Not Loving the Bible

Not Loving the Bible April 21, 2018

In sharing a post about “loving the Bible” on Facebook, I summed up its point in this way:

You can heap praise on another human being, but if you won’t let them express themselves freely, but force them to say only things that you want to hear, you do not really love, honor, or respect them, no matter how much praise you heap on them.

That is precisely how fundamentalists treat the Bible…

Phil Ledgerwood then left a comment of his own that is worth quoting here:

A fundamentalist view of Scripture is like someone who who worships the ground their wife walks on in terms of reverencing her and praising her, but she isn’t allowed to speak for herself very often and she is expected to conform to all these standards her husband has whether she actually does or not. This view of the Bible is sort of like the stereotypical “pastor’s wife” as viewed by a congregation.

That seemed worth sharing with a wider audience. I also found myself wondering whether there is not something telling about the fact that the view of the Bible under discussion, and the view of wives under discussion, both are typical in the context of fundamentalist Christianity. What do you think?

See also Brandon Robertson’s sermon that he shared, explaining in detail why the Bible is not the Word of God. It is directly relevant to the theme of this post, in a way, because he explicitly says things such as “I really love, and I really dislike the Bible.” His discussion of how Protestants turned the Bible into the “Paper Pope” is also very helpful.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you think that Phil’s way of putting things is helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

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  • Realist1234

    ‘but if you won’t let them express themselves freely, but force them to say only things that you want to hear, you do not really love, honor, or respect them, no matter how much praise you heap on them.

    That is precisely how fundamentalists treat the Bible…’

    The problem with ‘progressives’ is that they often do exactly the same thing, or try to tell the Bible to keep quiet when it doesn’t agree with ‘progressive’ views – eg the divinity of Jesus, or homosexual behaviour.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      When it comes to the biblical data on “issues,” I agree with you. Progressives as well as conservatives as well as fundamentalists can all be equally guilty of tunnel vision when it comes to this. If you think the Bible is anti-war, you can go to the Bible and discover that you’re correct. If you think the Bible is pro-war, you can go to the Bible and also discover that you’re correct. And we can extend that out to any number of issues, including the ones you mentioned.

      With my comment, what I had in mind was more concerning what the Bible -is- versus a fundamentalist conception of it. A fundamentalist begins with the assumption that all the text in the Bible is a univocal word directly from God’s mouth verbatim and, as such, is clear in its basics to all people in all times, has no contradictions or errors, and is in fact accurate in every potential way a document could possibly be accurate.

      These are not things the Bible says about itself, nor would you arrive at these ideas from empirical examination. Ergo, they are standards imposed on the Bible. The Bible -has- to be these things. These are standards to which the Bible must conform because, if it didn’t, it would be worthless (so the story goes, anyway). That’s how the Bible is often treated by fundamentalists the same as a pastor’s wife in those circles. A pastor’s wife has to be holier than everyone else, a social butterfly, a counselor, a good cook, an outstanding wife and mother, a lay theologian, love to lead women’s devotional circles at tea time, and must always back her husband’s preaching. No one gets to know the “real” pastor’s wife because she is, instead, being the things everyone expects her to be. This problem actually exists to greater or lesser degrees for regular churchgoers as well.

      I will add, incidentally, these are often the same standards your average Internet anti-theist activist has for the Bible as well; the only difference is that they believe the Bible fails uproariously to meet these standards while the fundamentalist Christian insists that it does in every respect. It is a continual source of puzzlement to me that fundamentalist Christians and anti-theist activists pretty much read, interpret, and view the Bible in the exact same way, it’s just that one group thinks it’s all BS. I don’t know why this doesn’t give either group pause.

      Unfortunately, the actual, empirical Bible we possess does not show these signs. It shows signs of being a multivocal testimony that exhibits features quite similar to other documents at the time a given biblical writing was produced and, like those documents, appears thoroughly immersed in the worldviews and level of knowledge about the world that existed at the time. While it is possible, I suppose, for someone to formulate these ideas prior to examining the Bible and thus force the Bible into complying with these “progressive” observations, this seems far less common in Christian circles, anyway.

      • Nick G

        It is a continual source of puzzlement to me that fundamentalist
        Christians and anti-theist activists pretty much read, interpret, and
        view the Bible in the exact same way, it’s just that one group thinks
        it’s all BS. I don’t know why this doesn’t give either group pause.

        Maybe because this is standard liberal/progressive Christian rhetoric, bearing little relation to reality. In fact, most “anti-theist activists” will happily point out that you can find support for practically any moral/political position you like in the Bible, which is directly contrary to what fundamentalists say. Many of them will praise its literary qualities, andor apects of Jesus’s teaching (Richard Dawkins does the latter in The God Delusion, for example). But I’m sure you wouldn’t let mere facts get in the way of your rhetorical point, Phil.

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          I’m afraid you missed the point completely.

          For example, in Harris’ Open Letter to a Christian Nation his entire opening chapter depends on a fundamentalist reading of Scripture – a trend he continues through the rest of his book, his other books, and his blog.

