At the beginning of this year, I undertook to read the entire Bible over the course of 2018. Part of the reason was political: people use the Bible to (for example) justify Donald Trump. No surprise there; people have cherry-picked scripture for millennia to advance the reign of a particular leader or their own ideas about morality. I wanted to know what the Bible actually said, in context. Although I tend to shy away from vitriolic political discourse, I wanted to confirm my hunch that the cherry-pickers are wrong.
Another reason was purely literary. For better or worse, there’s probably no other book that has had more influence on Western civilization. There’s some interesting, tragic, beautiful stuff in there. There’s some poetry. There’s some darkly hilarious stuff (such as the entire book of Job).
Another reason: I was raised in Sunday school. As a kid, I believed that the felt-board Noah was a real, once-upon-a-time guy, that his paper boat was an historic artifact. I grew up thinking the Bible was a book authored by God and not an anthology written by people with various contradictory understandings of God (and political perspectives), over the course of several thousand years.
I’ve spent most of my adulthood, however, grappling with and rejecting various tenets of my spiritual upbringing. Or trying to reframe what I’ve been taught so that it makes some semblance of sense to me. I was interested in reading the whole Bible in one go, as it were, so that I might form something like an opinion on it.
I’m less than halfway through it, but here is my opinion: The Bible is wack.
To wit: Imagine that a horde of people from Pennsylvania marched into Ohio and started killing everyone because they believed the god of Pennsylvania had promised Ohio to them. Imagine you are an Ohioan, just living your life, raising your kids and your corn, celebrating Christmas and Fourth of July. You’ve never heard of the god of Pennsylvania, but you sure as shit aren’t going to just randomly start worshiping some god you never heard of just because the Pennsylvanians think you should.
So the Pennsylvanians set your fields on fire. They set your house on fire. They kill your wife as she tries to protect your kids, and then they kill your kids. They hit your grandma in the head with a club. They kill your livestock and leave your dead cows and pigs lying in the barnyard, all bloated and covered in flies. You realize they’re not even trying to take your stuff, they’re just a ruthless killing mob. Then they go into your church and chop up the crucifix and the statue of the Virgin Mary before burning the fragments in a big bonfire while singing victory songs in praise of the god of Pennsylvania, the one true god.
Say you survived. Would you or any of your descendants ever, ever worship the god of Pennsylvania? Would you ever believe that what they did was justified? Or would you believe that Ohio was yours and that it had been stolen?
Well, this is essentially the story of the Israelites, and it adds another layer to my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not unwelcome illumination, since I plan to visit the Holy Land in August.
But when you consider how influential the Bible has been on Western civilization, and how the Israelites (Pennsylvanians) are the protagonists of the Old Testament, and how the wholesale slaughter of non-Jews was allegedly sanctioned by God, and then when you consider how Western civilization has then turned around and adopted a similar position toward other people groups in more recent history, what with colonization and Manifest Destiny and all—well, it makes me feel really gross.
So the Bible is wack because, despite what we’re told it is, it’s less a story about God than it is a story about people trying to comprehend God, and even using whatever ideas they’ve established about God to do shitty things to other people.
In that way, it’s a very human story. But as far as shedding any light on Who God Is or What God Is, it’s not especially illuminating. It’s a series of legends meant to fortify and legitimize the identity of a particular ethnic group.
But, like I said, I’m less than halfway through. I’ll continue to post observations here as they occur to me.