30 Day Book Challenge: Day Eighteen

Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like: The Bible

While there are still radical minorities that possess an ever increasingly smaller but vicious power – enough to achieve petty ends like banning Harry Potter from school boards in the Bible Belt or assassinating Doctors who run abortion clinics like rats in the night –  as far as I’m concerned, we’re living a secular world. I’m reminded of that fact whenever I hear hacks like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, and David Cross positioning themselves as the voice(s) of the new “atheists.” Atheism, once a radical philosophical movement lead by the likes of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, has made its way into the mainstream, as evidenced by the way in which the mediocrity of mainstream has seeped into it.

Do I believe in God? As I’ve said before, I’m sure, God isn’t a thing for me so much as it is a question. I certainly don’t believe in an anthropomorphic figure that watches our every move. Nor do I believe in an afterlife, at least not a reward/punishment version of it. God is a myth, and I don’t mean that in a dismissive or pejorative sense. I believe in God insofar as it is a metaphor for the force or vitality behind reality. Throughout history, we have created various figures to represent the pervasive vitality of life: the ebbing and flowing of the ages; the rebirth and return of the seasons; the immutable yet variegated laws of nature.

Anthropologists and psychoanalysts identify micro and macro aspects of mythology. The macro are the archetypes that span across all cultures regardless of time and space. On the other hand, the micro are the unique differences represented by the ways in which the collective unconscious is manifested by specific cultures that are identified by time and space. For example, there are many similarities between Christ and Buddha, but there are also subtle differences. They are figures or metaphors developed by different cultures, articulating the collective unconscious.

When you accept or reject religion literally, you miss the point. However, when you approach it figuratively (that is to say as metaphors), an impossibly rich universe unfolds. Reading The Bible from this perspective, one is confronted by both incredible beauty and sublimity, but also the grotesque and profane. You are confronted by the human condition.

The history of our civilizations are embodied in our religious texts. From an anthropological perspective, it’s fascinating. A micro reading illuminates the ancient world and the laws they created in order to uphold some form of society. However, a society’s mythology must keep up with its science, or else it passes into antiquity. This is where we are today. The Old Testament is simply not relevant to our metaphysics. We know the world wasn’t created in 7 days. We know the world is older than a couple thousand years. Moreover, we have a much more nuanced code of ethics than “don’t do these things or else God will punish you.” So why don’t we just through the whole thing out?

Firstly, I have to admit that I’m a fan of The New Testament. My interpretation has always been that when Christ comes along he basically says, “don’t make ethical decisions because you fear the consequences, do them out of love for yourself and your fellow person.” I’m sure there are those more versed in The Bible who can argue with me on that point, but that’s what I gleamed from growing up Catholic and my own half-hearted attempts to read the damn thing.

I also think there are incredibly beautiful passages in The Old Testament and some fascinating metaphors. Just read Genesis, Exodus, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes, and you’ll see.

(FYI Stephen Colbert is a devout Catholic)

cheers,

-B

p.s. here are some brilliant interpretations of The Bible from renowned Theologian Brad Neely

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~ by braddunne on August 6, 2011.

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