People accuse each other of cherry picking sacred texts, as if the term was an insult. But for those seeking to honor the spiritual quest of our ancestors, including the Bible writers, that is precisely the right approach.
No parent with a backyard cherry tree would pick every piece of fruit on the tree and feed it to her children. No matter how excellent a tree, some of the fruit is wormy. Some of it is bird pecked and moldy. Some wasn’t pollinated properly and has been hard and shriveled from the beginning. A loving parent culls through, discarding the bad fruit and feeding her children the cherries that are juicy and nourishing.
But when it comes to handed down ideas about religion—about what is real and what is good and how we should then live—many people don’t apply the same prudent care. They take the Bible or related traditions and pass them on without sifting or sorting.
Bad cherries in the bowl will give a child a stomach ache at worst, but bad religious ideas can leave a person needlessly guilt ridden for life or unable to enjoy sex, or deeply fearful of death, or full of judgment and alienation toward outsiders, or even suffering what some call religious trauma syndrome.
Handing down un-culled religious beliefs from one generation to the next not only passes on psychologically harmful ideas, it is tearing apart our world. Today some of the worst ideas plaguing society are ideas that claim support from the pages of the Torah or Christian Bible or Quran, for example the idea that children are born bad and must be beaten, or that female sexuality is dirty and dangerous, or that homosexuality is abominable, or that religious outsiders lack morals, or that war can be holy, or that the Earth is ours to consume as we please and that God will simply replace it.
These ideas reflect the mentality of our ancestors, but there is every reason to think that they would be far less common today were it not for the fact that they are endorsed in the pages of books now called Holy by hundreds of millions of believers.
To understand how humanity ended up in this dilemma and how we might get past it, we need to understand something fundamental about the Abrahamic religions.
People of the Book
When the Prophet Mohammed embraced Jews and Christians as fellow “People of the Book,” he wasn’t simply acknowledging the shared roots of all three religions in the ancient Hebrew narrative of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was also correctly observing that these two religious traditions were centered around written texts akin to the one he was in the process of creating.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam emerged during the time when writing was coming into its own as humanity’s most powerful cultural technology, one that wouldn’t be rivaled until the 20th Century. To a degree unlike any prior religion (or any religion that is likely to emerge in the future), the Abrahamic religions are structured around a specific communication technology—the written word. It is no coincidence that some of the world’s largest religions spread across continents not only in the minds of individual believers but in bundles of papyrus, parchment, scrolls, illuminated manuscripts, and finally mass produced books.
In Christianity, the advent of the printing press, which brought the written word to the masses, directly fueled the Protestant Reformation. Over time, across vast swaths of Christendom the authority of the papacy and Catholic hierarchy were replaced by the authority of the Bible, the Reformation’s “sola scriptura.” (The irony, of course, is that it was the Catholic hierarchy itself that had assembled the collection of texts and declared them, on papal authority, to be God’s best and most complete revelation to humankind. But I digress.)
This focus on the written word is both the greatest strength and greatest flaw of the Abrahamic religions. It has allowed Christianity and Islam to become more powerful than any religion in history. Today over 3.7 billion people identify with one or the other of these traditions. But it has also allowed both traditions to become stagnant and cruel, profoundly corrupted by a phenomenon that might best be described as “book worship” or “bibliolatry.”
Book as Golden Calf
Today many Christians assert that the Bible is the literally perfect Word of God, timeless and complete—exempt from addition, deletion, or revision. Many Muslims make the same claim for the Quran, according it such high status that either defacing a copy of the book or denying its divine provenance is a crime worthy of death. In other words, they attribute to the Bible and Quran the qualities of divinity, and they treat offenses against the book as if they were offenses against a god. They behave toward the Bible and Quran precisely like their ancestors did toward the wood and stone carvings that represented the divine for pre-literate people.
In an age of widespread literacy, what better golden calf than a ‘golden’ book?
Bibliolatry Violates Both Book and Writer
Ironically, the idea that our sacred texts are perfect and complete, in final form, is diametrically opposed to the stance of the men who wrote those texts. Each of these men took the tradition and teachings he received, processed them, and then offered what he believed to be a better, deeper understanding of reality and goodness. Had this not been the case, the authors would have been copyists, not writers.
Ironically, too, writers of both the Bible and Quran understood the dangers of idolatry, and within the constraints of their own cultural blinders did what they could to warn against it. They recognized that pre-literate people had sought to convey their understanding of the divine through works of art: sculptures, paintings, friezes, and more. They recognized that these objects became idols, treated as if the icons themselves were as holy as the truths they sought to convey. And they recognized that idol worship bound people to harmful ideas and practices, and to inadequate conceptions of divinity.
They felt so strongly about this that they encouraged the destruction of religious symbols and icons. In the intervening centuries, both Christianity and Islam have been plagued with bouts of iconoclasm, purges like the one that currently drives members of the Taliban and ISIS to destroy the last vestiges of ancient pre-Muslim culture and religion, as they are able.
The authors of the Bible and Quran had no way to foresee that their words would eventually cause the greatest developmental arrest in the history of humankind. In their Iron Age context, the advent and spread of writing was an innovation on par with the arrival of computing. It allowed so much more depth, nuance and complexity that earlier symbolic systems that the possibilities must have seemed infinite.
It must have been impossible to imagine that inked texts would ultimately fail to keep up with the growth of human knowledge, and that they would eventually be replace by mass printing, then living documents (like wikis) and other media. It must have been impossible to grasp the limits of the written word–that texts, however sacred, can only, ever, convey a finite set of spiritual understandings, static and frozen in time, small and bound by human psychology, utterly inadequate to encompass the power behind the DNA code or the laws of physics.
The High Price of High Fidelity: Static Books, Static Knowledge, Static Priorities
The spread of writing allowed previously unimaginable advances, but like any new technology it created a new set of problems. Before the advent of the sacred text, religious beliefs and practices were handed down via oral tradition and were represented by symbols, icons and rituals. Religion was necessarily more heterogeneous, more place based, and more grounded in practice, or “praxis,” rather than belief. It was also more free to evolve as culture and moral consciousness themselves evolved in response to changing environmental conditions, population densities, and technologies.
By contrast with oral tradition, a book allows an extraordinary degree of fidelity in transmitting a set of ideas across time and space and between strangers with many degrees of separation. That is the strength, but also the weakness of the written word. This fidelity means that any printed text is frozen in time, a snapshot of a single mind embedded in a specific cultural and historical context. And since the knowledge or insight imbedded in the text is static, when people or institutions bind themselves to a text, asserting that it is final and complete–the definitive authority on whatever matter it addresses–they become stagnant too. An institution or person that declares allegiance to an immutable text becomes developmentally arrested, unable to do what the author himself did, which was to take his received tradition and iterate on it, offering new ideas and insights about the subject at hand.
