JSJ: Hey, Jay! Congratulations! I got your book Faith/Doubt and Other Lines I’ve Crossed: Walking with an Unknown God yesterday, and read most of it last night in preparation of our talk today. And it’s really fun. I’m enjoying it. I think you have a really chill message that people will respond to. What kind of feedback have you been getting?
JAY BAKKER: Mostly positive.The Christian Post put something out – a Q & A with me – and the opening that they wrote was a little bit… you know…
JSJ: Tell me.
JAY BAKKER: I don’t wanna say snarky as much as I would say, you know, just critical or, well, basically, they don’t believe what I believe. [LAUGHS]
JSJ: Right. Well. You’re probably a little too radical for them. I think I’m more your audience. So. I want to do this into two parts here. The first part – today’s discussion – I want to talk to you about some of my own personal doubts that I have concerning the Bible, and some of the things about it that bother me. And maybe you can talk me down off the ledge. Maybe you can lead me back to the fold, so to speak.
JAY BAKKER [LAUGHS]: I’ll try.
JSJ: So, a number of years ago I sat down and read the Bible from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelations. And I did it because as a writer, you know, every plot, every character archetype, every great line you’ve ever come across is either from Shakespeare or the Bible. And after reading it, I have to say, from a literary standpoint, IT’S A MESS. It’s confusing, unclear, contradictory…
JAY BAKKER: Yeah. Well, it’s like a library. And if you tell someone to go into the library and read every book in the library as one whole book, you know, it wouldn’t make sense. And so that’s exactly how the bible is. The Bible’s a library and a collection of books that doesn’t completely make sense. And so you have to try and read it through the eyes of Christ. If you look at Christ’s teaching and then you go back into the Old Testament, you see a very different representation of God. So for me, when I read the gospels, my thing is; Well, this must be Jesus in its purest form. And what we’re seeing in the Old Testament must have been people’s best understanding at the time.
JSJ: OK. I can get behind that. You also say in the book that if we read the Bible like one book, we miss out on the idea that Christianity is a faith that grows and you’re watching the religion, itself, grow from the Old Testament to the New Testament…
JAY BAKKER: I think a good way also to put it was like if you went and took three or four different letters written from different friends, and then tried to apply all of those to your life, it would be quite tough.
JSJ: So it’s like a game of telephone, isn’t it, where it keeps changing from one person to the next …
JAY BAKKER: Well, if you look at Paul’s letters to the Galatians, and then he talks to the Corinthians, and then he talks to this group and that group, and they’re specific letters. I mean we’re literally reading someone else’s mail, you know. And the gospels are much later, and the gospels do differ. There are contradictions.
JSJ: Well, that’s the thing that bothers me so much. The contradictions. There are SO MANY contradictions from book to book. And not JUST from book to book, but within THE SAME BOOK! Like right there in Genesis – THE FIRST PAGE! – is the flood 40 days? Is it a 150 days? Is it 100 days? It’s maddening. I mean did God create woman at the same time He created man, or was it later, from his rib bone? It’s the same with the animals. Did they come before or after man? Genesis has it every which way. What do you do with all that? It just drives me bananas.
JAY BAKKER: Well, I look at it as part of the really amazing storytelling from the Jewish tradition and the philosophies that they use and how interesting it is that the text seems to grow. Like, I think Jonah and the whale, I think that’s totally satire. When you immerse yourself in this amazing culture, you see the difference between Judaism then and Christianity now. And, you know, these were folks were writing these books to help each other understand the things that were happening around them.
JSJ: Like fairy tales, sort of? The way fairy tales help children confront the very real issues in their lives?
JAY BAKKER: Yeah. And you know, I even believe that about Job. I mean, Job is so over the top that it almost feels like it’s a satire. It’s a satire of what kind of god do YOU serve?
JSJ: So wait. Are we allowed to disregard the story of Jonah and the whale and think of it as a fairy tale? Because I’m not quite sure. That’s a slippery slope.
JAY BAKKER: Well, I think it’s more of a parable …
JSJ: But if you’re taking these things as parables, then you are arguing against a literal translation of parts of the Bible. And a lot of times, I get upset when people cherry pick through, like, Leviticus and they find the thing about the “no gays,” and they simply disregard the “no shellfish” thing and the “no tattoos” thing and the “no wearing blended fabrics” thing or whatever. And so you’re saying it’s perfectly okay to cherry pick, and to not to take things literally?
JAY BAKKER: I mean do I cherry pick? I think everybody cherry picks. Also, doing the historical backgrounds of different books in the Bible, I just believe some of them belong in there.
JSJ: Okay, and you get shit for this?
JAY BAKKER: Yeah, I do. I do. But, you know, Jesus did the same thing and so did Paul. Sometimes when they would quote the law or quote the Torah, they would change things or they would leave things out. And I find that to be quite interesting.
JSJ: OK. So we can agree that there are lots of contradictions and lots of things that strike us modern readers as foolish or wrong-headed. But, you know, in reading the New Testament, the one thing I didn’t really have a problem with was Jesus. He seems like a really cool guy. Maybe a little hippie-dippy for my taste, but mostly, I thought He’s pretty great. And I loved the way He shook things up. He was like a little punk rocker in the ancient world. I thought that was pretty fucking cool. But, there are a couple of stories that really upset me and I want you to explain them to me, because maybe I’ve misinterpreted them. The first one is Jesus and the Fig Tree. Let me tell you how I see it, and then you tell me what you think really happened. Okay, so Jesus is walking along and He comes across a fig tree that has leaves but no figs on it. I mean, WHATEVER. It’s not even fig season so why should it have figs on it? But Jesus gets pissed off at the fig tree. And instead of waving His magic wand and making it into the Everlasting Gobstopper of trees that bears figs all fucking year long and feeds the entire village and does wonderful things – which is what Jesus did with the loaves of bread and fishes – instead, He gets all peevish and says, “I curse you, fig tree. You will never produce figs again.” And the poor tree withers up and dies. And I think, well, what the fuck is that? Like, why would He be so petty about it? What’s REALLY going on here? What is the real story?