The Bible is Wack

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.

priscilla-du-preez-607177-unsplash.jpgAnother 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.

bible-is-wack2To 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.

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “The Bible is Wack

  1. Yup. It is a wack anthology taken way out of context to injure others. And to cherry-pick, the way we use the Bible goes far against the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37-39 – love God, love neighbor, love yourself, all of which are related concepts.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not sure what kind of proof you would need. It was certainly not original with Jesus, but I think it’s as certain as anything he may had said. Heh heh: when the Jesus Seminar, a group of NT scholars, believers and atheists both, were asked what words of the Lord’s Prayer were actually said by Jesus, the only one for which their was unanimous consent was Abba [father].

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so glad you are undertaking this project and so pleased that you are doing it in community, at least in part, for we can benefit from sharing insights and observations.
    To me the Bible is like an old truck full of letters, journals, pamphlets, genealogy studies, stories, yarns, myths, tedious lists which might have been included by accident, justifications, prayers, curses, violent visions not suitable for children or the weak-minded, law books, visions, rants. poems, pity parties, vicious hate-filled propaganda…. it’s all there. It is not always consistent, or nice. It’s not even clear what 5% of it or so says. To me it is a miracle that all this has held together. There have been various attempts historically to expurgate or render it consistent and remove the embarrassing parts, but the Holy Spirit held it together, warts and all.
    I liked what you said: “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.” You are quite right that it is less a story about God than about a chosen people’s relation with God, up and down, loving and hateful. It is certainly true that some of it has, and still is, used to justify doing shitty things. And it is indeed a very human story, as you said.
    My own perspective on understanding the Bible is called critical realism. I believe the Bible is about real [tho not necessarily related factually] events in the life of a people with a real God, which is the sense it is realism. It is critical in that it takes into account that the various books were written at different times by people with all sorts of agendas and audiences. To properly revere Scripture, it is important to try to understand who,where, and when in regards the book, who the intended audience was, and the motive for writing (which was not always ‘pure’).
    On the other, there is another take on the OT, or TaNaKh, which uses it as the source for a biography of God, whence Jack Miles’ “God: A Biography”. You would enjoy this book ’cause he goes right for the wacky, and he’s a good writer- as if you didn’t have enough to read.
    You also said: “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.”
    Well, you’re only half-way through, but it is certainly not an unrelenting glorifying the Israelites or (later) the Jews. Even in the Pentateuch, sometimes Yahweh is almost out of control and wants to wipe the ungrateful disobedient wretches out, Moses talks him out of it by convincing Him that He would lose glory thereby.
    Modern scholarship sheds some light on these issues. For example, the horrible passages where God wants all the Canaanites wiped out were probably not heard by the people who did the deed. They were likely written hundreds of years later, when the Jews were trying to understand why it is, that if they’re the Chosen People, then why are things going so badly? Maybe idolatry? Mistreatment of widows and orphans? Being too tolerant of the Canaanites pagans and their wicked ways ? ‘We should have killed therm all when we came into Palestine! Yes! That’s what Eloihim must have told them to do back then.’

    E. D., please keep sharing your insights in your clear moving style.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You are most welcome.
        I recommend the NRSV Expanded Edition, mainly because the commentaries and footnotes are good at explaining the Who-What-When-Where-Why of each book.
        The more I think about it, you would like Jack Miles’ literary criticism. He worships at Episcopal churches, but his approach is meaningful for unbelievers. Based on Shakespeare and his times, and of course his play, one can write a biography of Hamlet the literary creation, even if one doesn’t believe Hamlet was ever a real person. So it is with his biography of God.

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