In 1977, while reporting for The Alton Telegraph in downstate Illinois, I participated in a panel discussion on "Religion, Media and Popular Culture" at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Others on the panel included a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, a rabbi, an atheist and the moderator — a religious professor at the school.

At one point in the discussion, Father Joseph Ryan fielded a question from a student:

"Father," she asked, "if most of our religions are based on the same God, why are there so many different religions?"

Ryan smiled and answered: "It depends, my dear, on which portion of the Bible that particular religion chooses to accept."

I had to follow Ryan’s answer with another question:

I’m confused Father. If you are saying it is acceptable to accept parts of the Bible and not accept other parts, how can you condemn an atheist who chooses to accept none of the Bible?

Ryan responded in a way that I’ve learned to expect from religious leaders and their followers when one raises questions about faith:

"Tell me, my son," he said. "Are you a Christian?"

Yes, I’m a Christian, raised in the Presbyterian Church, baptized in Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church, married (the first time) at First Presbyterian Church in Roanoke and the second time by the associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Alton, Illinois in his living room. I taught Sunday school at College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Alton for a number of years and have served as both a deacon and an elder in the church.

But the issue here is not my Christianity but the practices of others to try and use religious belief to control the actions of others and to inflict upon society a narrow, fundamentalist view of religion in a way that clearly violates the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

It’s ironic that America, a nation founded by those who fled religious tyranny in Europe, historically finds itself under attack from zealots who use religion as a club and the Bible as the ultimate propaganda tool.

In another thread on this web site, religious fundamentalists have tried to convince me and others that the Bible is the ultimate and final word on current social issues like abortion and gay rights. They trumpet the Bible as a book "written by God" as the law of mankind.

Somewhere, God is probably rolling on the floor and laughing at such misuse of the Grand Plan.  I’m sure God has a sense of humor, even if those who use religion as an excuse for gender bias, homophobia and bigotry do not.

The Bible is a book written by men who recorded what they saw, heard and were told about events of the day and the word of God. Like many good stories, the events reported in the Bible are often metaphorical.

The Bible is a good book, but is it The Good Book? Depends on your religious beliefs. Jews disregard much of the New Testament because they do not accept the story that Jesus was the son of God. Apocalyptic fundamentalists put more faith in the gloomy predictions of the Book of Revelations than moderates. The New Testament contradicts some of the teachings of The Old Testament, fording strict constructionists to make a choice.

Reader Harry Burton chose to invoke the Bible to boster his stand against gays:

Go to Leviticus 18:19 and read thru to verse 22.

18:22 – Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind…
By carnal knowledge of them, and carnal copulation with them, and mixing bodies in like manner: this is the sin commonly called sodomy, from the inhabitants of Sodom, greatly addicted to it, for which their city was destroyed by fire: those that are guilty of this sin, are, by the apostle, called "abusers of themselves with mankind", (1 Corinthians 6:9)

A law against unnatural lusts, sodomy and bestiality, sins not to be named nor thought of without the utmost abhorrence imaginable, v. 22, 23

It cannot be any clearer than that unless one is an atheist who believes nothing.

If I understand Mr. Burton correctly, anyone who does not share his belief in this is "an atheist who believes nothing."

But I raised these points with Mr. Burton:

Harry, if you are a strict believer in the Bible then let’s remember these parts as well:

Deut 21:18-21
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die

Exo 31:15
Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

The Bible can be used (and misused) to support just about any argument in the world, no matter how outlandish. Do we kill police officers who work on Sunday and protect us from crime? Do we blow away the waitress that serves us Sunday brunch? Next Sunday, let’s line up each member of each NFL team just before game time and execute them by firing squad. Maybe we should do the same with NASCAR drivers.

And, for the record, isn’t the minister who preaches from the pulpit working on a Sunday? Off with his head.

The Bible is a collection of essays written by men who recorded what they saw, heard and were told at the time., They were the journalists, the reporters, the bloggers of their time and — as human beings — it is not beyond the bounds of reasonable thought to think that each put his spin on things. The Bible is not a book written by God but a book written by those who believed they were reporting the word of God.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Harry chose not to respond to my challenge on the other teachings of the Bible but to counter with:

You are way off about how the bible was written. It was written by God who inspired the men to write it. It IS Gods word. What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? God destroyed it. You need to just stick to journalism as it is very evident that the Bible is not a strong point of yours.

Young Zach Robinson, an ultra conservative high-school student, chose to question my Christianity:

Do you consider yourself a christian?

If you don’t then fine, your entitled to believe what you want.

But if you are, please don’t disrespect yourself, and make a mockery of Christianity by saying the bible is nothing more than men "blogging". Numorous times in the bible it is stated that this is the WORD OF GOD. Many differnet "journalists" state this too, so it must be pretty significant. If many different men all "reported" the same thing, over the course of MANY years. Now I’m no biblical scholar, but I know enough that God wouldn’t lie about the bible. Why would he tell us it’s his word, when in actuallyity, it’s nothing more that several thoughts pulled together.?? Dismissing the Bible as not being God Breathed is dismissing the whole religion.

Also, if it is not a God Breatherd book, than how come it is always right. It is the ultimate source of wisdom, morals, laws, everything. It outlines laws and morals to keep, and we have seen that if we don’t keep these things God tells us to do, life will be much harder. It is so full of truths in this everyday world, that it make say wow!! This is so true. One example that comes to mind is sexual imorality. Sexual Imorality has ruined so many peoples mariages/ lives. God specificly states in the Bible to stay sexually pure. This is a good example of God knowing what is best for us, as humans, since he did create us.

Now if you are not a christian, fine.

But if you are, please quit calling yourself one, but not believing in god’s word.

I answered that question earlier. I’m also enough of a Christian to know that the term is capitalized (as is God). I’ve spent a good part of my life studying religion, the Bible and the writings of others who are more knowledgeable about the Good Book than any of us here.

Lutheran pastor and Biblical scholar Jacob A.O. Preus wrote:

The Bible gives us a deep and rich language, one laden with colorful metaphors that speak of the wonderful things our God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

Author David Mills, who wrote Knowing the Real Jesus, writes this about the stories in the Bible:

Some of the history may be true, but the stories of the supernatural are certainly invented, because things like that—seas parting, fire coming down from the skies, tax payments found in fishes, bodies rising from the dead—simply do not happen.

W. Hall Harris III, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, says this about the writings of John:

Any Bible student who has taken more than a superficial glance at John’s Gospel realizes it is filled with language, metaphor, and imagery which grips the readers and transports him or her to the world of the Evangelist.

In the end, the Bible remains what it is and always has been: a book written by men who advanced the teachings of their faith based on what they saw, heard and were told. It was reportage, but flawed reportage because it depended on metaphor and outright exaggeration to make a point.

As a guidebook for those of us who believe in God, it is a useful tool to supplement and bolster our faith.

But metaphor should never be mistaken as Gospel and the Bible should never be misused and abused by those who want to force their point of view on others. Our founding fathers were smart enough to recognize the dangers of mixing church and state. We should remember their warnings and listen to them.