It is finished! Chapter 9 draft for book #2, “Bad religion”

Here it is! Chapter 9 draft of book #2. Actually, it’s not quite finished because halfway through I said “screw it” with regards to section headings, but the rest of it is there. Suggestions for clever section heading names appreciated.

  • ctcss

    Chris, I’m still trying to figure out the purpose of this book. I have read most of your online previews, but I am mostly not very thrilled by what I am seeing. Is this book meant as a a polemic to rile up the base against the unthinking and dangerous “other”? And if so, why bother? Isn’t the base already riled up about them?

    Or is it possibly meant as a way to reach the consciousness of the unthinking and dangerous “other”? It might possibly have some small usefulness there, but if all it does is help to convince some of them to abandon their current group affiliation and join your side, all that would do is continue the “us” and “them” tribalism meme. How is that going to help? Isn’t humanity already plagued by that particular problem?

    The book certainly can’t be intended for thoughtful believers, since I don’t think many of them are approaching scriptural texts (to use your current chapter) in the mindless way you seem to be pointing out. I teach Sunday School and I can’t imagine teaching any of my kids “See, Jesus wants you all to chop off your hands and feet and gouge out your eyes, so don’t forget to do that before next week’s lesson!” And in the same way that I wouldn’t teach them to do something like that, I also wouldn’t be asking them to take up bread making or sheep herding or fishing or agriculture either just because Jesus talked about those things. I mean, you do realize that Jesus was trying to get his disciples and listeners to think about God and God’s kingdom, don’t you? So why, if that was what Jesus was trying to get his students to do when he brought up real world objects and actions (rather than always talking about God directly), would I likewise not try to help my own students learn abut God and God’s kingdom by helping them explore and think about the examples and ideas being brought up in the text?

    Mindless learning and mindless following are usually never helpful approaches. That’s why good teachers try to help their students learn and understand rather than just memorize texts and obey orders. Thinking about, grappling with, and trying to understand difficult or unfamiliar subject matter is what good teachers try to offer their students. And guess what? Religious subject matter can also be approached the same way! (I certainly try to do this.)

    So, what exactly is this book supposed to achieve? I’m still not sure. (And yes, this is an honest and sincere question I am posing here. I’m not trying to jerk your chain.)

    • Chris Hallquist

      Um… I’m trying to think of some way to say this nicely, because you seem unusually sincere.

      Start with the easy thing first:

      I teach Sunday School and I can’t imagine teaching any of my kids “See, Jesus wants you all to chop off your hands and feet and gouge out your eyes, so don’t forget to do that before next week’s lesson!”

      Do you really think I didn’t know that? I mean, I didn’t know you were a Sunday School teacher, but do you really think atheists think that’s what happens in Sunday School?

      I’m going to resort to quoting myself here:

      “Ah, but Jesus said all those nice things about love!” This is not an argument that anyone would use to defend any religious leader today. Saying nice things about love is easy, even crazy cult leaders can do it. If you saw a guy today telling people of the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that they should abandon their families to follow him, but also saying nice things about love, would you focus on the things about love, or would you think he was nuts?

      Put another way: yeah, we atheists know believers ignore huge chunks of their holy books. We know they have all kinds of excuses for ignoring them. We just don’t buy the excuses. Would you buy the excuses if this wasn’t your religion we were talking about, if we were just talking about some tiny upstart sect (which Christianity was once upon a time)?

      As for why I wrote this book… well, part of it was a (I freely confess, probably at least mostly vain) hope that believers would read it and at minimum learn to stop dismissing obvious criticisms of their religion as something only the “mindless” would worry about and something “thoughtful” believers can just dismiss out of hand.

      It does not make you “thoughtful” to act as if it’s beneath you to even consider the possibility that there’s a something wrong with worshiping someone who (reportedly, according to the sole yet unreliable sources we have for his life) told people to put their own eyes out.

  • Chris Hallquist

    Oh, and do you think my comments on the Homeric epics were “mindless”?

  • MNb

    At one hand I do think ctcss does have a point. Somehow you don’t put your finger exactly on the inflamed wound of christianity ánd don’t push hard enough. This partly has to do with the fact that you haven’t done what you did for several chapters: lay out a clear structure.
    After reading ctcss’ reaction I think it can help, albeit possibly in a way he didn’t intend.

