An Atheist’s Old Bible

Reader Lindsay was looking at her childhood Bible recently. Turns out there were a *lot* of passages she highlighted that no longer have the same meaning.

I decided that it might be interesting to look at the Bible I used growing up. Looking at the Bible now is a completely different experience. I used to somehow be able to skim over the nasty parts and pick out the nice stuff, but that’s no longer the case. My personal Bible is full of highlighted portions and the occasional note, so I think it will be fun to have a look at what I used to find worthy of highlighting.

In retrospect, some of it is just downright scary.

Here’s just one page from her Bible (the notes in black pen are from after she lost her faith):

I wasn’t raised with a Bible, but when a friend from high school found out I was an atheist, she gave me a “nice” one because she figured I would make good use of it.

Since I was brand new to atheism (and a stranger of sorts of Christianity), I was amazed at what I found inside the Bible. So many contradictions and fairy tales… didn’t anyone else know about it?! I had to do my own highlighting and marking-up. (My English teachers would’ve been proud of the time and effort I spent annotating that Bible…)

Lindsay is wondering — and so am I — what do your old Bibles look like now?

Did you ever go back and look at passages that meant something to you back then? What do they mean to you now?

Did you do anything special with your Bible after you became an atheist?

By the way, Lindsay’s Bible also had some messed up pictures in it. Like this one with Abraham and Isaac:

Who thought that was a good idea to include in a children’s Bible!?

It looks pretty similar to the satirical Illustrated Stories from the Bible (that they won’t tell you in Sunday School)


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  • muggle

    Either earth or in some landfill refusing to rot between disposable diapers and a plastic shopping bag. I tossed it decades ago.

  • Pony

    Ha! That’s the “Good News” bible, the same one I had at school!

  • littlejohn

    I got a children’s bible from my priest as a confirmation present. I guess I must have been 12. I never cracked it. I was already an atheist and wondering why my parents made me attend confirmation classes. At least they made me memorize the books of the bible, which comes in handy for solving acrostic puzzles (Old Testament prophet, six letters). I have no idea where that bible is.

  • Erp

    Mine had the story of Jephthah and his daughter and that was for even younger children than the one shown above. I also got a fairly full selection of Greek, Roman, and Norse myths.

    Now I generally read the Bible online especially since handy web sites come with parallel translations and also the original Hebrew and Greek.

  • Shannon

    The bible I bought as an atheist taking religious studies classes in college (I think I bought it for the old testament class) is now joined with two other thick books and being used to hold up my monitor higher because I was getting neck cricks. I had it out because I was briefly using it to look up passages that were mentioned on blogs but then I found out you can do that online. I never highlighted it, but when I opened it after so many years I found it still had my Captain Picard bookmark in it. :-)

  • The Other Tom

    what do your old Bibles look like now?

    Landfill. I’ve thrown out four of them. Two my parents gave me as a child (regular and childrens bibles – I wasn’t encouraged to believe them, they were shelved with my fairy tales) I got rid of because I didn’t need them, one I inherited but wasn’t very nice and had no sentimental value, and one I bought for $1 for reference as an adult but which got damaged in a move. I don’t need one for reference now, I can always look such nonsense up on the net more easily than in print if for some strange reason I need to quote it.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    I desecrated and destroyed my bibles. I also destroyed all my other religious books because I didn’t want to sell them or give them away.

  • Trace

    The Bible never played a big part of my childhood. I have vivid memories however, of a missal with prayers for children my grandmother kept in her guest room next to a phosphorescent Madonna. For whatever reason, I still remember its black leather covers and one depiction of the tarnished heart of a naughty child. Funny how memories work.

  • Angie

    Wow, I had that version of the Bible too! We all received a copy of the Good News Bible in CCD class.

  • QrazyQat

    Who thought it was a good idea to include that picture in a kid’s bible? The people who think it’s a very good idea to scare the hell out of children, to make them weep at the idea that they are going to be damned for eternity for some minor “transgression”. This is a major part of Christian religion, and the parents, who teach them those things, always seem surprised that the kid’s are actually frightened. That’s cluelessness.

  • http://lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com/ Lyvvie

    I had a leaf through my old Bible, which I’ve been wanting to get rid of for years but guilt prevents me (It has traveled around the world with me) even though it was a X-mas present back in 84′ (I was 12. Bible was the most disappointing present ever, followed by socks)I was pretty anti-religion from a young age and rebelled against going to church, yet was forced to attend an Assemblies of God for a couple of years. I did find within the pages a card which reads:

    My Missionary Faith Promise

    As God enables me, I will express my faith and help evangelize the world by giving to the missions program of my local church as I have indicated on this card. I understand that this faith promise is a covenant between me and God. It will extend for the next 12 months. However, I will not be asked for payment at any time. It is my sincere desire to commit myself and my financial resources to the cause of worldwide evangelization.

