Betraying the Spirit: How the Christian Right Gets the Bible Wrong

xtianfailI just released UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, the much revised and updated version of my earlier title, UNFAIR: Why the ‘Christian’ View of Gays Doesn’t Work.

Among the most significant new content in the book is this passage, taken from its (now) opening essay, Taking God at His Word: The Bible and Homosexuality:

The Bible isn’t a rulebook, and Christians cannot lift out of its context any passage from it, and still hope to gain a clear understanding of that passage.

It is important to understand that even the most fundamentalist Christian sects do not take the Bible wholly literally. The New Testament is two thousand years old, the old Testament much older. The Bible’s cultural contexts, along with the translation at hand, is always taken into consideration by any Christian serious about understanding this vast and complex work.

To excerpt any isolated short passage from the Bible, and then claim for that passage absolute authority, is to fail to take the Bible on its own terms. If we wish to follow the word of God, then we must take the entirety of God’s words into account. For example, when the Bible itself identifies some of its words as proverbs, it is bestowing upon those words less moral weight than other words that it identifies as commandments. The Bible itself tells us that some of its contents are songs, some visions, some histories, some dreams, some parables, and some commandments. The Bible itself also instructs Christians that New Testament moral directives supersede Old Testament moral directives. The Bible itself tells us that its moral principles supersede any of its moral “rules.”

The context of any Bible passage is as integral to its meaning as the passage itself. It may be appropriate to give equal weight to each clause within a business contract, each step within a set of mechanical instructions, or each rule within a game rulebook. But the Bible itself tells us that the Bible is not a uniform document, with each passage spelling out something clear and specific, and all passages having equal value. The Bible is not a rulebook for being Christian. [Tweet that.] We would be foolish to fail to understand that not everything in the Bible is a commandment, and that Christians cannot take a small section of the Bible out of its larger context, and still hope to gain a clear understanding of that section. Isolating a clobber passage from its context, and then claiming a sort of moral helplessness because “it’s in the Bible,” is failing to take the Bible either literally or seriously.

The Christian right, in other words, is getting—and has always gotten—the Bible wrong. And the excruciating irony of it is that they treat the Bible in precisely the manner they’re forever accusing the Christian left* of treating the Bible.

The most dependable weapon in the arsenal used by Christian conservatives against their liberal counterparts is the accusation that liberals fail to take the Bible seriously.

The conservatives’ kill shot has always been a silver bullet with four words engraved into it: “It’s in the Bible.”

A wife is to submit to her husband. A woman shouldn’t speak in church. Spare the rod, spoil the child. The Earth is the center of the universe. God’s plan is for the white man to have slaves. Gay people are a moral abomination. People who die without having accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior must spend eternity burning in the hellfire of damnation.

The conservative Christian makes this sort of ruinous proclamation, and then shrugs innocently, smiles with humble assurance, and says, “Hey, it’s not me saying it. It’s in the Bible.”

But much like the Hollywood movie publicist who cobbles together a glowing review from a savage one by carefully selecting from the latter a few choice words and then tossing the rest, the Christian right is ignoring the entire point of the Bible. Repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms, Jesus insists that equity, compassion, humility, fairness, and love supersede any specific “rule” in the Bible. Christ instructed us not by prohibiting specific behaviors and prescribing others, but rather, in principles and parables, making clear that he expects us to use our hearts, minds, and the Holy Spirit to translate his words into actions appropriate to our time and place.

God is all-powerful. If he wanted Christians to follow a simple, clear set of rules, then the New Testament would be a simple, clear set of rules. But it’s not. Because God wants Christians to think more than that, to intuit more than that. God wants us to be more than that.

The Christian right only pretends to take the Bible seriously. But what they actually do is to take out of context, and then take very seriously indeed those few and far between words in the Bible that serve to bring them (gee, what a coincidence) the very power that they want.

They do not serve the Bible. They use the Bible to serve themselves. And, incredibly enough, they’ve learned to turn that fact into the ultimate in offensive weapon.


 

*I personally am neither a liberal nor conservative Christian. I’m an Unfundamentalist Christian. If you are, too, come join us where we do our thing on the UC Facebook page.

Print Friendly

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Elizabeth

    Last sentence, fourth para from the bottom: Holly spirit. I have an image of a winged Christmas elf in my head. Love this piece, John!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Oh, how funny. Good eyes. thanks for the alert.

  • brmckay

    Excellent.

    In regards to that famous quote by Gandhi about Christ and christians, he would have been just fine with the the purity of this.

    Thank you for not settling for less.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      That’s kind of you to say, brm. thanks.

  • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

    It’s a funny thing. My mother-in-law, devout Catholic that she is, keeps giving me CD’s of lectures and books to read about why I should become Catholic and Amy should go back to practicing.

    One of the best points, though, from one of those lectures was a guy who said that the big Evangelical doctrine of Sola Scriptora is not found anywhere in the Bible. Which means, well, it’s an inherent paradox.

    That point seems to go along with this post. And this post is great. “Bible study” that ignores cultural context and meaning is not really treating the text with any kind of respect. Proof-texting is just absurd.