    ‘I teach Sunday School and I can’t imagine teaching any of my kids “See, Jesus wants you all to chop off your hands and feet and gouge out your eyes, so don’t forget to do that before next week’s lesson!” ‘
    But why exactly don’t Sunday teachers teach stuff like that? After all that’s what we find in the Holy Bible.
    I can think of only one answer and it’s an answer that’s to their credit: they realize it’s cruel. Compare WLC, who doesn’t seem to have such moral misgivings.
    And here we have a main atheist objection: the result is cherry picking. To maintain the illusion that Holy Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified as a gift I didn’t ask for (something you also should address, CH) is the greatest guy who ever walked the planet, but did not think it necessary to write down his Wonderful Message down Himself and thus allowed lesser mortals the chance to twist His Divine Eternal Words which are worth studying eternally, all benevolent Sunday School teachers try to impregnate the receptive minds of kids with sunny, happy images. Thus they leave out the dark stuff. Of course a few fanatics have presented the dark stuff as well. One result is that about 50% of Dutch literature is about the psychical problems these kids suffer from as adults.
    Just compare Pastafarianism, always useful in this respect. Teach it to kids and you’re only problem will be to hold a straight face; there isn’t any dark stuff kids need to be protected from. Whenever some believer thinks it a good idea to teach religion to kids I am ready to concur on one condition: two weeks a year of Pastafarianism. For some reason I still have to meet the first believer who enthusiastically embraces my proposal.
    Says it all, I think.

    If you think anything of this useful for you chapter, CH, go ahead. The angle of “why not teach it to our kids” that ctcss provides looks promising to me. Instead of The Flying Spaghetti Monster you perhaps also can compare Jesus with Santa Claus. The latter doesn’t have dark sides to be hidden from kids either. I think ctcss unvoluntarily has formulated an excellent question – why don’t benevolent Sunday Teachers teach certain stuff from the NT? Why don’t liberals hold wahhabist madrassa’s, orthodox yeshiva’s and Hell and Damnation teachers at Sunday Schools in high regard, even if they all take their lessons from the same Holy Books those liberals read?
    I recommend you to make this question the centre of your chapter.

  • ctcss

    @Chris (and maybe MNb as well. Interesting thoughts by the way, MNb.)

    OK, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot here. That’s probably my fault. I was trying to be sincere, respectful, and friendly, but I keep being dismayed by your book previews, thus I may have let those feelings come out more than I realized. Let’s try to go over some of these things.

    Let’s start with the second response since I think that may have revealed part of the problem.

    “Oh, and do you think my comments on the Homeric epics were “mindless”?”

    I tried to figure out why you were apparently offended by something that I didn’t think I had said and then I saw my sentence “I don’t think many of them are approaching scriptural texts (to use your current chapter) in the mindless way you seem to be pointing out”. I apologize for the misunderstanding. I was referring to you possibly thinking that believers were approaching their own scriptural texts in a mindless way. And to make sure I am making the point correctly here, I was referring to the possibility of believers being mindless, not you. No, I did not think what you wrote about Homer was mindless at all. It was informative.

    OK, back to your first response.

    “Do you really think I didn’t know that? I mean, I didn’t know you were a Sunday School teacher, but do you really think atheists think that’s what happens in Sunday School?”

    Actually, I never would have expected any atheist to consider that such a scenario would ever happen. I was trying to state something outrageous to point out that no one would seriously teach (or impel action) in such a shallow and literalistic way. (Not unless they were really off the deep end, that is.) But there was a point to my saying it. I followed my outlandish “eye gouging” anti-example by pointing out that despite Jesus discussing any number of recognizable objects and actions, he wasn’t trying to focus his student’s thoughts on those recognizable objects or actions, but rather trying to help them grasp something about God and God’s kingdom. He used hyperbole, metaphor, simile, and parable to prompt his students to think more deeply about God. He often startled or dismayed them by what he said. But that was part of the point. He wanted to shake them up in order to help them understand more about God. Simply using their current understanding about God was not likely to lead them to a deeper understanding, especially if that deeper understanding went counter to what they considered to be “normal”. (Loving your enemies comes to mind, especially since the Jews were an occupied people. Loving your neighbor, yes. Loving your enemy, why?)

