Reflecting on the Bible

The Unitarian Christian Association held a seminar on “Bible poverty” - reflecting on the fact that many Unitarian communities no longer refer to the Bible as a source text. This is a shame, because it is part of our heritage, and we need to reclaim it from the fundamentalists and conservatives who have hijacked it in recent decades.

The Bible is a book (or better, a collection of books) with different authors, all of whom seem to have had very different ideas about God, and what God wants. The earlier books of the Bible have YHWH demanding blood smeared on the horns of his altar; then the prophets bemoan the hard-heartedness of Israel and their inability to just be nice to people for a change (see Amos 5:24 for example). The theology expressed by Jesus is quite different from that of Paul, which is different again from James and Peter. All this is well-documented by liberal biblical criticism.

Even Richard Dawkins says we should regard the Bible as a work of literature. Quite right - it is a work of literature, and has just as many insights into human nature as any other pre-modern work of literature.
I do not literally believe the cosmological accounts given in the Bible. They are metaphors, just as Pagan creation myths are metaphors. I also don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but I do think his mythology is a version of the stories of other Middle-Eastern dying-and-resurrecting vegetation gods, and if you read it as mythology, it is a good account of the archetypal experiences of the human psyche (the death of the ego and resurrection of the greater self, as outlined in the Hero Journey).

The method I use for interpreting the Bible is to compare it with the wisdom texts of other spiritual traditions. If you read what Jesus and other prophets said in the light of what the Buddha said, or what Lao Tsu said, it makes a lot more sense. Personally I find it easier to read the Buddha and Lao-Tsu, because I don't have to filter out the noise of conservative interpretations of Jesus' thoughts that I was brought up with. But this doesn't mean that the Bible is worthless. It means that if you're going to read it, you should read it carefully to see if its ethical guidance resonates with your own experience. And if it doesn't, then reject it. It's not a supernaturally inspired book, it's a document of the spiritual journeys of its authors, and should be read as such.

As the Buddha said,
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Yvonne Aburrow