I’ve always felt that in order to be able to effectively join the debate on religion (no matter which side you support), you must at least try understand both sides. It makes you appear more credible if you know what they’re talking about. One atheist, Cambridge professor Matthew Kramer, has spent a better part of his life studying the Bible (and, I infer from the text, the Old Testament and the Koran), trying to make sense of it all. He feels it gives him a better understanding of not just these texts, but Western society as a whole:
My original aim of improving my understanding of Western philosophy has been realized. Though I don’t write on theology or the philosophy of religion, my study of the Bible has significantly shaped my thinking about a number of issues in the areas of philosophy on which I do write. Over the years, however, that original aim has come to be supplemented by other reasons for my avocation as a Biblical scholar. Such an avocation not only improves one’s understanding of Western philosophy, but also greatly enhances one’s understanding of Western culture more broadly. While the Bible has heavily influenced many philosophers, it has likewise heavily influenced countless artists and writers and composers (among others). Some of the richness of Western art and literature and music is lost on anyone who does not possess a good knowledge of the Bible.
Kramer makes a good point. One of my history professors in college would often say that the history of Western society is the history of religion, and largely framed his class that way. And when you consider the influence of the Christian church on Western society, you can see it to be true. Even the more secular developments coming on after the Reformation can be seen as influenced by religion. Basically, Luther’s and Calvin’s ideas ended up leading to people thinking about governing themselves rather than being the subject of a monarch.
There are a few things in the speech (this post was transposed from it) that believers may cringe at, but it’s well worth the read.
My favorite quote:
However, unlike some atheists and most agnostics, I am hardly uninterested in God and religion.
Though I am in practice an atheist and in philosophy an agnostic, I’ve always been fascinated by religion. Don’t ask me why this is for I do not know. So, I could myself among those who am with Kramer in his interest.
I am admittedly fairly behind in my study. As in, not very far at all. But this article has promoted me to take action. So I’ll be getting a copy of the Bible soon. After that, I’ll get into other texts. I actually already have a copy of the Book of Mormon (I wasn’t raised one, it came into my family’s possession some time ago). It’ll be a process, but hopefully within a couple years, I’ll feel a lot more knowledgeable than I do now. Not enough to match people like Kramer, of course, but hopefully I’ll have a decent enough understanding of them all to consider myself dangerous.