As history and revelation,
the bible’s stories have long ago fallen away;
we now know that
almost nothing that happens in it
and that its miracles, large and small,
are of the same kind and credibility
as are all the other miracles that crowd superstition.
Only a handful of fundamentalists,
in America sometimes more like an armful,
and at times like a roomful,
read it literally.
We read and dissect the books and verses of the Bible
because they tell beautiful stories,
stirring and shapely.
We read the good book because it is a good book.
We explore the stories because they are transfixing stories,
dense and compelling.
The beauty of the Song of Songs,
or the nobility of the account of creation in Genesis,
or the poetic hum of the Psalms
are as beautiful as poetic myths alone can be.
The Bible contains good tales
and great poetry,
and we need not worry about their sources.
We read them as we read all good fiction,
for their perplexities as much as for their obvious points.
Reading the Bible requires intellectual detachment,
with a sense that the miracles imagined
do not diminish what they tell us about imagination,
or about mankind.
We read the holy book
in order to learn why we need none.
Many moral ideas
of inclusion, tolerance, pluralism, and the equality of man,
and the emancipation of women
depend on the diminishment and destruction
of the traditional idea of an authoritarian God
depicted in the Bible.
The Bible is inspired
as are many other great works of Art,
but what makes the Bible holy
is what we do or don’t do with it.