The Gideons, as you may or may not know, is the organization that puts a King James Bible in every motel and hotel. They also hand out those pocket New Testaments to kids, and I got mine back when I was in 5th grade. I remember I promised to read it, but failed. The King James Bible, although regarded by some as the only true version of the Bible, was a bit much for me as a pre-teen. Let the record show that the Bible wasn’t actually written in 1769 when the King James was revised for the last time, nor was the Bible written in English. Any English Bible is a translation from the original words, which were penned in ancient times in Greek and Hebrew (plus a few portions in Aramaic). So what the Gideons hand out is basically an old-English version of the Bible, probably the most popular version because of the rich tradition of it.
In what has to be one of the more ironic developments of the year, famed atheist Richard Dawkins evidently wants the King James Bible handed out as well. In an op-ed piece, he recently endorsed a plan by England’s education secretary Michael Gove to put a copy of the King James Bible in every school. An atheist, wanting the Bible put in schools?
No word yet on if the Gideons are issuing a “Somebody Pinch Me!” statement.
There are two theories at work here. Dawkins, of course, believes that if anyone reads the Bible they will see that the Bible is an immoral travesty responsible for all the evil in the world. The Gideons believe if anyone reads the Bible they could understand the truth of God, and put their faith in Christ. So who is right?
The unasked question of course, is what teenager will wade through the 1769 English of the King James Bibles that secretary Gove wants to put in the schools? Answer: Probably very few. What is likely to happen is the Bibles in those schools will act as sort of a reference, whereby an atheist club will use it to highlight the passages they deem to be evidence of God’s cruelty or to show alleged errors. This will be done as usual without regard to the story or the message of the Bible as a whole. Of course the Bible would be there for anyone wanting to verify things for themselves, but what student will put in the effort to read through the old English King James in order to understand the context? Again, not many.
In my own experience, it is also sometimes easier for critics of the Bible to make a passage written in 1769 English look unreasonable. Frankly, it’s easier to twist words that already sound funny. In fact, many of the arguments made against the Bible rely upon taking the English words in one direction or another, ignoring the fact that the Bible wasn’t actually written in English, either in 1769 or any other time. As mentioned earlier, it was written in Hebrew and Greek, with a few parts in Aramaic. To actually comprehend something translated from another language, it’s always best not to rush to judgment casually. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happens. I have no doubt that passages from Bibles placed in schools will be cherry-picked, taken out of context, and interpreted to purposefully fit an agenda. That’s the norm.
But will it work? I’m not so sure, and Dawkins may well end up wishing he hadn’t supported such a thing.
The Gideons haven’t been distributing the Bible all over the world for nothing, and there are countless stories they will share of people who have read one of their Bibles and put their faith in God. Plus, pastors and churches (me included) know that one of the biggest obstacles to faith in God is not that people have read the Bible and found it wanting, but that people haven’t read the Bible at all. Dawkins organization actually confirms this when they did a poll asking Christians to identify the first book of the New Testament. Only 39% of CHRISTIANS could do it. So at a time in world history where atheism is on the rise, and rejection of Christianity is on the rise, the ignorance of the Scriptures is also on the rise.
If Dawkins or anyone wants to change that, I say bring it. Pretty please. In the Dark Ages, a time of oppression by a government-institutionalized Church, owning or distributing copies of the Bible was often punished by death. There were times when only the official Church was allowed to possess and of course, “interpret” the Scriptures. Freedom from the oppression of the Church in those days and since, actually came from people who based their opposition on what they read in the Bible. In other words, it was the Scripture itself, which gave people like Martin Luther or John Wycliff the conviction to oppose the official Church. So to be fair, we can thank the Bible for getting us out of the Dark Ages, not into them.
Of course, that’s not how Dawkins or most atheists view the Scripture, but it is the truth of history. While the Bible was often used by the official Church for their own purposes, there was a reason why the very same Church didn’t want anyone else to read it. And likewise, while the atheists of today often use a passage of the Bible for their purposes, I’m not sure they will like the result if people begin studying the Bible on their own.
For instance, in Dawkins op-ed piece, the over-confidence is evident, and a particular theme emerges, too. (See if you can catch it. I’ll name it at the end.) In giving a few examples as to what he believes are obvious problems with the Bible, Dawkins attacks the Ten Commandments. He writes, “The first two – “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” and “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” – come from a time when the Jews still believed in the existence of many gods but had sworn fealty to only one of them, their tribal “jealous” god.”
Of course the Bible doesn’t say they believed in the existence of many gods and swore fealty to one. That comes from the secular worldview that starts with the assumption that the story of the Bible never happened.
