It’s been difficult for me to reconcile the different messages contained in the collection of works referred to as The Bible. Over the past few years I’ve been told that the book’s a good book. You can find memes regarding The Bible as a manual for life itself. Inspiration, poetry, hope – it’s all there.
But it’s not the only thing that’s there.
I have a hard time admitting that The Bible as I knew it was the manual for breaking my spirit. Not a metaphysical spirit, some amorphous thing that exists just beyond the touch of reality. No, I’m referring to that undefined part of a person that’s supposed to find joy, to recognize that each new day can bring happiness as well as sorrow.
If mine exists, it’s a cadaver that goes through the motions but doesn’t understand why. What should be a light is instead a ravenous shadow. If it was a person, it would be missing limbs, possessing a stitched hide, and moving to the beat of a mechanical heart.
Not all of this is metaphorical. Take original sin, for example. I grew up with the version championed by Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. It makes sense, if you’ve bought into the window dressing. Everyone has sin, from birth. You’re a terrible person in need of torture because of it. Only Jesus can forgive it. To get it, you’ll want to beg. The wanting is important. It’s how you know you’re trying hard enough.
How far can parents go to make a child understand? The Bible is a pretty big fan of strict discipline. Notice references to the rod, to the duty of parents to discipline their children, to the idea that children are gifts bestowed to adults. Children are deity-granted possessions that are supposed to obey parents in all things. The whole point? It’s okay to beat and cajole new humans so long as it promotes the faith. Child services didn’t exist in Judea.
The ends justify the means, here. But the ends can’t be known until after a person has died. In the meantime, everyone’s guessing what’s required of them. Some kids get to live in fairy tale homes filled with religious inspiration. Others get belittled and beaten until they beg for divine mercy. I got enough of the latter that it doesn’t matter how much I received of the former.
This kind of stuff still goes on in some Christian households, from parents that even mean well. They’ve either bought into the faith or were raised in it. How are they supposed to know what damage they’re causing? Kids can develop new neuroses and problems, all courtesy of a book that gives people permission to take things too far.