Sunday, December 03, 2006

How Can the Bible Do So Much Damage?

Its a tiny library, really. Just a short collection of essays, poems, sermons, hymns, Greek-style tragedies, a few romance novellas, biased histories (is there another kind?), legal codes, short-stories, and fantasies. It covers at least three languages, three continents, and a millenium and some change. Institutional powers decided which of these literary bits got in and before you know it, we have a bible.

So far, it all seems harmless enough and even a bit fascinating. Of course, some of the writers that got published in this anthology we call the bible imagined god to be violent, mean, short-tempered, territorial, tribal, and more than a little willing to kick some butt. Other writers thought of god as a kind, wise old watcher of events. Still others thought of god as a loving, omnipresent, eternal parent.

Some of the writers thought their community was special and chosen by god. Some of the writers thought that god would somehow break into human history and establish a utopian realm of peace and love and brotherhood/sisterhood. Of course, it didn't happen. Some still say that they are waiting for it, but the ones who are waiting seem to think that the utopia can only happen after god slaughters and tortures most of the planet. I find their eschatology less than compelling.

Of course, the stories in the bible are filled with miracles that seem ridiculous by today's knowledge. But if taken as myth and metaphor, those miracle stories say alot about the human psyche and human potential. They do communicate powerful truths once they are liberated from the realm of facts.

As literature, I find the bible a delight. I read it. I preach from it. Its images have a home in my thoughts. As reliable history, an argument against science, or a secret code promising eternal rewards to those who can break the code and horrific punishments to those who can't or who can't be bothered to try, I find the bible lacking.

I agree with parts of it; other parts I find reprehensible. Wrestling with it, testing it, reading it, reading against it, applying it, responding to it, living with it as a dialogue partner rather than as a dictator are all useful to my life and faith. When its literary, it speaks to my heart and imagination. When presented as literal, it offends, insults, and disgusts me.

The bible - its a book. Its a human endeavor. Its the record of people who were trying to form community, make sense of life, understand god, survive hardships, and find hope for the future. In that context, it appeals to me very much. On whole, I give it a high recommendation and am glad that I have been influenced by it. So how did it ever become an idol? How did it ever become a entity that dictates fear and prejudice? How did "the bible says" ever become an excuse to do anything, or to exclude anyone? How did a small collection of ancient thoughts become an excuse for modern humans to promote fear, bigotry, and idiocy?

I don't have an answer to my questions. I don't know how the bible became the switch that turns off the human brain. But I can't put it down. I don't think the problem lies in the book, but in the readers.

I continue to read, analyze, criticize, and apply the bible. But I do wish that others would see it for what it clearly is...a collection of thoughts and agendas from ancient people. Its a window to the psyche of our religious ancestors, not a blue print for how we must live today. If we would read it for the collection of ancient stories that it is rather than pretending its the treasure map from god that we can follow to a hidden batch of goodies, then maybe it couldn't be used as a weapon. Fewer people would try to use it that way, and the ones who did would find smaller and fewer audiences.

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