The Bible fondly is referred to by many as the ‘Good Book’. Just so we avoid any ambiguity, this is the same book which tells the story of a man (Cain) who murdered his brother (Abel) in cold blood. The same book which tells the story of a King (David) who had many wives and concubines (women legally married to a man but with lesser rights than wives) seizing the only wife of another man (Uriah) then ordering murder of same man. It is the same Bible which tells the story of a Queen (Jezebel) who uses her husband’s signet to sign the murder warrant of a man (Naboth) whose vineyard her husband coveted. The same Bible tells the story of a couple (Ananias and Sapphira), both of whom connive to simultaneously impress and deceive Apostle Peter. By the way, it is the same Bible which tells the story of a Queen mother who murders all of her children and grandchildren (she inadvertently missed one), all so she could remain on the throne. Sounds like a really dishy soap opera filled with good actors, running full steam, gathering viewers in grand style much like round balls made of cloth gather moss.
With all of the gory stories, how exactly does the Bible qualify for characterization as the ‘Good Book’? While David who was beloved by God was punished for his sins of adultery and murder, his immediate punishment — death of the son that was outcome of the adultery — seems no more than a slap on the hand. It seems rather draconian that Ananias and Sapphira both lose their lives for a rather paltry pathetic attempt at deceiving of Apostle Peter. Ahab and Jezebel live on for many years before God’s judgment catches up with them. Cain gets a mark which prevents others from killing him. The Queen who murdered all of her children and grandchildren merely gets killed herself in midst of a civil revolution led by no less than priests of the religious order. Yes, there is justice for evil in the Bible much as there is justice for good. Sometimes, however, justice seems paltry and untimely, seems to pale relative to evils committed. At other times, justice appears draconian, much too severe relative to crimes in question.
Suppose God wipes the slate clean for children whenever parents die in sense of there are no consequences for children from either of sins or right actions of parents. Within this context, it does not matter how much evil a person does, only justice meted out by God while the person remains alive matters. Once a person dies, all consequences of sin are wiped out. By the same token, once a person dies, all rewards for good actions cease. What would people reasonably do? Well, people likely would choose to do as little good, or as much evil as possible, with propensity for evil increasing with age, and propensity for good decreasing with age.
Suppose, on other hand, God ensures consequences (not punishment) of parents’ actions pass on to their children. In this alternate scenario, rational parents have children only because they care for children, as such would not want to leave their children at an inter generational disadvantage. In light of desire for placement of children at an inter generational advantage, they seek to minimize evil and maximize good actions. In light of highlighted propensities, spreading out of consequences of evil, and spreading out of rewards for good actions over several generations induces parents to attempt to do the most good of which they are capable. Viewed in this light, while David’s immediate loss was the life of a child, his son Solomon would be derailed by love for many women, love he probably learnt from his father. His son Amnon would rape his very own half sister Diana. Weakened by his own moral rectitude David would be unable to discipline Amnon. Absalom, Diana’s brother rightly would kill his brother Amnon, lose his head over the people’s adulation for justice executed, covet his father’s throne, and cause his father significant heartache via a rebellion eventually quelled. Derailment of Solomon would lead eventually to David’s grandchild, Rehoboam reigning over no more than about one-twelfth of the kingdom ruled over by his father and grandfather. With inter generational consequences factored in, David’s punishment no longer seems so slight.
Consider Ahab and Jezebel. With exception of one grandchild, all of their children and grandchildren were beheaded. Not just killed, beheaded. Justice no longer seems delayed, no longer seems puerile.
The Bible is characterized to be the ‘Good Book’ because it details how God strenuously through history and over multiple generations attempts and succeeds at ensuring good is rewarded with good, evil with evil. It is the underlying theme of the Bible which makes it the ‘Good Book’ not the stories of human evil, not the stories of human frailty, not necessarily stories of good.
What then can we take away from essence of goodness of the Bible for formation of either of spiritual or religious responses to secular music, secular movies, secular novels, secular non-fiction works?
Much as the Bible encourages us to choose what is good and eschew what is evil, it is essence of, and our responses to secular music, secular movies, secular novels, or secular non-fiction which are of importance, not content of the specific media.
If a song, or movie, or novel, or non-fiction work celebrates good, we embrace it. If a song, movie, novel, or non-fiction work celebrates evil, we eschew it. Sometimes the lines are not so clear, hence gray, yet the most important thing is that we commit ourselves to celebration of artistic works which celebrate goodness, simultaneously eschew artistic works which seem to suggest evil can win over good. In light of this insight, all dystopian endings to warfare between good and evil cannot be deserving of celebration. But then again every one to his or her own. I dare say, however, no one enjoys dystopian endings whenever they transpire within their own homes, families, communities, or work situations.
Much of the reason why the ‘Matrix’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies are regarded to be classics is because they are epic, well done, interesting, novel depictions of war of good versus evil, with good winning out at end of the day. The stories were interesting, fight scenes were good, there was sacrifice, there was love, evil seemed poised to win many a times, yet good won out eventually.
Consider Michael Jackson. He sang songs like ‘Heal the World’, ‘Man in the Mirror’, ‘Black or White’, and ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’, all songs that are social commentary on life, songs Christians can celebrate. While he also sang some raunchy or perhaps not-so-good songs, on balance his music is life enervating and elevating. There is a joy and vibrancy to his music which makes life feel like every minute is worth living. The songs I do not like I stay away from except at times when I am too lazy to form a playlist from an album. The songs I like I play a lot. I discriminate. I celebrate what I find to be good, eschew what I find not to be consistent with glorification of good.
Essence of goodness of life is not that we do not come into contact with content with which we disagree. Essence of goodness of life lies in our commitment to, willingness to, and decision to reward content which glorifies good with our patronage, and commitment to withdrawal of patronage from content which seems to encourage evil. Viewed rightly, spirituality and religiosity both are compatible with secularism. Personally, spirituality suits me just fine.