    • Lymis

      Actually, it’s not a paradox, it’s a fallacy. Jesus is explicitly quoted as saying that his followers were not ready for everything that they needed to learn, and that the Holy Spirit would come to continue the teaching. Unless that’s interpreted as meaning that the Holy Spirit’s involvement was solely limited to… ahem… ghost writing the rest of the New Testament, the Bible itself says the Bible isn’t the final say on anything.

  • Cindy Christ

    I loved your article. But what I want to know is – WHY DO THEY DO THIS? WHY DO THEIR LEADERS INSTRUCT THEM TO DO THIS?

    I knew what the central message of Christ was before I entered High School – by reading the gospels and taking them seriously. How can grown adults miss something that is so easy to see?

    These are educated people with jobs in the real world.

    I mean it – How can they not see?

    This is important stuff!

    • Barbara Rice

      Because in most churches, it is very, very important to toe the line. Do what your pastor says. Believe the Bible exactly the way the pastor describes. Dissent is seldom tolerated, never mind encouraged.

      If you have people in a congregation questioning what the pastor said – “Hey, Jesus said’ feed my sheep!’ He didn’t include ‘only if they’re actually looking for a job’!” – then the hierarchy is in trouble. If you question authority, there will be rumblings about “false teachers” and “Satan leading people astray.”

      Unquestioning acceptance is the norm in most churches. If you start to think differently, you won’t be a “seeker” – you’ll be a heretic.

      • cindy christ

        That still doesn’t explain why they are like that. Unquestioning.

        I grew up in a beautiful Catholic environment and church. In my part of the US, and at that time the Catholic church never told you what to do, except maybe for 10 minutes during the homily. I was taught unconditional love by the nuns in high school, and I thought that everybody knew who Jesus was. When I moved to a smaller town after having children I enrolled them in a strict fundie Lutheran school and church, and to say I was shocked was an understatement. I had no idea that people like this even existed in modern day society, and in this country. I felt like I was at a comedy show at times, and in kindergarten at others.

        And I was told over and over again how the Catholic church is not christian, how and why my faith was bad was shoved down my throat unrelentingly no matter how kindly I asked them to stop – even though I had converted to their church and became an officer almost immediately.

        When I saw how toxic this was for my children I whisked them out of there and never looked back. How they stay in that environment is something I cannot comprehend.

        • Lymis

          It’s a simplistic view, but it’s very telling if you consider how a very small child sees their parents, and the ways in which a child interacts to get its survival and security needs met.

          Things like “all-powerful” and “all-loving” and the need to do things exactly right or throw the appropriate tantrum to get attention, the urge to hog all the resources, and the (to a small child) incredible arbitrariness of adult behavior all map distressingly onto the way most fundamentalists see God.

          “Because Daddy said so.”

          “My Daddy can beat up your Daddy.”

          “Please, please, please, please, please!!!! I promise I’ll be good!”

          Most people’s religion isn’t ignorant, it’s simply infantile.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      We see what we want to see, for the reasons we want to see it.

      If you refuse to take actual moral tenets seriously, you don’t have to be actually moral, do you?

      • Anne

        Cindy, I have just finished reading an excellent book that will answer your question perfectly. I too used to wonder why there was so much difference in the way people saw things, especially when it seemed so logical. The book is titled “Putting On The Mind Of Christ” by Jim Marion.

        • Cindy

          Thanks for the reference Anne. I appreciate it and will definitely check it out.

        • Cindy

          Anne – It only took me a minute to review the table of contents on Amazon to get really excited about it. I expect to receive it this Saturday, and cannot wait.

          More thanks your way! Wow!

      • lemans71

        So you are saying that without an old book, which by the way, was written by men, edited by other men, and then is interpreted in wildly different ways by even more men, you couldn’t figure out what the right thing to do is?

        Do you follow all of the teachings in the bible or only the ones you happen to agree with?

        • Elizabeth

          Nah. According to Harold Bloom, the Jahwist writer of large portions of the first five books of the Bible was not only a literary artist with no intention of composing a dogmatic work but female. It made quite a splash twenty years ago. Let’s talk interpretation.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          lemans: You might find it worth your while to learn who the people you’re addressing are before wading in amongst them and starting to play the role of jibing provocateur. Failing to do that means running the risk of coming across as an arrogant, immature boor. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want to do that to yourself.

        • DR

          Oh, I didn’t see this. So you’re here to grind your specific ax.

          You’ve encountered a group of people who are quite willing to take our faith to task and call bullshit bullshit if that’s what it is – for example, how racism and homophobia have been traditionally and presently justified using “the Word of God” – but we’re also pretty good at identifying those whose “questions” aren’t actual pursuits but are axes to grind which yours seems to be. And that means your mind is more than likely closed and you’re just pissed which with all due respect, does nothing after you’ve vented to move anything important forward and all of the “wins” you believe you’ve had as a result of spewing are in your own imagination.

        • Lymis

          I don’t follow the teachings in the Bible at all. I use the Bible, as one of many sources, to inform my own moral convictions and moral choices. As an adult, I’m also fully capable of weeding out the stuff that doesn’t serve as a good moral compass.

