Atheists’ favorite Bible verses

Atheists’ favorite Bible verses June 10, 2014

I think I will always be a student of the Bible. I don’t view it as divinely inspired anymore, but it is a narrative account of people’s quest for some ultimate and some very pedestrian things. Yes, redacted over the centuries, etc. Those redactions are only a problem if you’re trying to tie the words to the mind of God. Mixed in with the violent and crazy bits are some real gems of wisdom.

Valerie Tarico, writing for Alternet, asked some well-known atheists what their favorite Bible verses are. The results are unsurprising from one perspective. What is surprising, however, is hearing atheists talk admiringly of even one verse of the Bible. Some chose texts that speak approvingly of the skeptic’s way: testing all things and clinging to that which is true. Some spoke of the unflinching honesty of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Others chose familiar texts about love and social justice.

Some of my favorite Bible passages are found Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. For example, the much misunderstood instruction to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” is actually a surprising non-violenct conflict resolution strategy that has inspired generations of activists.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:38-44).

Many of you will quickly point out that all of this non-violent ethic is couched in a theistic world view: “that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (v. 45).” Sure enough. But many will be able to sort thorough the foundational issues to recognize a brilliant teaching when they see it. Others will no doubt say that these texts have been used to teach people to be doormats in the face of abuse (“do not resist and evil person”), but this is not at all what the text is about. The whole point is about non-violent resistance. The point is, if you resist an evil person, matching evil for evil, violence for violence, we will all descend, as Dr. King said, into an endless cycle of violence.

Another of my favorite verses is found in 1 John. I wrote about it a few days ago in my post about Fear.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).

What are your favorite verses?


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