One of the most interesting statistics regarding atheism that sticks in mind isn't how "nones" are growing (and when you hear this, remember, this is just people identifying as nonreligious, not just atheist - but still, crossing 20% is impressive.) No, it's how much greater of a percentage of Atheists know and have read the Bible (or other regional holy book) versus the "believers."
Some of this isn't surprising - after all, religion is pervasive in many cultures, and if Atheists just came from Atheist families, the numbers wouldn't grow. We have to come from somewhere - and that has to be from within religion.
Now, some just never "bought" the story they were being told. They heard the bit about talking snakes, the odd order of the creation myths, Earth stopping for a battle and stars falling and the like, or the various deity-commanded genocides, and said "this makes no sense to believe," becoming atheist.
Others read the bible and, faced with the numerous atrocities, inconsistencies, inaccuracies and the like, became (to borrow a description I first heard from Seth Andrews, a former Christian broadcaster, and the title of his own book,) "deconverted."
Yet if you ask christians - how many of them have sat down and honestly read the bible? If you ask most, their first reaction is probably going to be "Yes, I read the bible." However, the actuality is that no, they don't. They're not being dishonest, mind you - they crack open the book every Sunday and follow along as the priest, preacher, pastor, sunday school teacher or whatever leads them on a hopping journey from Romans to Ezra to Revelation to Genesis, with a small stop at a verse in Job and a bite to eat from Ephesians on the way. This is typically what they mean by they've "read" the bible.
But that's not reading. This weekly, furious page-flipping (seriously, have you SAT in a church and listened? Unless they publish the verse list ahead of time so people can quietly bookmark and jump, it almost sounds like you're in a windstorm in a library) is the epitome of cherry-picking. Sure, you can create a point, even a narrative, that way - it's done each and every sunday, after all. But it's not *reading* the bible.
Reading American history that way would lead to George Washington going to Eisenhower for help against the Mayans who were about to sacrifice Dizzy Gillespie in order to set off an atomic bomb owned by Al Capone. It's an interesting story, but it just didn't happen that way. (Yes, I know, no Mayans in the US, but part of the Spanish conquest, etc, etc.)
Jumping around like that, other than creating a narrative, nicely skirts the glaring inaccuracies and inconsistencies. You're just not faced with them.
And some Christians just ... don't read it. Whatever they don't like is obviously in the Ten Commandments, whether it actually is or not. For instance, I ran across a comment in reply to something elsewhere (news story, I think) about how "homosexuals were breaking the sixth commandment." If you go back over recent postings, you'll see I went over all ten of the classic "Ten Commandments." Nothing there about homosexuality. Even if you go to Exodous 34 (the more "ritual" ten, and the set actually numbered,) number six is "Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.." Says nothing about homosexuality. When I pointed this out... dead silence.
Yes, I picture this person running back to their bible, then trying to look up where they were because they never actually went to read them. More likely they just ignored it, and me.
I think, quite honestly, this is an intentional stance by some religious leaders. It does give the flock (their term, not mine!) a feeling of being "taught" and of "having read" the bible. Add a smothering layer of "It's God's plan, and unknowable" and "God works in mysterious ways, he's great, praise him!" to quell any idea of reading critically or looking at it with logic, and you've got a passive, happy flock (that will keep giving you 10% of their income.)
One of the worst things a religious person who wants to stay religious can do is read their holy book critically. (And for mormons, critically think about their "founder" - a convicted con man who read tablets nobody could see - even while he had them - through a magic stone in his hat, and when his wife destroyed the first partial draft, re-read them... but they came out differently. I can't think words etched in golden tablets would do that, personally. Or be translated into 17th century English in the 19th century...)
You just CANNOT read it honestly without seeing inconsistencies - even without having historical knowledge to highlight some of the other problems (countries mentioned at times they didn't exist, for instance. Anachronisms are a bitch.)
For instance - and I'll probably go back into this if I'm still blogging around Christmas, as we'll have the airwaves filled with "war on christmas" nonsense (hint: there isn't one) - the "Christmas story." Ask ten Christians, and you'll get ten slightly different versions. There's usually some mix of Herod, a stable, Egypt, some might remember slaughtering the young male children. Yet in the bible, there are two vastly different versions - one where Joseph's told, one where Mary is. One where they go to a stable. One where they have a house to stay in. One that's very peaceful, one that's rather bloody. And two gospels that don't touch on it at ALL. The two are wholly incompatible, other than giving the names of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. (Not to mention the census doesn't exist...)
Of course, one does lay on *very* heavily "Oh, it fulfills this prophecy!" Make of that what you will. Still, if you can't even get agreement about the birth of your founder, don't you think you should question the rest?
So what does all this mean?
This may sound strange coming from an atheist, but encourage Christians to read their bible. Front to back. No jumping. And don't give it a free pass as "God's will" or "It's unknowable." If you take it as truth, you should hold it to the standards of fact and truth and find the inconsistencies and flat out inaccuracies puzzling. If you are fine with glossing over them... imagine it was your bank account and you suddenly lost $600. Or $10,000. (Even if you didn't have that much in there in the first place.) Would you want to know the truth? Or would you gloss it over as "The bank's will" and praise it as wonderful? What if your doctor called you and told you you (or your husband/boyfriend/etc.) were pregnant? Then the next day said the same tests said that wasn't true, but that you could fly? Wouldn't you have some doubts about the messenger?
Read it. Read it critically. And think for yourself.