Friday, July 17, 2009

Bible Study

I have two relationships with the Bible - a physical one and an emotional one. I have carried a Bible in my left hand, felt its weight against my side, touched the light, cool, thin pages of it, tracing my finger below each line of verse, trying to translate in my head from the King James Version. I have flipped its pages back and forth, gripped its leather cover, rifled through the tabs on the side when following the minister, and rubbed my thumb across my gold embossed name on the face of it. There's something distinct about the physical shape and nature of a KJV. I've yet to come across any other book that thick and that flexible. What else is bound in leather? It's heavy, which is easy to mistake with being weighty.

Then there's how I've felt about it or while reading it, over the decades. The Bible is the first book I ever read as a child. I still like old English enough to enjoy the sound of the Bible, and the taste of some of the more poetic words. I also think being immersed in that tongue as a young child made Shakespeare much more accessible as a poetically inclined teen. In so much of life growing up in a rather odd religious sect I find that I miss out on cultural ties. I didn't watch the same TV shows or listen to any of the music my peers did as kids in the 80s and 90s. But I know the Bible stories. And those are rather well known, at least the ones that make good illustrations, like Noah's Ark. Besides, I really enjoy the little details they throw into the writing of Kings. They're inside stories for someone familiar with the Biblical story of David and Saul.

As a small child I loved the fables and folk tales of many cultures. I thought that by reading the stories they told themselves, I could understand them better. The knee-jerk hatred I felt towards the Bible during the early months of my atheism is gone now. I don't think it's true, and I think it's used to commit horrible crimes about people, but I still like the fact that I understand the culture and I can speak the language. I know their fables.

I want my son to have that knowledge, but not the cost of gaining it. I don't think I would know the tiny Old Testament story details that I do if the Old Testament hadn't been the first book I ever read. I may not have found Shakespeare appealing without early exposure to the literary style. And I doubt I'd have any real insight into American Christianity if I hadn't been raised in it. Those benefits can't justify the price. No other book has caused me to feel so much so intently. Fear, shame, excitement, incredulity, amusement, humility, desolation, solitude, companionship, comfort, humiliation, and self-loathing.

When stressing to me that Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons aren't "real Christians", an acquaintance said to me, "It's annoying that they would just change the book or write their own and then still call it the same religion. They just stole ours." Of course, that's exactly what Christianity did to Judaism, and one reason to suppose that Christianity used to be nothing more than a weird little cult in Jerusalem.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hard to follow that bizarre spam.
    You are so right, the language of the king james bible can be beautiful. Bit, I feel really privileged that I didn't grow up having actually believe it.

    (Thanks for the comments at whydontyou)

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  4. A reader wanted these links posted regarding JW child/family matters and employment

  5. Angie,

    It's a great post! Though I must say, I've mostly been an NIV'er.

    Raised Catholic, we didn't carry Bibles around with us, and I always felt that lack. Then I borrowed a Bible from someone and was amazed at all the places where popular phrases originated: "The voice crying in the wilderness," "the writing on the wall," etc. For a time, I had a small collection of Bibles. Like you, I liked the small, dense print, the wafer-thin pages, and the leather binding that always had a trademark scent. Kind of dusty and solemn. :)

    I studied the Hebrew scriptures for awhile, and was fascinated by the rabbis' interpretation of the whole Sodom & Gomorrah tale. It wasn't about the wickedness of homosexuality -- it was about the wickedness of people who rejected the notion of even basic hospitality. You come inside the city limits, we'll rape you, rob you, and kill you. Studying scripture with someone who has a broad mind and extensive education can be rewarding. It was only after I settled into evangelical Protestant Christianity that this eagerness to study scripture began to fade. It was like going to a concert every week where the same band played the same song over and over. The whole purpose of teaching scripture seemed to be to reinforce whatever the minister was saying to us. The teachers would become so muddled if someone asked a probing question. Because biblical literature branches out and touches so many other areas, it can be useful for kids to at least know where these concepts originate. Biblical literature has been successfully taught in many liberal schools. It's only when fundies get into the act that it degenerates into didactic dogmatism, and no one gets ANYTHING out of it.