A link to a post titled ‘Bible Verses That Atheists Love’ showed up in my Facebook feed Monday and just the title made me throw up in my mouth a little. We atheists complain when theists cherry-pick the Bible because they tend to focus on the ‘good’ parts and downplay the ‘bad’ parts. Why in pink unicorns would atheists play into that game by contributing to this silly article. There is nothing in the Bible that I ‘love’ or even like and atheists who play this game aren’t helping the cause.
Several prominent atheists and atheist bloggers contributed to the article:
Bible believers are on shaky ground these days, which is growing ever shakier thanks to science (think Cosmos), biblical scholarship, and the internet. Church attendance and belief itself are eroding, at least among young people, at least where people are free and educated, and secularism is on the rise. So, if clear-eyed Christians can take the risk of exposing the Bible’s nasty bits, the converse should also be true—atheists should be able to acknowledge the parts that are timeless and wise.
To that end, I asked some outspoken anti-theists and other champions of secularism what they think are the best verses in the Bible, and why.
I actually have an entire favorite book: Ecclesiastes. There’s lots of beautiful stuff in it about nature, human nature, and good ways to live life. It has plenty of stuff I have serious problems with, too — the God stuff, obviously, and some other stuff as well — but much of the philosophy and poetry is quite lovely and moving. And much of it is oddly humanist, with an awareness of how small humans really are in the scheme of things, and how fragile our lives are, and the absurdity of how important we think we are (“all is vanity”), and how much our lives are shaped by chance, and the repeated reminders of our mortality.
I deeply love 4:9-12: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
—Greta Christina, author of Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why and Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless
Hemant and I chose the very same verse. Ecclesiastes is the best book of the Bible by far—such a genuine, honest human cry—and 9:10 is the best of many good passages. Doesn’t get more humanistic than that.
—Dale McGowan, author of Atheism For Dummies
The Bible isn’t some kind of book of poetry or created work of art that one should appreciate. If we demand theists acknowledge the whole then atheists shouldn’t be playing the apologist game of cherry-picking the “good” parts. The “nasty” stuff far outnumbers the good. You can’t give a book the benefit of the doubt that is filled with murder, misogyny, incest, child abuse, racism, sexism, and bestiality – for starters.
It would be like finding the “good” parts of “Mein Kampf” or “The Turner Diaries” and putting it in an article without dealing with why those books are not fit for humanity.
Chairman Mao Tse Tung has said some humanistic things but there would be few if any atheists who would hold him up as an icon of atheism or humanism. The current Pope has been praised for comments about LGBTQs but if he really wanted to make a difference he would dissolve the Catholic church. Talk is cheap.
There are one or two people who contributed quotes for the article who would refuse to find anything good about pornography, for example, even though it can be a work of art.
Even if we acknowledge there are passages in the Bible that aren’t awful, it isn’t relevant since the majority of it is terrible. The whole book should be rejected because it can’t be and shouldn’t be salvaged.
We know that a book doesn’t make a person “good”, it is their actions that count. The Bible’s time has passed and efforts, well intentioned or not, to make atheists look good to theists fails with this article.
Saying nice things about the Bible plays into the apologist’s game and doesn’t add anything to the atheist movement. Just like saying nice things about the Pope, it just confuses people and doesn’t resolve the overall problem of religious belief in the world – pretty words or not.