the Bible and me

Yesterday I wrote an entry that was meant to be a general commentary on the books I read and enjoy. It was fun to write, and I hoped that it might encourage some visitors to check out a few of my favorite authors and titles.

Instead, the entire (lengthy) response in the comment section has focused on one short item from the entry: the fact that I listed the Bible as a book I wish had never been written. This response was not my intention, and, whether or not I should have seen it coming, it’s taken me entirely by surprise.

I freely admit to not knowing enough about the Bible. For a while I was doing some editing for the Presbyterian Publishing Company, including a lot of Biblical interpretation and commentary by distinguished theologians, and I always felt Biblically illiterate because I didn’t know, for instance, which order the books come in (something I assume the average 7-year-old Christian child can rattle off).

UUAI was raised in a Unitarian Universalist church in the 1960s and 70s when there was a backlash against all things theological and a huge trend toward Humanism. Among other things, UU parents at the time didn’t want their children learning about religious texts (thus my Biblical illiteracy). Today, our religious education programs encompass all the major world religions, in addition to Humanism, paganism, and Native American spirituality, in an effort to educate our children about the many religious doctrines they’ll encounter and to help them seek their own Truth. We recognize that the Bible is part of our culture, and that being familiar with it at some level is important because this single book informs the thoughts and actions of the large majority of Americans and many other people around the globe.

With that background, I’ll continue with the fact that I was surprised by the response to my entry. Why? Because although the Bible exists, and we have to take it as a given in our world society, I don’t understand the need for it (or any other religious text). I don’t understand the need for belief in a higher power. I don’t understand why people need to think there’s Something Bigger watching over them, instead of living life on their own terms. I don’t understand why people need a god to call on to help them make decisions, or to threaten them with punishment so they behave.

Belief in a god is incomprehensible to me.

In the comments, Tim points out people do good works in the name of their faith. Sure, people from the megachurch he mentions building houses for those in need is a wonderful thing. But clergy and individuals from that same church have made so many intolerant and even hateful statements on various topics that any good they do in the name of God is, in my opinion, more than cancelled out. And why do they require faith in order to help other people?

I like to think that people can and will do good works without a promised reward in Heaven. That’s why I’m a Humanist and a Unitarian Universalist. Each week at my church, we recite the following covenant:

Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law.

This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

That works for me as a guideline for life. I don’t need the Bible or a theistic, dogmatic belief structure to tell me who I am, what I should believe, or how I should live.

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11 responses to “the Bible and me

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more on the theism question but not on that of religious texts. It all depends on how you read them. If you look for words which help you understand or even challenge your own values, fine. If you regard them as ‘gospel; no.. The Buddha’s wise words come to mind: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Although I’m not a theist and don’t subscribe to any religion, I think I would get more out of almost any religious text than the whole of Harry Potter!

  2. >> I would get more out of almost any religious text than the whole of Harry Potter >>
    Of course, some people think that the Harry Potter books ARE religious texts! ๐Ÿ˜€ See, for example, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2001/151/22.0.html and http://www.amazon.com/Gospel-According-Harry-Potter-Spirituality/dp/0664226019.

  3. I don’t think the reaction was all that surprising. The first comment on your post on books was about the Bible and the rest followed from that. Religion, like politics, is a subject that raises strong emotions.

    For that reason, I am not going to debate any of the religious topics raised except to say that I agree very closely with the views you yourself express. I will post my own “religious history” tomorrow on my blog and later may take a leaf out of your book and post a “What I believe” piece.

    I have engaged in endless debate on bulletin boards, forums and chats for many years. This has taught me that religious “debate” never gets anywhere. You can discuss, argue and debate until the cows come home but no one ever changes any one else’s opinion. It is easier to alienate people than to reconcile them.

    Cheers,
    Tiger

  4. Oh, no! Does this mean I shall have to start reading them! Anyway, I was pleased to see in the Christian Today report that someone “makes clear the difference between Gospel miracles and 21st-century conjuring tricks.” No connection at all, I’m sure, and I’m glad that misapprehension has been cleared up.

  5. Thompson has no time for fellow evangelicals who worry that the Harry Potter books glamorize the occult. The critics are being “silly,” he said. “Children aren’t daft. They know what is reality and what is fiction.”

    Obviously false because if it were true, there would no longer be any believers in religion.

    Cheers,
    Tiger

  6. If religion didn’t exist, somebody would invent it. It’s one of the most powerful tools to exercize power. I am an atheist, and for an exam on Architecture (I graduated as a civil architectural engineer), we could bring any book to the exam to tell the professor something about the ideological impact of architecture (for instance, you could bring a book on Hitler’s architect Speer).

