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.
Reading the bible is a great way to get to sleep at night... 1 verse and i'm ZZzzzZzZzZ!!!
The bible never has and never will advocate thinking for oneself. If that was the case there would be many more atheists. The whole religious thing, whatever creedo you follow, is to be sheep and let someone else lead.
Jesus did not write anything, nor did anyone who had personal knowledge of him. There is no archeological evidence of his existence. There are no contemporaneous accounts of his life or death: no eyewitness accounts, or any other kind of first-hand record. All the accounts of Jesus come from decades or centuries later; the gospels themselves all come from later times, though they may contain earlier sources or oral traditions. The earliest writings that survive are the letters of Paul of Tarsus, written 20–30 years after the dates given for Jesus' death. Paul was not a companion of Jesus, White writes, nor does he ever claim to have seen Jesus before his death.
The Bible is about faith not hard facts though your point is understandable from a scientific perspective.
Can't be any worse than reading the CNN blogs. By the way, what was the last thing that Jesus said to the Mexicans before he ascended into Heaven? Give up?
"Don't do anything till I get back."
I get it, Mexicans........don't do anything. It's a funny joke, right? It's funny!
Hopefully these comments will demonstrate how fruitless discussions on the existence of God are. People will believe what they want to believe. The minute there is no longer an emotional payoff for a belief – then and only then will it be discarded.
That, and a quick reading of the Book of Matthew shows how opposed Jesus was to organized religion. He spends a big chunk of the book condemning priests and forecasting the destruction of the temple.
I read the bible when I was 12 years old, from cover to cover. I found it to be really offensive and mean. I was shocked at the arrogance of christianity and even at 12, I was more rational and kind-hearted than anything I read in the bible. I believe there is something spiritual out there, but I don't think it has ANYTHING to do with the book that those men wrote for men. You've got to be a sucker to believe that any god wrote anything and this is all fairly tales that men made up...and that includes all those books, old testment, new testament, the koran, etc., etc., etc. I'm a much nicer person that most people I know who go to church to be forgiven for being jerks all week.
you were lucky you got to read it at that age. My step-daughter and my wife are believers and when my step-daughter is at sunday school they leave out the aftermath of things like the wall of jericho coming down because they dont want to scare the kids away whilst they are brainwashing them at a young age.
Here is my suggestion to understand us beyond current live : http://www.dhamma.org
Please attend a 10day course which is logical, rational and more importantly free.
Silly book for silly unintelligent people. Hopefully we will eventually evolve as a people and get this belief in mythology and fairy tales behind us.
ASK JESUS- HE CAN EXPLAIN THE BIBLE TO YOU
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ[b] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
“This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?
John, your hope is shared by many. I am a follower of Christ and believe in God, but once you non-believers evolve religion out of existance, you/me may be dead and burried by then I wager. So, your hope is in vain...pretty much like the very point of your existence. What is "hope" anyway? I have not read nor referenced that word in my physics books, so where did you come up with that word? What is its origin? It isn't factual...guess it must have evolved from a floating speck in space...
Jesus says "believe in me, or go to hell". Jesus will forgive you for any sin possible except for the sin of not believing in him. Why isn't he 100% with his forgiveness program?
how about this answer, he is Sovereign God and you are not?
He made you, not you
you can chose to obey or disobey, no more choices pal.
that is free will.
chose life or death, dont make it so complicated. you know better. Lecture recommended, book of Romans ch 1-10 for you
I didn't vote for him to be the soverign god over all other gods. Who gave him the power to declare this, or better yet, who gave you the power to declare him the soverign god?
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Behold, the Angel of Air shall bring him,
And every eye shall see him,
And the brotherhood,
All the vast brotherhood of the earth
Shall raise their voice as one and sing,
Because of him.
Even so, Amen.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end;
Which is, which was, and which is to come.
And the voice spoke, and I turned to see
The voice that spoke with me.
And being turned, I saw seven golden candles;
And in the midst of their blazing light
I saw one like unto the Son of Man,
Clothed in white, white as the snow.
And his voice filled the air with the sound of rushing water;
And in his hands were seven stars,
Full of the flaming light of the heavens from whence they came.
And when he spoke, his face was streaming light,
Blazing and golden like a thousand suns.
And he said, "Fear not, I am the first and the last;
I am the beginning and the end.
Taken from ancient Egyptian text. Had christianity beat by a thousand years.
"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."
