I often get asked why I would bother reading the Bible if I don’t believe in God, and I have my stock set of answers, but it’s not often that I find an atheist who agrees with me that it’s worth bothering with.

In Dale McGowan’s new book, Atheist for Dummies, he recommends reading it because of the book’s cultural relevance. In his own words:

[M]ost people are only familiar with that carefully handpicked sampler of inspiring passages from the Bible. For each and every inspirational passage that finds its way into pulpits, and needlepoint pillows, half a dozen immoral horrors stay pretty well hidden. When you decide to read the book on your own, without a filter, a very different picture emerges. (p.43)

But, of course, the Bible is long and finding the time and emotional fortitude to wade through such a long book can be difficult. So McGowan recommends at least reading through two books: Genesis and Matthew.

Religious scholar Stephen Prothero estimates that 80 percent of the religious references you’ll hear in American culture – from political speeches to figures of speeches to Christmas caroles – get their start in one of those two books. (p.43)

In total, he estimates that these two books should take a total of six hours or less to read (much much more if you’re blogging, of course!), so it’s a reachable goal by most people’s standards.

Do you agree with McGowan’s assessment? Can you get a good idea of the Bible by reading only these two books? Is even that much a waste of time (realizing that my sampling is probably biased)?