bible beater

bible beater cartoon drawing by nakedpastor david hayward

My kids were talking about the phonebook thing the other night. Apparently, police can beat up a suspect under interrogation with a phone book without leaving any signs of abuse. Of course, it’s a movie myth.

But bible beating is not a movie myth. I talk with people every day who’ve been spiritually abused with the bible as the primary weapon of choice.

You can understand why they would never want to read the book again, at least for a long while. Even hearing verses that sound sweet to our ears and are like honey to our souls pierce their hearts like knives.

What’s particularly ugly and cruel about spiritual abuse is that it is harm covered in honey.

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  • Carol

    When I first read the Bible as an adult convert in the MS Lutheran Church, it was such a good read that I couldn’t put it down.

    The problem was that, without a life time of theological conditioning, I interpreted it differently than the other people in my church. I read it as a narrative/love story and they read it as a rule book/metaphysical treatise.

    I quickly read the Scriptures through two more times so that I could spot when the texts were being taken out of context and used to intimidate and manipulate. “Text without context is pretext.”

    I found it interesting that Satan quoted Scripture in the text describing the temptation of Jesus. To Satan’s quote from Scripture, “It is written . . .” Jesus was always able to reply, “It is also written . . ..”

  • Of course the bible can be used as a weapon. Anything can be.

    But the bible is also, when used properly, the vehicle to heal and set people free.

    It’s not supposed to be a lawnmower manual or a self-help book.

    It’s a book that shows us our need of a savior, and points to the only Savior that we need.

  • Carol.

    In our Lutheran congregation, we are theologically conditioned to read it as a narrative/love story. We anyone tries to use it as a guidebook for living, we are quick to point out to them their dismal failure, and point them back to the Savior.

  • getting ready for work…typing too fast (errors) sorry…

  • Kris

    Hahaha…when I saw the title I thought of the movie Saved where Mandy Moore is hitting the girl with the Bible and saying “I am showing you the love of Christ.”

  • A Different Michelle

    Yes to Carol. That sounds a lot like my own experience.

    It’s certainly not only pastors who do this. In fact, it’s not even pastors who necessarily do this the *most*, when the standard for everything it that it must be “biblical”…

  • My parents were missionaries as I grew in their home. The is family is one that carries a very fundamentalist conservative theology. The bible was, and still is, an answer book to them, one that must not be questioned. I too, carried this view, for quite some time, but 8 years ago that all changed. To this day, it is hard to stomach versus from the bible. While I carry a great respect for it, I am trying to reprogram my thinking and appreciation for it. It has been years since I have cracked open it’s pages, for fear of approaching it and having those fundamentalist views resurface.

  • Carol

    I think we sometimes forget that Christianity is an Oriental/Eastern religion and untill we learn to “think Hebrew” we will not be able to “rightly interpret” Scripture.

    The Golden Rule: “That which is hateful to you do not do to another … the rest (of the Torah) is all commentary, now go study.” – Rabbi Hillel

    “There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scripture inside. But reading sacred text can put it on your heart, and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”
    — Anne Lamott (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

    In Judaism it was possible simultaneously to ascribe change of purpose to God and to declare that God did not change, without resolving the paradox; for the immutability of God was seen as the trustworthiness of covenanted relation to his people in the concrete history of his judgment and mercy, rather than as a primarily ontological category. –Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition—Vol. 1.

    Quite simply, we are supposed to move toward love. Mature religion’s function is to make us
    capable of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, and care for others. When religion is not creating people who can reconcile things, heal things, and absorb contradictions—then religion isn’t doing its job.
    When we stopped teaching the contemplative mind in a systematic way about 400 to 500 years ago, we lost the capacity to deal with paradox, inconsistency, and human imperfection. Instead, it became “winners take all” and losers lose all. Despite all our universities and churches in Western Christianity, we learned to choose one side over the other and if possible, exclude, punish, or even kill the other side. That’s dualistic thinking at its worst; and it’s the normal mind that has taken over our world. It creates very angry and often, violent people. Peace and happiness are no longer possible, because there is always a crusade to be waged and won. That is ego at work and surely not soul. ~Richard Rohr

  • Carol

    Today’s meditation reminded me of the importance of using the Scriptures maturely:

    To be redeemed is not merely to be absolved of guilt before God, it is also to live in Christ, to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, to be in Him a new creature, to live in the Spirit.~Thomas Merton

    When the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:
    They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to, “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms.

