I've made it a point to start reading the Bible on a daily basis. As a Catholic, I've had the Bible read to me every Sunday for a while. And having gone to Catholic school, I've also read a fair amount of it.
Now I am attending Protestant services. And while the Bible is cited frequently, it is rarely ever read during the service. (Odd, given the 'sola scriptura' view of many Protestants). I also realize that there are large sections of the Bible that I have never read (particularly some of the more... interesting... parts of the Old Testament).
I've started reading the Old Testament and the New Testament simultaneously. So far, I've read Mathew and Mark from the Gospels, and through the book of Judges. And as I have read, something has occurred to me.
The Bible is a difficult book to read for Christians. If I were an atheist, I could simply shrug at descriptions of the early Jews slaughtering women and children. It would be easy to write off those descriptions as belonging to their time -- a moral code for a more vicious age. In his confessions, Augustine seems to take a similar view, arguing that what is right in one age is not necessarily right in another (though there are universal truths that hold in all ages).
Even in the New Testament there are many strange quotes. In Mathew 15:26, Jesus tells a Gentile women that "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." In other words, he initially refuses to help her because she is not a Jew. In another story Jesus curses a fig tree for not bearing figs.
I find tales like these to be harder to interpret. And as a Christian, I cannot ignore them. I must reconcile them to my faith, or abandon it.
The Bible is rife with challenging passages. Atheists would argue that the Bible is evidently flawed and wrong. Logically, I should leave Christianity and the Bible behind and seek truth elsewhere.
And here is where I break from the atheists. As an academic, my life is full of contradictions and challenges that I must resolve. If I surrendered at the first hint of difficulties, I would never accomplish anything. Understanding the Bible is no different in this for me. While I don't claim to have the answers, I am looking for them.