In my experience, some of the more aggressive atheists, though they rarely will admit it, are biblical literalists.
Which is to say that when they critique the Bible they act as if -- or pretend to act as if -- there is nothing close to metaphor or poetry in Scripture. By adopting such a stance, they align themselves, even if inadvertently, with the real literalists and, therefore, with people who don't take Scripture seriously.
For you can take the Bible literally or you can take it seriously, but you can't do both.
Now there's a new book out making fun of the Bible through the same old conceit of pretending to take it literally. It's You Got To Be Kidding: The Cultural Arsonist's Literal Reading of The Bible, by humorist and event marketing company owner Joe Wenke.
The problem with the book is that it is not very funny, nor very insightful. In that way it differs from such previous books as Not The Bible by Sean Kelly and Tony Hendra, who really are pretty funny when they make fun of the biblical literalists.
Wenke reads -- or pretends to read -- some of the famous Bible stories as if they were literal history. So after he recounts the story of Adam and Eve, the Noah flood and so on, he acts outraged and concludes that God is crazy and irrationally unpredictable. Which is pretty much what you'd have to conclude if you took these stories literally.
The book may appeal to other atheists who are looking for additional ammunition to fire at religion. But people (like me) who understand that the Bible is a collection of books written by many authors over hundreds and hundreds of years and that its purpose is not primarily to recount history need not bother with this book.
If it were wickedly funnier, I might have a different take. But funny it's not. It's sophomoric at best -- even if it's point is correct that reading the Bible literally is silly.
* * *
WHERE DOES MITT FIT?
Does Mitt Romney have a future as a leader in the Mormon church? Well, maybe, this Salt Lake City journalist says. But the options aren't as wide open as you might think.
* * *
P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read it, click here. (If you got an annoying request to log in earlier, that has been fixed. Now the link should take you straight to my column.)
* * *
ANOTHER P.S.: AND, my latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.