Reading Too Much Scripture Is Detrimental To Our Mental Health

April 16, 2007 at 10:14 am 15 comments

EcclesiastesChristians are often told that the Bible is God’s Word and that they must read it daily in order to maintain a close relationship with God. Only God’s Word should be allowed into our minds because Satan will work in what we see and read and will cause us to doubt God. One morning, I came across this article and this article. Both hit me quite hard and got me thinking once again about the nature of scripture. I believe that there are some good passages in the bible, which filled me with purpose and gave meaning to my life when I read them. Other scripture, however, caused me to recoil in horror and I questioned the goodness of God. So what happens when the bible does more harm to your mental health than good?

One can’t help but see that the bible, as a collection of myths, poetry, letters, and prophecies are valuable as literature and we spent many hours discussing aspects of this in university mythology classes. But, the bible, especially the Jewish scriptures, shouldn’t be taught to anyone with regards to morals, much less teach them to our children in Sunday school (and they say television and video games are violent!). These scriptures were aimed specifically at a peculiar people at a critical juncture in history. They tell us nothing really but how Israel set up an exclusive, monotheistic religion after wiping out whole tribes standing in their way with God’s blessing.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love the bible. Most of the Psalms are quite beautiful because at least the writers were honest in their pleadings with and railings against God. Proverbs is full of practical wisdom when not blaming women for men’s sexual proclivities. Ecclesiastes is the truest book in the whole bible. The writer is expressing practical sentiments and existentialist ideas. It’s pragmatic and makes a lot of sense, but alas, nobody reads that anymore, especially in churches (maybe because it does make so much sense!). Overall, unless you are discerning and have a good sense of yourself and your beliefs, the rest of the books and letters in the bible seem far too dangerous to attempt to live your life by, especially for women.

The bible, as a tool of Christianity, forces people to no longer think for themselves. Rather than encourage thinking, it shuts all doors and demonizes all naysayers. Fundamentalists want that we should read this book exclusively and live our entire lives by its contents. This view of the scriptures isn’t just confined to Jewish and Christian fundamentalists either. The Koran, while containing some nice passages, also degrades women. The misinterpretation of scriptures by fundamentalist, patriarchal men is the chief reason we have such misogyny and racial hatred in this world. Regardless of what these men may tell you, that they honor women and put them on a pedestal, it is a ploy to control us, to marginalize us, and to keep us subservient so that men’s needs are continually met in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Any deviation from this norm incurs hatred and even death for women and stunted intellectual growth for children.

PhariseesI’ll admit that Christianity is what I know the most about. At least Jesus tried to live a good Jewish life, albeit in a more mystical fashion than his contemporaries would have liked. He never took the Pharisaical approach to religion, forcing people to follow rules, nor did he advocate punishing them for not following the rules. There were instances when Jesus showed racial bias (Matthew 15:21-28) or became needlessly angry and petty (Matthew 21:18-20), but overall, he was a respectable character. Plus, Jesus had female disciples regardless of how many times the other male disciples tried to push them aside. Take for instance this little exchange between the disciples and Mary Magdalene in the Gospel which bears her name and which was suppressed by the institutional church (no she was not a prostitute! Nowhere in the bible is Mary’s sexuality mentioned):

Chapter 9

1. When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Savior had spoken with her.

2. But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, Say what you wish to say about what she has said. I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these teachings are strange ideas.

3. Peter answered and spoke concerning these same things.

4. He questioned them about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?

5. Then Mary wept and said to Peter, My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?

6. Levi answered and said to Peter, Peter you have always been hot tempered.

7. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries.

8. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well.

9. That is why He loved her more than us. Rather let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.

10. And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.

(The Gospel of Mary Magdalene)

What this scrap of Mary’s Gospel reveals is that there were many scriptures out there, but the institutional, patriarchal church decided for you which ones you should see. So none of us has the whole story about Jesus! None of us have the whole story about any religion, really. What the church did not choose, it did its best to destroy. Once again thinking for ourselves is discouraged.

When all is said and done, the Gospels are nice to have around as an account of the myths and stories of a culture long past. They are nice to contemplate when we feel life pressing in on us. It helps us to know that people are the same in every generation. Men’s scriptures are a mythological heritage that should be kept for future generations to read and study as literature, but they are only half the story at best. I’m thankful that I don’t fill my head anymore with all the passages that are ignored in church; all those killings, rapes, plundering, and diatribes against the different and the marginalized in society. And I am thankful that in America we can do that. Others aren’t so lucky.

