When Atheists Leave Messages in Gideon Bibles

Reader Adam stayed in a hotel this weekend and — as all too many of us do — looked for the Gideon Bible hidden in the drawer.

He was a bit surprised to open it up to find the following message inside:

I think that last word is “celibate” :)

Turns out it was the most thought-provoking verse in the entire book.

There was also a Freedom From Religion Foundation “Gideon Exposed” sticker inside the front cover as well as some artwork of hellfire.

Someone spent a lot of time with that Bible… I’m sure the Gideons would be proud.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Gus Snarp

    I do wish they could spell. People make judgments about the ideas in what others have written based entirely on a few misspellings, there’s no getting around it. The law of the Internet demands then that this post be rife with grammatical and spelling errors.

    • Valhar2000

      It would be more accurate to say that people rationalize away ideas they don’t like based on a few misspellings. Nonetheless, I too wish they had been a little less rushed.

  • Scotty

    no constructive comment but it is funny……would love to see the look on the face of the next “devout” follower that reads that

    • Trina

      If it didn’t happen already,  I can guess – a quick call to the Gideons to replace the offending volume.

  • Phil

    yea, I think you should probably only write in a book if you can spell..

  • Ben Crockett

    I’m actually doing something similar, but much more elaborate.
    http://the-heretics-haven.blogspot.com/2011/09/guerilla-bible-fixing.html
    Got stickers from FFRF for this also.

    • Trina

      Sounds time-intensive!

      • Ben Crockett

        It is time-intensive, but that’s OK. This also gives me an opportunity to read through the bible and get a firm understanding of everything it says within its context. I’ve never read the whole thing before, only bits and pieces, so this will be a good opportunity for me.

    • Anonymous

      The gideons will just replace it.  Unfortunately, they have far more resources than you.

      • Gus Snarp

        Do the Gideons go back and check on their Bibles? Or do they just open a drawer, see it stocked with a Bible, and move on?

    • Ariane van Sickle

      Nice! Here’s something similar like-minded subversives can do:

      http://destructables.org/content/bible-sticker

  • T-Rex

    Do you really think many of the theists that read that message will really pick up on the spelling errors? I write warnings about the contents and how it is not suitable for children.

    • Spencer

      Well, it depends on how old the child is. I wouldn’t want a three-year-old reading it, but a ten-year-old? Yeah, sure — as long as it wasn’t be taught as the literal truth handed down from a magical omniscient sky daddy who loves you and instead treated just like any other mythology.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      T-Rex, are you trying to imply that if I believe in God, then I am too stupid enough to spell a word correctly? If that’s true then you are gravely mistaken. You give people on this blog a bad reputation with your simplistic attitude.

      Let’s try having an intelligent conversation rather than point fingers and name call each other. Geesh!

  • Antigold

    So it’s okay to vandalize a book?  Misspellings make people look like idiots.  As many theists can spell as atheists.  

  • Nicole S

    Interesting idea, but the spelling errors totally blow it for me. Bummer. 

    • Pseudonym

      The factual errors blow it for me. There are so many legitimate, fact-based criticisms that could  be made of the Bible. There’s no need to just make stuff up.

  • heathen

    I recently stayed in a hotel that had both a gideon and a book of mormon. Someone had inserted a slip of paper inside the front cover of the mormon that said something to the effect of it being all made-up hooey. They apparently had no similar problem with the bible, as it had no note. I took care of that with a simple “Myths and lies.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I am always irritated when people mention how the text has been translated lots of times, as though that is a meaningful criticism of their contemporary English translations.

    Modern translations are made on the basis of texts in the original languages. No one makes translations in series from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to German to Polish to Lithuanian to English. 

    The person could have said something about the copying of manuscripts and the way errors creep in, or so many other things that were actually meaningful and relevant.

    Instead, they said it has been translated so many times…

    Why do people keep saying this? What do they mean by it? There are so many valid criticisms that one could make of the Bible, that I find it baffling that the first thing that many people come up with is actually something that makes no sense. 

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      I agree.  The whole translation argument kind-of implies that there was an original version that was true and over time the text become somewhat corrupted in some details. 

