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Divine Intentions 

Not that I'm asking for any sympathy, but being a book critic comes with certain pressures.

After penning a less-than-favorable review, I always wonder if an angry author or overly ambitious publicist will sequester a dose of anthrax in the next galley copy they send me. Or if they'll splash a glass of cheap bourbon in my face at the next local literary event.

Hasn't happened yet, but you never know.

So just imagine being the book critic who takes on God, as retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong does in The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.

Spong doesn't really critique God as an author, but he suggests that God didn't write the Bible. Tighten your Bible belts, folks.

Spong, a progressive, can play scriptural jujitsu with the best of the Bible-thumping fundamentalists of our present age. He quotes a progressive retort to every line that allegedly condemns Jews, homosexuals, environmentalists, relativists, uppity women and disobedient children to an immediate death by stoning followed by an eternal stay in hell.

But Spong's real critique is a bit grander. He argues that God is not found in the Bible, but within and all around us. He argues that we must give up our addiction to the certainties of religious authority, and that the truth of God can and does evolve. "[T]he moment truth is codified, it begins to die," Spong writes. "We Christians are pilgrims walking into the mystery of God, not soldiers marching off to war."

Calling for the people of all faiths to "lift up what is our most precious gift," Spong finds God alive and free - and very much overlooked by those who keep their faith bound in a book.

The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love by John Shelby Spong. $24.95. HarperSanFrancisco. 315 pages.

Other Worthwhile Words This Week

Former Atlantan Tayari Jones, author of last year's award-winning Leaving Atlanta, apparently snuck back into town at some point. Her latest book, The Untelling, is set here. She reads Thurs., May 12, 7 p.m., at the Decatur Library, 215 Sycamore St. 404-370-8450.

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