You Don’t Fix the Bible

A recent conversation with an evangelical reminded me of the near famous Firefly scene in which Shepard Book finds River Tam altering his Bible:


Book: What are we up to, sweetheart?

River: Fixing your Bible.

Book: I, um…
[alarmed]
Book: What?

River: Bible’s broken. Contradictions, false logistics – doesn’t make sense.

[she's marked up the bible, crossed out passages and torn out pages]
Book: No, no. You-you-you can’t…

River: So we’ll integrate non-progressional evolution theory with God’s creation of Eden. Eleven inherent metaphoric parallels already there. Eleven. Important number. Prime number. One goes into the house of eleven eleven times, but always comes out one. Noah’s ark is a problem.

Book: Really?

River: We’ll have to call it early quantum state phenomenon. Only way to fit 5000 species of mammal on the same boat.
[rips out page]

Book: River, you don’t fix the Bible.

River: It’s broken. It doesn’t make sense.

Book: It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.

I think Whedon really caught the dynamic between atheist and evangelical there.

Atheist: This doesn’t make sense.
Christian: You have to feel it!
Atheist: But is it real?
Christian: That’s not the point, it works!

As Zach Alexander pointed out in his review of Faitheist, to most atheists epistemology is important. But to progressive Christians, fussing over the number of animals on the ark misses the point completely.

The fact that Rivers is insane and Book is not what he pretends to be just increases the verisimilitude. Or something.

  • Anthony

    I (atheist) don’t care about fussing over the number of animals on the ark. I care about being asked to feel moved to “worship” an all powerful all knowing all good personal creator being (incoherent concept) who makes such mistakes with his creations as to require violently wiping them out; who requires blood sacrifice, who is so immoral as to send some of its creations to infinite eternal torture for finite crimes … and so on.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      Well, yes, that is all very important, but it’s not even a discussion worth having if the theist cannot get their shit together enough to produce a coherent foundation for their faith. If somebody says “you should believe in god because…” and then spouts complete nonsense that demonstrably is false, their immoral and incompetent creator being is pretty much irrelevant.

      That’s where faith comes in – it is incredibly easy to dismiss the bible, because it *is* broken. Clearly, a huge number of people don’t let that get in the way, which many of us atheists find baffling. You’re right, though, even if we take the step forward with them, we’re still left with a monstrous entity who seems entirely unworthy of worship, but it’s essentially the same situation: facts don’t matter, faith does.

      • Bob Jase

        Faith in the montrous entity? No thank you.

        • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

          Well, I’d hope not…

    • trj

      Agreed, the specifics pale in comparison to the kind of immoral behavior God displays overall. But there’s nothing, no matter how heinous, which can’t be excused by the ardent believer. Just cling on to the idea that God is unfathomable, and presto, genocide and killing of innocents become moral and justified, though you can’t explain how.

      • Rosie

        Some Christians do that, others make the idea of a loving God central to their faith, and essentially toss out anything in the Bible that’s not consistent with that as being human attempts to understand what was going on in their lives. I was raised with the idea of an inerrant Bible as a central tenant of “real” Christianity, though, and I seem to lack the capacity for picking and choosing which parts are really representative of God. So he looks pretty monstrous to me.

        • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

          I don’t have that capacity either, and I did grow up with a species of Christianity where it was acceptable to disregard or rationalize (always hilarious) those parts of the bible the believer didn’t like. I think some of us are just allergic to bullshit.

          • kessy_athena

            Not having grown up with christianity at all, I find the whole take it or leave it attitude that a lot of people on many sides of the issue seem to have toward the Bible to be pretty puzzling. It’s an anthology of a bunch of different texts written by different people at different times for different purposes. And some of them are blatantly political. So of course there are going to be some things in it you can agree with and some that you can’t. And when it comes to the older parts that seem to be more like folklore and oral traditions, well, it’s folklore. Folklore almost always has something real to say, and almost always says it through a fictionalized narrative. Picking and choosing what you want to pay attention to in such a text seems like the natural thing to do to me.

            • TurelieTelcontar

              If you consider the bible folklore, than picking and choosing makes perfect sense, like with any texts that give you a viewpoint that’s new and / or interesting.
              The problem appears when you, as many Christians do, consider this text to be the literal word of god, that has to be followed by everyone, no matter whether it makes sense or not, because god says so. Continuing this premise with picking and chosing which part of the bible to follow makes just no sense, this is what atheists find so strange, and are pointing out: Christians insisting that at the same time the bible is the literal word of god, everything in it is completely true and infallible, besides the things the speaker doesn’t like – it’s just so inconsistent that my brain can’t follow these ideas, and I’m therefor left puzzled.

            • Pofarmer

              RC may say that the bible is not t be taken literally, but they sure as hell thinkmthe Catechism is, and whatever parts they say should be.

            • kessy_athena

              I was under the impression that strict biblical literalism was mainly a peculiarity of the American evangelical community? I’m pretty sure the Vatican rejected literalism a while ago, and I thought most mainstream Protestants did the same? Wouldn’t that mean that most christians do pick and chose and don’t take it as the infallible word of God? Or am I wrong?

