Not Getting How Horrible the Bible Is

[Grammar Note: Yes, that title ends with "is."] 

As I've spent more and more time at the margins of society, reading the bible with the damned to use Bob Ekblad's phrase, I've noticed something.

What I've noticed is this. When you read the bible on the margins people don't seem to notice just how horrible the bible is. 

For example, when I lead a bible study with liberal, educated folks the horrific parts of the bible quickly come to the surface and become the focus of attention. These texts, it seems, sit at the heart of the liberal, educated experience of the bible and represent a constant, chronic threat to the integrity of the bible and faith itself. These passages in the bible threaten to delegitimize the bible and, thus, the entire Christian faith. Everything seems to hang on those texts. For liberal, educated folk.

But for the uneducated? Not so much, at least in my experience.

I've read some of the most scandalous passages in the bible to men in prison or with the poor and, for whatever reason, they haven't blinked an eye. With liberal, educated audiences such passages would completely hijack the conversation. And no judgment about that, these passages hijack the conversation for me. But I've noticed that they haven't hijacked the conversation at the margins. To be sure, sometimes they do. There is a guy, Steve, in the prison bible study who isn't very educated but Steve asks some really sharp, probing questions. But generally speaking, the horrible passages in the bible haven't alarmed, shook, or disturbed those on the edges of society with whom I've studied.

This threw me for a loop at first. I'd get to some passage in the bible that had something horrible in it and I'd wait, hunkered down and prepared, for the inevitable barrage of questions and outrage. And nothing would happen. On the margins, at least in my experience, people seem perfectly comfortable with the blood and the violence and the wrath. The Old Testament God isn't much of a scandal in these social locations.

And I've wondered about that. What's going on?

Maybe it's education. Maybe you need a liberal arts college education to be properly shocked by the bible.

Maybe it's life experiences. On the margins life is more brutal and violent. There, in the midst of that social location, the bible doesn't sound strange at all. It seems to fit. And this seems to be the case worldwide. The bible speaks to the third world, it is alive and powerful. But in the educated and liberal Western world the bible is a shock and a scandal.

Or perhaps something else is going on. But if either of these two factors are in play then it seems that offense at the bible is associated with privilege. Whenever I've heard complaints about the bible being horrible I've generally been talking to a person of advantage and privilege. Generally White. Generally educated. Generally rich (by the world's standards).

And it's likely that my privilege is blinding me in certain ways in how I'm listening out of the margins. I may be really missing the boat on this. 

Regardless, does any of this mean that the privileged concerns about the bible should be dismissed? No, I don't think so. Being a privileged person myself I share these criticisms about the bible and wrestle with them. But given where I'm reading the bible I'm increasingly less obsessed with these sorts of questions, issues, and criticisms. Mainly just because these objections aren't coming up.

I'm not wholly dismissive of the complaints of the privileged regarding the bible, but I am, generally speaking, much less interested.

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67 thoughts on “Not Getting How Horrible the Bible Is”

  1. I've seen the same thing and have been ambivalent. Especially grating to me, in my limited experience, is how those on the margins will gladly (gleefully?) appropriate a verse like "if only you would slay the wicked, O God." On the one hand, I'm sure they have more "right" to this verse than a more privileged guy like me. On the other hand, I wonder if their wives or husbands or kids or neighbors--or enemies--might be wishing they were a little more bothered by this sort of verse.

  2. I think there is something to the generalization, but relying on it to try to speak meaningfully about the experience of class can easily take us off-course. Let's take this poll of how people view scripture as a proxy/operationalization of the variable "likely to question anything at all in the Bible," and let's use education level as a rough proxy for class, since they are correlated: I wish I had something more directly relevant, but this is what Google recommended, and I think it is good enough to make some points. 46% of people with a high school education or less thought the Bible was the "actual word of God." 25% of people with a college education thought so. That looks meaningful, but even in the high school or less group, a majority of people thought the Bible was either the "inspired word of God" or "just a book of fables." At the other end of the spectrum, 13% of people with high school education or less thought it was a book of fables, compared to a whopping 19% of college graduates. In one sense, that is almost 50% more. In another sense, if you walk up to a random person with high school or college education, the odds that they'll view the Bible as a book of fables are pretty darn close.

