On Literal Interpretation

“I’ve written before about one variety of mirror-opposites of these illiteralist believers… those who I call ‘sectarian atheists.’ These are usually folks who start out like Marshall Hall, fully indoctrinated in the all-or-nothing illiteralism of American fundamentalism. They start out believing, like Hall, that the Earth must be fixed or else the Bible is false and there is no God and life is meaningless despair. And then they catch a glimpse of the moons of Jupiter or of an eclipse or of a middle-school science textbook and they realize that the Earth moves. At this point they declare themselves ‘atheists,’ yet for all their supposed rejection of their previous beliefs, they continue to share Hall’s way of looking at the world. Theirs is an extremely sectarian, parochial atheism — the God in which they no longer believe is a very particular kind of God.”

http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2007/05/illiteralism.html

The influence still wielded in our society by religious fundamentalists is undeniable. From science to reproductive rights to freedom of speech, there is scarcely an area in which their presence is not felt. And yet, when we atheists train our fire on them, we are often accused of being too parochial in our outlook, too literal in our interpretation. There are far subtler and more sophisticated interpretations of scripture, we are told, which are not vulnerable to the criticisms that unseat the clumsy literalism of the fundamentalists. These beliefs, we are further told, are the ones we must engage with if we ever want to have a truly justified atheism, and that to do anything else is to flail at strawmen.

The theologians who hold this view usually claim that large parts of the Bible, or whatever other text, should not be read literally and were never meant to be read literally. Instead, they should be interpreted as allegory meant to convey a spiritual message. The argument usually asserts that after everything else – the six-day creation, the global flood, the exodus from Egypt, the united monarchy, Heaven and Hell, sometimes even the miracles of Jesus – is recognized as the metaphor and symbolism it was meant to be, there remains an irreducible core of verses that should be interpreted literally. Usually, these verses are the ones that convey the message of God’s existence, his providence, and his love for all of humanity.

Certainly, these theologians are on the right track. The miracle stories in the Bible lack credibility: they are contradicted by evidence, and completely fail to cohere with the lawful, rational view of the world we have spent the last several centuries painstakingly developing. No intelligent person should believe that these fantastical fairy tales took place exactly as written. Literal belief in these stories has been and continues to be a tremendous impediment to human progress, and regarding them as mere metaphor is a large step forward. In this respect, I fully agree with the believers who say that these stories should be treated as myths.

However, though the theologians are pointed in the right direction, I think they have not gone far enough. Their progressive mythologization of the Bible is a good idea, but it stops at an arbitrary point for no good reason. Why don’t they go further and admit that the concept of “God” is itself just a metaphor for the way ancient cultures viewed the world? If they were to do this, they’d finally have a theology that is rational and in accord with the evidence, and one with which an atheist could agree without qualm.

We atheists are not, as the above quote implies, wedded to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Nor is that the only religious view we oppose. I freely admit, we do spend most of our time attacking that literal view and demonstrating its fallacy, because that is the kind of view that poses the greatest threat to moral and intellectual progress. But we disbelieve equally in all religious views, regardless of their degree of literalism, as I wrote last year in “Setting the Record Straight“. Our response to liberal believers, who want us to take a certain set of scriptural verses literally, is the same as our response to fundamentalists, who want us to take a somewhat larger set of verses literally. If you want to go there and no further, what is your evidence? What are the facts that give us reason to believe that what you say is true?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Robert Madewell

    I have been criticized for being too literal with my reading of the bible.Such as when I say that God is going to eat us (Zephaniah 1:2-3 KJV). Maybe I am being too literal. That’s the point. When fundamentalists say that the bible is 100% correct with no possible chance of error, then I see it as a “no holds barred” challenge to prove them wrong. Inerrancy means just that. The entire bible in true, historically and scientifically. If there is only one contradiction then the bible can not be inerrant. I will glady point out contradictions when I find them. My father is a fundementalist pastor, so I have plenty of ammo!

  • Robert Madewell

    I have been criticized for being too literal with my reading of the bible.Such as when I say that God is going to eat us (Zephaniah 1:2-3 KJV). Maybe I am being too literal. That’s the point. When fundamentalists say that the bible is 100% correct with no possible chance of error, then I see it as a “no holds barred” challenge to prove them wrong. Inerrancy means just that. The entire bible in true, historically and scientifically. If there is only one contradiction then the bible can not be inerrant. I will glady point out contradictions when I find them. My father is a fundementalist pastor, so I have plenty of ammo!

  • Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    Have you ever read “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg? You may appreciate it. If you have already read it, what were your thoughts on it?

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I haven’t read that one, no.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I haven’t read that one, no.

  • Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    Well, Borg is a theist, but he has a decidedly different approach to the Bible which you may find interesting.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Jeff T.

    There is a link on the right of this page that goes to the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. I encourage everyone to at least browse through it. From Genesis to Revelation it lists the incredible numerous inerrencies, logical fallacies, and downright brutality of the Jewish religion. Also with that bible, there are links at the bottom of each page which give more academic rebuttals of the scripture as well as some links with apologetic replies.

    I always had trouble with the different versions of the same story that was given in the bible. For example, there are 2 creation stories, 2 seperate flood stories, numberous and contradictory King David stories as well as contradictory geneologies scattered throughout the books.

    That any modern and rationally thinking person would even consider that these manuscripts offer any insight whatsoever for the complexities of our modern culture is simply amazing to me. Take for instance the God of the old testament… he was obviously concerned only with the kings of Isreal— the entire nation prospered or was punished due to the actions of the king. How could anyone not see through this shallow and uneducated reasoning? Even the opening geneology of Matthew goes into detail to prove the bloodline of Jesus to King David. This is a terribly narrow minded approach and rather simplistic in my opinion when addressing an issue such as eternity and my soul’s redemption.

    I can honestly say that I have read much more complex and deeply researched essays not only from Ebon, but from many of the posters on this site than I have found in the holy bible.

  • Alex Weaver

    Given the religious, social, and political climate in the united states and the relative popularity and dangerosity (It’s A Word Now™) of the “crude literalist” religion vs. the liberal metaphorical religious denominations, the complaints by the “sophisticates” that atheists aren’t addressing their specific belief systems at the same length or with the same frequency strikes me as more than a little narcissistic.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    I think the person quoted at the top of this article falls into a very common pattern of trying to find a simple way to dismiss the beliefs of those he doesn’t agree with. He probably met one person who had been raised as a Bible literalist and that person had an epiphany about religion in general that was sparked by a single realization that the Bible is not literally true. So the person quoted above concludes that atheists are just black-and-white thinkers who can’t handle the subtle nuances of the sort-of-true-sort-of-not-true Bible.

    One former Mormon wrote an interesting essay on this same fallacy here.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    (continuing my comment)

    But there are a couple of problems with this. First of all, not everyone who leaves religion was originally a literalist or even a rigid believer as opposed to a liberal. Many start off believing in giving God all of the nuance and wiggle-room required for religious beliefs to make some semblance of sense, but then one day they just reach the tipping point and stop trying to find excuses for their faith (that’s basically the point of the article I linked to above). Secondly, just because a person was trained to be a Bible-literalist and doesn’t pass through a liberal interpretation phase before becoming an atheist doesn’t mean the person is a black-and-white thinker. It may just be that having one core belief challenged sparked a wave of questioning and analysis.

    As a former Mormon, I get a variant of this second point all the time. Christians (especially ex-Mormon Christians) talk about how the fact that Joseph Smith was a fraud shouldn’t affect your belief in Jesus and/or what a tragedy that being raised Mormon makes people wrongly judge other religions, etc. I can try to explain this a million times (latest here), and I don’t think that they will ever understand…

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi Jeff T.

    I can honestly say that I have read much more complex and deeply researched essays not only from Ebon, but from many of the posters on this site than I have found in the holy bible.

    You know, I was thinking the same thing as I was reading my Betty Crocker cookbook the other day. What was Betty thinking?

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Judy

    I was raised to believe the bible was literal, that all the things in it actually happened in real life, even the obviously magical parts, and thus led a life alternately begging god to perform a miracle in my life and paralyzed by fear of him/it. I received most of my “religious” education from my mother, a woman who was (and remains) highly uneducated. I doubt she even knew what a metaphor was, as she barely finished 7th grade and hates education and knowledge almost as much as she hates Satan (heh). To this day, the woman still believes the bible is literal, and she is deathly afraid of god. Luckily, I finally learned to think and investigate for myself, and atheism freed me from the binds of religious indoctrination.