The Bible, and archaeology agrees, claims that much of the world around Palestine and Egypt worshiped many gods. A secular world-view simply extends that to the Jewish people, and the Bible doesn’t hide from this. If one were to read the story, however, we see the Lord calling Israel away from worshiping any other god but Himself. Why would the Lord be so judgmental toward other gods? Because the Bible says in reality there is only one true God. The rest are either man-made, or worse. Agree or Disagree, that’s still the story. The Bible’s morality or lack of it, should be judged on the story as a whole, not on taking out a piece and assuming the rest. When these commandments were given, the Lord had just demonstrated His power in freeing the Jewish people from slavery. That proof, that evidence to the Jewish people, was the basis for the Ten Commandments starting with the command to worship only THE God. In the context of the story, it’s a logical conclusion.
And while the hint Dawkins drops at the end seems to say that a “jealous” God is an immature or selfish idea… this is just immature thinking. Jealousy can be petty, but there is such a thing as husband jealously wanting his wife to be faithful to him or vice-versa. There is such a thing as being jealous for your children, that they be protected from exploitation or abuse. A jealous God isn’t petty or evil by definition. After being freed from slavery, it would be reasonable to understand the Israelites were actually grateful for this jealousy.
Dawkins writes: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”: this commandment is regarded as so important that (as our children will learn when they flock into the school library to read the Gove presentation copy) a man caught gathering sticks on the sabbath was summarily stoned to death by the whole community, on direct orders from God.
Shocking. Horrible. That God, -the Creator of the Universe, the God who had just rained down ten plagues against Egypt to free a nation from slavery, the God who gives life and breath to the entire world, the God who rules nature, the God who controls the destiny of man, would actually require people to obey Him. The sentence of death did seem harsh, especially if this were just a religion Moses made up. But in the story… God is real. And if God is real, the sentence was sobering, and still is.
Dawkins continues: “Honour thy father and thy mother.” Well and good. But honour thy children? Not if God tells you, as he did Abraham in a test of his loyalty, to kill your beloved son for a burnt offering. The lesson is clear: when push comes to shove, obedience to God trumps human decency…
To actually read the story, however, you discover God did NOT have Abraham kill his child out of some twisted fealty to the Lord, nor was this an instruction anywhere else. Further reading reveals God detested and condemned the worship of idols where children were regularly sacrificed. So the accusation here is unfair because it ignores the rest of the Bible. And Dawkins’ comment at the end simply assumes God should not have any authority over our lives. But as the Creator–as the story of the Bible is written–He does.
When Dawkins arrives at the commandment not to murder, he writes: “the commandment meant only “Thou shalt not kill members of thine own tribe”. It was perfectly fine – indeed strongly encouraged throughout the Pentateuch – to kill Canaanites, Midianites, Jebusites, Hivites etc, especially if they had the misfortune to live in the Promised Lebensraum. Kill all the men and boys and most of the women. “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” (Numbers 31:18). Such wonderful moral lessons: all children should be exposed to them.”
Much of which is a dismissive exaggeration. To be clear, it is NOT an exaggeration to note the death and destruction that God sometimes ordered or directed at nations on the earth. Dawkins listed several of those nations under the gun, although ignoring that God had waited some 400 years before exercising judgment against them. The exaggeration is that the commandment only involved murdering people that were not Jews, or that there was some encouragement to kill in some willy-nilly fashion. This is simply not true. The actual problem is again that God would dare to judge nations and peoples at all. But as the Creator, in context of the story, does not God have that authority? Isn’t that why we call Him God?
These, and the rest of Dawkins accusations against the Bible: Claiming God’s idea of dealing with sin via a blood sacrifice was foolish, or the insinuation that all Christians are jew-haters, still upset that the Jews killed the Son of God (another irony since Bible believing evangelical Christians are typically the most supportive of the Jewish State), or the preposterous idea to Dawkins that people could be “born in sin even if we no longer literally believe” all seems to come back to the same place: the idea God has any authority at all. This idea seems foolish to Dawkins and the world, but this is an assumption in the Bible. A foundational truth. The premise.
In this regard, Dawkins is a reflection of society as a whole. Whatever the Bible says about abortion, we have a right to choose. Whatever the Bible says about homosexuality, we have a civil right to same-sex marriages and to call them morally good. Whatever the Bible said about judgment, it is immoral of God to punish anyone for anything. Our world, and our society, scoffs at the idea that God should have any authority, unless of course it is to bless us.
The crazy thing is, the Bible ultimately does agree that people have a choice to accept or reject God. You don’t have to agree or believe. But someday the Bible says, we will all have to stand before God to give an account of ourselves. It is this idea, that the world most hates, but there it is. The story itself, if one believes God does indeed exist, isn’t outlandish. It simply leads to the inexorable conclusion, the idea we must stand before God to give an account to Him, based on standards He sets. Either this leads to a moment of repentance and surrender, or it leads to resistance.
Which way it goes in English schools, we’ll have to wait and see.