          I can endeavor to love my neighbor and heal the sick and feed the hungry without feeling it necessary to stone unmarried women who have sex or avoid touching women who are menstruating.

          I can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit working in my heart and mind and still eat bacon.

          I can reflect on the amazing wonders of the unexplainable universe around me without needing to declare it was constructed in six days or burning animal corpses to please the God I see manifest around me.

          The Bible isn’t the only source of moral truth, but that doesn’t make it worthless, either.

          • Janet

            Lymis – Right on!

          • http://allegro63.com sdparris

            Exactly Lymis.

            We don’t need the Bible to discover God. The writers of the texts didn’t have it, the people who lived during that time didn’t have it, and for most of human history the majority of humanity hasn’t had it. Yet God has been worshipped, prayed to, followed, adored.

            I love the depth of the human emotion displayed in the Psalms, I love the stories of people being human, making lousy decisions, or preservering in the face of adversity. I love and do what I can to follow the teachings and examples of Jesus, and the peace I get from knowing that I am loved by God in a capacity greater than I can fathom. I am angered by the stories of atrocity carried out in the name of God, something still ongoing (you’d think we’d learn by now). I appreciate the cultural difference from ours, and appreciate how far we’ve come from the days where women had no voice, slavery was common and legal, and diseases and illnesses were the fault of the gods.

            To appreciate

            all that, and to know even with out this wonderful text, that God often finds a way to get our attention, makes me so not on the side of the right…

    • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

      I think that it’s deliberate.

      Grace is a very difficult message. God loves us not because we’re so good but because He is awesome beyond measure. I’m not better than anyone else, and I’m nowhere near perfect. But God loves me despite all of my flaws — because that’s who He is and what He does.

      But, if that’s the case, then I don’t get to moralize and belittle people. God doesn’t love me more than the people I don’t like. That’s tough to accept.

      Surely God likes me more because of whether I drink or not, how many kids I have, which political party I support, how much money I give, how I was baptized, how old I think the earth is, etc. compared to those people who do all of those things wrong. (Wrong meaning, of course, not the way I did them.)

      Sure, everyone should be able to see it. But a whole lot of people don’t want to because it’s uncomfortable. We want to have more control than we do.

      So, yes. I think it’s really completely deliberate.

      I’ve seen the quotation attributed to too many different people to know for certain whose it is, but as they say (whoever said it first) … God made mankind in his image, and we’ve been returning the favor ever since.

  • Anonymous

    John, Peanut Gallery,

    I showed up to the whole liberal/conservative Christian divide pretty late. What are the basic outlooks of the two schools, and how does Unfundamentalist Christianity differ from them?

    Man, that totally came out sounding like an essay prompt, doesn’t it.

  • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

    I’ve had more that one inerrantist tell me “They’re the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions”.

    Actually, no, they’re neither.

    They’re terms in a contract. God tells the children of Israel (in the only time He speaks out loud to a large group of people) that if they will do these ten things, then He will be their God and look after them.

    There’s no enforcement mechanism. No authority given to any human agency to enforce these terms: We either do them of our own free will or we don’t.

    Moses added a ton of stuff, often directly contradicting what God said (it’s pretty hard to turn “thou shalt not kill” into “kill anybody who disagrees with us” but hey, Mo found a way…). I’m not slammin’ Moses (well, not too hard, at least) b/c he did do a tremendous amount of good, he set limits on retributive justice, and he did have a buncha recalcitrant complainers he had to shuffle thru the desert, whipping them into a cohesive culture by the time they got to the promised land.

    But God set up the Decalouge to guide us, to steer us through the minimum basic requirements of living a just, decent life. Basically remember He is our God and don’t hurt anybody.

    As Christ quoted Rabbi Hillel: Love God, love your neighbor.

    • Anne

      Remember though in Moses time, the people still thought they had a God that they had to appease to receive His blessings. There God was believed to be a God of wrath as well as love.

      • Lymis

        Umm…. a large number of people still believe that today.

        • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

          Unfortunately true… 8(

    • Donald Rappe

      I feel it is almost impossible to overvalue the idea of the contract (or covenant) in interpreting both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. “I will be your God and you all shall be My people, … so you will not be having any other gods before me.” Not so much a commandment or suggestion as a statement of the divine will given through the prophetic voice of Moses. “I (JHWH) have bourne you on eagle’s wings.” The context is the covenant.

      • Donald Rappe

        In a similar vein, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom.” The context is the covenant. There is only one covenant, as there is only one God, although there may be newer or older understandings of it. “Behold, I make all things new. … Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”

    • Lymis

      In one of his “Conversations with God” books, author Neale Donald Walsch posits that people have reversed cause and effect – that the 10 Commandments aren’t orders from God about how people must behave in order to be in good with God, but rather that they are the inevitable consequences that arise out of already having developed a relationship with God.