    In the amounts to be donated section, I put a zero, and signed my name “Zippy The Pinhead”. Interesting to call it a “faith promise” and it’s a covenant between me and God, yet really it’s money in some crappy church’s pockets in order to spread misery to others. It really is an icky, filthy thing, but as it makes me laugh, I can see why I’ve kept it.

  • barrett

    my parents got me a “children’s living bible” for my 3rd grade Religion class. when i was home for thanksgiving this year, i dug it out of my old closet. on the back was a huge Garfield sticker that read: “Big Fat Hairy Deal.”

    even funnier, i slapped that on there while i was still in grade school, and it didn’t strike me as odd at all.

  • Zoo

    Mine’s on the shelf over there, a gift for high school graduation from “my” church. I could throw it out and not miss it (unless certain other people noticed its absence). I don’t think I marked in it more than a couple of times, and probably then because I was told to. I had a hardcover NIV before that, but I don’t remember what happened to it.

  • Tim

    My old Bible is squeezed into my bookcase right next to “The God Delusion”. The Bible trembles, makes strange howling sounds, and gives off smoke on every full moon.

  • J B Tait

    I don’t understand why so many want to get rid of the reference book they may need to quote from when making cogent arguments about how it is defective.
    Did you get rid of Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Harry Potter, or your Warren Commission Report?

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I don’t know if I have the bible I got during confirmation; I bought a new one recently.

    One snippet that I see differently now is Romans 8:31-32:

    What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

    I used to think that this meant that believers never really had to worry about what life threw at them, because they had God on their side. It wasn’t until I was an atheist that I read the very next verse:

    Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.

    This has nothing to do with taking solace in knowing God is on your side. It has to do with denying anyone the right to condemn you because God is the only one who should be able to do it. It’s not “if you’ve got God, you’ve got nothing to worry about” – it’s “if you’ve got God, you can do anything, and nobody can dare accuse you of doing wrong, because they don’t have the right to; in fact, God justifies whatever you do.” It’s an expression of authoritarian moral superiority, not of a source of comfort.

  • Colin

    I have a childhood bible (Good News), a confirmation bible (New Revised Standard), and one as a gift from an uncle (New International). All are sitting on my bookshelf, dusty and untouched since I last moved. I do tend to go to skeptic’s annotated whenever I need to find a quote. Perhaps I should recycle one or two, so they could be put to a higher use, such as toilet paper.

  • Anonymouse

    Oh, the Good News Bible, the one I had when I was a kid. I kinda miss it, so cute and reader-friendly.

    My NIV had been highlighted on the verse numbers, color-coded of course. Red for what God wants you to do (laws, etc.), Yellow for prophecy, etc.

    I remember this list I had read a few years earlier – “You know you’re an atheist when:”
    and one of those listed is – You have read your bible and have highlighted several parts of it.
    I hope I can find that list again.

  • http://www.awkwardcore.com dan

    i had an illustrated children’s bible that i used as a cutting board for an art project sometime in high school. it wasn’t a statement or anything — i just needed a surface and didn’t want to ruin a book i actually liked.

  • Carlie

    I’m really not sure where mine is, but I ought to find it. It’s a Thompson Chain Reference, so the index really is useful in finding things quickly (at least, it was before biblegateway came on the scene). It was too sentimental to pitch, but I did put it out of sight, and now I don’t remember where. Never wrote in it, though – I’ve never been a book annotator. I love reading books that other people have written in, but somehow it just feels taboo to write in books.

  • http://cranialhyperossification.blogspot.com GDad

    I got two bibles as a kid. One was the King James version I got in second grade, and the other was the Good News version from my confirmation at 12 or 13. The GN version is probably in a box in my barn.

    The KJV is on a bookshelf. I find it very useful for holding my collection of pressed 4+ leaf clovers that I’ve found over the years. I’ve found >100, so I needed a book that had enough pages and which wasn’t one that I would ever open for any other purpose.

  • stogoe

    The only bible I own is a confirmation bible that’s gathering dust in my parents’ basement, but I have a bit of a thing about coloring and writing in books – it drives me nuts.

  • beckster

    When I moved after getting married I found my Bible from my teen years. Carefully pressed inside was a marijuana leaf :) I still have the carefully preserved leaf, but I have no idea where the Bible is now.

    I also have a nicely illustrated children’s Bible that was written by a priest, a rabbi, and a minister and is actually straightforward and honest. For example, the Noah story isn’t presented as being about cute furry animals marching two by two, but as a story of obedience and punishment. I am saving that to have for my kids alongside other mythology books. (when they are old enough to handle the gore of course!)

