It would seem that as a person who practices a religion that firmly believes being a good person does not require a series of conflicting books and commandments might have no interest in reading the Bible. I kind of don’t, but I kind of do. Much of this comes back to my belief that this year, and perhaps a few years on either side of it, are about culmination for me. What follows may well offend those especially attached to Biblical views. I can do nothing about your beliefs, and regardless of what you might have been told last Sunday, there’s nothing to do about mine, so you may want to stop here.
My relationship with Christianity and with the Abrahamic overculture is complicated. I never resented Christianity, although I recognized that a)the religion kept evolving despite the best efforts of its leaders across all denominations and b)my mother got the idea that the beliefs of her children were the result of her influence alone ((children having free will and their own experiences, and a basic human right to make their own decisions after age 17, did not occur to her when it came to her children)) so when I converted, she not only took it personally, she responded to it as though I declared war on her. I held this behavior against my mother, not against Christianity. Her rampage and mad Bible quoting, however, did leave me disinclined to finish the book, despite cherishing the King James Bible I was given my 13th birthday. By the age of 20, I’d read all of the standard Protestant Bible – the entire New Testament, and the Old Testmant up to Ezekiel. Last week, I finished Ezekiel. Right now I’m plowing through Jeremiah. I’m on the fence about seeing out an Apocryphal Bible, but at some point, I probably will, and perhaps after age 40 I’ll read a complete translation of the Q’ran and the Torah.
The Bible, out of all the things that define Christianity, may be the place to pinpoint why I am not Christian. It’s a shame I have to put it in terms of what I am not, because of the overculture. Sadly, most atheists also define themselves in terms of why they are not Christian, rather than simply saying “Belief is not in me.” The Christian context in US culture is inescapable, and the more I hear whining about its disappearance, the more I know that not only is it just fine, it’s got enough power that it may well someday eat the Bill of Rights.
I went to college still doing my absolute best to be a good person, and I did that within a Christian context. I believed absolutely in the resurrection of Jesus. But I also strongly believed that massive chunks of Christianity were not divine, and were in fact the machinations of human prejudice snuck into a book called the Bible – because being told not to question something, especially something as unverifiable as the word of God, is fishy. My mother’s insistence it was the “best historical record of the time” still sounds crazy to me, especially after taking multiple world history classes. You can write fiction in an accurate historical setting now, I’m sure the human hand was capable back then, too. I’d never dream of writing about life in Chicago without a street map, somebody darn well could have done the same with Bethlehem.
It got even fishier when I noticed massive inconsistencies between stuff Jesus said and stuff Paul demanded not only didn’t look like an improvement, a lot of it seemed intent on stripping the very people Jesus gave power to of the power he gifted. This included a lot of women. The more restrictive the version of Christianity, the more I suspected outright manipulation by a male hand for ultimately evil purposes – and except in a specific circumstance of consensual sex, I consider ALL domination if not evil than pretty damned borderline. Nearly all acts of sexual violence and physical abuse and all psychological abuse is about domination. So the entire idea of “dominating the earth” and “being submissive to your husband” translates to my mind – and this was originally to my Christian mind – as “someone who wanted to get away with crime inserted a bunch of crap in here and then told everyone it was the word of God.” Why? Because “being submissive” promotes being a victim. A WORLD of no. If that’s your private life, party on – but expecting the whole world to live that way is wishing for the circumstances we have now, that while improved, still needs centuries of work.
I’ve had a running dialogue with God/ess since I was 8. It’s not like Look Whose Talking or Bruce Almighty, and yes, it could be a matter of my biochemistry doing strange things to my perceptions. There’s even evidence that those of us inclined toward religion may be able to help that inclination as much as we can help our sexual orientation. Strange things happen with your perceptions, too, you know. One thing I’ve noticed that makes me believe I’m conversing with an external influence is that God/ess just doesn’t care about a lot of the stuff humans spend a great deal of time caring about. It’s not that God/ess doesn’t care – I’ve been stunned at the seemingly minute things I’ve “received” messages on. ((Nothing that would be earth shattering or nationally significant. Prophecy it ain’t.)) But when it comes to stuff like abortion, who and what gender we have sex with, prostitution, how we get high (there is expressed concern over what we DO when we get high, I noticed) – God/ess seems to point to nature as the system in place, says if it’s found in nature or nature can bring it about, it exists for a reason, and the controls we place on it otherwise is a load of human-driven political bullocks.
So, if I think that the Bible is mostly political bullshit intent on suppressing women in particular but a whole lot of people in general, why am I reading it?
Good question. First, unless a book is beyond awful, I finish every book I start. I’ve read maybe two that were so bad I put them away unfinished in my life.
Also, because of that word mostly. While I’ve come to understand Christ as not a one-and-only title, ((Christ means “anointed one” and let’s just say that the olive oil got spread pretty thick throughout history.)) and I’ve seen compelling evidence against the physical existence of Jesus, the gospel had something to it. There are also moments of artistry throughout the book – pure, human artistry, but art is evidence of a connection to the Divine, whether you do it commercially or for its own sake.
Here and there, there is wisdom. I have to remember that the Bible first off is not one book, but a series of books – and thus consistency is impossible, because it’s not just one “Divine voice” but a bunch of guys, writing stuff down at different times, and some of it may well be fiction.
The other reason is because the Bible has inescapably influenced the culture I live in. Most adults, even the ones that complain that they’re persecuted for being Christian – often by other Christians who practice it differently – grew up with some sort of Biblical framework. All sorts of phrases, from “Pearls before swine” “Carved in stone” and “Dead guy on a stick day” derive from Biblical reference. Understanding the origins of the phrases can help understand not just what people mean with deeper context, but hint at the way an individual looks at the world. At the same time, I’ve sat in many, many Christian church services over the years. There are quite a few that got angry when they’d quote a Bible verse, and I’d look it up only to discover a massive, manipulative misquote. The more fundamentalist the preacher, the less he wanted me checking his work. Also, the angrier he got, the more likely he was to get caught in a sex scandal of depravity on par with the rage he directed at me for questioning him as a human being rather than as an authority of God.
Reading the Bible will never negate my need to flip off the people who try to argue a point with me using the phrase “the Bible says…” because to me, it’s a way of passing off responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. Reading the Bible is not going to suddenly bring me back to Christianity. What it will do is leave me informed on one of the core texts that influences our culture, be less fun than when I (will) read the complete works of Shakespeare, and lay it down: I’ve read the entire Protestant Bible. To some, it’s an accomplishment.