April 20th, 2011
01:00 AM ET
My Take: Learn about the Bible, even if you don't believe it
Editor's Note: Kristin Swenson, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time.
By Kristin Swenson, Special to CNN
"True Grit's" stern little girl Mattie - shoot, the Coen Brothers’ entire movie - dramatizes a single line of biblical text. And the way the film interprets that particular text makes that biblical verse directly related to the governor of Illinois' recent decision to ban the death penalty, a decision which was reportedly informed by the Bible.
The movie’s and the Illinois governor’s conclusions - about capital punishment in this case - are exactly opposite. While Mattie's justice requires death for the man who killed her dad, the governor's has no place for such execution. Yet both have biblical precedent.
So knowing about the Bible not only makes the movies more fun and enables critique of public policy, but it also paradoxically encourages you to think for yourself.
The Bible's long history of development, reflecting many voices, and the fact that it’s usually read in translation invite our engagement with it not merely as passive recipients of a fixed meaning but as unique individuals bringing different points of view to bear.
The trick, of course, is knowing something about the Bible, even if you don’t believe in it. And the more you know, the more intriguing it gets.
If you're not biblically literate, you can get along all right, but you're missing out. It's like a cocktail party with raucous conversation. You're invited, but until you know something about the Bible, you'll be stuck talking about the weather at the punch bowl.
Yes, "True Grit" is entertaining no matter what, and you can take Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn at his word that his death penalty decision has biblical basis, but each invites a deeper understanding. And together, they reflect the Bible's ambivalence - in this case about crime and punishment.
"The wicked flee when none pursueth," a line from Proverbs 28:1, hangs auspiciously on the screen at the beginning of "True Grit."
Knowing that Hebrew (the original language of Proverbs) creates its poetry out a system of parallel lines, might lead you to check out the line after the one quoted in True Grit: "but the righteous are as bold as a lion."
Linking the criminals' running to the boldness of a lion, the biblical verse suggests a world in which courageous good guys chase down the yellow-bellied bad with the same determination, cunning and strength as the king of beasts.
That's our Mattie, at 14 years old a cub, but single-minded in her quest to bring to justice the man who killed her father. Mattie is "the righteous," of course, and the justice she seeks is death.
Because the Bible is sacred scripture, authoritative and instructive for millions of people, many people believe, like Mattie, that certain criminals should be put to death because of what it says.
After all, the Torah, or "law," prescribes execution in several specific cases, including murder.
Yet Illinois Gov. Quinn is said to have consulted the Bible while wrestling with his decision to abolish the death penalty. What gives?
People looking to the Bible for a single, clear, yes-or-no answer about the death penalty will be disappointed, just as they are when seeking a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to abortion or environmental ethics.
For one thing, another translation of torah is "instruction." So maybe those "laws" shouldn't be taken so literally.
Indeed, while the Bible allows for all sorts of killing and would seem to demand criminal execution in certain cases, it also commands "thou shalt not kill/murder," identifies God as the only ultimate judge, and praises forgiveness and mercy.
I don't know Quinn, but I suspect he knows enough about the Bible to know that he also had to think for himself. He wisely considered that our human systems, justice included, are imperfect - and that the wrong person might be pegged for a capital crime.
Knowing about the Bible, no matter what you believe, enables you see not only why Quinn would settle on the ban but also why it was such a difficult decision: sometimes the Bible says different things.
"God said it, I believe it, that settles it," is available for bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, and posters. Yet the Bible's multiplicity of voices and complex history invite you to learn more and in the process to add your own voice, thoughts, and deliberations to the conversation.
First, though, you’ve got to learn about it.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kristin Swenson.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
I believe in God, you believe in science. If I’m wrong I’m just dead, but if your'e wrong you got problems ~ I'm just saying
JJ, what if you believe in the wrong god? What if the Torah is the only truth? Or the Koran? Or something else entirely? I'm just saying . . .
I believe in my creator.
Achary S has some really good books on this subject.Anyone with an open mind who wants to know the truth should go here and check it out. http://www.truthbeknown.com/
I would rather have Faith in the Lord than Barry.
Atheists are less likely to feel remorse for crimes committed and are more likely to become repeat offenders than theists. Thats a red flag in my mind. When I ask people for a quick bio I ask for religion and if the answer is atheist I respond in a hostile manner.
"When I ask people for a quick bio I ask for religion and if the answer is atheist I respond in a hostile manner.'
We couldn't find a better example of religious hypocrisy.
Your statement is very untrue and close minded.A person does not have to believe in the bible or any form of religion to feel remorse.It is actually the exact opposite.Most people in prison today will identify as a christian or catholic.
