I have a strange desire to read the Bible from cover to cover. Because I’m an atheist. That just seems so odd to me, on the face of it. I mean, plenty of atheists read the Bible in order to be able to argue better with Christians or to point out inconsistencies or whatnot, but I’ve been figuring, as an atheist, I don’t have any obligation to read anyone else’s holy book.
It’s just that this particular holy book has always been such a big deal in my life, whether I want it to be or not. As a kid, I would read the Bible because it was the Good thing to do, and I would read it as the Holy Word of God, not as simply a book. I read the part about the Israelites committing genocide at god’s command and filed this away as the Right Thing to Do because God Said So, instead of considering the implications of a “loving” god who wants an entire people to be wiped out, including innocent newborn babies. I was reading the book with a basic assumption that I’d inherited from my parents, that “the Bible says so” is a good reason to do something or believe something or a way to demonstrate the truth of something. With that assumption, the book can’t be wrong, because it is right. With that assumption, I couldn’t see the inconsistencies because the assumption was that there aren’t any. If it seemed inconsistent, then it must be because I was wrong about something.
I did notice some inconsistency though, but it wasn’t in the book, it was in real life. Like, if we claim to be followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we be out sharing the word and healing people and stuff? Why weren’t we dedicating our entire lives to these endeavors, like the early followers of Jesus? If we really believed this stuff, shouldn’t we be doing stuff about it, besides just sitting in church listening to a guy talk and then doing some singing every Sunday? The Bible says that if we have faith, we can move mountains, so why weren’t we moving mountains? And I’ve never understood why there are so many different varieties of Christianity. If we are all following the same god, shouldn’t we all be working together?
I remember one time, while I was with my family waiting outside a restaurant until we could get seated, I saw another little girl, but she was in a wheel chair. I thought, I should ask god to heal her. If I had faith, it would happen. It should be something that Christians do, because that’s how it is in the Bible. I could just walk up to her and say ‘be healed’ or something and she would be able to walk again. But I hesitated. And hesitated. Because I wasn’t really so sure that it would work and just kept thinking how awful it would be (incredibly embarrassing for me, and really rude to her) if it didn’t work, and I felt like a bad person because I wasn’t following the teachings of Jesus wholeheartedly.
And another thing, if we Christians believed that we went to heaven when they died, why were we so sad when other believers died? Weren’t they in a better place? Wouldn’t we see them again when we died? Why were we still afraid to die? If a person really believes that they will go to a wonderful paradise when they die and that life is nothing more than a short test, they why should death be the least bit scary?
But, even with all these uncertainties just below the surface (I never dared to voice them out loud, only barely daring to think them), it never occurred to me to question the holy book itself, only the actions of those who claimed to follow it. The book remained firmly on a pedestal, untouchable. Rejecting the pedestal, rejecting the book which was the core of my parents’ beliefs, would be tantamount to rejecting my parents themselves, something wholly unthinkable to a child.
I made it my goal, at one point, to read the whole thing from cover to cover. I didn’t quite make it all the way through, but I’m pretty sure I read all of the new testament at least once and probably got half or two thirds of the way through the old testament before just giving up due to boredom. I want to make this my goal again, only this time without the assumption that it is right because it is right. I want to read it to see what it actually says. I want to read it so I can get over the way it was held to be above everything else when I was a child. I want to get over the way I step carefully around it even now. I want to be wholehearted and consistent between my beliefs and my actions. If I really don’t believe that god exists, then why I am still tiptoeing around this old book? If I’m right and this old book is just stuff made up by humans who believed odd things, then giving it a fair read through will only strengthen my (un)belief.