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.