The Bible is a giant triple fudge sundae of murder, rape, and destruction, and the love of a hippy carpenter is the cherry on top. This is - and I'm choosing my words carefully - the only decent way to describe the Bible. The book is soaked in blood, and a large portion of western cultural history has been a story of people scurrying to bleach down the crime scene before the CSI guys get here.
We know this. We've been told before. We ignore it, because it's in our nature. People are afraid of death, meaninglessness, and sometimes vaginas. Religion helps us deal. Visit the gift shop on your way out.
One of the most famous tales in the book is about how God drowned the whole world about five seconds after He made it, and we turned that into a cuddly word picture of two giraffes sticking their heads out of a goddamn boat. We covered up a genocide with a crayon rainbow. If you can't grasp how wrong that is, you don't have a functioning nervous system. But then again, many of us seem to get by without one.
All of this is why The Skeptic's Annotated Bible is an important public service. The website (run by one very pissed-off guy named Steve Wells) catalogs every awful item you can find throughout what is perhaps the most influential text in our society. You can read the entire thing straight through, or you can use the tags to browse through each kind of terrible verse - like violence, misogyny, logical contradictions, or intolerance. He also has annotated versions of the Quran and the Book of Mormon. I read large portions of it as I was preparing my novel. (I'll describe the process in greater detail later.)
I think Wells's biggest contribution is to put all this hideousness in one place. The reason is that the meaning behind the Bible is always a matter of argument. Because it's a collection of dozens of books in multiple languages over thousands of years, you can always make the case that the terrible thing you think you just read isn't really terrible at all. This is one of the more common tasks of the apologist. Elisha seems to have used his holy powers to have two bears rip a crowd of children to shreds. God seems to have planned a slaughter of innocents in Egypt. The Israelites seem to have committed atrocity after atrocity under the direction of the Almighty. But wait! If you translate the words differently and make a series of inferences and squint just right... Presto! The bad stories become "difficult" or "problematic." Or my favorite - they become "starting points for a conversation." The Skeptics Annotated Bible eloquently shows how this is nonsense. Because there is simply too much monstrous crap in that book for the horror to go away with a few arguments. The genocidal insanity really is the Bible's most salient feature. I know there's some good stuff too. Believe me. But if you stuck a chord progression for Charles Manson's favorite Monkees tune at the end of Helter Skelter, that wouldn't make it a music book.
Christians often say they don't believe in the Bible's infallibility - that they know it's the product of ignorant men in an ignorant time. And then there's always the question of how they define their God if they can't agree on what parts of the book describe Him. (And this is ultimately why I'm a nonbeliever.) But it's important to say that even though this attitude makes for a less coherent faith, it's really the only moral option. We start there. We can agree on that. It's immoral to believe in an infallible Bible. Believing that means you make excuses for the inexcusable.
And again, we all know this. The story of our society has always been about ignoring the obvious. We bring the horror on ourselves, and I wish we'd stop.
NOTE: I am the author of a novel about the dark side of Scripture. It is called The Black Book Of Children’s Bible Stories, and you can find it Amazon.
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