I am a Christian. And as a Christian it is no secret that I read the literature that grounds Christianity itself, which would be the Bible (among other things). I try to read the Bible as often as I can, sometimes with my wife, and other times by myself. However, this seems to puzzle non-believers for the very reason that I adhere to and accept most of what the scholarly consensus says about the Bible. That is, I believe certain parts of scripture to be legend, myth, fiction, and fabrication. More than this, I recognize that certain parts of scripture are barbaric, primitive, misogynist, and downright immoral. Hence, some wonder why I would waste my time with a piece of writing that should be considered nothing but the result of primitive superstition and historical fabrication. Why not pair such writings with other primitive myths like The Odyssey, and call it a day?
I maintain that such a mindset is just as wrong-headed as the Christian fundamentalism that regards these same writings as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. It’s not as if the only two alternatives with regards to scripture are to uphold it as the inerrant Word of God, or else delegate it to the trash—and only those still stuck in such a fundamentalist mindset would think otherwise. I, and many others, can cherish the Bible without needing to view it as having been handed down by God, and I can criticize it without needing to view it as nothing but superstitious sophistry. So, let me articulate exactly why I still give the Bible the time of day.
First, let it be known that, Bible or no Bible, I believe and hope in the existence of God. I believe in God for many different reasons, some philosophical and others not. With that in mind I believe it is man’s highest duty to submit himself to the divine; that is, to submit one’s being to the source of being; to submit one’s love to love itself. Therefore I find it quite rational to pay attention to and take note of those who have done this very thing. This includes, but is obviously not limited to, most of the tradition of Christianity and the Bible. For while I don’t agree with all that is affirmed in these traditions, such disagreement is hardly warrant for ignoring them. Thom Stark articulates my point:
[To ignore the parts we disagree with in scripture] is to hide from ourselves a potent reminder of the worst part of ourselves. Scripture is a mirror. It mirrors humanity, because it is as much the product of human beings as it is the product of the divine. When we peer into the looking glass and see the many faces of God, we see ourselves among them. The mirror reflects our doubt and our mediocrity. It mirrors our best and worst possible selves. It shows us who we can be, both good and evil, and everything in between.
Therefore, as a believer in God, I identify with those who took up the task of writing scripture. I identify with their struggle to comprehend and interpret the divine. This struggle is my own, and all of ours. The Bible is a dialogue, made up of many different perspectives and voices. There is the pessimism of Ecclesiastes, the accusations leveled against God in the book of Job, the prayers of the Psalmists, the hope of restoration in Isaiah, the selflessness of Jesus, etc. Many forget that these dialogues are some of the same dialogues that we continue to have today: Is life meaningless? What is God doing about suffering? Is there a life beyond this life? Etc.
Now some might claim that such speculations are themselves a waste of time and subsequently meaningless. We have, they might say, no reason to believe in God or the afterlife any more than we have reason to believe in fairies, or the flying spaghetti monster. Yet, the one who claims such things is, I believe, making the same mistake that the Christian fundamentalist makes: assuming that we have certainty of such a position one way or another. I don’t believe that we have the certainty one way or another to say God does or does not exist, or that life continues after death, or that suffering is part of God’s plan. Existence is too ambiguous; life is too obscure. Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe there is positive evidence in favor of many of my beliefs, but I would not claim that this evidence is irresistibly overwhelming.
So, for the most part, I hope in the existence of God and the afterlife etc. (Some might retort that this is simply wishful thinking. But, this might only be the case if I claimed that my hopes made it so, of which I do not claim.) Hence my hope in the aforementioned warrants interaction with the literature and traditions that also employ and discuss the same hope. That is to say, I continue to interact with scripture because the hope that resonates with me was also expounded and wrestled with in scripture. And this is why I identify with scripture, and read it.