What do Christian fundamentalists and many atheists have in common? Both read the Bible as if it were meant to be taken literally, and both quote selected passages to buttress their case. Some atheists, for instance, cite biblical passages that justify stoning for heresy, blasphemy, adultery, homosexuality, working on Sabbath, worshipping graven images, and practicing sorcery.
While atheists might attack or make fun of the Bible because of biblical literalists, it is important to distinguish between the quality of a book and the behavior of its adherents. For better or worse, the Bible and the many religions it spawned have deeply influenced our culture and the world. For that reason alone, the Bible is worth reading. Although atheists rank highest in religious knowledge, atheists should try to understand why so many love the Bible even if they haven’t actually read it.
Some atheists make the same mistake as theists, treating the Bible as either all good or all bad. While it contains many boring, anachronistic, contradictory, and repetitive sections, it also has passages with rich and diverse meanings. The same can be said for Greek mythology–fictional tales that were once considered religious texts.
As a child, I enjoyed reading Aesop’s fables and biblical stories. Both have talking animals, along with moral lessons and universal truths. Leaving aside the question of which imparts better advice (though no Bible story was as consequential for me as Aesop’s “The boy who cried wolf”), at least Aesop’s stories are recognized as fables.
One of the most productive ways to read the Bible is by identifying and discussing its fables. Here are just three examples from well-known stories in Genesis, followed by my moral lessons.
Written By: Herb Silverman
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