          I have not read as much Dawkins, although I read The Selfish Gene two years ago and found it insightful although I think Dawkins does not allow sufficient room for natural selection as an explanatory force. I have not read The God Delusion, full disclosure, but I have been fairly unimpressed with Dawkins as a metaphysician in what public statements I’ve seen, and what I’ve seen also depends on a fundamentalist reading of Scripture.

          Hitchens, as well, and not only this, but although he is clearly more consistent in his argumentation that Harris (although, honestly, this is not difficult) and what I know of Dawkins, he shares the same fundamentalist reading along with the not atypical misunderstandings of key historical events.

          The point is, despite reading a fair amount of “new atheist” literature, I’ve yet to see a single comment on the Bible that doesn’t share fundamentalist assumptions.

          Let’s take your point, for example: if you read the Bible, you can see a variety of moral and political positions. This is true and, as you say, I doubt a fundamentalist would agree with that so far as it goes, but in order for that to function as a criticism, it depends on the assumption that the Bible -shouldn’t- have a variety of moral and political positions -if- it is supposed to have divine qualities. If that isn’t the case, then how on earth is it an atheist contention to point out the multivocality?

          My point wasn’t that fundamentalists and the particular breed of Internet Anti-Theist Activists (IATAs) agree on everything you can say about the Bible. That’s obviously untrue. My point was that they share assumptions on what the Bible must be and how it is to be read if the Bible is to be considered true or, in many cases, even worth anybody’s while.

          And this is quite demonstrably the case. Harris, for instance, has mentioned a number of times in both books and blogs that any -other- way of reading or thinking about the Bible besides the one espoused by Christian fundamentalists isn’t even worth considering.

          Maybe if you’d have been more interested in understanding me than a knee-jerk shallow reading and response, you would have seen that, but that’s largely how someone becomes an IATA in the first place.

          • Nick G

            I’m afraid you’ve missed the point completely. I understood exactly what you were saying – which you are now rowing back from (see below).

            There is, despite your complete dependence on exactly two examples (Harris and Hitchens), a range of views among “internet anti-theist activists” (IATAs) – unless of course you are defining the term so as to exclude all those who don’t conform to your description, would would be a rather pointless manoeuvre, except from a rhetorical point of view. I’ve already cited Dawkins*. Here’s part of what he says about Jesus (p.250 in the 2006 Bantam Press hardback):

            Jesus, if he existed (or whoever wrote his script if he didn’t) was surely one of the great ethical innovators of history. The Sermon on the Mount is way ahead of its time. His ‘turn the other cheek’ anticipated Gandhi and Martin Luther King by two thousand years…

            Now in your original comment, you said:

            It is a continual source of puzzlement to me that fundamentalist Christians and anti-theist activists pretty much read, interpret, and view the Bible in the exact same way, it’s just that one group thinks it’s all BS.

            The claim there is quite definite: anti-theist activists think the Bible is “all BS”.

            Now since the Sermon on the Mount is in the Bible, clearly Dawkins doesn’t think the Bible is “all BS”. But if your description doesn’t fit one of the most prominent “IATAs”, it’s clearly “all BS”.

            Perhaps realising that is why you watered it down (without admitting it), in your response to my comment:

            My point was that they share assumptions on what the Bible must be and how it is to be read if the Bible is to be considered true or, in many cases, even worth anybody’s while. [My emphasis]

            So now you implicitly admit that there is variation among what “IATAs” say of the Bible, and that some of them do consider that it has some worth.

            I could also, perhaps, cite myself as an “IATA” – I don’t have my own blog, but maybe I’ve made enough anti-theist comments here and elsewhere to count. I admit to thinking the Bible is of no use as a guide to morality, because it does, as you agree, contain contradictory moral and political positions. Nor, in practice, do either fundamentalist or liberal Christians treat it as such: both take their existing moral and political positions and mine it for support (and I admit at least some liberals are more honest about this than the fundamentalists). The Bible’s literary qualities are also very mixed – I was actually surprised at how mediocre or downright tedious much of it is when I finally got round to some systematic reading, but there’s no doubt parts of it are good stuff from that point of view. It is also an outstandingly rich source of historical information, if approached with the kind of critical scholarship James McGrath (for example) displays in that regard. So it would be absurd to claim that I think it is “all BS” because I don’t consider it “true”, in the sense that I don’t believe that what the vast majority of Christians take to be its central message – that there is a loving creator whom we should worship, and who Jesus of Nazareth in some sense embodies or represents – is true. If I did believe that was true, I’d be a Christian. And the reason I don’t think that central message is true, is not because the Bible contains contradictions, absurdities, and moral montrosities – because there’s no rational argument leading from the central claim to a claim that there ought to exist an ancient collection of texts asserting it, and without such contradictions, absurdities, and moral montrosities. The reason is that there is no good evidence or argument for the central claim**, and strong evidence against it (primarily, the existence of suffering and evil).

            *Of whom, by the way, I’m not an admirer – he, like Harris, is on the other side of the “deep rifts” within internet atheism that have opened since the notorious “Elevatorgate” controversy.

