When speaking out against ISIS earlier this month, President Obama attempted to rein in those who maligned the entire religion of Islam based on the actions of radical groups. “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” he said. “In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Indeed, Fox News pundits and their ilk are quick to point to problematic verses in the Quran in an effort to taint the entire religion, but they turn a blind eye to verses in their own holy book that endorse misogyny, murder, slavery, and several other atrocities. This is a point that has been made by many, many people, but a new book called The Bible Said What!? has found perhaps the best way to show it — by literally illustrating Biblical text and our contradictory assumptions surrounding it.
Evan Mascagni, the New York-based lawyer, filmmaker and writer who conceived of and wrote the book, spent 13 years in Catholic schools. “Schoolteachers and priests constantly cherry-picked verses from the Bible to justify whatever lessons were in store for the day, and I developed a very narrow understanding of Christianity,” he writes in the introduction. “This book explores some of the stories that were overlooked throughout my education and have ultimately led me to take the Bible for what it is.”
The book is short and is filled with colorful illustrations. But it’s not a traditional children’s book, and some may argue that it’s not appropriate for kids at all. But if this isn’t safe for kids to read, then how is the Bible?
The point isn’t to make the Bible irrelevant, but to challenge our assumptions about what it teaches and how closely one should follow it. And assumptions there are many, when 80% of Americans believe the Bible is sacred but only one in five read it.
“I’m just sick and tired of seeing people use the Bible not to promote love and peace, but to justify hatred and bigotry,” Mascagni told ANIMAL. For example, conservative Christians often justify anti-gay views with religion, but Mascogni argues that’s a very selective interpretation of the text:
“Jesus does not once mention anything about same-sex relations in the Bible. So it is not surprising that many Christians are forced to cherry-pick the Bible and take verses out of context to support their discriminatory views toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. For example, those Christians who are against gay rights often point to the Book of Leviticus to support their beliefs. Yet a closer look at Leviticus reveals that the Bible not only bans same-sex relations, but a lot of other things, as well– like trimming your beard and getting a tattoo. Jesus’ teachings, on the other hand, indicate that humans should not judge others. Using the tactics of Christians, a simple quote from Jesus pulled out of context could make him appear quite eager to engage in some same-sex relations with his old pal, Satan.”
Additionally, the book forces readers to reckon with both the Old and the New Testaments. “Christians traditionally regard both the Old and New Testament as sacred scripture, but some Christians are quick to write off the draconian ways of the Old Testament to focus on the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus,” he observed. “Yet, Jesus was quick to admit that he had come to fulfill the words of the prophets and there are numerous references to the Old Testament by Jesus himself. There are hundreds of parallel verses appearing in both the Old and New Testament, demonstrating that they are both part of one larger narrative.”
You can download The Bible said What!? on Kindle or buy a print edition here.
(Illustrations: Nick Sirotich)