            • MNb

              Well, there are quite a few Dutch literalists as well.
              As far as the RC goes, they are like most progressive christians cherry picking from the Bible. That’s OK with me. I still don’t like their holy book and its metaphorical meanings.

  • Rosie

    I also really like the following scene, where River comes to Book with the ripped pages and says, “I broke your symbol, and now it’s just paper.” Or something to that effect.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    I think it’s a mistake to allow a Christian to end the debate with “We don’t care about how illogical it is, it works.” A huge mistake. HUGE!

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      I agree, but it could be argued it is just as much a mistake trying to achieve any other outcome. If not letting Christians get away with ending debates were actually effective, the faith would have died out ten years ago amongst all but the most insular and technophobic.

    • kessy_athena

      I would suggest that the appropriate response would be, “It works for you, right now. It doesn’t work for everyone, and it may not always work for you.”

      John, what happened ten years ago?

      • Elemenope

        The faith died out!

      • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

        The Internet became pretty much ubiquitous and thus it became almost impossible for anybody on it to not have their faith challenged. If there was much use in not letting Christians get away with hiding in their bunker of faith, they would he had that bunker busted by the merciless, relentless nature of Internet debates.

  • FO

    The problem of saying “It doesn’t have to be logical, I feel it’s true” or the like, it’s that it leads to unquestioning choices, whatever feels good then it’s right.

  • MNb

    “That’s not the point”
    I can accept that from the progressive christian. But two problems remain for me.
    1) I don’t see that Jesus is the perfect embodiment of agape (something like unselfish love);
    2) I didn’t ask Jesus to die for me at the cross and I don’t appreciate it either. I don’t understand why I should.
    Point is, even if I would convert it would highly probably not to christianity.

  • ZenDruid

    River was channeling Jefferson there!

  • 42oolon

    Without the ridiculous nonsense there would be nothing to believe in. The Bible is anti-fragile. The contradictions one finds in it the more faith is required, the more truth discovered the same. The fix is in. The more atheists challenge you, the more persecuted one is, like Jesus foretold.

  • WarbVIII

    Don’t think River is insane,disturbed sure,truamatized definitely…but no more than anyone who believes in/has faith in an invisible man in the sky.

    • kessy_athena

      Oh, but don’t forget how those evil awful Union, errr, Alliance soldiers messed with River’s head as part of their evil scheme to oppress those noble, heroic Confederates, err, I mean Independents, and take away their right to own slaves, errr, vague unspecified rights. I don’t know which is more disturbing, that people would find it even vaguely acceptable to lionize thinly veiled Confederates, or that Whedon seems to be honestly unaware of what he’s doing.

      • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

        Seriously? There is absolutely no other model for tragic rebels to lionize that Whedon could possibly be thinking of? There’s no way to have rebels fighting for rights against a highly organised superior force in a science fiction story that doesn’t automatically mean “yay slavery!!”?

      • Yoav

        I’m really struggling to find anything in the show that would make you think the alliance is the union and the independents are the confederates. If you really want to claim the show is evil why not go full Godwin and claim that by referring to the independents as brown coats Whedon is lionizing thinly veiled Nazis, it make just as much “sense”.

        • kessy_athena

          Actually, it did occur to me that calling them brown coats is about the worst possible choice of terminology, but I attribute that to pure stupidity.

          I never said the show is evil, I said it’s the poster child for unfortunate implications. And Whedon is guilty of the one thing that annoys me more then anything – He Did Not Think. And while Brits and other folks outside the US have a legitimate excuse for not getting it, Americans really have no excuse. What makes me think it’s a metaphor for the American civil War? How could you possibly miss it? I honestly don’t see how it could possibly be more blatant short of painting a Confederate battle flag on the ship’s hull. Calling Alliance soldiers Federals and Blue Bellies? Hello… A starship captain who carries a Colt revolver? They actually robbed a train at one point, for crying out loud. Whedon out and out *said* that he was basing the show on classic Westerns like “The Searchers,” a movie in which John Wayne plays, wait for it… can you guess? That’s right, a former Confederate soldier who returned to his home in west Texas after the war. A lot of classic Westerns had plots that revolved around ex-Confederates who moved to the frontier to escape federal authority and Reconstruction. Because that’s actually what happened – Jesse James is a prime example. Are any of you going to try to deny that the show is obviously patterned on a classic Western? In the Wild West of perhaps the 1880′s, what else could a former soldier who fought for an independence movement that lost to an overwhelming federal government possibly be referring to?

          I think that Whedon probably didn’t intend to make the show into a parable about the civil War. But if he didn’t, his complete ignorance about his own culture and his own history and the cultural antecedents he’s blatantly copying is shocking and disgusting. And how he could be stupid enough to get through American public schools and not be aware of what he was doing and still manage to put pen to paper is beyond me.

          • Sunny Day

            Why can’t it be the Revolutionary War one where the Brown Coats, ahem Americans lost.

