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.
So... why should non-believers.. or even believers read the bible to the exclusion of other religious texts? I've read it all the way through twice... and I still found it as boring and uninspiring when I was done the second time as I did when I started the first time.
There is a simple logic to avoid other texts. If I believe one thing, and I know another text is totally inconsistent with what I already believe, then I waste my time reading it unless I plan to use that reading to help someone else. I've got lots to do and limited time and other sacred texts seem to all fall down when compared to John 14:6 where Jesus claimed to be the only way to come to God.
That having been said, I read a number of other theological texts and sacred books before accepting Christ in 1979. Since then, I've read only at a few. I don't expect people to understand why I would shut the door to the works of Alan Watts and others just because I made up my mind.
The only real reason is one only a fellow believer could accept- I was born again on that night- radically and inalterably changed from the inside out. I've been in lots of logic debates over this topic since but I know I could never be convinced that God who l have known and who lives within my heart does not exist.
Much literature is informed by quotes and ideas from the Bible. Knowledge of it as a cultural heritage is helpful in understanding popular culture, literature, art, music...... the list could go on and on. That does not mean that you have to take the Bible as literal truth, but as a source of ideas on ethics, just like the sacred writings of many other cultures. I am looking forward to reading the new book "The Good Book," which provides similar writings from the Agnostic viewpoint.
Big flaw with this article – it's quoting a lot of the old testament. The new testament fulfills the old testament. So read the new testament and then refer back to the old testament for references.
The Bible isn't a book of rules. If you accept the free gift of salvation, then everything else will fall in place naturally – if you are sincere.
If you're trying to 'follow the rules' then you need to get better acquainted with the holy spirit and know your master's voice.
the only reason to read the bible is so that you get the joke..... you never know how truly silly these "faith based believers" are until you actually read the nonsense they are referring to as a holy book and guide to life.....guide to life indeed..... no wonder the majority of them are so hateful...... big surprise someone who is in the religion BUSINESS telling us all to read the bible, fishing for more conscripts/converts/fools
LC, I am not a fan of taking drugs to solve problems but heavensent is one that could benefit. She is a great example to what you are saying.
This is why so many people are confused because they will follow information from people who are not anointed by God and are spiiritually and biblically ignorant. The Bible is a spiritual and living book for people who have been made spiritually alive by Jesus Christ. It is absolutely pointless for a non-believer to read the Bible, spiritual things cannot be comprehended or understood by those who don't believe. Everything I've stated are clearly stated in the Bible, so get Saved!!!
You either have faith in th bible (GOD) or you don't. Question, how did we come into existance. From single cell creatures to man? Or intelligent design? If you take the evolution road, can anyone show me a fossil of a monkey/human or a mouse/tiger or a fish/ whale etc...
They can't, that is why evolution falls apart, even though it is "accepted as fact." Even Darwin had issues with his own theory.
Your faith not withstanding, I would suggest you do some research on evolutionary theory. Based on your question, I do not think your understanding is adequate.
Point of interest, the fossil record is now secondary evidence. Genetic mapping has proven how all known life shares common ancestry. Richard Dawkins has several very good books on the topic, if I can make a recomendation.
Erik, all life shares a common ancestry, but there have been experiments showing that (an example) an eyeball could not have evolved on its own. Evolution has been proven to not be feasible on complex organisms, even if everything started from a common point.
Eric, sorry I got your name wrong.
@Renny: Really? Can you please provide references for me?
I do have a question for you...
If you can provide verifiable evidence that Evolution theory is false, does that prove Creation theory? Evolution and Creation theories are seperate theories making separate claims, and thus, each carries it's own burden of proof. If you can provide verifiable evidence which disproves Evolution theory, you must still present verifiable evidence to support Creation theory. Please provide your supporting evidence for Creation theory when you present your references to evidence to disprove Evolution theory for verification.
Thanks for your help!
Eric, here is one to start with. http://www.detectingdesign.com/humaneye.html
By the way, I did not mean to alude to being a creationist either. I guess an agnostic would be a better term for me. I prefer proof. Though I do think Shakespere had it right.
@Renny: From your reference: "To say then that the human eye is definite proof of a lack thoughtful design, is a bit presumptuous I would think. This seems to be especially true when one considers the fact that the best of modern human science and engineering has not produced even a fraction of the computing and imaging capability of the human eye."
We have, in fact created many different imaging devices that outperform the human eye. As a matter of fact, we have been doing it for centuries. Not only can we improve imaging, we can also see other light and information not visible to the human eye. (inferred, xray).