That is a self contradiction in one paragraph. That is all the bible is. Creates people who cannot think for themselves and make them suffer in lots of cases from The God Delusion Insanity.
What I think Ms Swenson is saying in her article, is read the bible ,just as you would any other work of fiction, to familiarize yourself with what it says so you can have intelligent discussion about it, as you would with a best selling novel. Steve, you can't fathom what I believe and I can't fathom what you believe. But if your child, wife ,loved one, dog, was hit by a truck before your eyes, lying in the street near death, you would look to the skies and cry "Why!Why?". Who are you talking to? Point being,just read it, research and study it the way you did the Principia Mathematica. It's just another book. It can't hurt you. God Bless you.
I find all this very interesting. Studied the Bible and many other religious teachings. All lay claim to this, my way is the only way. I became a Deist. I believe in God and no more. All religions were created by man for man. God gave man reason. Man gave man religion. I feel pity for all those folks that live in guilt over an apple a couple of thousand years ago. But the upright, talking snake chided Eve to pull the wool over poor Adam's eyes. So, the teaching goes that all are sorry sinners. What can be good about putting a guilt trip on all that follow? Nothing.
other religion teachings? only one man rose from the dead and is alive now. Jesus, the Son of god
Buddah Mahoma Confucio and others did not. He is alive.
Well said! We are all made to believe some type of religion either by choice or it was forced upon us.
@4theatheist: No – you are wrong – there are many myths of other 'gods' who 'rose from the dead': Horus, Osiris, Krishna, Mithra, Dionysus.....
Maybe reading something OTHER than the bible would be a good idea.
'4 the atheist – other religion teachings? only one man rose from the dead and is alive now. Jesus, the Son of god
Buddah Mahoma Confucio and others did not. '
Mind you the current Dalai Lama is apparently the 14th incarnation of that figure, does that count?
SORRY YOU ARE WRONG OSIRIS NO MAN, BUT A GOD FROM MYTHOLOGY
GOTTA GO BACK TO SCHOOL
DALAI LAMAS HAVE DIED AND STILL IN THE TOMB MY FRIEND, WELL WHATEVER IS LEFT
JESUS IS ALIVE
Obi wan Kenobi came back from the dead to. Whats your point?
@ 4 the athiest : "JESUS IS ALIVE"
Can you send me his address and phone number? e-mail address? recent photo?
Maryann, I never stated anything about rising from the dead, because that fairy tale has been used by many religions. I think that I also stated that I had studied other religions. What my driving point was is this, all claim my way is the only way. Any thinking person knows that there can't be thousands of correct ways and no-one can lay claim to having the only way and offer one bit of proof. So, to carry this on a bit, most of the hatred and killing in history has been in the name of religion. This is still happening today as I type this. Religion is not healthy or good for you. Just a fact.
Maryann, I never stated anything about rising from the dead, because that fairy tale has been used by many religions. I think that I also stated that I had studied other religions. What my driving point was is this, all claim my way is the only way. Any thinking person knows that there can't be thousands of correct ways and no-one can lay claim to having the only way and offer one bit of proof. So, to carry this on a bit, most of the hatred and killing in history has been in the name of religion. This is still happening today as I type this. Religion is not healthy or good for you. Just a fact. And finally, this article was about the Bible, not the Talmad, Koran, etc..
@ 4 the athiest : "JESUS IS ALIVE"
Can you send me his address and phone number? e-mail address? recent photo?
I know you did not ask me but her ya go:
Address: Heaven AND in the hearts of all believers
phone number: Prayer -Give Him a call!
Email address: Prayer
Photo: Sorry but 3 out of 4 ain't bad!
All the posts with people saying they unequivocally understand the bible just kill me. People are seriously DUMB or deluded.
1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebrews 1)
Boy are you in for a surprise.
I'm going to print this and use it as toilet paper.
1 The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
Do or do not, there is no try. Yoda.
Isaiah 47:11-15 is a great read too.
Good read but complete fiction!
Will you still be laughing after you read Revelation 20:14 ?
There are no atheists in fox holes.
Yes there are, and you're just another idiot drone who repeats anything your cult leader tells you. Drone.
Never been in a foxhole have you?
As an atheist who has been in a foxhole (of the non-combat action type) who is married to another athiest who has been in many foxholes (mostly of the combat action type), I can say without a doubt...
... that you are an IDIOT.
