Lesson #2 in Vacation Bible School: Good Reasons to Read the Bible

(Originally published 8/12/12 by paganpreacher, aka Mike Aus)

Editor’s Note: The second lesson in this series was written over a year after the first one featured in this series, and several months after Mike “came out” atheist.  Here he uses several Bible verses to show how meanings can be easily manipulated, mistranslated and misunderstood.

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Some of my friends have been surprised to find out that I’m still reading the Bible.  They thought I would be totally done with it after I left religion behind.   Actually, I now enjoy reading the Bible more than I ever did as a Christian since I no longer have to defend it.  Without the baggage of faith, it’s possible to appreciate the book with a little more objectivity.

Yes, I realize a lot of freethinkers are really put-off by anything having to do with the Bible, and I completely understand that.  The book has been a source of much human suffering, and it has often served as a brake on the social evolution of our species.    But just because we may reject the metaphysical and magical claims of the Judeo-Christian tradition doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t worth reading. Here are a few reasons to pick it up.

  • Knowing some basics about the Bible will make your critique of religion more credible and might enable you to better engage theists in conversation about what they believe and why they believe it.  Heck, you’ll probably be able to point out a few things they didn’t know.
  • Whether we like it or not, the reality is that biblical allusions and imagery pervade the music, art, and literature of Western civilization.  If you don’t know the Bible, you’ll miss a lot.
  • The Bible contains a lot of good literature.  The cycle of stories in the David narrative are gripping portrayals of the complexities of human nature.  I’d be willing to bet they provided at least some inspiration for “The Godfather.”  Paul’s famous chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13 is sublime and is also, ironically, entirely non-theistic. (Literary critic and non-theist Harold Bloom counts Paul as one of the one hundred “exemplary creative” literary geniuses of the Western world.  Yeah, I know Paul often sounds like a jerk, but it is possible to be a jerk and a genius at the same time. )
  • Knowing something about the Bible is often helpful when trying to complete The New York Times crossword puzzle.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am in no way suggesting that the Bible has any special authority or any wisdom about life that can’t be found elsewhere.   In fact I am totally confused by theists who claim to find some coherent set of  “biblical values.”   I spent twenty years trying to find coherence in the book.  None exists.

But sometimes it’s a heck of a good read.  And the portions of the Bible that actually are good literature present us with compelling and nuanced descriptions of human condition.  And so I wouldn’t want to live in a world without the Bible any more than I’d want to live in a world without The Iliad, The Divine Comedy, or Paradise Lost.

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Bio: Mike Aus

After serving in Christian ministry for twenty years–as a missionary in Japan and then as a pastor in the U.S–Mike Aus publicly came out as a non-believer on MSNBC in March of 2012.  He is now the Director of Houston Oasis, a 501(c)(3) secular education and service organization in Houston, TX, which describes itself as “a community grounded in reason, celebrating the human experience.”  Mike is a graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN).

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/alanenglish/584404692/”>Al_HikesAZ</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>

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About Linda LaScola

Linda LaScola is co-author, with Daniel C. Dennett, of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (2013) and “Preachers who are not Believers” (2010). She is an independent qualitative research consultant who works out of Washington, D.C. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and is a co-founder of the Clergy Project.

  • http://ripplingbrainwaves.blogspot.com/ Gideon

    Relevant link about favorite Bible passages of atheists: http://www.alternet.org/belief/bible-verses-atheists-love .

    And I don’t do the NYT crossword, but Jeopardy! has Bible questions too sometimes. When the category isn’t Potent Potables or Potpourri.

  • Kent Truesdale

    OK, I was critical of these ‘VBS’ posts in my first comment but now I can praise this post for balancing the scriptural ‘straw man’ it knocked down (in the first post) with the wonderful common sense of this post! Yes indeed, the Bible has enormous anthropological value as the record of one people’s response to the fear and suffering endemic to our ‘human condition.’ In that sense it has an advantage over literature as a source of moral instruction?

    • Linda_LaScola

      Glad you liked it, Kent. I’d still be interested in a post from you for VBS.

      By the way, we’re going to be hearing from a humanist Jewish rabbi later on in the bible school series.


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