I have written about the Bible before now and created some interesting conversation. (Put ‘Bible’ into ‘Category’ and you’ll get a selection.) What becomes clear is that lots of people (Christians included) have little or no idea how to read the Bible. That is not to say that they are illiterate; it is simply that the Bible is a big, strange and complicated book and many people are not enabled to approach it.
Frankly, I wouldn’t attempt to read other forms of ancient literature without some guidance and I would be very cautious about coming to firm judgements when I knew myself to be on shaky ground in terms of my own knowledge. Yet, again and again, we find people trying to read the Bible as if it was a monolithic genre of literature, monovalent in its meaning, monovocal in its story and monochrome in its theology.
Two things bring me back to this: (a) reading Walter Brueggemann on reading the complex Old Testament in the way it is intended to be read and (b) the reports last night that “coded references to biblical passages are inscribed on gunsights widely used by the US and British military in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Apparently, Trijicon, the US-based manufacturer, was founded by a devout Christian, and claims that it is run according to “biblical standards”. So, they have marked the inside of Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights with references to inter alia “2COR4:6” and “JN8:12”. Not surprisingly, some people are not happy about this – including me.
Apart from the obvious objections to such a practice (which I am sure others will address), the intriguing question for me is why the manufacturers chose the references they did and didn’t select others. Forexample, the sixth Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Or something juicy about genocide from the Conquest narratives?
The point is (and this is where Brueggemann comes back in) that we are selective in quoting the bits that we like or that back up the ideologies we have already adopted for other reasons – reasons that we think are derived from the same Scriptures, but might not be.
Brueggemann suggests that we should read the Bible with humility as well as excitement, sensitivity as well as boldness. The God of the Bible will not be pinned down by our ideologies and also refuses to be forced into a sanitised straightjacket of simplistic monovocal orthodoxy. The Bible has to be read with an openness to the shockingness of some of its stories and not made into a book that ‘makes me comfortable and happy’. And the ‘hard bits’ should not be ducked.
We are not told, but I wonder if Trijicon includes among its references such verses as John 5:39 or Matthew 23:27-32 or Psalm 137 or Luke 23:34?
Worse still, this makes the Christian faith, the Christian Church and the Bible itself an easy target for ignorant atheists who find in it their own ammunition for simplistic targeting of a book they haven’t read and can’t be bothered to try to understand.