The Bible: Gospel, methaphor or propaganda tool?

In 1977, while reporting for The Alton Telegraph in downstate Illinois, I participated in a panel discussion on “Religion, Media and Popular Culture” at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Others on the panel included a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, a rabbi, an atheist, and the moderator — a religious professor at the school.

At one point in the discussion, Father Joseph Ryan fielded a question from a student:

“Father,” she asked, “if most of our religions are based on the same God, why are there so many different religions?”

Ryan smiled and answered: “It depends, my dear, on which portion of the Bible that particular religion chooses to accept.”

I had to follow Ryan’s answer with another question:

I’m confused Father. If you are saying it is acceptable to accept parts of the Bible and not accept other parts, how can you condemn an atheist who chooses to accept none of the Bible?

Ryan responded in a way that I’ve learned to expect from religious leaders and their followers when one raises questions about faith:

“Tell me, my son,” he said. “Are you a Christian?”

Yes, I’m a Christian, raised in the Presbyterian Church, baptized in Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church, married (the first time) at First Presbyterian Church in Roanoke and the second time by the associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Alton, Illinois in his living room. I taught Sunday school at College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Alton for a number of years and have served as both a deacon and an elder in the church.

But the issue here is not my Christianity but the practices of others to try and use religious belief to control the actions of others and to inflict upon society a narrow, fundamentalist view of religion in a way that clearly violates the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

It’s ironic that America, a nation founded by those who fled religious tyranny in Europe, historically finds itself under attack from zealots who use religion as a club and the Bible as the ultimate propaganda tool.

In another thread on this web site, religious fundamentalists have tried to convince me and others that the Bible is the ultimate and final word on current social issues like abortion and gay rights. They trumpet the Bible as a book “written by God” as the law of mankind.

Somewhere, God is probably rolling on the floor and laughing at such misuse of the Grand Plan.  I’m sure God has a sense of humor, even if those who use religion as an excuse for gender bias, homophobia and bigotry do not.

The Bible is a book written by men who recorded what they saw, heard and were told about events of the day and the word of God. Like many good stories, the events reported in the Bible are often metaphorical.

The Bible is a good book, but is it The Good Book? Depends on your religious beliefs. Jews disregard much of the New Testament because they do not accept the story that Jesus was the son of God. Apocalyptic fundamentalists put more faith in the gloomy predictions of the Book of Revelations than moderates. The New Testament contradicts some of the teachings of The Old Testament, fording strict constructionists to make a choice.

Reader Harry Burton chose to invoke the Bible to boster his stand against gays:

Go to Leviticus 18:19 and read thru to verse 22.

18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind…
By carnal knowledge of them, and carnal copulation with them, and mixing bodies in like manner: this is the sin commonly called sodomy, from the inhabitants of Sodom, greatly addicted to it, for which their city was destroyed by fire: those that are guilty of this sin, are, by the apostle, called “abusers of themselves with mankind”, (1 Corinthians 6:9)

A law against unnatural lusts, sodomy and bestiality, sins not to be named nor thought of without the utmost abhorrence imaginable, v. 22, 23

It cannot be any clearer than that unless one is an atheist who believes nothing.

If I understand Mr. Burton correctly, anyone who does not share his belief in this is “an atheist who believes nothing.”

But I raised these points with Mr. Burton:

Harry, if you are a strict believer in the Bible then let’s remember these parts as well:

Deut 21:18-21
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die

Exo 31:15
Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

The Bible can be used (and misused) to support just about any argument in the world, no matter how outlandish. Do we kill police officers who work on Sunday and protect us from crime? Do we blow away the waitress that serves us Sunday brunch? Next Sunday, let’s line up each member of each NFL team just before game time and execute them by firing squad. Maybe we should do the same with NASCAR drivers.

And, for the record, isn’t the minister who preaches from the pulpit working on a Sunday? Off with his head.