If you would pay attention to news you would realize that the statistics point out that Atheists make up the lowest numbers in the prison system today, not only the lowest numbers but the lowest numbers RATIO wise too. Facts are fun huh?
So, no turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor, or any of that pesky libral crap that jesus taught? Just the good old religious indignation and hostility. That'll bring people to you.
Mike wrote: "When I ask people for a quick bio I ask for religion and if the answer is atheist I respond in a hostile manner."
By way of contrast: I don't ask for religion, but if someone makes it obvious that they're religious, I just feel sorry for them for they're obviously incapable of thinking.
As for your assertion that "atheists are less likely to feel remorse for crimes committed and are more likely to become repeat offenders than theists" – your bias is clearly getting in the way of any rational thought process or any study of history.
and watch as you are repeatedly punched in the face. that's real "Christian tolerence" for ya eff everyone that doesn't conform to YOUR ideals.
Is that the Christian thing to do, Mike?
CNN finally published a very very good article. This shows the truth of bible and it indeed contains Gods own words. World would have been a better place if more people with Phd(like Kristin Swenson) works on bible. It also shows CNNs christian suppport as it deosn't ppublish anything like this about other religion.
Oh joy a religious article on the Internet - gee I wonder of any flame wars will start on the discussion forum for this article? Nah...un-possible everyone believes in all the same stuff and if they don't they have the utmost respect for everyone else that thinks differently - don't they? 🙂
I learned many moons ago certain topics to discuss online is just a waste of time and energy...religion is at the top of that list. I personally do believe in God, I have a lot of questions about the bible - and it is confusing at times...but that's why I keep asking questions to those I know and trust who also believe. Beyond me confessing to you that tidbit of information – I will not argue about how God is a fairy tale or a "Magic Bearded Cloud Wizard" as some non-believers like to say. We have the right to chose our beliefs for ourselfs and unless what I believe causes me to directly cause YOU or your family harm - why does it matter to you so much if you think I'm a nut job for what i believe? I never understood that about people....if I was a zealot and torched your house or shot your kids because of my religious belief then I'd understand...but I'm a pretty peaceful person and for the most part my religious belief is pretty private. All these non-believers strangely want to sound better and stable minded - yet in my long history or reading "debates" on religion more often than not - its the non-believers that truly pick the "fights" first and get the most nasty....but yet they are the sane and "better" ones ? HA!
I guess in the end - my theory is this....you believe what you believe I'll believe what I believe...the thing is if you right and there is NOTHING after this life...nothing will happen when i'm dead and your dead. But would if I am right - you'll feel un-ending pain for all eternity and be denied the pleasures of a perfect "life" after death known as "heaven". Finally - the weird thing about God....that Atheists don't seem to get in their arguments...they always tell US "Proof to me he exists..." I say "Proof to me ....he doesn't exist."
"...you'll feel un-ending pain for all eternity..."
And you're okay with that?
Oh Tom...you say discussing religion on the internet is on the top of your "Do-not-do" list, then you write three paragraphs discussing religion.
The flames against religion are about the people who insist on cramming their religious beliefs down others' throats. If you don't do that, then they are not directed at you. If you practice the concept of live and let live, then nobody is attacking you.
If you only believe in god as a fail-safe to ensure you avoid eternal damnation, then you don't have real faith, and he will know. Paying lip service just to stay out of hell doesn't work with someone who is all knowing.
Also, you can't prove a negative, so how does one prove god doesn't exist?
1. You (all) want to govern my country according to your book... to pass laws and establish public policy, to levy taxes, to educate children... and so many more things by your book.
2. If you have chosen the wrong god, your eternity will not be nice.
3. Prove that Leprechauns do not exist. Obviously you have not participated in many of these debates. For the millionth time - the burden of proof is on the one who claims something to be true.
There is no one good, no not one. Jesus' law is perfect but instead of used as it was supposed to be used, it is held up as something to strive for. It was to show us that we can't keep the law yet people still think they can. God is Holy and demands perfection. He didn't come to earth as a man via Jesus Christ to help you keep it. He came and died to take it out of the way. He paid your sin debt in full. Religion is man made, not of God. And if you don't understand HOW to read the Bible, you are doomed just because you can find different things told to different people. Rightly dividing the word of truth is the only way you will ever understand what the Bible teaches. People take things out of context or apply Israel's instructions and apply them to us. WRONG!
Another junk book author ~ cnn ~ infotaincommercialment.
Like we need another silly book to tell us what the bible means.
