Many atheists criticize the Bible for being backwards. Richard Dawkins wondered in his book The Greatest Show on Earth why we should listen to “Bronze Age desert tribesmen.” After all, we moderns know so much more because we have progressed so much. How could the Bible give us any kind of wisdom?
Actually, the Bible is progressive. It may scandalize many of us, but it’s more progressive than even we moderns.
The Bible is progressive because it forces us to listen to the voice of the victim. Listening to the voice of the victim goes against most of human history, including the modern world. History is written by the winners, after all. The winners get to tell history from their perspective – a perspective which justifies their wars by demonizing their enemies.
But the Bible is told from the perspective of those who frequently lost in the ancient world. Cain killed his brother Abel and Abel’s blood cries out from the ground. The enslaved Israelites cried out under their oppression and God heard their cry. The psalmist, the prophets, Jesus and the early Christians, they were all victims of violence. And yet, for the first time in human history, the Bible gives voice to those who were killed, conquered, and tortured.
God hears the cry of the oppressed. The Bible is progressive because it forces us to listen to that cry. Sometimes that cry makes us feel uncomfortable, like when the psalmist prays that the babies’ of Israel’s enemies will have their heads smashed against the rocks. I squirm when I hear that prayer, but it’s a prayer with a historical context. Jerusalem was just conquered by the Babylonians, who destroyed the temple, homes, and villages. They enslaved and scattered the people throughout their empire. Before we get judgmental about such a prayer, we might ask ourselves how we would respond if anyone came to our nation, destroyed our homes, our way of life, and enslaved us. We might pray for a little revenge. We might even pray that the children of our enemies would be killed so that the generational cycle of violence might stop.
On the other hand, Genesis chapter 1 was likely written during the same time period. In that chapter we find this verse:
God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them,
Male and female he created them.
The authors of Genesis claimed that the image of God exists within all people, even those Babylonians, even our enemies. There’s something sacred even about them.
We moderns still divide the world into “us against them.” And we still refuse to listen to the voice of our victims. But here, in this book written some 2,500 years ago, we find hear the voice of the victim and we are called to move beyond an us against them mentality into understanding that all people have divine worth.
That’s progressive. And we moderns are still trying to catch up.
Copyright: ercegokhan / 123RF Stock Photo
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For more in this series:
Part 1: Creation is No Myth
Part 2: How the Bible Hijacked the “Image of God”
Part 3: The Bible is Progressive
Part 4: The Apocalypse Revealed
Part 5: The Key to Biblical Violence
Part 6: Adam, Eve, and the Mimetics of Being Human