    They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them).

    They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart.

    Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 64-65

    The Wrong Way to Read the Bible

    Two opposite errors exist in approaching the Bible. One is not to read it. The other is to know it so well that you miss Jesus. Jesus pointed out this error: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

    Are you surprised to believe this error exists? We constantly talk about reading and studying the Bible as an unqualified good. But clearly, the way we read the Bible is just as important as reading it.

    Missing Jesus

    So how can you know if you might be reading the Bible, looking for life, but missing Jesus completely? Here are a few clues:

    You read the Bible to reinforce what you believe, not challenge what you believe.

    You imagine yourself as the type of person who believes the things you read about.

    You think the things you read are especially applicable for people you know, but not for you.

    You imagine yourself as the hero of the story, not the person or people who are unbelieving. You frequently ask in your heart, “How could these people be so unbelieving?” For instance, when you read the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert you might say, “How could those Israelites grumble about food and drink when they just saw God part the Red Sea?” But you are completely blind to how you grumble at work or home when you’re afraid of losing something.

    You love the attention garnered from your knowledge of the Bible, but give little thought to how you have applied what you have read.

    Maybe the Bible should come with a warning label: “Beware: reading this book incorrectly will make you twice as fit for hell as when you began.”

    Don’t miss Jesus. Go to him and find life.

    Matthew 23:15 (New International Version)
    15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

    Becoming a Christian is not so much inviting Christ into one’s life as getting oneself into Christ’s life. ~Orthodox Study Bible
    What is the paschal mystery?

    The Paschal Mystery, is the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord into glory. The Paschal Mystery is the central mystery of the Christian Faith, celebrated at the Easter Triduum with a sublime and unique solemnity.

    The Term ‘paschal’ is derived from the word ‘pasch’, not simply because the events from the Last Super through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ happened to coincide with Passover. The event celebrated by Passover — the deliverance of Israel from enslavement in Egypt — is itself the anticipation of the full deliverance won by Christ for the whole human race.

    Spiritual Development Program

    30. Living Paschal Mystery

    Central to understanding Christ is to understand the Paschal mystery. However, we tend to think of it only as Jesus’ passion and death. Actually, the Paschal mystery is Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and Pentecost. What were historical events became ongoing process and is at the heart of Incarnational spirituality.

    No longer limited by time or geography, the Risen Christ has created through His ongoing Incarnation in us real-time, on-line continuity with Jesus’ earthly Incarnation. Especially with His passion, death, resurrection and gifting us with His Spirit. When we enter deeply into this Paschal mystery, we experience Christ on two levels.

    First, we are connected more intensely with Jesus in His passion and death. When we prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ passion and death, not as something outside of us but as something inside of us, we are not just creating concepts and images of the suffering and dying Christ in our minds. We are unleashing a dynamic process. We are unleashing the indwelling of the Risen Christ, Who gifts us with His Spirit Who pours the love of God into our hearts. Through this process, we identify more closely with the sufferings of Jesus such as those in the Garden of Gethsemane and His death on the cross.

    Second, in encountering the Paschal mystery we are connected more intimately to the Risen Christ as we live our own lives with their many passions, deaths, resurrections and transformations by the Spirit. In his book, Intimacy with God, Cistercian Father Thomas Keating explains the connection in this way.

    As Christians, we believe that Jesus in His passion and death has taken upon Himself all of our pains, anxieties, fears, self-hatred, discouragement and all our accumulation of wounds that we bring from our child hood and our childish ways of trying to survive. That is our true cross. That is what Jesus asks us to accept and share with Him. When we enter deeply into our experiences of the Paschal mystery, we are entering into something that has already happened, namely our union with Jesus as He carried our crosses. Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is our cry of a desperate alienation from God, taken up into His, and transformed into Resurrection and gift of the Spirit.