(Comedy) Option 1: Obvious troll is obvious
(Honest) Option 2: Empirically, there is actually no difference between religious and nonreligious in areas like, for example, altruistic behavior i.e. atheists do as much community service as Christians, etc.
"There are no atheists in fox holes." Well, this is often true in religous wars, we are far to smart to give our lives defending imaginary beings.
Also, there are no pacifists in fox holes. There are no bikini waxes in fox holes. There are no obese people in fox holes...
The mod squadders are at it again. Refusing to post Ezekiel 28:18-19. You'll just have to read it on your own.
HeavenSent, you ahve been repeatedly told that there are no human moderators here. Your quote had a naughty word hidden in it. It is NOT a "mod squad" conspiracy, you dingbat!
Then again, if you are gullible enough to believe in God, you are gullible enough to believe in conspiring CNN moderators who are out to get you.
Mon, you are a dingbat!
18Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the mult.itude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.
19All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.
Is that the one that you accuse the magical 'mod squad' of zapping, pudd'n- head HeavenSent?
The bible and christianity are responsible for more attrocities comitted than any other religion. For all their talk about wanting to get to heaven, they've created hell on earth with their fairy tale beliefs.
1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven
10 He also says,
“In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
11 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
12 You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.”[g]
Book of Hebrews
Only reason that they have Muslims beat is they have been around longer...
"The bible and christianity are responsible for more attrocities comitted than any other religion."
No, this is the embarassing kind of lazy ignorance people like to blame on religions and religious texts. People committed these attrocites, not the Bible or Christianity. You might as well blame Islam and the Koran for all the terrorist attacks, including 9/11, that occur instead of the people that actual commit the attacks. People do bad things and you can blame something you don't like if you want, but that's just being ignorant.
@4theatheist: I have NO idea what it is you're saying. Try speaking in a 21st century language. Stop believing what people wrote 2,000 (or more) years ago, when they didn't have the knowledge that we have now.
Holy crap, Austin TX! Of course it was people who commited the atrocities. People who were influenced by the violence preached in religious texts. I think we all know that a book cannot commit an atrocity!
Have you read Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy??? They all advise killing for not believing in the texts. What a scam.
@AustinTX – "You might as well blame Islam and the Koran for all the terrorist attacks, including 9/11" Um, I thought thats what everyone did...
As to "people" doing these things, yes, you are correct. But you cannot deny both the bible & the koran's influence on peoples weak minds and will's. It makes statements claiming divine origin, then gives it's followers the permission they need to commit those violent acts in the name of their God. You aren't reversing the old saying "Gun's don't kill people, people do" to be "People don't kill people, guns do" are you? Are you claiming the tool used is at fault or the intent behind the tool?
“This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?
Maryann and ScottK - please read Geezer's original post. He claims the Bible and Christianity are responsible for some of the world's attrocities. That's not the case, just as Islam and the Koran aren't responsiible for terrorism, even though some confused/demented people say they're committing violent acts because of their faith. People being wrong about a religious text and acting violently on it, doesn't make the religious text responsible or wrong. You might as well blame Martin Scorcese making Taxi Driver for Hinkley trying to assasinate Reagan. That's just absurd.
"Are you claiming the tool used is at fault or the intent behind the tool?"
My first thought when I read this was "how many people have been beaten to death by a religious text?" All kidding aside, I think you're mistaken if you believe that the Bible and Christianity or the Koran and Islam are the "tool" used to kill people. They're certainly the reason people during the time of the Crusades gave for much of their killing and the Islamic extremists of today as well, but it's a stretch to paint such a broad stereotype of a religious text and religious belief to claim that it was in fact the "tool" used for killing.
I think for your line of thinking to be correct, you must genuinely believe that religious extremists of all types are correct in their belief that their religious texts advocate violence (in which case, yes, they would be responsbile for the killings). I don't get the impression that's what you're trying to say, but I may be wrong.
@AustinTX – "I think you're mistaken if you believe that the Bible and Christianity or the Koran and Islam are the "tool" used to kill people" Thats good, because thats not what I said.
I said "You aren't reversing the old saying "Gun's don't kill people, people do" to be "People don't kill people, guns do" are you? Are you claiming the tool used is at fault or the intent behind the tool?" I was refering to the bible & the Koran being the intent, and the people being the tool. I may not have phrased it well since in question form and I can see how you might have missed my point.
