Reading Too Much Scripture Is Detrimental To Our Mental Health
Christians 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.
I’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):
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.