The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (2005)
Today's secularists too often have very little accurate knowledge about religion, and even less desire to learn. This is problematic insofar as their sense of self is constructed in opposition to religion. Above all, the secularist is not a Jew, is not a Christian, not a Muslim, and so on. But is it intellectually responsible to define one's identity against something that one does not understand?
Secularism, at its absolute best, comprises an unrelenting commitment to judicious and self-correcting critique. … Secularism’s “job” consists of criticizing all collective representations. Its analytical energies should be inflicted on any type of mass belief or empowered orthodoxy, whether it is religious, political, scientific, aesthetic, and so on. … Secularism, as we envision it, is elitist and heretical by nature. When it aspires to become a popular movement, an orthodoxy, or the predicate of a nation-state, it betrays itself.
The Hebrew Bible, as a document, displays an astonishing lack of textual self-consciousness. It alleges to know what God thinks, but it does not know itself. It is not aware that it is called the Hebrew Bible. … Jews and Christians have venerated an unself-conscious artifact, one whose embarrassing gaps in self-knowledge have always had to be filled in by later interpreters.
That God is quoted verbatim, that God is said to be speaking (when, in fact, he is being spoken for) points to either the remarkable arrogance of the biblical contributors or their unshakeable conviction that their access to the deity was total.
The fateful, and perhaps even unwitting, manipulation performed by the Hebrew Bible is to have convinced its readers that what stands in front of them is not a hodgepodge of texts worked over by countless men position across time and motivated by mundane political and theological interests. Instead, it presents itself as a self-evident treasury of the actual words, though, actions, political opinions, and future aspirations of Yahweh. From early on, apparently, interpreters wholly swallowed this argument.
Let us never underestimate the motivational force that the belief in Scripture’s divine proximity has upon exegetes. They open the book having already invested their faith in the proposition that it is underwritten by God.
Because let’s be honest about this — is there any law New Atheists can point to that has been their political output? That has changed due to their activism? What has it done? It sells books, it makes for great polemics, it keeps journalists busy, but there has been no political accomplishment.