  • http://cafephilos.blogspot.com/ Paul Sunstone

    It is all very well and good that some theists have a relatively sophisticated view of deity. But the masses of humanity do not. So, it seems a bit strange for someone to argue that atheists should spend more time arguing against sophisticated views of deity than they do arguing against unsophisticated views.

  • http://panicon4july.blogspot.com/ Will E.

    So, according to “liberal” interpretations of the bible, the Garden of Eden, the Flood, the Virgin Birth, etc., are seen as “metaphors” or “spiritual truths,” while the idea that Jesus is the “Son of God” is accepted as literally true, a fact of history? Why does that one get a pass?

  • andrea

    All theists have their individual “magic decoder rings”. They are all certain that they, and only they, “know” which verses are literal and which are “true”. Doesn’t matter if they are “educated” or not. This is only a dodge to seperate probably decent human beings from the evil in the Bible, just more compartmentalization.

  • http://www.messianicdruid.blogspot.com messianicdruid

    You will never understand spiritual matters by simply measuring them. Most of us are so stuck in physical reality, if you did see a miracle you would call it something else. ‘Because it is something else’, you say; perhaps, but perhaps not. Cognizant dissonance is not limited to believers.

    Yes, religionists have screwed up the record by adding to and taking away from, innovation being the worst as far as contributing to the confusion many suffer. Try asking God yourself, instead of reading what someone else thinks, me included.

  • http://www.messianicdruid.blogspot.com messianicdruid

    You will never understand spiritual matters by simply measuring them. Most of us are so stuck in physical reality, if you did see a miracle you would call it something else. ‘Because it is something else’, you say; perhaps, but perhaps not. Cognizant dissonance is not limited to believers.

    Yes, religionists have screwed up the record by adding to and taking away from, innovation being the worst as far as contributing to the confusion many suffer. Try asking God yourself, instead of reading what someone else thinks, me included.

  • Robert Madewell

    messianicdruid,

    I have never seen a “miracle” that wasn’t trivial or dubious. A statue of Jesus in Italy crying is trivial. It helps no one and probably is just a leaky roof dripping on the statues eye. Images of Mary, Jesus or God in sheet pans, lights, clouds, etc. are not only trivial but are acually a psychological phenomenon.

  • eneg_kuadrat

    Ha! Talk about godly images, people here in Indonesia can sometimes be far kookier than your average fundie. Some of you may have read about the mudflow disaster on Porong, Java Island that began May 2006 with no sign of abating so far. On November 2006, the weight of so much mud on the surface ruptured a major gas distribution pipeline and caused a huge explosion. Someone on the mud relief team happened to caught that explosion on video and pretty soon, people were claiming they saw the arabic word for allah in that huge ball of fire!

  • eneg_kuadrat

    Ha! Talk about godly images, people here in Indonesia can sometimes be far kookier than your average fundie. Some of you may have read about the mudflow disaster on Porong, Java Island that began May 2006 with no sign of abating so far. On November 2006, the weight of so much mud on the surface ruptured a major gas distribution pipeline and caused a huge explosion. Someone on the mud relief team happened to caught that explosion on video and pretty soon, people were claiming they saw the arabic word for allah in that huge ball of fire!

  • Jeff T.

    Matt

    I assume you are a theist.

    I think you are misunderstanding the point that I am trying to make if you are comparing your disapproval of a cookbook with my disapproval of a book that glorifies King David who chopped the foreskin off the penises of 200 Palestinians.
    If anyone did that today they would be tried for war crimes. Compare the hero worship by the Israelites of David who did this to our own country’s response to the prisoner abuse in Iraq. Can you see the difference between the two?

    The bible was written by an ancient group of desert nomads who felt that the cruelest and biggest warrior amongst them must be anointed by god. (ie the hero worship of David who killed his ten thousands versus Saul who only killed thousands). To compare the social maturity of that group with modern ethics is futile. It cannot be done. Read the words of the bible without preconceived notions, without bias and you will find this to be self evident.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi Jeff T.

    I would have written that regardless of my theological stance. Here is why:

    you wrote:

    I can honestly say that I have read much more complex and deeply researched essays not only from Ebon, but from many of the posters on this site than I have found in the holy bible.