  • http://struckbyenlightning.wordpress.com LinzeeBinzee

    Wow I’m surprised at how many people have thrown out their Bibles! I almost did that too during my deconversion process. I had always held the Bible up as something that should be taken care of and revered, so it was freeing to not feel protective of that book. I have been much less careful with it, but I’m glad I didn’t throw it out. The Good News is also quite useful when you don’t know what the NIV or King James is talking about…it’s good to have that simpler transaltion once in awhile…but also disturbing.

    When I have kids I’ll be keeping it hidden until they’re old enough.

  • http://wongoworld.blogspot.com/ WongoWoman

    I have a Precious Moments bible I received as a gift from a friend who really fears for my soul lol. It’s highlighted and marked and I use it often with my local JW lady,who also fears for my soul. Also, it’s handy when my fundie relatives, who also fear for my soul, try to argue points without actual knowledge of their own control manual. Highlighting scares them, I noticed. I tell them it’s spilled devil juice. My father says I enjoy this way too much and I scare the family – and that’s why he now lives with me cause they won’t visit! WIN!

  • http://www.calladus.com Calladus

    I got my confirmation bible at the age of 14, a gift from my father. I highlighted it as I learned from our pastor. I treasure it very much – more because it is from my father than any other reason.

    Since then, I’ve picked up quite a few different versions of the bible. Catholic, Protestant, King James, NKJ, ESV, Gideon, and my favorite – the New English Translation.

    I have a journaling bible that comes with wide margins that are ruled for writing. I use that to create my own “skeptic’s bible”. It’s becoming as highlighted as my old Christian bible, with page markers added.

    I’ve enjoyed reading the bible so much more now that I know it is fiction, than I did when I thought it was all true.

    I do get some flack from Christians when I quote scripture to them. One said that if I do so, I must think the bible is an “authority” – which makes him think I’m a closeted believer. I find it both amusing and a bit frustrating that I can’t get him to admit that I’m pointing out hypocrisy.

  • Leilani

    I am not surprised that people have tossed their Bibles. Every so often, I hold the damn thing over the trash can, but just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s a painful reminder of my gullibility and ignorance. So it’s in my basement along with other things that no longer fit.

    My husband is a Freemason and his guilded Bible that he got upon his Third Degree sits on our bookshelf, but it’s mostly just a pretty book. (The outside is pretty, I am not making a reference to what is inside.)

    My KJV Bible just happens to share a spine with my Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants.

    I got my first Bible and BOM for my 8th birthday. I still remember how much I cried. I wanted a bicycle so badly and ancient poorly translated text is what I got instead. I ended up getting a new Quad (all 4 books the Mormons consider scripture) when my boyfriend went on his mission in 1999. I lost most of my faith shortly after, so it’s not marked up too badly.

    When I was young, I had highlighted the entire book of Genesis, I would have kept highlighting, but I got tired. I thought every verse of every book was so important, that I couldn’t understand how people didn’t highlight the entire book. If it’s the word of God, wouldn’t he only have his minions write down the things that were extremely important?

    The scriptures that I had for seminary were marked up beyond belief. Pages were crumbled to help with the Scripture Chase. (Which was technically cheating.) But most of what I had written down was force fed by my seminary teacher.

  • Todd

    I threw out all my Bibles. What I do have is well thumbed copies of various collections of Nietzsche’s writings. He was instrumental in my deconversion. I don’t generally mark up my books, but it is interesting where all the dog ear creases are in Zarathustra. Also, a copy of Chuang Tzu translated by Victor Mair (the best translation you will find) falls open in a few choice places.

    The most important lesson I learned from Nietzsche and Chuang Tzu was that I didn’t have to trade absolute certainty for absolute relativism. Both thinkers found the middle ground of perspectivism. Of course, they were both great wrestlers with nihilism as well, so that had some impact on my mindset as well.

    From Christianity, I got nothing. It is completely useless and I remain bitter over how much of my formative years were wasted on such an worthless world view. Jesus and Paul were mental midgets, compared to Nietzsche and Chuang Tzu. It helps that they both were great comedians as well. Christianity has no humor, which is another reason it belongs in the trash bin.

  • unique.smile.within

    I have two Bibles: one is Roman Catholic that I got at confirmation (my parents made me go – and made my sisters get baptized that day too. They were 8 & 9 and we three simply didn’t want to.)

    That one is . . . in a box, I think. With the rest of my books, waiting for a shelf.

    The second one (first one?) I got in grade…3? Anyway, it is KJV, a couple of volunteers came to my school and gave everyone bibles. My mother was very angry at that – she is Roman Catholic. She called the school. They never did that again. :)

    That one used to be with me all the time, but I didn’t want to lug it around, so I put it down on the table, and have since lost it. I think I saw it the other day, all bent out of shape.

    I also have a prayer book that I will keep with me always because my mother gave it to me. I’ve never read it, but I read the real message of love on the cover when I get worried, the one from my mother.