    And just as Jesus used such language devices when trying to teach, why shouldn’t a Sunday School teacher also be able to use those devices as well? (This was prompted by your Chapter 9 preview pointing out the difficult, offensive, and even horrific turns of phrase used in ancient writings.) The point is, no matter what is in the Bible, I would be more than happy to have my students ask me about such things in a real life teaching situation. That’s what’s fun about teaching. You can help students walk around and through difficult or unfamiliar concepts and see things that they wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And if the resulting discussion helps bring about greater understanding, that’s wonderful.

    “If you saw a guy today telling people of the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that they should abandon their families to follow him, but also saying nice things about love, would you focus on the things about love, or would you think he was nuts?”

    If I was simply walking by, I probably would keep on walking. (But remember, I also think I have something useful to use already.) The real test would be if I felt a lack of something in my life and somehow this guy caught my attention. But I am also a skeptical guy. I don’t just trust people who are trying to “sell” me something. I want to be able to make up my own mind and check both them and their story out. I also would want to make sure I was hearing them accurately, and not just dismiss them because the language they were using was initially unfamiliar to me. So I might listen to see what it was that he was saying. (And I have heard my share of preachers, so I wouldn’t just be impressed simply because he was preaching about God.) And if I heard something (or saw something) that was rather impressive, I might want to investigate it further. And if I saw enough and realized that there was something quite different going on here, I might be hard pressed to just ignore it, especially if answers were forthcoming. And if you look at the gospels, that’s what you see. People are curious. Some stay, some go. Some stay a lot longer and then go. But the ones who stayed the longest (the apostles) weren’t simply the most brainwashed. They were the ones who had seen the most and couldn’t just dismiss it lightly.

    “we atheists know believers ignore huge chunks of their holy books”

    Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am not “ignoring” huge chunks. I realize that there is a lot to understand in the Bible and that I have questions or concerns I don’t necessarily have answers for. But there is more than enough there that I do understand (or think that I do), that I want to see what unfolds about the rest. But “ignoring”? Nope, sorry.

    “We know they have all kinds of excuses for ignoring them. We just don’t buy the excuses.”

    I assume you are focusing on literalism here? I don’t buy the literalistic approach to scripture because I find it to be rather shallow and thus not very informative. I also sometimes get the feeling that non-believers are viewing (or think that all believers view) every verse in the Bible as being just as important and as valuable as every other verse. In other words, the purported words of Adam are just as meaningful as the purported words of Jesus. (If you don’t view things this way, that’s fine. I just don’t understand what the fuss about “ignoring chunks” is all about if that is not the viewpoint being considered.) Basically, I am trying to interpret what I read based on what I believe Jesus to have taught. And I am not trying to do this simplistically, so forgive me if I don’t read the Bible the way someone else thinks I should read it.

    Perhaps this bit of a very long post I made over on Beliefnet years ago might explain my point. “I find myself a bit surprised, especially by those who find the Bible discouraging and horrific. I certainly don’t claim to know all there is to know about the Bible, but in general, I find myself encouraged and uplifted by the book rather than discouraged by it. But even more relevant than my take on the matter, I find Jesus’ take on the Bible encouraging. He only had the OT to study, but he wasn’t discouraged or horrified by it. If he and we are basically looking at the same text but his take is positive and ours is negative, then it would seem that the difference lies in our perspectives. And if I were going to choose which perspective is the more helpful one, I would choose Jesus’ perspective.”

    ” Would you buy the excuses if this wasn’t your religion we were talking about, if we were just talking about some tiny upstart sect?”

    I’m not quite certain what you mean by “excuses” in this particular sentence. As I said above (referring to the guy preaching about the kingdom of heaven being at hand), I would want to make very sure I understood what was being said, why it was being said, and further proof of it’s usefulness or practicality before I would go along with it.

    “it was a hope that believers would read it and at minimum learn to stop dismissing obvious criticisms of their religion as something only the “mindless” would worry about and something “thoughtful” believers can just dismiss out of hand.”

