While holed up in a rehabilitation hospital recovering from a nasty fall a coworker invited me to a noon-hour Bible study group. The group conveniently met in my rehab hospital so I rolled upstairs in my wheelchair and started attending their meetings. When I told my wife about this peculiar book club she thought I was suffering from post traumatic shock or had lost my mind. It’s not that dramatic! I’m a hard-ass skeptic but I enjoy reading religious and mythical texts. I’ve plowed though vast swaths of the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Iliad, Beowulf, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I, like many atheists and agnostics, know far more about these works than believers might expect and consider them jewels of world literature. The Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita are still taken seriously while the greek gods of the Iliad and deities like Osiris in the Book of the Dead are no longer worshiped! Emerson said it best, “The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.” Once you accept the view that the Bible is literature you can relax and enjoy the fabulous tales it spins. If, on the other hand, you believe you are reading “inerrant scripture” then you’re in for a world of logical hurt!
When I was younger I argued with believers, mostly Mormons in Utah and Muslims in southern Iran and northern Ghana, that only allegorical interpretations of the Bible or Koran made sense. A literal view forces you into never-ending and embarrassing conflict with science and violent clashes with other believers. You would think after millennia of religious warfare we would catch on. You cannot simultaneously be a good Hindu and Christian. Something has to give; they both cannot be true but they both can be false! Believers are aware of these problems but most pull back from logically analyzing their positions. They instinctively know where analysis leads: myth will not hold. In the long run Allah and Jehovah will share Osiris’s and Apollo’s fate.
This is not a view I will be advocating in my peculiar book club. I am content to let others enjoy their beliefs as long as they have no material impact on me! Atheists that constantly scream about “under god” in the pledge of allegiance or “in god we trust” on the dollar annoy me! Hypothetical entities are far less tiresome than shrieking banshees. If the term “God” irritates you substitute “Santa Claus.” As for militant believers of all creeds: we have a problem! The separation of church and state is one of the deepest and greatest things about the United States. It protects all of us from our mutual idiocies. I have no problems with people erecting, on their own dime, plaques emblazoned with the Ten Commandments but it annoys me that religious institutions enjoy special tax status. Go to your mosques, churches and temples but pay your damn taxes!