I am uncontrollably drawn to people who share one of my passions: the Bible. But, ironically, the people I think who most share my fascination with that “sacred” library of documents are not typically of the orthodox Christian variety. The people who seem to be most interested in the Bible – the people who actually read it, study it, analyze it, question it – tend to be atheists, agnostics, unorthodox Christians, and so on.
It didn’t take me long to pick up on this when I was employed by churches. As I became more interested in the Bible, the lack of interest from most devoted churchgoers became astonishing. People who would fight and argue about the Bible, people who claimed that it was the most important thing in their lives. People who would probably die for it, if they had to. But, maybe a comparison could be made here: is the husband who fights for and defends his wife, no matter what the cost, the “good” husband, or the one who consistently loves her and treats her as his partner, day in and day out? It seems to me that these are two different kinds of devotion: one of possession, and one of participation. I think many more “believers” in, “defenders” of, the Bible would fit the former category, people who use the Bible as a trophy, as a public sign of ones devotion, devoid of any actual engagement.
Maybe this sounds like a harsh criticism, an exaggeration. Lots of people actually read their Bibles, right? Well, I’m not sure this is the case. I’m not sure how many people who believe they are supposed to be reading it but aren’t would actually ever tell anyone. But, this is not my point. I think there is a huge difference between a purely “devotional” reading of the Bible and a personal responsibility, a commitment, to having a relationship with the Bible. The devotional reader has probably memorized thousands of verses. They may even read the Bible every day. But, I think the true lover of the Bible does much more than this. Just like in any real relationship, the lover argues with the Bible. Disagrees with it. Wrestles with it. Takes ownership of his or her part of the relationship. And, sometimes, the lover wants to just chunk it. To give up. To find a new partner.
I’ve been thinking lately about Thomas Jefferson’s fascination with the Bible. Of course, many Christians are critical of his approach, cutting out what he saw as the “irrational” parts of the gospel narratives. I’ve heard all kinds of interesting things said about Jefferson in my lifetime (that he was an atheist, a Deist, a heretic). But, in reality, Jefferson was a guy who loved the Bible. Saw it as a work of art. Beautiful literature. And, who was infinitely interested in Jesus. What Jefferson did is simply what we all do, implicitly. We all pick and choose the parts of the Bible that we agree with, and we either ignore or try to explain away the parts that we don’t. No one is a consistent believer in or adherent of the Bible. No one.
Maybe instead of being afraid of people like Jefferson – or Bart Ehrman – maybe instead of getting defensive and resorting to name calling (which is what we do when we actually don’t have anything substantive to say), we should try to understand why they are so fascinated with the Bible, why they spend so much time and effort with it. Maybe if we did this, we, too, would fall in love with it. Maybe we, too, would actually take responsibility for our relationship with the Bible, instead of just “possessing” it as a trophy.
This is a repost from my personal blog from August, 2012.