7 years ago: The language of religion I

September 28, 2006, here on slacktivist: The language of religion I

True story from back at Timothy Christian School:

We were studying evangelism and the teacher was going over something called the “Romans Road” — a series of passages from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans that described humanity’s sinfulness and need for salvation. Evangelism, by definition, involves talking with people who do not already share our faith. Such people, I had noticed, also tended not to regard our Bible as their Bible, so I asked the teacher what we should say to someone who tells us they don’t believe in the Bible.

“You show them II Timothy 3:16,” the teacher said. And then she quoted it, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

When I suggested that someone who didn’t believe in the Bible wasn’t likely to believe in II Timothy any more than they believed in Romans, she responded by quoting another passage, II Peter 1:21, and then another from the 119th Psalm.

It went on like that for a bit, like something from Abbot and Costello, with both of us getting more frustrated as she quoted Bible verse after Bible verse about the authority of the Bible and me not doing a very good job of expressing that someone who doesn’t believe in Bible verses won’t be convinced by a Bible verse that tells them to believe in Bible verses. Until finally she said this:

“Well if they still don’t believe in the Bible after you’ve showed them all those verses, then I guess they just can’t read.”

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  • Baby_Raptor

    Somebody please explain to me how one could think belief is tied to reading? I have nothing here.

    Edit: Also, I wonder what this woman would say if I were to tell her that reading the bible is one of the things that made me *stop* believing?

  • Alix

    I love how people never realize how circular that argument is: the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true. And yet, other holy texts (or some other works) that declare they’re true because they say they are … are seen to be lying and wrong by these same folks.

    I mean, hell, by these folks’ standards, everyone should convert to Islam. The Bible was only inspired by God, after all, and the Koran was actually dictated by him. It says so right there in the Koran!

  • MikeJ

    As Homer Simpson said, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder.”

  • Ivkra

    Which is also why it’s incredibly difficult to argue with a Young-earth Creationist, especially one who already knows you’re a Christian. “But science has already proven the world is older than that.” “Well, I don’t know about all that, but II Timothy says the Scripture is inspired by God. You believe in God, don’t you?” “Uh, well, yes, but that doesn’t mean I believe every word of the Bible is literal.” “But it says in the Bible that it is all true!” “…yes, but those words were written by fallible men, so I don’t have to agree with them either.”

    I kept trying to remember all the arguments and proofs and posts I’ve read here that explain why a “literal” reading doesn’t make sense, generally making a hash of it, he kept trying to figure out how I could be a Christian without believing I the Bible [exactly as he sus], and by the time the student union closed and we went our separate ways, we were both pretty frustrated.

  • Lydia Nickerson

    Ok, that gives me flash backs.

  • stardreamer42

    Ah yes, the basic circular argument.

    “You must believe in this book, it is the Word of God!”

    “How do you know that?”

    “Because it says so, right here in the book!”

    And no, they just don’t get how that isn’t proof of anything.

  • Fusina

    It can get worse…I used to work in a religious (christian) book store. I had a lady come on one day looking for a bible, and when I asked which version she wanted, she responded, “I want the King James Version. I belieeeeeeve in the King James Version.”

    The only response I could think of, and one that I was not stupid enough to say aloud was, “That’s nice lady. I believe in God.”

  • Dash1

    My Sunday School superintendent gave us the whole “the Bible is the Word of God because it says so” talk and then announced (happily) that that, boys and girls, is called “circular reasoning”! He evidently thought it was a good thing.

  • InvertIntrovert

    My creationist science textbook at Christian school explicitly taught us about circular reasoning. Apparently, the evolutionary agenda was built on it. The chapter even contained a cartoon of a kid interrupting a scientist: “Wait a minute. You’re saying we know the earth is billions of years old because of the fossil record, and we know the fossils are billions of year old because the earth is? That sounds like circular reasoning to me!”

    Checkmate, atheists.

    I was pretty surprised when I went to public high school and learned about carbon dating.

  • Veylon

    Sometimes, you can use an analogy whereby you posit that a theoretical Muslim once told you that the Koran said that Islam is the one true faith. It’s not perfect, but it does pull them away from their comfort zone and force them to employ their imagination.

  • arcseconds

    I could kind of see myself saying something like this in frustration, if I thought someone just wasn’t getting what I understood to be plainly written there. I wouldn’t literally mean they couldn’t make any sense at all of marks on a screen, of course, but they were unable to really understand what the sentences were getting at.

    Fred’s teacher evidently takes the transparent meaning of those verses of the Bible to be expressing a necessary truth, and an obvious one at that.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Reading comprehension, in other words. Yeah, I follow.