The Bible is a collection of essays written by men who recorded what they saw, heard and were told at the time., They were the journalists, the reporters, the bloggers of their time and — as human beings — it is not beyond the bounds of reasonable thought to think that each put his spin on things. The Bible is not a book written by God but a book written by those who believed they were reporting the word of God.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Harry chose not to respond to my challenge on the other teachings of the Bible but to counter with:

You are way off about how the bible was written. It was written by God who inspired the men to write it. It IS Gods word. What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? God destroyed it. You need to just stick to journalism as it is very evident that the Bible is not a strong point of yours.

Young Zach Robinson, an ultra conservative high-school student, chose to question my Christianity:

Do you consider yourself a christian?

If you don’t then fine, your entitled to believe what you want.

But if you are, please don’t disrespect yourself, and make a mockery of Christianity by saying the bible is nothing more than men “blogging”. Numorous times in the bible it is stated that this is the WORD OF GOD. Many differnet “journalists” state this too, so it must be pretty significant. If many different men all “reported” the same thing, over the course of MANY years. Now I’m no biblical scholar, but I know enough that God wouldn’t lie about the bible. Why would he tell us it’s his word, when in actuallyity, it’s nothing more that several thoughts pulled together.?? Dismissing the Bible as not being God Breathed is dismissing the whole religion.

Also, if it is not a God Breatherd book, than how come it is always right. It is the ultimate source of wisdom, morals, laws, everything. It outlines laws and morals to keep, and we have seen that if we don’t keep these things God tells us to do, life will be much harder. It is so full of truths in this everyday world, that it make say wow!! This is so true. One example that comes to mind is sexual imorality. Sexual Imorality has ruined so many peoples mariages/ lives. God specificly states in the Bible to stay sexually pure. This is a good example of God knowing what is best for us, as humans, since he did create us.

Now if you are not a christian, fine.

But if you are, please quit calling yourself one, but not believing in god’s word.

I answered that question earlier. I’m also enough of a Christian to know that the term is capitalized (as is God). I’ve spent a good part of my life studying religion, the Bible and the writings of others who are more knowledgeable about the Good Book than any of us here.

Lutheran pastor and Biblical scholar Jacob A.O. Preus wrote:

The Bible gives us a deep and rich language, one laden with colorful metaphors that speak of the wonderful things our God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

Author David Mills, who wrote Knowing the Real Jesus, writes this about the stories in the Bible:

Some of the history may be true, but the stories of the supernatural are certainly invented, because things like that—seas parting, fire coming down from the skies, tax payments found in fishes, bodies rising from the dead—simply do not happen.

W. Hall Harris III, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, says this about the writings of John:

Any Bible student who has taken more than a superficial glance at John’s Gospel realizes it is filled with language, metaphor, and imagery which grips the readers and transports him or her to the world of the Evangelist.

In the end, the Bible remains what it is and always has been: a book written by men who advanced the teachings of their faith based on what they saw, heard and were told. It was reportage, but flawed reportage because it depended on metaphor and outright exaggeration to make a point.

As a guidebook for those of us who believe in God, it is a useful tool to supplement and bolster our faith.

But metaphor should never be mistaken as Gospel and the Bible should never be misused and abused by those who want to force their point of view on others. Our founding fathers were smart enough to recognize the dangers of mixing church and state. We should remember their warnings and listen to them.

© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

20 thoughts on “The Bible: Gospel, methaphor or propaganda tool?”

  1. To me the bible is a book inspired by God but written by man and because it was written by man it is not perfect. It is a great source wisdom that can be interpreted to fit whatever ideology a group of people want it to fit. I use the bible as a guide in my daily life understanding that my interpretation may be different from someone else’s and that’s OK.

    I hope you feel better Doug, pneumonia is a bummer.

  2. The Truth is: religion is bull$h-t plain and simple, and people who try to impose it are dangerous, greedy, and corrupt. One day not far in the future, the temples of modern faith will lie in the dust of the world it played a hand in destroying. But Faith will remain.

