This week, Florida human rights activist Chaz Stevens, “known for his tongue-in-cheek petitions to local government agencies”, came up with a good one. He asked the districts to “immediately remove the Bible from the classroom, library, and any instructional material.” The reason? The Bible is entirely age inappropriate for school age children because it’s filled with page after page of “…’casual’ references to murder, adultery, sexual immorality, and fornication. ‘Do we really want to teach our youth about drunken orgies?’.” That’s in addition to all the “rape, bestiality, cannibalism and infanticide” that spatters the Bible’s blood-soaked papyrus. As Stevens put it (so perfectly): “In the end, if Jimmy and Susie are curious about any of the above, they can do what everyone else does – get a room at the Motel Six and grab the Gideons”.
Boy, do I agree with Chaz Stevens!
I’m not sure there’s any falser false advertising than calling the Bible “the good book”. Even if we put aside all questions of its historicity – and consider the Bible solely as a work of literature, I’m still not sure I’d call the thing “good”. Oh, to be sure, there are good parts. There are some very good parts – from a roots literature perspective. There are some terrific parts from a “poetry” perspective. There’s some essential thinking in the texts – some grand ideas that they introduced to humanity. Monotheism, for instance. The Bible is the foundational document for all monotheistic faiths. You can’t talk about those religions without putting their canonized bits of writing on the table first.
I used the word “canonized” because – contrary to what most monotheists think – their scriptures did not fall from the heavens “as is”. The “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” are aggregated documents composed of various disparate texts that someone – or a group of someone’s – selected or didn’t select as “canonical”. There is, in fact, a whole “Other Bible” available for all to read that contains most of the “Biblical” texts that didn’t make it into the Bible.
Translation: the Bible’s canonizers – the burgeoning Christian church – were all about forming a cogent message that they could tell and sell to the rest of the world. “Have ya heard the good news?” was the world’s first ever religious sales pitch. That’s an important detail. Judaism does not proselytize because Judaism isn’t merely a religion. Almost two thousand years of forced isolation in Europe created a community so distinct we have our own genetic disorder (Tay Sachs disease) caused by our isolation.
I received a religious education from the time I was six until I was fourteen. Though I’m quite convinced I dropped from the womb an atheist, whatever atheistic leanings I had at birth, Hebrew School closed the deal. The story that closed it? Abraham’s willingness to MURDER his own son in cold blood just because the voice in his head told him to. Abraham has wanted this child – Isaac – more than anything else. Yet, still, when Yahweh (the God character’s actual name – it isn’t “GOD” – that’s his job title ffs!) says “take your son to the place I’m telling ya and slit his throat”, Abraham does it. And the only thing that stops Abraham is “an angel”. Left to his own devices, official first monotheist Abraham would have committed filicide – the deliberate act of a parent killing their child.
Now, a Jewish religious education (mine, at least) and a Christian religious education – though both are “religious educations” – other than that, they bear little resemblance. Christianity’s inherent dogma – ya gotta believe exactly the way the church tells you to if you want all the prizes – has no analog in Judaism. Judaism isn’t a “do this to get that” deal. It’s a “behave like a good person because that’s what’s best for humanity” deal. There’s no heaven or hell option at the end. There’s no resurrection. There’s no “defeating death”. Consequently – because one can never threaten the whole logic structure – even about the existence or nature of Yahweh, one is allowed to ask literally ANYTHING without fear of excommunication. Which I did.
I don’t know what my Hebrew School teacher Henry Hyman did when he wasn’t teaching Hebrew School – I know he didn’t do it full time. Whatever it was, if he was half as good at that as he was as a Hebrew School teacher, he was one of the best ever in his field. When I asked Mr. Hyman my indignant questions about Abraham – were we really supposed to see his behavior in a positive light? – Mr. Hyman agreed. In a modern context, it was hard for us to relate to Abraham and his willingness to do such a terrible thing. While the story’s authors intended its audience to understand the story one way, the world has changed a bit since then. That wider knowledge base gives us advantages the authors of Genesis didn’t have. Not a single character in the Bible has any idea that North America or germs exist. Every one of them thinks the earth sits at the center of the universe.
If the Pentateuch’s authors had had access to microscopes or telescopes – or even just an internet – would they have written what they wrote the exact same way? Of course not! If the Apostle Paul had actually met Jesus in person rather than in his own head while on the road to Damascus, would he have tried to sell an alternate version of Jesus to Jesus’s own family in Jerusalem? He might still have succeeded in selling it to the Gentiles – they had even less knowledge of Jesus than Paul did; and the Gentiles had zero knowledge of the Jewish messiah mythology Paul was rewriting on the fly.
Almost nothing about our approach to that book – the Bible – is honest.
But then, how many of the Bible’s most ardent believers have actually read the thing? And of those who have read it, how many read it with even a scintilla of perspective? Kenneth Copeland or Benny Hinn or Joel O’Steen or any televangelist telling anyone how to interpret Jesus while bedecked in their finery is first and foremost full of shit. They, in fact, are the poster children for just how obscene their friggin’ Bible is.
Hey, I don’t have any issues with obscenity. Aside from the fact that most of it’s pretty damned dull, I think the Bible’s okay – as literature. And, yeah – it does have its “good parts”. Stanley Kubrick nailed that just so in “Clockwork Orange” when Alex is sent to prison but finds “redemption” in the pages of the Bible.
Well, Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell) finds “something”… maybe “redemption’s” the wrong word…
The image atop the post is from the incredibly funny and well worth your time Mrs. Betty Bowers, “America’s Best Christian” (actually the very, very funny Deven Green.