When I read the Bible.

That bible verse mentioned in my last post got me thinking about this. I was about 12 when I decided to read the Bible. I don’t recall who’d been talking about it, but they said things like “answers to all of life’s questions” and I had a thirst for knowledge, especially rare or secret knowledge. So I found a copy, I think a King James version, though my memory fails me here, and sat down to read it.

I didn’t make it all the way through. It was disappointing from the very first page, I recall thinking “It’s just another creation myth”, and it never got any better. If anything it got more and more boring as it left the imaginative fairy-tales behind and got into history and ancient politics and rules. I recall being amazed by how much space Leviticus devoted to the nakedness you weren’t supposed to see. As I worked through the Old Testament I skimmed more and more, thinking maybe when I got to the new part it would get better. I don’t think I got any farther than the genealogy in Matthew before I gave up.

I didn’t find any answers, certainly not to questions I’d been asking. I didn’t find any secret wisdom or mysterious knowledge. The lesson I took from the Old Testament was much more prosaic and a little bit cynical: An awful lot of people believe in this. 

In hindsight, this probably affected my perception of all religions, not just the ones related to that book.

Later I discovered Wicca and neo-paganism, and I wanted that to be true so badly. I wanted magick to be real, wanted to cast spells and speak to spirits. Sometimes I could just believe it, usually deep in the night when there was little light and I (or we) had been working at it for some time. I could feel a charge throughout my body, and more than once I seemed to sense another presence in the room! But that was all, nothing more ever happened, and nothing at all outside my own mind. It would last as long as I could hold my focus on the spell, and then vanished as soon as I wavered. A lot of my friends believed in it. But then a lot of my friends believed in the Bible, too.

I did not choose to be an atheist any more than I chose to believe that the Earth is round and orbits the Sun. It was eventually a matter of either accepting what seemed, overwhelmingly, to be true or outright lying to myself. I chose the honest path.

Getting back to the Bible, while I’ve never sat down and read the New Testament, I really don’t feel like I’ve missed much. I have a habit of looking up any verse I see cited somewhere, especially if it’s on the internet where Bible Gateway is just a few clicks away. I make sure to check the context of each verse, and usually compare several different translations to try to get the right feel for the meaning. From what I’ve seen, I’m not impressed.

I’ve seen people describe the Bible as a great Rorschach test, what you see in it reflects your own mind more than the content of the book. I’ve also seen it described as a tool for authority, in that you can select verses to back up any position. It seems ridiculously cynical, even to me, to suggest that the book was written and/or edited that way deliberately, but it also seems true that it can be used that way in practice.

Here’s the bit that was mentioned in my last post, the beginning of Romans 13. I’d never seen this one before this morning. This is from the New International Version, since that’s the last one I had open.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.

It really says that all governments are backed by God. The lawyer I quoted brought up Hitler in response to this, and yet as I read it this seems to say, quite clearly, that Hitler was established by God, and that those who were terrified of Hitler’s government must have done wrong. Breathtaking.

I certainly can’t blame Christians for wanting to distance or disavow that passage. I mean, you could read that as saying that Christian revolutionaries are putting their souls on the line that they understand what God wants, either they win and are endorsed by God, or they lose and are damned (the judgement part) for rebelling. I wonder how the Biblical literalists cope with that. If you hold the Bible to be an authority it seems a little presumptuous to simply say you don’t think so, as the lawyer did.

Christian tradition is that Paul, the presumed author of Romans, was executed by decapitation for failing to show sufficient respect for Jewish law. At first that looks like hypocrisy on his part, but I can’t seem to find a clear statement as to why exactly the Jews wanted him killed, either in the Bible or elsewhere. In fact it’s almost a running gag in Acts that nobody in authority can get a clear answer out of anyone as to what, exactly, the charges against him are, the Jews just rail that he can’t be allowed to live and Paul himself just starts preaching about Jesus. So I suppose it’s more a sad irony that the guy who said to respect all authority was killed for not respecting authority, since it seems likely they killed him just for being long-winded and kind of an asshole.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much the reason I’ve seen some Catholic apologists give for the execution of Giordano Bruno, “it’s not that he was saying the Earth moved round the Sun, it’s that he was being such an asshole about it!” Just brings to mind an image of Bruno and Paul commiserating in the afterlife, doesn’t it?

Have a good evening everyone.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on July 19, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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