Vacation Bible School, Lesson #1: Good Reasons to Read the Bible

Vacation Bible School-300x150Editor’s Note: Welcome back to that summertime staple – Vacation Bible School, VBS for short. There are many fine, timeless lessons in the Bible and other ancient writings, but our VBS teacher focuses on the many other things that don’t add up. This was written several months after the author, Mike Aus, “came out” atheist in 2012. Here he uses several Bible verses to show how meanings can be easily manipulated, mistranslated and misunderstood. (Originally published 8/12/12, paganpreacher)

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By Mike Aus

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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Oasis-MediaMike-150x150Bio: 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 an original member of The Clergy Project and is 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).

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  • mason

    I read the Bible cover to cover at least 10 times and regularly read and studied it for 25 years. Given the opportunity, I’d absolutely love to live in a world without the Bible. There’s a plethora of other far better mythology and historic literary sources that do not include the totalitarian blood sacrifice depravity of the Jewish or Christian Bibles.

    I do agree that the Bible is best understood by someone who has progressed beyond being a reader who believes in any deity, in fact this year I finished a mega Sci-Fi novel based around the biblical Nephilim.

    Just the thought of all the human division, bigotry, irrationality, misogyny, racism, religious genocidal ideas, absurdity, and anti- science that potentially could be ameliorated, feels like a mental and emotional breath of fresh Spring air. Eliminating Vacation Bible Schools (where the destruction of a credulous child’d natural sense of okness regularly occurs) would be a huge gift to humankind, and I’d not have a bit of regret losing the Nephilim as a literary devise.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/65737ac81ee44ba3abf6fc9a3eb26bcd3fe1a71d7f65f4810f0c9f38be0d5c77.jpg

  • alwayspuzzled

    “The book has been a source of much human suffering and has often served as a brake on the social evolution of our species.”

    Since the Bible is a cultural artifact, it cannot have been “the source of much human suffering”. The cultures that produced the Bible and the people in those cultures who used it for their own political and psychological purposes have been “the source of much human suffering”.

    Since the Bible is a cultural artifact, it cannot have been “a brake on the social evolution of our species”. The cultures that produced the Bible and the people in those cultures who have used it for their own political and psychological purposes have been “a brake on the social evolution of our species”.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I get your point. And without the Bible, there likely would have been other factors to cause or encourage human suffering or a brake on social evolution. The Bible sure helped though, because a lot of people took it so seriously.

    • anne marie hovgaard

      Uhh… a brake _is_ a cultural artifact.

      • alwayspuzzled

        It does no braking until it is used by someone.

        • anne marie hovgaard

          So? It’s still a brake. It was made for a specific purpose. You can tell by looking at it, studying it. Sure, you could use it in a different way (as a paper weight?), but that’s not what it was made for. And you couldn’t use just any object with the same result. (A bit like guns, really. The fact that they have to be used by someone doesn’t mean they don’t kill people.)

          • alwayspuzzled

            “A bit like guns, really. The fact that they have to be used by someone doesn’t mean they don’t kill people.”

            Do you blame the gun, rather than the person who uses it to kill?

          • anne marie hovgaard

            Depends on what you mean by “blame”. And what’s the phrase “rather than” doing there? There’s more than enough blame to go around. Sure, you can kill someone with your bare hands, but it’s so much easier with a gun. And toddlers don’t accidentally kill people with their bare hands.

  • Maine_Skeptic

    I think of the Bible the same way I think of the Confederate statues and monuments. We can’t ignore the past ideologies they represent, but they shouldn’t be given back-door government endorsements by giving them prominent display on government property and in government activities.

    “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.”

    I actually think it’s done a lot of good in the world; just not the way Bible believers think. A lot of us out here left Christianity because we could read the Bible for ourselves, and it disproved Christianity’s claims of special revelation in ways that no Christian hypocrisy ever could. Were it not for the Bible, priests and pastors could hide the bloodthirsty nature of the Old Testament Jehovah. Or the racism of Jesus. Or the misogyny of Paul. The Bible documents a lot of uncomfortable truths religious people don’t want to see. Ironically, though, Evangelicals have elected a mirror image of Jehovah: a deranged narcissist who judges all men by how satisfactorily they worship him. Is that the Bible’s fault? Nah. Any ancient warlord culture would have worked just as well.

  • Stupid Atheist

    “Knowing something about the Bible is often helpful when trying to complete The New York Times crossword puzzle.”

    I agree, and might add that cramming for ‘Jeopardy’ is a consideration as well…

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

    “Knowing something about the Bible is often helpful when trying to complete The New York Times crossword puzzle.”

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fb777631916bf0bfe8f2af4d5ff9ae0c774043a05bd9b435c25df765888aac3e.gif

  • epicurus

    I suppose another reason for reading it is that there are large voting blocks that unfortunately feel the Bible must be the basis of the laws of the land. If those people kept to themselves that might be ok, but they get politically involved and want political power to enact laws that affect everyone. Because I’ve read the Bible I can tell them, for example, that there are several sets of the ten commandments, and the one they often cite, is not even the final version that was to be used by the Hebrews. After Moses smashed the first set and went back up the mountain he came back down with a set that read much differently (and was much more bland).