Does anyone read those lists of begats in the Bible? I never have. But then I learned there are two lists of begats for Jesus — one starting at Matthew 1:1, the other commencing at Luke 3:23 — and realized there would be no quicker, easier way to prove the Bible can’t be literally true than to find an inconsistency in the two lists.

From Abraham to King David, the Matthew and Luke begats jibe: 14 generations without a glitch. But then things go awry. Matthew puts Jesus in the line of King Solomon, whereas Luke aligns him with a son of David named Nathan. And it doesn’t get better. From Solomon we go to Roboam, from Nathan we go to Mattatha, and so on. The lines continue to diverge until they join to proclaim Joseph the father of Jesus.

Those two genealogies can’t both be true!

The problem doesn’t end there. Matthew (1:18–20) and Luke (1:27–35) agree that Mary had not yet been intimate with Joseph when Jesus was conceived. If that’s so, why are the lists of begats even relevant? Which is the more impressive credential, after all: remote descendant of King David, or son of the all-powerful creator of the universe?

I know, I know. If you’re a rational person, including one with a love of Jesus, this is obvious, and you take the obvious lesson: the Bible is not literally true, but its message, perhaps best summed up by the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and the Sermon on the Mount, does not depend on every word being true.

And if you’re someone who does believe the Bible is literally true, no amount of rational counter-argument is going to persuade you otherwise.

The great lesson of my adult life has been beware of true believers. Those who deny an element of uncertainty in their chosen dogma are not just childish and anti-intellectual. They are the portion of humanity holding the rest of us back, whether they’re denying the curvature of the earth, the rotation of the earth around the sun, evolution, or the warming of the planet. They are easily threatened and angered, and are willing — often too willing — to countenance cruelty and violence in “defense” of their beliefs.

I wish true believers no ill, and suspect most non-fundamentalists feel the same way. That said, it’s time for true believers’ outsize influence to end. After good health for you all, that is my wish for this holiday season — and for the year to come.

Centerpiece of the Nativity Facade, Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.