      That things like honoring God, setting aside time to be in present in the awareness of God, honoring your parents, respecting other people’s relationship and property, telling the truth, not murdering people, and so on are the inescapable outgrowths of being in right relationship to God. And that, when these kinds of things start to arise, it’s a clear sign that people are getting away from the right path, not a list of punishable offenses.

      There are a few holes in the way Walsch goes about explaining it, (and it’s certainly not the way the Israelites understood it), but it’s an intriguing concept and an interesting approach to the idea.

      • Anne

        I like that Lymis, that occurred to me at one time too. It’s not that we “shalt not” as an order, but a statement, more like an assurance that God’s creation, man, is incapable of doing these things listed, and if it appears that he is, that that is not the man of God’s creating (which to me is the central message in Jesus’ teaching and healing work).

  • Anakin McFly

    Incidentally, in my current church study group on the topic of homosexuality and the Bible, one of the commonly reiterated points is that we shouldn’t take the Bible literally; we should take the Bible seriously. Which means reading everything in context, along with the overarching message of Jesus’s commandment to love.

    • Gary

      I love to hear that I am with a company of believers that realize that love and sacrifice for Jesus and others is the driving force in their lives.

      • Matt

        Gary: Of course. What else is there?

        And I love that distinction, Anakin. That’s actually very helpful for my understanding the Bible as well.

    • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

      “…we shouldn’t take the Bible literally; we should take the Bible seriously.”

      Bravo!

  • Anne

    I like that John, “they use the Bible to serve themselves”. It’s a bit like petitioning prayer, we perhaps forget that God is not here to serve us, but that we are here to serve God ?

  • lemans71

    I think that actually the question is not “Who is interpreting the bible correctly?” but rather, “If this book is supposed to be the perfect word of god why are there so many contradictions, errors and wildly different interpretations of what it supposed to mean of it?” Is it not obvious to everyone that it was simply written, compiled & edited by mortal men?

    • Elizabeth

      Yes, it is obvious. There are “so many contradictions, errors and wildly different interpretations” because we (as humans, not men as you keep emphasizing) are fallible. That’s why we’re forgiven. That’s… kind of the whole deal.

      Btw, I interpret the Bible correctly. I’m the exception to the rule.

      • Travis

        Elizabeth. Lemans71 chose “men” because it was only men who wrote the bible.

    • DR

      With all due respect, that is a great question but it’s not the question that’s being asked here. It might be another topic for another blog post but it seems to be derailing this particular topic.

      And there’s a more effective way of addressing people who like on this blog, are willing to take our own task to faith. This kind of question is often asked by many attempting to simply discredit faith in Christ and Christianity in general. If that’s not your intent, I’d suggest focusing on the questions asked and then asking at a different time, if your questions can be answered.

    • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

      Lemans71, please don’t imagine for a moment that most of us here haven’t already been through this.

      I’m sure that you think you’re the smartest person in the room, but it’s unlikely that you’re even close. Before you tell us what you think we should be talking about, it might be best if you wander around a little bit and notice that we’ve discussed that very thing some time ago. You actually need to do a lot of catching up before you start lecturing.

      But, thanks for your advice. If you’d like some serious answers, please hang around. You’ll learn something, I’m sure.

    • Lymis

      If the first question means anything, the second question is so integrally tied to it that you can’t separate them out to declare which is “the” question the way you seem to be doing. If the second question means anything, it leads so inevitably to the first that again, they are inseparable.

      For that matter, your second question is fundamentally flawed, because it bites it’s own tail with that “if this book is supposed to be the perfect word of God….” part – because that turns it back into the first question – the people who are claiming it AS the perfect word of God in the way you presuppose in the question ARE, by the nature of the rest of the question, the very people who are interpreting it incorrectly. Not everyone starts from that assumption, so limiting the discussion only to those who do does violence to the whole discussion. You just move that narrow view from the question to a fundamental assumed given.

      Whether or not “it’s obvious” to everyone that the Bible was compiled by men, there is a significant percentage of the Christian population that claims (often with their fingers wedged firmly in their ears and shouting at the top of their lungs) that they most definitely do NOT think it at all. Whether they are arguing that in good faith or not, they most definitely ARE arguing it. In today’s culture, there’s no way to meaningfully avoid the issue.

      Simply pointing out the contradictions in the Bible is as useless a tool on the one side as simply pointing to proof texts in the Bible is for the other. It only convince the already convinced.

      And of course, if your second question isn’t going to end up essentially pointless on it’s own, it has to be self-referential right back to the first question that you discount.

      Once we have an accurate understanding of where the book comes from, it still has to be interpreted in the context of our lives, our modern understanding of humanity and the universe, and the current culture in which we live – so even once “it’s obvious” that the book was written, compiled, and edited by humans, we still have to discuss what the correct interpretation is, and by extension, who is and who isn’t doing it.

      We also have to discuss what “correct” means in that context – most of us here would agree that “the correct” interpretation isn’t going to look like a single rigid dogma that applies identically to ever person, but more correctly as an invitation to a personal and personalized relationship to something and Someone far more than can be contained in a book.

      Which is, as I read it, more or less exactly what John is saying.