    OK, I hope that I have already covered the misunderstanding about non-believers being “mindless”. However, I am not sure what word or phrase might be used in its place in that sentence. But as to obvious criticisms, just how many things are “obvious” that apply to all religions, or even to all versions of Christianity? To be sure, believers and non-believers are going to disagree about the existence of God, but that is hardly a worthy criticism. God’s existence is not provable or disprovable. (And I am guessing you actually weren’t even going to mention it as a criticism.) But other criticisms seem to be mostly about social justice. So the question there is how many criticisms are applicable to any particular sect? If they don’t apply to a person’s sect (the fault does not exist, in other words), I assume that those non-applicable criticisms can be dismissed, correct? And some things are often about points of difference that are simply solved by exercising the right to freely associate. Thus, in my Christian sect, people who drink are not allowed to become members. But that is fine since there are plenty of Christian sects where drinking is not an issue. So if social drinking is important, those people who desire to do so should find a church home more suited to that practice. And even if a person loves the theology of my sect, they can continue to attend the services and have access to just about any other useful or helpful aspect of the religion. Joining our sect simply means that they are signing up to work and support the goals of the sect. And it hardly makes sense to try to support (in this case) the practice of non-drinking and yet be someone who drinks and obviously wants to continue to drink. Newcomers would wonder why the person was being hypocritical about espousing a non-drinking standard and yet doing the opposite. People really should decide what it is that is most important to them and let those important things form the core of their lives. Choices have to be made.

    So what other “obvious criticisms that always apply” did you have in mind?

    “It does not make you “thoughtful” to act as if it’s beneath you to even consider the possibility that there’s a something wrong with worshiping someone who told people to put their own eyes out.”

    Well, (1) I was never taught to view Jesus as God and thus I don’t worship him, and (2) he was apparently (using hyperbole) trying to make a point about the danger of valuing anything other than God (even something humanly considered to be quite precious) as much as one would value God. (Basically it is a restatement of the 1st commandment. Also please note that Jesus was not talking to misotheists. He was talking to people who supposedly valued God and had heard all their life that they should put nothing before God.)

    And I would ask, why are you so focused on the literal language being used rather than the message being conveyed? You strike me as someone who is intelligent, but you keep saying things like this as though you can’t understand why it might be perfectly reasonable to use such a metaphorical example. Since your intelligence is not in question, I’d have to ask why you think it is necessary to focus so strongly on the literal?

    • Steven Carr

      ‘. He used hyperbole, metaphor, simile, and parable to prompt his students to think more deeply about God.’

      But not facts….

      And hyperbole, metaphor , simile and parable are not get-out-of-jail-free cards. If you use the hyperbole, metaphors, similes and parables that the Gospels claim Jesus used, then you can’t defuse the horrific impact of saying that his god is like somebody who hands over people to be tortured by claiming it is just hyperbole.

      No more than I can call Christians dumb lunatics who couldn’t count to 20 without taking their shoes off and then say , Hey guys, that was hyperbole. No need to get upset…

  • MNb

    ” no one would seriously teach (or impel action) in such a shallow and literalistic way.”
    That’s exactly what I mean with cherry picking. You think the interpretation of some passage shallow if done literalistic? Why not claim interpreting the whole Bible in a literalistic way shallow? Including the essential stuff – god, his son, the holy spirit, the crucifixion, the resurrection. It’s all just one big compilation of metaphors. What’s more: the Bible offers about four of five completely different and in several ways contradicting metaphors of the whole concept of god. This makes it crystal clear that there is no divine inspiration to be found in the book.
    Also I think your interpretation of CH’s critique shallow. I agree with you that he should point it out clearer, but all metaphorical explanations and so called deeper meanings of the passages he mentions suck as well. As far as I am concerned that includes original sin, crucifixion, resurrection, hell, heaven and apocalypse.

    “Loving your enemy, why?”
    No atheist denies that there is good stuff if the Bible; CH writes it explicitly in this chapter. You can’t refute, like many liberal christians seem to think, atheist criticism of the bad stuff, including their so called deeper metaphorical meanings, by pointing at the good stuff. You’re just moving the goalposts to avoid answering the crucial questions.