The Fruit of the Spirit
My friend Eckhart inherited two old cherry trees when he bought his current home. The trees were past their prime and the cherries are prone to be buggy. But with selective pruning and care he has gotten a bounty of sweet, wholesome fruit for his family. Eckhart’s story isn’t surprising to anyone who understands agriculture. But why do we so often fail to apply simple lessons from other parts of life to our spiritual endeavor?
Rather than being used as an epithet, perhaps cherry picker should be a compliment, an acknowledgment of discernment, wisdom, judgment, and responsibility. In actual fact, all religious believers (and nonbelievers) cherry pick their sacred texts or cultural traditions, even fundamentalists, even those who deny doing so. A book like the Bible or Quran contains passages that contradict each other, or that demand a level of perfection (or cruelty) that is simply unattainable for most believers. Whether we are Christian or Muslim or post-Abrahamic freethinkers or practitioners of some other spiritual tradition, the question isn’t whether we cherry pick, it is whether we do so wisely and well, based on some higher principle that tells us which passages are spiritually nourishing and which should be discarded.
Humanity’s shared moral core provides guidance in this regard. Religion scholar Huston Smith says that the world’s great wisdom traditions converge on three values that he calls veracity, humility, and charity, each of which both constrains and enhances the others. Veracity means truth telling and truth seeking, including honest self-appraisal. Humility means recognizing that each of us is just one among many and that the yearnings and insights of others matter. Charity, in the King James sense, is not merely generosity but love, the kind that seeks to value the pleasure and pain of others on par with our own.
The Golden Rule, which can be thought of as a shorthand for these values appears in some form in virtually every religious or secular moral philosophy, and likely is encoded into our genes in ways that scientists are just beginning to understand. As Christian author Rachel Held Evans has said eloquently, in Christianity, this ethic is woven into what Jesus calls the greatest of the commandment, to love God and to love your neighbor, the latter being the tangible manifestation of the former. This, he says, sum up all the writings of the Law and Prophets. In the book of Matthew, he warns against false prophets, saying, “You will know them by their fruit.” The Apostle Paul lists the fruit of the spirit as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, meekness, temperance and faith. “Against such, there is no law,” he adds, recognizing that these virtues are respected not only within but also outside the nascent Christian community.
These are the measures that let us know what fruit is worth keeping, and what is not. Cherry picking a sacred text doesn’t leave a person without a moral core, lost in a world where anything goes, as some fundamentalists fear. Rather, it anchors that moral core to something clearer, deeper, and more durable than the bindings of a golden book.
Our ancestors were flawed and human, as we are today. And they lacked many of the advantages we have from our privileged vantage in the 21st Century. They were constrained by their own time and place and individual failings, but even so, they took their received traditions and wrestled with them, offering a new understanding of what was right and real, drawing on the past but facing the future. And in doing so, they offered us genuinely timeless and transcendent metrics by which we might do the same.
When we cherry pick their words in accordance with their highest and most enduring ideals, we honor and further their quest. We also show our selves worthy of the privilege we have been given to live at this point in history. What stories might have been told, and what insights might have been attained by an Isaiah or Jesus or Paul or Mohammed who had the advantage of living in the 21st Century?
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
Yes, it’s true that if religions are to survive (and change so they don’t threaten the globe) they must do this. Judaism especially and Christianity have to the most part accommodated new knowledge over the ages. But Islam is a big problem since it is claimed that not only is the Qu’ran divine but it’s an exact copy of the original one in heaven and thus even non-Arabic translations can’t be trusted.
So, if we cherry pick, how much sacred texts are going to be left? I’m sure that every one of us has a different picking to do and we are going to disagree on which ones to purge. As an atheist I would do away with every one of the sacred texts since I don’t believe in what they contain; what would happen then? We need to keep these books for posterity, for future generations to learn what past generations read and how they acted accordingly to follow their teachings and examples. Am I wrong?
Cherry Picking the truth is what Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Kim Jung Il and Christianity share in common. Take ALL the cherries and distill the information into a juice. If it tastes like rotten scum then the whole tree is bad and must be uprooted.
On the other side of that coin, cherry-picking allows one to bypass the nonsense and contradictions that are in those books, such as the mandate to stone disobedient sons to death, thus lending veracity to tomes that contain some wisdom, but are nevertheless largely fiction, fear-induced allegiance and controlling regulations.
As John Selden, mathematician and philosopher, once wrote on the repeal, in the 1600’s, of the millennium-old Papal edict that banned the printing of the Bible in any language other than Latin upon penalty of death:
Selden was mistaken, the world would survive, it was the scriptures that wouldn’t.
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I must admit that I am rather dissapointed with this proposition and line of argumentation. The general ‘frame of mind’ is one which I identy with the term ‘status quo protectionist position.’ While the Quran may be more of what we can identify as a single codex–book, if you will–the total of writings by the sects and systems leading up to that from the Second Temple Period especially, hardly amount to such.
The more realistic approach would be to suggest keeping universal maxims and principles which can be found any ancient text, strongly urge against ‘cherry picking’ (an informal fallacy in argument), and challenge the need for any protection of the ‘staus quo’ (as far as doctrinal matters of any original document) simply because it once had been penned.
It’s very interesting to view “cherry picking” in a positive rather than a negative way. I think, as the psychology of memory has demonstrated, our present situation influences our memories of the past. Great post!
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One of the first inferences that led to my deconversion was the observation that the god of the Old Testament during the period of wandering, who claimed to be their creator, was in fact an imposter. He had no idea what was going on in the minds of the people he was trying to lead. They were a black box to him, and he was constantly finding himself blindsided by their responses. Why was he always failing to predict their behavior? Why did he display none of Solomon’s wisdom? I am reminded of how the Oracle in the Matrix told Neo, not the truth, but what he needed to hear in order to walk the path. Compare that to Yahweh, who acts like an immature babysitter, with no control over his own emotions, whose generosity turns to spite over trivialities like “murmering.” Do this. Oh, you don’t want to do that? Then about this less pleasant option? Oh, NOW you prefer the first option? Too late! This god has nothing on the other Mesopotamian and classical gods.