    Again, we unleash a dynamic process as we identify our many passions and deaths with those of Jesus. Gradually we place our faith in the Indwelling of the Risen Christ and place our hope in Jesus’ victory, entrusting our wounded lives to Him. Gradually, the Spirit strengthens our faith through the gifts of wisdom and gradually enlightens us with self-understanding, enabling us to fathom our compulsions and weaknesses. Gradually we experience being healed of our emotional wounds and the wounds we have inflicted on our conscience. All of which leads us to greater love of Christ.

    However, the impact of our entering deeply into the Paschal mystery does not stop at our own self-healing. As the love of the Spirit is poured forth in our hearts, we bond with others in the Body of Christ and act as channels of the Spirit’s healing of the world. Fr. Keating writes “We will not know the results of our participation in Christ’s redemptive work in this life. One thing is certain: by bonding with the crucified One we bond with everyone else, past, present and to come.”

    In our spiritual journey we will invariably encounter many deaths—the death of our youth, the death of our wholeness, the death of our dreams, the death of our honeymoons. They can be Paschal deaths, deaths that are real but do not end possibilities if we take them to the crucified One and set in motion the process of identifying with Jesus and allowing the Spirit to empower us to live our new lives. If we allow them, our Paschal deaths will open up Paschal resurrections and achieve greater intimacy for us with Christ.

    First Posted June 19, 2001

    2001 NY Cursillo (English).

    The typical moralist sees grace as a means to fulfill a commandment. He puts the commandment in the first place and sees the difference of Old and New Testaments in the observance of the Decalogue. In the Old Testament they did not have the grace to keep the commandments; now in the New Testament they have sufficient grace if they use all the means, the sacraments, and so on. This is an anthropocentric, moralistic approach which makes the grace of Christ and finally Christ Himself only the means for the law, for the commandments . But primacy is not the law, the commandments “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”; the primacy is our Lord, who in his grace, his tremendous love, comes to encounter us. –Bernard Haering, C.Ss.R., Redemptorist Moral Theologian

    A moral theology built on the authentic Gospel will be a far cry from a stoical morality built on duty and obligation, both deduced from some cosmic law of nature.–Fr. Joseph Oppitz, C.Ss.R, Autumn Memoirs of St. Alphonsus Liguori

    “Alas for the blood of Jesus Christ, despised and trampled underfoot by Christians, nay by priests under the pretense of re-establishing the purity of doctrine and fervor of Apostolic times!”–St. Alphonsus Liguori on the Jansenists

    Why most people, including professing Christians, choose to live by the Law instead of the Gospel’s Paschal Mystery:

    Excerpt from THE ETHICS OF FREEDOM By Jacques Ellul

    Freedom in Relation to the Powers

    Liberation in Christ frees us not only from the flesh but also from the powers. Here again some explanation is necessary. The Bible speaks of forces which subjugate man. These are distinct from the flesh, which in some sense assimilates itself to man. They are not just evil and rebellious powers. They are not just powers which scripture has rightly or wrongly, realistically or mythically, personalized. We have to take the term ‘power’ in its broadest sense, for the law and religion can also be described as powers.

    Liberation from the law is liberation from a power. We find ourselves in the common movement whereby man loses his freedom when he uses it against God and receives it when God re-establishes dialogue with him. God imposes a commandment on man. The decisive and constantly repeated act of man is to separate this word from the one who speaks it and to try to make it his own.

    Adam did this. Faced by the one commandment of God, he isolated it under the serpent’s influence. He set God aside and controlled the commandment by giving it another point and meaning. Finally he made the commandment into a word of his own by himself saying what is good and evil. The relationship with God was thus broken and Adam’s finitude became his alienation.

    Now the Old Testament shows that this process as constantly repeated by man. It was especially repeated by the chosen people; Paul brings out the implications of the changing of God’s commandment into law. We must not think, however, that the process was peculiar to Israel. At issue here is the relation of all men to God, and particularly of Christians.