This reference does not provide any verified data. Actually, it seems a deliberate attempt to discredit evidence because of bias. This bias is the reason no contrary evidence is presented.
Nice attempt though! Any scientific references?
How sad can it really get to hear about how many people still do not understand Evolution through Natural Selection?
The fossils you are requiring does not exist because that is not how the process of Evolution works. I believe the term you are looking for is "Transitional lifeforms." All life is a transitional lifeform. Humans are not the end process of Evolution, we are just the most recent step.
A transitional fossil is one that looks like it's from an organism intermediate between two different creatures. To say there are no transitional fossils is simply false. Paleontology has progressed a bit since Origin of Species was published, uncovering thousands of transitional fossils. The fossil record is still spotty and always will be; erosion and the rarity of conditions favorable to fossilization make that inevitable.
Also, transitions may occur in a small population, in a small area, and/or in a relatively short amount of time; when any of these conditions hold, the chances of finding the transitional fossils millions of years later goes down. Still, there are still many instances where excellent sequences of transitional fossils exist. Some notable examples are the transitions from reptile to mammal, from land animal to early whale, and from early ape to human.
The misconception about the lack of transitional fossils is aggravated by the way we think about species. When people think about a category like "dog" or "ant," they often subconsciously believe that there is a well-defined boundary around the category. Actually, categories are man-made and artificial. Nature is not constrained to follow them, and doesn't.
It looks like the worshipers of the evolutionary religion are out in force.
Without siding with one side or the other, and not adding to either by stating my position one way or the other; I have read comments by people who can barely type, have poor grammar and punctuation, spelling, and obviously in need of strengthening several basic learning tools before arguing with others on what is obviously such an important and controversial issue, to BOTH sides!!
That being said, I would like to point out to all the people that have nothing better to do than argue with others via this medium, you would be better served by doing some type of public service to make the world better, rather than arguing with the morons on the Internet. I mean, after all, even if you win what have you really won here? Or, are you just comfortably hiding out here in the dark, instead of getting out in the world and actively doing good, rather than tearing down another person's beliefs? Yeah, I know that would take too much effort, for those of you that KNOW who you are, I am sure you will be the ones to react adversely to my post.
I am SURE someone will have something negative to say about my post, and that is OK. My hope here was to just try to try to get people to make an effort to respond to others in a more constructive, positive way as opposed to the flaming, trolling, and badgering of other ways of thinking. Just because we do not agree or understand other ways of thinking does not necessarily make them outright wrong!
Since I am off my soapbox, let me take the time to challenge all reading this to pay it forward. Even if you do not see immediate measurable results, keep doing it, it DOES have it's rippling effects. Take the time actively every day to do something nice for at least one person every day. First, it is the right thing to do, second, it might make you feel better about yourself and the world we live in, and third failure can be contagious....however so can success!!!
Love the run on sentence in the beginning. LOL!
"That being said, I would like to point out to all the people that have nothing better to do than argue with others via this medium, you would be better served by doing some type of public service to make the world better, rather than arguing with the morons on the Internet."
Yet you used this medium to exactly what you are condemning. Fascinating.....
I agree that people need to communicate better and do more actively in their communities, but I disagree that all postings are useless. You yourself wrote, "My hope here was to just try to try to get people to make an effort...". Well, can't that be the hope of others? If just one person reads something that has an impact, then the post was worth the effort.
Suzie, I do not believe the first line is a run-on sentence, although I have been incorrect before. There are 2 sentiments in that sentence separated by a semi-colon (which is meant to give more pause to the reader than a comma, and less than a period). Also, the commas are due to the listing of spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc....which is also normal.
As for your second comment, well if you actually read my post, it was in an effort to be more positive to other peoples' beliefs, and I did not directly attack anyone else's position on this particular subject.
My only regret here is that the thought I was trying to convey was obviously wasted on you. My apologies. Love you still 🙂
Dog Boy...I re-read my post, and I probably could have written that better. I did not mean to suggest that no one should argue via the Internet in this manner, or that there are not things worth arguing about; most important things are worth the effort. What I meant was rather than the ones attacking another's beliefs would go further by being a little more constructive in doing so.
Hence my post username 😉 (respectful bow of apology)
'I did not directly attack anyone else's position" You only attacked how they write their comments.