    You are comparing a book from approximately 2000 – 3000 years ago which is comprised of literature from genres such as poetry, history, correspondence, apocalyptic literature, prophetic literature, and wisdom sayings to expository essays posted on the internet. You are not just comparing apples to oranges, you are comparing snorkels to tigers!

    I also disagree that the Bible cannot speak to the complexities of modern civilization. The Bible contains very good poetry on the human condition. It also is a deep part of much of our culture and by understanding the Bible you can understand many things about our culture. Also, by reading and understanding the thoughts of generations past, we learn about ourselves and we learn from the mistakes of others.

    I do not disagree that the Bible records a brutal history. It does. I do not deny that the Bible most likely contains factual errors or that it strongly seems to contradict itself. However, to dismiss the Bible so cavalierly is unthinkable.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • andrea

    Messianicdruid wrote “You will never understand spiritual matters by simply measuring them. Most of us are so stuck in physical reality, if you did see a miracle you would call it something else. ‘Because it is something else’, you say; perhaps, but perhaps not. Cognizant dissonance is not limited to believers.

    Yes, religionists have screwed up the record by adding to and taking away from, innovation being the worst as far as contributing to the confusion many suffer. Try asking God yourself, instead of reading what someone else thinks, me included.”

    Oh please. Yep we are ‘stuck’ in reality. You show me one instance of non-reality and we may have something to talk about. However, with useless claims that verge on solipcism, it’s pointless. I have asked “God” and got no reply. Will you know claim that I didn’t ask “right”? As for miracles, you are making a large assumption that I wouldn’t believe it. How about a spontaneously regrown leg on a war vet? Or maybe that all combantants in Iraq can’t attack each other, say their weapons malfunctioned all at once and they became to hot for each other to touch (a la Star Trek)? Heck, even a chatty burning bush would be fine. Unless you think you can read my mind and “know” what I will and won’t do, don’t assume something you simply don’t know.

    Oh, and Matt, your bible’s poetry also advocates genocide, women be raped, etc. The human condition but nothing good about it. You seem to think you know which parts are “real god stuff” and which aren’t. How?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “. . . if you did see a miracle you would call it something else.”

    The fact is that modern Christian theology holds that no more miracles are neccessary, that Jesus was the last miracle. How convenient. No matter — there are still plenty of Christians who ignore their own theology and claim to have witnessed miracles. The problem is that none of these “miracles” are of obviously divine origin. Certainly a deity who wove miracles so as to butress the faith of his followers would make said miracles undeniably supernatural — so dense as to blunt Occam’s Razor. And as you argue that skeptics search for rational explanations (which is true, certainly), it is an equally legitimate argument that believers search for miraculous explanations. (I wonder if any studies have been done concerning the correlation of intensity of faith to the witnessing of miracles? I’ll bet that the coefficient is >.5).

    “Try asking God yourself, instead of reading what someone else thinks, me included.”

    While I applaud the sentiment, when I was a practicing religionist, I did exactly as you advise. The silence of the answer was revelatory.

  • Matt R

    Andrea,

    Oh, and Matt, your bible’s poetry also advocates genocide, women be raped, etc. The human condition but nothing good about it. You seem to think you know which parts are “real god stuff” and which aren’t. How?

    I am not sure how this comment relates to my comment. I was pointing out the value of the Bible as a work of literature and as a means to understand our past and ourselves as humans. Part of this understanding is realizing the potential evil that humans can do. We can learn from those histories.

    If we speak of the Bible as Holy Scripture from God, then the matter becomes somewhat different, but this is not what I was speaking of.

    To address your question, though, I feel very competent to see that women being raped and genocide are evil things whereas love thy neighbor and honor your father and mother are good things.

    Just out of curiosity, which verses were you thinking about when you mentioned the “Bible advocating that women be raped”?

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Jeff T.

    Matt,

    If you have read this book without bias, then you know there are numerous cases of genocide, rape and the oppression of women.

    On the previous issue, if the bible is supposedly the word of god and therefore guidance on how we are to live our lives, then comparing it to essays on morality is very appropriate. Are you saying that the bible is not the word of god? If any part of it is a lie, then that just gives me one more reason to be an atheist. Why trust anything that has lies embedded in the text? The very fact that there are so many Christian denominations, Jewish sects, and Muslim sects just goes to prove that the ancient scripts that so many consider the word of God is just a version of an ancient sheep herders idea of why we exist and these texts obviously have no bearing on morality or salvation.