    As is shown by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and also in the exhortations in the New Testament epistles, we constantly separate the commandment from him who speaks it. This means that it ceases to be a living word. It is a living commandment only because he who formulates it is the living God. Apart from him this word becomes a dead word comparable to any quotation from any author. It no longer draws its value, force and authority from the one who has spoken it. The commandment is not seen to be true for man because God is the true God. It now derives its authority from itself and its content. Man can thus evaluate its content according to his own criteria, e.g., reason. It is no longer invested with what God reveals himself to be for us, namely, love. Once we isolate the commandment from him who speaks it, it is no longer the commandment of love. It necessarily becomes word alone, and as such constraint, duty , and obligation.

    Above all, when man separates the commandment from God in this way and sees it only as commandment, it becomes man’s own word. He can then go on to treat it as his own word. He may still view it as the supreme and perfect word, but it is still the word of man. We should note this well, for it is still true even though, like the Jews, we continue to maintain explicitly that we regard it as the word of God.

    What we are describing is not a philosophical or theological attitude. It is our natural and unconscious inclination. It is our innermost tendency even though in good faith we believe that we are defending the word of God. This always happens when we legalize the commandment, when we isolate it, when we try to obey it to the letter, or conversely when we dismiss it easily by saying that it is outmoded, when we make a summary of it (an ethics), when we bring it into our own circuit of good and evil, when we use it in our own lives to justify ourselves (before God) or to condemn ourselves (in God’s place), when we harden it into a reality that has been declared once and for all, when we measure it by our own standards, or when we take possession of it in exposition, discussion, or dissection. In all these common and familiar attitudes we seize the commandment of God and make it our own word.

    This brings dialogue with God to an end. When we make the word of God our own word we simply talk to ourselves. Our dialogue is with our own reflection in a mirror.

    Why do we unconsciously separate the commandment from him who speaks it? It is because the latter makes us uncomfortable. He disturbs us by his incalculability, by his actuality, by the weight that he gives to his words. We prefer to deal with mere words, with a formula which is stable, which does not budge, which we can count on, which enables us to estimate our chances.

    A strange thing happens, however, when we make this separation, when we seize the commandment and make it into our own law, so that the living word is only past scripture. We believe that in so doing we shall establish our power over this law and to some degree make it a chattel of ours. Instead, we invest this law itself with power.

    The power that we have denied to God ( the power of love) is transferred to what we have made an emanation of our own, namely, the law. But now it is legal, moral power. It is an implacable power of judgment that hangs over us. We have made the law into a law of death. We wanted to make it into something else, but we are caught, for the law is a much weightier matter than we supposed. It was given by God. It was invested with power by God. It cannot be changed into a mere object in our own hands. It cannot be something mediocre and neutral. It was the word of life and it is not going to become a mere phrase in fiction. It becomes the course of death (Romans 7:7-13).

    The law itself becomes a power over us which constrains and binds us and pushes us further and further away from God. This is what the Bible is showing us when it describes the exaltation of the Torah, the adoration of the word and letter, and the fanatical obedience that will lead to conflict with the Son of God and ultimately to his death. For we should not forget that when we deaden the commandment so that it is no longer the place of dialogue with the Father, when we make of it our own word and thus break off the relation with the love of the living God, this does not simply mean that we quarantine ourselves and shut ourselves up in a ghetto. It means that we do violence to God himself. God willed to be love, and in refusing this love we bring about the death of God.

    In the form of word or law or morality, the law invades our lives. It becomes a crushing and oppressive power that drives us away from God. It brings us under the attraction of evil and makes the good sterile and desiccated. It becomes demanding and mingles with the moral systems of the world except that it is infinitely more rigorous, being a power in a sense that moral systems can never be. It takes possession of our lives. Thus man comes to be made for the sabbath. Man himself brings this about, but only because the law comes from a higher place than man. This is why the law becomes a source of bondage. …… ‘In reality a new bondage has been set up, a gilded bondage in some regards, for the moment man was brought under the law he was given the hope, in spite of all the evidence, that a means was given him whereby he could please God and escape his wrath.’ This was possible only because the law itself not merely had power but had itself become a power with its own intrinsic authority. This is why it can enslave and why its threat continues even to our own day. …… ‘we are always in danger of being satisfied once more with a purely external law, alienating our freedom, through sloth or false comfort, by complying with the order outlined by the law. We are constantly tempted to reinvest our freedom in unimaginative obedience to commandments. Hence the commandment replaces our freedom and takes charge of our moral existence.’


