Unbelievers and the Good Book

Atheists have, it’s always seemed to me, a strange relationship to the bible. They veritably obsess about it. And there are two things about it they want everyone to know: first, the religious stuff in it, creation especially but also the miracles, the talk from god and angels and whatnot, and don’t get them started on the resurrection, who in their right mind would believe that shit? second, biblical morality, it’s got so many repugnant elements that no right thinking person could stand on the side of this very influential text, adulteress stoning, weird dietary proscriptions, circumcision, and Paul’s assertion that slaves accept their lot, and so on.

One of my projects for the summer is a thorough analysis of atheist hermeneutics. But for now I merely introduce the topic. In the last week or so, atheist bloggers have got bible interested again because the British government has decided that it should celebrate the 400th anniversary of the KJV by putting a copy in every library in the islands. Atheists, funny enough, applaud.

PZ Meyers agrees with atheist legend Richard Dawkins that this is a good thing, within limits;

The Bible really is a great evangelical tool for atheists. It is such a wicked book of lies and bad advice that it handily discredits Christian claims of righteousness.

He goes a little too far, though, declaring it a great work of literature, and I have to disagree with that. Fragments of the book are excellent, but the bulk of it is simply awful, incoherent stuff, on a par with Twilight novels and fascist propaganda. It’s simply been hallowed by tradition and history, but really…we should be able to do better.

But like Professor D, Professor P is on side with this:

I have an ulterior motive for wishing to contribute to Gove’s scheme. People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality. This mistaken view may have motivated the “millionaire Conservative party donors”. I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem. The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.

I find it extraordinary that they think that more bible reading will serve their purposes. Seems to me that more bible reading puts more Philips in the world. That’s to say, and I can’t be anything but in favour, if you drive thoughtful people to the good book, they are no more likely to dismiss it than they are to dismiss our other cultural artefacts, Shakespeare, Plato, Augustine, add to this list as you please.

I’m not a fan of the bible, but that’s just an aesthetic thing. Dismissing it on epistemological and moral grounds is base.


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