    So when we start generalizing about the questions and struggles that people of different economic classes / education levels have, I'd suggest that it is better expect that a minority of people in any of these groups are going to really radically question, and meaningful share of any group will be literalists, while another meaningful share will be inspirationalists. In other words, you should be prepared to deal with a broad spectrum of opinion in any group. To offer my own anecdote: when I look around to see how Christians publicly respond to themes like genocide in the Bible, I generally find ministries that are almost certainly run by college educated people, and the loudest and most prominent ones are generally justifying genocide, because it is in the Bible. There are plenty prominent, college-educated people out there, justifying genocide.

    I'm glad that you think it is important to answer these hard questions. Personally, I would avoid characterizing this kind of questioning as something that characterizes the 'liberal elite' but that doesn't characterize the 'salt of the earth.' It is something that a relative minority of people seem to struggle with, and that minority of people are distributed throughout different economic classes. In general, this group seems to be growing, so there is probably a generational dynamic here as well, and that generational dynamic probably correlates with the educational variables to some degree as well. (Notice how big the impact of 'some college' seems to be, for example.) I thank God that more people are asking these questions. Because we need critical thinkers who will question genocide everywhere we can find them, and I think that this kind of questioning helps us see Jesus, and the importance of Jesus, even more clearly.

  3. Many of the 'poor and uneducated' indigenous folk of North American can be pretty damn sensitive to this stuff . . . as well a lot of the pious parts as well.

  4. One of the problems with this post is that it's not my place to say what anyone, particularly poor, marginalized or indigenous folk, do or don't think about the bible. I'm mainly just sharing my experience in teaching the bible in various social locations and what I've noticed. Perhaps my experience doesn't generalize. Which is one of the reasons I'm posting this.

  5. Could it be that like any other need, those who have are to give to those who don't. Maybe its our job to point out this stuff. I see this stuff ignored week in and week out. I also understand that I have only began to see this in the last few years. I'm 51.

  6. I do that a lot. In the prison I'll read a text from the OT, one of the horrible parts, and I'll stop and say something like, "Y'all can see the problem with this, right?" So my point isn't that a lack of concern is a good thing, just that it's different. I'd never have to point out that problem in a more educated, liberal setting. The problems are obvious to them.

    But my hesitation here, why I wrote the post, is that I don't want to quickly assume that there is something not malformed about how I am seeing things. I don't want to default into thinking that my liberal offense at the bible needs to be inculcated because I'm seeing things the right way and they are not.

  7. Often times it is the well fed who critique the meal, not the hungry. At least in my experience, it is the "well fed" church-goer that complains about the order of worship, the song selection, the prayer that was 3 min too long, and the sermon that did not inspire. Not to say those on the margins do not come with their own presuppositions of church and scripture but it could possibly be, at least for some, that those on the margins are hungry and therefore do not complain or critique the sustenance that is given.

  8. You bring up a good point that the same text can ring a different tune on the ears of people in different socio-economic/geographic locations. In a class on Luke, we were reading Luke 18-19 and the conversation turned to the "rich ruler" pericope (18.18-30). The professor asked the class for their thoughts on the passage and various attempts were made to make Jesus' words easier on the (privileged) ears of our class (at Duke Divinity). After a while, the professor broke in (paraphrasing): You know, there are some parts of the world where this just sounds like good news. There are those who would hear this passage and not have to do theological gymnastics to make it sound like good news.

    While on a slightly different point than the heart of your post, I think this illustrates further how social location can impact our reading of the text. It could be a lack of unease with some of the more violent passages of Scripture or hearing the blessings of the poor and woes to the rich (Luke 6) as good news, right off the page, no innovative interpretation required. Stimulating reflection, thanks.

  9. Cosmopolitan vs. parochial/tribal may be a better explanation.

    Consider also this distinction: those who are unaccustomed to complaining about overt violence used by the powerful to maintain order versus those who are accustomed only to covert, distant, and indirect violence so used who would readily complain about the overt variety.