Though I had been taught the bible was inerrant, it was then that I realized the bible was a book that one could not simply rely on. It contained no standard that could be used and applied to other walks of life. On the contrary, one needed to bring something else to this book, just to get it sorted out. Many passages or pages are unsalvageable and must be thrown out. It might contain some wisdom, but it’s hit and miss. The book of Proverbs contains nothing that couldn’t be figured out with just plain ol’ common sense. There’s nothing divine about it. Later I would come to realize that 2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for…” sounds nice, but when that was written, the Old Testament hadn’t even been canonized by the Jews yet, so who knows what the author (not Paul) was even thinking of when he said, “all scripture.” There’s 190 books that he could have been referring to that we know of. Even the act of canonization was an act of cherry-picking those books that were vague enough in their theologies that they could be twisted to fit the orthodox agendas, while pitching those that were too specific, and could not. Then there’s the editorial redaction and legendary development. The biblical texts are products of their time, cherry-picking from all sorts of ancient, classical, and contemporary sources in cobbling them together.
So not only is the act of cherry-picking is a time-honored tradition, it’s integral to formation of the Judeo-christian canons that have been handed down. Why stop now?
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Very good point about 2 Tim. 3:16! and the implications, obviously, with regard to the New Testament, which was only a collection of letters at that time, INCLUDING a great many which were subsequently weeded out by church authorities.
Thanks for writing this article.
I’m saving it and putting this article in my cupboard:-)
The problem with this thesis – that cherry picking is actually good – assumes a fairly objective standard for the analogy that simply doesn’t exist in the theology.
When selecting which cherries to pick, one imports a fairly objective standard – of ripeness, of healthy fruit without parasites, and so on. When one selects which bits of the scripture to hold as literal and/or historical and/or factual, one imports what?
Here is the problem; there isn’t one. There is no common standard. A ripe cherry in Lebanon is equivalent to a ripe cherry in Bolivia possessing the same characteristics by which we can compare and contrast. But scripture offers us no similarities, which may be a clue why there are more than 40,000 different and often contrary Christian sects, for example.
Danny grasped this important point when he wrote “It (the Bible) contained no standard that could be used and applied to other walks of life. On the contrary, one needed to bring something else to this book, just to get it sorted out.” And that’s why the cherry picking analogy fails; what is imported has no equivalency.
You say, “When one selects which bits of the scripture to hold as literal and/or historical and/or factual, one imports what? Here is the problem; there isn’t one. There is no common standard.”
I disagree. There may not, of course, be among fundamentalistic adherents. That’s similar to saying there isn’t a “common standard” among the average crowd of humans when it comes to art.
But there is a fairly strong standard about scripture when one asks scholars. There is give and take like in any of the humanities, but if you read a variety of scholars when it comes to literature (or art), most of them will have a number of common standards.
Some texts of scripture (or any other literature for that matter) are more difficult than others. But I don’t know of any academic scholars (with the obvious exceptions of fundamentalists) who think Genesis should be taken scientifically. Nor do I know of more than a few scholars who think the book of Jonah is a literal whale tale rather than a call for compassion and forgiveness toward national enemies.
My guess is that biblical studies by scholars have more common standards than psychology and economics, but less than history.
Firstly, in the US to use an example, at least 42% of believers (some estimates are in the neighbourhood of nearly 70%) believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis. If you want to label them all as ‘fundamentalists’ be my guest, but ALL religious believers who use scripture as a source for their beliefs are ‘fundamentalist’ in the same sense that each and every MUST hold some key faith-based beliefs as literal, historical, and factual.
Secondly, the ‘scholarly’ works you talk about lie outside of theology (say, archaeology, history, linguistics, biblical studies, in which case we are in agreement). The ‘scholarly’ works inside theology, however, is all theology… namely, expertise in quoting what other theologians think and say. And this is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about cherry picking which scripture to believe. After all, if most people recognized biblcial scholarship, they would know that the first five books are literal, historical, and factual fiction.
But they don’t, so we can put this argument about scholarly expertise aside and head into the actual subject under criticism, namely theological expertise… which I claim is empty of any and all knowledge value.
This kind of scholarship has no kind of independent and objective standards used for comparing the quality of a particular type of individual fruit; it is incestuous by necessity because there is no other means to compare and contrast theology. This notion of theological ‘expertise’ is what we in the atheist community clearly identify as sophisticated theology, meaning the kind of Armstrong-ian theology so nebulous in terminology and vacuous in definition and so far removed from any supportive materialistic evidence that we watch and listen with incredulity that otherwise intelligent people wisely nod in agreement that god is the god behind the god, the ground out of which the universal arises, the quantum cosmic consciousness, and so on.
This is the kind of scholarly ‘expertise’ that relies on a sophisticated theological standard so dense in obfuscation and so far removed from reality we share that it bears no resemblance to the fact of my first point: this is not what most people believe, not how most people decide on accepting this bit of cherry picked scripture here but not that bit over there. Whatever standard these so-called experts are using is not a method that works in any other human inquiry. It is equivalent in all ways with delusion – that is to say, imposing one’s beliefs on reality and expecting it to comport to them.
Thirdly, artistic merit doesn’t make claims about how reality operates and by what causal agencies, forces, and factors by which it does so. There are no relatively independent standards for most art other than the scope and sway of an emotional connection they arouse. That’s not scholarly; that’s popularity.
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What did the Christians do with the teachings of the Old Testament when they found them to be unacceptable? They revised them! What did the Protestants do with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church when they found them to be unacceptable? They revised them!
But the editing of scripture was stopped by the printing press.
Here is what I submit to you. If it is not right that we should kill an adulterer, or a rebellious child, or a sabbath breaker, or anyone with different beliefs, then tear those pages from the Bible.
If there never were dragons, unicorns, cockatrice or talking donkeys, then tear those pages from the Bible.
If it never was right to own slaves, or sell your daughter, or for women to be silent or submissive, tear those pages from the Bible.
Since the world was never flat and the earth did not cease to rotate and the world was never flooded and the rain never did stop for three years, then tear those pages from the Bible.
If you have looked down upon a baby and realized that there is no way it was born with sin. If you think it is always wrong to punish children for the sins of their father, tear those pages from the Bible.
There, now you have considerably lightened your load. Consider it the Bible Light and yourself enlightened.
Better yet, since the whole thing is nothing but a collection of anonymous writings from iron age superstitious zealots with an agenda, you would be justified in tossing the whole thing or at least filing it next to The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Better still, in the folklore section, Dewey decimal classification 398.2.
It would be a very thin book —
Thanks for sharing more of your perspective.
But we disagree.