    “I find myself encouraged and uplifted by the book rather than discouraged by it.”
    Yeah, the genocidal passages of the Pentateuch are very encouraging and uplifting. The prospect of feeling guilt and regret because Hero Jesus even condemns me for looking at the gorgeous boobs (why did his divine father give me those feelings anyway?) of a beautiful woman, ie for my natural need to have sex, is very encouraging and uplifting. That’s exactly a main theme in the Dutch ex-religious literature I referred to. I think of Maarten ‘t Hart, a very successful but imo boring author. He often describes how christianity ruins a normal healthy sexual development in the psychological meaning.
    Like what I wrote – literalistic or metaphorical, this just sucks.

    I thought of another reason why the question “why not teach this to kids” is important. Every Sunday School teacher has to decide for him/herself which parts are fitting and which not (leaning on some authority only shoves the problem). The tool for this decision is obviously his/her own ideas about ethics. Bya buy to the thought that we need god for an objective moral standard.

    @CH: Take ctcss’ remarks seriously. He is a fine example of the liberal christian apologist I mentioned a couple of times before. I have done my best to show why his belief system also gives me a bad taste in my mouth, but perhaps you can do better.

  • MNb

    Btw “love your enemy” is also an example of the good stuff in the Bible christians unjustly claim credit for. Somebody preceded Jesus a couple of centuries: Siddhartha Gautama with

    “Hatreds do not cease in this world by hating, but by love, overcoming evil by good. Overcome the miser by giving, overcome the liar by truth.” Dhammapada 1.5 & 17.3

    I don’t claim that Jesus knew about him, but it also shows he wasn’t that original.
    Possibly Jesus and/or the authors of the Gospels did know about the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, which also contains stuff like that. It’s a bit painful this book was written by a Pharisee about 100 years before Jesus was born.
    So CH’s point stands – the good stuff isn’t that orignal, the bad stuff reflects the time Jesus was living in and should be rejected in both a literalistic and metaphorical way.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Thank you so much for reminding me about the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs! I had remembered someone arguing [some Jewish author] said the things Jesus said some time before Jesus, so if you think Jesus’ teachings are evidence of divinity, you should really think [other Jewish author] was divine. It was the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs they were talking about. Now who made that argument? Bertrand Russell?

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  • ctcss

    @MNb

    “That’s exactly what I mean with cherry picking. You think the interpretation of some passage shallow if done literalistic?”

    No, I think it is shallow if it doesn’t actually help bring understanding to a subject. But just to point out the obvious, despite Jesus making such statements, you don’t actually see any examples of people chopping off their hands and feet, nor gouging out their eyes in the NT, thus “following” what Jesus asked them to do. They apparently got the point of the hyperbole. Jesus was trying to get them to think, not to act like mindless drones. Is it really such a stretch to think that a teacher would use figurative speech to bring out a point?

    And BTW, what you keep referring to as cherry picking is actually a person trying to look at the text and trying to discern the value of what is being said. To use a real world example, imagine what a bigoted, red-neck southern sheriff might have said or written during the US civil rights era, and compare that with what MLK would have said or written. Would you value each person’s statements identically, or would you look at each, evaluate them, and choose one as being more helpful? Further, consider that both sets of text were reported in the NYTimes without comment. Now, after reading both sets of texts in the NYTimes would you consider your choice of what was more helpful and healing to be cherry picking, or would you consider it to be a thoughtful evaluation on your part?

    I think the only reason cherry picking keeps coming up is because there are some Christian sects out there who are focused on Bible literalism and consider every word in the Bible as having been dictated directly by God and transcribed without error, rather than the fact that humans who valued the concept of God were trying to record, as best they could, everything that they had that was valued, was inspired, and that pertained to the subject of God. Do you really think viewing the Bible texts as being assembled in the latter way is such a bad one for a religious person to take?