  10. Great post. While of course there could be any number of explanations for what's going on with the differences between reading the bible from the margins and reading the bible from a place of privilege, I nonetheless am struck by the light this throws on a number of issues. I've been thinking a lot about the "epistemological privilege of the poor" lately and what that entails - what the ancillary mechanisms (to borrow from your post the other day) are at play when we deploy such a commitment. Regardless of the fact that the "epistemological privilege" easily becomes "epistemological infallibility" of the poor for many, I think it's interesting how liberal theology in general is either unaware or repudiates the vast majority the beliefs and sensibilities of the people actually at the margins. It's the classic bait and switch of liberalism (theologically or politically) - the claim of an emphasis on the "inherent worth and dignity of every individual" but then employs large-scale programs (politically AND theologically) that are essentially a confession that individuals and small communities are either incapable of taking care of themselves (be it through unjust or unfortunate circumstances) or, as especially in the case of liberal theology, they don't actually know what's best for themselves and thus need the machinations of privilege in order to make the situations "right" (educations, political clout, etc).

    In any event, there's a lot to think about at least for me on a personal level. I think it was Andy Crouch who pointed out and analyzed that basically all great social changes for justice are a coming together of the powerful and the oppressed working together. To be an avid reader of this blog basically means that I disagree with the vast majority of the explicit theology that captures the imaginations of the poor and oppressed all over the world. Yet do I not deploy my privileged, patriarchal and parochial worldview by my very disagreement? The comment above by jlh11a captures it nicely above, I think. Ambivalence is indeed an apt word.

  11. I know you do a lot of Bible study with men, I wonder how women would react.
    (And I know as a woman I sometimes don't tell the male leaders exactly how things make me feel)

  12. That's a great point. The prison is all men. The other place I'm talking about is a mixed gender situation. I'm going to check impressions with some friends, men and women, who work with females in marginal contexts.

  13. Since I've been studying UR, I have come to understand that either I have been wrong about some things or that I could be wrong about UR so I assume that the problem could be me!

  14. The horrific parts never bothered me for years. And then I realized I was getting really elitist and religious and judgmental and RIGHT and my relationships struggled. When I began to user my "smarts" get this whole love thing, my relationships improved, appreciation of Jesus became clearer, but the Bible (particularly OT and Revelation) started to concern me for reasons mentioned here. It would be an interesting psychological study on perceptions of love between the liberal educated and the marginal. I would read that.

  15. Just something I wonder. You talk about the "educated folks" or the "priviledged" on the one hand and the "uneducated" or the "poor" on the other hand, like the dividing line is on the intellectual or economic spectrum. I was reading this article from Frank Furedi ( and I wonder if the dividing line isn't more like a cultural construction. This 'wrestling' of the "priviledged" with certain bible passages, isn't this just a wrestling with their own liberal idea of ideal society? While reality has shown sufficiently to the "uneducated" that society isn't ideal, so the 'wrestling' is not with their own ideas, but part of life, so they can accept it?

  16. I certainly agree that liberals can be as biased as conservatives at times.

    But I am neither a liberal nor a conservative but a progressive Christian
    and I consider the terror texts of the Bible as being incompatible with the goodness of God.

    I have a less politically correct interpretation about your findings: maybe those folks are still morally wicked and need the grace of a God who transcends the Bible to get transformed.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe where fundamentalist is almost non-existing.

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn

  17. From my perspective, from the margins, those passages don't bother me because I know my own helplessness. I have to go through life sucking up all kind of casual hatred and iniquities that those more privileged, as they like to call themselves, will never experience. As someone who is invisibly disabled, and correspondingly poor, I have had the modern equivalent of rocks thrown at me by people who consider themselves modern, educated and compassionate. I have to navigate barriers just to find a place to live that most people don't even know exist. If I want to read a newspaper, I have to dig through articles about how people like me are liars, cheats and otherwise deficient. Even the comments here go into how I read the Bible the way I do because I lack critical thinking skills or am still morally wicked.

