It has become clear that the attempt to popularize scholarship on the Bible has not led to a more nuanced understanding of Western civilization's sacred texts, but has instead created confusion, dishonesty, error, and downright retardation, where there used to only be mere ignorance.
Bart Ehrman, the most well known of the New Testament scholarship popularizers, found this out the hard way. A professor from an evangelical-turned-agnostic background, he wanted to enlighten believers and non-believers about what dispassionate research has to say about the Bible, and how those findings might inform contemporary debates about religion in general and Christianity in particular.
His books are easy reads, but you can get the gist of the message from the titles:
Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)
Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are
These were published between 2003 and 2011, after agnosticism and atheism had taken a commanding lead in American society during the 1990s. Publishing them in such a godless climate was not brave, rogue, or maverick, but simply goading on an already cynical and skeptical population by telling them that PEER REVIEWED STUDIES backed up their gut feeling about contemporary organized religion being mostly full of it.
Like most brainless mobs, though, the religious skeptics got so far out of hand that they didn't just question this or that supernatural tenet of mainstream Christianity -- was Jesus the son of God, was he resurrected, did he die for our sins, and so on -- but straightforward mundane matters like whether Jesus of Nazareth even existed, whether he led a religious movement, or whether he was crucified. Those are all basic historical facts, so imagine the embarrassment to a professor of Christian history that a decent chunk of his followers were so historically illiterate, and so smug in their convictions.
This led him to publish a popular book in 2012 whose title reveals how learned and sophisticated his audience had become:
Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth
Imagine a historian of ancient Rome having to write a book called, Did Julius Caesar Exist? Ignorance that profound would be too depressing for most Roman historians to even bother addressing at length.
Perhaps the most cancerous outcome of the popularization of Biblical studies has been the widespread belief that because the Bible has been copied and re-copied so many times, not to mention revised and edited by scribes who were not 100% neutral in their changes, we have no solid basis for beginning a statement with, "The Bible says ____". WHICH VERSION, WHICH VERSION, WHICH VERSION??!!
In the mind of the skeptic, in other words, the Bible allows us to believe anything about the topics it addresses, and those puritanical Bible-thumpers (booo, booo) are only quoting the particular version, among so many different versions, that happens to support their claim. For skeptics, there are alternative, competing versions either here-and-now or once-upon-a-time that undercut or even contradict the claims of the Bible-thumpers.
One of the most amazingly stupid statements to this effect came from professional ignoramus Bill Nye the Science Guy. In a 2014 debate against Ken Ham, he likened the history of reproducing the Bible to the "telephone game," where someone begins with a story and whispers it to the next person, who whispers it to the next, on and on down the line, until the final person tells a story very different from the original.
Let's ignore for the moment how copying a sacred text differs from playing the telephone game (serious vs. careless attitude, sacred vs. profane mindset, etc.). What is the point of this analogy except to suggest that the original versions of the Bible were substantially different from those of today, on a wide range of crucial topics?
Does Bill Nye really think the original version of the Ten Commandments went a little something like this? --
Have as many other gods before me as thou wilt. I mean, hey, they're all just different forms of the same Higher Spiritual Power, right?
Thou shalt not commit adultery, unless the side-chick is pretty hot, in which case, hey bro, I totally understand, I'd hit that too.
Honor thy mother and thy father, as long as they give you everything you ask for. If not, you can call them a fag on Twitter since those tightwads deserve to be shamed.
Does Bill Nye really think that, somewhere along the line before they mutated, the original teachings of Jesus included such nuggets of wisdom as these? --
Blessed are the impure of heart...
Blessed are the vindictive...
Blessed are the warmongers...
Judge others by a standard that you would not accept to be judged by.
Go and sin no more, j/k we all know sinning feels good.
Does Bill Nye really think that in the original unaltered form of Romans and 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul was actually trying to help the churches organize their local Gay Pride Parade?
It's as though the Science Guy thinks the process of copying the Bible leads to a multiverse of teachings, where at every major decision a scribe had to make, some went one way, others went another way, and still others went another way still. With so many branches extending from so many ideological points of departure, somewhere out there is an Anti-Bible that contradicts every major teaching of our received Bible, but which nevertheless traces back in an unbroken chain of transmission to the original autographs.
For skeptics, followers of the Anti-Christ just might be the literal original Christians. You can't get any dumber than this, folks. It really proves G.K. Chesterton's claim that, "A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything."
At the outset of the crusade, the idealistic popularizers thought their audiences would develop an appreciation for the similarities and differences of the three major textual families that the New Testament comes from, or how the texts reveal the evolving beliefs and practices of the nascent Christian communities. Instead they ended up feeding the smug dismissiveness of a bunch of morons.
Maybe now Bart Ehrman understands why the ministers and priests he talks to have made a conscious decision not to open up this can of worms for their congregations.
Bonus video: see how often a typical crowd of internet scholars brings up the objection about "many versions and revisions!" when getting into a real-life argument with street-preaching troll extraordinaire Brother Dean. I found examples around 18m, 29m, 33m, 45m, and 1h 8m.