It's an old book -- written as far back as the Bronze Age (1600 BCE) from tales circulating for possibly centuries before. It has an archaic understanding of biology, math and science. It reflects ageless superstitions (goats mating in front of striped reeds will give birth to striped offspring) along with plain errors about science (the sun can be made to stand still, all animal species were created at once) and the complexities of human psychology (homosexuality and cross-dressing are inherently unnatural).
It is the Bible.
Does it still have relevance? Or would we be better off without it?
The Bible's take on the origin of the cosmos and humanity is one of reasoning backward from the present -- trying to look at a clay pot and running the film backward to its baking, spinning and mining of clay from the ground. In the case of the Bible's first authors, they observed the world and noted several things. One was its vastness, danger and incomprehensibility. This was a place far beyond the ability of human beings to manufacture. Some greater being must have been involved in putting this in place. On the biological front, plants grew mysteriously from the soil. While some were inedible or poisonous, others produced fruits and nourishment. Great lights spun overhead giving light that humans required in order to hunt or till. Beasts of many different varieties were spread across (and under and above) the face of the earth. They mated, giving rise to others of their kind. Moreover, human beings were different from the other beasts. They spoke; they planned; they learned in ways that animals did not. They gave birth in pain. They preyed on one another. Unlike other animals, they fed themselves at great cost in time and energy. For the early Bible writers, this combination of a sometimes-benign creation that provided many of the conditions that humans needed to survive, pointed to a creator who had designed a cosmos with human beings in mind. The world was a place of great abundance. Fish and fowl and fruit were easy enough to obtain. The earth was (on balance) good, as must have been the intents of its Creator. Yet Man's gifts of speech, cunning, sociability and adaptability were often used selfishly and cruelly, something that was not seen elsewhere in the animal world. Man's world had been blasted. Would a provident God create a less-than-perfect world?Or was lief hard for Man as a punishment? And if a Punishment, then a Crime. And what crime more heinous and worthy of punishment than the hubris of wanted to be God? And so, Genesis began as a story of God's loving involvement in the creation of the cosmos and Man's diversion from God's purpose.
We have been living with the consequences of that story for 3700 years.
Another example. The Jesus of the New Testament clearly believes in an imminent social catastrophe that will usher in the reign of God. The proud will be cast down from their thrones. The meek will inherit the earth. Illness will be healed and death will be defeated. But no such catastrophe occurred. Sure. the Temple was destroyed in 60AD, the Roman Empire started its fall in the 5th century and countless other social rumblings and reversals have occurred in the centuries since. But the poor are still poor, the proud still cling to their thrones, sickness still holds sway over huge swaths of the planet's population, and death will claim us all, sooner or later.
What to make of a Jesus who believed in a cosmic societal realignment that never happened? Can Christianity survive a founder who bought into a world-view that has been proved wrong?
Today, when reading the insightful guesses of the Bible writers, it's easy to see the book as directly reflecting the mind of God. God creates man first, woman second. Surely this suggests dominance of men over women! The Bible tells of a world-wide flood. Surely, we should see the this flood on the landscape -- such as the Grand Canyon! Fundamentalists fall all over each other to deny the findings of science. Less-extreme believers try to paper over the book's obvious flaws to psychologizing or allegorizing its stories. The Flood story is not historical, but a beautiful tale about God's unwillingness to destroy his creation, no matter how immoral it has become.
Whether these approaches are satisfying in the long run is open to question. Literalists may eventually have to recognize that their approach is a denial of everything we know about the universe. Allegorizers may eventually see that looking for deeper meaning in Bible stories deprives them of their raw, literal power.
It's no wonder that the 21st century has become the battle ground for the many believers who wish to hold onto the idea that the Bible is true in all its particulars. Unable to distinguish discardable ancient tribal "wisdom" (like the need to keep menstruating women out of sight and off the furniture) and possible psychosocial insights about projecting your own evil on others (the parable about the log in your eye), they have doubled down. The Bible is right and evolutionists are wrong, as are the cosmologists who believe in a 13.5 billion year old universe, rater than the 600-year-old earth suggested by the Bible.
Will we eventually whittle the Bible down to the sections that make sense? And if we do, will we inevitably lose its authority? Can Jesus, stripped of his insistence that changes were coming, and his desperately hope to save a few from the coming wrath, still be considered a savior? And if so, savior from what? Is a psychologized Bible -- its lessons coming less from the historical/scientific reality of its words than from their insights into human/divine relations -- attractive enough to hold the attention and veneration of its adherents?
For centuries, certainly among America's original settlers, the Bible has been the bedrock of social policy and the inspiration for those who have helped the less fortunate. It has inspired people to assemble into bodies that sought to legislate solutions to intractable human problems. But the Bible no longer serves that purpose. For many in the secular age, it is hardly known. For believers, more and more conservative as time goes on, its use is to enforce millennia-old prejudices -- against women, gays and the sick. Has the Bible run its course? Is its continued use an impediment to human well-being?
Perhaps the Bible's long and popular run is over. Perhaps continuing to read it is dangerous to our personal and social health. Perhaps, like an orange that has been squeezed of its last ounce of juice, it is time to throw the dried out rind into the garbage disposal.
If so, it would be a shame. There is a great deal to learn from the book -- even if that is to understand how human beings have tried (and failed) to understand the divine. How kings use God to further their unworthy schemes. How those in power use their purported relation to the divine to sway whole populations in the wrong direction. How sinners and the humble can find greatness within themselves. How even prophets and Sons of God can further goodness (= Godness?) while holding social ideas that don't stand the test of time.