Monthly Archives: September 2013

In which I piss off everybody

I’ve heard many people say they lost their faith by reading the whole Bible. Usually the part of the Bible they find most repellent are the first five books, Genesis through Deuteronomy. These books bring into question many of the things people thought they knew about God. Why does he seem not to know things, for example? Why does he seem threatened by the possibility of the inhabitants of Babel storming heaven? Then there are the legalistic regulations about sacrifice… The draconian punishments… The promotion of genocide. Apologists try to explain all this away. Reasonable people ignore it and lapse into cognitive dissonance, or become atheists.

Here’s my take. Despite all the lip service paid to being “biblical,” most people’s spirituality has little to do with the Bible, much less with the relevance of Leviticus as a Message For Us Today.

You say that you’re a Christian because you have an experience of/ relationship with God/Jesus. Let’s ignore for the moment the questions raised or begged by such a statement. Did the Bible as such have much to do with that? Be honest. If not, why *can’t* you pick and choose among the scriptures? Why can’t you say that the Bible is not the word of God, but contains the word of God, as some Sophisticated Theologians do? Does that in any way change the Personal Relationship you claim to have?

Are you worried that Christians as a group may not be able to agree which scriptures are authoritative or normative? There’s already a pretty broad consensus that the sacrificial regulations and purity codes are obsolete. And why do you have to agree? Spirituality is personal, right? To me, it seems the only reason to enforce agreement is for social engineering and psychological manipulation.

So in conclusion I’m saying that if your spirituality is beneficial to you, and you have a personal relationship with God, maybe you don’t need the Innerrant Infallible Word of God to justify it. And while you’re at it, you might take a second look at some of the more distasteful ideas and sentiments you’ve felt obligated to accept and espouse on that basis.

Am I wrong? Naive? Simplistic? Feel free to tell me so.

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Why so angry?

The answer: I’m not. At least not as angry as the tone of some of my posts might suggest. I hold the perhaps misguided hope that if I am provocative enough, I might be able to prod someone into giving me some honest answers. At least I might get someone to seriously consider my questions.

On some level perhaps I hope someone can rise to the challenge and make Christianity and/ or theism make sense to me again. But I know that’s not likely to happen. To use IT analogies, once you begin poking around in the code, you realize that many of the contradictions, absurdities, and maddening logical fallacies of Abrahamic theism–perfected in Christianity–are not bugs, but features.

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In a way, i’ve always been secular, and maybe you have too

Some years ago I was attending an adult Bible study class. The topic of discussion was the raising of one’s children with “biblical” values, which at the time I took to be synonymous with morals and ethics. The leader asked me how I would deal with a situation in which my child informed me about immoral (sexuality was implied, I think) activities of other teenagers. I started to talk about how I would engage him/her in ethical reasoning. He cut me off. “All you have to do,” he said, “is show him what the Bible says. You don’t have to reason about it, because you have the clear word of God.”

I nodded, but something seemed wrong with this. He had all the right buzzwords: Bible, God, etc., but still… I consulted other Christians, and many of them also thought this was a terrible approach, especially if one was raising children to make mature decisions.

The thing is: the teacher was–biblically and religiously–correct. If the Bible is the word of God with all the truth we need for any given situation, moral reasoning is superfluous.  On the other hand, if the Bible is just another thing to help us think better–ludicrous in itself, given all the errors, contradictions, and morally repulsive or meaningless commands found therein–then it is unnecessary or dispensable.

So here it is: Theists, and even fence-sitting, unchurched “spiritual but not religious” people, accept uncritically that religion or faith is necessary for morality, or at least that it has something to do with morality. At the same time, they will take for granted that reasoning– often on utilitarian or situational grounds–is fundamental to mature ethical decisions. I say that “biblical morality” is the death of any system of ethics beyond “because I (if the I happens to be God) said so.”

Biblical morality provides for divine command, and nothing else. Its philosophy is: If God does it, it is not immoral. Moral reasoning leads to things like Eve eating the fruit. Cain deciding to put the Almighty on a vegan diet. Saul deciding not to commit as much genocide that day. None of those things ended well. Conversely, Abraham provisionally agreed to child murder. Lean not your own understanding. That’s the Bible.

If you live and function in the modern world, you probably reach your moral decisions through reason, or possibly rationalization. You may think your conscience is guided by the “Word of God,” but the Bible is really just a lucky rabbit’s foot, a talisman. And (pardon the pun) thank God.

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