Lately, I’ve been reading the Bible again. This is due to my sudden interest in King David—one of those waking brain-spasms that engender unlikely projects. Something dangles a worm, and abruptly I’m dangling from the hook. So I’ve started another goddam novel.
As an early teen, I went to the Presbyterian church, read the whole Bible, both swept up in the stories and stunned by the contradictions: like the bumper-car ride at the carnival, you’d zip ahead and get slammed in the side. Since then, my “spiritual” life has taken many paths: Unitarian, Quaker, pagan, atheist, but with no belief in a personal, anthropomorphic god. I see myths of “god” and “gods” as reflecting important mythic concepts but nothing I want to swallow whole.
For those who share my denial of a personal God with all the trimmings—or even committed religionists—who want some provocative reading, I suggest reading the Biblical text with the substitution of “Reality” for every statement regarding YHWH. Granted, we’ve had 3,000 years of ingenious explanations for the contradictory personae of the Main Character, but this allows an all-encompassing sense of “unity” in our worldview without the problem of a schizophrenic deity or the neopagan practices of doing a sex change on the Patriarch or chopping nature into discrete forces of wind, fire, or plumber.
Reality is unknowable, yet we’re born with an innate need to know it. It has an absolute will: if you jump off a cliff, you land on the rocks. It creates and destroys. It forgives and takes revenge. It offers hope while playing three-card monte with us fools who think we’ll beat the game.
Yet I’m drawn to the concept of a unified force of infinite, mysterious depth rather than to a garden-variety atheism, perhaps because I need to acknowledge our great lust to know and our need to comprehend the forces that shape our lives and within which we try to carve out some illusion of will.
Granted, Reality doesn’t have a good rep. It’s often linked with “grim” reality or “brutal” reality, as if it’s the opposite of idealism or hope—seen by some as those soft things to eat for folks with bad teeth. But that doesn’t have to be tattooed into our heads.
I see the Bible as a trove of extremely provocative stories. They tend to be flattened to plastic not only by believing fundamentalists but also by unbelievers who accept those literal interpretations for mockery. I’m not a philosopher—Hegel and Kant put me to sleep in grad school—only a storyteller, so I can’t sustain a defense of my worldview. I can only say that these readings enrich me.