Good point, and let's work from there.
While Ruby is still dealing with even our traditions being the beginning of things (and that wouldn't make sense, Ruby, because then you are saying our traditions started our traditions, and they didn't start themselves so we are back to square one), let's go with the statement you've made, Zana, about "the Bible is the next best thing."
I have had that told to me before and was expecting that a lot sooner after I wrote this, so I am glad you brought it up now.
If the Bible is what we are to base our religion on today (saying that Christianity is the real true religion--forget that I am a Jew for now), because as you say "we have to take what we can get, because today we have no God speaking to us directly, no apostles still alive, no prophets, no miracles," then you have created another problem.
The Bible didn't assemble itself. Someone, somewhere, put it together. Someone decided what went in, what stayed out, and closed its canon.
There are no instructions in the Scriptures that say what books belong in or out. There is no inspired list, no inspired criteria for determining this, no instruction that states that reading Scripture and following it are a requisite to salvation. Something from outside the Bible made the Bible "the Bible."
Talking about the Christian Greek Scriptures or New Testament, its canon was not a popularity contest as if the books that went into it were those most widely read and accepted. That was not the case. The most popular Christian writings in the early Church were the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Didache, and the Catholic apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus was used for a millennia as an introductory catechism by the early Church.
Except for Ecclesiasticus, the other books are often unheard of by most people, especially Jehovah's Witnesses. They might have heard of the Didache, but the Shepherd of Hermas? Mostly likely not.
Do you know what was not heard of? 2 Peter, the Revelation to John, Hebrews, James, and the three epistles of John. How did unpopular, even unheard of writings get chosen over the more popular ones, and why? Who chose them? Who made the decision to chose them? Who had the authority?
And there's your problem you've created. What's your answer?
A Heretic and a Poor Welsh Girl
The Christian Bible as we know it today and the fact that it is available to just about anybody, everywhere has to do with what two historic people did, two people who lived almost 2000 years apart. One was a bishop who became a heretic, and the other was a poor welsh girl who did something that changed the world Charles T. Russell grew up in.
The bishop-gone-apostate was Marcion of Sinope. Around 130 CE, Marcion adopted the Gnostic view that holy religious writings were a more trustworthy form of revelation than theophanies or epiphany. The other two relied on tradition to carry them down, but writings, taught the Gnostics, could carry the "gnosis" or knowledge of divine revelations in a permanent form. Therefore they were far superior to the witness of any church or group or nation. Marcion took this and applied it to the Christianity he practiced, devising a "rule" (in Greek "kanon") of holy writings by which to base the true gnosis of Christianity. This canon consisted of an edited version of Luke's gospel and some of Paul's epistles. Marcion rejected all the Jewish texts however, and taught that the Hebrew God was a lesser deity than Jesus. Drawing away an impressive amount of followers, the Church excommunicated Marcion who, reportedly, was "surprised" that they would do that to him.
Marcionism raised the issue of whether there was any form of revelation in written texts. So the Church began to study the issue. Bishops began a process in which they studied what writings were often read during liturgy of the Eucharist along with texts from the Hebrew Scriptures (there is a rotating calendar of Tanakh readings used even today by Jews that Christians adopted immediately for their own meetings, adding readings from their own books in the process). From the time of Marcion onward the Church worked on setting its own "rule" or canon.
The canon was decided and eventually closed by the 300s after the Council of Nicea. Taking into account the study by the bishops and using two opposing ones to finish the work, namely Eusebius of Caesarea and Athanasius of Alexandria (the two were definitely not fans of one another), Athanasius in his Easter letter of 367 CE drew upon Eusebius' canon tables and essentially set the canon as it is accepted today. By this time the Church had already accepted the Hebrew canon that Marcion rejected (albeit the one found in the Alexandrian Septuagint), ending the the issue raised by Marcion in a strike against his belief that writings were greater forms of revelation and that "proof-texts" could be used from within to prove Gnostic points of doctrine.
This is the first problem raised by the counter-argument, in that an outside authority chose the books that went within. This authority is obviously greater than the Bible as to be able to say what is and what isn't Scripture, thus making the Bible subject to the authority of this other authority, namely the Church.
But one more person changed forever the way the Bible became what it is, and she directly affected the creation of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (actually all Bible societies everywhere).
A Bible for Pennies
Today just about everyone has a Bible, and if you are one of Jehovah's Witnesses you are taught that except for where and when the Catholic Church wielded its "fiendish" control, the Bible was widely available everywhere and to everyone.
But that has never been the case until fairly modern times. Not even discussing that current levels of global literacy were not high enough to make the Bible understandable to large numbers until reading became more common knowledge in the era between the two world wars, if it were not for this poor girl's desire for a Bible, not even Charles Taze Russell would have likely had as easy access to one as he did.
The girl was Mary Jones, and she was born on the 16th of December, 1784. Having a strong faith as a child and learning to read quite early, at just 8 years of age she had the desire to own and read the Bible for herself. This was quite a task since Bibles were scarce as it was much too expensive to publish them so that the average person could own one, not to mention that one in Mary's language was a rarity (almost unheard of). Mass production of the Scriptures had not come to pass yet in history.
Mary spent six years saving her pennies to buy a Welsh Bible from a minister named Thomas Charles who lived 26 miles away from Mary. One day, in 1800, Mary made the long journey, barefoot, carrying her bag of pennies to buy a Bible from Rev. Charles, only to be dismayed upon her arrival to learn that none were available for her. Crumbling to tears, the Rev. Charles was moved to give her one promised to another (likely having to wait a day or two for shipment), and it was this event that is said to have inspired him to propose in 1802 the invention a new type of organization: the world's first Bible society.
The idea spread, and suddenly everywhere, everyone who was religious developed their own Bible societies (including one we are all familiar with). The era of mass production of low-cost Bibles than anyone could afford was here. But if it were not for Mary, this may not have ever happened, and most people would still not have access to Bibles as readily as they do today.
Not So Easy Now, Is It?
And that's my question to the counter-argument you propose. If the Bible is the basis for true religion as the Jehovah's Witnesses claim, then where did the Church get its authority to canonize it? Who were they to tell Marcion of Sinope that he was wrong? And if they didn't have the canonized Bible to base their religion on yet, why would we accept the canon the Church authorized? They didn't have true religion, especially if you believe the JWs. Since most of the popular books of the New Testament didn't get in the canon, how and why do we have the books we have today? Something with authority over the Bible made this decision, and that would mean this authority has the right to define Scripture. Do you listen to that authority?
Second, if the Bible is the basis for true religion, why did it take until after Mary Jones made her barefoot trek over 26 miles before people started mass producing them? Why would God keep mass production of Bibles away from the world until the 1800s if it was vital to true religion and salvation? You are talking almost 2000 years since Jesus walked the earth, and you are telling me that the only sure way to know the truth about him was only readily available for the past 200 years? That's crazy.