  • Jeff T.

    Matt,

    If you have read this book without bias, then you know there are numerous cases of genocide, rape and the oppression of women.

    On the previous issue, if the bible is supposedly the word of god and therefore guidance on how we are to live our lives, then comparing it to essays on morality is very appropriate. Are you saying that the bible is not the word of god? If any part of it is a lie, then that just gives me one more reason to be an atheist. Why trust anything that has lies embedded in the text? The very fact that there are so many Christian denominations, Jewish sects, and Muslim sects just goes to prove that the ancient scripts that so many consider the word of God is just a version of an ancient sheep herders idea of why we exist and these texts obviously have no bearing on morality or salvation.

  • Alex Weaver

    To address your question, though, I feel very competent to see that women being raped and genocide are evil things whereas love thy neighbor and honor your father and mother are good things.

    You mean, you use your own conscious to determine which parts of the Bible are good and hence plausibly the word of a good god, and which parts are morally deficient and thus most plausibly the work of fallible humans and/or the devil.

    If your conscience is good enough that you can do that and have it work, then what do you need the Bible for?

  • Alex Weaver

    To address your question, though, I feel very competent to see that women being raped and genocide are evil things whereas love thy neighbor and honor your father and mother are good things.

    You mean, you use your own conscious to determine which parts of the Bible are good and hence plausibly the word of a good god, and which parts are morally deficient and thus most plausibly the work of fallible humans and/or the devil.

    If your conscience is good enough that you can do that and have it work, then what do you need the Bible for?

  • Matt R

    Jeff T.

    I confess, I am quite puzzled by your response. It does not seem to address my comment to you. My point was to say that even if I were an atheist and if the Bible is not the word of God, it is still relevant to us today due to the historical and cultural insight as well as understanding how the ancients addressed aspects of the human condition.

    Your response, which addresses the Bible as the Word of God really does not seem to speak to my comment.

    With that being said, I will do my best to respond to your new comment. Note that this is a completely different train of thought from me.

    If you have read this book without bias, then you know there are numerous cases of genocide, rape and the oppression of women.

    This is equally confusing to me, especially because I said that I recognized the brutatlity that is found in the bible in my last comment to you.

    I said previously:

    I do not disagree that the Bible records a brutal history. It does. I do not deny that the Bible most likely contains factual errors or that it strongly seems to contradict itself. However, to dismiss the Bible so cavalierly is unthinkable.

    So I really do not see the point of accusing me of reading the Bible without bias or somehow missing these aspects of the history.

    On the previous issue, if the bible is supposedly the word of god and therefore guidance on how we are to live our lives, then comparing it to essays on morality is very appropriate. Are you saying that the bible is not the word of god?

    If you are reading the Bible as an “essay on morality” then no wonder you think it is worthless. If you willfully read a literary work as a genre which it is not, then you will naturally end up with meaningless drivel.

    Are you saying that the bible is not the word of god? If any part of it is a lie, then that just gives me one more reason to be an atheist. Why trust anything that has lies embedded in the text?

    I hope you do not take this as an insult, but I really do not care if you are an atheist or not. Regarding the Bible as the Word of God, reading the Bible as it was written does not take away its divine origin.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Jeff T.

    I confess, I am quite puzzled by your response. It does not seem to address my comment to you. My point was to say that even if I were an atheist and if the Bible is not the word of God, it is still relevant to us today due to the historical and cultural insight as well as understanding how the ancients addressed aspects of the human condition.

    Your response, which addresses the Bible as the Word of God really does not seem to speak to my comment.

    With that being said, I will do my best to respond to your new comment. Note that this is a completely different train of thought from me.

    If you have read this book without bias, then you know there are numerous cases of genocide, rape and the oppression of women.

    This is equally confusing to me, especially because I said that I recognized the brutatlity that is found in the bible in my last comment to you.

    I said previously:

    I do not disagree that the Bible records a brutal history. It does. I do not deny that the Bible most likely contains factual errors or that it strongly seems to contradict itself. However, to dismiss the Bible so cavalierly is unthinkable.

    So I really do not see the point of accusing me of reading the Bible without bias or somehow missing these aspects of the history.

