Valerie Tarico of AlterNet recently asked prominent atheists what their favorite Bible passages were–with a reminder to forgo any trace of snarkiness–and she compiled the answers here.
Seeing as I’m only a prominent atheist (i.e. black sheep) within my own family of Catholics, Methodists, and the odd Mormon, I decided to root around for some of my own favorites and post them here. Contrary to what some fundamentalist Christians believe, I have heard the “good news about Jesus Christ” (who hasn’t? Amazonian tribes? I’m just saying it’s a bad introductory question for a solicitor at my door to say) and, like just about every atheist I’ve met in person or online, we have read the Bible. (I’m always shocked about the number of Christians, including my mother, who haven’t cracked the good book’s spine in decades of believing. I guess faith hasn’t changed that much since the Bible was restricted to the Pope’s Latin and the populace had to make do with stained-glass storytelling.)
Anyhoo, Mark Twain summed up the secularist’s view of the Bible nicely: “It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies” (Letters from the Earth).
To be clear, before I share some of my favorite verses, atheists do not want to ban the Bible or do mass book burnings. Fox news has misunderstood us (and most everything else). We want people to read the book and decide for themselves. I became an atheist not after reading Richard Dawkins or deciding that I just wanted to do evil; rather, I became an atheist after reading the Bible, other world religious texts, and a host of religious apologetics and philosophy. Many atheists are well-informed of what they’re rejecting and they have good reasoning behind it. Well, that’s my rant of the day. Here are those verses:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
1 Kings 19:11-12
…a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (That first sentence is so uplifting, and then god has to shake up the petri dish of his little experiment–gee, thanks…At least we get all the beautiful cadences. I love the English language, but I’m happy knowing there are Swedish, African, Japanese, and Spanish dialects and phrases to listen to, as well.)
Ezekiel 23:20 [oh, I know this smacks of snark, but no one can rightly leave this one out of any favorite Bible verse list]
There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
That last one needs to be shared with every street preacher, noisy evangelical, or politician who is trying to stitch church and state together; come on, guys, pay attention to the basis of your faith.