Thursday, April 11, 2013

Q&A with Hausdorff

Hausdorff is a former fundamentalist who takes a skeptical look at the Bible, verse by verse in his blog, Hausdorff's Bible Blog.I had a few questions I have always been wanting to ask him, and  I had been wanting to do more Q&A interviews lately, like the one I did some time ago with Lana of Wide Open Ground. Thankfully, Hausdorff recently had some time to answer a few questions that I had.:

1. First of all, I've been curious about your blogging name. Is Hausdorff your last name? If not, where did your blogging name come from?

It’s the name of a mathematician. Back in 2004 when World of Warcraft first came out, I had my eyes open for a name for my character. I was looking for something mathy that most people wouldn't recognize and we happened to talk about hausdorff spaces in one of my classes that day. I thought it sounded cool and have just kept it as my online name ever since. It’s kinda funny how a random little unimportant decision can stick with you for so long.

2. One statement of yours really surprised me once. You said that despite growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household, you had not read the Bible through before. Why was that?

I guess the main reason is that I resisted. I hated reading pretty much everything as a kid, and the Bible is tough for a young mind to get through. When I did give it a go I mostly got confused, or stuck in some begats. It didn't occur to me that I could skip ahead a page or two and keep going, seems I had an all or nothing mentality even back then.

Another thing I can think of is that I would often get lists of verses I was supposed to memorize. This is about the worst thing for me, I suck and memorizing things, I can remember ideas and logical procedures, but it’s hard to memorize what amounted to a random jumble of words in my mind. (although I still know John 3:16 perfectly).

One final thought, we would be told in church that we should read the Bible on our own. I remember one sermon in particular where he said novices listen in church, students read verses they are told to read, and scholars read on their own. I remember getting all fired up about reading it on my own, I probably read it on my own for like 2 nights and bailed because it was boring. I’m don’t think many people in the church read more of the bible than I did.

3. As a child, what denomination(s) was your family a part of? Was there any certain ministers that they were followers of? What was that upbringing like?

It was an Evangelical Free church. My parents listened to Doctor Dobson, they also read a ton of his books. I think my upbringing was pretty standard middle class, normal ups and downs. Although looking back, it seems to me that the downs were made worse by religions influence. I had an extreme fear of hell for a long time, I was always worried about doing the wrong thing or even thinking the wrong thing. Thoughtcrime is probably one of the worst things I was taught.

4. What led you to begin questioning the faith, and when did you give it up entirely?

I don’t know exactly what got me started, I think it just didn't make sense to me. I remember being told that dinosaurs were millions of years old and also that the earth was 10,000 years old. My dad told me that dinosaurs were around at the same time as humans and the scientists were just wrong. I asked a lot of questions and at some point (around 10 years old) I got too close to something I guess they found Biblically dangerous and they decided we needed to go to church more often. (before that we would theoretically go every week, but in reality maybe every other week). Church sucks, so I quickly learned which types of questions would result in more church, and just internalized those topics. I mostly thought about these things on my own and about 10 years later didn't consider myself a Christian anymore. In addition to the dinosaur thing that I mentioned before, the things that bothered me the most were the church’s anti-science stance and the problem of evil.

5. I noticed that on your blog, you started your Bible reading with Matthew, not Genesis (New Testament before Old Testament), and have just recently started with Genesis.
Why did you start your reading this way, instead of reading from beginning to end?

When I started, I figured I would use it as a tool in arguing with Christians. I wanted to avoid the “that’s just the Old Testament” argument. I’m glad I did it this way though, I've changed so much in the way I do it since I started, the first half year at least was almost just a practice run. When I finish the old testament I will probably do the new testament again, at least through the gospels. I want to at least give the Jesus stuff a good run through with the commentaries and podcast and whatnot.