      • lemans71

        Thank you for your well thought out reply. As someone who likes to cut to the chase I still believe though that if you take out the whole initial premise that the bible was written or inspired by a superior being then all of this endless study, dissection and interpretation is a moot point, because it takes all of the weight of “because God says so in the bible” out of the argument.

        I guess I just see it as wasting time arguing who knows the mind of god based on a text that IMO is not the work of a superior being. Now, if someone wants to have a discussion about whether the bible has good philosophical and life advice in it that was written by wise men, OK, but that’s a different discussion. But where we are here arguing “We have it right. No, we have it right!” seems pointless because it doesn’t matter. We might as well be arguing over who is interpreting Dr. Phil’s most recent book correctly. And for the record, nowhere in any of his books does Dr. Phil suggest burning your children alive either so right off the bat, his advice could be considered superior.

        • Lymis

          Did you even READ John’s piece?

          • Donald Rappe

            It’s possible that lemans does not understand what the word “context” means.

          • lemans71

            Twice, just to make sure I didn’t miss something.

            He writes, as a statement of fact “God is all-powerful.”, which is making a huge assumption based on no evidence that a god of any sort even exists. He then states “Because God wants Christians to think more than that, to intuit more than that. God wants us to be more than that.”

            He knows the mind of god? What does he know that I do not?

            My original point was (or at least the one I was trying to make) that the whole bible & appeals to what (a) god would or would not want should just be left out of the discussion entirely because it’s taking as a matter of fact (that a god exists and he had some part in writing/inspiring a holy book) something that can not be know, or at least has been shown in any concrete way ever.

            I feel if you have a case to make for gay rights, make it using science, facts and logic. Whatever you may think of my stance towards religion I am a major supporter of gay rights in this country. I cannot fathom why anyone would judge who another person would love. It’s not anyone else’s business. I almost feel that by trying to get in a theological debate with these people (far right fundamentalist Christians) you are elevating to a level that they don’t deserve. It’s like agreeing to debate a creationist. It legitimizes them, again, much more than they deserve. JMHO.

          • Barbara Rice

            As DR said above, that’s an interesting question, and possibly subject matter for another time, but not the point of this post.

          • Anne

            Lemans71 “he knows the mind of God, what does he know that I don’t know?” Obviously A LOT. Unless one is aware of their spiritual sense (we all have it) it seems (to the unaware) that they (the ones that are aware) are talking rubbish (a bit like another language altogether).

          • lemans71

            Someone can claim anything, it does not make it so. Again, what does he (or anyone else) know that I do not?

            It’s important for you to understand that I am not making a claim that I know everything. In fact, I will be glad to go on record as saying “I don’t know.” to many of life’s mysteries. I am not the one making the claim to know something I can not possibly.

          • Lymis

            John doesn’t make any claim about God based on no evidence. He has repeatedly expressed the evidence that he has found in his live that God not only exists, but that God reveals himself to John in particular ways that John finds have changed and illuminated his life.

            Your statement that there is no evidence for the existence of God is a complete fallacy.

            I suspect what you intended to say is that you, personally, have not seen compelling evidence of the existence of God, or possibly, that you intend to misrepresent science to claim that science has no evidence for God or worse, that it has “disproved” something or other about God.

            For people who do, as you seem to think everyone does, base their belief in God on some particular understanding of the Bible, there’s something of a case to be made that disproving something in the Bible undercuts their claims about God.

            For people like the majority of those who post here, and, I dare risk speaking for John, for John, the basis of their belief in God is more on the lines of a relationship with a living Person than a logical conclusion drawn from the principles laid down in a book.

            So, just like I’d shake my head at you if I were close friends with some celebrity and you tried to claim that the person doesn’t exist because you’ve found inaccuracies in a biography of them, or inconsistencies between different biographies, the fact that a book about God has very real problems with it doesn’t need to impact my relationship to The One about Whom that book was written.

            You think you’re making some devastating point by haranguing people here about the Bible, when the majority of us don’t see the Bible the way you’re claiming n the first place.

            If you disproved every word of the Bible, all that would tell me is that the people who wrote it got the details about God more spectacularly wrong than I thought they had. It wouldn’t change my experience of the Divine in my life, though it might cause me to interpret parts of it in a new light.

            But a new light is “here is a better explanation for the reality of what you experienced,” not “Everything you think you experienced is simply a delusion.”

            I doubt you would find John claiming to know the mind of God. I could be wrong. But I don’t doubt that you’ll find John (and the rest of us) claiming to be able to explain what we feel God has said in our hearts and minds.

            And, if you’ll note something about this particular piece of John’s that I suspect you may have missed, in this piece John isn’t so much saying that they are wrong and he is right (though he’s not afraid to clearly imply that he thinks so), but rather, pointing out how they are not playing their own game by the rules they themselves claim to be playing it by.

            Whether or not there is a compelling argument to be made for one’s own view, it’s not out of line to point out where the other people’s argument breaks down even when you grant them their own givens.

          • lemans71

            “Your statement that there is no evidence for the existence of God is a complete fallacy.”