For those who read the bible and are more confused or turned off, understand you can't just read the bible and suddenly gain a wealth of understanding. The Bible is meant to be studied. A toddler can’t pick up a book and begin reading/understanding the storyline right away. They first have to learn the alphabet and gain knowledge of how those letters come together to form words. Once they study the letters (practice) and become more literate, only then are they able to read the book and understand the point of the story. Understanding God’s Word comes in stages just like everything else in life.
And by spiritual revelation
actually those stages are programming updates, your asking your brain to accept something counter to it's programming and at first it doesn't want to do that, so you have to repeat the new information until it accepts it as the new reality you are trying to convince it of, once it accepts the basics of that reality it will start accepting all the other parts that it previously rejected and you have a growing new "faith". it;s just NLP or as it's called brain washing, and in this case compounded by the collective obsessional behavior effect commonly called mass hysteria repeated over generations, when your parents and teachers all tell you what you should be it is hard to resist and think for yourself but it is possible and well worth it
There are many great wisdom traditions and most are founded in Love so if that is what our focus is when we take them on we would all be in far better shape. But for that we need open hearts and minds! Thank God for Evolution =0)
Although even Darwin admited his theory of evolution had lots of "holes" in it that could not explain various leaps/advances from one species to the next. Especially around the Cambrian period. Not that I'm that religious mind.
@EricG Darwin indeed knew there were things he didn't know about the process of evolution by natural selection, however, he did know he had enough hard evidence to support it as a fact. In the 150 years since the publication of his On the Origin of Species, the evidence has been heaped in mountains to support and added to it. Even if there were no fossils ever found anywhere, DNA supports evolution completely. All of biological science depends on evolution as its foundation. Without that knowledge, you would have no vaccines or other vast amount of medical knowledge. It is absolutely uneducated to have the slightest doubt that evolution is a fact. Wishful thinking that it isn't true simply doesn't hold water.
More ignorance comes out of the bible than good.
Ironically, most of what we consider to be basic morality (don't kill, don't steal, don't cheat on your loved ones, respect your parents, treat other people with kindness) can all be found in the Bible. While there are certainly things within the Bible that are contentious in modern society, I would argue that the fundamentals of modern morality are quite apparent in the Bible.
@unhanon: The values of which you speak are secular. They existed in society before the Abrahamic religions. They did not come from the Bible.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I have no problem with people reading the bible, its beautiful and has many wise sayings. I do not look down on Christianity. That being said, it would be great if we read other religious works as well. We should not dismiss a book of faith because we disagree with parts of it, or because somebody of that faith messed you over. If that were the case, no african american person would be Christian due to slavery. Like the bible says, separate the wheat from the chaff. the divine is too immense to contain in any one book or ideology. We are but piddly little small minded creatures using only a small percentage of our brain.
As a fellow UU, I couldn't agree more! 🙂
Hey - welcome fellow UU! I like what you've said here, and I agree with you entirely in spirit.
It's a myth, though, they we somehow only use a small percentage of our brains. 🙂 Read some work by prominent neuroscientists, like V.S. Ramachandran or Michael Gazzaniga, and you'll see that in fact the vast majority of the brain's structure is consistently active. Neuroscience is a remarkable field, and is in the middle of a new renaissance.
I could only recommend that adults read it. When you consider the sheer number of people who believe that it's true, I couldn't recommend that a young person take the risk of reading it, and then potentially believing it to be true, ultimately setting them on a course of lifetime belief in invisible beings and believing that truth can be discovered through faith, instead of through the scientific method.
I love the bible and I don't believe in God. Jesus loved to threaten cruelty to gain control over those who followed him. The bible refers to all sorts of nasty things that will happen to you if you don't believe. Lucas 19:1-19:28 is just my favorite. There are MANY others.
There is not a book of Lucas in the Bible, but perhaps you mean Luke 19? The parable of the Talents (money). There is no cruelty mentioned in this parable.
"knowing about the bible encourages you to think for yourself" True. Ironically the majority are not able to do that because they believe it as a fact
The problem with your statement is that the vast majority of people who say they have read it, really mean they have read a few pages of it. What they call "true" is what they heard in church that it says. I have yet to meet a pastor, teacher preacher that knew what was written in the bible. They are also told to ignore the actual text and believe in the concept they are taught.
@John, you are absolutely true. Most just take what they are told hook line and sinker. The bible requires a simple faith, not an ignorant one. You have to know what you believe about it, or your belief is built on sand-unwise and foolish
Visit the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos Nigeria for live evidence of the existence of God our creator. Webisite http://www.scoan.org and watch Emmanuel tv run by the same. the West seriously needs spiritual uplifting. Visit this church to witness the book of Acts in practice.
seems to be doing a lot of good for nigeria........