6. What is the most surprising/shocking thing you have encountered in the Bible so far?

Honestly, I’m surprised at how bad it is. I have always heard from Christians that the bible is wonderful and from atheists that the Bible is crap. I always assumed that both were just focusing on stuff to suit their perspective, I figured I would find pretty much an equal mix. I would say it is at least 90% bad. And a lot of the bad stuff is absolutely horrible. When I finished the new testament I wrote a series of posts summarizing my thoughts, and the last one was addressing the fact that I focus on the negative rather than the positive, I largely argue that the good parts are either missing or underdeveloped.

To be fair, some of the things I see of as bad the Christians will see as good, namely obedience and faith. The new testament talked about how great faith was all over the place. I think faith is an absolute negative and they see it as a virtue, but even if we ignore faith since it is in dispute, what else do they have? I would say very little. And in the Old Testament so far, the only reasonable lesson I can see anywhere is to be obedient. Obey God or be drowned, obey God or your city will be destroyed, obey God or be turned into a pillar of salt. And even if you see obedience as a virtue, God overreacts in all of these stories.

7. Has your opinion of the Bible changed since you started your blog?

As you can surely guess by my last answer, it has gone more negative. So many of the stories are terrible, nonsensical, and contradictory. After reading the whole new testament, it is honestly puzzling to me how anyone can read it and think it is divine.

8. What kinds of reactions have you had from fundamentalists on your blog, and on social media? Have there been liberal/moderate Christians that have been offended by your commentary?

Have they been offended? Probably. Unfortunately very few will comment, and those that do will not stay long. I have tried pretty hard to be friendly to them. I try to invite discussion and have a little back and forth. I try to never attack people, only ideas, but people have trouble separating the two. It’s unfortunate because one of the reasons I started the blog in the first place was to interact with Christians about this stuff, it’s a big part of the reason I've been trying to branch out and read more Christian blogs lately. If they won’t come to me I’ll go to them.


  1. The more of the Bible an atheist reads, the more of an atheist he or she becomes.

    1. "Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived."

      ---Isaac Asimov

  2. @ Hausdorff
    "And in the Old Testament so far, the only reasonable lesson I can see anywhere is to be obedient. Obey God or be drowned, obey God or your city will be destroyed, obey God or be turned into a pillar of salt. And even if you see obedience as a virtue, God overreacts in all of these stories."

    Perhaps you should see if you could read the Torah with a Jew. As a Muslim when I first read Genesis/Bereisht (on the net) I was dismayed---it seemed that the portrait of God was from the perspective of a child viewing an adult whose actions it cannot understand....I was fortunate that a Jewish person was able to help me out for a while and a world of wisdom opened up. Apparently Jewish people do not read the Torah literally, they use the stories as symbols from which to tease out "truths" of human nature and man's relationship to God.
    I was also fortunate in that later on I came across a blog by a former Christian who was re-reading the N/T from a neutral, non-literal perspective in order to find wisdom. I understand the "Jefferson Bible" is also an attempt by a non-Christian to extract wisdom from the N/T gospels......

    Relating to books from a different time period and culture is difficult. To understand the history of the period and the intent/goal of the author/authors can help to put the text in context.....Another thing to keep in mind is that human nature has not changed much from six thousand years ago or a thousand years ago to today---so there is also a timeless aspect---in that human problems remain the same.......Wisdom books such as the Sutras, the Vedas, the Tao te Ching....etc try to address these human problems in different ways.

    Some Christians read books in order to validate pre-held assumptions. I suppose this is one way to read a book. To see in it only what you want to see.
    So....the words in the Torah and the O/T may appear the same---but how a Jew understands the Torah and how a Christian sees the O/T are completely and often radically different.....It is not that one way is right and the other is wrong---it is that the intent of the readers are different.......


    1. Thanks CM,

      I tend to gravitate toward the literal interpretation of the bible because that is what I grew up with. It is the interpretation that many Christians take, and it is the source of many of the big problems that I see coming out of religion, like the rejection of evolution. It's definitely a perspective that I always want to include.

