INTRODUCTIONIn a season of inspiration, I read the Bible (“New International Version”) cover-to-cover, just a little bit each day, over the course of almost two years when I was 19-20. I don’t recommend reading any book this way, especially one with as many characters and story lines as the Bible. In truth, I’m still not sure how much I got out of it, but like the very last straggler crossing the finish line in a marathon, I’ll claim my “read” status, even if it should bear some sort of asterisk. About this reviewerMy experience with the Bible and Christianity is probably mundane for the time and place I was raised. In my youth, I was taken to church regularly, if not weekly. I embraced what was taught to me in that way children around the world always have- much more out of a desire to please my parents than an understanding of what I was being inducted into. As I grew, I started to question elements of the faith that struck me as ridiculous, contradictory or unjust. There’s no short supply of these, as thousands of websites will attest, so the questioning took some time. Then there’s the issue of Christianity‘s habitually unsavory history. It’s hard to believe in a religion which purports to teach compassion and forgiveness, when it has such extensive associations with torture, pedophilia, and corruption. As a consequence, I spent most of my twenties and thirties in a smoldering state of anti-Christianity. Somehow that too has gradually passed. Time mellows us, as elapsing years massage out the angrier knots in one’s psyche. Now I’m in my forties and reconsidering my position on this book. Oh, there’s still no denying the evils that have been inflicted in the name of the Bible. There’s still no defending its contradictions, or some of its wilder assertions. Yet, I am reluctant to discard the baby with the bathwater. For all its flaws, there is much to value on these pages. While so much of everyday life is packed with vacuous and impermanent things, this book continues to be a source of great inspiration and comfort to many- including several people whom I respect profoundly. That strikes me as significant.About this reviewOver the past twenty centuries, scholars have exhaustively parsed, interpreted and considered every last word in the Bible. There’s no way I can review this book and its nuances in an all-inclusive way. Moreover, the largest portion of the Bible comprises text which I have either outright forgotten, or never really knew to begin with: Banal genealogies which run on for three pages at a time. Ancient-world politics whose context and significance elude me. The social mores of agrarian peoples so far removed from my frame of reference as to be completely inscrutable. Some readers get this stuff, and even attach deep meaning to it all, but I don’t. Just as modern day astronomers claim that most of the universe is composed of a murky, poorly-understood “dark matter”, so too, the Bible for me is largely composed of material which I am assured has substance, but which seems to me undetectable and irrelevant. Of that remaining minority portion of the Bible with which I can claim familiarity, I divide the book up into five categories: -the mythological, -the historical, -the personal, -the sociopolitical, and -Revelation. THE SUBSTANCEThe MythologicalAt the beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:A Space Odyssey, we see early pre-humans huddled in a tree at night, unsheltered from the rain, beset on all sides by predators and the unknown. I think that’s pretty much how it started for our species. It’s been a long and arduous path from those days to the present. Since the scientific method revolutionized our thinking, it has become difficult to look back on earlier models of the universe without feeling smugly superior. Yet somewhere between the mastery of fire and the Enlightenment lies the bulk of human history. It’s a time of small agricultural communities. Of simple devices like the wheel and the lever. Oral tradition for the many, and writing for the few. The Bible is a link to that old mindset. Although I don’t literally think all the plants and animals of the Earth were put here in one day, I love that even five thousand years ago, my species was trying to explain something as abstract as the origin of plants. Finding fault with their cosmology completely misses the point. These are the priceless stories, rich and fantastic, of our imperfect intellectual heritage. They are the footprints along the path of our collective cognitive evolution. Unfortunately, many Christians are adamant that the Bible be taken entirely literally, or not at all. Too bad for them; they aren’t the boss of me. I happen to like “whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me”, and I don’t think embracing that lesson requires belief that a man could survive for three days and three nights inside a whale’s stomach.The HistoricalHowever supernatural it may be in places, the Bible does contain a good deal of verifiable world history. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, and eventually liberated. The ancient world was marked by trade routes cris-crossing Greece, Asia Minor, Phonecia, Ethiopia and Egypt. The interaction of the diverse groups in this region was the source of amaranthine intermingling, alliances, conflicts and cultural exchange. As simple communities grew more complex, codified laws were devised, which almost certainly included what we know as the Ten Commandments. A man named Jesus did start a social movement which the Romans found threatening, and it did result in his execution* (*there may be some room for debate here, but I think there is a lot of evidence that some historical Jesus figure did exist) For two thousand years, the Bible has been an accessible source of information about our early Mediterranean history. For this fact alone, I would make it one of my five “desert island” picks.The PersonalThis is probably the biggest part for most people. To its devoted readership, the Bible is a book of moral instruction, and for all its other faults, it remains ever-relevant in that capacity. As I have already mentioned, plenty of harm has been done in the name of Christianity. To be fair, though, plenty of good has been done as well. Make what you will about stories of curing lepers or walking on water, but the enduring influence of the New Testament lies in the Sermon on the Mount and its parables about compassion, humility and redemption. Some of the great icons of Western