            **The nature of the Bible is of course relevant here, since if it was in some way or other inexplicable as the product of human writers and editors of the time when it was written, that would point to the likelihood that it had some supernatural (or at least, superhuman) origin. But the fact that it is not inexplicable in that way is simply a lack of positive evidence for such origin, not evidence against it. (Or only at most very weak evidence against it – we might ask why “God” didn’t make it clear that “He” had a hand in it, but there’s an all-purpose get-out clause – “He” is said to move in mysterious ways.)

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Well, yes, I am using my own definitions of IATAs, because what other definition would I use? There’s not a Statement of Faith or a standards body I can appeal to, nor are they even a formal organization (that I’m aware of – are they?) whose general statements and principles I could use as an authoritative description. You are claiming (let me know if I’m reading you wrongly) is that there are people who self-identify as anti-theist activists who do not fit what I described. You used yourself and Dawkins, which I’d like to point out is a dependence on exactly two examples.

            I was certainly speaking in generalizations and I take it as a given of discourse that people realize that not every single individual person is going to sign on to everything that characterizes the majority.

            If your take is correct, anyone who has ever said something like “Republicans want less gun control laws” should absolutely walk that statement back, because not all of them do. Or, if that same person said later, “I realize that not all Republicans want gun control laws,” according to you, this is some form of retraction. I think this is pedantic for the purposes of a side note in an Internet comment thread, but obviously if someone pointed out, “Not all Republicans want gun control,” they’d be correct, and perhaps that correction might even be important given the direction of the discussion.

            In the same manner, when I said the one group thinks it’s “all BS,” obviously I didn’t mean someone thinks literally every single statement in the Bible is a falsehood. Most anti-theist activists, for example, would agree there was a Pontius Pilate and an Augustus Caesar. Proverbs says, “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,” and I assume almost anyone of any ideological stripe would agree with that.

            But what’s worse is that I even clarified for you what I meant, and you’re insisting that my own articulation of my own meaning is not a correct representation of what I meant – it’s a walking back – but that your own reading of what I said is correct. I said “all BS” and therefore, the only authoritative meaning is that “all” in this context means “every single bit of content,” regardless of what I might have actually meant when I said it – which, by the way, is a very fundamentalist way to read it, but I digress.

            This is not some careless aberration of language; this is the way we use language all the time (I did it again there – I said “all the time,” even though there are actually occasions where absolutistic language is not used to indicate a generality – I hope this parenthetical note doesn’t count as walking back my position).

            If you feel that such usage with regard to these subjects is a dangerous or misleading lack of precision, ok, I’ll take that under advisement. If I offended you because you felt that my words painted with too wide a brush and you were misrepresented because you identify with this group, then I do apologize and I mean that. I know what that feels like. People regularly say, “Christians believe…” followed by something I, personally, don’t actually believe. And sometimes I bring that up, but I also don’t think it’s bizarre for them to express it that way because, frankly, the overwhelming majority of Christians usually believe whatever they said, and I don’t expect them to provide a footnote or additional clause acknowledging that there are exceptions.

            But if you’re trying to convince me that anti-theist activists actually think of the Bible as generally true and valuable, then I’ll need to see more than a proof text from Dawkins, and I’m fairly sure that’s not what you’re trying to claim, anyway.

          • Illithid

            I hypothesize that vocal atheists are reacting to the version of Christianity that has damaged or offended them, which is likely to be fundamentalist. Many atheists were raised Christian, but the ones for whom leaving is traumatic, involving alienation from family and friends, including emotional or even physical abuse, are likely leaving more strict and controlling sects. Many atheists are rejected by their churches for their sexual orientation or gender identity; again more likely in a fundamentalist church.

            I was not raised Christian, but have experienced abuse for my sexuality, invariably from fundamentalist Christians. I’ve also had vehement arguments with those who insist on a literal 6-day creation rather than an old Earth and evolution. Guess who? Consequently, the Christian I’m most accustomed to debating is a fanatic who gives every indication of wanting to burn me at the stake, and it’s that type of faith I’ve learned about. It’s only in recent years that I’ve made an effort to broaden my experience. I knew intellectually that non-hateful Christians existed, but they weren’t on my radar at first.

            I have a good friend who has as little belief in any god as I do. But his parents were UUs, very relaxed and tolerant of differences. Not once in 30 years have I heard him raise the subject of religion or worry much about it. Believers never impacted his life much, so you won’t find him arguing about it online.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            So, let me start out by saying that I’m sorry for the abuse you’ve suffered from Christians for your sexuality. It’s inexcusable, and I’m sorry you suffered for it.

            I think you have a really good point about people reacting against the version of Christianity that hurt them, which is almost exclusively a fundamentalist version. I’m going to circle back around to your point, but from a different trajectory.

            I generally draw a distinction between “atheists” i.e. people who don’t see that there’s enough reason (or any reason at all) for them to believe in a god, so they just don’t have that belief, and “anti-theist activist” which is a more missional movement. For them, the nonexistence of God is a both a positive statement and a coalescence point for identity and a sense of self and, under that umbrella, self-worth.

