The Nones Bible
“Who Really Believes the Bible?”
This may sound unbelievable and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there are times when I wish we could find some folks who really believed the Bible. I suppose I should explain.
First of all, when I say “believe the Bible” I don’t mean what many seem to mean when they say they believe it. I get the feeling that there are huge numbers of people who believe they believe but they really mean that they believe this or that part of the book. It’s natural and human to be picky and choosy. But it would be nice if these folks would honestly admit they “pick cherries,” avoiding uncomfortable verses or stories.
Take the story of the “Rich Ruler” in the Gospel of Luke (18:18). He calls Jesus the “Good Teacher” and says he has lived by the Ten Commandments his whole life (consider all the Ten Commandments monuments going up around the country). But how does the “Good Teacher” respond? My paraphrase: “[Good for you, and nice shoes; now] sell all you own and give to the poor.”
Stop for a second and think of all those well-heeled people you know in your life. Have any followed this teaching … ever? We all know that’s crazy, right? No one in their right mind would give up what they own and give it away to poor folk, wouldn’t you think? Well, maybe a “saint” like Francis of Assisi. But, it’s plain nuts to actually DO this, agreed?
What’s the explanatory defense we hear from “biblical scholars”? “Oh, this is another example of how Jesus uses extreme teachings to make his point—like the call for disciples to “hate father and mother” and follow him. He wasn’t saying WE should literally do this—heaven’s no! There’s a ‘deeper’ more ‘spiritual’ meaning.” So they say.
Let’s not even touch the line, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” and a few breaths later, “Give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:27, 30). What if someone, anyone, actually listened, and at least acted as if they believed it?
Maybe what we “believe” doesn’t really matter—it’s what we do, and that “believing”—especially believing a book—is often the greatest stumbling block to living up to the “real message.” Something to think about.
We might also point to the inconvenient passages where Jesus suggests (?) that God has a particular concern for vulnerable people and despised outcasts. What do the “bible dancers” (interpreters) come up with? More contortions, distortions and locomotions. We can see them twist and shout.
I was thinking about my dear departed dad. A good-hearted man, generous and devout. He “believed the Bible” and read it regularly but I rarely heard him quote it, and he never read it aloud or preached from it. No, he lived it. How did he do that? He tried to live in peace with neighbors, always helped strangers and never stopped giving of his time and resources to the family, church, friends and others. Was he perfect? Of course not. But who cares? He lived, loved and listened for the meaning of the words he read and heard from the pulpit.
I have friends, colleagues and family members who “believe the Bible,” though as I see it, they choose to believe the more believable parts, especially when it comes to compassion, justice and doing the right and good things (all taught by many other sources beyond the Bible, of course).
Now does anyone understand why a former “Bible believer” can have deep respect for some who believe—and who live their beliefs with love and compassion?
Some will insist they truly “believe the Bible.” It’s not entirely sarcastic to ask, “Which parts?” When they answer that “It’s ALL God’s Word” then it would be natural to inquire, “Then why don’t we see people obeying ALL of it?” At this point we often hear folks say they believe all of the book but there is an “Old” part and a “New” part and the “New” part contains “Red Letter” parts that are truly, especially “God’s Word.”
I have my red-letter, leather-bound Bible right here on my desk while I write this column. I could put my hand on it and swear an oath on it (which it says we should never do), but you would say I don’t believe it, so you wouldn’t believe me.
Alright. But could we agree to treat one another well, with or without a book?
Jesus asks us to follow him, first and foremost.
Ok, how do you “follow” him? Saying his name, praying to him, quoting the bible, going to church. . .or living a certain way?
You’re talking to a Quaker, so my answer falls on the action end. And, yes, we fall far short too often.
Jnana, I’ve known and worked with many Friends in my life. Most, as you say, are very involved in social action. Taught a class last year on Lucretia Mott, and visited her gravesite in Philly. One of my heroes.