For instance, you say, “The ‘scholarly’ works inside theology, however, is all theology… namely, expertise in quoting what other theologians think and say. And this is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about cherry picking which scripture to believe.”
? But that isn’t what Valerie meant by “cherry-picking” (at least as I understand her article). First, she isn’t a Christian or a theist.
She was speaking about ethics as in her statement “Cherry picking a sacred text doesn’t leave a person without a moral core, lost in a world where anything goes, as some fundamentalists fear. Rather, it anchors that moral core to something clearer, deeper, and more durable than the bindings of a golden book.”
Secondly, when I was a Christian for many years, nearly all of my cherry-picking, if not all, was concerned with ethics! From the time when I was 11 years old and became upset at unjust, cruel stuff in 11 Kings 2:23-25 (when it was the topic of our Sunday school lesson) and onward for many years, I cherry-picked out the deep ethical truths in the Bible, and rejected the horrific. I strongly opposed the war, slavery, abuse, and polygamy of the Bible, and accepted the peacemaking, equality, compassion, and fidelity.
Thirdly, you say, “namely theological expertise… which I claim is empty of any and all knowledge value.”
On that claim of yours, I don’t know. Though I was a youth pastor, taught the Bible informally, I admit I am not a philosopher or theologian. Some one who has a PhD in philosophy and theology might want to speak about that. As you probably have noticed there are extreme disagreements going on right now in the atheist community about all of this.
Fourthly, you say, “we watch and listen with incredulity that otherwise intelligent people wisely nod in agreement that god is the god behind the god…”
I first encountered such a view in the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich many years ago. I don’t think such speculating has anything to do with “cherry-picking” ethical truths in the Bible.
But as an aside, I will say I agree with you. When I encountered the concept of “the god behind the god,” not only was I highly skeptical, but it seemed to me to be a misuse of the English language.
Then you say, “this is not what most people believe, not how most people decide on accepting this bit of cherry picked scripture here but not that bit over there.”
? The “that god is the god behind the god” doesn’t come from Scripture! At least, I can’t think of any text in the Bible to cherry-pick (but remember cherry-picking is about ethics anyway, not theology).
Lastly, you say, “There are no relatively independent standards for most art other than the scope and sway of an emotional connection they arouse.”
WHAT?! One of the first steps I had to do as a literature teacher was explain to new students (who somehow had gotten your idea) was that art evaluation is objectively based on identifiable standards. (Check out Martin Gardner’s The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener if you want to go further into this. He has a fairly good chapter explaining why he doesn’t think aesthetics are relative. Gardner was one of the founders of the modern skeptic movement.)
So we don’t even agree about aesthetics, let alone about ethics or Scripture.
Now I need to get back to cherry-picking, but in this case, not of the Bible, but of secular websites, separating the wheat from the chaff:-) Tarico’s site usually inspires me to get my basket and harvest some great stuff.
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Valerie says “But when it comes to handed down ideas about religion—about what is real and what is good and how we should then live—many people don’t apply the same prudent care (they do for picking fruit). They take the Bible or related traditions and pass them on without sifting or sorting.” Her solution is to applaud the cherry picking… as if that will eliminate the pernicious effects of religious belief.
I think this is exactly wrong because it continues to empower those bits of rotten fruit which she thinks should be sifted out. I think one either accepts scripture or rejects it as a ‘way of knowing’ anything about anything. And it is demonstrable that accepting scripture as a way to know is a failure to produce any knowledge whatsoever as well as being an incompatible method to understanding how reality actually operates. (Faith is not a virtue but a vice in any other human endeavor of inquiry.) I think one either respects reality’s right to arbitrate claims made about it or one does not. There is no magical middle ground found by cherry picking scripture. Faith-based beliefs never, ever, produce knowledge but impede it’s attainment by pretending that imposing beliefs on reality affect it. A plumber or mechanic using the religious method of faith would not fix anything and would not long be in business. Why the exception for religious nonsense?
My argument is that religious cherry picking has no means to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the rotten. Whatever means we have to do this separating that propels our cherry picking precedes the religious part altogether and that is what we’re already using when we then APPLY that separating to scripture. We don’t get any ‘fruity’ value – any moral value AT ALLfrom scripture and it using scripture this way – to package our ethics and morals as if religiously sanctioned by cherry picking the bits we like does not do what Valerie suggests (Cherry picking) “anchors that moral core to something clearer, deeper, and more durable than the bindings of a golden book”); I think it does the opposite and turns us away from better understanding why we in the West reject slavery today that was once broadly accepted. It’s not religion that’s brought about this change and it’s not cherry picking scripture that has furthered this moral about-face. It’s that ‘something else’ we need to study and drop all the religious nonsense that obscures and interferes with this pursuit. We’ve already imported this moral sense to do our selecting pf scripture so what need have we to pretend it suddenly comes FROM scripture when we know perfectly well it doesn’t. Why sustain this execrable fiction that it’s something other than our responsibility for our moral choices and our ethical decisions by pretending it comes from the ‘spiritual quest’ of our ancestors? That’s just religious pandering.
Thanks. What I myself think is that there are bits of timeless wisdom in the Bible and other “sacred texts” completely independent of the superstition and supernaturalism, and that it is possible to keep those even if we have moved beyond religious belief.
I think we do have a basis for culling through sacred texts and it is the same as the basis for culling through any text or any moral advice we are given. To quote from the article, “The Golden Rule , which can be thought of as a shorthand for these values appears in some form in virtually every religious or secular moral philosophy, and likely is encoded into our genes in ways that scientists are just beginning to understand.”
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Valerie, I still think this not only backwards but acts contrary to what I think your desire is, namely, to gain wisdom. Because religion has co-opted (I don’t think ‘stolen’ is too harsh a judgement) such biologically driven reciprocity and sense of fairness, we end up right here, where religious believers generally assume one cannot be moral (or, at least, as moral as believers) without worshiping some ‘correct’ form of Oogity Boogity and then living in fear of its disapproval – even be killed for apostasy – for not following the prescribed rules and regulations in scripture. This is the real effect that accompanies cherry picking scriptures: empowering beliefs that are not only false (religious belief produces zero knowledge about reality) but actively produces harm and dysfunction immune from real world criticisms for real world consequences.
The wisdom we seek can and does lie in part in many narratives – fictional and non fictional – stories, myths, parables, fables, and fairy tales. I’m not disputing any of that. But there really is a danger in paying tribute of any kind to these scriptures as if they – and not the tales they have ‘borrowed’ – were the source of wisdom, knowledge, and morality. They’re not. All the cherry picking does is confer on these thieves – religions that use these scriptures for their justifications – an honour they do not deserve and supports their ongoing empowerment which is constantly abused and privileged through misplaced belief and social acceptance – as if scripture itself was a source of divine wisdom for believers and non believers alike. That is what is being accepted by going along with the cherry picking.