    So I don't question those passages, because I know that those forces are still at work in the world. I know that we haven't changed much in the last 5,000 years. We just distance ourselves from the dirty work, a luxury our ancestors didn't have. We have set up a system that allows people to benefit from rapacious, exploitative and even violent behavior that they themselves don't personally commit, and the gloat about how their moral or intellectual superiority is what puts them on the right side of that line.

    I have no reason to ask questions about those passages because I live them every day. Probably, the inmates do, too.

  18. Nothing to contribute except my thanks to you and those who've contributed for addressing an issue that has been much on the mind of this rich white educated liberal.

  19. Hi Ann,
    Thanks so much for this. Your experience speaks to what I've noticed. Basically, when physical and/or economic precariousness is a daily reality what we look for from the bible is some validation of our experience and some dignity, to know that we are are seen and beloved. The educated and well-to-do don't need such validation, being as they are on the top of the world, so they have the luxury of being bible critics. They don't need a Word from God. They are self-sufficient.

  20. FWIW, there's nothing particularly wrong with ending a sentence with a verb like "is." It's *prepositions* you shouldn't be ending your sentences with.


  21. I don't know how my gender and socioeconomic status fits into it, but I find as I grow older, the parts of scripture which detail God's wrath and judgment bother me less and less. I think I'm learning that God is simply much more complex than I may be able to comprehend - and that my comprehension of Him is not a prerequisite to trusting Him.

    I'm beginning to grasp that good is not truly good if it does not seek to destroy evil, even while loving those who commit and perpetuate it ... that I am wholly incapable of balancing justice with mercy, yet God cam do so perfectly ... and that what I want to see as loving and right and just from my little perspective may not jibe with His cosmic one at all.

    I understand that we all judge God - and are called to do so by scripture and committed to doing so by our own nature as fallen, self-willed beings. But if at some point we don't give in to the reality that we are completely incapable of judging Him, then we just make everything a lot more difficult for ourselves when it comes to surrending ourselves to trust and faith.

  22. This would be an incredible book project, Richard. I would love to see some sustained thought and research poured into this subject.

  23. Yes, Richard, that's it exactly. I'm not self-sufficient; in fact, I'm dependent on people who really wish I was inspiration porn or dead, and that's a scary place to be. Alongside me are the wounded veterans of every war since Vietnam (at least that's who I meet on the streets) and the survivors of gang wars, so the more brutal aspects of human iniquity aren't far from me, either.

    I do not find the Bible problematic so much as too good to be true. Violence? Genocide? Par for the course. Genuinely unconditional love for those rejected by society? In that, I will probably always struggle to believe. In fact, I would say that that struggle is what defines my Christianity, far more than denomination or doctrinal arguments.

  24. I honestly never blinked at the violent parts growing up. Sometimes I would ask my dad why it was right for God to harden Pharaohs heart, or why Judas can't be saved even though he repented and then killed himself in sorrow. I even asked once why Satan himself could not be saved if he changed his mind. But I don't think I ever once balked at God displaying Machiavellian principles when helping the Nation of Israel conquer the promised land. It has been only since 9/11 and the "God directed" Islam Jihad that had me start taking notice.

  25. Aah truth, it's so offensive! What do we do with it? Worse yet, what do we do with all our offence!?! Maybe we could bury it... hmm maybe we could crucify it first though... then that pesky truth and offence won't come back!

    The truth, which belongs to God, is not going to change, no matter how hideous it's container is. So possibly, we could change what we're offended by? In my short life-time I have crossed the no-mans-land between poverty and the middle class so I sometimes feel and try to articulate the dissonance between my own two realms of experience. Thus, here is my experience-based contribution.

    I don't think the devil bothers being subtle with those who already know him openly. I suspect that his oppression of us wealthy/educated/elite folks is no less intimate, but far better disguised by our own self-righteousness. If you grow up on a holistic picture of 'perfection' that is not Christ, it is a lie, however whole it looks (I'm speaking, here of the goals of western thought: individualism, comfort, wealth, education, and the satisfying answers to every question). You may even consider Christ comparable to that picture and get offended when parts don't match up. However; if you grow up on a picture of evil and see Christ, the contrast is so stark that it doesn't matter how many bits of the picture you can't see yet, because they are so beautifully opposite! Furthermore, your God, in His word, has identified and hated evil with satisfying acuity, to the end that you know he understands your sufferings.