            For such an individual, the issue is much greater than “lacking a belief in God” but rather a sort of battle for vindication of a positive ideology – one that the individual believes will serve the world better than a theistic ideology, which is commonly held to be a primary source of the world’s ills.

            The only reason I bring that up is because I don’t really consider the second group to be atheists who are more vocal, aggressive, or acidic. There are plenty of atheists who are vocal, aggressive, or acidic who do not adopt their atheism as a matter of positive ideology or identity.
            I think of them as different, not just by degree, but by type. A fair amount of them would disagree with this, no doubt, but I think the lived out actions as well as the self-concept of the two groups bears out empirical differences, even if there’s some overlap.

            Where this comes into your point is that many in this second group used to be fundamentalist Christians, themselves. There is no doubt in my mind that, during this time, they may have been deeply hurt by other Christians. But I’m not sure if the issue is mostly that someone became an atheist, was persecuted by Christians, and as such migrated to anti-theism and specifically targeted fundamentalist understandings of Scripture because that’s who hurt them – or if the issue is someone was raised reading the Scriptures that way and retained that same basic reading even in the course of virulently reacting against it when they left the church for atheism. In other words, the Bible still “says” what they thought it “said” back in Sunday school, it’s just now seen to be largely nutty.

            I’m personally inclined to think it’s more the latter, but that’s anecdotal. I’d be very interested in seeing actual statistics on it.

            I do know that Sam Harris was not raised as a Christian, and when I read Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation which I’ve read three times now at the request of one of my anti-theist activist friends, it seems like a rather lot of his argumentation is, “The Bible says (INSERT FUNDAMENTALIST READING HERE) and therefore is crazy.” Interestingly, he handles the Koran in exactly the same way. The fundamentalist reading is assumed to be “what the Koran says,” and then he argues against it.

            Maybe the issue is more about black and white literalism that transcends ideologies. I don’t know.

            BTW: The Illithid is my favorite DnD monster.

          • Illithid

            I think your proposed scenario is also valid. It’d be difficult to research with any rigor, especially since human motivations are so rarely clear-cut.

            I’ll admit to retaining a certain vestige of that literalist outlook. Take the Deluge, for example. The tale isn’t presented as a parable or myth, but as something that actually happened. Jesus is quoted as referring to it in a fairly straightforward way. And yet there’s no evidence it happened, except perhaps as a local flood of some river valley that some people based a story around. So a Christian who accepts geological science has to come up with an explanation for why Jesus seems to have thought it real… an explanation that looks rather contrived.

            I can understand someone who says “this book is true, and any evidence to the contrary is being misinterpreted”. It’s more difficult to comprehend someone who understands that a lot of things in the book are just plain wrong, but who continues to believe other, equally fantastic parts of that same book. It seems somewhat intellectually dishonest. Part of me always wonders with some bewilderment “why not chuck the whole thing?”

            I don’t know if that qualifies as ideological atheism. I think skepticism is a useful mental outlook, one that prevents adoption of many false ideas. I think skepticism, the (provisional) acceptance of only those propositions for which there is good evidence, leads naturally to atheism. I think our world would be somewhat improved if more people operated in that way. I don’t think religious believers as such are stupid, crazy, or evil, or that all our problems would evaporate if everyone discarded religion, but I do think it would improve life in some areas.

            Thanks for your concern; I’ve mostly gotten over it. When people hate you, it’s easy to hate them back, and it’s also easy to target that hatred too broadly. It’s taken a few decades to realize how damaging that is, and to let it go… to the extent that I have. A work in progress.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Yes, you’re quite right. Motivations are not clear cut, either among groups or even in a single individual, and I need to keep reminding myself of that when I start getting cynical and/or self-righteous.

            I’m curious as to why you think the Deluge isn’t presented as myth. It’s an ancient Near Eastern story of primordial origins. I mean, like most ancient myths, it doesn’t actually say, “This is a myth,” but the genre pretty much defines it that way, right? And like many ancient myths, there probably some historical elements in or behind the story, but the story exists to make a point, not to give a journalistic account of events. In fact, I’m not even sure “journalistic account of events” was even a thing until much later on the world stage – certainly long past any of the biblical writings.

            It is also true that Jesus refers to the story. “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man.” Although, you can refer to a fictional story for explanatory power. I can say something like, “Trying to thread that string through that washer is like Luke trying to hit the exhaust port on the Death Star” without implying that there was a historical Luke or Death Star. We also have ample evidence that rabbis well before Jesus read Genesis allegorically, although it’s also entirely possible that Jesus did believe the Noah story as written as actual history.

            But I think your critical question is the right one: if these stories are not all literal history, of what value are they? As you know, this is also the critique of Christian fundamentalists as well.

            Part of the answer lay in the critical process of how we determine the historicity of ancient writings. Genre is a big factor in that. Time period is another. Independent testimony, source integrity, on and on. There’s also the recognition that something may not have happened exactly as written but still have a historical event behind it as well as the recognition that history and the fantastic are fairly commonly interwoven in ancient histories.