      I would only go as far as saying that each letter or chapter individually had an originally version but that each original version has only historical relevance as to what people believed at the time.  The original versions don’t represent any kind of ontological truth about the world.  I’m all for biblical scholarship to uncover the original meanings in the bible but that doesn’t mean I will start believing that the uncovered meaning actually has anything true to say about supernatural occurrences.  It just says what the authors believed (or wanted you to believe) at that time in history.

      • Anonymous

        The thing is, there are very relevant issues in regards to mistranslations in the bible. The biggest one that comes to mind is Mary as a virgin.

        The first gospels are markedly absent of the claim that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. The error creeps in because authors of later gospels, attempting to fit the story of Jesus’ birth to an earlier prophecy mistranslated a word in said prophecy (which was originally more in line with “maiden” or “young woman”) to read “virgin”. The rest, as they say, is hi- I mean mythology

        For reference, the relevant quote is Isaiah 7.14.
        http://chelm.freeyellow.com/page13.html

        • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

          Almost but not quite. The gospels do contain the virgin birth claim. The mistranslation of Isaiah predates that. (It is an issue in the Septuagint already which is a few centuries before Jesus). 

          • Anonymous

            You may have misunderstood. I didn’t claim that the virgin birth isn’t present in the gospels at all, but that it isn’t present in ALL of them. It’s missing from the earliest, Mark, as well as John.

            • dauntless

              Well isn’t the whole beginning of Jesus’s life absent from both of those Gospels? He’s already a man when they start, so why would they mention his birth?

              • Anonymous

                Are you saying that they just decided that the fact he was born of a supposed virgin is something they’d just gloss over like it was unremarkable? I find that as hard to believe as the concept of a virgin birth itself.

                • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

                  Possible. Because each of the Gospels has a significantly different focus and perspective. 

                  If a detective interviews 4 different people about a crime that each witnessed, there stories are going to vary slightly. Each person may think that different facts are more important than others and so they interject some facts and leave others out. Pretty simple when you think about it in this manner. The Gospels are not meant to be a comprehensive biography of Jesus, they are meant to be the expressions of the perspective witness or the transposition of the expressions of the witness in the case of the Gospel of Mark.

                • dauntless

                  They don’t gloss over anything with respect to his birth; they don’t even mention it. While you can judge that from a historical, mythological, or fictional standpoint, I think there are far more fruitful ways to discredit the bible that are much harder for Christians to rationalize away.

            • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

              Ah, no disagreement then. I misunderstood your remark.

    • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

      You beat me to it. I was going to say essentially the same thing. Even if it is a KJV, this still wouldn’t be terribly accurate. There are actually some KJV onlyists who have tried to make translations of the KJV into other languages, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what we’re dealing with here. Talking about translations just misses the real issues. 

  • Robert Thille

    What leads you to believe the person who wrote that was an Atheist?
    I think the correct approach is to take the bible, use it to augment your compost pile, and replace it with a copy of the God Delusion or similar book.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    A semi-literate message won’t impress anyone, not even the semi-literate target audience. Does the Bible even mention celibacy?

    • Rieux

      Agreed. I don’t mind the anonymous writer’s sentiments, but the poor English really gets in the way of his/her message.

      Does the Bible even mention celibacy?

      Certainly. Try looking up I Corinthians 7:1, 8-9, 27, 32-35, 38; Matthew 19:3 to (especially—ouch) 12; and Revelation 14:3-5.

      • Darwin’s Dagger

        I knew the book promoted abstinence quite strongly, but seeing as one of the 1st commandments ever given by God was “to be fruitful and multiply” I expected the whole celibacy thing to be an invention of the church.

  • Anonymous

    During his reading tour to promote American Gods, Neil Gaiman talked about the process of traveling across the country to write his book.  The book was finished, and he was doing some punch-ups and the chapter quotes, and he was in Vegas, staying in a hotel that was mostly deserted because it was in the process of closing down.  He had decided that for the chapter there, he wanted the line about the Queen of Sheba.  So, knowing the obsessions of the Gideons and hotel rooms, he went to the bedstand for a copy of the Bible.

    Unfortunately, it was one of those “Modern English” varieties–if you’re using a pull-quote from the Bible, you really want the KJV for the poetic language.  So he calls down to the front desk to ask them if they had a KJV; the night clerk paused for a moment, then said, “Of course, sir.”