This author is not as "well informed" as she wants everyone to believe! Try some research next time!
@ "awesome" Where exactly do you feel the author is misinformed or uninformed? A more specific criticism would be helpful here. If you disagree with her statements, give some context and details, otherwise you are simply throwing stones.
As a tenured professor of religion with a Masters and a Doctorate in theological studies, and having published two books and multiple papers on the religion, its hard to argue that she is not "well informed" as you do.
Im sorry but I dont care much for fiction...
most proof of truth in ANY OTHER ancient literature proved again and again by archaeological and historic records...sorry doen't fly as fiction unless you are misinformed...RLR
So, you don't believe in the Big Bang, evolution, and the Theory of relativity, either then, do you? What do you believe in, then? After all, those principles are rooted in about as much theory and unproven ideas as are found in the Bible.
Sometimes you just need to have some faith in something. Otherwise, this life is pretty lonely, and a relatively major waste of time.
Yes, but gravity is just a theory too. I doubt you question the theory of gravity's legitimacy.
While the big bang theory may still only be a theory, it's at least an educated, modern start. It is held to the standards of the scientific method. In other words, if it weren't plausible then it wouldn't be considered any longer. The big bang theory reflects mankind's current best guess. The same can not be said about creationism.
Take particle physics as a fairly recent example. We used to believe that neutrons, protons, and even atoms were at one point elementary particles, the "building blocks" of matter. It took a THEORY to make us break them apart and discover that they were made of bosons and fermiones. This theory was scoffed at in the same exact manner.
There is no need to believe in something that has been proven to be true. Evolution, the Big Bang and Relativity all have proofs revealed in Science. Evolution especially has been long proven to be true.
If applied with wisdom, I don't think any harm can be found in the Bible. On the contrary, the planet would be healthier, our children would be happier, and peace might become a possibility.
Sans looking forward to the apocalypse, right?
And how many years has the bible had to foster peace and happiness? And how many more should we keep on closing our eyes and believing before moving on to rational humanism?
Shakespere had it right, "there are stranger things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
That being said, supposedly God is everywhere? Part of all things? Surrounds us and binds us together?
Wow, God is the Force!!!
Possibly,,,,,like Shakespear said..........
I read some of the comments placed on this page and it shows me why the world is in the shape it's in. No one holds true to the values and beliefs in the bible. Even if you don't believe in God, there are many valid points in the book. Don't kill, steal, or sleep with another mans wife. Just to name 3. Of course it talks about an eye for an eye but as the book progresses it gets away from that in the same way we do as people. As a small child you want to bite or hit someome that hurts you but as a mature adult you take a different approach to those things. I highly recommend this as a must read for anyone. If you don't take it as a literal text like most people do (to include myself), I would ask for you to look at it as a very old self-help book.
There may be a few good points, but there is a lot of other stuff too. Taken as a whole, I found the negative, contradictory and unhealthy (for me) far outweighed what good I found in it.
even the most basic minded of people can come up with those values on their own w/o the bible ever existing.
Sure. I think some of the basic viewpoints are good one. But there are also tons of bad ones too, such as the old testament.
Jessie please do not forget to warn people that they will burn in hell for eternity if they do not accept the gracious hand of the Lord and Saviour. This is not out of spite either (the reality of what I wrote). It's as simple as 2+2 = 4.
the concepts of don't kill, steal etc predate the bible do not COME FROM the bible and trying to say that people don't steal because the bible says so is willfully ignorant, the problems we have are mostly related to greed. period. greed and lack of real compassion. these are both areas where most christian churches are doing harm not good, your trying to claim that basic human decency only exists as given to us by YOUR god, this is ethnocentric to the point of absurdity
There are plenty of cultures that had and continues to value not stealing and murdering. Altruism is also observed in certain monkeys. It's something that's developed with logic regardless of whether or not they've read the Bible.
As an Atheist I'm insulted that I'm automatically put in the same group as Charles Manson and a guest on the Maury Povich show. It's nice that you read the bible, but maybe you should open other books once in a while.
your comment was right on. IF you do believe it, then you need to live it out. Period. That simple. A Buddist would not be identified as a Buddist unless he is practicing what Budda taught and living it out. A Hindu would not be identified as a Hindu unless they were practicing and living out Hinduism. The same is true for Christianity, but for some reason, that is not the product.
Read Matthew 10:35-37 "For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
Is this wisdom and self-help or the ramblings of a fanatical leader? Remember what the article above says to do, think for yourself.