            But another part of the answer lay in what value we’re trying to get out of a text. For instance, the story of the fox and the grapes is entirely fictional, but that’s also entirely irrelevant to the value of the story. Ancient rabbis found the text in Genesis valuable and formative even though they saw it allegorically. There was at least one large sect of Judaism in Jesus’ day that did not believe in supernatural beings or resurrection from the dead. Those were not Jesus’ views, but I think it illustrates that people can derive value (and even religious faith!) from texts that they do not understand as literal documentation.

            I can only speak for myself at this point, because now we’re at the point at what a person is looking for and what they’re getting out of something, but when I look at the biblical writings, I see a people’s story about their relationship with their God over a rather long period time as told through their eyes, memories, experiences, and interpretations. By nature of the case, such writings are going to be constrained by the worldviews, prejudices, limits, and flaws of the authors.

            To my eyes, I find the overarching threads both consistent and compelling and it motivates me to faith in the God who I believe is back of these experiences and writings. Maybe it’s because of my conditioning as a child, maybe it’s because of my own insecurities in life, or any of the other many explanations people have for religious faith. But I am not a credulous person, and I have to live my own life and be content with that, and I find that I believe in God and I also believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I recognize those are faith commitments and not statements I can make on the basis of historical/empirical verification.

            I’d like to think that, even apart from those beliefs, I’d still be a moral person who wants to make the world a better place full of compassion and justice for everyone of all religions and no religion, and perhaps I would be. I think I would be; many people are. But the person of Jesus as I find him in the gospels calls me and challenges me in these areas and pushes me not to sit on my laurels but constantly deepen my compassion, my commitments to justice and mercy, the care of this planet, and the welfare of my fellow man.

            So, that’s my story as it brings us to this point. I used to be a fundamentalist. And ten years from now, who knows where I’ll be with all this? But it’s where I’m at right now.

            If you read all this, you deserve a medal or something.

          • Illithid

            I did read it all, twice. No worries, I’ve written more than that today already, as I’m in two other concurrent discussions. You seem pretty reasonable, honestly, and those are decent answers to my questions.

            I wasn’t aware of the rabbinical tradition of Genesis as allegory. The problem arises of deciding what is myth and what is fact, and what sort of method you use to decide that. I don’t see how one can consistently allow that the Deluge, the Exodus, the walls collapsing at Jericho, the sun standing still for Joshua, etc., are myth, but the stories of Jesus raising the dead and the virgin birth, and the resurrection, are reality. My rejection of all the supernatural events described throughout the book is at least consistent.

            Be careful! Start valuing the OT stories as allegory and sacred myth, that teaches us moral lessons despite not being literally true, you may come to see the Gospel accounts in a similar light. Then you wake up one day and realize you’re an atheist. It’s happened before… 😉 Even if that epiphany doesn’t occur, your last several paragraphs certainly portray someone with whom I can peacefully share a planet.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Well, I try. Thank you for the kind words.

            I think the virgin birth is a myth, too, btw.

            At the same time, I do think the gospel accounts are of a different sort of writing than the compilation of primordial myth that is Genesis. They’re more of what I consider to be ancient historiography. While they obviously have a specific intent in mind, that also generally describes most ancient historiography as well. Sort of the difference between the story of Romulus and Remus and Suetonius’ account of Vespasian’s life.

            You are not the first person to warn me that I might be on my way to atheism, and I know enough about how people change to never say never, although from where I stand right now, what I think is more likely – if I end up making a significant worldview shift – is that I would come to view all religions as flawed testimonies to an encounter with something transcendent that is back of them, even if I came to view the New Testament as primarily fictional. Honestly, depending on the day, that’s very close to how I sometimes feel about religions, anyway, including my own. Other days are different. I’m looking into weather-based theories of epistemology.

            I’m glad we can peacefully share a planet, too, because the alternatives are very unpleasant. I consider atheists who are working for a more compassionate and just world to be allies, really, and I also think this is consistent with at least some strains of New Testament theology.

          • Illithid

            “I’m looking into weather-based theories of epistemology.” LOL. Nice chatting with you.

        • Realist1234

          I dont always agree with Phil but I think he is basically right on that. Ive found, in discussing Genesis 1 for example with atheists, that they typically insist that it must be understood literalistically and no other way, just as many ‘fundamentalist’ Christians do, and then argue it’s complete nonsense to believe God created the Universe in 6 literal days. Indeed if you suggest a non-literal way of understanding it they accuse you of coping out. As an evangelical, I believe we should at least try to understand Scripture in the context in which it was written and not assume every word is to be understood in a literal way. But ‘progressives’ are as guilty of forcing a particular meaning into the Bible to suit their own world-view as fundamentalists.

      • Realist1234

        ‘A fundamentalist begins with the assumption that all the text in the Bible is a univocal word directly from God’s mouth verbatim and, as such, is clear in its basics to all people in all times, has no contradictions or errors, and is in fact accurate in every potential way a document could possibly be accurate.’