            One. Give me just one. Appeals to personal experience or “feelings” in your heart do no count as evidence. In thousands of years no one has ever been able to provide anything more than that so if you could you would be the first.

            The bible has little to do with my lack of belief, it is just that it was the bible that was discussed in the original post. IMO the words written on an old book could neither prove nor disprove anything. The “prophesies” in it are no more accurate than the average astrology horoscope you will find in today’s paper.

            John most certainly did claim to know what god wants; “Because God wants Christians to think more than that, to intuit more than that. God wants us to be more than that.” He knows this how?

            I have no problem with saying I am right and they are wrong when it comes to gay rights & I have no problem with making the case using science, facts and logic. By even even granting the Christian Right the nugget of “Well, I read & believe in the bible too but you’re simply not understanding it the way god intended.” puts you on just as unsteady ground as they are.

          • Elizabeth

            Wow. Get Lymis started on the genetics of sexuality. He’ll blow the top of your head right off. John can say anything he wants and then ignore you (notice?); it’s his blog.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            I’m tired of him now.

          • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

            You know, John, I started rattling off a detailed response to every point and then realized … there’s no point.

            There’s a conversation worth having, and this isn’t it.

          • Lymis

            “One. Give me just one. Appeals to personal experience or “feelings” in your heart do no count as evidence. In thousands of years no one has ever been able to provide anything more than that so if you could you would be the first.”

            By that measure, there’s no such thing a love, or happiness, or freedom, or, for that matter, no validity to any scientific evidence or experimentation done by anyone else, recorded history, or anyone else’s reporting of the existence of anything that happened outside your direct presence.

            In an effort to invalidate the existence of God, you just cut off the limb you were sitting on. Nothing whatsoever going on inside your own head means anything.

            I certainly don’t have to justify my experience to someone who doesn’t believe in science, or observed reality. Tiny little world you’ve created for yourself, there, buddy. I wish you the joy of it. The rest of us will be out here where there’s more elbow room.

          • lemans71

            A nice answer, but you could not provide a single bit of evidence for a gods existence. At least not one where a person could not just as simply inserted the word “magic”, a ” leprechaun” or ” Thor” in place of “God”.

            And with that, I leave you to have the last word. Cheers.

          • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

            Well, mathematically it’s impossible for there not to be something greater than this universe (Set Theory 101; every set must be a sub-set of a larger & greater set). Since there is no logical reason for anything to exist at all — not time, not space, not matter — it follows the source of this universe / dimension / reality we are in is something greater than what we can perceive.

            That is what I think most people would call the Divine. We Christians from a Western / European bent would call that God, many Chinese would refer to it as the Tao.

          • Elizabeth

            Thank you, buzz.

          • Lymis

            “A nice answer, but you could not provide a single bit of evidence for a gods existence. ”

            You’re really not clear on this idea of logic, are you? No, I didn’t choose to provide any evidence, because you’ve made it abundantly clear you won’t accept any.

            I have better places to cast my pearls.

          • Anne

            I think this guy still believes the world is flat and the sun goes round the earth. There’s just no “helping” some people. We will just have to leave him with his own ignorance for now. Pity though.

          • Christy

            lemans71, If we reframed God as something other than “a being” would that make any difference to you?

          • lemans71

            It would make a difference but what usually happens is the definition gets so twisted around and open ended that “God” ends up meaning something like nature/mystery/love. OK. That’s fine. But that’s not what people are talking about when they talk about the god of the bible.

          • Christy

            Your presumption is inaccurate.

          • brmckay

            “lemans71 – Appeals to personal experience or “feelings” in your heart do not count as evidence.”

            I am not speaking here for anyone but myself.

            I am not a Christian, but treasure this community because of it’s authentic sense of inquiry.

            The above quote indicates the problem. It represents the argument most often used by scientists.

            Here’s the thing. The only reasonable definitions of God must make reference to the Entirety, The All, The Infinite and all encompassing.

            Beyond the mere definition, the Reality of this engulfs the hearts Knowledge, as well as the Scientific method of proof. No distinction between.

            My favorite conceptualization is, “The Emergent Property of Infinite Potentiality”. Meditations upon which, provides the understanding, that the whole issue of God’s Existence is irrelevant. Any Existence that requires Non-Existence to provide it’s meaning, is engulfed by the Entirety.

            God neither Exists or does not Exist. This in no way changes God.

            The proof of this is beyond the reach of Science. Even the Heart or Intuition can only take us towards an understanding of it.

            Only the Suchness of its own nature, the Singularity of it, removes the doubt of reason or the reliance on belief.

            If you do not seek Enlightenment, you remain as you are. Asking for proof, or clinging to recycled ideas.

          • lemans71

            A great example of a “deepity”. : ) That was a very long, complicated way of saying “No, we don’t actually have any proof a god exists.”

            With that, I leave to let you have the last word. Cheers.

          • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

            Do you have proof atoms exist?

            Do you have proof that thought exists?

            Do you have proof, either way, whether your cat is sentient?

            If you answered no to any of these, then ow can you dismiss out of hand the concept of an existing God?