..earning my Masters and Ph.D. degrees at Boston University in "the history and literature of ancient Israel."
another junk PhD ~ the dumbing down of America ~ get a degree in a subject that has been flogged to death for the last 1000 years.
Please visit the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos Nigeria to see the Book of Acts in practice. All to witness miracles of Biblical proportions happening live. What i can read in the mind of Godless westerners is that the think God is a theoretical being. GOD IS ALIVE AND STILL SAYING SOMETHING. Please take time to visit http://www.scoan.org and watch Emmanuel TV. I am sure you will experience spiritual uplifting. I used to be atheistic like most contributors in this forum but i have changes after watching Emmanuel TV. Save your souls.Good luck!
PCP or crack?
Massive doses of LSD, judging from the hallucinations.
Interesting and well written article. I respect the author's decision to not include her religious beliefs and instead present a well thought out and researched explanation of why she feels reading a Bible could be a good thing.
No I will not read the bible. But I will wipe my ass with it's pages.
Interesting story....I was out camping one time and ran out of tp. Found one of those giddeon's behond my seat (must have been from a time when I was a christian and handed them out). Best use I ever got out of it. I started with the gospels. True story. I still keep a copy in the truck...never know...might run out of tp
And the name, "DarthJedi," says it all. I'm glad you can believe in little boy fantasies but anything that requires some type of thought gets attention from the other end. Typical.
If jesus were alive today I bet he would own some hustler mags
I recommend reading the Bible so people can see first hand what a haphazard jumble of parables, fables, psalm lyrics, legendary folklore and absurd directives that it is. But religious folks are pushing for Bible education in schools, not to tell the truth about it and its history of political influence, but rather to push their sect's religious indoctrination. An honest pursuit of the truth leads to atheism, so do please read the Bible with your critical thinking cap on.
The Bible it's a Roman Rellic . From the Roman empire and gone through time, countries, empires and a few transformations of it's own . To understand the bible follow the foot steps .
Moderation message so this will not post where I wanted it. Oh well.
From all the comments I see that I've at the very least made people think about what I originally posted. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is in the application of meaning. It seems many like to address these lofty questions with "why" when I think it's more important to ask "how". There is an underlying need to place meaning to things that simply just "are". Believers are anthropomorphising things that are natural. The same thing occurs when emotions like love or asthetics like beauty are considered. Is it so unreasonable to think emotion, intut.ition, inspiration, imagination are faculties of our brain? Despite what someone earlier said about there being scientific evidence (and I'd like to have a link to whatever study demonstrated this) for a soul or "spark" of lifeforce, I still accept that when I die no part of me will continue after death. There isn't any fear here...just acceptance of my own mortality. I think Twain said "I was dead for thousands of years before I was born and I don't remember a bit of it". Death has no more meaning to me than the state I was in before I was born.
And to address the one who pointed out why we as atheists spend so much time debating with believers probably has more to do with how much of our lives are impacted by the practices of those who do believe. It's inescapeable and at times frustrating to go about our business without butting heads with some dogma or another. But mostly I'm here to address those who may be on the fence about their belief and I offer to them what amounts to a voice of reason in a sea of proselytising.
Dude, your meds are taking effect. Go lie down.
If I am wrong oh well I will never know, if you are wrong yikes!!! just something to chew on......have blessed day!
Actually, far more lucid than most of the "it's in the bible, so it must be right" crowd.
I can definitely respect that, AtheistSteve. But I believe the author of this article is right. People need to make an informed decision about their faith (or lack thereof). I cannot function without a belief in a higher power. Believe me, I've tried and it made me miserable. My faith in God is ingrained into every fabric of my being, and it's easy to feel threatened when someone with beliefs on the opposite side of the spectrum calls me "naive" or "silly" because I'm a believer. (Just as I'm sure you feel frustrated, etc., when religionists try to convert you.)
I would recommend to anyone who is unaffiliated or "on the fence" as you say that they begin by looking inward and listening to what their own spirit tells them. Quit looking outward because if there really is a God - and I firmly believe there is - then he lives inside each person.
Chuck-IF that is your arguement for beleiving in ghosts then you are wasting your time! Wow, I beleive cause I might be right. I am sure that your imaginary God appreciates that!
Hey Steve since you didn't respond before I thought I'd repost...
Well Steve at least you post was well thought out, but unfortunately your thought process is flawed...allow me to explain...
You state that: "That the universe came into being 13.7 billion yrs ago is clear due to direct observation. " Let me ask you a question, who observed this?
Also, you state: "That life emerged from naturally occuring complex molecular interaction is clear if not completely understood." How can this be clear if it is not understood?