And the proof is with the examples of cherry picking currently causing real harm to real people in real life in the name of these ‘divine’ selections. There is no method in faith-based belief to determine which bits are true, which ones ought to be followed, which ones withstand scrutiny, which ones are moral and ethical, other than relying utterly on belief itself. Not reason. Not consequences. Not responsible choices on merit independent of belief. But there is a very strong effect that allows people to cherry pick whatever and then avoid responsibility for selecting these bits but not others… and this is a known source of great harm that I think you’re helping to tolerate and go along with for some fuzzy notion of gaining access to ‘wisdom’. And that seems very unwise to me.
It seems like what you are talking about is maintaining a view of scriptures that denies their human origins and accords them a unique status.
I recognize scripture as the authority believers use it to be. And that authority is not understood by them to be human in origin but divine… so much so that even the most outlandish mythical characters are taken to heart as history and fact. Don’t you think this is a problem?
Surely, Valerie, you understand as much, too. But your acceptance of cherry picking it isn’t the problem I keep raising; it the means to differentiate which bits are worthy to be cherry picked, by what method, using what standard? The analogy fails on this point because there isn’t one similar to picking and sorting and selecting real cherries. What is left is this notion you present that the scripture being cherry picked is an authentic source for the cherry picked bits. This is not true, and I think you know this. I disagree that we should go along and use scripture as this source. It’s not. Furthermore, what I think you’re doing is conferring upon scripture some measure of respect for its ‘wisdom’ you might like that it has stolen, reworked and repackaged from other human sources, and then resold to believers as if divine.Don;t you think this, too is a problem?
I suspect far more moral value in both consistency and beauty of expression can be extracted from the works of Shakespeare than any scripture and I also suspect you – as such a fine writer and erudite – would be rather put out if some religious text pretended that it was the real source of Shakespeare’s reworded and reworked body of writings. I sincerely doubt you would happily and without criticism go along with someone who was quite agreeable to the supposedly trivial switch in ownership under the guise of cherry picking the religious scripture rather than reading Shakespeare’s works themselves as a source of his beautiful writing.
“…likely…encoded into our genes in ways that scientists are just beginning to understand” – You’re the psychologist among us Valerie, and certainly know more than I, but as I was given to understand in my earliest Psych course in college, humans are born with only two natural instincts, a compulsion to suck and a fear of falling. I can’t imagine the genetic machinations required to encode a behavior pattern into our DNA. It’s simpler (though I don’t know that it’s more accurate) to believe that it’s a matter of learned behavior, passed down through the generations, that is responsible for our empathy, our inclination to, do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
It has been determined, for example, that the Neanderthal did not have a strong community-based relationship, whereas the Cro-Magnon did – there are archeological finds of entire tribes of Cro-Magnon coming together on occasion to exchange goods, ideas, possibly women, and to maybe visit relatives left behind by the division of an earlier tribe into two separate camps. The Neanderthal didn’t seem to have that ability to socialize, and as a result, when a (comparatively) advanced technology was discovered by one tribe, it remained localized rather than spreading rapidly throughout the species, as it did among Homo Sapiens, Sapiens.
Passing along a concept such as depicted by the Golden Rule could well have led to the survival of our own species and failure to employ it, to the extinction of the Neanderthal. Just a theory on my part, but a logical one.
You might find this interesting. http://discovermagazine.com/2012/dec/29-cooperation
“When individuals were forced into the same space (because of the proximity of a food source, for instance), working together in large numbers of cooperative individuals gave everyone a better shot at survival.”
I found this paragraph reminiscent of the conclusions drawn by Robert Ardry, in his 1966 work, “The Territorial Imperative” He contrived a formula: “Amity = Enmity + hazard,” and illustrated it by drawing our attention to animals who congregated on an island in a river to escape a forest fire – deer, rabbits, and other normally “prey” animals, cohabiting with their natural predators, all living in harmony – the hazard apparently nullifying temporarily the natural inclination for the latter to make short shrift of the former. Doubtless the same principles could well apply to humans facing the perils of life in a hostile world.
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““Cooperation is a fundamental principle of evolution,” Nowak says today. “Without it, you don’t get construction or complexity in life.”
I can certainly concur with this – single-celled life survived on this hostile planet for literally billions of years as Life’s only form, until the day that two cells found an advantage to combining, and multicellular life was born. Possibly whatever prompted such a radical change in behavior was when a genetic predisposition was initiated – or, equally possibly, a genetic mutation prompted the radical change.
(Now I’m cherry-picking Nowak –)
You don’t have to believe that the good bits in the Bible have a divine source. Sometimes you can read a text and come across a pearl of wisdom and realise, hey I hadn’t thought of that before, but when you think about it, it’s true. (Obviously I am not talking about the supernatural parts, but those that present ethical and psychological wisdom.). This does not mean you believe on faith. You have to use your own brain, however, to decide which bits represent ethical folly (soldiers killing infants) and which bits are sound. A text (not just the Bible) can thus trigger thought processes that lead to wisdom (because the ancients sometimes had good thoughts as well as the bad.)
Thank you, Daniel! That is exactly what I was talking about – though you have said it much more clearly.
Let’s take a look, Danny – the Torah was never written by Moses, but rather by four separate groups of priests – the Yahwist (J) Source, writing in 950 BCE, in the Southern Kingdom of Judeah, in Jerusalem, the Elohist (E) Source, writing in 850 BCE, in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, in Schechem, the Deuteronimist (D) Source, writing in 750 +/- in the kingdom of Josiah, c.800 BCE, and the Priestly (P) Source, writing in the 500’s BCE, in captivity in Babylon.
There is no archeological evidence for an Abraham, an Isaac, a Jacob/Israel, or a Moses and his Exodus. Biblical archaeologists have found evidence that the cities the Bible tells us were conquered by Joshua, had in fact fallen years before Joshua’s alleged time.
The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, were all written anonymously, beginning in 72 AD and extending all the way to 100 AD (“John”), by men who never met Yeshua and had no idea what he did or said.
Of course “Jonah” and “Job” were allegories, rather than anything historical, while of thirteen of Paul’s Epistles, six were in fact forgeries:
Other than that —
Valerie, I am cross-posting your article to my website and Facebook.
