A retired man in upstate New York, suffering from AIDS and anemia, has recently finished copying out every word of the King James Bible by hand. It took him four years. According to this AP story he spent as much as 14 hours a day on it.
But that's not why I'm here writing to you today. I'm writing because of many of the responses atheists have made to the story. I wouldn't want anyone to confuse me with any of these atheists, although I am an atheist too. I wouldn't want anyone to think that, just because I'm an atheist, I'm reacting with horror or outrage, like these other atheists, to the story of this man's pastime over the past four years.
Horror? Outrage? Because someone copied out the Bible by hand? Steve -- you may be saying -- you're kidding, right?
I wish. Let me quote some of the atheists responses to the story: "hard to imagine a bigger waste of time" "Why?" "and other stories from I Wasted My Life." "astonish [...] that this is all this guy can think of to do with his spare time. it's not as if it's something that we really really need done. unless, of course, it was some sort of punishment." "Well, that was a monumental waste of time." "I am a human who despises the superstition that caused a suffering man to waste his time." "This is a monumental waste of time. A good deal of this book is incredibly deplorable and morally reprehensible. Large sections of it are plagiarized from a handful of relatively ancient sources. Some of it is almost essentially copied word for word from several mythological traditions of surrounding peoples like the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, or Persians. Some of it is just pure fiction like the story about Noah and the Ark. Copying one of the most odious and evil ideologies invented is simply irrational." "I guess his God blessed him with aids and anemia. Oh that's right, its part of god's plan." " Seems like a colossal waste of time to me. I guess it's a wonder that anyone would find this to be any more significant that hand writing out all 7 books of the Harry Potter series." "What a monumental waste of human endeavour." "People that are that fascinated by the bible have Zero imagination"
And, one of my favorites: "obsession like this is usually accompanied by a mass shooting"
To me, this act of copying is in or near the category of art. And religious art is the part of religion with which I definitely have no problem whatsoever. To judge by the pictures of the man's writing, he's not a calligrapher, so this wouldn't by the same sort of art as the world's great illuminated manuscripts, but there are different kinds of art. I was thinking more of the categories of primitive art and outsider art. The man says that copying the Bible comforted him. There's nothing wrong with comforting a sick, suffering person. Nothing whatsoever. I was reminded of a Spanish professor of art history, Ramon Rubio, who has dedicated a large part of his career to the restoration of the Alhambra in Granada, describing the painting of passages from the Koran which occur over and over on some of the interior walls there, intricately interwoven with ornamental representation of botanical forms, and saying, "this is not art, it is prayer." Well, to me it's an example of how the line between art and prayer can become fuzzy. And that shows me how prayer is not necessarily useless, because, you see, I value art very highly. Some people as practical question the value of art. Which only shows that they're grossly impractical. It is art which makes life worthwhile, makes it bearable. All those bozos I've quoted in this post don't seem to get that. I shudder to think what they'd have to say about, for instance, San Vitale in Ravenna, or St Mark's in Venice. No, I'm not saying that this man's handwritten copy of the Bible is a masterpiece of art like the mosaics in San Vitale and St Mark's. You might think I'm silly for saying so, but to me the creation of that copy shares a little of the intention of the creation of art, and that it's beautiful for that reason alone, and that this world needs beauty much, much, much more than it needs more snarky atheist idiots comparing the Bible to Harry Potter. Apparently Harry Potter books are the only ones many of them have read. (Not counting comic books.) Many of them claim they've read the Bible, and it may be true in a few cases, but for the rest I'm going to going ahead and officially call bullshit. If they'd read the whole thing they wouldn't confine their remarks about it to the same several dozen verses in the Pentateuch. If they'd read so much as half of Genesis they wouldn't confine their remarks about the Bible to that same handful of verses, and they'd be just as tired of the people who do confine their Biblical commentary to those verses as I am.
Ramon Rubio said, in connection with the Alhambra, that he thinks that political or religious differences should never be allowed to interfere with art. Because Queen Isabella of Castile of Castile did not allow political or religious considerations to sway her to destroy the Alhambra, Prof Rubio points out, we can enjoy it today. Because I don't share the opinions of the endlessly tedious atheist simpletons I've quoted in italics this post, I can enjoy a great deal of stuff they seem to be missing entirely.
I still think that religion is irrational and bad for you. But as people demonstrate every single day in the Huffington Post's readers' comments, you can grasp that much and still not know your ass from a hole in the ground.