Drawing Belief from the Bible

Kevin Miller, filmmaker behind Hellbound? and Expelled and blogger in the Progressive Christian wing of Patheos, is wondering why some people change their minds, and why some people don’t.

This question has become somewhat of an obsession for me ever since I worked on the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. As I plunged into the often vicious debate over evolution, I couldn’t help but wonder how so many intelligent, educated, well meaning people could look at exactly the same data and come away with such drastically different conclusions.

I looked at Ben Stein in shorts and wondered how some well meaning person could have considered that a good idea, but nevermind.

This is leading into a useful examination of belief construction, particularly since right out of the gate he’s talking about how scripture doesn’t necessarily create the beliefs that Protestant Christians hold.

So when two people argue about what a particular biblical passage means, the dispute isn’t necessarily the product of a moral, psychological or spiritual deficiency on the part of one or both parties (although it very well could be). It’s more likely a clash between competing Interpretive Principles.

He goes into how tradition, reason and experience play into interpretation. Of course, it should probably be pointed out that even the idea of scripture, the contents of the Bible and the idea that it should be interpreted in a “plain and simple” are all themselves traditions. But I think that Miller is specifically focused on Protestants, so that’s going to place the boundaries on the discussion.

Anyway, it looks like the beginning of a useful discussion.

  • kessy_athena

    Why do some people change their minds while others don’t? I think that most of the time it’s because people who refuse to change their minds have embraced an ideology of one kind or another. In my view, ideology is distinct from ideas in that ideology is what happens when you start to loose sight of the fact that being factually right and being morally right are different things. Ideology is the incorporation of beliefs into your sense of self identity and self worth. Under those circumstances, an attack on an idea becomes an attack on yourself. It also inherently begins the process of dehumanizing anyone who disagrees with you. This makes ideology – all ideology – dangerous.

    The behavior of ideology is almost completely independent of the ideas that make it up. I would argue that all ideology comes down to the same thing. “We’re Right, everyone else is Wrong, and so we’re better then everyone else.” It’s a frighteningly short step to add to that, “…and therefore we are morally justified in whatever we choose to do to everyone else.”

    Consider three historical examples: Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, and Revolutionary France. All three are based on radically different (and mutually antagonistic) sets of ideas. And yet all three displayed remarkably similar behavior: intolerance of political dissent, the use of terror against their own people, and military aggressiveness toward their neighbors.

  • Kodie

    It was my understanding that the bible contains some strongly expressed arguments against listening to facts that contradict it, which is reiterated in church. Something like, “even though this seems to be extremely unlikely and we can’t prove anything, the realists are trying to draw you away from god, and you definitely don’t want to risk it.”

    It seems to me also that most people have the sense to weigh these two options and choose reality for making more sense. No matter how bad god seems, they excuse him and call him good. No matter what seems to be true, it’s just an illusion meant to trick them. They know how to process information initially, but they are warned not to trust their own sensibilities.

  • smrnda

    Perhaps a better question is why some people do change their minds – sometimes people change their minds because they actually form opinions based on evidence, though I feel that other people change their minds for more emotional, psychological or personal reasons. For the latter type of people, ‘changing one’s mind’ is more about a change of allegiance. I’ve seen the former when people have admitted that their former opinions (whether in religion or anything else) were the product of ignorance or having had biased sources, and that access to information changed everything for them.

    On the loyalty one, I see this happen a lot when people end up with a new partner of a different ideological stripe and then change. It’s probably also the case with totalitarian ideologies – the ideology isn’t right because its ideas and tenets are right, but because it opposes the bad people. You can have this even with relatively correct ideas because the mistake a lot of ideologies make is that people are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a kind of static sense determined by group membership, not ‘good’ or ‘bad because of what they do. It’s the type of distorted thinking that denounces one group of people for doing something, and then does the same thing with no problem.

  • DR

    “Interpretive Principles”? Not really, unless by that he means “Whatever feels right to me”. Because that’s really the only “Interpretive Principle” that is not violated by believers in an attempt to reconcile their own views with those expressed in the Bible. The one thing that is consistent in the Bible is that something in there will refuse to fit in any given worldview. That’s what happens when you have so many direct and irreconcilable contradictions in a text.