Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Bible is boring

Because I hang out with atheist student groups, the Bible comes up every so often.  My official position on the Bible is that it's more boring than The Lord of the Rings.  I tell people this as a way of changing the subject--many atheists just won't let go of the implication that The Lord of the Rings is awful--and as a way of reminding people that there is no accounting for taste.

Oh, but underneath the talk, there is accounting for my taste.  I know why I feel the Bible is boring.  It has to do with my Catholic upbringing.

Catholics are known deemphasizing the Bible, as compared to protestants.  This makes historical sense, since Protestantism was caused by the printing press and mass literacy.  And I think it's generally true today, or at least it's been true in my experience.  I never owned a copy of the Bible.  As a kid, I never read it.

As a kid, I only ever heard Bible readings during the Catholic Mass.  Catholic Masses are said to be particularly boring among Christian services.  I myself was so bored by Mass that eventually I refused to go against the will of my mother, many years before I quit Catholicism.  It didn't help that when I was young I had auditory processing difficulties, made all the worse by the echoing acoustics of a Catholic church.  I could maybe understand the Bible readings if I focused really hard, but what was the point?  It was all so boring and pointless, like the rest of Mass.

When I was older, I did read parts of the Bible.  I went to a Jesuit high school, and we had a class in scripture.  We didn't read the whole thing, just bits and pieces considered important in Catholicism.  For the most part, we learned about the general structure, and what various books were about.  I don't remember much of it.  I remember the motivations of the different gospels, and I remember a few of Jesus' parables.  Mostly I remember it being incredibly boring, just like nearly every other book we read in high school.

Dear readers, did any of you have the same experience of hating nearly every book you read in high school?  It seems to be a common experience, though I'm not sure why.  Is it because teenagers just don't appreciate the kind of books that English teachers think are edifying?  Is it because the reading is forced?  Whatever the reason, I felt that way about the Bible.  This isn't entirely rational, of course.  I'm sure there are some books I read in high school that I could read again and discover that they were quite decent all along.  But in the Bible's case, I'm sure I would still find it terrible.

For one thing, I know that what I saw in high school were the "good" parts of the Bible.  It can only get worse from there

For another thing, what I know about the Bible just doesn't line up with my taste in reading.  I don't like reading "so bad it's good" stuff.  I generally don't like "classic" literature.  I don't think it is important to recognize cultural references to classic literature (what good does that do for me or for society?), and anyway I already recognize most Bible references because of my education.  What I like in a book is willingness to criticize itself and its own messaging.  I also like books that focus on the subtleties and ironies of modern social interactions--not really the kind of thing that translates across millenia?

Some atheists will argue at length about what is the "correct" interpretation of the Bible, mostly so they can accuse various Christians of not following it.  Sometimes I think these arguments are a bit sketchy (but no more so than Christian interpretations), but mostly I just don't care. There may be some utility to such an argument, but since I have no interest in investing the time, I prefer to argue that it doesn't matter.  The Bible isn't an authority on what's right, nor on what's wrong, so a person's degree of faithfulness to the Bible is irrelevant to my moral approval.  I don't even consider faithfulness to the Bible to be a measure of religiosity or Christian-ness.  After all, I came from a Catholic background, where the Bible was deemphasized, and I don't think Catholics are any less Christian for it.

1 comment:

theObserver said...

I had similar experiences attending a catholic school in Ireland. What I predominantly remember is the sheer boredom of catholic mass and religious instruction. I stopped going as soon as possible.

I understand the "joy of catholicism" as the joy of old men stuck in a routine they are unwilling to break.