history have cited the Bible as inspiration: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Florence Nightingale, for starters. Of course I am now talking about people who actually put the teachings of the New Testament into practice, not just people who self-identify as Christian. Lest I come across as a pontificating jerk, let me state for the record that I could not be easily admitted into either category.The SociopoliticalI love this part! This is what makes the Bible so important today. For perspective, let me tell you the Bible is much more interesting and rewarding if you’ve read Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Early Christians were persecuted by the Romans. For as innocuous as Jesus’ teachings seem, he was regarded as a subversive. It’s funny, because he reiterated several times that his message was spiritual, with no political agenda implied. Note Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.”; and also Mark 12:17 “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. I see no reason to disbelieve the sincerety of this, yet as Gibbon explains so masterfully (in a mere 2100 pages), Christianity was one of the major causes for the destruction of the Roman state. The New Testament is the supporting document for the most successful radical political movement of all time! And that’s not all; the Old Testament is just as powerful, showing how Moses unified Jewish slaves to successfully oppose the superpower of their day: Egypt. The Bible defies the old aphorism “History is written by the winners”. Sure, the winners have written plenty of history, but nothing they wrote has enjoyed as wide or enduring success as the Bible, which is by and for the oppressed. It is the history of the slaves and the disenfranchised, ground down under the empires of their day. It speaks to the perpetual humiliation and impotence of living under foreign occupation. So many books examine the glory and might of Persia, Babylon, and Rome. So few focus on the underclasses whose labor supported Empire's decadence from afar. In these waning days of American Empire, it isn’t difficult to see who the modern correlates to the enslaved Jews and early Christians are... and it ain't you and me reading this! The Bible's allure is that it is written from the underside of power. It is aimed at those who dwell invisible at the bottom of society. Take Matthew 5:39, for example. If somebody slaps you, you’re supposed to turn the other cheek! To a peasant living in an occupied client state of an empire, this was a familiar situation. Turning the cheek was the only option for such a person. However, when the turning becomes a tenet of a belief system, it restores dignity to the offended... dignity that was otherwise in painfully short supply. No wonder Christianity spread so rapidly... it rehumanizes the dehumanized. Yet these ideas must have seemed alien and perplexing to upper crust Romans. Their society worshipped wealth, and declared the powerful to be literal gods. They must have wondered how a credo of humility was finding purchase. Empires don‘t turn the other cheek; they strike back! They conquer! They take more than they give, and are quite proud of that fact. The empowered, with their dignity intact, may have had difficulty fathoming the dyamics of a religion congenitally rigged against the rich. Material comfort isn't very motivating towards submission to a higher authority. Why submit when you’ve got everything? I would love to have seen Roman patricians responding to Jesus’ warning in Luke 18:25 “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." That message should trouble children of privilege wherever they may be. It's a radical philosophy, incompatible with the "might makes right" ethos which supported survival and accumulation since the first days of man. And yet it resonated. And it resonates still today. America in 2010 knows better than almost anybody in human history how overabundance can turn into a burden, even a curse. While most people in the world do not own a car, 35% of Americans own three. Meanwhile, the number of Americans taking antidepressants has tripled in the past ten years. I can’t show linkage between those two facts, but the pattern I’m alluding to is clear. We are living at the top of a global economic system founded on lot of injustices, and that carries a certain spiritual price. This is a very difficult position to try to understand the Bible from. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of oppressed living within our borders, and a lot of the affluent are probably well-intentioned, albeit clueless about where their goods come from. What I’m saying is that I am mystified but fascinated trying to imagine what the modern churchgoer makes of the Bible. Ours is such an over-the-top consumer culture; every day delivers a constant bombardment of advertisements, fashion images, corporate programming, military-industrial propaganda, entertainment news, and digital distractions of ten thousand different flavors. How is a penniless savior preaching humility, and murdered by a distant foreign Empire, supposed to fit into all that? I don't know, but this is a fascinating time to be thinking about the Bible. As Ben Bernanke talks about “quantitative easing” and a corrupt banking system precipitates a slow-motion controlled demolition of our economy, it seems clear that the gap between haves and have-nots will soon widen dramatically. Main Street U.S.A. appears destined to become the next downtrodden victims of Empire, and I wonder whether this book will then emerge as the subversive liberation theology it is so well-suited to be. My favorite story is still Jesus kicking the moneychangers’ asses.Revelation…is walled off from the rest of the Bible in my mind, because it is so conjectural, allegorical, and just bizarre. A faction of evangelical Christians in America are downright obsessed with it. I think the imagery is so symbolic, it could mean just about anything. I don't know how to relate Revelation to anything in my life. That’s really all I have to say about Revelation.CONCLUSIONSThe Bible is a book that’s hard to wrap your head around. It’s a project to read, but very rewarding. This book is more multifunctional than a Swiss army knife, so no matter who you are, or what you believe, chances are you’ll find something in the Bible you can enjoy. I don’t plan on going to church more frequently, but I do think about re-reading the Bible sometime. Maybe that’s the GoodReader in me.