The Rorschach Bible
Considering that everyone agrees on what the Bible contains (give or take a few disagreements around the margins), it’s amazing how much disagreement there is about how to interpret it, and the overall message of the book. That’s not just down to a small lunatic fringe – whole denominations have entirely different understandings of what passages mean and what to do about it, and are convinced that they’re right. Even literalists who would argue that every word is God’s unambiguous holy writ are capable of disagreeing with each other, and I’ve yet to meet one who treats Matthew 26:26 as the unambiguously literal text he/she claims the Bible is.
All over the world, people seem to be reading very different things in the Bible. Conservatives see a stern, vengeful God. Liberals see a fluffy, cuddly, inclusive God. Both either explain away or simply ignore passages which disagree with their basic interpretation. Politically, it’s claimed as support for left-wing and right-wing policies. Famously, the basic message Margaret Thatcher took from the parable of the Good Samaritan was that the Samaritan was only good and helpful because he had money.
And then there are all those people with books to sell, who are convinced (quite genuinely, I’m sure) that there’s clear evidence in the Bible of previously concealed gnostic revelations, from the Bible Code and various numerologists to Jesus having an affair with John (the disciple whom he loved). Given a bit of work, it seems that you can make a case for almost any interpretation of the text, even if you’re the only one who’s convinced. (See my post on Genesis for an example)
I’ve got a theory that how you interpret the Bible, like what you see in a Rorschach inkblot, says a lot about you. Now that the standard inkblots and common interpretations have been published, creating fears that it may be possible to “cheat” in a test, maybe the Bible could be used instead.