        – probably a fair description. I have a more flexible view. For example, in recording the words of Jesus, it is clear that when the Gospels describe the same event, His words are not always exactly the same. I would argue they reflect the gist of what He said, rather than a word for word dictation. But the main meaning is the same. That, I think, reflects on the eyewitness element of the Gospels.

    • Saying, in essence, “I know you are but what am I” is never a meaningful response, but even less so when it doesn’t reflect an actual understanding of the views held by those one disagrees with and their rationale for holding them. To be sure, there are some progressives who pick and choose in a potentially problematic manner, but even then they are not pretending that the Bible doesn’t say other things. Honestly disagreeing with one’s spouse is not the same thing as the quote talks about!

      And of course, your assumptions – that the Bible talks about “the divinity of Christ” or “homosexual behavior” in the sense you mean those phrases – involve matters of interpretation that you cannot simply sidestep in the way you attempt to, since progressives and liberals only pick and choose with regard to these matters if the Bible means what you assume it does. As someone who has written a book on Christology and monotheism, I think there is a more substantive discussion that needs to occur which your brief insulting comment as usual obscures in an unhelpful way.

    • Saying, in essence, “I know you are but what am I” is never a meaningful response, but even less so when it doesn’t reflect an actual understanding of the views held by those one disagrees with and their rationale for holding them. To be sure, there are some progressives who pick and choose in a potentially problematic manner, but even then they are not pretending that the Bible doesn’t say other things. Honestly disagreeing with one’s spouse is not the same thing as the quote talks about!

      And of course, your assumptions – that the Bible talks about “the divinity of Christ” or “homosexual behavior” in the sense you mean those phrases – involve matters of interpretation that you cannot simply sidestep in the way you attempt to, since progressives and liberals only pick and choose with regard to these matters if the Bible means what you assume it does. As someone who has written a book on Christology and monotheism, I think there is a more substantive discussion that needs to occur which your brief insulting comment as usual obscures in an unhelpful way.

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        This is sort of an ongoing discussion I’ve had off and on with Realist – the tendency of evangelicals to assume their reading of the Bible is “what the Bible says” and critique other positions from that standpoint.

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        This is sort of an ongoing discussion I’ve had off and on with Realist – the tendency of evangelicals to assume their reading of the Bible is “what the Bible says” and critique other positions from that standpoint.

        • Realist1234

          To be fair to me (!), I want to see convincing evidence for an alternative view before changing my mind. I dont think that’s unreasonable. I have, for example, changed my view to some extent on the ‘traditional’ understanding of ‘hell’ after looking at the arguments.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Well, I do want to be fair to you, and I appreciate that you’re willing to suspend certainty on various topics. “Hell” is kind of a big deal to evangelicalism, so I don’t want to minimize the fact that you’re willing to reconsider that.

            But what you described is something of a different attitude toward that subject than what I heard you saying in your initial response. Maybe I misread you, and I apologize if so, but to say something like, “Progressives ignore the verses that teach the divinity of Jesus,” indicates that Jesus being divine is the biblical position and, if a progressive doesn’t hold to that position, it’s because they’re deliberately ignoring the Scriptures that would otherwise refute them.

            I’m not saying there aren’t people that describes. I’m sure there are people like that with almost any issue you can imagine. But were you to read the arguments about the divinity of Jesus coming from progressive scholars – let’s say James Dunn or even our own James McGrath – I think you’ll find that it isn’t, “Here are the verses that clearly disprove the divinity of Jesus. There are no other verses that mention this topic.”

            No, it’s a matter of interpretation. You may decide that a reading of the New Testament that does not support the divinity of Jesus is not a convincing reading, and that’s fine, you’re in good company. But “I consider Side A’s arguments and interpretation more convincing than Side B” is a different statement than “Side B ignores Scripture.” Know what I mean?

      • John MacDonald

        As someone who has written a book on Christology and monotheism, I think there is a more substantive discussion that needs to occur which your brief insulting comment as usual obscures in an unhelpful way.

        I think the sense of the Hebrew scriptures seems to be that prophets are conduits for the power of the divine, not that they have power independent of “God the Source” (see the impotence of the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20-40). Jesus follows this model, and hence Mark says Jesus, as a fallible human prophet, can’t perform miracles in his home town (and see Mark 6:5-6), since this is what is “God ordained” about any prophet.

        • Realist1234

          I dont think it was to do with His ability to perform a miracle, but He chose not to ‘perform’ given the widespread unbelief towards Him. Also if there was widespread unbelief towards Him, then few people would actually come forward to be healed etc, thus He was only able to heal some. That would accord with Matthew’s description.

          I would also point out that the Greek ‘ouk edunato’ when used elsewhere in the Gospels typically implies a choice, rather than a genuine inability to do something. For example, in Luke in the parable of the Great Banquet, one of the invitees gave the reason for not attending, ‘I just got married, so I cannot (ou dunamai) come.’ But in reality he had the ability to attend the banquet, but he chose not to (in his case because he viewed his wife as having a higher priority). There are other instances in the NT that show this use.

