Bible readers, don’t check your brains at the door.

Closeup of a happy young woman smiling isolated on white backgro

Remember Hansel and Gretel? They ate the gingerbread house and got captured by a witch who wanted to bake them in the oven. Would the readers of that text expect that the Brothers Grimm wanted them to kill all witches by baking them? If I told you a story about a rapist who got away, does that mean I approve of rapists? Does the author of World War Z think that’s the way the world should be, overrun with zombies?

The answer to all these questions is no. Now, what if these stories were a part of a religious text; would the answer change? No. Yet, there are some people who say that it would. These people check their brains at the door and seek to obey whatever the text says. But, if you keep your brains with you as you read, you realize we all bring some things to the text with us, such as knowledge of how to be a good human. Although some are better at that than others. Just because something is a religious text doesn’t relieve us if the responsibility of doing the hard work of identifying what is good and bad in the story.

The Old Testament should be approached in the same way. The Bible contains a story of a man who killed his girlfriend, shopped her in twelve pieces, and sent them to the twelve tribes of Israel. Did the author approve of this? Solomon had 700 wives. Is that OK? A man sacrificed his daughter to God. Should we emulate that?

The answer to all these questions is no. But, that’s because I don’t check my brains at the door. We must all do the hard thinking and decide what’s good or bad in these stories. What, if anything, applies to me? Who was it written to? Because it was written to them do I have to follow it? Why was the practice of slavery given guidelines which eventually stopped it instead of stopping it right away?

The point is that the stories in the Bible are complicated and should be allowed to challenge our thinking. Just because something is in them doesn’t mean it should be emulated. Just try to follow “an eye for an eye” and “turn the other cheek.” Both can’t be done at the same time. The former may be appropriate in certain legal circumstances and the latter is something that will cause you to be taken advantage of every time you practice it.

If the reader of the Bible is looking for principles to live his life by, he would do better to emulate the life of Jesus. He was a good human. After all, that’s what we are really trying to be. Some of the same principles can be found in Old Testament passages, but it takes more work to figure them out. Just don’t check your brains at the door.



9 thoughts on “Bible readers, don’t check your brains at the door.

  1. Don’t check your brain at the door?

    Dangerous advice for believers. There’s a very good chance that what follows is the first step towards atheism!

      1. Oh, Dan. Here you go again making claims as if true simply because you believe they are true. Atheism is ignorance?


        I have to keep saying it: reality is not friendly to your beliefs.

        If atheism were based on ignorance as you so blithely assert, then we should find at least a correlation between atheism and a lack of religious knowledge to back it up.

        We don’t.

        In fact, we find a strong correlation with increased knowledge.

        Bummer for you. Evidence for me.

      2. I didn’t say atheism was ignorance. What is ignorant, however, is when atheists say that Christians ought to follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament or stone homosexuals. Clearly, they can’t tell what applies to Christians and what does not. And it’s no wonder that the atheist is an atheist if that’s what they think the Bible is telling a Christian to do. The atheist, in that case, simply does not know how to read the Bible.

      3. How to read the bible? Is it in some kind of secret code?

        What’s obvious is that you pick and choose which bits to hold as literal and which bits to wave away as metaphorical but in need of special interpretation. The problem atheists encounter is that there is no legitimate means you have to differentiate which is which… except by an a priori assumption to make certain beliefs fundamental FIRST… and this is wholly an act of imposing a predigested faith-based belief on reality (in the name of piety empowered by some coincidental yet divinely sanctioned personal revelation) and then reassembling it to present the veneer of divine knowledge (such a gift!) through the ‘correct’ and/or proper interpretation. You presume you have some divinely inspired insight into which bits are representative of your divinely sanctioned model of reality you call your faith and which bits are in need of your special divinely sanctioned interpretation. How convenient.

        Atheists see through this obvious charade, this self-deluding self-aggrandizement of assuming one is the recipient of this divine agent’s ‘grace’ and ‘blessing’ to be so favoured with such insight. Of course, others can also be so favoured (aren’t we ‘true’ believers ever so humble?) only so long as they, too, agree with our divinely sanctioned insights… insights magically endowed that allow us to separate the biblical wheat from the biblical chaff.

        You pretend you gain this ability by studying the Bible. That’s a load of bunk and atheists find this out when they, too, study the Bible (or any scripture). They find out that believers cherry pick which bits they like and which bits to discard and see that believers have no means to differentiate other than by the presumptions they bring to it. That’s why they know claims about ‘knowledge’ derived from the Bible is a fiction… because most of us atheists know the Bible because we’ve read it. And that’s why so many of us turn to it and urge others to read… it in order to swell the ranks of atheists.

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