    They are simply such different starting points that I'm not sure they compare well. If one person had only experienced night time and another had only experienced florescent light, who would better accept the reality of sunlight, when exposed to it. Of course they would ask different questions and one may be offended with this new version of light

  26. It suddenly occurred to me this morning, in the light of your reflections on spending time with disenfranchised members of society, that many mainstream Christians have been implicitly encouraged to separate the Bible into 'passages that are there for my benefit' and 'passages that aren't', rejoicing in the blessings of the former and generally overlooking the latter - subtly substituting this notion in place of Paul's advice that scripture is 'useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness'. I think this realisation might help me in my struggle with the violence and murky morality of some of the content. When I'm reading the Bible, I'm there as an invited guest. A rich, white, educated, liberal guest.

  27. Studies (reviewed by Tom Rees at Epiphenom) show that insecurities make people more open to religious beliefs -- any religion. The studies show that these threatened people (either threatened by health, violence or destitute), go to religion for hope. This should be enough to explain the facts, I would think. This shows why Christianity and witchcraft is spreading in Africa and why Buddhism (now permitted) spreads in parts of China.

    However, you are making an empirical claim based on your anecdotal experiences that instead, it is because the insecure don't find Yahweh's horrible stories appalling. This is interesting and would be fascinating to explore. But I can't imagine that this is the reason religion spreads among those you site.

    At the end you ask, should the privileged thus learn not to dismiss Yahweh's horrible use and answer "No." But I would go further and ask, "Should the poor learn how horrible such stories are?" Yes, but the best way is to secure for them safety from ruthless disease, war and economic violence. And no to offer false hope -- although I can understand its use as a temporary bandaid.

  28. Yet it is also important to realize that the Bible is merely an anthology of many writers, not one, which was decided by manipulative political machinations over centuries. You are then, a guest to witness those purposes -- with careful reading.

  29. @ Tommy,
    Interesting. I agree -- 'twas my experience too. Thus I think we notice when we grow enough to see the horrible wrongness in the stories -- when we have enough intellectual and emotion leeway to care. Those suppressed by insecurities of war and poverty (and thus education and security lacking), like children, miss these things only because their minds resonate with very different things at those times.

  30. @Queue_ball,
    From my understand, the rule to not end is a preposition is a Latin rule. It was falsely imposed on English (a Germanic language) by Priests who controlled education for millennia and were schooled in Latin and viewed it as the language of God. Germanic languages allow natural ending in prepositions and other things disdained by the grammar clergy.

  31. @ Dan Heck
    Yeah, that info lies in the back of my head with sources no longer connected -- as with much knowledge.
    I'd have to look, but the linkage I offered sounded reasonable enough. I may look. Meanwhile, do you remember the linkage for the explanation you offered without backup?
    'Tis good to know that we agree with the important fact though, that the grammar taught for centuries has been contrived.

  32. Thanks for sharing your story, Ann. In my own small way, I would echo your conviction: Christianity is not about finding the answers, it's about the struggle for them. Perhaps also, in doing so, the struggle to discover the important questions. Any Douglas Adams fans out there may appreciate the sentiment.

  33. Perhaps this is a case of 'both / and' rather than 'either / or'. Perhaps God does not need everyone to act in perfect conformity to his will in order to reveal something true. Does the cross not suggest this?


  34. Hey Dan,

    I took a peek. It seems that though the righteousness of Latin was indeed due to centuries of priests-religion-industry, John Dryden (who I did not know) was key! Thanks for the name.

