Why do I prefer our United States Constitution to the Bible? Lots of reasons, but I’ll focus on one. The Constitution allows for do-overs. Its authors understood the document to be imperfect and made provisions for future generations to amend it.
Alas, there is no such biblical escape clause. What you see from way back then is what you get.
Neither the Constitution nor the Bible included freedom of religion, equal rights for women, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or the abolition of slavery — but today, through amendments, the Constitution does. We also have a democratic form of government that allows for progressive laws that our 18th-century founders might not have considered or desired.
So what about those who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, yet can’t reconcile some portions with a loving deity? It’s difficult to justify passages about killing witches, slaying all women and little children in a city, the blood of Jesus being on all Jews and their children, killing homosexuals, and many more. Even biblical literalists now try to interpret some of these passages in more enlightened ways.
Not only is slavery nowhere condemned in the Bible, but some have used Noah’s curse of Canaan to justify it. (“Cursed be Canaan [presumed black]! The lowest of slaves will he be to his [presumed white] brothers.”) Since nobody today condones slavery (and groups like the Southern Baptist Convention have even apologized for promoting slavery), interpretations abound. For instance, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says Noah’s curse had to do with a rebellious son, not skin color.
Apparently, it’s easier for some Christians to be on the moral rather than on the scientific side of history. Albert Mohler, who Time called the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U. S., believes that the incredible Adam and Eve story goes to the heart of Christianity — because the whole point of the crucifixion and the resurrection was to undo Adam’s original sin, and that without a historical Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense.
Treating the Bible as a history or science book makes many Christians as uncomfortable as accepting all the biblical pronouncements about women, Jews, gays, slaves, and smiting. The Bible describes a young and flat earth with four corners resting on pillars at the center of our universe. Every piece of “science” in the Bible is wrong.
I’m inspired by Thomas Jefferson and the Dalai Lama to suggest a new approach to biblical problems. Thomas Jefferson amended the Christian Bible by writing a version that left out miracle stories and included only what made sense to him. Jefferson referred to what remained as “diamonds in a dunghill.” The Dalai Lama said, “If science proves facts that conflict with Buddhist understanding, Buddhism must change accordingly.”
There are secular “bibles” for atheists, and that’s fine. Atheists and humanists accept that they are part of a natural world, the result of unguided evolutionary change, and that ethical values are derived from human needs and interests and are tested and refined by experience. No supernaturalism is needed. I’ve written a piece on biblical fables, where atheists can still find moral lessons in the traditional Bible as they do in Aesop’s fables.
But I’m proposing something different here — an amended bible devoid of passages that many God believers ignore, are embarrassed by, or interpret as the opposite of what the words say. This would not be a bible where poet William Blake could say, “Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black where I read white.”
Who should write this new bible? Perhaps a committee of God believers who view the traditional Bible as inspired, but not inerrant, along with scientists and ethicists as advisors. After discussion, they could vote on what to include and exclude.
Is this heresy? No, it’s tradition! Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century brought church leaders together at the Council of Nicaea, and they voted the “word of God” into existence. And so it could be with my proposed second-chance bible for progressive religious believers, who have informally been treating the Bible as if it were a Constitution and amending it with their thoughts and behavior. I’m just suggesting that such amendments be written on paper, not tablets.
Here’s how I might start a bible from the perspective of a scientifically literate God believer. Delete “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and replace it with “In the beginning of time, about 13.7 billion years ago, God created our universe with a big bang.”
I don’t believe the “God” part, but at least this bible can begin more accurately and move on to God’s “creating” the earth some 9 billion years after the big bang. The traditional Bible fits comfortably with the views of those who wrote it in a pre-scientific and misogynistic era. Scientists and humanists have since filled in many God of the gaps and moral gaps of biblical authors some 2000 to 3000 years ago.
Any second-chance bible would be far from perfect. Future generations would look back and laugh about some of our current misconceptions and prejudices, which would inspire them to write a more perfect third bible. And so on. Maybe a day will eventually come when people will accept a godless bible, just as they accept our godless Constitution.