    On the previous issue, if the bible is supposedly the word of god and therefore guidance on how we are to live our lives, then comparing it to essays on morality is very appropriate. Are you saying that the bible is not the word of god?

    If you are reading the Bible as an “essay on morality” then no wonder you think it is worthless. If you willfully read a literary work as a genre which it is not, then you will naturally end up with meaningless drivel.

    Are you saying that the bible is not the word of god? If any part of it is a lie, then that just gives me one more reason to be an atheist. Why trust anything that has lies embedded in the text?

    I hope you do not take this as an insult, but I really do not care if you are an atheist or not. Regarding the Bible as the Word of God, reading the Bible as it was written does not take away its divine origin.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Hi Alex,

    You mean, you use your own conscious to determine which parts of the Bible are good and hence plausibly the word of a good god, and which parts are morally deficient and thus most plausibly the work of fallible humans and/or the devil.

    No.

    If your conscience is good enough that you can do that and have it work, then what do you need the Bible for?

    I like the Bible.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Polly

    I like the Bible.

    You can’t!
    You’re either supposed to worship it or despise it!

    I mean, what are you’re doing READING it? For perspective! For history or for cultural purposes. Geez, the next thing you know, you’re going to tell me that you like “Siddhartha” or the writings of Homer, too. Or, that you like the classical Arabic of the Koran.

    Look, you can’t enjoy or be edified by something unless you believe it’s 100% divine truth. So there.

    ;)

  • Jeff T.

    Matt

    {Regarding the Bible as the Word of God, reading the Bible as it was written does not take away its divine origin.}

    And what fact do you have to prove this divine origin?

    I find your presentation of the Bible as a work of art to be admired like some ancient Wonder of the World to be as misleading as possible. The bible is taught as Divinely Inspired which you yourself just stated.

    My statement to about justifying being an atheist was not made with any regard for your personal approval. Let me make that clear right now. Perhaps I should have reworded that sentence to read: The bible being full of horror, contradictions, and outright deceipt justifies atheism.

    Since you are the one defending this book as a work of art to be cherished, then I suggested you actually read the book without to find out for yourself how many times rape is not only committed but encouraged by this so called work of art. Since you refused to do that and came back attacking on the flanks by suggesting that I was asking for your approval (which I obviously could care less about, you are the one who first started directing posts to me specifically) I will quote a couple of them:

    Lo, a day shall come for the Lord when the spoils shall be divided in your midst. And I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle: the city shall be taken, houses plundered, women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be removed from the city. (Zechariah 14:1-2 NAB)

    When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house. But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive’s garb. After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife. However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom, if she wishes it; but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you under compulsion.” Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NAB)

    If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NAB)

    Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the people went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves. (Numbers 31:7-18 NLT)

    These are verses from this book that you keep saying that I should appreciate as some ancient work of divine origin.

  • Jeff T.

    Matt

    {Regarding the Bible as the Word of God, reading the Bible as it was written does not take away its divine origin.}

    And what fact do you have to prove this divine origin?

    I find your presentation of the Bible as a work of art to be admired like some ancient Wonder of the World to be as misleading as possible. The bible is taught as Divinely Inspired which you yourself just stated.

    My statement to about justifying being an atheist was not made with any regard for your personal approval. Let me make that clear right now. Perhaps I should have reworded that sentence to read: The bible being full of horror, contradictions, and outright deceipt justifies atheism.

    Since you are the one defending this book as a work of art to be cherished, then I suggested you actually read the book without to find out for yourself how many times rape is not only committed but encouraged by this so called work of art. Since you refused to do that and came back attacking on the flanks by suggesting that I was asking for your approval (which I obviously could care less about, you are the one who first started directing posts to me specifically) I will quote a couple of them:

    Lo, a day shall come for the Lord when the spoils shall be divided in your midst. And I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem for battle: the city shall be taken, houses plundered, women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be removed from the city. (Zechariah 14:1-2 NAB)

    When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house. But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive’s garb. After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife. However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom, if she wishes it; but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you under compulsion.” Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NAB)

    If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NAB)

    Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the people went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves. (Numbers 31:7-18 NLT)

    These are verses from this book that you keep saying that I should appreciate as some ancient work of divine origin.

