Skip to main content

Twitterati Go Nuts Over Suggestion that Bible is Badly Written

By Valerie Tarico ~

God forbid we should talk about the fact that the Bible, despite some wise and lyrical passages, is mostly a boring tangled mess.

After a storm of protest on Twitter and in comment threads, Salon retracted and removed my recent article, “Why the Bible is So Badly Written,” saying that it failed to meet their editorial standards. But which standards were those? Notwithstanding its provocative title and lede, the article summarized a series of well-known flaws in the Bible along with facts about how the book was constructed. It proposed (as did Thomas Jefferson) that the Good Book could use a good edit. Reviewed before publication by a retired religion professor and a professional editor, and errata corrected, the analysis was factually defensible and reasonably clear.

What the article definitely violated were the sensibilities of many Christians and orthodox Jews, and an array of literature lovers from Christianized cultures.

Christians and Jews differ among themselves in how they think of the Bible. Adherents may hold what is called a high or a low view of scripture, or something in between. At the high end are biblical literalists who think their book of scripture, in its entirety, is a timeless and perfect message from Heaven. At the low end are modernist believers, who see the Bible as a collection of human documents, but nonetheless a precious record of humanity’s struggle to understand what is real and good. In between these two lie those who think their version of the Bible, among all the world’s holy books, is uniquely inspired and inspiring. All of these cherish the Bible’s familiar phrases—selectively—as part of their worship routines.

People who hold varying (even conflicting) views of the Bible as scripture generally unite around a derivative view--that the Bible represents one of humanity’s greatest literary achievements. This view has been unassailable for centuries, even as belief in the Bible as holy scripture has dwindled. For those who have left religion behind, emphatically endorsing the Bible as great literature softens the blow, as does the claim that Jesus was a great moral teacher. What do we do with the Bible if we don't revere it as God's word? We can revere it as writing.

Offended critics of “Why the Bible is So Badly Written,” pointed to famous authors, including Poet Maya Angelou, who themselves have treasured the Bible as beautiful, inspiring literature. How presumptuous to suggest otherwise!

To be clear, the Bible contains passages with timeless relevance, lyrical poetry, wise counsel, and stories that have inspired two millennia of derivative art. I could and should have acknowledged that more clearly in the article that set off the storm. But that is not all it contains. Two hundred years ago, when Thomas Jefferson took a sharp instrument to a Bible, he called the parts he kept “diamonds in a dunghill.” The other parts, those he discarded, include tedious details about ritual purification, self-aggrandizing genealogical tributes to racial superiority, horrific stories of god-sanctioned violence that dehumanizes womenslaves, and tribal outsiders—and a vast array of related dross.

My own suspicion is that few of the outraged religious believers and literature lovers who attacked Salon have ever attempted to read the Bible cover to cover. Per Barna, the average American household contains 4.4 Bibles, but 57 percent of people say they read something out of it four times per year or less. Even those who read it more often tend to return to the brief passages that they do find inspiring, while skipping the troublesome parts. The book may be the world’s best seller, as some Twitterati like to crow, but most copies collect dust with very good reason.

But reason is only part of the story when we talk about sacred cows.

Seattle, where I live, is home to a hamburger chain called Dick’s. Some folks may recognize it from a Macklemore video that he filmed on the roof of one outlet. Even newcomers to Seattle know about Dick's and can tell you that “Dick’s is great,” whether they’ve ever tasted the hamburgers and fries or not. Dick's is great, has taken on a life of its own. It is common knowledge, a cultural touch point, an unquestioned point of agreement that is a part of our shared identity. To claim otherwise is contrarian, the violation of a local light-hearted taboo.

The taboos surrounding the Bible, as both a sacred text and a body of literature, are not so light-hearted because they are more important. But I might argue that defense of the Bible is no less reflexive. For over a thousand years, speaking ill of the Bible has been as gauche as speaking ill of the dead. But that is changing.

If, at this point, you find yourself irritated or protesting or sneering, let me ask you something. When was the last time you actually read it? Cover to cover. If you think that the Bible as a whole constitutes a pinnacle of human moral guidance or literature—either one—you owe it to yourself to read it, all of it. But be forewarned. The testimonial section at is peppered with stories of folks who set out to do just that and found their spiritual worldview in rubble.

Note: The version of "Why the Bible is So Badly Written" linked at my website has minor revisions that did not appear in the version at Salon, including a more clear statement that the Bible contains bits of beauty and wisdom amidst the rest. I routinely continue to tweak articles after they have been picked up elsewhere. To see the exact version published by Salon, go to

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at

For over a thousand years, speaking ill of the Bible has been as gauche as speaking ill of the dead. But that is changing.


Popular posts from this blog

Are You an Atheist Success Story?