  • http://52songs52weeks.blogspot.com BH

    The last few years of my church-attending (ages 16-17), I was passing through the stages of doubt, and being the overachieving scholarly sort, my NIV Bible became increasingly marked up with doubt-driven notes: cross-references for contradictions, notes on sources for passages, and highlighting based on the Jesus Seminar’s output.

    The family always kept our Bibles together on a certain bookshelf. Weeks after I announced my agnosticism and quit attending church, I went to grab my Bible to check some reference and found it was gone. Never asked about it, but I’m guessing someone saw the annotations.

  • absent sway

    I memorized a ton of scripture as a child and young adult, so even though my Bible has been collecting dust for a couple years, well, the words are still in my heart. The verses I chose to memorize myself (as opposed to those assigned to me) are generally still rather uplifting and comforting. I was worried about finances/providing for my needs a couple weeks ago, and out of nowhere, the “consider the lilies of the fields” verse from the sermon on the mount popped right into my head and made me smile. I used to meditate on 1 Corinthians 13 a lot, and it still helps me to have patience with others. And when I’m frustrated, there’s nothing like Ecclesiastes to remind me that everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind, and that there’s a time for everything, etc. which puts my uptight anxieties into perspective. There are lots of verses that aren’t comforting floating around in my head, too, like “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (I was directed to memorize this one at about age nine!) and “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it.”

  • http://kitchenfallout.blogspot.com Diana G

    That’s EXACTLY my bible! It’s a version of the Good News bible. I always hated those pictures. It was given to me in 1993 for graduating to the older section of bible school (according to the name plate on the inside cover). And it’s got stickers everywhere that were rewards for memorizing that week’s bible verse. The spine is also very cracked and mended twice with tape. I guess I either used it a lot of was pretty tough on it before I lost my faith.

  • Willow

    I still have the bible my mother gave me- She didn’t give it to me in hopes that I would convert or anything, she felt that I should have one to “better understand the enemy,” so to speak.

    My second bible was given to me by my fundamentalist Evangelical grandmother for my birthday. I burned it not long after receiving it, along with all the pamphlets that that she snuck in there.

  • Andra

    I use mine under my laptop, to prevent it from overheating. It’s the perfect size and the (faux?)leather binding keeps the aluminium case well in place without it sliding. :)

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ WMDKitty

    Rolling papers. I’m about half way done smoking Genesis, and plan to roast a few pages on Friday. The ink tastes funny, but it’s worth it for the extra-large joint.

  • Rest

    I kept my childhood Bible, since it was a gift from my parents, and I’ve always found it hard to throw out nostalgic items. However, I did cut out and tear up the “I was saved on such and such a date” page. When I die, I don’t want anybody to find it and think that I may have still been a Christian. The Bible is also handy to have around as a reverence. I have some Buddhist books, too, but that doesn’t make me a Buddhist. I’d take a Koran if I could get one for free.

  • Rest

    That should be “reference.” Still have to get over the idea that I have to revere the Bible. 😉

  • Amy G

    I was raised Catholic, so while I owned a few bibles, I didn’t read them a lot, and certainly wouldn’t highlight in them (it’s a holy book that shouldn’t even be placed on the floor, much less marked on or *gasp* doggie-eared or something!). I did have a Children’s book of Bible Stories. I was always way more fascinated by the Old Testament stories. Jesus was boring, but a man with 20-something wives, people living to be hundreds of years old, people sacrificing each other, and weird stuff like living inside a whale? Awesome. The God of the Old Testament is way more interesting than the one Jesus created.

  • sbc

    You’re assuming that we all used to be Christians. I never was Christian, so I never owned a bible.

  • ThorsDecree

    I just use my old bible for rolling papers for weed. I have a couple bibles and if i need a verse i just look it up in my ipod or the internet. Bibles make really good rolling paper (^^,)

    i used to hilight my bible and thought i was going to hell when i saw the end of Revelations about not adding anything to it lol.

  • http://alifaroukshaikh.wordpress.com/ Ali

    I oppose destroying bibles and stuff. I was never a Christian, but owning a Bible is brilliant reference material for an atheist.

    Whenever people make an uninformed claim, or if I want to assert my claim, Voila, the garbage selection of my library, and produce whichever “holy book” I require.

  • 3D

    The real shocking thing is giving a Bible to a kid to read in the first place, not the pictures. Actually if that picture is any indication, they’re really soft-pedaling the violence factor in the Bible.

  • Christiana

    Unless one is a believer they would only gain a surface or intellectual knowledge of biblical things.  As one comes to know God they are changed by His Holy Spirit and their mind and heart is opened to greater understanding.  Without God a person has no hope in life after death.  Believing God is creator, designer and controller of His world and that He lived, died and rose again to give eternal life to those who believe Him makes life full and complete!