Meandering through a bookshop the other day I noticed one titled “From faith to reason” by a Brian Baker, a former pastor.

Seeing the epistemological error the title implied, I had a brief flick through the book, which gave the author’s reasons for becoming an atheist. These comprised the usual farrago: the existence of suffering, the Bible being contradictory and unreliable, and the story of Jesus being a recapitulation of other saviour myths.

Considering each of these briefly, the first problem I saw was with his method of argument. There was no bibliography, no reference list. What were his sources? How can you check his claims? The book contained the claim that the myths about the Egyptian god Horus were very similar to the story of Jesus: virgin birth, twelve followers, baptised, crucified between two thieves, and resurrected. With no sources, how can you validate these claims? You can only go to other sources: starting with encyclopaedias, books about Egypt and so on. As I did…

Briefly, there were many legends about Horus. There were two, perhaps at different stages of the legend: Horus the elder, brother of Osiris; and Horus the younger, son of Osiris. Horus was also fused with Ra at one point (or place). The best known stories about Horus are that he has the head of a hawk or falcon, he is the god of light and the sky, and he is the son of Osiris and Isis. Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, who buried him alive. Isis found the body, but it was dismembered into 14 parts by Seth. Only 13 could be found – his penis was eaten by an oxyrhynchus fish – but he was restored temporarily to life and fully equipped by Isis (and possibly Thoth? Should have taken better notes) – and fathered Horus. He then died again and/or became the judge of the dead.

One day Horus was killed by a scorpion sent by Seth. Unable to revive him, Isis summoned Thoth by her weeping, and he revived the boy. Later, Horus defeated Seth in battle and was named king of the gods.

There are bits and pieces that can be added to the Horus legend, but that is the great body of it. As for the claim that the story of Jesus is a recapitulation of the Horus myth, I would say that any similarity to any other deity, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The second problem in Brian Baker’s method was that I didn’t see – although remember, this was only a brief look – any counter-arguments. If you want to establish the truth, you must consider both sides and come to a reasoned – and reasonable – conclusion on the basis of the evidence. For example, the book listed the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ thirst on the Cross and his cry, the first verse of Psalm 22, which onlookers mistook as a call for Elijah. Anyone looking to falsify the Gospels on this issue of the differences between them needs to realise that people have been studying it since the Gospels were first brought together. As someone said, wouldn’t you be suspicious if the Gospels said exactly the same thing? But these small differences are not necessarily contradictions – they’re told from the author’s point-of-view and are affected by the author’s intent in writing. (Is it necessary to say that having a point to make doesn’t mean you won’t tell the truth? Probably.)

And as for the supposed contradictions and brutality in the Bible? Much has been written on this already so I shan’t add to it, except to say three things:
1) What would Brian Baker think about people who commit human sacrifice, such as by burning their children to death in fire? And let’s not get started on their sexual practices. This is the sort of activity the people did, who God commanded the Israelites to kill. (Like gives birth to like, so children are not born innocent: they are born with an irresistible bent to independence from God. Did you ever know a child who had to be taught to be selfish?)

2) Everything has to be taken in context: that is, evil arose from human rebellion against God’s right to be treated as God. Even God cannot make people love Him – love must be given freely. If people refuse to love God, they will go their own way and do their own thing. So why doesn’t God stop them? Again, that would pre-empt our ability to choose, which would deny the necessity of love. The choice to love necessarily means the choice to reject. Rejection results in pain: when we reject God, we will eventually depart from the way He says to live, and this will cause suffering to others. Why doesn’t God stop that? See the fourth sentence before this. Beyond that, others have dealt with this: as I have, a couple of articles ago.

In summary, read the book by all means; but test what he says. Argue both sides; look at the evidence; check the sources. And don’t go swimming with oxyrhynchus.