Write on… as we used to say back in the 60’s:-)
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The Bible is full of violence, nonsense and hate. No wonder believers pick out the nice bits and pretend the evil commands are not there. If you really believe the Bible properly you will not treat it like that! There is something vulgar about cherry-picking a book that is supposedly from God like that. It is like saying, “This book is my authority. It is more important and sacred than any other book. Yet I will pick and choose from it.” It is accepting the Bible as inspired but with a “but”.
The Bible deserves no honour not even this begrudging hypocritical honour. You drop bad scriptures like they are burning coals put into your hands.
Believers make excuses for the evil commanded in their holy books. To believe that a book is God’s word because man gives reasons why it must be so and because man excuses the bad bits is really making man’s thinking the foundation of your faith. The excuses are invariably speculative. They pretend to lead you to God.
The Bible God teaches good things and bad things. You might understand this as God giving a mixed message about violence and so on. Suppose you are right that it does, You might interpret the Bible as a book of peace and say it commands that we never be violent. But that does not change the fact that there is a mixed message. A mixed message shows a reluctance and a failure to condemn violence correctly and thoroughly and clearly. It is still a seed of violence and violence starts in the heart. A peaceful religion contains the seeds of violence when it has scriptures that at least occasionally command violence in the name of a good God because it is leaving its scriptures wide up to a violent interpretation. A really good scripture gives nothing at all that can be interpreted or misconstrued as endorsing evil. Really good people discard such scriptures immediately. They do not even try to excuse them or think of excusing them. They will not risk excusing evil. There are certain things you never look for excuses for.
If a scripture can reasonably be interpreted as allowing or even worse, endorsing, violence and cruelty it is to blame for any suffering that is caused. If you accept that a scripture is God’s word then conforming to your (maybe violent) interpretation of it becomes a duty. It is not a choice. You do not have the freedom to choose where duty is concerned. You obey. Some say that the solution to this is empathy – trying to understand how those who you might persecute feel and think and why. But empathy is hard to achieve where you have a strong sense of duty. Plus one purpose of duty is to by-pass thinking things over and making a choice. You just carry out the duty.
The book Christianity is Not Great pleases me so much for it shows atheists might need to concentrate not so much on, “Why does God allow evil to happen and how can he be good when he lets it happen?” but on, “Why does God command evil in the Bible and even murders and still get adoration from Christians?”
Christianity is Not Great invites us to exercise empathy and be horrified at the God who commanded terrible things in the Bible and at Jesus who saw nothing wrong with these deeds. “It is not enough to raise the NO True Scotsman argument to dodge accountability. These ideas exist in the Bible. If you proclaim allegiance to the Bible, you claim responsibility for its content and the injustice it perpetuates in society” from Christianity is Not Great.
Believers in the Bible are taking responsibility for its contents and what it asks people to do. They are also taking responsibility for the attempts made by theologians, clergy and others who attempt to condone and excuse and make light of the evil commanded by the God whom the Bible claims is its ultimate author. If you really understand suffering and how terrible and intolerable it is, you will not lightly say, “It is God’s plan.” You would need to be willing to fix all that suffering if possible before you would have the right to say such a thing. The comfort some (not all!) get or say they get from people telling them God has a plan is misplaced.
Despite ordering that people be stoned to death, God “failed to provide his people with reasonable rules of evidence to judge criminal cases”.
If a religion is really good for you, it will have nothing in its holy books that risks being interpreted or misinterpreted as a yes to violence. A good God would not write in such a way. The need for interpretation can be avoided at best and minimised at worst. To promote such a book or religion is to take part in the creation of violence perhaps retrospectively.
We need to stop worrying more about the evil we directly enable or help to happen and realise that the evil we indirectly enable often is worse and more toxic. The Bible led to Protestant terrorism in Europe. Catholics and Protestants are both to blame for this for both advocate acceptance of the Bible as the unerring word of God.
We conclude that the excuses for the scriptural violence are rooted in religious prejudice and bigotry and deceitfulness and not in justice. An extreme example of this bigotry is how people have been put to death for wanting a civilised Bible. Nobody was ever burned at the stake for saying God is bad but for saying he is too good to write nasty Bibles or to condone Jesus’ hate speeches.
Leave those religions of the Bible – they have no moral authority to call you a member or require that you should be one. To honour them is to honour their holy books indirectly. And those books are evil rather than holy.
When a holy book commands murder or violence, it should be dismissed as unholy – no ifs or buts. It should be discarded immediately. There are certain evils you must not look for excuses or reasons for. And holy books that honour a God who commands violence are top of the list.
Another fabulous article, Valerie! LOVE your blog.
I am an Episcopalian, a Jungian psychologist with a strong background in philosophy and theology – none of which qualify as “science” and should not be regarded as such, except in so far as psychology relates to anthropology, and even then it’s tenuous. Upon reading through the comments, IMO people are making this more complicated than it needs to be. Then again, that’s why I became bored with philosophy and theology with their endless arguments as to “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin under what conditions and what does it mean,” etc. :)
As for the discussion of, “which parts of scripture are factual, historical, etc.” – probably none, and, “scripture does not give us information about reality,” of course it doesn’t, because that is not its function! Scripture is mythology and belongs in the same sphere as literature, art, drama, music. The purpose of science is to explain the workings of the physical universe, whereas the purpose of scripture is inspiration, not explanation. If everybody could understand that religion is not science and vice versa, a lot of these concerns would simply go away, as I have discussed here: http://bodysoulblissyoga.blogspot.com/2014/06/another-look-at-religion.html
There is no “objective standard” by which to evaluate the cherry picking of scripture because it is in the subjective realm, but to a certain extent, it is just basic common sense. As Frank Schaeffer says in his excellent book “Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God”: “Can you imagine me consigning Lucy [his granddaughter] to oblivion because she had wrong ideas about me? Can you imagine me burning her forever because she didn’t believe in me, forgot my name, called me the wrong name, thought I had six arms… or brought me fruit when I asked for a lamb?… I am not a good man and yet can you imagine anything that would cut [his grandchildren] off from my love?”
Which brings us back to the simple universal principles Valerie addresses as “humanity’s shared moral core,” the Golden Rule, love, “the fruits of the spirit,” virtues which are found in all the best mythologies including our modern ones like Lord of the Rings and which most sane people can understand and relate to without studying philosophy or theology.
…scripture does not give us information about reality,” of course it doesn’t, because that is not its function!
Oh, and you know its proper function, do you?
You may believe this statement of yours is true but vast numbers of religious folk – folk willing to act on behalf of their faith commitments – do not. How are you going to convince them otherwise when reality itself isn’t allowed, by those who have made these faith commitments incompatible and contrary to reality, to arbitrate religious claims made about it?