Also: "That evolution shaped life to the diversity we see today is clear due to mountains of evidentiary support." These mountains of eveidence that you speak of are spoken of often but I have yet to read see or hear any evidence that can be considered "rock solid". At best there is suggestive evidence of evolution...just as there is suggestive evidence of God. One could therefore say there is mountains of evidence that God exists. I have no problem with your belief in evolution, but please don't try to tell me that it is because of the "mountains of evidence", belief in evolution requires just as much if not more faith than belief in God. If you are, to use your term "intellectually honest" with yourself you will have to admit that the idea that there is a God is terrifying to you because then you may have to answer to Him as one day we all will have to. Steve perhaps if your mind and heart were more open you would be able to perceive Truth when you see and hear it...
@ Doesn't Matter – pretty good points.
Regarding how something can be clear but not understood. Before gravity was explained, it was clear that objects dropped to the ground when unsupported, but what caused them to drop was not understood. That is, you can see something occur, but not know why it did.
Only one last breath to waste on this subject. If believing in God has been so detramental to the world, please let me know of how many athiest releif organizations exist that make an attempt to feed, clothe, and educate the poor and povertouse places in the world. How many have "evolved" out of its own origin without copying existing Christian religions, if they do exist? How many groups of athiests go at one time to various countries to help people deal with aids, and how many organizations have athiests developed that claim sanctuary provide sancuary, comfort and aid to a human being or medicine to poor unfortunate people? Is humanitarianism unathiest? I've not come to know of any, but I'm sure they must be out there...or maybe most of them are just spending countless dollars dispelling that God exists, which is improving mankind how???
Reality: there are no massive atheist organizations taking in billions of dollars each year.
Reality: ATHEISTS are helping to fund all the religious groups by paying their taxes. Get back to reality.
Good people will tend to do good things.
Bad people will tend to do bad things.
But, if you want good people to do bad things, that takes religion.
Christopher Hitchens challenges believers to name a charitible act that religions can perform that cannot be performed by secular means.
Atheism is not a religion. Its not organized. However atheists perform humanitarian work and give to charities just like religious people. There are many secular humanitarian organizations.
Hi, Joe. Glad to meet you. My real name is Rob. I'm a 40 year old teacher from the midwest. I have a wife, two boys, a dog, a house, two cars, and bills up the wazoo. I'm a regular guy in most senses of the word. And I'm an atheist. I have a lot of friends who are atheists.
I send about 5% of my income to Oxfam America every year. I wish I could send more, but I'm just a teacher, and I don't make that much money. I want to help those around the world in need. I can also say that all of my atheist friends (with maybe one exception) give to one charity or another. All told, I'm talking about something like 17 or 18 people.
So there, you've now met an atheist who gives to charity regularly. We atheists don't congregrate into groups like Christians do, largely because atheism isn't a worldview. And so it's harder for us to form charities. But we certainly give to them, there's no doubt about that.
So now you know an atheist who gives to charity
Every charitable organization on earth that doesn't claim a religion is ATHEIST! They help people for the sake of helping people... You don't need religion to be good or help your fellow man. Religious charities help people to CONVERT THEM! I know its silly and unfair to argue with a religious person since they are handicapped by their delusion and ignorance but i just had to chime in.
Fact: There are massive Atheist organizations raking in billions of dollars each year. They're called the National Science Foundation, the Public School System, and the Government of the People's Republic of China.
Fact: Tax dollars from every "religious' person, about 95% of the United States (remember, I'm including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etcetera) fund Atheist programs around the country. Get the facts straight!
I'm an atheist I help people all the time,atheists are not members of a religion or organized group,we think for ourselves. We do not take others money under false pretenses and redistribute a small portion to charity and then line our pockets with the rest. I hope that helps
Please read some history. The majority of the "alturistic" activities that you describe, have never been intended to and are still not intended to help those less fortunate but to exploit naturla resouces of the areas that you occupy and to control the minds of the poeple that are there. Most of these organizations that you describe are trying to force their religous beliefs on those less fortunate and if the folks don't bend to the organizations will, then the people in need wont get help. OF course this is a rationalization just like what you stated as you have no proof of what you state. If you don't beleive this just look at how the Mormans treat people via the boy scouts. I on the other hand know that the Red Cross isn't a religous organization and they help more folks than all the religous organizations ever will! Go pound sand!
To all the believers here today........
YOU ARE ALL ATHEISTS TOO!!!!
I can prove it.
Do you believe in Oden, Isis, Zeus, Thor, Ra or any of the other 4500 or so gods worshiped throughout human history?
