As with any collection of writings, even those chosen more for “God wants you to include this and will curse you if you don’t” rather than literary merit or storytelling chops, the Bible has a few gems of real value amongst all the religious dross. I don’t really approach it differently than any other body of mythology: I’m a writer, and I will damned well cannibalize anything. In fact, back before I was even an atheist, I had an atheist character who regularly spouted bits from the book of Revelation, and would have bopped the noggin of any one of the crowing Christians who love to scream “GOTCHA! You DO believe!” whenever he did so. Revelation spoke to him; God, not so much, and certainly less than the Norse gods. If he ever converts to anything, it will be something to do with Odin long before Yahweh gets an audition.
No, even the story he tells where Satan possesses him in an attempt to murder God while God just sits there and watches, drinking coffee, doesn’t mean he’s a believer. It means he’s a writer who knows how to use myth and powerful imagery to make a point.
I’ve become more like Chretien, as I’ve grown older. For one, I have become an atheist, and for another, I’ve fully accepted doing what I like with the Bible, just as I do Buddhist and Hindu and Norse texts. Any body of mythology is up for grabs; any stories people have told each other in order to make sense of the world and find their way in it can be powerful, and worth incorporating. And sometimes, the language is just pretty.
I do try to stay away from overtly Christian themes, however – not because they’re terrible (although sometimes they are), not because I don’t want people claiming me for Christianity (although I’m sure they’ll try anyway), but because they’ve been done. Often, they’ve been done to death. But sometimes, you can incorporate them in such a way they’re fresh and relevant, and so I’ll do that (still not a Christian, Christians). Sometimes, it’s the character who’s Christian and, when that’s the case, the Christian theme is unavoidable. And sometimes, it’s because I’ve discovered something new (to me, at least) in that terribly old book.
All of this is a long lead-up to a Thing that was going around some time ago, about atheists and their favorite Bible verses. There are several bits that I sometimes enjoy, and a lot of things that are beautifully stated (not that their equivalent can’t be found elsewhere – what a long stint in reading history and comparative mythology taught me was that nothing was original to Christ, and often I can find the equivalent said by some non-Christians in profound and beautiful ways. Sorry, Christians who like to believe God said it first and best). However, one verse has rather come to the fore, both because it’s beautiful in and of itself, and because it’s the one that springs to mind whenever I see these Good Christians™ doing things like demanding we send children away to die, or enthusiastically endorsing the death penalty. It’s the one I hope Jesus says to these disgusting little shits should that particular myth prove to be true and he comes back to whup some ass. And it’s one that turns out to be Ed Brayton’s favorite, as well:
I was a little surprised that no one offered up my favorite verse, Matthew 25:40.
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I have always found this to be a powerful statement of human compassion. It is the core of all moral reasoning, the idea that we must treat others well because we wish to be treated well.
That’s some powerful stuff, indeed. In context, it’s basically saying that the folks who refuse to give sanctuary to refugee children (because brown) or who advocate for the painful executions of possibly innocent people (because criminal and probably brown) aren’t getting that mansion in heaven they thought they already had the keys to. And there’s no extra credit for treating people well who looked and acted like you. That’s not difficult, after all. What’s hard is having empathy and taking care of people who are different or sick or even fuck-ups. Not all of us can live up to the standard of treating everyone well, but we should at the very least refrain from actually demanding harm.
So that’s a good verse.
The other bit I discovered recently whilst doing other things was one of the Proverbs I’d never read. Did you know that the first thing God created was Wisdom? And that Wisdom’s a woman? Well, definitely a she. Read it right here, for yourownself. I really like the final bit:
“And now, my children, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Happy is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord;
but those who miss me injure themselves;
all who hate me love death.”
Of course, I’m sure my definition of wisdom is different from religious people’s definition of wisdom. But it’s a very nice thing to have in my mental pocket, that, waiting to be unloaded on someone who insists upon being an ignorant dipshit.
Now, after encountering some of the folks who spout Bible verses and expect you to repent or be damned, or who claim you’re not an atheist just because you have some money in your pocket that has “In God We Trust” stamped upon it by the government (who really shouldn’t be doing that), you may be reluctant to even look at the bloody book, much less consider any verse of it worth keeping. And I don’t blame you. There have been times when I wish we could get rid of the whole sorry lot, too. But Valerie Tarico is right, here:
As a young adult, I struggled to recover from the crazy parts of my childhood. I once had a therapist who said, “You’ll know you are independent from your parents when you can do what you want for yourself even if they want it too.” To my mind, the Bible writers are like dysfunctional parents to our whole society, parents we have turned to, collectively and individually, for guidance. but who all too often instead have caused harm or trauma. One of the ways we will know that we have truly outgrown them is when we are able to claim what we believe to be useful and beautiful, even if they said it.
Indeed. So I’m bloody well calling dibs on some good bits. You can have the other 9/10ths that are either long boring stretches of begats or a bunch of horrifying drivel, dear Christianists. And the best part is, it will probably drive you into conniptions.