Saturday 28 February 2015

Unbiblical Thoughts

I've kept my Lent vows for the past week, of reading five verses every day. So far I'm reading Psalms. Some time ago I started at Genesis, and on various occasions have read through enough to get to Psalms. At this rate I'll reach the New Testament sometime in the next decade.

I'm not sure what effect I expected this would have on me. So far, it's mostly confirming me in my commitment to Unitarianism, because if I had to believe every single word of the Bible was the literal divine truth of God's interactions with human beings, I'd wind up at the state of mind aptly summed up as "I absolutely believe in God, and I absolutely hate the bastard".

Mine is the Newcomer's Good News edition of the Bible, which is an excellent Bible version to own if you're reading it for the first time. Simple and clear English, with illustrations, footnotes, and helpful summaries of Biblical history at the front and end. I'm happy to own it, but alas, every time I come across a note at the start (which I have no doubt the author sincerely believed when they wrote it, and probably still does) which mentions how the chapter in question highlights God's constant love for his people, or the unchanging truth about human nature, the little sceptical voice that drove me out of my previous churchgoing pipes up with "Only if you have a very bleak view of human nature".

I can't fault the author's of my Bible's edition for their commitment to their beliefs, but after concerted reading of the Old Testament, you begin to wonder what an edition of the Bible would look like if annotated according to modern sensibilities. It could begin with a list at the start of each chapter:
"No. of times God orders the Israelites to slaughter an entire people, down to their children and animals = 2"
"No. of times a man kills another man who raped his sister over the insult to his family's honour = 1" "No. of times women are described as prostitutes = 3".
"This chapter should be noted for the exceptionally bloody bride price King David paid for his first wife, Saul's daughter." (200 foreskins, freshly hacked from the corpses of dead Phoenician soldiers. David was the one who made them dead.)
And so forth.

And yet, the Old Testament contains the tale of Ruth, and the love between two women. It contains the Song of Songs, some of the best erotic poetry ever written. (My edition, rather sweetly, notes that this can be considered as a metaphor for the love between God and his people. I cannot be the only person down the ages who has thought "....really?") It contains the book of Ecclesiastes, the author of whom would be on my "list of people to invite to a drinking party".

Religion really isn't easy or straightforward. It's not comfortable, either.

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