Do fundamentalists own the Bible?


No more than Republicans own the American flag.

And this is something that annoys me about the post-9-11 New Atheists: they are happy to cede biblical interpretation to fundamentalists. It is as if, in Japan and China, there was a popular fundamentalist and literalist interpretation of Buddhism that dominated popular culture, and made the heaven and hell realms literal. Would we then throw Zen out the window and grant that, say, Bodhidarma has nothing to teach us?

Of course not. I think that atheists, agnostics, and secularists should acknowledge the role that both the Bible and the Greek pagan traditions bring to Western culture, and then own them in a sensible way, insisting that characters like Jesus and Moses don’t belong to fundamentalists: they belong to us. We own them as well. They are part of the contingent history that made us, our secular hopes, and our democracy. The story of Jonah is my story. The Sermon on the Mount has something for me, and Jonah and Jesus, were they alive today, would be on our side, not the side of the fundamentalist authoritarians. Here’s a nonfundamentalist, Martin Luther King, channeling Moses:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Do fundamentalists own the Bible?

  1. I would say you are right… If I am understanding you. Everything in our culture is the result of Ideas of the past. When it comes down to it whether it is real or fiction is not important.

  2. santitafarella says:


    Yes, that’s what I’m suggesting. The real or fiction part is only important if fundamentalists make an issue of it. Otherwise, the Bible can be absorbed for archetypes as can Greek mythology. Notice that I call my blog “Prometheus Unbound.” I can own Greek mythology without believing in Zeus.


  3. Santi

    I would agree with you in the sense that, for us non-believers, the Bible is just literature, like the Odyssey, or Hamlet, and as such it’s part of our cultural heritage. Fine. I know nobody who would disagree with this, including your nemesis “The New A-theists”.
    However that’s not the way christians see the Bible, or muslims see the Koran, even the so called moderates, and this is not atheists fault.
    It’s not up to atheists to fight the battles of some religious against another ones. It’s not up to ‘us’ to play judges in some sort of faith contest: bad believers x good believers, good faith x bad faith.

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