I love listening to Penn Jillette speak. Not only do I think he is a kind-hearted man. He has a winsome way of weaving thoughts together that works some kind of strange magic on me. “I just want to tell the truth,” I heard him say the other day on a “Big Think” podcast.

In case you don’t know it, Penn Jillette is an atheist who grew up in a gentle Christian home but decided religion wasn’t his cup of tea. He is so persuasive that he got kicked out of a Sunday school class once because he started convincing the other students with his skepticism.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall during a debate between him and Dr. Gerald Bray, my British history professor at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, who is a walking, talking encyclopedia set and who sits on a desk wearing sandals over white socks and softly, hilariously lectures on St. Augustine, the Inquisition and the Counter Reformation without a stitch of notes. That would be instructive and entertaining.

I have listened to Jillette enough to mine out this bottom line in his philosophy: What kind of thinking, feeling, caring person believes in a book that presents talking snakes and condones child sacrifice? No Christian on a criminal jury would side with a mother who said God told her to kill her child. So why believe the literal words of the Bible?

Are you wondering if it is silly (or immoral) to believe the Bible? A few things for your consideration. Remember that it doesn’t have to be literal in order to be true. “My love is like a red, red rose” does not mean the poet is in love with a flower; it means there is beauty in the world. Remember to read the whole story, including the backstory. Historically, the miracle is that God taught someone like Abraham a way other than child-sacrifice (Genesis 22). And remember what Frank Baum (“The Wizard of Oz”) once wrote: “Never question the truth of the things you fail to understand, because the world is filled with wonders.”

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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