You are arguing that we really should simply alter our perspective of religion;s function and thus maintain this ongoing literal/figurative pickle – and the very real and ongoing perniciousness of acting on religious beliefs – in the name of ‘inspiration’.
The problem here is that by accommodating religious belief to have this equivalent role to art and the humanities (and moral philosophy by your inclusion of the Golden Rule under the auspices of some vague and cross-cultural ‘mythologies’) – to provide ‘inspiration’… figuratively, I presume – what you are suggesting offers aid and comfort and cover to those who decide which bits to take literally and which figuratively. Because you have no means to differentiate which are deserving of ‘inspirational function’ and which are not any more than they are, your religious ‘mythologies’ shall continue to be used to validate atrocities and excuse abuses of all kinds… inspired as these may be by whatever scripture are functionally used.
There really must come a time when a majority of otherwise reasonable, rational, and compassionate people actually decide to take a stand against privileging faith-based beliefs altogether… inspirational or not. Replace the term ‘inspiration’ with ‘credulity to the point of gullibility’ and you’ll see why your thesis is nothing more than typical and rationalized accommodationism that challenges and changes nothing… but probably makes you feel good to stand in what you assume is some available middle ground where none actually exists.
Identifying religious scripture for what it is – mythology – hardly qualifies as “middle ground”! It DOES change everything, by taking it OUT of the realm of “literal.” Many religious people would consider my position overt blasphemy. Fortunately, others have outgrown that point of view and understand that a story doesn’t have to be “literally true” in order to inspire hope, courage, compassion, imagination. Fictional writings and poetry do serve this function.
Again, the cherry-picking described by Valerie, Mr. Schaeffer and others is not that complicated. We throw out the rotten fruits which clearly violate our basic core values, and keep those which most humans understand and appreciate as good regardless of their particular religion. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said:
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness… Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.”
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We throw out the rotten fruits which clearly violate our basic core values, and keep those which most humans understand and appreciate as good regardless of their particular religion.
I think it’s important to understand the order here: changes within religious teachings to what’s considered literal or figurative to align with what’s moral (what you differentiate by calling the immoral teachings to be ‘rotten fruit’) always seem to follow – and NOT lead – improved social changes very often that are in direct conflict with previous religious teachings considered ‘moral’. One needs to look no further than legal equality rights in general and women’s rights in particular. It’s not religious teachings that have brought about these necessary changes but alterations to secular law to impose it. Consider same sex attraction and marriage equality, for example. It’s not religious teachings that bring about change towards legalizing equality; it’s almost always a social movement… usually started by those ‘loud and strident and angry’ people (just look at the language to describe them… ‘radical’ activists and ‘militant’ atheists) who are condemned by the religious leadership and the communities that make faith commitments to them.
The Dali Lama’s quotation is pertinent: when we don’t follow our minds and heart but substitute the ‘objective’ teachings of discriminatory religious morality then we stand against the Dali Lama’s idea here. And that’s my point.
Supporting religious beliefs out of some sense of misguided respect BECAUSE they are religious empowers the status quo… which supports the religious entrenchment of really bad ideas and very often is the very source of the discrimination against real people in real life for dogmatic reasons. This kind of respect and tacit support the faitheist offers to the discriminatory practices by respecting discriminatory religious beliefs does not shift the moral sense towards what’s fair and reciprocal but tends to stand very firmly against it.
Necessary and morally justified changes to these discriminatory practices embedded in so much religious teachings doesn’t happen by respecting religious beliefs. Never has. Never will. What brings about change is challenging bad ideas, criticizing them in the public domain, and revealing how these discriminatory beliefs enable their ongoing pernicious effects.
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Interesting that you referred to religious teachings as “objective.” I never said they were and neither did Valerie. I agree with you that social movements lead the way in progress towards equality and that the entrenched religious establishment resists that trend. No argument there.
You mentioned in a previous post the “privileging” of religious beliefs, and now “respecting discriminatory religious beliefs.” I am not advocating that and neither is Valerie, nor Mr. Schaeffer, nor the Dalai Lama (despite his being a mainstream religious leader!). What we are talking about is finding the very simple, basic common ground that we share as human beings that transcends the boundaries of specific religious traditions.
You clearly want to have an argument with somebody but I don’t think it is me, because as far as I can tell, we agree more than we disagree on this matter. Maybe you are just reacting to my admission that I am Episcopalian and therefore you assume things about my beliefs rather than reading what I actually said.
There is definitely some kind of disconnect going on here. I do appreciate your very thoughtful contributions to this discussion, but I can’t help feeling that we are really not communicating. It’s almost as if we are speaking different languages, or we are coming at this from completely opposite perspectives which make it difficult to comprehend what the other is saying.
Bottom line, unless I am misunderstanding you, it sounds like you really are just hell bent on throwing out the baby with the bathwater, whereas some of us feel that it is possible to throw out the dirty water [discriminatory religious dogmas] and clean up the baby, and under all that dirt it’s the same baby [universal spiritual values] and worth saving.
If indeed your position is that all religious scripture is entirely worthless and ought to be thrown out, then I would question whether you have the same attitude towards ancient mythology which was once held as religious and is now literature, or for that matter, any other fictional/ fantasy writings whether ancient or modern, scifi or poetry. Maybe you only object to the religious scriptures because people believe they are literally true. I would agree with that objection. Again, as I stated above in the beginning of this conversation, religion is mythology and ought to be regarded as such but that doesn’t mean it is worthless. I personally happen to enjoy mythology, fantasy, scifi, etc. To each their own. As long as people are educated to understand the difference between fact and fantasy it should not be a problem.
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You seem mystified as to why I have a disagreement with you so let me clarify: there is no baby in this metaphor. There is only a malignancy that piggybacks on whatever it can – mythology, love, art, philosophy, humanities, morals and ethics, family, and so on – to falsely present itself as if a baby… supposedly innocent and earnest and in need of protection and development rather than a malignant and pernicious force that must be constantly de-fanged to be made temporarily benign.
I am talking about faith-based rather than evidence-adduced belief. And we see this incompatible difference when we look honestly at the effects that faith-based belief produces. Yes, the mother ship of faith-based belief is religion where it is presented as if a virtue when all evidence points to it being a vice but it appears in all kinds of different forms… from denialism in vaccines and human caused climate change and evolution to belief in mystical forces and ancient ‘wisdom’ that appear constantly in alternative and ‘complimentary’ therapies… and always in need of criticism for its perniciousness. Faith-based belief is not an innocent baby with some inherent virtue but an excuse to believe without critical review and a means to avoid personal responsibility for being credulous to the point of gullibility.
