No, seriously. I do. I even have my Bible:
I seriously do love my Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. I cackled when it came in the mail, and immediately took pictures of it, then took it out of its clear plastic wrapper and took more pictures, then I took it to bed and promptly began reading. About forty-seven seconds later, I had an almost overwhelming urge to go to church. I want to find the most Bible-believing biblical literalist church possible, and sit there with my big ochre bible, and innocently thumb through it. “Excuse me, Pastor, did you just say God wants us to be saved? But what about here in Second Thessalonians 2:11 and 12, where it says God will make us believe lies so that we’re damned? How does that work?” Cue puzzled but beatific smile.
This is a wonderful book. Granted, there’s a website. But somehow, having this book in hand is utterly different. I think it’s because it feels like the very serious bibles we thumbed through in church every Sunday morning. Its pages are thin and crackly; it has a solemn weight, and somber binding. When you open it, there are the King James words, ever so familiar and hallowed by centuries of repetition. But you’ll never find this introduction in a Christian Bookstore bible: “When I was a Christian, I never read the Bible. Not all the way through, anyway. The problem was that I believed the Bible to be the inspired and inerrant word of God, yet the more I read it, the less credible that belief became. I finally decided that to protect my faith in the Bible, I’d better quit trying to read it.”
Steve Wells did us a huge good service by going through this nasty book verse by verse, annotating and highlighting. In the margins, you’ll find a simple key, little icons that tell you where to find absurdity (okay, more absurdity), injustice, cruelty and violence, intolerance, contradictions, conflicts with science and history, Biblical family values (ha!), interpretation, misogyny and insults to women, sex, false prophecy and misquotes, language (as in naughty), homosexuality (all few references), and, just occasionally, good stuff. Those little icons make skimming through to find what you need quite easy.
Each chapter is introduced with highlights. To take a chapter at random, we’ll flip to Philippians, where the highlights tell us, “Forget Jesus. Paul says you should follow him and people that follow him.” That’s in Philippians 3:17, for those who want a peek. I loved those chapter highlights: it helped me orient myself and gave me fun things to look forward to in what is, let’s face it, an atrociously written book. Well, atrociously written books mashed together any-old-how. A good read-through makes me wonder how anyone’s powers of self-deception are up to the task of convincing self and everyone that this mess is meaningful. Yeesh.
After a while, you just want to skip to the end. Which is where the really good stuff is. Steve included a list of contradictions (spoiler alert: it’s really really long). I think this may be my favorite part of the book, because it’s such a simple, clear-cut reference showing the contradictions with eye-opening clarity – and citing chapter and verse.This is the part I will turn to the next time proselytizers arrive at my door. I will sit them down, open my SAB to that list, and go down the whole thing, asking for explanations until they flee. It’s going to be such fun.
And then, the pièce de résistance, the greatest list of all: “God’s Killings in the Bible.” It begins with Noah’s flood and ends with Jesus. A few killings seem to be missing, but the dude’s such a homicidal maniac it’s hard for even someone as thorough as Steve to keep track. It doesn’t matter. By the time you hit line 25 or 50 (representing untold bloodshed) that you start to realize the God of love was actually the God of “Dang, I love killing humans!” By line 135, it’s really hard to see the Christian god as anything other than a genocidal freak, and throwing a few more bodies on the pile seems, frankly, like overkill. Which is something God engaged in with alarming frequency.
All of this awesomeness is sandwiched between Selected Quotes from the Old Testament (front end-papers) and Selected Quotes from the New Testament (endpapers). And you know those quotes are the ones guaranteed to make all but the most blinkered Christian squirm. “Hey, kids! Let’s read the Bible together! How about Second Kings 18:27? That’s wholesome!”
I’m loving this. I figure if people are going to believe the bible’s their good book, they should read the thing, and prepare to defend it in all it’s blood-soaked, slavery-approving, misogynistic, ignorant, violent and contradictory glory. The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible makes it easy to help that process along. We can do bible study together! Hooray!
It’s also suitable for gifting to religious relatives and friends, and all you have to do is practice your innocent look: “Oh, it’s a skeptic’s view of the bible? Wow. I thought it was a bible you’d give to a skeptic to bring ’em around!” *bat eyelashes, shrug bashfully*
The only thing that will make this better is having my pantheist friend join me at church with her LOLcat Bible. And I am breathlessly awaiting the day when the Skeptic’s Annotated Book of Mormon and the Skeptic’s Annotated Qu’ran are available in print. I’ll be bloody well tempted to become a comparative religions scholar in my free time, and if I do, I will enjoy it.
Thank you, Steve, for such an outstanding reference bible. It will have pride o’ place on my shelf, and I hope it will pass down through many generations of my skeptical family. Those of you who’d like to join me at church, you can get your copy here.