Ready for something lighter? I know I am.
If you’re a gamer or military type, you probably already know about The Skippy List, a large selection of military-related things that the eponymous Skippy is not allowed to do (anymore). You might even know about the similar list theglen has circulated over on LiveJournal about similar no-nos that is more gaming-specific. Most gamers have similar lists they keep informally. (Sample: “Not allowed to name my warhorse ‘Hung Like Thunder.'”)
Well, one of my gaming buddies has an entry for that list: “Not allowed to mess with the creation of major world religions.”
Let’s back up. There’s a White Wolf-published RPG called Scion in which players assume the roles of young godlings from various established pantheons (like the one from Ancient Greece) out to prove themselves and become real gods, sort of like the plot of the animated movie Hercules. I love Scion for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I really like superhero roleplay (seriously, you give my character a slightly-not-normal power of any kind in any gaming system, and I’m the first one to demand the party go buy brightly-colored leotards), and I’ve always had a major thing for mythology, so combining the two makes me giddy. I don’t think the makers of it set out to create a critique of Christianity this devastating, but that’s how it worked out simply by virtue of the fact that the game outlines exactly how a religion might actually begin and exactly how gods’ miracles might function in reality, how they fight against each other to gain dominance and numbers, how they try to stop or work with the monstrous evil that threatens even the gods of its gameworld. It’s like a religion simulator, and if my unicorn-riding Sim icon hasn’t clued you in, I like simulators a lot. GMs (Game-Masters, the people running the game), being the rather independent cusses that we are, are encouraged to come up with our own pantheons. I’ve created all kinds of pantheons for my games, from pre-Muslim to Caucasus, and it’s crazy fun to do.
But one thing I did not anticipate was the wrench one of my gamers threw into the creation of Christianity.
I set a game in Ancient Rome once–the middle of the 1st century CE to be precise. Christianity was just starting to come together around a series of failed apocalyptic prophets; the religion was starting to take hold (let’s ignore RL history about the origins of Christianity–this was a game, and in my game, Christianity was started at 30CE by the semi-divine son of a god). It was proving quite daring and progressive–women were allowed to hold positions of power, caring for the poor was not just a nice idea but a mandate, etc.
Then one smarmy bastard decided to release a slew of fake “epistles” to totally screw over the burgeoning religion. At first I didn’t realize what he was doing. These epistles were going to totally ruin Christianity’s awesome socially-progressive bent and introduce all kinds of haywire concepts like “No actually, women need to stay out of any leadership positions” to cut in half the leadership potential and progressive nature of the religion and “we all need to worship saints too because saints are awesome” to dilute its concentration on the godling who started it and “Christians need to be totally obnoxious all the time to non-believers” to really get their persecution fantasies going and stuff. Believe it or not, I really don’t think the guy realized just how much of the things he was putting in these fake epistles were actually things that made it into Christian canon after the Gospels. He was trying to short-circuit the religion before it got started, that’s all.
It did make me think, though. The Bible’s contradictions are so well-known and so well-examined that only Christians think it makes any sense at all. I remember in college, I was walking to the bookstore with a friend who was an atheist (one of the several Biff was “working on” as he felt a “special burden” for atheists–and no, he never did convert any that I know of) and we got onto the subject of contradictions in the Resurrection stories in the Gospels–just the Resurrection story alone, mind you. I brightly parroted the tired apologetics response of the “Blind Men and the Elephant, which tries to explain that all the Gospels’ accounts mesh up just fine if you just consider that each writer was just conveying what he saw individually. (Here is a nice examination of precisely why this tactic fails. We’ll also ignore that some of these gospels are clearly copied from each other so are unlikely to have been fully independent eyewitness accounts, and also that Luke at least was probably working off of a copy of the Septuagint considering his various mistranslations of words like “virgin/maiden”. Let’s just look at the actual contradictions themselves here and not muddy things up like that.) I thought I did a very good job repeating the defense, but when I finished, he just stared at me. Stopped stone cold in his tracks and stared at me. “You can’t possibly believe what you just said,” he said. “That’s insane.” I was just shocked that something that had convinced me so thoroughly had not convinced him at all.
One thing that Christians generally believe one-hundred-and-crazy-percent is that God transmitted the Bible as an inspired document to humanity. But if he did, then why was it so full of contradictions about the most important event in human history? If he’d personally seen to it that the Bible was his living word to us, then why hadn’t he taken more care for it not to be totally wrecked by Paul’s twisting of the doctrines Jesus had espoused? Why hadn’t he made the accounts smoother and less completely non-credible? In short, once I stopped telling myself to ignore the contradictions in it and stop thinking of it as inspired purely because it said it was inspired and everybody around me said it was (argument from authority ahoy!), I could start wondering why, for an inspired document, it really didn’t look inspired at all. If I hadn’t been told it was inspired and if it hadn’t said it was so, I don’t see how I ever would have come up with that idea independently–it’s boring, it’s filled with errors, and it contradicts itself constantly.
It’s a lot easier for me at least to believe that someone along the way changed the Bible to reflect whatever the contemporary agendas and biases were of the day and made basic mistakes in transcription (an idea supported by the oodles of slightly different ancient versions of various NT books). A god would stop all that from happening if it mattered so much. But if there was no god behind it, or else a god who either could not or didn’t want to stop the corruption of his sourcebook, what would stop such corruption from happening? I’m left with the idea that either no god was directing the transmission of this ancient document, or else an incompetent god was unable to stop what happened to the Bible–I’m reluctant to say that any god is malevolent enough to actually want his sourcebook to be this defective and untrustworthy, but that’s an option too.
The Skippy List and those like it don’t actually mean the people involved aren’t allowed to do something. My gamer had a reasonably described plan, so I let him mess up the origination of Christianity, and tried to hide the awe and absolute wonderment I felt at the revelations his move prompted in me (though his efforts backfired and only produced a corrupt Church that still achieved dominance in the gameworld–who’d’a thunk?). And by the way, that was just a few years ago, well after I’d left the religion–and I hadn’t even thought about this topic really until then. What’s funny is that this wouldn’t even be the last exploration of “What Might Have Really Happened” in that religion, or for that matter the most shocking. Gamers can be really creative.