The Bible is a collection of books that have stood the test of time: they have been found by long experience to have the power to inspire faith, to console, to guide, to ennoble, to uplift the spirit, to fire our aspirations and passions, to raise questions that are sometimes challenging, sometimes comforting, sometimes awe-inspiring, and to give the searching soul glimpses of things that transcend the merely physical, material world that we live in.
I think several of these books are masterpieces of literature unmatched by any other ancient works. They are based on the spiritual experience of many authors and they pass on to us what they have learned, and their insights into the human condition. They have inspired great works, great deeds and great lives; some passages in them have great power to convict and to change our lives for the better. They contain some literal history, a great deal of wisdom, and some of the principles and values that underpin our civilization.
We all know that the Bible has also been used in some quite disgusting ways. Enjoyment of the Bible has been spoiled for many Christians by the way it has been used as a weapon of control. So many verses in it conjure up unhappy memories of control-freaks ramming their own ideas down our throats and pretending their ideas have divine accreditation because they have found some scripture that seems to support them.
That misuse of the Bible depends on fundamentalist principles. That is one reason why I encourage people to base their faith on a sounder, more rational, less superstitious foundation. Fundamentalism of the sort associated with closed minds is not just an offence against reason: it is a threat to peace, love, justice, sanity, health, prosperity and human happiness.
In some ways it is easier for an irreligious person to appreciate the Bible than it is for an ex-EB member. Some ex-EB are so Bibled-up that they never want to look at a Bible again in their lives, whereas agnostics or atheists like Eileen or Richard Dawkins can read it, value it and enjoy it. If you can approach the Bible without these unsavoury memories of emotional pressure, you can find in it a wealth of fascinating history, experience, wisdom, insight, brilliant literature, inspirational poetry and beautiful precepts. When you have put out of your mind the way the Brethren have used the Bible as an instrument of oppression, you will find it is better suited to exactly the opposite purpose.