Valerie Tarico has an interesting article at Salon in which she asks prominent atheists and anti-theists for their favorite Bible verse. Why? Well, as Tarico so compelling describes the Bible:
[Our] ancestors struggled with important questions that we still struggle with today: What is real? What is good? What is the meaning in our lives? How can we embrace love, joy, peace and wonder? How should we live in community with each other? The texts that were gathered into the Bible offer fragmentary glimpses of how that struggle evolved over the course of hundreds of years.
The writers were Iron Age tribesmen, members of a cruel and misogynistic society. They got a lot of things wrong. But they also got some very basic and beautiful things right. As is the case with many texts, both ancient and modern, those who have the fortitude to sift through the rubble can find real gems.
There are bunch of good ones in the article, but these are my favorite Old Testament quotes:
Social justice and community activism are central themes of the Bible. It is imperative that we not forget those who are in need and are voiceless. We live amongst those who are in need, it is in our best interest to ensure that their needs are met. Two of my favorite verses are Jeremiah 22:3 “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Proverbs 29:7 “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”
Though it is quite unspectacular, the biblical passage that has long shaped my approach to life is Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” I hate needless friction and conflict with others. I much prefer to get along with people, not to antagonize them with caustic comments or stinging responses. Otherwise, you’re just “putting out the fire with gasoline.” I always look to say the reconciling, tactful word. I have to be honest. I don’t butter people up. I sure don’t mind being scathing in my responses to bad apologetics arguments. But I try not to make it personal. I’d prefer to keep things respectful and friendly. And this stance stems from that passage of scripture.
—Robert M. Price, The Bible Geek webcast
There are many Bible verses that extol peace, justice, honesty, mercy, wisdom, altruism, and other basic human virtues, and in fact, I’ve written a whole article about verses I find excellent. Here is one that stands out: “And six years thou shalt sow thy land… But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy olive yard.” —Exodus 23:10-11 (KJV) The idea of empathy contained in the verse is even sufficiently broad to encompass wild animals – an important sign that its writer was thinking in terms of all-encompassing principles rather than simple reciprocity. It takes an enlightened spirit to have compassion even on birds and beasts.
—Adam Lee, Daylight Atheism
That last one really stand out to me. I’ve been translating Exodus recently and was blown away by how much chapter 23 seems to be about social justice. If I had to choose my favorite verse (so far), it’d be Exodus 23:1-2 (NIV).
“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.”
What’s your favorite verse? Let me know in the comments!