Reading Time: 4 minutes

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You’ve got to love the Bible — not for what it reveals about an alleged supreme being, but for what it reveals about us, the monkeys who wrote it and who’ve kept it a bestseller for two millennia and counting.

The fact that this mishmash of exceeding good and outrageous evil, of genuine wisdom and utter nonsense, of sublimity and unintended farce, of perfect love and bottomless hate, continues to resonate for so many people in the 21st century is a function of what it really is: a mirror. We are good, evil, wise, nonsensical, sublime, farcical, loving and hateful. How can you not love a book that shows us so unashamedly for the self-contradictory mess we are?

Here’s a thoughtful take from the good folks at Skeptics Annotated Bible:

For nearly two billion people, the Bible is a holy book containing the revealed word of God. It is the source of their religious beliefs. Yet few of those who believe in the Bible have actually read it.

This must seem strange to those who have never read the Bible. But anyone who has struggled through its repetitious and tiresome trivia, seemingly endless genealogies, pointless stories and laws, knows that the Bible is not an easy book to read. So it is not surprising that those who begin reading at Genesis seldom make it through Leviticus. And the few Bible-believers who survive to the bitter end of Revelation must continually face a disturbing dilemma: their faith tells them they should read the Bible, but by reading the Bible they endanger their faith.

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.

The most popular solution to this problem is to leave the Bible reading to the clergy. The clergy then quote from the Bible in their writings and sermons, and explain its meaning to the others. Extreme care is taken, of course, to quote from the parts of the Bible that display the best side of God and to ignore those that don’t. That this approach means that only a fraction of the Bible is ever referenced is not a great problem. Because although the Bible is not a very good book, it is a very long one.

But if so little of the Bible is actually used, then why isn’t the rest deleted? Why aren’t the repetitious passages — which are often contradictory as well — combined into single, consistent ones? Why aren’t the hundreds of cruelties and absurdities eliminated? Why aren’t the bad parts of the “Good Book” removed?

Such an approach would result in a much better, but much smaller book. To make it a truly good book, though, would require massive surgery, and little would remain. For nearly all passages in the Bible are objectionable in one way or another.

Perhaps. But to the Bible-believer…each passage contains a message from God that must not be altered or deleted. So the believer is simply stuck with the Bible.

Jefferson made one such attempt at corrective surgery with the New Testament.

Whether you’re a believer or a nonbeliever, to get a real grasp of this strange and influential book, at some point you’ll have to go straight to it. Spoonfeeding and cherry-picking add up to religious illiteracy. And with religion dominating and influencing everything from individual actions to world events, religious illiteracy is something we can no longer afford. That includes secular parents. UU Rev. Bobbie Nelson hit the nail on the head in Parenting Beyond Belief:

Choosing not to affiliate or join a religious community does not shield a parent from [religious] questions–you will still need to be able to answer some or all of them. If you do not provide the answers, someone else will–and you may be distressed by the answers they provide.

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If that sent a chill down your parental spine, and your exposure to the Bible has so far been secondhand, it’s time to get up close and personal with this long-resonating collection of goat-herd lore.

But like SAB said above, there’s nothing like picking up a Bible to make you want to put it down again. The Bible is protected from close examination by the very idea of plowing through 770,000 words in six-point font (including no fewer than 10,941 shalls). While the daunting size and tedium of the bible serves the needs of the church, which giddily stands in the explanatory breach, it also prevents understanding on all sides. It prevents secularists from engaging the exquisite poetry of Ecclesiastes and Luke (etc) and the faithful from recognizing the genuine poison of Deuteronomy and Revelation (etc etc).

But 770,000 words of Bible prose is roughly 80 hours. I wouldn’t ask you to do that — there are too many books both good and influential to spend that much time on one that’s merely influential. Fortunately you don’t need to read the whole thing to greatly enhance your Biblical Quotient. Crack the cover and you’ve already passed up as much as 72 percent of Christendom.

We here at Meming of Life International have designed a multi-tiered bible reading plan for the secularist. Whatever your level of commitment, from toe-dipping dilettante to full immersion dilettante, we’ve got a plan to match your lifestyle.

Unfortunately, I’ve set a new goal: an absolute 1000-word limit per post, about six minutes of reading, and we’re just about there for today. In the coming weeks I’ll include a few more posts outlining our patented Bible Study Plan for Non-Goatherds™. So get yourself a Good Book…so you have something to read when you’re done with the Bible.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.