    “There is no worse present than freedom. To view freedom as a privilege is to surrender to the absurd ideology that man is free by nature, that he is made for freedom, and that only minor obstacles like economic or political constraint prevent him from being fully free. This fails to take into account that whenever man has made a beginning of liberty he has taken fright, retreated, renounced his freedom, and sighed with relief at being able to put his destiny finally in the hands of someone else. Freedom is the most crushing burden that one can lay on man. In his vanity and boasting man pretends that he wants to be free. He also has a visceral fear of confinement, conditioning, and servitude. What he calls his love of freedom, however, is really his rejection of imprisonment. It is a revolt against slavery, which he cannot tolerate. Once a little freedom is offered him, however, he starts back at the sight of the void which he must now fill, the meaning he must now provide, and the responsibility he must now carry. He prefers the happy state of belonging to a group. He wants a mediocre happiness which brings no risks.”

    –Jacques Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom

    Excerpts from Jacques Ellul’s The Ethics of Freedom:

    ‘To say, then that the Christian is liberated is not to say that he is superior or that he enjoys an advantage. There is no worse present than freedom. To view freedom as a privilege is to surrender to the absurd ideology that man is free by nature, that he is made for freedom, and that only minor obstacles like economic or political constraint prevent him from being fully free. This fails to take into account that whenever man has made a beginning of liberty he has taken fright, retreated, renounced his freedom, and sighed with relief at being able to put his destiny finally in the hands of someone else. Freedom is the most crushing burden that one can lay on man. In his vanity and boasting man pretends that he wants to be free. He also has a visceral fear of confinement, conditioning, and servitude. What he calls his love of freedom, however, is really his rejection of imprisonment. It is a revolt against slavery, which he cannot tolerate. Once a little freedom is offered him, however, he starts back at the sight of the void which he must now fill, the meaning he must now provide, and the responsibility he must now carry. He prefers the happy state of belonging to a group. He wants a mediocre happiness which brings no risks.


    We are not dealing, then, with a privilege, superiority, or dignity that has been conferred on Christians. The situation of Christians is, on the contrary, very dangerous, uncomfortable, harassing, and ambivalent. Christians are set very definitely in a situation which is ‘against nature.’ This is often forgotten. In Jesus Christ they are called upon to overcome and to shatter the nexus of determinations to which we referred earlier and which according to modern science constitutes the true nature of man. They are to do this at the level of the most elemental determinations, as Jesus showed when he overcame hunger, or when he mastered pain in the freedom of prayer, interceding on the cross for those who put him to death. This is against nature.

    Freedom, in fact, demands unceasingly that we set aside what seems natural to man, that we break free from our conformism and cultural setting, that we rise above our tendencies and inclinations (not loving father or mother more than the Lord), that we break our beloved chains and even at times our self-consistency, as in the case of Jesus, who on the one hand attacks riches and yet on the other hand does not hesitate to visit the homes of wealthy tax-collectors when they invite him to feasts as Levi did.


    The Christian can always lose his freedom, as we shall see, although it must be recalled that freedom is not the equivalent of salvation by grace. If he does, he is tragically responsible (1) to himself for not having been what he was summoned by grace to be, and (2) to others for not having represented freedom to them and therefore for having aggravated their bondage and alienation. For the introduction of freedom into the world by Christ means that freedom which is not assumed and lived out is not just a lack. It is a fatal poison for men, as we shall see later. It can sterilize and render inoperative the lordship of Jesus Christ.

    If what we have been saying is true, namely, that this lordship is always mediated, that it is exercised through men and not otherwise, that it can manifest itself only by way of free men, then only freedom which is lived out in the world is a sign of the presence, work, and efficacy of the lordship of Jesus Christ. Hence to lose this freedom, to fail to practice it, is to render impossible the efficacious work of the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is to hand the world over again to a life as though Jesus Christ were not the Lord. This is the ultimate responsibility of every Christian. This is the responsibility one should have in view when he talks of the Christian as a servant.