I have a deep and abiding respect for the Bible. It is a piece of moral literature with few equals (the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the Upanishads among them), and it is a compendium of approaches to spiritual life that has powerful roots in history. And it is a series of stories that gives us a window into the way things were both spiritually and culturally in the Middle East 2-3,000 years ago. It is a series of stories told by the spiritual and religious luminaries of the day, and then, with the advent of the New Testament, the stories as recalled and created by the progenitors of Christianity. Interestingly, there are many more stories about Jesus which were not included in the New Testament, because those luminaries at the Council of Nicaea, in the 4th century C.E., decided to pick and choose only those stories that supported what they believed to be true.
Now, given that I was using this document as my doctrine, I would likely pick and choose too. In fact, I do pick and choose. There are many things that are considered to be “pure” Christian doctrine to which I subscribe—the golden rule, most of the Ten Commandments, etc.—moral ideals that serve us all well. None of these things require that I be a Christian or subscribe to the Bible as the source of my moral fortitude. They are merely common sense ways of living that not only the Bible tells us about but so does every other written source from every other major faith.
What bothers me is the double standards of those who claim that the Bible is the immutable word of God that must be followed without fail in order for us to be redeemed into the afterlife. Because as determined as they are that this is “the Word” they, too, are picking and choosing—finding only the passages that support their point of view and ignoring the rest. By doing this they are essentially making the Bible a living document that supports their ways of thinking. They ignore those parts of the Bible that have become culturally inappropriate. At the same time they self-righteously claim to be the purveyors of the “Lords Word” through the Bible and that those of us who do not subscribe to everything that the Bible tells us to do are doomed to Satan’s sanctuary.
The trouble is that in the Bible, God is not always all that nice. He can be very angry and jealous (Zephaniah 3:6-10). He condones selling a daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7-1).God condones murdering rape victims (Deut 22:23-24), and fortunetellers and mediums (Lev 20:27). And here’s a confusing one: in Exodus 31:12-15, God tells us that anyone, yes, anyone, who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. Now-a-days, that’s a lot of people. In fact, now-a-days, that’s any minister who is paid for his/her work, unless, of course, you assume the Biblical Sabbath is Saturday, since the Old Testament is a Jewish document, so it doesn’t count for Christians (except when we want it to).
Now, I’m obviously not suggesting that Christians go out and start murdering people or selling their daughters into slavery. Mostly what I am saying is that the Bible is a moral compass the interpretation and the application of which must change with the times, as it often has. By picking and choosing, those who follow the bible are making it a living document that responds to the cultural needs of the time in which they live. And this is how it should be.
When we read the stories of Jesus (perhaps the primary translator of the “word of God”) what we find is someone who essentially says that we have to do four things: 1). have faith—believe that there is some powerful force of some sort in this world; 2). develop an awareness of both our inner landscape and the relationship we have to the world around us; 3). create some sort relationship with our equivalent of God such that we can express ourselves spiritually; and, 4). Find it within our hearts to maintain a commitment to what moves us spiritually. These are what are behind all the parables Jesus used to help his followers develop a deeper awareness of themselves and the world around them. He did not tell them what to do; he showed them how to figure it out for themselves. Neither Jesus nor the bible takes any substantive responsibility for the spiritual well being of any individual—just as it should be. It is, in the final analysis, up to us, and up to us alone.
Yes, this is how it should be. There are no formulas, no magic bullets, no direction, no rules, no immutable laws we can follow to find where and how God expresses itself through us. The Bible is a great place to start. So is the Koran. So is the Bhagavad Gita. And others. The stories therein offer guidance and engender thought. But in the final analysis, there is only one fully alive and present entity that can choose the way you approach and express your spirit: that entity is you. And this is true even if your communion with God feels to you like a direct relationship. You still have to make the decisions.
I fully respect anyone’s decision to use the bible as their personal guidepost. Such a choice is very personal and individual, however, and it is no less, and no more valid than my choice not to use it. It is fine to use the Bible to help this process. It is equally fine NOT to use the Bible. But to those who claim or predict that anyone who does not follow the Bible is doomed to a less than perfect life; you had better watch out. The Lord speaks of false prophecy—anyone predicting, in the Lord’s name, something that does not happen; s/he is a false prophet and must die (Deut 18:20-22). Though I respect the Bible, I really do not believe that will (or should) happen to anyone.