          • Lymis

            I find myself wondering how many times he’s going to leave to let us have the last word.

          • brmckay

            “lemans71 – Appeals to personal experience or “feelings” in your heart do not count as evidence.”

            I know your are long gone and actually think you have made your case. but…

            The anti-theistic insistence on “proof” of God’s existence always boils down to really meaning proof that a machine can verify. Sorry but you have miles to go.

            Being stuck in attack mode, against all creeds but your own; Surely equates to insistence on the King James Bible.

            Step outside the box, and open your eyes.

          • Cindy

            OK. I know that most of us on this board already know this but anyhow in response to Ken’s argument about the left and the right being on equal ground….

            Which of these sounds to be based on more solid ground:

            Believing in the words on a page. Period.

            Questioning the words on a page. Gathering the cultural and historical and linguistic background of those words. Comparing it to other words within that same book, as well as other books written at that time. Reading commentaries written by scholars with many different perspectives.

            Only then, understanding and believing in the meaning of the words on the page.

            It seems like a no-brainer to me. Nobody with open eyes would ever consider that the first choice would be better about anything, let alone what is the most important thing – one’s faith.

          • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

            Is there some other Ken in this thread, or did I say something I absolutely didn’t mean?

            ‘Cause I don’t remember saying that and don’t see where I did.

          • Elizabeth

            These post comments went all kind of crazy. Happy Friday!

          • Lymis

            “Twice, just to make sure I didn’t miss something.”

            Go for a third. You missed a lot.

        • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken Leonard

          “I guess I just see it as wasting time arguing who knows the mind of god based on a text that IMO is not the work of a superior being. ”

          Ironic, given how much time you’re doing that. Perhaps you don’t understand that John, and most of us here, are Christians. As such, we’ve given much time and thought into our beliefs and do, in fact, believe in God. That you do not is your choice. It would be nice if you would show the same respect to us.

          By the way, at no point does the God of the Bible order burning children alive. In fact, it’s prohibited several times. With that, to be honest, you have crossed into the category of random belligerent in my mind. You’ve chosen not to be a person of faith. Fine. I hope that that serves you well. Most of us here will not try to proselytize you. What makes you think that it’s a good use of your time to do so?

          Live long and prosper.

          • lemans71

            I can no more choose to believe in a god without evidence than you could choose to believe in bigfoot. Either you have seen the evidence and you believe it or you do not. You can not “will” yourself to believe something if, in your heart you do not.

            As far as the god of the bible ordering men to sacrifice their children, let’s just say that while we could go ’round and ’round on it in the end I’m pretty sure we could both come up with enough passages from the bible to make our caes & create a stalemate. That there could even be a possibility of a misunderstanding about it says enough for me.

          • Lymis

            There is a huge difference between “I have seen no evidence that convinces me” and “there is no evidence.”

            And you don’t serve your point by declaring what it is that you think people see as evidence that convinces them, especially when, for the most part, you get it wrong.

          • lemans71

            In thousands of years people have been trying to prove the existence of a god & no one has been able to so far. If you could do so you’d be the first.

            I’m sorry that there isn’t a nicer or more gentle way to say this.

          • Lymis

            Or, even, apparently, an accurate one.

          • http://unfinishedxtian.wordpress.com James

            Dan needs to get back from vacation and add a “like” button to John’s blog, Lymis, so I can go back and “like” every comment you have ever made but this one especially. ;)

          • Anne

            Try to prove the existence of “wind”…you can feel the wind and you can see the effects of the wind, so you know that wind definitely exists.

          • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

            I believe in a lot of things that can’t be seen.

            Gravity, f’r instance.

            Love, for another.

        • DR

          No one would expect someone who does not believe in a Superior Being to appreciate any kind of discussion regarding how it is interpreted. So sure, it doesn’t matter *to you* but to many of us here, it certainly does. No one is here disputing your decision and right to not believe in a Superior Being. Why you’re here challenging those of us who do as well as suggesting that those of us who *do* follow your line of thinking seems like an odd choice. I don’t have any desire to change your mind on what you believe or do not believe. Consider not trying to change anyone else’s if our faith is not doing damage to anyone else or perhaps, seeking out communities of Christians whose collective expressions of faith *are* creating such damage (there is a lot). While we don’t negate our responsibility in fixing that, it’s in our house after all, it would be best if those who were non-religious didn’t have to deal with the mess and devastation many Christians cause, consider applying a bit more of a discerning lens.

          • lemans71

            I speak up & try to make a case to moderate, liberal Christians because you are the ones that can have the most impact in changing the minds of your fellow Christians.

          • Lymis

            Phrased that way, it sounds noble and all, but in the context of everything else you’ve said, it really comes across as “You’re all delusional and completely wrong, but at least I can get you to listen to me, so maybe I can manipulate you into telling everyone else in the asylum that they’re idiots.”

            Wonder why that isn’t working for you?

          • Elizabeth

            I would never intentionally tangle with DR. If I may be so bold, though, I’d like to point out (along with Ken above) that you’re not ‘making a case’. You’ve provided no argument beyond dumb sheep believe an old book old men wrote. You’re proselytizing as doggedly as any fundamentalist.