By Avangelism Project ~ F acts don’t spread. Stories do. It’s how (good) marketing works, it’s how elections (unfortunately) are won and lost, and it’s how (all) religion spreads. Proselytization isn’t accomplished with better arguments. It’s accomplished with better stories and it’s time we atheists catch up. It’s not like atheists don’t love a good story. Head over to the atheist reddit and take a look if you don’t believe me. We’re all over stories painting religion in a bad light. Nothing wrong with that, but we ignore the value of a story or a testimonial when we’re dealing with Christians. We can’t be so proud to argue the semantics of whether atheism is a belief or deconversion is actually proselytization. When we become more interested in defining our terms than in affecting people, we’ve relegated ourselves to irrelevance preferring to be smug in our minority, but semantically correct, nonbelief. Results Determine Reality The thing is when we opt to bury our

Christian TV presenter reads out Star Wars plot as story of salvation

An email prankster tricked the host of a Christian TV show into reading out the plots of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Star Wars in the belief they were stories of personal salvation. The unsuspecting host read out most of the opening rap to The Fresh Prince, a 1990s US sitcom starring Will Smith , apparently unaware that it was not a genuine testimony of faith. The prankster had slightly adapted the lyrics but the references to a misspent youth playing basketball in West Philadelphia would have been instantly familiar to most viewers. The lines read out by the DJ included: "One day a couple of guys who were up to no good starting making trouble in my living area. I ended up getting into a fight, which terrified my mother." The presenter on Genesis TV , a British Christian channel, eventually realised that he was being pranked and cut the story short – only to move on to another spoof email based on the plot of the Star Wars films. It began: &quo

So Just How Dumb Were Jesus’ Disciples? The Resurrection, Part VII.

By Robert Conner ~ T he first mention of Jesus’ resurrection comes from a letter written by Paul of Tarsus. Paul appears to have had no interest whatsoever in the “historical” Jesus: “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, we know him so no longer.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:16 ) Paul’s surviving letters never once mention any of Jesus’ many exorcisms and healings, the raising of Lazarus, or Jesus’ virgin birth, and barely allude to Jesus’ teaching. For Paul, Jesus only gets interesting after he’s dead, but even here Paul’s attention to detail is sketchy at best. For instance, Paul says Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” ( 1 Corinthians 15:4 ), but there are no scriptures that foretell the Jewish Messiah would at long last appear only to die at the hands of Gentiles, much less that the Messiah would then be raised from the dead after three days. After his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus—an event Paul never mentions in his lette

Morality is not a Good Argument for Christianity

By austinrohm ~ I wrote this article as I was deconverting in my own head: I never talked with anyone about it, but it was a letter I wrote as if I was writing to all the Christians in my life who constantly brought up how morality was the best argument for Christianity. No Christian has read this so far, but it is written from the point of view of a frustrated closeted atheist whose only outlet was organizing his thoughts on the keyboard. A common phrase used with non-Christians is: “Well without God, there isn’t a foundation of morality. If God is not real, then you could go around killing and raping.” There are a few things which must be addressed. 1. Show me objective morality. Define it and show me an example. Different Christians have different moral standards depending on how they interpret the Bible. Often times, they will just find what they believe, then go back into scripture and find a way to validate it. Conversely, many feel a particular action is not


By David Andrew Dugle ~   S ettle down now children, here's the story from the Book of David called The Parable of the Bent Cross. In the land Southeast of Eden –  Eden, Minnesota that is – between two rivers called the Big Miami and the Little Miami, in the name of Saint Gertrude there was once built a church. Here next to it was also built a fine parochial school. The congregation thrived and after a multitude of years, a new, bigger church was erected, well made with clean straight lines and a high steeple topped with a tall, thin cross of gold. The faithful felt proud, but now very low was their money. Their Sunday offerings and school fees did not suffice. Anon, they decided to raise money in an unclean way. One fine summer day the faithful erected tents in the chariot lot between the two buildings. In the tents they set up all manner of games – ring toss, bingo, little mechanical racing horses and roulette wheels – then all who lived in the land between the two rivers we

I can fix ignorance; I can't fix stupid!

By Bob O ~ I 'm an atheist and a 52-year veteran of public education. I need not tell anyone the problems associated with having to "duck" the "Which church do you belong to?" with my students and their parents. Once told by a parent that they would rather have a queer for their sons' teacher than an atheist! Spent HOURS going to the restroom right when prayers were performed: before assemblies, sports banquets, "Christmas Programs", awards assemblies, etc... Told everyone that I had a bladder problem. And "yes" it was a copout to many of you, but the old adage (yes, it's religious) accept what you can't change, change that which you can and accept the strength to know the difference! No need arguing that which you will never change. Enough of that. What I'd like to impart is my simple family chemistry. My wife is a Baptist - raised in a Baptist Orphanage (whole stories there) and is a believer. She did not know my religi