The Bible for Dummies
I admitted last year that I am reading the Bible. There are many reasons, religious and not, that I decided to undertake this project. One of the secular reasons is that it is such an important work in the history of humankind that, as a writer, it is important to me to know what it says.I estimate that the hefty tome consists of about 1,000,000 words. It would take 27 years worth of my weekly column to approach that tally. Who could stand it? Certainly not me. To be honest, there isn’t that much truth in me.The process of reading the Bible is arduous. I cover the Holy Book at a rate of two pages a day. That’s all I can absorb. Although its message is simple, it is not an easy piece of literature. The more I read, the more I feel the weight of the ancient passages that have gained mass rolling through time. That feeling is enough to convince me that the Bible contains great truth and wisdom, not withstanding the myriad ways people misinterpret it.Plodding through the Book at this deliberate pace, I occasionally feel that things are revealed to me. (Yes, I’m serious.) One such occurrence is the point of this piece.There is much narrative in the Old Testament about the importance of believing in God. Entire armies are wiped out and cities destroyed because people did not follow this simple requirement. Many times over, the Book says that suffering will be the fate of all who remain unfaithful.I had a problem with this. As when ancient Jerusalem fell, was modern-day New Orleans destroyed by hurricane Katrina last summer because all its citizens were unrepentant sinners? That simply can’t be true. It seems to me that if this were God’s modus operandi, Aspen should not be setting real estate sales records.So, how does the average theological dimwit like me reconcile this Biblically prophesized punishment with the apparently indiscriminate disaster castigation meted out by God throughout the world today?Well, right or wrong, here’s my revelation: The punishment is not the secular disasters we experience. It is not having a belief in God when they occur.Now, think about that for a moment. Punishing misery might just be that self-selective, and that simple. Really, God might be that clever.Eternity is a long, long time. A lifetime is infinitesimally short by comparison. If you believe that you will exist in that impossibly expansive “time” after you die, and that it will be a perfect existence, you can deal with anything that this short life can hand you. Believing in God gives you that.On the other hand, not believing in God, and a pleasant afterlife, can mean that suffering incurred today is carried with you your entire 80-or-so-year existence. That’s a bummer. And, that’s the punishment!Now, for discussion’s sake, let’s say this relief from belief in God is a placebo effect (i.e. there is no God). I don’t personally believe that, but for fun, possibly in the form of a close-proximity lightning strike, let’s assume that it’s true. What’s the difference?If people believe there is a heaven, even if there isn’t (duck!), and they strive to be good and decent human beings because of it, and their human suffering is assuaged in the bargain, hasn’t the “idea” of God been fulfilled just the same? Hasn’t some measure of salvation been achieved?You may think that those who rely on this are weak. But they feel empowered. Studies pioneered by Dr. Harold Koening at Duke University in 1998 show that patients hospitalized for physical maladies recover from depression more quickly as their intrinsic religiosity increases.We live in a town where there is pride in being independent, even to the point that we crave self-inflicted suffering. We enjoy the agonies associated with pastimes like mountaineering and the hind-end-searing discomfort of the Leadville 100 bicycle race. The temporal rewards for enduring these range from oversized silver belt buckle trophies to earlobes crusted brown as evidence of surviving frostnip.The hurt of true human suffering does not come with so tangible rewards. For the kinds of pain we have no control over, we may find relief in something as intangible as choosing to believe.Roger Marolt writes his column religiously for each Friday’s Aspen Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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