    Jesus came to this world to empower the human race, not to make us stupid. After 2000 years His words still ring true, loudly over the ranting of those that profess to follow Him.

    There is a difference between faith and religion. Religion is the diametric opposite of faith.

  3. The “post your real name” ethos is great, but if you live in Floyd and your views are out of the mainstream you darn well better watch what you say or use a phony name/alias. I have seen how some in Floyd react when others have the audacity to not believe and actually admit it. It hasn’t been pretty. I respect the rights of all to follow whatever religion or lack thereof that suits them. Some things about religious folks have always puzzled me. I could come up with a ton of questions, but I will try to limit it. I want to see if any of you have thoughtful replies to these:

    1- Isn’t your religion largely determined by where you live and the religion your parents practiced? Have any of you who practice a religion ever seriously considered other religions or even denominations or do you believe pretty much as your parents believed?

    2- Is being knowledgeable of other religions and denominations encouraged in your Christian community or is this looked upon with disdain.

    3- If you are a protestant and believe man can be saved by faith alone do you think all Christians prior to Luther and current non-protestants are in for an eternity in Hell?

    4- Do you realize that the president of the U.S. swears to protect the Constitution of the United States and not the Bible and that there is no religious test for serving as President or other high offices? If so, why do so many Christians refer to the U.S. as a Christian nation?

    5- Do you think atheists, agnostics, and others who don’t believe are Satanists? If not why have so many local Christians accused people I know to hold these beliefs of being Satanists?

    6-Do you think that only a Christian can be a moral person?

    7- Homosexual sex is condemned in the bible, but so is a lot of other stuff that Christians don’t seem eager to mention (see Deuteronomy and Leviticus). Wouldn’t it be more intellectually honest to just say why you think homosexuality is going to wreck society without using verse from a part of the Bible where a lot of other admonishments are ignored by Christians?

    8- Do you think the U.S. would be better if we were a theocracy and Christianity was the official religion?

  4. I don’t agree with this article a bit. Having read it earlier today, I had the opportunity of seeing many of the posts. I agreed with some of the other viewpoints, but they have since been deleted. I have have chosen not to post my thoughts on this subject. I fear that if I do, it will be deleted bc it disagrees with the writer. It’s a shame, but its true.

  5. If the Bible is God’s word then we should cherish it, study it, obey it, and trust it. If the Bible is the Word of God then to dismiss it, is to dismiss God himself. God gave us the Bible because of his love for us. God communicated to mankind what we should do in order to have a relationship with him. I believe the Bible is God’s Word. It is the final authority in all matters of faith, religious practices and morals. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture given is inspired of God, and is profitable for doctorine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God used many men from all walks of life to to record His Word. Why would these men lie about it? Lots of them died terrible deaths because of their beliefs. I think people need to stop analyzing and start accepting. It is all about faith. The firm belief in something for which their is no proof.

  6. I think to say that I need to be shipped to outerspace because I am a christian is showing HATE towards christians. In my christian walk I dont put people down because they are gay ,or a different race,or because they have been in jail or anything else. I try to love all people and give everybody a chance.Thats what kind of person my God wants us to be. I would never argue with anger whether I was right and sombody else is wrong when it comes to God or salvation or anthing else to do with this subject. I may would tell you what I think you need to do to be saved but if you dont want to beleive that there is nothing I could do. I wouldnt hate you for not beleiving the way I do. I would speak to you still and even still be your friend, but I would never say that you should be sent off or that you shouldnt be on the earth. Not all christians beleive the same,not all christians do right just like nonchristians. We all are the same, we are just humans and we mess up, and alot times we mess up real bad,but when I mess up I can ask my God to forgive me for what Ive done and I have peace with myself. I dont know the people that have blogged and I missed the blogs that were deleted(thank God)but I dont think that you are bad people and you should not think all christians are bad people either. Who knows if you knew me you may even like me!! HA

  7. Okay, I’ve been reading up on all these right wing ‘prophets’… on what they are saying AND not saying.

    You KNOW they sure quote scripture, especially Old Testament scripture. Collectively, it’s their post election ‘scrambling spin’ phase. Yet, they KINDA skip over what happened to Old Testament ‘prophets’ when their prophecies didn’t come to pass.

