I’m taking the unusual step here of breaking in my progression through the Bible to lay out some more of my personal philosophical observations. I laid out my intent in taking on this project in my previous posts and comments, including why I would approach the Bible from a literal perspective with secondary interpretations of the content. However, some of those explanations seem to be lost on some of my readers, so they deserve hashing out again.
(1) The Bible is literally ridiculous.
There are hundreds of translations of the Bible, not simply in different languages, but with various editors who liberally exercise their pens to make the text more approachable, more contemporary, more aligned with modern culture, better for every imaginable demographic, including children via cartoon Bibles, or whatever their audience calls for. Words convey meaning. Different words convey different meanings, so words are important–critically important. Reading the Bible as literally as possible, meaning in English but as close to literal as translation allows, gives a more accurate view of the original, intended content. We can never know how accurate any Bible is, thanks to centuries of tinkering, the Council of Nicaea, and other events, but we can at least minimize the impact of more recent divergences.
The Bible read literally, without softening for palatability, is fucking ridiculous. It is a poorly written, internally inconsistent, superstitious, bloody, primitive, sexist, racist mess. As some have suggested, I could ignore these indicia of the primitive roots of the Bible. Or I could, as every single textual interpretation philosophy would endorse, consider the author and cultural context of the text as an important part of the interpretation. When I say I am reading the text literally, and when I write my posts, I am not simply picking apart outdated cultural artifacts; I have also been looking behind the text at the morality and theology behind the text. What I refuse to do is what has been suggested as the “smart” approach by some readers: ignore all the parts that don’t fit with the current cultural norms, and simply pick the parts that can be interpreted in this day and age. Why? Because if your religion is entirely dependent on your specific cultural norms, then it is a lazy and shoddy basis for your morality. As I said in response to a comment a few months ago:
If God wrote a book (or inspired people to write a book) that was central to their theology, he should have either (1) made it timeless and relevant to more than just its contemporary culture (in which case you should read it literally), or (2) he should have continued to supplement it or supplant it to keep it relevant to evolving cultural norms. Is his morality universal and repugnant or is it evolving with cultural standards? If the former, what kind of God anchors a static morality in an undeveloped and savage past? If the latter, then why do we need God if he is just codifying things that we humans innately, biologically feel, and he hasn’t bothered to update his outdated morality? The morality of the Bible retards the progression of human morality, it doesn’t advance it.
(2) What makes anyone qualified to parse the literal from the figurative? What makes the cut?
If the Bible is metaphorical and adaptive to cultural norms, who is qualified to parse the literal from the figurative? Some critics say that these stories in the old testament are so far beneath our current understanding of the world that they are unbelievable as anything but metaphors. But are they that much more ridiculous than the New Testament? Is it more believable that a woman became spontaneously pregnant with god’s baby, who grew up to perform strangely petty “miracles” like turning water into wine and multiplying fish? Who says that heaven isn’t metaphorical? What if Jesus is a trope? As humanity progresses and morality evolves, which of your beliefs survives the march of progress? Just those central to your dogma? Do any?
Is a religion in which you ignore other potential sources of morality, and you in fact actively avoid some, a sound basis for a world view? As I said before, if you have to separate the sublime from the ridiculous in the Bible because it was written thousands of years ago when you could rape a woman as long as you paid her father for it, wouldn’t your time be better spent thinking intelligently about your own personal ethics and morals rather than trying to tease them from the noise of this silly ancient book? For that matter, if the Bible is a product of a certain ancient culture, then why is it still relevant at all? Why wouldn’t I consult a contemporary source of moral instruction? One of my biggest problems with the Bible is that it distracts people from thinking about what is right and good and what maximizes human happiness, because they are trying to divine from this conflicted external source whether or not God says they can eat ham.
You have a text that is the foundation of your religion, the source of morals and ethics that is central to billions of people on this planet. People base their lives and deaths on this text. Wouldn’t you rather have something that doesn’t have so much hate, fear, anger and slaughter in it? The thing about religion, and religious texts, is that they carry a premium: that they are sacrosanct and unimpeachable. They are inflexible. People will literally die and kill based on what they find between the covers, and so no, I don’t want to skip over the nasty parts. I am airing all this shit, and if you want to consider that a naive or lazy way to read the Bible, then I can’t help you.