I want to start with the first contention and maybe get to the others later.
I understand that the Catholic church teaches that Scripture can be interpreted in either a literal sense or one of three non-literal, spiritual senses (allegorical, moral, or anagogical).
The problem comes when a tricky passage of Scripture is pointed out non-believers will also be told that “Catholics don’t read the Bible literally”, but won’t go further in explaining that position. It’s as if stating that it’s not literal is a magic salve that clears up any and all uncomfortable scripture.
If a passage is not literal, the next steps would be:
A. Show why the passage should be interpreted in a non-literal sense.
It’s not enough to just claim a passage is not literal, there must be a reason to opt for that over a literal interpretation. It can be frustrating for non-believers when seemingly the only reason for such an interpretation is because it casts the God of the Bible in an unflattering light.
B. State whether non-literal passages can intersperse with literal passages, and if so how and when we can tell which is which.
I was discussing Exodus 21:20-21 and Leviticus 25:44-46 (where God is quoted as saying slaves are property) with someone a few months back and the person stated the passages were not to be taken literally. The problem is that both passages are in the middle of other passages that are to be taken literally. For example the end of Exodus 20 through the beginning of Exodus 24 is a long quote from God containing literal rules to follow, including the Ten Commandments. Yet for those people who state Exodus 21:20-21 (which I understand is only some Christians) they have to explain why a non-literal interpretation is smack dab in the middle of God giving a list of laws.
C. Determine whether a quote from God can be non-literal. If God the Father or Jesus is quoted as saying something in the Bible, can we say that he literally said it. I’m not talking about whether what is said is a parable or something like that, but if those words (translated from the original language) is an accurate representation of what was said. The Bible writers are often said to have been guided by the Holy Spirit, so I would hope that he would not allow for misquotes or inaccurate paraphrasing.
D. Showing that if a passage is non-literal in nature that it doesn’t show God as being reprehensible. So God says or does something that atheists find objectionable. Catholics state that the passage detail what was said or done is not literal. If the figurative reading of that passage still shows God as being objectionable then it is imperative that the believer demonstrate a different reading or why that reading is not objectionable. Again, solely stating that a passage is not literal is quite insufficient.
E. Determine which non-literal interpretation is to be used and why. Let’s take Matthew 24:29. It’s a list of signs that all the world will see when Jesus returns. Matthew 24:34 says that it will happen within the generation of the people Jesus was speaking to. Now I think it’s safe to say this is not literal. The stars did not fall from the sky. My understanding is that Catholic Church believes in a form of preterism. There are several forms and some are in conflict with each other. There are also those who use futurism to interpret these passages (think the “Left Behind” folks). In short, when speaking to atheists about those passages which have multiple non-literal interpretations it’s vital that the believer explains why we should go with one such interpretation over all of the others.
I’m sure I’m missing more points as to what some atheists see are issues when we are told parts of the Bible are not literal. If I think of any others I’ll post them as well.