Then, you are an atheist. I am just a little bit better atheists because I believe in one less god than you.
Thank you, Richard Dawkins.
@Rob: Thanks! Forgot to give the credit!
Fun game of semantics there, bub.
Did you know that the first Christians were actually considered atheists by their Roman neighbors? They used the same reasoning that you're using.
However, since the 'a' prefix denotes 'without' I think that Christians still qualify as theists.
Please tell me you didn't just try to claim that as your own.
It is a good thing that God hasn't lost His belief in people, because if He ever does.... pufff.... [the perceptual screen fades to black] 😎 Besides you have to be way to serious and have a perpetual chip on your shoulder to be an atheist, that isn't very fun. Trust me, I know from experience, I was an atheist until God hit me upside the head with a proverbial Holy Spirit 2X4 and showed me that I was not nearly as intelligent or as wise as I perceived myself to be! Funny how He does that!
The word "atheist" means you are not a theist. A Theist is a person who believes in supernatural forces called "god" or they may believe in many gods. Someone who follows Islam is a deist, but is not a Christian. Being able to clearly define who God is by his revealed word to the exclusion of other theories is theistic. If you are a theist who holds to the Bible, you are called a "Christian."
That's not a proof. A non zero integer never equals zero.
Ephesians 5:22-24 "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands everything"
Thomas Aquinas said women are "defective", amd imperfect males.
Go find a goat.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
ephesians was a letter written by the apostle paul, not jesus. rumor is jc didn't care too much for the temples because they were corrupt, much like today. i consider the parts of the bible with quotes from jc as a set of guidelines using parables as examples. works for me. aa and all 12step programs have there origin in christianity, but only a belief in power greater than yourself is necessary to recovery. that statement alone will incite many of you.
CNN keeps picking on Christianity by finding articles that are antogonist and devisive to the faith. Get over it CNN and stop bullying us.
Victim card played!
Why have beliefs if you cannot explain or defend them?
Will Christians stop bullying gays?
What specifically did you find antagonistic about this article? It endorses reading the bible, even if you don't believe in it.
Don't like it? Go to foxnews.com, I am sure they will appeal to your ancient and naive beliefs.
funny how all i see on these forums are people hating on Christianity. amazing that our country was founded on these very same beliefs that everyone hates now. What did Christianity do to YOU?
@Observer, are those Christians who bully the gays or only people who say they are Christian?
@Kyle – people aren't hating the good values espoused by christianity (like the golden rule, turning the other cheek, etc.), but they are hating the people who call themselves christians then spend their time telling the rest of us how we are wicked and are going to hell. If you are not one of these, and you truly follow the teachings of jesus, then we have no problem with you. But, if you're one of those who think you have the right to tell me how to live my life and to force your religion on me, then we have a problem.
Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things it takes religion. I suspect that religion is simply a parasite on a much older moral sense.
Religion involves manipulation of the human population to serve the need of others.
Quit spreading your radical atheistic views. Religion or belief in god doesn't make people any more evil that those that don't believe. Talk to Stalin or any number of atheistic monsters for proof that you are simple minded.
The first Psalm says,
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
You are absolutely right. Religion is deadly. It has done nothing but facilitate the rise of self-righteous, judgmental people and organizations.
What do we humans think we're doing anyway? Supposing there is a god, what could humans do to appease this god? Not much, considering his supposed power compared to our's.
That is why Christianity, as presented in The Bible, is different. No offerings, no sacrifices, no money required. The only thing needed to get in good with God is for Him to reach to us. Anticipating all of the comments citing verses from the Bible that seemingly require this or that behavior or offering: Those verses are for two reasons. 1. To show us how far we are from being able to achieve the perfection necessary of getting back with God. 2. Once we're with God, these are ways we can please Him and basically improve our relationship and service to Him.
We're not perfect. God knows that, so He only requires perfection of His Son – our advocate, Jesus Christ.
The evil actions of men cloaked in religion cannot deter my realization that there is a higher power and an ultimate creator of all things. There is also too much perfection in the order of the universe and the systems on earth and within ourselves for me to believe that it is all merely a coincidence.
"There is also too much perfection in the order of the universe "
Now I would have said there is chaos in the universe since it's still expanding, forming and destroying other things. I would not call Mars a place of perfection, instead I think it would be great inspiration to write some fiction on doom and gloom. LOL!
Marty, which religions? How about Spinozism?
Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told, Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right. If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for a reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed" Albert Einstein – Physicist
Marty, uh, Google Einstein and Spinoza. You might be in for a shock.