The Bible has been loudly, publicly, and repetitively criticized for a long time, and it’s most vocal defenders have been those who demand that it be treated as a divine oracle. In other words, the public has been given a binary choice:
Either the Bible is horrible, or else it’s divine and you’ll go to hell if you don’t think so.
I think that’s a silly choice, but it’s the one most people see.
On top of that, I couldn’t think of a single reasoned defense of the book, though there must be a decent one somewhere. And so, I want to point out its value. Whatever its flaws (and it’s important to note that almost no one takes the really objectionable passages seriously, save for some atheists), they pale in comparison.
We’ll start with this:
Compassion for the “Other”
Consider, please, how many lives have been senselessly lost because of stirred-up hatreds. Rulers and court intellectuals have had an easy time portraying the outsider – the “other” – as an object to be hated and killed, and have left mounds of corpses in their wake… often with the two groups trading and intermarrying a generation later!
This barbaric call to butchery has been made over and over and over: People are told to hate the other, one nation rises against another, and so on, again and again. It’s a monstrous beast that rushes in when summoned.
So, can we ignore the benefits of a book that teaches the opposite? That teaches love of the other rather than tribal bloodlust?
This is precisely what we find in the Bible, and especially from Jesus. Consider what he says in this passage:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Here’s one that addresses the same thing from a different angle:
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
Here’s a call for loving outsiders from one of the earliest books in the Bible:
[The Lord your God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Added to all this is the great example of Jesus as he was being crucified: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
Where but from the Bible or from people influenced by the Bible do we find such civilized and civilizing thoughts?
Where’s a young person to learn integrity these days? It certainly won’t be from politicians. Fortunately is does come from good families, good teachers, good coaches, etc., but even those channels frequently link back to the Bible.
From the Torah passage above (you were sojourners, so you should help the sojourner) to the wonderful story of Nathan using integrity to condemn David (too long to repeat here, but you can find it in 2 Samuel, chapter 12) to the following sayings of Jesus, the Bible teaches integrity over and over.
Whatever you would have men do unto you, do so to them.
With whatever judgment you judge, you shall be judged.
By your words you will be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.
Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.
If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
It would be hard to teach integrity more directly than that, and those are just some of the relevant passages.
Needless to say, integrity carries benefits into all areas of life and has follow-on effects that long endure.
There’s really nothing that cultivates human happiness, that supports human civilization, more than simple benevolence. Without it, we’re pretty well doomed. And demands for benevolence are found abundantly in the Bible. Here are a few of the more notable instances:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Rend your hearts and not your garments.
Let love be genuine.
If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.
He who does not love does not know God.
And Much More
There’s much more to be said, including things that don’t immediately leap to mind for most of us. Here are a few:
Endless calls for justice.
A God who speaks to the powerless, rather than to the mighty.
An individual spirituality rather than a collective spirituality.
The Bible teaches individuality by making God a distinct individual. With this pattern in the minds of men, they are less afraid to think as individuals. As a result, they tend to come up with better ideas and to produce better results.
The Bible glorifies men who have deep changes of heart. This not only allows us to start anew and improve, but it removes guilt for our past actions. There can be problems associated with this from a justice standpoint, but it has massively assisted human improvement.
A second-order effect of things covered above is the assumption of co-dominance: I’m not dominating you and you’re not dominating me; we can both be strong and friendly at the same time. Where this is absent, anger festers, compassion fails, grudges are never released, and endless volumes of energy are wasted in posturing and scheming. Where it is present, cooperation rules and massive accomplishments can arise. This teaching is also seen explicitly, here:
The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you.
Still Don’t Like the Bible?
If you still don’t want the book, fine, that’s your choice. But if you want our civilization to drop the Bible and move on without it, you need to give us an appropriate replacement before we ditch it: something that teaches these lessons better than the Bible does.
Without that, we’d be tearing a hole in the heart of our civilization.
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