    A few minutes later, there’s a knock at the door, and standing there are the night desk clerk, the night manager, and a member of hotel security.  The clerk is holding the Bible in his hands, and offers it to Gaiman, who gives him the modern copy.  The clerk then says, “No one’s ever asked for a Bible before, as long as I’ve worked here.”

    The staffers leave, Gaiman opens the Bible to the Song of Solomon (which is really some awesome erotic poetry, frankly–it’s amazing how quickly the fundies skip past the best chapter in the whole book).  Unfortunately, the page he needs has that exact page misprinted, with the text all mangled.

    He didn’t have the heart to call down and tell the clerk it wasn’t good enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/angus.bohanon Angus Bohanon

    In fairness, the King James Version was translated directly from Hebrew, so it’s probably pretty loyal to the authors’ original intent.  Which is exactly the problem…

  • http://twitter.com/deanrobertsnet Dean Roberts

    That person simply needs to get themselves on an Alpha Course ;)

    http://deanroberts.net

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’d rather see something like this:

    “None of the original manuscripts of the books of the Bible have survived.  The best manuscripts we have are handwritten copies of handwritten copies of handwritten copies, etc. etc., that date to hundreds of years after the originals.  There are more differences among the existing manuscripts of the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament.   Scholars have not been able to piece together any reliable version of what the originals actually said.

    The King James Version was translated from the most commonly and easily available Greek, Hebrew and Latin manuscripts at the time, not the oldest or the best ones.

    Jesus spoke Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek, so even the original documents did not contain the actual words spoken by Jesus.

    When you put your complete faith in an ancient book, you are putting your faith not only in the writers, but also in generations of amateur copyists, and also many editors,  translators and typesetters, all of whom were fallible humans.  Please bear this in mind as you read this book.”

  • Joan

    Agree with Antigold’s comment about vandalizing a book — that was my gut reaction.  I think a preferable idea would be to use “post-it” notes (sticky, so they won’t fall out, but they don’t damage the book).  Also, I recently read “Ken’s Guide to the Bible” by Ken Smith: http://www.amazon.com/Kens-Guide-Bible-Ken-Smith/dp/0922233179  It’s short, easy (and fun) reading, but makes a ton of great points about some of the craziness in the bible.  If someone could afford to do so, it would be great to leave a few of these books in hotel nightstands with the bibles.

  • Anonymous

    When I stay in a hotel room, I just write a note on the hotel stationery that says, “You can be good without god,” and stick it in the bible. 

    I wonder if any of them has ever been found. 

  • Nude0007

    We need nice stickers we can paste inside the front cover of every gideon bible something like Ubi Dubium posted, and a program to get people to go around sticking it to em!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Bowers/1267654102 Andrew Bowers

    Whenever I come across a Gideon Bible in a hotel I like to open it to the title page and write “by Man” under “The Bible”. If I stayed in hotels more often I’d get a stamp made for it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

    I don’t think it’s very tactful to deface any book, even if you don’t agree with it. Just because you don’t like the author’s opinions or you fundamentally disagree with the subject of the book one shouldn’t deface it. That’s a pretty juvenile response isn’t it?

    Wouldn’t you be upset if you checked out a book by Hitchens are Dawkins from the library and I wrote a silly message in the front cover like “If you believe this book you are going to Hell” or “only people without morals don’t believe in God.” 

    Before anyone gets mad at me, no I don’t believe those messages to be true so I wouldn’t write them in the first place. But hopefully I’ve made my point clear. Graffiti probably isn’t the best response to start a dialogue :(

  • Themiddleme

    “Graffiti probably isn’t the best response to start a dialogue :(”
    With you on this one, Momma J. I don’t like to see people being disrespectful. It’s vandalism; the book doesn’t belong to them. Better to leave an atheist book in the drawer alongside the Bible or a note or something, but not write in the book itself. Makes the author of the scribblings seem like an idiot, and you know Christians will look at it and not be thinking, “Whoa, I’ve been wrong all these years!” but something along the lines of, “Wow. Atheists really ARE douches!”

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

      Especially considering most hotels have a pad of paper and a pen sitting at the ready on the desk. Write the note and slip it in the front cover.


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