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The Unreasonable Bible

No, the Bible is a wildly, unreasonable book. The Bible is a wildly unreasonable book. We can be reasonable readers of the Bible. Most great literature is unreasonable in that way. I wrote once someplace, that—and I believe it to be true—that part of our skill in reading isn’t just reading in. We’re taught in college to read in, to find patterns of allusions and symbols and significance that are buried within the text; and that’s useful but we can overdo it. But it’s just as important in some ways to be able to read past because a lot of the great literature that comes to us has difficult bits in it, has parts of it that are just plain obnoxious that don’t correspond to our own values and that you have to sort of read past to get what’s there; and instead of spending your time trying to rectify the mass lynching of Persians in the book of Esther or the horrific genocidal sections of Exodus or Jesus’ doctrine, I think, horrendous doctrine, of eternal damnation. Instead of trying to, struggling to rectify them with your own values and in a certain sense, you have to sort of accept them and then read past them and say this is a part that I am never going to be able to find congenial or appealing and you have to be honest about the actual content of those things.

In that sense, the Bible from “Let there be light” to the Apocalypse is a very unreasonable book; but we can be reasonable readers of an unreasonable book. And if I have a difference with my friends amongst secular, Darwinist, atheists, it’s exactly that, the choice isn’t between our reason and their unreason, the choice is between recognizing the unreason that exists in the world and choosing to treat it reasonably; those are two different things it seems to me.

  • Adam Gopnik

    Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker  magazine. His recent books of essays include Paris to the Moon (2000) and Through the Children’s Gate (2006).