    Yeah, the abortion issue was my ‘absolute’, my unwavering litmus, for almost two decades. It took me THAT long to begin researching the/any issues, on both sides, to the core origins. I’ve spent many years protesting abortion.

    As for senators voting one way or the other on bills: Almost all bills have extra legislation attached to them that aren’t outlined in the title of the bill. A senator voting against a bill doesn’t necessarily disagree with the purpose of the bill’s main legislation, but may have problems with the other stuff that comes with it. You’d probably really need to read the entire bill to know why someone would vote one way or the other on it. President Elect Obama doesn’t personally WANT women to have abortions.

    The GOP sure hasn’t curtailed same sex unions (not necessarily ‘marriages’) either. It’s certainly been on the rise in their watches. And that REALLY jives with our country’s constitutional core value of ALL of us being able to pursue happiness.

    It’s exploitation of those who blindly trust the chain of information received. I’m sick of these ‘fat’ pastors spewing rhetoric (of hidden motives) dressed up with those two issues. It’s more than wrong. For them to tell trusting congregations how to vote is heinous. And the accrued spiritual interest from all these false prophecies? I have serious Holy fear for these souls.

    It’s incredibly arrogantly conceitedly sinfully wrong for self-proclaiming ‘Christians’ to tacitly (or otherwise) imply
    President Elect Obama is ANYTHING other than our preordained Christian leader. These ‘Christians’ tooled, “He’s not for Israel!”
    This leader just chose a Jewish patriot for his Chief of Staff ………………………… (sound of crickets) ………………………….

    A lot of bending those knees and bowing those heads in contrite humility of GENUINE repentance needs to be going on. Certainly not all this justifying spin. Their silence is deafening.

    If you want to talk about ‘holy’, Matthew 19:9 says “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” So, according to Jesus, divorce is a sin. But you don’t see the religious right trying to make divorce illegal. ‘Christians’ tend to just pick and choose the things in the Bible that they want to pay attention to.

    As my eyes initially opened to this (unquestioningly buying the ‘Christian’ Pentecostal front’s political stances) it gave me MORE than a sick feeling. I ache when I reflect on how many times/opportunities I missed leading a soul to Christ BECAUSE I was a Saul in getting MY points across. It also made me feel so robbed; I’d known better. My education has foundation in research methods. I wasn’t made to be exploited, I was made in God’s image. He IS the author of wisdom.

    Remember Madeline Murray O’Hare?

    She was a young girl, pregnant out of wedlock, and all the ‘godly’ church women shunned her instead of holding her, encouraging her, uplifting her and being the genuine Christian examples they so thought they were.

    Madeline succeeded having prayer taken out of schools.

    Fear, hate, exclusion……..yeah, that REALLY works. Just like the example happening now. That REALLY makes people want to be Christians. I was just censored on GodTube. It was a very toned, respectfully written, comment about a video that is demeaning President-Elect Obama. Sick.

    I believe it is very important for those healers ( maybe like yourself ) to be fiercely on point defending national sanity. Only God knows what impact/influence is really happening when destructive is/isn’t countered with constructive.

    Your history, your heritage, your intelligence and ability of expression make you tirelessly obligated to speak up, without hesitation, on each of the smoldering fire (influence) potentials for weak-minded people…. The ones who are like the crowd who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with palms and then, three days later, were easily stirred to chime “Crucify him!”

    Wow, I’m climbing off my soap box. For now.

    Anyway, just keeping some pulse with everyone out there.

    A sister from the same Father.


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