The Lent season is almost upon us. For us Christians, it is a call for introspection — we need to question what we believe in, as well as how we believe — how does being a Christian make me a better person, you might ask. The bible enjoins us to be the salt of the earth, but remember that salt is also the instrument the Romans used to lay waste to Carthage.
The Old Testament’s beginning is steeped in mythology — from the account of the creation, all the way to the stories about the early patriarchs (see a 1995 Time article for an introduction, and also Asimov’s excellent Guide to the Bible). The historical accounts in the Books of Kings and the Chronicles are certainly exaggerated — just as the book of Genesis underpopulates the earth, the historical books certainly describes an overpopulated Levant in which hundreds of thousands die at each battle. The final books are considered apocryphal by most Christians, starting from St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation to Latin.
We are called to humility in the practice of our faith. Subverting science teaching in public schools is not part of it, let alone falsely claiming persecution while in fact persecuting a family that brought this abuse to attention, in the end driving them out of town. As written in Exodus 20.16:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour
As Jesus himself instructed, in Matthew 22.21:
Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesars; and unto God the things that are Gods
Religion (as opposed to faith) corrupts itself as it gets mixed up with temporal affairs — we have the right, and in fact, responsibility — to act out of our moral concerns, but at the same time, having a near-sighted literalist belief, combined with the hubris of acting on G-d’s behalf, is surely un-Christian. The adage that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely), sadly has been reinforced by examples too many times, and all too often, by people who think of themselves as righteous Christians.
At the same time, the acceptance that certain books may not be what they are on a surface level, actually opens our eyes to their deeper truths. Like Aesop’s fables, biblical writings do not have to be factually true to be instructive. One case in point is the Prayer of Manasseh, which calls us to penitence. It is almost certainly not written by Manasseh himself, yet we, as sinners, readily identify with its message despite the misattribution. Read more about the wonderful history of this prayer here.