Scripture and Violence

An article in Nature earlier this year showed what many of us have also encountered in the classroom: reading violent Scripture makes violence seem acceptable to the reader. At least, in my experience, it makes readers who would in any other context deplore actions, instead approve and justify them because they are found in Scripture.

I have not seen evidence that such people actually become more prone to violence. But they do at the very least learn the art of justifying things that do not fit with their usual moral and ethical sensibilities. And that, I feel, is a disturbing thing for one to learn from a religion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00559055709208918638 Eric Rowe

    If someone shouldn’t afford to Scripture the authority to make them change their moral and ethical convictions, then what’s the point? And if we can’t learn right and wrong from Scripture, where can we learn it, should we just make it up ourselves?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    But what is interesting is that most people don’t actually change their moral and ethical convictions. Few readers of Deuteronomy and Joshua go out and kill Hindus. Few readers of Genesis go out and sacrifice their sons (even hoping all the while that they will be stopped and a ram will be provided). What most people do is retain their conviction that religious freedom is a good thing and violence in the name of religion is bad, BUT they will go to great lengths to justify it in the Bible.As for what the source of moral and ethical reasoning should be, I don’t think it should be Scripture alone. One should certainly dialogue with Scripture and tradition, but who would really want to argue that slavery should be reinstated, since it is there in the Bible?I would agree with looking to the Bible for principles. Indeed, it was this that guided the moral judgment of the abolitionists who were Christians. The Southern Baptists had pretty sound exegetical arguments about the “household codes”. What they ignored was the Golden Rule. If we do to others what we would like them to do to us, then we will be unable to practice slavery – or violence in the name of religion, for that matter – in spite of the fact that there are passages in Scripture that would seem to provide a perfectly secure basis for doing so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08144417439505262113 Elliot

    Sorry, I haven’t had a chance to look at the study, but I stumbled across this post about it and thought you might be interested: http://supernaturalhistory.blogspot.com/2007/03/sinners-in-hands-of-angry-god.html


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