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Why Do Atheists Often Take The Bible Literally?

I got a message today from a fellow atheist asking why so many atheists take a literal view of the Bible rather than argue the Bible from a more metaphorical position. I think it is a fair question to some degree.

For starters, here in America we tend to run into a large number of Christians who do in fact believe the Bible literally. It is not a small number of extremists who claim that Noah’s Ark was real or that despite being all-powerful God actually had to rest on the seventh day. These are the actual people we have to deal with on a daily basis.

With that said, I do on occasion meet up with Christians who take very different views on Christianity and on the Bible. There are lots of Christians who do take various parts of the Bible as metaphoric. The problem is that few agree on which parts are metaphoric and even fewer have any real justification for why those parts of the Bible are metaphorical.

It seems like the Bible is metaphorical only if it advocates something that a particular Christian doesn’t agree with. This is even the case with the literalist Christians. When Jesus talks about how he didn’t come to bring peace, but instead came with a sword (Matt 10:34) all Christians tend to be quick to call this a metaphor. Well shit on a stick, I really didn’t think anyone actually thought Jesus was wielding an actual sword. Of course that is a metaphor! But what is it a metaphor for exactly? To me, I think that is obvious. A sword generally is a metaphor for violence especially when Jesus just talked about not coming to spread peace. But surprisingly no Christian (not even the literalists) see it that way.

The thing is, when we talk to people who take the Bible as a metaphor, they tend to be Christians who haven’t fully read the Bible cover-to-cover and have very little idea of what the Bible actually says. In fact, they don’t even care what the Bible says. They have pretty much made up what they think the Bible ought to have said and call it Christianity.

It is actually easier to argue with Christians who actually claim to take their religion seriously than it is to argue with Christians who have just some vague view of God and who have created their own religion and call it Christianity. I can go to a fundamentalist/literalist and point out to them what the Bible says. But with a metaphoric believer, I have nothing to really point to because their Christianity is so vague and random. They have nothing to really stand on.

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