I have not read the entire Bible.

In fact, the only full stories I have read were about Creation (Ch 1 and 2 in Genesis) and the Prodigal Son, and that was because they were required for my Ancient World Literature class in high school. I know most of the stories and famous quotes just from growing up in a predominantly Christian culture (hell, I first heard the story of Moses from Rugrats), but I have not read the original text.

I don’t think this is necessarily very surprising, since I was raised in a secular way. Even many Christians have not read the Bible in its entirety. But whenever I get in a discussion with a religious person and they find out I’m an atheist, the first words out of their mouth are “Well, have you read the Bible?” For some atheists, this is so annoying that they feel compelled to read the Bible just to debate better (and to blog about it):

I am told that reading the bible is a life changing experience that will fully and unequivocally convince me of the existence of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and maybe unicorns. I am also told, when I quote some seemingly strange passages from the bible, that I am merely taking them out of context, and that I would understand the “true” meaning if only I would read the bible in it’s entirety. I also look forward to the day that when someone asks me disdainfully “well, have you actually read the bible?” my reply can be “yes, have you?”.

While I understand their tactics and find that question equally annoying, I have no plans to read the entire Bible.

“Oh Jen,” you say, “you’re just being close-minded and set in your beliefs.” But I disagree. To illustrate my point, here are my top four reasons why I’m not going to waste my time reading the Bible:

1. There’s a double standard. Christians* claim that you can’t make an educated argument against Christianity unless you have read the Bible. Yet at the same time, they have often never read any other holy book, let alone all holy books, and they feel like that’s perfectly fine. Maybe if they stopped the hypocrisy of their standards, I’d consider them.

2. I don’t need to completely master Christian theology before I can realize that it’s wrong. As a corollary of #1, this is exactly how most Christians treat other religions. They reject Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Satanism, and Scientology without reading the Tripitaka, Vedas, Qu’ran, Talmud, Satanic Bible, Dianetics. They don’t believe in ancient Egyptian, Greek, or Norse gods and goddesses, yet they haven’t read every mythological story. We don’t need to know every detail about how people draw astrological tables to recognize it as bullshit. One only needs to learn so much about a topic before their skeptical sensors go off.

3. Even if I did read the Bible, Christians will continue to claim that I’m taking it out of context, misinterpreting it, or just outright lying. I have seen this happen over and over again with Bible-savvy atheists who were in debates. These people are so made up in their mind that no amount of reason will work, even if you’re using their own tool against them. They see what they want to see in the Bible, and quoting contradictory passages at them is futile.

4. From a purely literary perspective, the parts of the Bible I’ve read have been incredibly boring and poorly written. For a book that’s supposedly God’s word, you think he could have done a bit better. I have a queue of excellent books waiting on my bookshelf, and I much rather spend my time reading those than some 2,000 year old mediocre tome that will likely annoy me with its inanity.

I’m sure there are more relevant points that I’m forgetting, but those are the major ones to me. Maybe one day I’ll read it, when I’ve completely exhausted my list of superior literature, or I’m trapped on a desert island with nothing but the Good Book. But until then, I don’t feel the need to. I know the stories for the cultural literacy aspect, and that’s enough for me.

What do you think? Am I being lazy or practical?

*Obviously not all Christians act in the way I describe in this post. I’m talking about the ones who claim you must read the Bible. I hate making these sorts of disclaimers, but I don’t want people trolling me on this little thing.