-mysteryofiniquity

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15 Comments

  • 1. becca13  |  April 16, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I believe that while you provoke some very good thoughts, that there are portions of the scriptures that are being misinterpreted. I also believe that you are presenting ideas from the bias of someone who has only been to traditional services (if that) and have not been introduced to what a church that is completely scripture based in its messages. I dont reply to insult you in any way and if I have I am sorry, that was not my intention. I wanted to do nothing more than encourage you to look beyond the “traditional” denominations and perhaps look into non-denominational messages that delve into what the scriptures are really saying (not what is interpreted or mistranslated).
    Blessings.

  • 2. mysteryofiniquity  |  April 16, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    becca13,

    Hey, no offense taken. Since you don’t know me all you have are my written words to go by.

    In my 23+ years as a Christian and religious devotee, I’ve attended house churches, new church transplants that met in school buildings, Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Evangelical Free Churches, Lutheran Churches, Catholic Churches, Greek Orthodox Churches, Episcopal Churches, Charismatic Churches, Pentecostal Churches, and let’s see…I think that covers it. We were even members of some of these.

    Oh yes, I’ve also talked with Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Hare Krishnas (in our Boulder, CO years). I’ve also visited Buddhist temples and other holy places. I’ve been to pagan rituals and attended a Unitarian Universalist church for a time.

    Most Christian churches taught the same things, except for the fundamentalist churches (what you call “scripture based”). While finishing my Master’s Degree in English Literature, also took classes on the bible and mythology as well as read numerous evangelical texts, authors, preachers, and bible teachers.

    Obviously, I don’t take any of these churches, teachers, religions and viewpoints at face value and I do think for myself. I never believe something just because a church teaches it. That would be pretty uninformed and closed minded on my part now wouldn’t it? I do view religions as a kind of smorgasboard of knowledge and experience and wouldn’t trade my years exploring them for anything.

    So, what exactly did you take issue with?

  • 3. Karen  |  April 16, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    I wanted to do nothing more than encourage you to look beyond the “traditional” denominations and perhaps look into non-denominational messages that delve into what the scriptures are really saying (not what is interpreted or mistranslated).

    The problem that I have with this is that “proper” interpretations or translations of scripture have been argued over for 2,000 years. At this point, how can anyone rationally decide what the bible “is really saying”? By what authority do non-denomninational churches decide what is the proper message of the bible?

  • 4. PB and J  |  April 16, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    mysteryofiniquity

    thanks for the post. i think it was very thoughtful and well written.

    i differ on my view of some things, but i look forward to reading more from you.

    peter

  • 5. mysteryofiniquity  |  April 16, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Karen,

    You are correct to point this out. Whose interpretation is “proper” and whose isn’t? Who decides?

    Peter,
    Thanks! :-)

  • 6. stellar1  |  April 16, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    MOI,

    Great blog. Can you imagine what this world would truly be like if everyone really did take the Bible at face value and lived their lives by literal interpretation of scriptures? It is certainly not a world I would want to live in.

    -Stellar1

  • 7. mysteryofiniquity  |  April 16, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    stellar1,

    Me either! Unfortunately, too many do take it literally and want to enforce it! (shiver)

  • 8. becca13  |  April 16, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    my issues were personal interpretation I suppose more than anything else. I have to applaude you for being so in depthin your backgground, that can’t be said about most persons. I live in a college town so I see and hear a little bit of everything (including hare krishnas serving lunch everyday on one of the lawns on campus and an old roommate who was devoutly morman, just left on a mission). It is impericle to think you oneself but I personally find strength in delving into scripture, I try to find any sources that also have literal translations of the original hebrew for clarification on some issues. THank you for your thought provoking comments though, I appreciate the variety of opinions wherever I can find them.

  • 9. MTran  |  April 17, 2007 at 3:30 am

    Reading scripture can also induce cognitive dissonance. Or, as Issac Asimov said:

    “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”

  • 10. mysteryofiniquity  |  April 17, 2007 at 6:52 am

    becca13,
    Yes, scriptures are good to read as long as that’s not the only thing you read. There’s more to life than what’s in that collection of literature. Good luck with it.

    MTran,
    Moderation in all things, I say! You’re right. Cognitive dissonance comes from trying to reconcile real life with things not meant for us in the Bible. I like the quote! :-)

  • 11. Nick  |  April 21, 2007 at 8:33 am

    First of all, of course the Bible is violent. life is violent. Watch the news, anything you hear about religion will involve violence.

