A couple weeks ago, The Simpsons took a shot at my faith. Since this shot contained logical statements and inferences, I asked the Simpsons writers a few questions about it. I couldn’t have asked them anything if they had merely said, “I don’t like”; that’s subjective and incontestable. But that’s not what they said. They said, in essence, “You are wrong/contradictory/etc.” That’s not subjective, and that’s not incontestable. So I contested it. I asked them some questions about it. Since the writers of The Squidbillies had taken almost the exact same shot at my faith, I asked them those same questions as well. Seeing that neither group answered, I guess I asked those questions rhetorically. But I asked them. They were legitimate questions, questions of whether or not these writers understood what they were attacking and with what they were replacing what they were attacking, and I asked them.
It seems I can now ask the editors of GQ magazine similar questions as they have taken a similar shot at my faith. They did so in a recent article called “21 Books You Don’t Have To Read”. I imagine they offended a lot of English teachers with this article, which suggested that people don’t have to read The Catcher in the Rye and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which have been staples in literature class for as long as I remember. But I know for a fact they offended a lot of Christians when they suggested people don’t have to read the Bible.
There is more going on here than mere offensiveness, though. There are assertions, both logical and otherwise. And while offensiveness may or may not be able to be questioned, assertions can and should be. So I will put any indignation aside and ask just a few questions of the GQ editors (or it is Jesse Ball, who I think wrote this segment of the article, or both?), questions about the assertions they are making here.
- Are you sure the people you say haven’t read this book actually haven’t read it? This is the first assertion this segment makes. The author says the people who supposedly live by the Bible haven’t actually read it. This is something I’ve heard several other faith-averse or faith-antagonistic folks say. It is intended to undermine their credibility, I suppose, as well as to insult them (which is what it seems to be doing here). And while I admit that it is true of many people in The Faith, it is not true of all of them, and it is certainly isn’t true of the most authoritative of them (by which I mean the ones who should be listened to, the ones who know what they are talking about and thus have the right to talk). I know some sixty pastors in my area. All of them have read the Bible multiple times. All of them are well-versed in the Bible. All of them know the Bible. Not to be an own-horn-tooter, but the same can be said of me. I knew the Bible before I could read, having learned it from my parents and my church, both of whom quoted it to me often. I finally read it cover to cover when I was 19. I have read it cover to cover many times since; I actually don’t know how many times I have read the Bible in its entirety because I have lost count. I have studied at least have the books at a collegiate, verse-by-verse level. I have memorized the epistles and recite one every day. I read both lengthy and short passages every day as well. In short, I and my pastor friends have not only read the Bible, but we’ve actually walked with the Bible. We have consumed and lived with and assimilated the Bible. It is part of our very fabric. This not only means that the this underhanded opening comment is measurably wrong, but it also means that we have far greater ability to speak about what the Bible is or isn’t than anyone else. I would not presume to tell a scientist what The Origin of the Species is or is not, what it says or doesn’t say, what quality it has or doesn’t have. To be honest, I don’t know any of these things. I’ve never read it. A scientist who has spent time with that book is clearly going to know it better than me. By the same token, very few people have spent the time with the Bible that I and my pastor friends have. Logic states that we know far better what it is and what it says than GQ.
- Can you give me any specifics here? The segment goes on to say that the Bible is “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned”. Those are serious charges, and if they were true, the Bible ought not to just be unread but actively banned. We have no way of knowing if they are true. Not from this segment, anyway. The author does not give any evidence for their truth. He asserts them but he does not support them. I personally wish he had, because I have no idea what he is talking about here. Again, I’ve read the Bible quite a few more times than he has. I have found repetition, but that repetition makes sense; the Bible only has one real message which it keeps restating in various ways in hopes that we will finally get it. I have not found anything self-contradictory, even though that charges is again often made. I’ve found things that people who don’t understand the Bible and the way it is intended to be used think are self-contradictory, but I’ve never found any clear contradiction. I didn’t know what sententious meant, but when I looked it up, I didn’t see anything in it that resembled what we have in the Bible.Rather, what we have in the Bible is far more a loving father desperately pleading with his children, begging them not to destroy themselves and their relationship with him. Doesn’t sound sententious to me. Foolish? The core message of the Bible is love God and love others. That’s foolish to you? Ill-intentioned? How does the author know what the intentions of God (which is who I believe actually wrote the Bible) or the human authors (whom God used to write the Bible) were? I don’t know because he didn’t tell me. He just made the accusation; he didn’t support it. If anything seems ill-intentioned, it is these unsubstantiated Simpsons-esque statements about the Bible.
3. What are you offering as an alternative? This is the same question I asked of The Simpsons and The Squidbillies, and it is the question I will ask of everyone who attempts to take away my faith. If I let go of my faith (as you seem to think I should), what do you offer to replace it? My faith (which is based on the Bible) is what gives me hope and purpose and meaning, what directs my thoughts and actions, and what sets my values. My faith does just about every important thing in my life. When you attempt to take away my faith, you are not taking away some minor diversion; you are taking away my heart and soul, taking away the one thing I want and need more than any other. You can’t create a vacuum like that without filling it with something. So what are the author/the GQ editors offering to do that? I don’t know. They do suggest some book I’ve never heard of (The Notebook, which is apparently not the one by Nicholas Sparks), but they don’t tell me what authority that book has or what it is going to contribute to my life. Seeing as it is a book written by a man relatively recently in human history, the hope that it can replace the Bible and my faith is quite low. Sorry, but you can’t expect me to sacrifice everything I love and value and live by because you make a couple snarky remarks.
Those are the questions I would ask GQ about this segment. Will I get an answer? Probably not. I’m still asking the questions, though. And I think you should as well.