          • John MacDonald

            Mark is invoking an understood “Prophet archetype” that says Prophets are without honor in their hometown, and as such are unable to perform great works there. Mark seems to be emphasizing that the greatness is the power of God, not the power of the prophet. It’s the same way Moses couldn’t perform miracles until God appointed him to do so. We also see the impotence of Jesus’ power when he begs God for help in Gethsemane.

          • Realist1234

            Jesus is not just a ‘prophet’. As for ‘We also see the impotence of Jesus’ power when he begs God for help in Gethsemane’, this shows your complete ignorance of Jesus’ purpose. The ‘hour’ had come.

          • John MacDonald

            The Gethsemane Pericope shows Jesus in a terrible panic, begging God to change His plan of Jesus needing to die, or at least suffer terribly.

      • Realist1234

        ‘To be sure, there are some progressives who pick and choose in a potentially problematic manner, but even then they are not pretending that the Bible doesn’t say other things. Honestly disagreeing with one’s spouse is not the same thing as the quote talks about!’

        – I disagree. The impression I get from progressives is that they want to change the meaning or understanding of the traditional view of the Bible’s teaching, because it does not fit with their own world-view. It is not that they genuinely believe the Bible does teach this or that and they disagree with that teaching, but rather they try to argue that the Bible doesnt actually teach what others thought it taught. That certainly applies to the 2 examples I gave. But I have yet to see convincing arguments for changing that ‘traditional’ understanding. BTW did you read my response to you re Daniel – I wondered what you thought, particularly of the link I posted?

        • John MacDonald

          Freud wrote in Civilization and its Discontents,

          “The whole thing [that is, religion] is so patently infantile, so incongruous with reality, that to one whose attitude to humanity is friendly it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. It is even more humiliating to discover what a large number of those alive today, who must see that this religion is not tenable, yet try to defend it inch by inch, as if with a series of pitiable rearguard action.”

          • Realist1234

            Im not sure Freud is the go-to opinion on religion. I did enjoy ‘Forbidden Planet’ though lol. Ive even seen the musical!

          • Gary

            Since the subject of religion by Sigmund Freud is so negative, I wonder what Sigmund would say today about any “benefits” of religion. In particular, it seems like as an overall concept, religions (Christian or non-Christian), emphasize limitations on human compulsions, which tend to have negative effects on life. Too much food, too much sex, too much liquor, too much tobacco, too much coca. Not to say that religion followers actual practice this kind of limited asceticism, as the religion specifies. But I think Sigmund would have lived longer if he was a Mormon, and followed their principle of no smoking, no drugs. Might have worked better than Sigmund’s psychoanalysis…maybe. Anyway, I think I wouldn’t put too much weight into Sigmund’s philosophies of life.

          • John MacDonald

            I think Freud would say it’s ridiculous that adults, who have long abandoned lies/fairy tales such as those about Santa Clause magically visiting the home of every good child in the world on Christmas night, still believe in lies/legendary fairy tales such as those about Jesus casting a magic spell to multiply the loaves and fishes, or God casting a magic spell to raise Jesus from the dead.

            And then there is one of Dr. Bart Ehrman’s favorite arguments: the problem of suffering. How can an omni-benevolent/present/potent/scient God allow such things as five year old children to dying of cancer? That isn’t love. To be sure, many other types of gods are possible (eg., evil, impotent, insane, indifferent), but an all powerful, all loving God seems highly unlikely. Christian apologists often respond to issues like cancer and earthquakes and the like by claiming God promises justice in the next life, not this one, but then the question becomes why God created this life at all? As Marx said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

            That isn’t to say there aren’t respectable arguments for God’s existence. The cosmological argument says that if we trace the origins of the universe back to the Big Bang, the question then becomes: How did the materials that made up the Big Bang get there in the first place? Positing a completely natural cosmological explanation seems to lead back to an infinite regress of how it all began. This all sounds good for theists, but it is a “God of the Gaps” Thinking Fallacy. For instance, the ancient Greeks did’t know why the sun went across the sky during the day. This was a “Gap” in their knowledge. So the Greeks speculated that the god Helios dragged the sun across the sky. Similarly, theists point out that “how the material that made up the Big Bang got there in the first place” is a Gap in current scientific knowledge, so they speculatively invoke God to fill in that Gap. But the fact that science doesn’t have an explanation now doesn’t mean science won’t know some day. Theists make a similar thinking fallacy when they conclude that since evolutionary biologists don’t have an explanation as to how the first instance of life started on earth, then it must have been God creating it.

          • Gary

            John – I didn’t mean to argue that there is or isn’t a God/God’s. Or if Jesus did this or that, or even existed. I was arguing that there are apparent benefits to religion, in general. Even if there may be downsides, too.
            Freud, when I was in college and took Physcology 101, was rather respected in his Id, Ego, SuperEgo BS, which I think is pretty much trashed now. Everything related to sex, now seems as much a fairy tale as Santa Claus. About the only thing of value as a freshman in Physcology 101 in those days, was to be used as a lab rat in upper division student’s brain experiments. Freud probably saw “visions” and “dreams” while on Cocaine, all related to sex, so I tend to dismiss his expertise.

