Taylor: Use and abuse of the Bible

Basing modern laws and politics on isolated verses from the Bible makes as much sense to me as fixing cloudy cataracts with a hammer.

My wife Joan had cataract surgery last week. It’s an amazing operation—even if the mere thought of it makes me wince; the ophthalmic surgeon slices open a living eye, vacuums out a cloudy lens, inserts a plastic or silicone lens, and closes everything up again. It takes little more than 15 minutes.

Roughly 50 per cent of people in our age group have cataracts. The Museum of London calls cataract surgery “the most common operation in the world.”

I would be appalled if the surgeon based his procedures on a medical text that had not been updated in, say, the last 2500 years.

Yes, that’s the right figure. The first documented reports of treating cataracts go back to the fifth century B.C. It was, as you might expect, a crude procedure. After a lens had become completely opaque and rigid, the surgeon hit the patient in the eye with a blunt object to smash the clouded lens into fragments.

Thus treated, the eye could discern light and dark, but obviously could not focus.

Modern surgical techniques began in 1748, when anesthetics made it possible to extract an unbroken lens from a human eye. But the recovery process was, to say the least, arduous. Patients had to lie absolutely still with sandbags packed around their head to immobilize it, until the wound healed.

Immobilization lasted into my parents’ generation.

So even a 50-year-old medical text would be less than trustworthy.The whole point of progress is to update—and when necessary to render obsolete—older practices.

So it beats me why so many people insist on treating as absolute authority a text that has not incorporated a single new idea in 1900 years.

The most recent words in the Bible were written somewhere around 100 A.D. For another 200 years, Christian factions argued over which texts should be included in the Bible. God may have inspired the biblical texts; unfortunately, God neglected to provide a table of contents.

The current 27 books of the New Testament didn’t get finalized until 367 A.D.

And at that point, they fossilized. Nothing new could be added. Nothing about guns or nuclear weapons. About cars or planes, submarines and spaceships. About quarks or calculus.

In the last 1,900 years, we humans have changed the world we live in more than the whole of human development until then. So why would I expect a 1,900-year-old document to provide the definitive knowledge about sexual orientation, gynecology, evolution, international boundaries, geology, fetal development, astronomy, organ transplants, DNA, brain function…?

I don’t expect the Bible to provide guidance about chemical compounds, automatic transmissions, or the pros and cons of fracking. They didn’t exist back then. And even if God had dictated NaOH + HCl = H2O + NaCl, God’s scribes would have considered it utter nonsense.

I consider the Bible a valuable book—indeed, the only source of our knowledge of Jesus, whose teachings have shaped western civilization and my own life—but I put my faith in God, not in a book. Any book.

Basing modern laws and politics on isolated verses from the Bible makes as much sense to me as fixing cloudy cataracts with a hammer.