My disagreement is that the more benign religions, and those who support them, offer cover and sustenance to this broken methodology in all its more extreme pernicious forms… a methodology that is relied upon to harm real people in real life for very poor but oh so pious reasons but is the major engine working tirelessly to maintain it own privilege against the implementation of moral advancements. Piety is the vice.
The fundamentalist believer has already ruled out reality as an arbitrator of selected faith-based beliefs and so my criticism of them has already been negated. My opinion and all the evidence from reality that supports it simply doesn’t matter because it’s already been rejected. If I can’t offer evidence adduced from reality to point out why certain faith-based beliefs are incorrect and/or factually wrong and/are pernicious in effect, then we have no common ground to understand how these beliefs cause harm, that those who support these beliefs through personal action are causing harm. That leaves the reasonable critic no option but to see such people as worthy only of ridicule and mockery if they choose to deny reality its proper role in describing how it operates. If someone actually believes that a cracker is a piece of human body they are to eat but fails to understand why it’s not, that even it it were then cannibalism is of questionable morality, we have no common ground… no matter how obfuscating are the religious terms introduced to make transubstantiation palatable to the intellect of the credulous.
It is the liberal believer (and those who are fine with other people believing the unbelievable I call faitheists who presume criticism itself is the real problem raised only by nasty and belligerent people) who assumes without merit that such a methodology in this special religious case is not just benign but a force for good in this world with whom I take great issue because they should know better. Their intellects can work, their critical faculties in place and are available for use, and they do respect reality’s role to arbitrate claims made about it in all other cases. They do understand why equality rights matter and need support, why scientific consensus is a powerful reason to grant higher levels of confidence to various ideas and theories, that human morality is a process towards improving rather than impoverishing the human condition, that personal moral autonomy makes the individual responsible for actions personally carried out and responsibility for the consequences of those actions personally accrued. It is this person – I suspect the majority of religious believers – who is the right target to change opinions… if meaningful and positive change is to occur. And that change starts by grasping the idea that faith-based belief – faith in the religious sense of the word – in whatever form it takes is always a vice. Always.
There is no baby to throw out; there is only the dirty bathwater.
Thank you for your reply and clarification. This will probably be my last response to the thread since it appears we are going in circles despite our best efforts.
I think the key word here is “belief,” which you have used many times in your argument. I agree that “belief” – or more specifically, the inability to discern fact from fiction and to know the difference between science and mythology – IS the problem. That has been my consistent position all along. The so-called “liberal believers” that you want to target to somehow change our opinions, already know this. We enjoy our rituals as a sort of theater or drama without believing that the stories in scripture are literally true or that our behavior should be based on the rules of iron-age culture. We get it. The fundies do not. We try to educate them whenever possible regardless of how seemingly futile the task may be and every once in a while we’re successful.
At the same time, I can sit down in meditation, chanting or silent prayer with my “liberal” friends from many different traditions – Xtian, Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Sufi, etc. – and we share Something good on a deep level that is beyond words. “Belief” is not required. This is the “common ground” that we share. Before I experienced this, many years ago, I believed as you do (that there is only the dirty bathwater). Therefore I understand and respect that opinion although I no longer share it.
I do, however, very much share your position that religious beliefs of whatever variety should NOT form the basis of public policy! We “liberals” or “progressives” have been quite vocal and consistent in this regard and it is on this point, if anything, that you and I do have common ground and we should continue to work together despite our differences.
I agree that “belief” – or more specifically, the inability to discern fact from fiction and to know the difference between science and mythology – IS the problem. (Snip) The so-called “liberal believers” that you want to target to somehow change our opinions, already know this.
No, they don’t. In fact, you think this position means we’re ‘talking past each other’ whereas it’s really a case of you not wanting to accept what’s true, that this statement you make and maintain is unequivocally wrong. If this were true, that liberal believers already know the difference between fact and fiction, then the majority of believers would not hold and espouse fundamentalist beliefs. We would not see the vast majority of Americans, for example, say they believe Jesus was FACTUALLY and LITERALLY and HISTORICALLY real, that He was the son of God, that He died for our sins, that He was resurrected. One cannot hold these beliefs to be only mythological and not literal and still be considered a Christian. That makes these beliefs fundamental to the religious identity you hold. Whereas you assume for convenience that liberal believers do not hold literal and fundamentalist beliefs, I have compelling evidence that you are factually wrong; most if not all liberal believers in Christianity do.
This is my point that you try to wave away for the sake of thinking better of yourself to be able to separate what you – and presumably in the company of other ‘enlightened’ liberal believers – erroneously call the mythological (to be accurate, what you really mean is figurative) from those who take certain beliefs too far, too literally, in your opinion. Of course, you – like all other believers in Christianity – have no means to differentiate except by subjective belief which bits of scripture should be understood literally and which should be figurative. Thus, you make a virtue of necessity and pretend that for more that a thousand years all Christians simply weren’t as enlightened as they ought</i to have been (thus excusing more than a thousand years of religious ignorance, bigotry, misogyny, and superstitious nonsense. You assume you have now corrected for these problems and all is magically well, that modern religious belief when liberalized and properly understood is now a good thing…. but still lacking any means to differentiate which should be literal and which should be figurative, by the way.
And, to be clear, the only myth in the KJ Bible and the Pentateuch is Genesis. Understood as a myth, this opinion does not help your case but fatally harms it:: by altering the story into myth, the liberal believer removes the very reason for Jesus’ sacrifice… unless you admit the historical Jesus is also ‘mythical’ (read, ‘figurative’)… as is his death and resurrection, as is the sin figuratively committed by a figurative Adam.
Good luck selling that ‘enlightened’ view to Christians.
In all honesty, do you actually think the vast majority of liberal believers would go along with this radical change and still be Christians? Statistically, they don’t. Your assumption about liberal believers accepting scripture to be figurative does not match reality.
This leaves my original criticism fully intact: liberal believers offer aid and comfort for fundamentalist religious beliefs to be safely nurtured. And that effect is a pernicious one no matter how much you may enjoy the company and activities of other believers.
“Be good to yourself, and each other.”
— Jerry Springer —
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Yes – “Be excellent to each other.” – Abraham Lincoln, from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” :)
Stop wasting time TALKING about this “Bane of Humanity.” The Faster RELIGION is Gone, the faster we can move forward to our true potential as HUMANS.
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