Last week, the editors of GQ (Gentlemen's Quarterly online) released its list of 21 Books You Don't Have to Read. They boldly claimed, "...not all the Great Books have aged well. Some are racist and some are sexist, but most are just really, really boring. So we—and a group of un-boring writers—give you permission to strike these books from the canon." The Bible was smack dab in the middle of their list.
You may recognize a few other classic works on GQ's roster of "racist," "sexist," and "boring" books: Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and Swift's Gulliver's Travels. These books were listed for a variety of reasons, but the editor's explanation for the inclusion of the Bible was particularly harsh: "It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned."
While many may find those words to be rather severe, they actually sounded familiar to me when I first read the GQ article. As an atheist, I can remember saying something similar to a Christian co-worker. But that all changed as I began to investigate the Bible using the skills I had developed as a detective. I've now come to appreciate the Bible above all other texts (religious or otherwise), largely because the editors of GQ are wrong:
The Bible's not racist: The Bible doesn't divide people based on their racial identity. Skin color, along with other external human features, are unimportant to God. According to the Bible, God created humans – all humans – in His image (Genesis 1:27), and unlike the rest of us, God doesn't judge people based on their outward appearance, but instead "looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). The Apostle Paul wrote that "there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus," (Galatians 3:28), and the Apostle Peter said that, "God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34-35). When Martin Luther King Jr. – a Bible believing, Baptist minister – argued for the dignity and equality of African Americans, he did so based on the teaching of Scripture. This alone is adequate reason to read the Bible.
The Bible's not sexist: Given the cultural setting in which the Bible was written, it's unfair to claim it is sexist. In fact, Jesus' continuous interaction with women was countercultural. He had female disciples, many of his closest friends were women (i.e. Martha and her sister, Mary), and some of his most profound theological teaching was first shared with women (as in John 11:20-27). It was a woman who first acknowledged the identity of Jesus as the Messiah (the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John), and it was a woman (Mary) who first discovered the empty tomb. Women played a critical role in the ministry of Jesus, because as Paul said, "there is no male and female" for we are all one in Christ. This teaching about the value, status and identity of women, written two millennia prior to modern feminist movements, once again makes the Bible worth reading.
The Bible's not boring: The Bible isn't simply a collection of moralistic stories and proverbial proclamations, and it isn't uninteresting. It is a description of the world the way it really is. It presents a comprehensive view of reality, answering the most foundational questions asked by humans for thousands of years. It describes how we got here, why our world is broken, and how it can be fixed. The overarching narrative of the Bible has served to inspire artists of all kinds. Writers such as Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Dickens, artists like Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Del Greco, and musicians such as Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach found creative inspiration on the pages of Scripture. If you're wondering what stirred these great creative geniuses, you might want to read the Bible for yourself.
As I began to investigate the claims of the Bible using my skillset as a cold-case detective, I found that the Gospels varied in content and style, just as I would expect if they were reliable eyewitness accounts of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. They weren't overly "repetitive" nor "self-contradictory," especially given my experience interviewing thousands of eyewitnesses. The Bible isn't racist, sexist or boring. Instead, it continues to inspire me, just as it has millions of other booklovers. The editors of GQ are wrong, the Bible is still a book you have to read.