    Here is a fun link to a site I enjoy that explains some of this:

  35. Sorry, I'm not a Christian.
    "What the cross suggests" is taken different by all the different Christian sects.
    Similarly, what Mohammed meant or what Buddha meant varies by believer to match what fits with their desires -- virtuous or otherwise

  36. ?"necessarily" true?
    You mean you hope all Christians eventually agree on everything and all Buddhist get their doctrines all in line? Or did you mean you wish everyone would use their religion's doctrines to reinforce virtues?
    I am guessing the later, but didn't want to pretend that I understood.

  37. Sorry for my obliqueness, Sabio. If I'm honest, I was aware we were skirting around some big topics and didn't want to get too deep into issues tangential to RIchard's original post. My own conviction is that there is something truthful about the cross that was foreshadowed and which has since been echoed, but which was original and beyond the wit of humankind. I believe that God reveals himself most fully in that event. I also believe he effected something in that event central to his over-riding purpose of reconciling people to one another and to himself. This is where I have to draw a line between myself and my humanist friends. Whilst I agree (if I've understood you) that much of what is done in the name of religion is self-deception and fear disguised as virtue, I still live in the hope that God's purpose will prevail eventually despite humankind's best efforts to thwart it - both inside and outside faith communities. I hope I've been a little clearer without falling into any philosophical black holes. No doubt Richard will afford us opportunities to revisit some of these in future posts...

  38. I've been thinking about this more, because the topic is so interesting. When I was homeless, I tried to suppress my unease with the wicked aspects of the Bible, feeling that they would vindicate me in my poverty. I think that my embrace of that theology made my homelessness significantly more of a struggle, and have felt liberated by being able to question it. I now view some of the theology that I embraced, out of a commitment to something like Biblical literalism, played an important role in making me fail to be loving during that period. What troubles me about the entire notion of epistemic privilege is that it appears to be respectful of people who face economic and mental health struggles, but ultimately, I think it is insulting. It implies that we don't need to learn and grow, because we can't be wrong, because we are the beknighted poor. By all means, respect us. But respect us as fellow human beings who can be right and who can be wrong, just like you. That is part of what underlies my push-back, below, in some of these (tentative) generalizations; I just don't think they hold all that well anyway.

    Still, I think there is something interesting going on here, in that people who are looking to the Bible to comfort them and to critique their own unjust circumstances are, in that moment, less likely to critique the Bible. As far as I can tell, critique always involves an appeal to an explicit or implicit standard. Something is bad, relative to something else. This leads to interesting and counterintuitive situations, in which people who are criticizing something always seems to have an odd blind spot. The blind spot is the standard. So a group of prisoners who are focused on reforming themselves and who are generally penitent are focused on critiquing themselves, according to the standard of the Bible. It makes sense that this kind of group would not be approaching the Bible critically, because they are approaching themselves critically. Or to take another example: Richard Dawkins seems strangely credulous about the metaphysical capacities of science, and is quite blind to the philosophical problems that even his fellow atheists point out. He is critiquing religion according to a certain understanding of reason, and that understanding of reason is his blind spot. For me, when I critique certain readings of scripture, I am generally critiquing my past self, when I was open to those readings; in this sense, scripture remains the authority for me, but in a different way. I imagine plenty of people have this kind of experience. For example, I imagine plenty of alcoholics who get religion have a period when they are completely uncritical of their religiosity (even a Pharisaic religiosity), because it is helping get them off the sauce. Later, they may become critical of their Pharisaic religiosity; what is interesting to me is what standards they then apply to critique that, and what new blind spots this gives them.

  39. @ Andrew,


    This site has a lot of Universalists -- my favorite type of Christian.

    See my post by that name.

    I think Christians talk past each other often when their theology is different but they are not up front around it but dance around throwing bi or trivalent jargon at each other to stay safe.

    I am a former Christian but am very not-Christian now. So I have no dog in the race in a sense -- except how Christianity negative affects my world (and it does).

    So perhaps you are a Universalist but as I try to untangle what you wrote and put it in plain language. I will type what I hear you saying you believe and put in brackets my questions.

    (1) a god controls the world and eventually will make something good happen [theodicy problems abound there -- for an intervening god]

    (2) you believe your god "reveals himself most fully" in the Jesus story/event. [odd: I wonder why you believe that all other supposed revelations of your god all over the planet over all time must be inferior to the one you focus on?]