  • smrnda

    I suspect people who tend to live in a bubble of like-minded folks don’t realize how unpersuasive this is; it’s kind of how people can regurgitate what they heard on Fox News and then be surprised that you don’t *believe* that taxes have increased under Obama.

    The idea of testing sources to see who and what is reliable is a skill that isn’t taught in schools enough.

  • J_Enigma32

    It’s become politicized, and schools tread carefully around political issues.

    Take a look at all of the unreliable sources: FOX News, Breibert. com, the Blaze, Creation. org* – these are all ideologically pure sources that people have been raised as seeing are as fair, and there are people who believe that the other side should be given a voice instead of laughed off the stage where they stand. This individuals will get huffy and mad when you suggest their pet sources aren’t reliable; if I were to attack all of the above in a classroom, there would be a huge mobilization against me in any given community (especially a strongly Republican one), not because I was teaching facts and warning students against these highly unreliable sources, but because I was attacking their pet sources, and things they believed in. I’d rightly be called a liberal, but for the wrong reasons.

    Facts are politicized, and opinions mean just as much as a fact does, if not more, because people can internalize opinions.

    * I can only think of one liberal new source that’s clearly biased to the left enough I’d rule it unreliable as a source, and that’s Alternet. Compare that with the 4 or 5 major media networks that are biased to the right, and a clear pattern begins to emerge as to where the bias lurks, but because those major media networks are doing the framing for a lot of people, they don’t see it and see anything that contracts their sources as being “liberal” – i.e., an enemy.

    Edit: I removed the hyperlinks

  • There are a couple I tend to view skeptically that get linked on FB all the time too, but I can’t recall which ones specifically — I want to say rawstory and huffingtonpost, though.

  • GDwarf

    I have had to face that in debates so many times…

    I, to paraphrase Babbage, am unable to properly comprehend the confusion of ideas that could lead to such statements.

    I can kinda see someone making that mistake and not realizing it once. It’s when you point out that their argument is circular and they don’t get it that perplexes me.

    It’s almost like they [can’t/won’t] look at more than one argument at a time, and so the circularity escapes them. You ask: “How do you know the Bible is inerrant?” “It’s the word of God” and that’s argument 1 answered. You then ask “How do you know it’s the word of God?” “It says so right here!” and that’s argument two settled and the fact that one and two are incompatible never really poses an issue.

  • GDwarf

    Huffington is all over the place. Or at least was a few years back, don’t know about now. Sometimes it has excellent stuff, and sometimes it has articles about how homeopathic chiropractic using quantum crystals from Atlantis will cure the Autism caused by the secret toxins in vaccines.

  • Given that authoritarians can also hold conflicting ideas in their head without suffering cognitive dissonance (“America is the greatest country in the world!” “America has been ruined by lazy moochers stealing government welfare!”), I suspect this feat is nothing new for their minds.

  • Yeah, the last time I had a look, the article I’d been linked to was discussing how soldiers are greedy mercenaries who need to not be paid even half as much as they are today.

  • J_Enigma32

    With the Huffingtonpost, I’d be careful. If it’s an article about science – no, you’d get better, more reliable science citing Talk Creation or the Blaze.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’ve had mixed results with Rawstory. There’s no arguing that they have some bias, but it’s more of a “Google this if it sounds extreme” compared to Faux’s “take everything with enough salt to kill a horse.”

  • Fox sets a pretty low bar, period.

    What I tend to look for is how much the site directly quotes related persons, as opposed to paraphrasing them (much less inserting an editorial opinion on what they said). Too much wiggle room for bias when it’s related as an interpretation of what they said.

  • Hexep

    How do they reply to this?

  • FearlessSon


    Creationists (do not) has it.

  • Alix

    Generally? Poorly.

  • arcseconds

    Well, of course, you can comprehend something without believing it, as per your original point. Fred’s teacher seems to think those Bible verses are like truths of logic or something: to understand them is to believe them; if you don’t believe, you don’t understand.

  • FearlessSon

    “Well if they still don’t believe in the Bible after you’ve showed them all those verses, then I guess they just can’t read.”

    I overhead the protesters outside San Diego Comic Con spout back this same kind of argument when a con-goer challenged them on it:

    “Have you read the Bible?”


    “Then why don’t you believe in Genesis 1:1?”

    I did not stick around for the rest of the debate.

    In any case, what we have here is a case of mismatched postulates. A postulate is a basic assumption of truth required to form an argument. For example, if I argue that an airplane that loses all engine power will eventually return to the ground, then that argument has a postulate assuming that gravity is true. The problem here is that one party starts with the postulate that the Bible is true, the other starts with the postulate that the Bible is not true.

    It is perfectly possible to shift the postulates one is currently accepting for the sake of an argument though. For example, I may not particularly believe in the Bible, but I can accept it as true for the sake of constructing arguments within its own context. Say, if we were debating the meaning of some parable in the Bible.