      But I think you are right, there is another way to look at these stories. And I have read from other sources that the Jews generally take these stories more as fables than the Christians do. That's probably another perspective that I need to find a way to include.

      As far as actually reading it with a Jew, that would be awesome, but probably not something I'm going to be able to swing. I do think it would be a good thing to go find a Jewish commentary like the Christian commentaries I have been reading and bring in that perspective. That's essentially what happened which brought me to bring the Christian commentaries in before, everything was from my atheist (ex-christian) perspective and I wanted to include a Christian perspective as well. Of course, if a Jewish person wanted to comment regularly or even work with me to get their thoughts into the main post that would be amazing, but it seems unlikely :)

    2. I tend to go with a literal interpretation myself, just like Hausdorff, CM, because that's the way I'm raised, and to me, the Bible seems to present itself that way.

      I really can't find any indications in the Bible in most circumstances that would seem to imply that the writers considered them to be an allegory (with some exceptions, I can definitely see a case made for Revelation being an allegory).

      It would be interesting to read the Old Testament with someone who is of the Jewish faith, I know that their interpretation of the OT is much different than the Christian view of it. I know many Christian fundamentalists think they know plenty about the Jewish culture and faith, but I'm quickly finding out that much of what I was taught about it wasn't accurate.

  3. Jewish Commentary seems like a good idea---though you may have to find one that is for a non-Jewish audience---some aimed at Jews can be pretty deep and difficult to grasp without a background in Judaism.
    Another interesting method of reading the O/T is by using the "documentary hypothesis" to speculate on the intentions of the writers---and from there to figure out what they were trying to communicate to their audience. It may perhaps not be a perspective that a Jew would be in accord with, nevertheless it may provide insights. (Yale University lectures on this are on the net)

    Christianity---Despite my efforts, this is a religion that I seem intellectually incapable of understanding---so generally there is not much I can say about it. Some scholars such as Karen Armstrong posit that a literal reading of texts is a modern phenomenon..?..
    By the way---are you familiar with the "Q source" theory for the N/T?.......if so, what are your opinions?

    Evolution/Creationism---Creationism is making inroads into Islam also---though in the case of Islam, it is confined to human evolution only. Ignorance can lead to incorrect assumptions and this is not of benefit to humanity.........


    1. Hi, CM.

      Yes, I have heard claims that literal translation of the Bible is a rather new phenomenon that began with the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the early 1900's. This is what Jonny Scaramanga, one of my favorite bloggers believes, as well as some scholars:

      I can understand why Christianity is so hard to understand, and I can't figure out why I thought I could understand it as a Christian. I mean, just look at Christian beliefs about Jesus. He was supposedly fully human and fully god at the same time, and he was also a part of the Trinity, so he was Jesus and God at the same time.

      So why did he pray to the father (God), when he was, well.... God? If he was speaking to himself, then why were his prayers phrased as though he was speaking to another person?

      I have heard of the Q theory, that some of the Gospels (the first four books of the NT) were based off of a common source. It seems plausible, since Matthew and Luke are quite similar, but I find it strange what some Gospel writers choose to include in their writings, and what they choose not to include.

      For example Matthew is the only Gospel to mention that people come back from the dead all over Jerusalem on the day of Jesus' death. No other Gospel writers mention that, and neither does any non-Biblical accounts. Don't you think that zombies running around Jerusalem would be something that all of the Gospel writers would want to mention? Is that not important enough of a detail? Better yet, why didn't any non-Biblical accounts mention it? I wrote a post on that very topic in January:

    2. CM,

      That is a good point about finding a Jewish commentary for a non-Jewish audience. What would be ideal really would be to find both, although I imagine I would focus more on something intended for a non-Jewish audience as it would probably be easier for me to follow.

      I am not familiar with Q source, but I have bookmarked the wikipedia page and added it to my 'random blog ideas' file. Hopefully I'll get a chance to check it out in the near future.