    On another point, you misunderstood me. I think both good and evil are done with religion. But essentially people do good or evil (to be overly simply) and rationalize with theological stuff (believers) or with non-theological rationals (religion-free folks). Essentially, we all do the same thing.

  40. I mentioned that I notice now what others see and I think I understand why they see these parts as truly horrible. They don't offend me as they offend others. As Richard pointed out, those parts look very much like this world. So because a nation coming out of exile in Babylon, if we wish to be liberal about it, or one being freed from slavery in Egypt, wishes to make its neighbor fear its God by attributing such horrors to Him, who am I to judge. I do not put modern man on such a pedestal to think we would not do the same thing if we thought it would fly today.

  41. I think you Googled up the linkage as well as I could, regarding John Dryden. I enjoyed the link :)

  42. Thanks for sharing this. I don't know if you took my post as suggesting that you lack critical thinking skills, but that was certainly not my intent. Just in case, I changed the post to clarify what I was saying. Also, your comment spurred a ton of additional thought on this topic for me. So double-thanks, and apologies if I miscommunicated in any way :)

  43. As a Christian, our picture of God is revealed in a non-violent Christ. The Jews were expecting the conquering Yahweh written in their history, Jesus overturned that and was put to death partly for it. The scriptures will not be broken, so I revere the OT for the truth of this world that one can and does find there. But I see my Lord through the lens of Christ. I also read the Bible through the lens of a modern man, the world that these books were written are at least culturally, a million miles away. I don't pretend I will ever understand everything written in them. But I do understand healed lives, answered prayed and the love a community can show for one another if they choose to follow the example of Christ. That is very real to me. That is what is real to those on the margins of society. The privileged may have a tougher time seeing that since they may not feel the need for healing and prayer as much as those who are in greater need.

  44. Thank you. You gave a name to something that has been bugging me recently, but I couldn't quite grasp it. You've given me a new direction to search for the fullness of what I'm somehow missing.

  45. I'm a Douglas Adams fan myself, so it's a sentiment I greatly appreciate.

    You've given me a really good way to articulate how I read the Bible: It's a book of questions, not a book of answers.

  46. Thanks for sharing your further thoughts and your experience. It gave your comment a new level of meaning.

    What I originally saw in it, though, wasn't so much a personal criticism, it was a reflection of a common narrative that blames those in difficult straits for being there due to personal deficiency, like a deficiency of critical thinking for example. Truth is, everyone's critical thinking has blind spots, and tends to break down or become incredibly selective under stress. That's as human as our bones breaking, but if you're terminally poor, you tend to hear personal deficiency to your face from time to time. At that point, it becomes personal, but you're not in my face. :)

    Your literalism period reminds me a bit of my Pagan period, which happened because I am related to the kind of Christians who make the news by being jerks loudly in public, and was raised to believe that they were that way because they were stupid. No such thing, as far as my family is concerned, as a truly educated, intelligent Christian. I wasn't strong enough to stand up to that kind of criticism, but still needed the structure, ritual and spirituality. It would be easy to say to myself that that time is something I should be ashamed of, but it's more the cognitive equivalent of twisting my ankle on a rock while trying to avoid stepping too close to something venomous. We break sometimes, but because we're fragile, not because we're deficient. That's my take on it anyway.

  47. So if I understand correctly, Tommy, your Christianity sees Yahweh and Jesus as having very different temperaments. Seeing God through Yahweh and seeing it through Christ would then be different ways of seeing God for you, no? How about seeing through the Holy Spirit -- the third person of the trinity? Maybe you aren't a trinitarian. There are so many different sorts of Christians.

    Theology aside, you have a certain view of Jesus, just like some do of Krishna or Buddha, and it inspires you. I am glad you have an example to follow.

  48. Thanks for your response, Sabio. Again, I agree with much of what you say. And apologies for misunderstanding you on some points. I hate feeling misunderstood but this seems to be one of the necessary evils of the blog medium.

