When Bible Stories Are Illustrated, They Reveal Some Huge Problems


"Bears will maul you, this I know, for the Bible tells me so ..."

Christian holy scripture contains more than a foundational template for leading a spiritual life — it also features sex, accidental crotch-touching, the summoning of bears with curses and a host of other topics and prescriptions that seem downright un-Christian.

The gap between more kid-friendly passages and Biblical verses that describe the market price for a rape victim's virginity are the topic of the illustrated bookThe Bible Said What!? by Evan Mascagni and illustrated by Nick Sirotich. Mascagni used his decadelong experience as a Catholic school student in Kentucky as a primary resource to highlight the Bible's discrepancies.

"Christianity was not only the right way, but the only way," Mascagni told Mic. "Schoolteachers and priests constantly cherry-picked verses from the Bible to justify whatever lessons were in store for the day, and I developed a very narrow understanding of Christianity. This book explores some of the stories that were overlooked throughout my education and have ultimately led me to take the Bible for what it is." 

And what is the Bible, according to Mascagni? "The longest book most Christians have never read." Mascagni may be on to something: Although 88% of American households own at least one Bible, only 37% read it once a week or more, according to a 2014 survey by the American Bible Society. The same survey shows that only 35% of millennials agree with the statement that "the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to lead a meaningful life," and 39% of millennials have never read the Bible at all.

Judging by the passages Mascagni has highlighted in The Bible Said What!?, those millennials are missing out on a book filled with sex, violence and some mild savior-on-Satan flirtation. Mascagni describes himself as an "agnostic apatheist," someone "willing to admit that we just don't know about the existence of a higher power, and apatheist because I just don't really care all that much."

Mascagni is more concerned "with how we can get human beings to treat each other with decency while we're actually alive (without relying on these outdated books). Basically, I long for a more secular society where fairy tales don't shape the way we treat each other. If that labels me an atheist, that's fine too."

Here's a sampling of some of those "fairy tales" — and the illustrations, alternately hilarious and shocking, that bring them to life.

A case of excessive punishment:

"Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. 'Go away, baldy!' they chanted. 'Go away, baldy!' Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of them." — 2 Kings 2:23-24

Equal rights for women are a little underdeveloped:

"Women should remain silent in churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." — Corinthians 14:34-35

Rape is a matter of money, not a matter for the courts:

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father 50 shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives." — Deuteronomy 22:28-29

Watch your hands — especially in a fight:

"If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity." — Deuteronomy 25:11-12

God hates figs:

"Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, 'May you never bear fruit again!' Immediately the tree withered." — Matthew 21:18-22

Rich people aren't going to get to the Pearly Gates so easily:

"When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives or your riche neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." — Luke 14:12-14

Jesus didn't say anything about same-sex relations:

"Get behind me, Satan!" — Matthew 16:23

The illustrations are hilarious — and important. As many so-called "Cafeteria Catholics" (those who "pick and choose" which Biblical doctrines to follow) know, there are millions of Biblical literalists who view every word in the Bible as the direct word of God, and those who take a more ecumenical stance on scripture are likely to face their wrath. Mascagni's book shows the literal results of what the Bible has to say, to both good and bad ends.

"Perhaps one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and perhaps the one most blatantly ignored by too many Christians, is this one about treating your neighbor as you would like to be treated," Mascagni says. "Far too often Christians use passages from the Bible not to promote love and peace but to justify hatred and bigotry. 

"This book is an attempt to demonstrate that we don't need a gigantic, outdated and complicated book to learn how to treat each other with decency. Sure, there are some nice teachings in it, but there are some really ludicrous ones too."

Although some Christians argue that using codes of law from Leviticus and Deuteronomy isn't fair, saying that those laws were only intended for Israel, or that they were merely civil laws rendered moot after the "new" law of Jesus, Mascagni isn't buying it: "I have never understood why we're supposed to just write off the bad things but take the good things seriously — the blatant cherry-picking and hypocrisy is mind-boggling."

The message of his book is simple, according to Mascagni: "Let's stop using the Bible to justify denying a woman control over her own reproductive choices. Let's stop using the Bible to deny other human beings the same rights and dignity that we all deserve. Let's stop taking this book so damn seriously."