Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The bible, the baby, and the bathwater

Though it is abundantly apparent to me and most other atheists, some believers have a hard time swallowing this.  To get a loving and benevolent god out of the bible, some serious cherry-picking has to take place.  That is, we chose to read and believe certain parts of the bible while discarding or ignoring others.  They will hold fast to the abomination that is homosexuality while enjoying a shrimp cocktail.  They would never consider killing their child, but god likes to have children killed in his book.  No one thinks people should be killed for working on the Sabbath, or getting a tattoo, or wearing polyester. 

Now I want to make it clear that I’m glad the average self-proclaimed Christian does NOT want Long John Silvers and Red Lobster banned.  I think it would be a travesty if we executed rape victims or tried to outlaw businesses being open on Sunday.  I would hope everyone agrees that we should not execute rebellious teenagers.  I’m thankful for that.  But why don’t we?  How is it that we CAN distinguish between the baby and the bathwater in the bible?  It seems many believers take away a message of hope, love and charity from the bible.  How is that possible considering the book also contains horrific displays of cruelty, violence and torture?

 It seems to me that we take something of ourselves to the bible when we read it.  We look for something that reinforces what we think we want to read, and find it.  We place upon the bible our own views, hopes, fears, and goals.  We use the bible to find the answer we think we should find.

 To me, the atheist, it seems this is the long way to the answer.  Since it is obvious we take our own pre-conceived notions to the bible, why not leave the bible out and look at the pre-conceived notion by itself?  It doesn’t have to be right; it can be wrong.  If truth is what we really want, then we cannot simply look for reinforcement.  We have to look for the contrary and discover why it should be considered or dismissed. 

What I’m trying to say is that within each of us is the ability to cherry-pick what we want from the bible.  So we don’t need it.  Do you need a book to tell you that murder is bad?  Do you need a book to tell you that equality is good?  Do you?  Of course not.  You understand that stealing is wrong and sharing is good.  You don’t need a book to tell you that.  And if you find the opposite in a book, you should dismiss it.  Or realize the author was trying to illustrate how humans can rationalize anything to be good with delusional thinking.  Or it was some other form of artistic expression. 

There are good ideas we should take from the bible:  treat others as you would be treated, love your enemy, etc.  And we should be appalled at the idea we should keep consenting adults from marrying each other.  If we cherry-pick the bible, we will find good fruit.  If we take the whole thing, we will consume compost.  If we acknowledge that we are cherry-picking, we can also acknowledge the book is not the inerrant word of god, but that some lessons are indeed timeless.  Others must be discarded, and revisited only to illustrate the journey we have taken.