Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More on the Bible as literature

A few days ago I had a post on this blog mentioning that the Bible is an important book in Western Civilization and should be studied for that reason. Earlier today I found an article in the current issue of Humanist magazine that discussed the same topic. That article raises an interesting point that I had not considered. (The article is available on-line at http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/09_may_jun/Mates.html.)

That point is summarized in this quote:

“[The Bible] is so human a book that I don’t see how belief in its divine authorship can survive the reading of it.”--William James, in response to a 1904 survey on religious belief

The subtitle of the article is that "Biblical illiteracy has been at the heart of the Christian faith throughout most of its history".

The article argues that very, very few people, including most people who call themselves Evangelical Christians have actually read the Bible from cover to cover. Most of them have no more idea “what the Bible says than most Muslims do”. Those who have read large portions of the Bible have generally done so with the help of clerical ‘guidance’. In other words, they may attend evening Bible study classes led by their favorite preacher. In those cases very little thought is invested in the actual reading of the Bible. Instead the majority of their time is spent listening to what is effectively a sermon highlighting the “correct’ way to read the Bible.

But what happens to people who read the Bible independently of any such influences?

The author of the article suggests that people who were forced to read the Bible on their own would stop believing in the inerrancy of that book. Possibly even more importantly, they would find new ideas, such as the fact that it is a profound misrepresentation to look at “Jesus as a leader who wished his followers to engage in the dirty business--scripturally, the devilish business--of earthly governance”. Christian theologians who try to influence the government are clearly doing the devil’s work, not God’s.

That’s an interesting idea and one that I believe has a great deal of truth. I suggest people look at the article at the link I’ve provided above.

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