            Many here welcome alternative points of view. Atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Pagans, whatevers. Personally, I appreciate it when they contribute scientific, philosophical, or academic perspective outside of traditional religious teaching. God gave us brains to use. I’m not any dumber if I credit God for my brain.

          • Matt

            If DR ever decides that she has a beef with me, I’m changing my name and fleeing across the border to Canada.

            Oh, and I’ll become a vegetarian. Can’t be too careful.

            (But yes. Thinking is good.)

  • Bill Rosenke

    One word: Pharisees

  • Matthew King

    I wholeheartedly agree with John’s commentary.

  • Craig J. Hornig

    The Christian Right is such an oxymoron. Why not label them the Christian Wrong. All I hear is hate and fear. The perfect antithesis of love and acceptance.

    • Donald Rappe

      Amen!

  • Susan Lander

    The Right appear to forget that the Bible was not dictated by God and that the current Bible’s new testament was written quite a while after the death of Jesus. They don’t take into consideration that the original version has been changed (Council of Nicea, for instance) and that over the years, mistranslations of words have happened, which has led to a lot of confusion as to what the Bible really means. They appear to believe that each word came directly from the mouth of God, with the writers just acting as scribes.

  • Gary Black

    The issue is that the Bible is a product of men, and is flawed contributing to endless debate and disagreement.

    • Kevin Gault

      Gary & Susan (below): I don’t think the problem is so much the text itself as it is the meanings people infer from the failed interpretations of men that have become tradition.

      • Gary Black

        ◄ 1 Corinthians 14:34 ►

        Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

        Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

        Titus 2:9-10

        Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

        Slavery, rape, misogyny are all found in the bible. The bible was written by men, no loving God would have written this, and if he did why would you worship him.

        If some are bogus, which I agree, then how do you tell which are which? It goes back to each individual person to decide.

        • Elizabeth

          “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Cool. I hadn’t read Titus in ages.

          Changing names is so postmodern, lemans. Harold Bloom is your guy. He teaches you how to pick out interwoven writing voices.

          • lemans71

            “Changing names is so postmodern, lemans.”

            Yesterday was the first time I’ve posted here.

          • Elizabeth

            Sorry. My bad. You can see how Gary Black reads like your doppelgänger, though, can’t you?

          • lemans71

            Yes, I can see how you thought that. No worries.

  • Elizabeth

    Oh! I just tried the tweet link. How cool is that?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      RIGHT??

  • Donald Rappe

    Amen, brother John. Well written and well thought. I believe this is exactly the right platform from which to address the “inerrantists”. A fellow commenter asks why educated people don’t see the obvious error of this interpretation. More than one biblical prophet tells us that these people have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear. The answer is always some sort of idolatry.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thanks, Don. Good to hear from you, as always.

    • Anne

      In fear of repeating myself (but it seems many of us are asking the same question) regarding why it seems only “some’ have ears to hear. Read Jim Marion’s book titled “Putting On The Mind Of Christ”, to me it explained the whole phenomena.

  • Joel

    All I can say is thank you. Being born and raised on the campus of the “Fortress of (fundamentalist) Faith” I still have my head screwed up by their brainwashing and the clobbering often comes in droves in my head. You make the issues so crystal clear.

    Thank you.

  • http://openmeditation.wordpress.com Jeff Fried

    John,

    I have been reading the updated version of UNFAIR on my Kindle and i just wanted to say how much i appreciate, and value, the changes. I am gay and i think that your discussion of the Bible at the beginning of the book is probably the most succinct, and accurate, presentation on the subject, making it a good one to share with friends.

    I wish you had said something about the fact that the Old Testament never mentions sex between women at all and the only New Testament reference is far from precise regarding its meaning. At the least i think this points to a possible bias on the part of the writers, and of course it could simply be a reflection of the disregard for women at that time, but given the number of stories about women in both Testaments i don’t think its the latter.

    You make the point that Paul couldn’t have written about same sex marriage because the concept did not exist. According to Wikipedia, that is not completely accurate because same sex unions were recognized in parts of the ancient world. See the first five paragraphs on the section titled “Classical Europe, Middle East and China” in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_same-sex_unions.

    From that text:

    Same-sex marital practices and rituals were more recognized in Mesopotamia than in ancient Egypt.[6] In the ancient Assyrian society, there was nothing amiss with homosexual love between men.[7] Some ancient religious Assyrian texts contain prayers for divine blessings on homosexual relationships.[8][9][9] The Almanac of Incantations contained prayers favoring on an equal basis the love of a man for a woman and of a man for man.[10]

    And in summary:

    A same-sex union was known in Ancient Greece and Rome,[2] ancient Mesopotamia,[3] in some regions of China, such as Fujian province, and at certain times in ancient European history.[4] These same-sex unions continued until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. A law in the Theodosian Code (C. Th. 9.7.3) was issued in 342 AD by the Christian emperors Constantius II and Constans, which prohibited same-sex marriage in ancient Rome and ordered that those who were so married were to be executed. [5]