33% of Americans think God is schizophrenic

I just finished reading an absolutely terrific book, How to Read the Bible by James Kugel.  Kugel summarizes modern biblical scholarship on the entire Old Testament.  Kugel explains the books of the bible within the original contexts in which they were created, and most importantly, explicitly lays out the very different assumptions upon which the Bible has been understood through most of its history (e.g., God does not contradict himself, The Bible is full of hidden meanings that belie the stated meaning, etc.).  We learn that modern scholars have found that the language of the Covenant between God and Israel is remarkably similar to pre-existing covenants between early Middle-Eastern rulers and their vassal states.  Likewise, we find how the odd story of Jacob and Esau can be explained by relations between the tribes thought to have descended from these brothers.  What was most interesting to me was the aspects of the Old Testament already staring me in the face that I– like most people– had simply been oblivious to.  The God of Genesis, the God who gives the Ten Commandments is quite clearly conceived of as fixed in a particular time and place.  He moves around.  He is neither omniscient of omnipresent.  Yet, later conceptions within the Bible and our current Jewish and Christian conceptions certainly hold God to be omni-present and all-knowing. 

Among the other aspects of the bible that believers are used to overlooking is the fact that the Old Testament is simply rife with contradictions that really cannot be logically explained (not that many have not tried).  The Bible says the passover meal should be roasted, only to say that it should be boiled a few sentences later.  All sorts of biblical stories are told in multiple versions (including the creation of the world, and the Ten Commandments), that are simply not reconcilable.  If, like me (and most mainline Protestants and Catholics), you take the Bible to be important for its larger messages and are not too upset by the quite obvious role of the humans involved in creating it, that's not really a problem.  However, to believe that the Bible is the “literal word of God” is basically to believe that God is essentially schizophrenic and suffers from a multiple-personality disorder.  Nonetheless, the Pew foundations recently released their latest “Religious Landscape” survey which finds that a third of all Americans, 59% of Evangelicals, and about 23% of mainline Protestants and Catholics agree that “the Bible is the literal word of God” (emphasis mine).  I was disappointed, though not surprised, that nearly a quarter of all Catholics hold this intellectually untenable view that has never been supported by the Catholic church itself.  On some level I had known that a literal interpretation of the bible was ahistorical and dumb, but now that I have learned so much about the Old Testament, I know that it is really dumb.

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