  • MJJP

    However isn’t it those that accept a literal interpretation of the bible that is the most threatening? Those that use the bible as an analogy have in effect admitted that the bible is not the literal word of God. If not literal then the belief is no different than a stack of cards in the wind only waiting to fall down. The fundamentalist readily admits that if one error is found then all bets are off. Haven’t we just shown that?

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt,

    If you are reading the Bible as an “essay on morality” then no wonder you think it is worthless. If you willfully read a literary work as a genre which it is not, then you will naturally end up with meaningless drivel.

    How are we to read the bible?
    It’s characters are painfully one-dimensional, the story is terrible, if you even want to call it a story, and were it to be published today as fiction it wouldn’t even get consideration from reviewers. It’s certainly not great art.

    it’s full of historical inaccuracies and outright fantasy, not to mention full of conflicting stories and statements about the same events without support from other sources. So it’s certainly not what could be considered an accurate record of history by any accounts.

    And I think we’ve already covered the point it’s not the inspired word of some god; there are too many mistakes, conflicts, and lack of backing to reality. It supports a monsterous moral code and holds natural healthy behaviors to be evil and sinful. So it’s not divine either.

    So it’s not divine, not a good story, not historically accurate, and poorly written. So just how are we supposed to read the bible again?

    it is still relevant to us today due to the historical and cultural insight as well as understanding how the ancients addressed aspects of the human condition.

    I can’t really understand how relevant it is to us today. Matter of fact just about everything mentioned in the bible is not relevant to us today outside the fact that people still believe it as the word of god. Likewise, I don’t see what would make the bible any more relevant, or even as relevant, as other accounts of history that actually back each other up and may even have some real evidence to go along with them.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt again,

    I don’t think I gave this full consideration; let’s look into other points:

    You are comparing a book from approximately 2000 – 3000 years ago which is comprised of literature from genres such as

    poetry – There’s a lot of bad poetry out there; loads of it in fact. Calling the bible great because it contains poetry is like calling it great because it has a lot of pages. Besides, as you said yourself, to read the bible for poetry is to read it outside of the genre it was written in, which was orginally to be the word of god. But we covered that it’s not that already, so we’re still at drivel.

    history – Probably about as much accurate history in the bible as there is a coherent story line. That is to say very little that can be considered even reliable.

    correspondence – I must admit, I’m stumped. How exactly do you mean?

    apocalyptic literature – Nothing like a nice trip to barnes and noble to check out the apocalyptic literature section.

    prophetic literature – that never seems to come true, much less give specifics and dates, allowing people to claim however many years it takes that there prophecy to take place. But hey, who needs specifics; it’s prophecy. If they could be wrong or falsifiable I don’t know what we would do.

    wisdom sayings – For every good moral wisdom you could find in the bible you can find at least one that’s bad. They’re probably far outnumbered though, I don’t foresee that being a 1:1 ratio. Just because it may occasionaly offer up a bit of wisdom that just about any person on this planet could offer up as well, doesn’t mean there’s anything particulary special about the bible.

    It also is a deep part of much of our culture and by understanding the Bible you can understand many things about our culture. Also, by reading and understanding the thoughts of generations past, we learn about ourselves and we learn from the mistakes of others.

    Perhaps if people were reading to bible to learn from mistakes of other cultures, but instead, they read it and take those mistakes from other cultures and intregrate them into our current one because they believe the bible is divinely inspired. Whether you do or not is irrelevant, the point remains people do. They’re not learning anything; they’re repeating them because they don’t believe they were mistakes. So in that sense, it helps us understand about how it’s hindering our culture and others around the world by forcing people into repeating mistakes of old.

    There’s nothing great about the bible

  • Matt R

    Polly,

    You can’t!
    You’re either supposed to worship it or despise it!

    I mean, what are you’re doing READING it? For perspective! For history or for cultural purposes. Geez, the next thing you know, you’re going to tell me that you like “Siddhartha” or the writings of Homer, too. Or, that you like the classical Arabic of the Koran.

    Look, you can’t enjoy or be edified by something unless you believe it’s 100% divine truth. So there.

    You are truly a pleasure to correspond with. Hilarious.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Jeff T.

    These are verses from this book that you keep saying that I should appreciate as some ancient work of divine origin.

    Not quite. I think that, at a minimum, you should appreciate the Bible as an ancient work which provides insight into an anctient culture and as part of the cultural foundation for our society. Anything beyond that is not in the scope of my argument here.