    Your questions are examples of precisely the type I was avoiding! I value your questions, but I'm not sure we're going to argue one another into a different viewpoint without a lot more time and wider discussion.

    I'd be interested to know more about your journey from faith to (if I've understood you correctly) atheism, as well as the on-going negative impact of Christianity in your life, if you felt able to share something of these stories.

  49. Well except that those violent passages have often been used to exploit the poor and marginalized an to keep them in line. And when you grow up in a society where violence and poverty are normal, why would you question the violent horrible parts in the Bible? Furthermore, what happens when the poor and unprivileged are given the tools to question those Bible verses? What will happen if perhaps they begin to question the necessity of violence and exploitation in the Bible? Maybe they will then begin to question the necessity of violence and exploitation in the culture at large. And then what will happen? Perhaps the status quo that divides people into poor and marginalized and educated and privileged will begin to fall.

  50. As someone who grew up in poverty and in an abusive household and neighborhood, violence whether physical, verbal, or mental was the norm. It was an accepted part of life an of course God's violence and the violence in the Bible was understandable. It was a way of life. As I begin to question that violence, first on my own and then as I was able to become more "educated" I began to see how violence and exploitation was not only something that happened but viewed as divinely instituted. Perhaps for white privileged people, it simply is something that's uncomfortable. But for those of us who grew up in poverty and violence, those verses in the Bible mean something more. They represent our marginalization. They represent our exploitation. They represent how some lives are worthless than the others. And of course we choose not only to speak out but to change how the bible is used as a tool of oppression.

  51. I'm a Hispanic, bisexual, woman who grew up in poverty. The Bible has been used as a tool of oppression and perhaps for those who have been born into privilege, it never gets past the questioning stage. But for those of us who have been on the receiving end of Biblical abuse, the path to healing and to gaining our voices starts with criticizing the very tool that is being used for our exploitation. That's how we gain our voices. Look at the womanist movement, the liberation movement, when those on the margins begin to question the Bible and the violence in it, we begin to critique the status quo and demand changes. That's why I am passionate about ensuring that others in marginalized positions are given that opportunity. Because when those on the receiving end of oppression begin to question and critique things begin to change.

  52. As someone said on a FB thread: Poor people lead real lives---like the lives the bible talks about. Privileged people have "help" who come in and clean stuff up, or go out and commit mayhem for them. they rarely come into direct contact with anything "messy". They like to wear condoms when they have sex, sleep through the birth of any babies who make it past the condoms and be in hospital when they die.

  53. If I could cite the discussion of Benedict, some of this goes back to the practices of stability. The sort of objections that come up with my educated background are invariably the kind where I want to put myself in control. I want to find some spiritual utility in them, some "meaning." The more I read, the more I confess that I don't know how to read such texts. I can do is sit there with them. Like I said, stability: I'm not going to go anywhere, and the text is not about to leave me either.

  54. John Dryden invented the rule in 1672, He converted to Catholicism in 1685. I don't know if he repudiated his grammatical error when he converted.

  55. It must be a sign of my advancing age that I didn't finish my comment!

    With the question, "Does age factor into the perceptional difference about violence in the Bible?"

  56. I think the author hit the nail on the head. I lean left, but it's ridiculous how much liberals forget that our western values are only possible because of the Bible. Christians built the first universities where God is now mocked. God appeals to those who are on the fringes of society, because the idea that Jesus loves them gives their souls peace.

  57. Thank you, Richard. I appreciate this. One thing that I see about the Old Testament is that much of it was written in the context Assyrian and Babylonian domination. I cannot relate to what went on then, but knowing that helps me to understand the sometimes gruesome biblical pictures.

  58. Hi Dan. This is extremely thoughtful and insightful. What a brilliant write up! You are an inspiration to me. At first I almost adhered to the stereo typing of West vs Eastern thinking in this artical , but your observations about poor Scandinavian people is brilliant critical thinking.


  59. Wow Andrew and Sabio. I love this honest, respectful discussion going on here. I wish I knew people like you in life :) I'm so glad to know there are people like both of you out there, and asking the right questions. I agree with both your point if views.

    God Bless.

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