My point was that people have been used as tool's of religion or at least the religious leaders to do their bidding which has not bode well for mankind. There have only been a handful of non-religious related wars (most within the last century) and even they had some minor element of religion, mostly in the form of it being stomped out by the non-religious power.
And to get back to your other point you said "You might as well blame Martin Scorcese making Taxi Driver for Hinkley trying to assasinate Reagan. That's just absurd." Not so absurd if Martin Scorcese had called Hinkley and told him to do iwhat is needed to defend his freedoms and provided him the funding to do it. If you have a religion up on the pulpit telling their followers to defend their Christian nation against all those who would attack our way of life, how was Scott Roeder supposed to know they did not mean shooting doctors. If you tell ANYONE to "defend" your belief system, not your life, not your children, but some invisible moral code, with violence you are as guilty as the shooter who takes your words to heart, even if you are a religion.
"I was refering to the bible & the Koran being the intent, and the people being the tool."
I think the intent of the misguided people we're discussing has universally been to follow what God wants them to do. They rely on the Bible or the Koran to teach them what God wanted, but again, I think they're misunderstanding what God is trying to teach them. I'm not going to go along with blaming what's written in the Bible or Koran, but continue placing the blame on the misguided people. There are many more people who read the Bible or Koran and act kindly and not violently, so I still believe it's ignorant to cast such a broad net over the Bible or Koran as intending to incite violence.
"There have only been a handful of non-religious related wars (most within the last century)"
True. But that was in the era when the "Church" actually was the government and Kings were often the head of the "Church". A lot has changed since the US was formed and now governments act independently of religion, so outside of Arab/Islamic countries where their religions continue dominating their government and laws, I don't think you can rely on history for the problems/wars of today.
"Not so absurd if Martin Scorcese had called Hinkley and told him to do iwhat is needed to defend his freedoms and provided him the funding to do it."
Agreed, but I don't think that's consistent with the analogy. Christians believe the Bibile is the divine word of God and religious leaders (whether right or wrong) are trying to understand the word of God. Since Scorcese created Taxi Driver, I think he's in the God position for purposes of this analogy, the movie is the Bible, so you'd need some one else to be funneling bad interpretations of the movie to Hinkley for this work (i.e. religious leaders have funnelled bad intepretations of religious texts, including the Bible, to their followers to justify violence, but not God.)
I think I understand what you're argument is, I just believe it's way too general and not recognizing the bad actions of people badly relying on a good book and a good God, especially when the good actions of people over the same book and God greatly outnumber the bad.
If you want to read a real book of God, read the Koran. Absolutely amazing and intriguing. It in itself is proof that God exists. Christians are following a partial truth reading the Bible. It has been edited and changed several times over the years to fit mans desires. That is why you will find much contradiction in it. Read the first page, Genesis, story of creation, contradiction in the first page. The Koran on the other hand, zero contradiction and zero errors. Don't believe what you see on TV or what people tell you, read it for yourself. You've been given a mind and a brain, use it and make your own decision. God's existence can be logically proven and found in Islam. Its all there, most people are just blind and deluded. There is only 1 truth, and that is there is no deity worthy of worship, save Allah, and Muhammad is his final messenger.
The point of the article is to get all the biblical references in pop culture, not to read a religious text. Citations from the Koran are far less frequent, so in the context of this article, you point is moot. Did you even read the article?
Good going with your circular reasoning chief. By your logic Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, and the Cheshire cat are also real. Why don't you put down the ancient mythology books written by people wondering the dessert and try opening a modern science book? I promise what you'll find is far more amazing AND supported by evidence!!
That's interesting that you say that about the bible, but wasn't the Koran organized by religious scholars with no order except length of text. I can't remember if it's shortest to longest of vice versa.
Mohammad's followers changed his writings, he didn't even write, many times. He was a thief and murderer. It came on the scene around 600AD and later and it's full of bull. There are over 6000 manuscripts of the NT alone that are in agreement. Where did you learn your religion? Islam is a religion of death, hate, murder for unbelievers. All Muslim nations are living worse that natives in jungles. Where are your manuscripts?
In order to read it, I would have to learn Arabic and then spend years studying the history of the region just to put it in context in order to 'understand' a way of thinking that seems to make no sense in a modern world. Or I could read the translated version...which HAS been edited and probably lost in translation.
You obviously did not have very good teachers or people that understood the Bible well enough to answer your questions. I am very sorry that they failed you.
Hey Jim, it;s Vic!