      I also find the idea that a literal interpretation of the bible is a relatively modern phenomenon interesting. I've added that to my list as well. I was actually thinking about it, if everyone knew that the stories weren't literal, they would never say that in the text. Like, we don't preface the boy who cried wolf story with "this is just a fable", we tell the story as if it really happened.

  4. Trinity!!!---any attempts at conversing with a Christian inevitably derails into explanations of the Trinity--every analogy has been thrown at me---the mathematical one, the egg theory, water, H2O...etc..etc---nothing has worked! just ends up feeling depressingly stupid......
    Do fundamentalists follow the Nicene creed or do they have their own explanations for the Trinity?
    How was it explained to you?

    Scaramanga---Interesting stuff. It is correct that the word (Hebrew/Arabic) "Youm" translated as "day" has the meaning "fixed period of time" (as God wills) and while this can refer to an earth-centric measure of time (depending on context), it is not limited to that measure alone.

    Incarnation---The concept of the Divine taking on created form occurs in Hinduism as well. However, there are internal inconsistencies within the overall framework of Christianity that makes it difficult to comprehend.

    Gospels---Is there a reason that fundamentalists expect the 4 gospels to be the same?
    It is my understanding that there were many Gospels (perhaps 30 or more) and each gospel had a following---according to N/T scholars, the 4 were chosen to be part of the Bible and others were not---am I right? If so, it would be more reasonable that they not match because they would have been written for different audiences with different purposes......?.....

    Zombies/Crazy stuff---Most ancient religions have---what by our standards would be---crazy stuff. Usually the symbolism attached to the crazy stuff is passed down so that it is understood within the context of the overall framework of that belief system.
    I can't say what zombies are doing/symbolizing in Matthew but if I were to wildly speculate....perhaps it may have to do with early Christian apocalyptic concepts that may have been slightly influenced by some Jewish ideas about resurrection/eschatology ....?....or not....?...
    Are there any Christians today that understand the N/T symbolically rather than literally?
    Are there different types of fundamentalists or is this one big group?
    Your post was interesting--do you have more stuff like that on the N/T?


    1. Trinity -- The trinity was always confusing to me (and still is). In my church they never seemed terribly interested in really getting in to it. They always just said something vague along the lines of "God and Jesus are the same but different" and then move on. I was confused, but everyone around me nodded along like it made perfect sense.

      Gospels -- I think the problem here lies in the fact that they teach the bible is the inerrant inspired work of God. If God essentially wrote the bible and he is perfect, there shouldn't be any contradictions in it at all. 4 different gospels with 4 different audiences is fine as long as it is a different take on the same facts, but once they start really contradicting each other there is a big problem. In church they would sometimes talk about how different witnesses to an event will focus on different details, but this really only explains small, unimportant details. When I read the bible I was pretty surprised at the huge discrepancies. And you are right there were many gospels outside of the bible, I didn't know this when I was a Christian, I was really surprised when I found out. I don't think it is common knowledge for the rank and file Christians.

      "Are there any Christians today that understand the N/T symbolically rather than literally?"

      Absolutely. Some churches are like mine taking everything literally, some take all of the miracles to be symbolism (except maybe the immaculate conception) and there are churches that are pretty much everywhere in between I would wager.

      "Are there different types of fundamentalists or is this one big group?"

      There are definitely different types. I only have familiarity with the ones I grew up with, but as far as I can tell they are all autonomous and they choose different things to focus on.

  5. Interesting story. I had heard good (or should I say better? lol) things about the Evangelical Free than most denominations out there.

    1. I'm not all that familiar with them, and any experience within fundamentalism can vary from church to church and family to family.

  6. Of all you guys, I feel like my religious indoctrination wasn't really that bad. My parents got really into a lot of woo, but they never managed to stay enthused on any one thing for too long.

    1. Well, I guess that's a good thing :)

      I didn't think it affected me that profoundly, until I started writing, and actually remembering what had happened in the past. Then it hit me, the true impact of it all.


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