    Furthermore, I get the feeling that you (and other non-believers) are looking at texts far too literally, as a kind of what-you-see-is-all-there-is-to-see thing, a kind of step-by-step instruction manual with content that is strictly both dryly and objectively stated, whereas I am trying to actually look for meaning in the text (as opposed to simply reading the text), just as I would if were reading a series of news stories about a subject or a situation that wasn’t familiar to me, and which perhaps might not have been even familiar to the reporter. (I get that feeling when I read Judges, for instance.) In other words, I am reading between the lines, I am doing research, I am looking for parallels, observing the human reactions in the text, getting a gut feeling, and yes, seeking inspiration from God. The thing is, the subject of God (at least as I understand it) does not lend itself to everyday, run of the mill human viewpoints. In my experience, it really does require a lot of immersive, thoughtful activity in order to get a clearer sense of what it is all about. Simply saying that something in the Bible doesn’t mean much to a person’s everyday view of things is not necessarily useful input IMO.

    Oh, and BTW, original sin is not in the Bible. That concept came up years later. And it is not universal in religions, not even among Christians.

    “You can’t refute, like many liberal christians seem to think, atheist criticism of the bad stuff, including their so called deeper metaphorical meanings, by pointing at the good stuff. You’re just moving the goalposts to avoid answering the crucial questions.”

    OK, I’m not even sure what you are referring to as “crucial questions”, nor what goalposts are being moved. But as I have already pointed out, the Bible, as I understand it, is a collection of writings by humans, inspired by, and largely focused on the subject of God. It is not a documentary video, nor is it a court transcript. When I am reading it, I see the bad stuff that was observed and recorded along with the good stuff that was observed and recorded. And what I am noticing when I see this are the different frames of thought being expressed. Some narratives rather clearly highlight the problems going on in the story, as well as the eventual solutions. There are also many puzzling or confusing passages where things are not so clear. And some texts, like Revelations, are highly symbolic. But despite everything, after a while, I find that there is a lot to learn (assuming that one is religiously inclined) in these texts. That’s why I find the Bible to be encouraging and uplifting. I find helpful stuff in all of this. I learn from the positive examples as well as the negative examples I am reading about. You obviously don’t find this same stuff to be helpful. No big deal. To each his own.

    “Yeah, the genocidal passages of the Pentateuch are very encouraging and uplifting. The prospect of feeling guilt and regret because …”

    The Bible describes many things, both good and bad, experienced by humans during the period being written about. The question is, was anything learned by the people in the narratives, or (assuming that they didn’t seem to learn anything), is there anything to be learned by those of us (once again, religiously inclined) from what happened in the narratives? Personally, I find a lot of useful thoughts, either explicitly found in the Bible, or inspired by studying it. So, yes, I am encouraged and uplifted by what I am learning as I read and study. You are not encouraged and uplifted by what you read. Once again, no big deal.

    Oh, and the bit about Jesus talking about lusting in thought? Once again, he was simply pointing out the importance of the commandments. In that particular case, the one about not coveting. So why was he reiterating the commandment’s point about why even one’s own thoughts matter? (Coveting, after all, is just a thought.) Because they can, if not carefully watched, lead us to do things that are horrific and tragic. Example? King David and Bathsheba. David certainly seemed to be inspired by God on many occasions, and was very likely rather familiar with the 10 commandments. Yet, despite this background, and despite him being king and being able to satisfy his own wants and needs with what he had ready access to, he completely threw away any consideration of what might be the right thing to do and (as nearly as I can tell) broke all 10 commandments trying to follow his (unchallenged) thought that he had to have a woman who wasn’t his. And to make matters even worse, it was completely premeditated and done over a timescale where additional thinking on his part could have forestalled some or all of the bad outcome. After all, Bathsheba wasn’t a hot naked babe that David ran into by accident in his bedroom, thus finding it very difficult to be able to control himself. No, she was in a totally different building outside the palace compound, thus he had to take the time to ask who she was, and in doing so he found out who her husband was (a very loyal soldier in his own army, fighting on David’s behalf), then he had to actually send people to take her and bring her to him, (notice that there is a whole lot of time going by here), and after she arrives, then he makes the explicit decision to sleep with her (he could have thought the better of it), then several months later she informs him of the results of his one night of passion, then he tries to doge that bullet by bringing back the husband from the battlefront and hopes to have him sleep with his own wife, (lots of time going by here), then fails at that because the husband is so honorable and loyal (you’d think that the husbands principled behavior and demeanor would have prompted some self examination on David’s part), then sends the husband back to the front with a secret message to have his commander arrange for the husband’s death, then waits to hear that the husband is dead, (more time passing), then, after an interlude for mourning (more time passing) takes Bathsheba for his wife, then the child is born, and in the meantime all of the religious ceremonies regarding religious cleansing and self-examination and atonement are going on, no doubt attended (and apparently ignored) by David. And even after all of this opportunity to re-evaluate his thoughts and actions, it takes a religious holy man (Nathan) telling David a story about a stolen sheep to make David finally realize that he had done wrong? (Really? With his background he couldn’t figure it out before then?)

