Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

February 9, 2014

This reverent movie by Pier Paolo Pasolini, a gay Communist atheist, shows the intrinsic interest of the Bible to non-believers and believers alike.

Click on The Gospel According to St. Matthew for an introduction to this movie by Roger Ebert.

Click on We Are All Living Pasolini’s Theorem for an appreciation of Pier Paolo Pasolini by Pepe Escobar.

Hat tip to Steve Badrich.

Does anybody still read the Bible?

February 2, 2014


My old friend Steve, who teaches English at a community college, says most of his students have incredibly detailed knowledge of the origin myth of Spider-Man, but draw a blank when asked about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   He thinks this is a big gap in their education, and I agree.

The decline of Biblical literacy is not limited to the young or the poorly educated.  I know people who are fascinated by Reza Aslan’s Zealot or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code who do not read the Gospels for themselves.  My experience is that the main groups of people who study the Bible intensely are hard-core Protestant Christian fundamentalists  who are trying to follow it and hard-core atheists (or rather anti-theists) who are trying to debunk it.

The American Bible Society did a national survey of what they call Bible-mindedness, based on the percentage of people who told a pollster they had read the Bible within the past seven days.   The chart above shows how American cities rank in Bible-mindedness (my own city, Rochester, NY, is 83rd of 100), but does not show how Bible-minded they are; that is, it doesn’t show the percentage of Bible readers in each city or in the nation as a whole.

I think it is too bad that so many Americans haven’t read the Bible because:

  • The Bible is the key to understanding American and English literature.  Without Biblical literacy, you can’t understand expressions such as “forbidden fruit” or “prodigal son”.
  • The Bible is one of the two foundations, along with the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome, of American and European culture.  The heritage and values of the Bible mold the thinking even of people who don’t believe in it.
  • The Bible is so damn interesting.


If you take the Bible literally…

January 12, 2014

My friend Bill Elwell e-mailed me this quote by Marilynne Robinson, a Christian novelist whom I greatly admire.

marilynne-robinson41People who insist that the sacredness of Scripture depends on belief in creation in a literal six days seem never to insist on a literal reading of “to him who asks, give,” or “sell what you have and give the money to the poor.”

In fact, their politics and economics align themselves quite precisely with those of their adversaries, who yearn to dis-burden themselves of the weak, and to unshackle the great creative forces of competition.

The defenders of “religion” have made religion seem foolish while rendering it mute in the face of a prolonged and highly effective assault on the poor.

I am wary of overgeneralizing.  I would never say that Biblical fundamentalists as a group fail to follow Jesus’s teaching about giving to the poor.   I’d guess, for example, that there are Creationists in the Salvation Army, which does as much to help poor people as any organization I know, and whose political and social program, if enacted, would make the world a better place.

I recall that, 15 or so years ago, I was part of a team of volunteers for Catholic Family Services, helping resettle refugees from other lands in their new home in Rochester, N.Y.  I am a Unitarian Universalist, our team leader was a Lutheran woman and our other team members were an Irish Catholic women and a born-again Christian man, with amazing stories about people whose lives were transformed overnight by a single revival meeting.   We worked together very well.

All that said, I think we all have encountered the type of person to which Marilynne Robinson refers.  If the shoe fits, put it on.


An atheist draws moral lessons from Bible stories

April 14, 2013

Herb Silverman, a retired professor of mathematics who lives in Charleston, S.C., is founder and past president of the Secular Coalition for America, which defends and promotes atheism.  He once ran for governor of South Carolina to challenge that state’s constitutional provision barring atheists from holding public office.

Openly being an atheist in the United States still takes moral courage, unless you’re in an academic or intellectual enclave shielded from society at large.  Atheists are subject to religious discrimination and even, in some places, physical violence.

Silverman was here in Rochester, N.Y., last week to address the Rochester Russell Set and promote his new book, Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt.  One part of the book I liked was Chapter 12, in which he tells the moral lessons that he as an atheist draws from well-known Bible stories.

The Creation of Eve

Herb Silverman

Herb Silverman

Humans and other species are social animals.  Solitude has its rewards, but do does the company of others.  It’s good to associate with people whose values you share.  Learn about other kinds, but recognize those with whom you can communicate well and trust.

Adam, Eve and the Snake

God makes blind obedience the supreme virtue, assuming ignorance is bliss.  God either lied or was mistaken when he said humans would die on the day they received knowledge.  So don’t blindly believe, even if you pay a price for independent thought.  Better to have freedom without a guarantee of security than to have security without freedom.

Cain and Abel

The first worship ceremony is followed immediately by the first murder, which shows we must not put our love and worship of a God above our love for human beings, especially when God’s favoritism can be so arbitrary.  Cain belatedly learns that humans should look out for one another, making each of us our brother and sister’s keeper.  God recognizes his culpability in the first murder, and puts a mark on Cain as a sign to those he meets that they must now do to Cain what Cain did to Abel.

Noah and the Flood

God learns that his expectations for humans were unrealistic and genocide solves nothing.  Never indiscriminately destroy the innocent along with the guilty.  God should have been concerned about a compliant Noah who showed no empathy for the lives of others.  Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser, even with 600 years of experience.

The Tower of Babel

Leaders must not become as insecure as God, who prevented others from cooperating and moving upward together.  Also, there is value in diversity.  Each of us must decide when to go along with the crowd and when to set out on a road not taken.

Sodom and Gomorrah

CandidateWithoutaPrayerAbraham is morally superior to Noah, since he tried to talk God out of mass destruction.  It takes courage to stand up to authority, especially one bent on genocide.  God teaches the value of looking forward to a fresh start without dwelling on the past, but what he did to Lot’s wife for a brief look backward was, shall we say, overkill.  People in new and frightening environments are likely to act in ways formerly unthinkable.  Lot’s motherless daughters, believing all other men dead, chose what they thought was the most practical path for the survival of the species—make love, not war.

The Binding of Isaac

God tests Abraham, who fails the test.  Nobody should commit an atrocity, no matter who makes the request.  Abraham’s willingness to kill his son creates a dysfunctional family.  Neither Abraham’s son Isaac nor his wife Sarah ever speak to Abraham again in the Bible.  It is better to do good than have faith.

Jacob and Esau

We shouldn’t prey on the weaknesses of family members, as Jacob and Rebekah did.  On the other hand, a future leader should be a thinker and planner like Jacob, rather than prone to foolish choices, as Esau was.  Esau makes the wise decision to forgive his brother, rather than seek revenge.  Violence breeds violence.

Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors

As often occurs in families, Jacob picks up some of the bad habits of his father, and suffers for opening preferring one child over another.  We learn about degrees of horrendous behavior, with Judas appearing the most reasonable brother because he favors selling Joseph into slavery instead of killing him.  Joseph, similarly, feels the need to torment his brothers before eventually disclosing his identity and dropping trumped-up charges.  We learn in this fable not to flaunt a favored status, as Joseph does, and not to overreact with envy, as Joseph’s brothers do.

Judah, Onan and Tamar

Marriages arranged by authority figures for the sole purpose of increasing property can lead to death and destruction.  Couples should be honest with each other about their sexual relationships, which Onan was not.  Judah, at least, is willing to admit his error when confronted with proof.  Tamar is the most admirable character because she is not a hypocrite and attains her goal the only way possible in a culture ruled by men.

Click on Secular Coaltion for America for that organization’s web page.