          • John MacDonald

            Oh, sorry, I misunderstood. I guess the Secular Humanist in me always wants to stand up and say claims like “Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes” and “God raised Jesus from the dead” are semantically identical to, and have as much evidence/ground as, claims like “Zeus magically impregnated Danaë.” As for Freud, he had massive influence on the field of Psychology/Psychiatry, especially in the discipline of psychoanalysis.

      • Realist1234

        I didnt mean to insult so I apologise for that. My main point was that Ive found ‘progressives’ just as guilty of ‘forc (ing) them (the Bible) to say only things that you want to hear’.

        • As I said, I have seen that too, and so would continue to encourage you to expand the range of liberals and progressives that you have conversations with!

  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    I love reading the bible. It is part of my daily life. I am not a fundamentalist, nor do I believe in the literalness of the bible. I believe that when you take the stories as metaphors they become much more thought provoking, truthful, and meaningful for people of varying stages of faith.

    What I have witnessed about the difference between the way a fundamentalist, and a progressive reads the bible is that the progressive works hard to understand the heuristics, the history and the context of the verse within the chapter(s). I find fundamentalists rarely do this, and often pluck one verse out of many – which, is nearly impossible to do if one wants the truth about the section of the bible they are attempting to understand.

    Another difference I have found is that fundamentalists quote old testament verses more in a stand alone fashion. Personally, if an old testament verse goes against the actual words of Jesus I don’t quote it (very often).

    Lastly, if I want to know what the bible says about forgiveness, or judging, or love, I do a search on all the New Testament verses with those words in them, and study all those verses diligently.Each instance of such important topics as these has subtle nuances that can NEVER be understood when read as a standalone verse.

  • Would love to contribute to the discussion, but I’m getting “detected as spam, and blocked.” Curious to see if this comment gets through.

  • Ok, the last comment was excepted. Something in the sentence structure of the comment I made this morning is blocking me. I will reword things and try again. Hopefully you don’t get multiple identical comments eventually. If so I will delete them.

  • Continuing with the theme of marriage…
    Perhaps we do all come to the Bible with personal agendas, but Phil’s statement resonates with what I know to be true, in large part among evangelicals and fundamentalists. What has happened historically within orthodox Western Christianity is that in the development of the Christian canon, in the development of the various creeds, in the creation of various denominations, the church has built a framework of understanding scripture that subconsciously “bends” the Bible to meet certain religious and philosophical presuppositions. Fundamentalists would point out, I’m sure, that progressives do that very same thing: bend scripture to meet their own presuppositions.

    Fair enough, but the key to fruitful dialogue between conservatives and progressives has to start with a willingness to examine those presuppositions for validity and whether those presuppositions promote a “healthy” religion or a toxic one. It is interesting that Phil chose to frame his statement within the marriage context, that of the Bible being the faithful “wife” and the fundamentalist as being the “husband.” I am reasonably sure fundamentalists would state just the opposite, that they are the dutiful “wives” obeying their husband, God’s Word. It is interesting to me because the marriage image is so often used in both the Hebrew canon and the Christian, as an apt metaphor for mankind’s relation to the Creator.

    For me, where the marriage “hits the rocks” among conservatives is when literalism becomes the “glue” that holds their marriage together. It tends to promote a “contractual” relationship with God, where the contract becomes the object of adulation rather than God, the husband. This is due, at least in large part, to the Reformers, who raised scripture itself on to such a high pedestal that it detracts from our marriage to Christ.

    I think conservatives miss the irony that Jesus spoke in parables when they scour the scriptures for propositional truth statements. They are missing the fact that scripture uses, as Gary Dorrien calls it, “true myth,” to impart spiritual insight. The conservative church is not content with the beautiful poems and allegories her husband brings her, but obsesses with the marriage license, reducing the relationship to hard facts. In doing so, conservatism misses the broader truths that parables and myths bring. The search for propositional truth stops short of discovering broader principals of living and applying Christ’s teachings. Instead of a developing love story the Bible becomes a rule book, a legally binding document stipulating the terms of the marriage agreement.

    Don’t get me wrong, as a progressive Christian I have great respect for the Bible, but I am not married to it. I am married to Christ, and it is he whom I desire to please. The Bible is very valuable in helping us understand how to best serve God and others, but if it becomes the focus of our adoration, it becomes idolatry.

    • Ah, 9 hours later my comment finally goes through! LOL. Had to reword it a bit. The spam filters are a bit of a fussbudget apparently.

  • Eric J Kregel

    I recently referenced this blog in my own, a synthesis of your original point. I hope this is alright. I submit this to you with the utmost of respect and encouragement to your writing. Please let me know if this, in anyway, does not work or is something other than encouragement. Here is the link: https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/christian-how-healthy-is-your-marriage-to-the-bible/