    I brought the Bible and talked about the book of Kings. About how David was forbidden to build a temple, supposedly because he had been sleeping with the wife of one of his generals, but that wasn’t the real reason (that’s just what puritans want us to believe).
    God told David’s Prophet Natan he didn’t want to be ‘pin-pointed’ on one place, being the God of only one people. God told Natan he was everywhere, an ideologically very dangerous idea (in the exam I jumped to the 16th century to brag about my knowledge of medieval philosophy and I cited the words of Giordano Bruno who was burnt in spite of the fact that he believed in God).
    I don’t have to tell you that language is living matter. We don’t use the same words as people did 20 or 50 years ago. The same was true ages ago. If you would look at the original text ‘spoken by God’ in Hebrew, you would see that His message to Natan has some anachronisms. The first part about God not wanting a Temple that would ’emprison’ him dates from David’s time. The part that implies that one of the future kings will build a temple, is from a later date. It was added in the time of King Salomon, who has actually built a temple.
    In King Salomon’s time, the Hebrews had won every war there was to win, they had concurred all the countries that formed a threat to them, and the armies were returning home. This was a potential danger for the Powers That Be (here I refered to Caesar crossing the Rubicon, and why this scared the Roman Senate). King Salomon had to find jobs for all these young males who had no other skills but killing and fighting (insert a reference to Rambo and Vietnam here), so he told these soldiers they should build a temple for God (to fulfill a forged prophecy). This gave a boost to the economy, getting wood from the Lebanon, supplies from Egypt, and so forth… Unemployment was inexistent.
    I did this exam 15 years ago, so I don’t know the details (I remember I also talked about the ‘Arc de Triomphe’), but anyway: I used the Bible to explain how ideologies (ab)use(?) tools like religion and architecture. My fellow students laughed at me when I told them that I was going to talk about the Bible to an atheist professor, but afterwards it turned out I had the highest grade of my class.

    Please don’t hate books you’ve never read. I am worried when I read UU people don’t want children to learn about religious books. How do they avoid this? Do they also burn books? *ignore provocation! I’m just trying to make a point*
    The Bible is a very interesting book. It can help you understand the mechanics of power. If you don’t understand these mechanics, you have no chance at changing them. That’s the reason why catholics were forbidden to read the Bible in the Middle Ages, why the Gideon Bibles you can find in hotels are censured, why you can chase away door-to-door preachers just by putting some well-chosen right Bible verses into a different context.

    The Bible won’t go away if you keep on ignoring it. Meanwhile others will use it against you.

  7. Not wanting to read the Bible because it has been abused, is like not wanting to use a knife in the kitchen because people can be killed with it.

  8. >>I am worried when I read UU people donโ€™t want children to learn about religious books. >>

    That was in the 1970s, when I was in the church school. As I said in my post, today that close-minded view has been replaced by an acknowledgment that we do our children the best service by teaching them about all religions and all religious texts. A well-rounded religious education will best prepare them for the diversity of beliefs they’ll encounter in everyday life.

    >>why the Gideon Bibles you can find in hotels are censured, >>

    I didn’t know that. Which parts have they cut out?

  9. The juicy parts ๐Ÿ˜‰
    The Gideon Bibles I have found at different hotels didn’t have ‘Hooglied’ (don’t know how this is translated in English). They don’t have Ecclesiastes. If you just look at the chapters and verses, you will see that large parts are not there.

    Of course this is normal: they can’t afford to give away the complete Bible for free, they can only provide a ‘best of’. But it’s a completely different story if you compare the Bible my father had to buy in his Highschool years with the Bible I had to buy when I went to Highschool. Technically you can’t talk about censorship, but… the choices catholics make when they summarize the Bible is colored.

    Of course I did the same thing when I reacted to your post. But that’s because we are only one week before the elections, and people are getting nervous overhere. The city I live in (Ghent) is one of the only Flemish cities where extreme right is not as successful as in the rest of Flanders. People think that if extreme right loses in Ghent, the rest of the country will follow soon.

    We had these marvelous free concerts for more tolerance (Google for “0110”) yesterday and the extreme right party plays the role of the “victim of misled artists”. They offered free beer to people who turned in and destroyed CDs of the artists that performed at the 0110 concerts. It’s a crazy world.

  10. I think it’s hilarious that Ecclesiastes is one of the missing books in the Gideons. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains for ever.” I guess that doesn’t fit in with the Fundamentalist Work Ethic.

    The Bible has caused suffering no more than any other philosophical, political, or religious text has caused suffering. But it and Religion has often been used as an excuse for causing suffering. This is because authoritarians will use whatever motivates people, whatever people believe, in order to try to get people to fall into line.

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