unclean” on the basis of any criteria. Criteria may includes, but are not limited to: age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, body shape, skin pigmentation, native language, hair colour, hair length, tattoos or lack thereof… No, really… anything.
  5. Separate and discard practices and behaviour based on lack of refrigeration, understanding of biology, proper hygiene, and or physics (see point 2)
  6. Separate and discard practices and behaviour reliant on higher authority. This includes reliance on gurus, Imams, Priests, monks, and or keepers of the sacred colander.
  7. Ask self: “Self, does this teaching make me want or try to be better person without hurting anyone?”
  8. Season with salt and pepper
  9. Serve warm

8 thoughts on “The agnostic recipe for accepting religious teachings without cognitive dissonance:

  1. Part of the “historical context” of “sacred texts” is understanding that when you are reading ancient texts you are rarely reading the originals in the original languages, or even copies of the originals in the original languages.  You are most often reading translations, and the critical thing to understand about that is that translators are not copying the original text, they are moving the text from it’s original context, into a new context.

    That context may be the historical and cultural context of the author of the translation or it may be the historical and cultural context of the language of translation.  Regardless of the specifics it is a completely new historical and cultural context, even if an attempt is made to maintain the original historical and cultural context.  That context will inevitably include all kinds of bias, nuance and information not inherent in the original text.

    A translation is it’s own distinct work, quite separate from the original.  It should be inspired by the original, it may even be as faithful as possible to the original, but it is not the original.  It is also worth noting that this comment is not directed primarily at agnostics and atheists, but at “true believers” such as I once was, who assign the authority of deity to the religious texts that they read.

    It is a mistake to assume that any text created by a human is infallible, it is an even bigger mistake to assume that a translation of a text is also infallible.

  2. One of the written elements that has very low longevity and is most often impossible to translate, is word play, such as puns.  Many of the puns in Shakespeare’s works depended on the accent that the work was written for.  A friend of mine recently gave a seminar on the use of phallic symbols in the Bible, I believe it was titled “When a Hat Isn’t a Hat”.  The first victim of time and translation is clever comedy.

  3. Prime example:

    Taming of the Shrew is full of more innuendo and double entendres than a modern audience can make sense of when watching the play. I’d say the modern audience ‘gets’ about 1/5th of the jokes. It’s one of the reasons his tragedies tend to be produced more than his comedies– they rely less on historically /culturally contextual word play.

    I studied what I missed in Taming of the Shrew, but that took at least 4 times longer than watching the play, and took me down a weird rabbit hole about why so many plays were set outside of England. Unfortunately, in studying why a line/or scene was a riot in 1594 and falls flat in 2008 takes a lot of the humour out. It’s not just the language shift and accent changes, it’s changes in western social norms. We’re talking a time when protestant beliefs were brand new, and royal censorship was harsh.

    The (English speaking/western cultural) universality isn’t in the nuances of language, but in the plots and characterization. Shakespeare doesn’t translate well, but it adapts well, even in comedy (think 10 Things I hate about you–whatever you personally feel about teen romances, it grossed well at box office, second only to the Matrix at the time).

    Back to accent….You Want Shakespeare with the right accent and cadence? ask someone from one of the smaller coves in Newfoundland–it will be the closest you’ll get today.

    Friend of my step father, from what Quebec’rs call the “bas du fleuve,” studied French Lit at the Sorbonne in Paris. He came from an isolated French community, with a very heavy accent. Throughout his studies, his Parisian classmates mocked him for that heavy accent, until he got asked to recite some 17th century poetry, then jaws dropped and the prof lit up because it was perfectly spoken and rhyme properly…


  4. Another glaring example of that are what we would consider to be pornographic ancient Greek comedies.  The context in that case would be a culture with completely different views on morality.  That goes well beyond word play.

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