31 December 2010

Last thoughts

I made it! I read through and blogged the whole Bible. Here are my closing thoughts, in no particular order.

Was it worth it?

This project started as a whim; a bubble of an idea inspired by my shiny new Kindle (which I still love). I probably averaged around 45 minutes per day of reading, writing, and background research (not counting the time spent reading books about the Bible), so there were many times when I wanted to just drop the whole project and reclaim my time. 

But overall, it was worth it. Independent of the subject I chose to study, it was good to set a goal of blogging daily and follow through on it. Having a project that required daily output provided a good opportunity to show myself how much I could accomplish in a year. I have no idea how many words I wrote, but I am guessing it averaged at least several hundred per day. To just pick a number, 300 words a day for a year is over 100,000 words, enough, according to the internet, to make an average length novel.

As for choosing to read the Bible, it was as good a topic as any, and probably better than many. I learned a lot about the Bible's origins and its content. Given that I live in a predominantly Christian culture, knowing the Bible is useful. To some degree, the benefits have been immediate; there were at least two times this year that I understood a literary allusion that would have gone over my head if not for my Bible project.

Was it interesting?

Overall, no. The Bible has some good passages and stories, but those, for the most part, are the sections that you are already familiar with (Judges and selected passages of the prophets provide the main sources of surprisingly interesting text).

However, a lot of the Bible is dull and repetitive. If we could have skipped the detailed descriptions of buildings (temple, tabernacle, a palace or two) and the clothing of priests, we could have cut at least a couple weeks off of the readings. Probably a month. Another week could be dropped if genealogies were skipped. Dropping the passages that were word for word reproductions of other parts of the Bible would get back at least another week (Chronicles and Samuel/Kings, I am looking at you; synoptic gospels, you also get a glance).

Much of the rest of the Bible contains repetition that is more justifiable. Although the histories of Chronicles and Samuel/Kings sometimes share text verbatim, at other times they give different perspectives on the same issue. The same can be said for the gospels, prophets, and letters of Paul (in short, the vast majority of the Bible). But still, much of the repetition seems to provide little or no value.

In short, God needs a better editor.

Did this project change my opinion of the Bible?

To be honest, I haven't the foggiest idea. It did not fundamentally change my opinion of the Bible, but it's hard to remember the details of the opinions that I held then for comparison to those I hold now.

For example, I am strongly of the opinion that the authors of the books of the Bible believed that they were communicating messages they received from God. The prophets probably really saw visions (even though, like with dreams, most of the details were filled in during the retelling). The people who wrote books in the names of others probably really thought that the person they were attributing their words to would have held the same ideas in similar contexts. However, I cannot remember what I felt about this topic last January.

The gist of my opinion of the Bible as a holy book has not changed. It can still be summed up with "Is this the best you can do?" As the words of different people trying to find their place in the world, the Bible is a fascinating piece of literature. As a holy book, something meant to convey universal truths and/or instruction, it is a failure.

I have heard or been told many times that the words of the Bible are convincing. That if non-believers would just read the Bible with an open heart and an open mind, they would come away seeing its truth. Those people obviously have not read the Bible. I started this project with, I believe, a heart and mind as open as a doubter could have and have come away only strengthened in my opinion one of the worst things a doubter could do to convince them of the truth of the Bible is to seriously read the whole thing.

What stuck out the most?

I have been harping on this a lot lately, but I feel the need to take one last opportunity to say how selectively the Bible is used, both within the Bible and by modern day readers of the Bible.

Within the Bible, the authors of the New Testament books selectively apply the Hebrew scriptures. Suppose we are generous and grant that the authors of the Hebrew scriptures were writing words with double meanings that even they would be surprised at. Even then, when you look at the original context of the fragments of Hebrew scripture quoted by New Testament authors, you can see that most of the time, those fragments, which seem so applicable when quoted, are surrounded by other verses that have no applicability to the point the NT author is trying to make. Sometimes, they even contradict the point those authors are trying to make.

Reading the whole Bible also highlights how selective modern day readers tend to be when they quote the Bible. The worst source of offence is the psalms. Time and time again, I would read a psalm and see some familiar verses just to learn that they are surrounded by verses about God's wrath, requests for revenge upon enemies, etc. But this tendency is not limited to the psalms. Familiar verses are often surrounded by verses that are not just unfamiliar but which are downright at odds with modern beliefs about God and/or Christianity.

I was also amazed to discover how non-biblical much modern Christian thought is. This includes modern beliefs that have little to no biblical basis (e.g., most beliefs about heaven, hell, and angels) and ideas that are expressed in the Bible and ignored by modern believers. The later category is harder to give an example for since most examples are noticed by some people and ignored by others. Thus, some Christians both listen to and try to live by Jesus' words on wealth redistribution while others would likely be surprised to learn they are there.

This ties in with the final thing that stuck out to me: it would be hard to build a coherent belief system that truly took all of the Bible into account. This is to be expected in a book that is large in words, historical scope, and variety of authors. However, for those who believe that the Bible does contain a coherent belief system, this ought to be more worrisome than it seems to be. Almost any belief a Christian holds is challenged somewhere in the Bible. Yet few and far between are the Christians who avoid the trap of certainty.

This tendency is even worse, in my opinion, when some churches claim to know that other churches are flat out wrong. For most conflicts about biblical validity of beliefs within the church, the Bible allows both sides to make a case. Very, very few things can be said to have unambiguous biblical support when the Bible is considered holistically.

Would I do it again?


Well, maybe. There are Bibles which order the texts chronologically. I might be interesting to read through one of those. But I probably wouldn't bother to blog it.

In any case, if you base you beliefs on the Bible and haven't read through the whole thing, you definitely should do so. Even if you don't expect to understand it all (and you certainly shouldn't expect to), it's good to know what you are basing your life on.