    So yes, unexamined thoughts matter. Which is why the commandments talk about it, And which is why Jesus was emphasizing that point. And no, I don’t think Jesus was trying to make MNb feel guilty about looking at boobs. The point is to make each one of us think and see where it is that our thoughts are leading us, even if we don’t necessarily realize it at the time. So, guilt no. (That’s not the point.) Thoughtful regard as to how one lives one’s life (and carrying out one’s duty to God and one’s neighbor), yes. (That is the point.)

    “literalistic or metaphorical, this just sucks”

    In your opinion it does. But that’s just the point. You are entirely free to follow a religious path of your choosing, or no religious path at all. Your choice. No one is compelling you to walk on their path. You get to choose your own path, and have apparently done so. Thoughtfully choosing a path is a good thing. Likewise, other people have decided that they want to follow a religious path because, unlike you, they don’t think it sucks. Their thoughtful choice as to what path to follow is also to be applauded, just as yours is. So, other than expressing your own opinion and preference, what is your point?

    “The tool for this decision is obviously his/her own ideas about ethics. Bya buy to the thought that we need god for an objective moral standard.”

    OK, this is something else that you’ve apparently been told about that I’m not even looking at. Does the Bible have moral or ethical content in it? Of course it does. Are moral and ethical teachings original with the Bible and found nowhere else? Of course not. Humans have been grappling with this subject for as long as humans have existed. So why do I read the Bible if I can find quite reasonable teachings about human morality and ethics elsewhere? Because I am not primarily studying the Bible to learn about human morals and ethics. I am studying it to try to learn more about God and God’s kingdom as Jesus taught about them.

    In Jesus’ ministry he brought healing to the troubling situations that people were experiencing because he had compassion for them, because they really needed help. He wasn’t trying to lecture them about morality and ethics in those situations. (There were obviously other times when he did teach about helpful behavior, however.) He was trying to bring a greater sense of God’s loving care into their experience. He understood something about God that they did not, and thus they very much needed his help in order to see it and experience it. And he demonstrated that understanding by doing this healing work. He was giving them a sense of what God’s kingdom was all about (and which he said was within us.)

    It was that deeply healing sense of God’s love that Jesus taught and acted on that I am trying to learn more about. It’s also the focus of what I am bringing up in class. Because yes, I do see instances of this love throughout the Bible, both in the OT and the NT. I also see humans screwing up royally, and being foolish, cruel, and self-righteous and (IMO) claiming that God wanted to them to act in this cruel way. But despite this, I also see instances of much clearer thinking on some characters’ parts, and a greater awareness of God and God’s nature being expressed. And that same awareness of God’s love is what I see so fully developed in Jesus’ ministry. That’s why I am trying to learn about the view of God that Jesus had. His words and his actions are inspiring to me. So, yes, I’d like to follow him.

    So you can call this cherry picking if you’d like. I call it trying to discern the truth about God as Jesus taught about the subject. I’m trying to to learn to understand God in the same way he did. Which means I am focusing on what he taught, how he viewed the life situations going on around him, how he viewed the OT scriptures, etc.

    That’s why I am interested in discerning the “something” better and deeper that Jesus was trying to bring out in his ministry (his words and actions), rather than simply reading a collection of words captured in the pages of the Bible and then assuming that averaging all that is literally or superficially stated in those pages is somehow equivalent to the clearest thought contained within those pages. (If I didn’t think that Jesus’ thought was the clearest and most helpful, why would I bother trying to understand what he was saying and try to follow him?)

    Is this helping you to see where my thought is at?


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