    I think where we come into an impasse is that trying to convince someone that the Bible is true requires a postulate that the Bible is true. That kind of circular thinking we already discussed. It would sound perfectly reasonable to (most) people who already share that postulate, but to someone who does not the argument is just going right past them because neither party shares certain assumptions in common.

  • Hexep

    Oh, I can imagine poorly. But I’d still like to know how they wriggle out of this one.

  • At best, they’ll dismiss it as fiction.

    At worst, they will say that the Koran was written by the Devil to tempt away people who might otherwise have become Christian. And the Devil, as the father of lies, is perfectly capable of writing a book that says that it’s the truth, but isn’t.

  • Dash1

    I find that my relatives who are still involved in the Plymouth Brethren generally talk about “Scripture” in places where I’d expect reference to “God.” “Scripture says”; “that’s against Scripture”; “What would Scripture say about that?”; “we need to follow Scripture”; “Scripture disagrees with that.”

    So far, I have not seen a lanyard with “What Would Scripture Do?” on it, but I wouldn’t swear it will never happen.

  • Dash1

    Generally speaking–my experience at least–this is what they say because they’ve been taught to say it. The object isn’t to have a good or valid answer but to have an answer.

    I’m reminded of a similar question, back in our youth group, when the subject of hell came up. One young man said, “Well, if people have trouble seeing how hell is consistent with a loving God,…” and then there was a pause as he realized he didn’t know how to finish the sentence. He ended it, after the pause, with “I guess they just need to read their Bible more.”

  • dpolicar

    I would expect that the very idea that something so obviously wrong as the Koran is somehow analogous to the Bible would strike them as ridiculous and not worth taking seriously, any more than me having sex with my husband is analogous to them having sex with their wives.

  • Random_Lurker

    “But the Koran isn’t REAL.”

    Yes, it’s happened to me.

  • Ross Thompson

    “But it says in the Bible that it is all true!”

    Presumably, your interlocutor believes that the following verses are also true, right?

    Jeremiah 20:7 – “O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.”

    Ezekiel 14:9 – “And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I
    the Lord have deceived that prophet.”

    In other words, the Bible, in it’s infallible way, clearly says that God deliberately lies to people with the intention of deceiving them. Unless they think the Bible is lying about that, how can they claim the Bible doesn’t lie?

  • You just need to read it in context, because it also clearly says that God is not the author of confusion! A day, a day, yada yada…

  • Lori

    It’s their business model. When you’re “paying” most of your writers in exposure (i.e. nothing) and you make your money off clicks editorial quality control is not your highest priority.

  • Lori

    Speaking of stupid, illogical crap spewed by Christians, OriginalMovie!Buck’s latest effort cleaned up at the box office.


    This success is clearly proof that Kirk is speaking the truth. Because when Christian media makes money it’s proof of it’s righteousness and truth. Unlike the success of secular media, which proves that it’s of the devil, designed to please those with “itching ears”. [eyeroll]

  • Jamoche

    I’ve been reading the badwebcomics wiki, and I just saw that comic a couple of days ago!

  • InvertIntrovert

    Wow, seriously? I thought that one was lost to the sands of time. Do you know where it was on the wiki?

  • Jamoche

    I hit a *lot* of them in the past couple of days – had one of those colds that puts your brain in neutral, so that was all the mental stimulation I could handle. But I’ll dig some more – it was linked off one of them, not embedded, which makes it harder.

    ETA: no, it was embedded: I thought it was one of the “After Eden” but it was Jack Chick. http://badwebcomicswiki.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Jack_Chick_Tracts

  • InvertIntrovert

    Weeird. The cartoon I remember was shorter and in color, but I could totally imagine someone stealing their talking points from Jack Chick. Which in a way, is almost worse than being Jack Chick.

  • Ross Thompson

    So… God was lying when he said he was lying, but when he said he can’t lie, that was totes true?

  • Ross Thompson

    Heh. I’m pretty sure there have been numerous documented occasions when people have encountered the Koran. Many of them taking place in well-lit conditions at close range.

  • You poor confused soul, Satan has deceived you. Bet you never even read the Bible. BlessyourheartIwillprayforyou *FLOUNCE* *BACK IN 30 MINUTES*

  • Couldn’t help but smile over this.
    I actually quite liked your original article “the language of religion” because it’s spot on when applied to any number of situations. Both “literalists” and “atheists” (whatever those terms mean, no pun intended) stake their position on their right to define all of the terms of the discussion.
    That’s why, for them, a term/word has to mean exactly what they say it means, or a verse has to mean what they define it to mean. Otherwise, the certainty of their belief system falls apart.