            • kessy_athena

              Because that’s not what Whedon wrote. I’m not a big fan of “Well, that’s not what the text *really* means,” sort of argument.

            • Sunny Day

              You’re going to have to show me where the slaves are because if this is a parable about the Civil War I must be totally missing it. I’m not denying that the show is a western, but you don’t have to lift everything from that era especially the politics.

              We know a war was fought, and we know Judging by Mal and Zoe the “good guys” lost. Labeling the Browncoats as the Confederacy just to make it fit a parable seems a step too far. To me the war was fought over extending corporate power and pushing out competition as they make reference to big business interests a few times in the shows.

            • kessy_athena

              Putting a failed war for independence in a Western invokes the Civil War in about the same way that putting warp drive in a Star Trek knock off invokes star travel. If you don’t want to make that connection, you need to explicitly and unequivocally subvert it from the beginning of the story. And saying, “Okay, it’s a Western, but show me the slaves,” is kind of like saying, “Okay, it’s based on WWII, but show me the concentration camps.”

            • Sunny Day

              So when you pick a setting you have to take all the baggage real or imagined that comes with it contrary to how the characters behave?
              Thats gotta suck.

            • kessy_athena

              No, you don’t. Look, if I say, “To be or not to be,” you instantly think Hamlet, right? (At least I hope so.) That doesn’t mean that I can’t use that phrase in any other way, it means that when I use it, I have to keep in mind that the readers will instantly make that association and write accordingly. I can reinforce that association, or I can subvert it, but if I ignore it, people will simply take the trope at face value. And the closer you stick to the original form, the stronger the associations that come with it will be.

              If Whedon had wanted to use the Western trope and not make the Alliance evoke the Union and the brown coats the Confederacy, there are lots of ways he could have done that. First of all, for crying out loud, don’t call Alliance soldiers “federals” and “bluebellies.” That’s a direct Civil War reference. And if Whedon had stated the main causes of the war between the Alliance and the Independents and made it very different from the Civil War right up front in establishing the setting instead of leaving it vague and unspecified, that would have helped break the association right there. Also, the Western is a super-trope, that is it’s a broad genre that incorporates many smaller pieces. So, for example, Mal doesn’t need to be a former soldier and there doesn’t need to have been a failed war of independence. Scrap those bits and alter the backstory a bit and you’ve pretty much gotten rid of the association while pretty minimally altering the setting. Or you could use mixed references – replace the Alliance with the (fill in the blank) Empire that’s just come in and conquered the area, call its soldiers legionaries and have them building new roads (or spaceports or whatever) and you’ve completely changed the association.

          • Sunny Day

            Further I think Whedon realized that there were going to be civil war comparisons and took steps to neutralize this by pulling out the racist bullcrap. Mal even has says words to the effect that he doesn’t condone slavery but the Alliance seems to be OK with it.

            • george

              There are a couple of mentions of slavery in the show. The one I remember the best is in Jaynestown, and so far as I remember all of them take place under alliance control. If the browncoats had slavery then it was on both sides and that wasn’t what the war was about. That said, there are certainly civil war comparisons to be made, it’s just that Joss Whedon knows the civil war well enough to recognize that it was complex and not about a single issue.

          • SundogA

            A slight correction – Mal does not carry a Colt. He carries a LeMat, a SOUTHERN revolver.

            • kessy_athena

              LOL, sorry, my bad. The specifics of historical firearms isn’t my strongest subject. ;)

      • cypher197

        If you want to look for a fault with the show, try the end of the movie. What sort of group of complete idiots does widescale deployment of something without, apparently, any testing whatsoever?

        • kessy_athena

          LOL Yes, the end of the movie. It practically screams, “Oh, wait, we did just say that American Indians are savage subhuman beasts, didn’t we? I guess we ought to try to explain that away.”

  • NormanRorqual

    Book wasn’t pretending to be something he is not. He just isn’t now what he used to be. He had a conversion experience, and spent years in an abbey developing his new religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean he forgot all the skills he had before.

  • Hitchslapper

    River (Summer Glau) is actually expressing Joss Whedon’s feelings about Ghod and belief, and doing it in a very intelligent way, making a great deal of sense, while she’s doing it. She is not crazy, as someone here said, but is instead, is the most advanced human on Serenity….. as events will go on to attest. I own the series, and also end up watching it every time the Discovery channel plays the series…… It doesn’t get old. Perhaps, Fox cancelled it, because it was just too intelligent for them…. as well as being against religion.

    • http://themikewrites.blogspot.com JohnMWhite

      I think you’re parsing some terms a little too much there. River *is* crazy, as relates to anybody else on the ship. Her mind has been severely rewired by the Alliance trying to turn her superior intellect into a weapon, and this makes her wildly unpredictable and prone to hearing voices, muttering to herself, sudden outbursts and all the behaviour we’d call crazy. That doesn’t stop her being right, though, or retaining her vast intelligence, and I’m not sure anybody here was trying to suggest that ‘crazy’ negated her salient points about the bible.


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