    {Regarding the Bible as the Word of God, reading the Bible as it was written does not take away its divine origin.}

    And what fact do you have to prove this divine origin?

    This is not what I meant. There is a feeling among some groups in Christianity and elsewhere that to read the Bible as text with the author’s original purpose in mind somehow removes the “divine inspiration” of the book. I was trying to communicate that *if* one thinks that the Bible is divinely inspired, then reading it as a specific genre of literature with a particular theme in mind does not take away from that inspiration, IMO. If you do not think it is divinely inspired, I am content to disagree on that point.

    I find your presentation of the Bible as a work of art to be admired like some ancient Wonder of the World to be as misleading as possible. The bible is taught as Divinely Inspired which you yourself just stated.

    That’s not true. There are tons of people who see the Bible as simply a literary work from antiquity. I’m not trying to “trick” you into “liking” the Bible then subtly “brainwashing” you into thinking the way I do. That is ridiculous! I am simply pointing out the fact that even if there is no God of the Bible, the Bible is a valuable work.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    Most of your criticism of the Bible misses the point. At a minimum, the Bible is great from a secular viewpoint due to the glimpse of humanity it gives.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt,

    I won’t contend that the bible doesn’t contain a glimpse of humanity, but I will contend this

    At a minimum, the Bible is great from a secular viewpoint due to the glimpse of humanity it gives.

    It’s not great from my viewpoint. It’s just another poorly written book with little grounding in reality. Sure, it can contain some historical accuracies about how people lived, but that doesn’t make it great; you can find those same sources recorded elsewhere outside the bible. At a maximum, it gives us a look into the lives of people in the past sometimes, but it’s nothing that can’t be found elsewhere

  • Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    I think that this is a more reasonable position as it is grounded in personal opinion. I disagree with you, but that is my opinion, and is probably due to my preference for different things than you. I have a tendency to cherish history and culture and the thoughts of past minds. To me, the Bible is great for many reasons. It contains a very interesting (to me) history of a people who have retained their identity over thousands of years. It also contains records of people’s religious thoughts and experiences. It also has had an enormous impact on the world, shaping our culture in countless ways. I rather enjoy the stories and the thoughts expressed in it. I appreciate the counter-culture expressions of Job and the musings in Ecclesiastes. They are a nice break from popular religion. I like the epic stories as well.

    I think that because the Bible is inextricably linked with Christianity, it is often written off before being given an honest chance.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    I think that because the Bible is inextricably linked with Christianity, it is often written off before being given an honest chance

    Just as it’s link to religion also makes people, who would otherwise see it for the complete rubbish it seems to be, like it and call it great literature and/or art(to me).

    If anything, bibles should be sold in the humor section of bookstores because of just how funny they are. That people actually believe it, the insane stories and ramblings of a god who just can’t see to get things right despite his egotistical claims to omnipotence (yet he looks down on pride). His little quirks and how he just can’t communicate properly to people among countless others; like some kind of sitcom, which I believe was already started in part by the mini-series “Mr.Deity”; youtube it for more info.

    I would however recommend a more current reading (it’s a quick read) into a more modern, applicable look into religion and culture. It’s the Satanic Bible, and while I’m not a member, there’s a great wisdom behind a lot of what’s in that book (The first half of it at least, before it gets into the whole stint on magic and rituals).

  • mike3

    Also you mention that in an uncaring, mechanical universe, with no God and nothing like that at all, just cold natural law that just exists for no reason (whose existence is just an axiom, something that just is so), it makes it “more” important to care for each other because we have nothing else, no Gods, etc. But who says this should imply that? Why not just not care at all? This is not a “law of nature” either, in this type of view, it is just a human concept too! The universe wouldn’t give 1 or 2 hoots if we all annihilated ourselves with nukes tomorrow. Remember, it’s uncaring, as you just said. So where do we get this need to care for each other from, in such a universe? The answer would appear that it is an innate part of human nature. Why is that? I suppose you could make an argument from evolution, that a species that has no capability to care for its fellow members and revels in killing them all would not survive and so those genes would not stay, and so that is where it lies in the law of nature, but is that what you’d do? I didn’t notice a mention of evolution there. So what is it? You also don’t believe in a God (you’re an atheist, remember!), so it’s not that either. So what? I’m curious.


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