    Also, there are plenty of Gospels out there. Yes the church decided which ones were authentic. There is a lot of BS out there, Quite frankly, I don’t see your archaeological degree or whatever is necessary to decide when a Gospel was written and by whom. People have known about these books since they were written, and many many scholars have reviewed them and found they are precisely bullshit.
    If they are really God’s word, then God would protect it.

    Also I think one of the points you are saying is that the Bible isn’t good because it doesn’t treat women as equals. Also that Jesus was racist, even though in your example he healed a Canaanite woman. I guess the Old Testament can be considered racist if you consider every tribe a different race, but look at what’s happening in Israel today. It says in the Bible if you don’t utterly destroy everyone else in Israel than they will be a thorn in your side and it’s happening now with Palestine.
    Basically, you are judging whether the Bible is a good book based on your own morals, which makes no sense since last time I checked, God judges you, you don’t judge God. Maybe you think there is no God because the Bible doesn’t make sense to you, but that makes sense really since you are not God, how could you comprehend Him or His actions completely?
    Or perhaps you think God exists but the Bible isn’t His book. Well, since there isn’t any other book that you like that would be stupid since nobody would know about God’s actual truth so I don’t think you think that.
    The only thing I agree with you slightly on is that the Church doesn’t read the Bible correctly.
    For example:
    The Bible says priest should have one wife.
    It doesn’t say anyone else can’t have multiple wives and many important people did.
    You are allowed to have sex before marriage.
    Women were not treated equally. Eve was created for Adam, Adam wasn’t created for Eve.
    Homosexuality is an abomination. In fact, when a group of people tried to rape a man, the man who owned the house this man was staying at put his daughter out instead. Then they killed over 50,000 people and almost destroyed their entire tribe for this crime.
    Satan is God’s angel to tempt people, not some all powerful evil force.
    Slavery is allowed, but with restrictions that were not followed in the slavery in the slave trade of the 1500s-1800s.

    I would be surprised if you ever most of these in church.

    In conclusion, if you don’t believe in God, than you can make any argument you want, it will seem reasonable. But God is real, no matter what you believe, you’re just (un)lucky enough that he doesn’t really care enough about what you think to punish you to change your ways. I’m just sad we live in a country where we can’t stone you to death.

  • 12. brad  |  April 21, 2007 at 11:28 am

    mystery,
    Great post, though I don’t think one needs to go to the gnostics to show that thought and critical thinking isn’t such a bad thing, especially in the G. of Mark.

    I don’t think its a question of “Reading into it” – its more about HOW one reads into it. Fundamentalist read the Bible as though it was written to be Scripture at the time of writing, and thus it is wholly applicable (with some qualifications) to their contemporary life (but they like to concentrate on the nice sounding verses – Genocides in Egypt by the Spirit of God don’t sound too good in a sermon).

    However, if one really wants to understand what was being said, we must look at it from a human point of view and ask questions about why the letters and books were written. This can’t be done without reading “too much” into the bible. Of course I don’t think you disagree, as we are talking about two different things and I am merely playing semantics.

  • 13. mysteryofiniquity  |  April 21, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Nick,
    Your rant is so nonsensical, I don’t know where to begin. So I won’t.

    Brad,
    You are correct about how one reads the bible. Stanley Fish said that we all bring different interpretations to a text based upon our life experiences and our own knowledge. Of course this makes sense because our own life experiences and knowledge are all we have when it comes right down to it. All else we take on faith. As for why the books and letters were written, that’s easy. They are simply products of another’s experience of his God. Revelation to the one experiencing it, perhaps, but hearsay to everyone else. :-)

  • 14. MTran  |  April 21, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    But God is real, no matter what you believe, you’re just (un)lucky enough that he doesn’t really care enough about what you think to punish you to change your ways. I’m just sad we live in a country where we can’t stone you to death.

    Is sick Nick a troll, a run of the mill flame-baiter, or a simple minded sociopath?

    Nick, if you don’t like the country you are in, why don’t you move to some dark theocracy where you can join the Taliban?

    Nick’s attitude is why America was founded as a secular state, not a theocratic one.

  • 15. mysteryofiniquity  |  April 22, 2007 at 6:49 am

    MTran,
    That’s what I was thinking. Sheesh! It proves my point though. :-)

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