I get email: core values in the bible.

Let’s answer some emails.  First one comes from Bilbo (name changed to protect the sender).

Hello JT,

I’m stuck on a point in a debate and was wondering your thoughts on it.  I tapped my usual resources but got nothing, so I’m pulling out the big guns with asking you.

This person’s claim is that I (and others) don’t know the core meaning and message of the bible and wants us to guess what it it.  He’s not saying what it is and wants our answer.  I’m guessing he’ll move the goal posts no matter what we say, but he insists that he won’t since it’s the Truth (yeah, capital T).

I could make the similar claim of how he doesn’t know the core meaning of Hinduism, but I doubt he’ll see the parallel.  I’m just trying to pin down where the failure in logic is.

Where I see this going is this person will then say if we don’t know the core meaning then we have no business debating it.  Reminds me of how apologetics will tell you to read book after book because those address your argument.  Or PZ Myer’s Courtier’s reply, not exactly sure how.

Also, putting this in an email because I wanted to ask you if you had anyone I could debate via email.  I was wondering that because you mentioned somewhere before that you get more email than you could possibly handle, and you’ve posted email exchanges from people debating.  I’ll take some of those email challenges if you want to throw them my way (but not with this email address).

By the way, this is the Bilbo that you said “dropped the hammer” on some commenter about cheerleaders for Jesus or something.  Thanks, that made my day.



Thanks for the email, Bilbo.  :)

As for the nebulous “No True Christian” type arguments, I try a couple things.  First, I tell them that words have meaning.  Things like the biblical cure for leprosy and many, many other parts of the bible only begin to make sense if you start redefining words.  Why would god make this a requirement if he wanted to communicate clearly?

Take Harry Potter for instance.  Nobody will argue that Harry Potter approved of Delores Umbridge.  The book is written with such clear composition that anybody arguing the contrary would be obviously wrong.  Why couldn’t god have been as clear as any mortal author about how he feels about, say, gay people shacking up with each other?  (As a note: I think god was perfectly clear about this, but many Christians resort to redefining words – see above)

You could argue that the bible was misinterpreted, but why would god want to make his perfect word look like the work of a bunch of mortals making mistakes and injecting their own personal biases into it…y’know, like every other holy book ever invented?  Plenty of other holy books, that the Christian must admit are false, were made up by people, have all kinds of outlandish claims, purport to be delivering god’s message, and look precisely how we’d expect them to look if they were the product of human beings at a point in history that was ignorant of everything we know today.  So clear, holy books can arise as the product of either deceitful or deluded humans, and can even be largely adopted.  In fact, if Christianity is true, all religions (followed, on the whole, by most religious people) arose this way.  Why couldn’t god be bothered to come down out of the clouds to hand us his so we’d know it was any different?

And what’s more, if the bible is mistranslated in all those horrible parts (and there are lots of them), one can only wonder why devout Christians, who surely had a vested interest in selling the good lord’s book, never misinterpreted it to make god look nicer.

So, in summation, I’d run all this past your friend and tell him that the 40,000 different sects of Christianity is a testament to the fact that the bible is a muddled book bursting at the seams with contradictions, and that “core” values in it is another redefinition of words.  In this case it means “what my particular sect believes.”

Keep debating.  This is how we change minds.  *high five*

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Glodson

    The core meaning?

    This strikes me as someone who hasn’t read the damned thing. I would love for someone to tell me the core meaning by quoting it directly, and explain why the parts which contradict these don’t count.

  • Loqi

    We’re supposed to guess? Oh, oh, pick me! *raises hand and waves it frantically*
    It’s to not worship other gods, right? I mean, it’s the first commandment, and I hear from a lot of people that is the most important part of the bible and I can throw out (and, presumably, not ask questions about) the rest.

  • drax

    Have the guy write down his “core meaning”, seal it in an envelope and mail it to himself. Then you and the others can reveal what you think it is. He can open his envelope afterward, it will keep him from changing his answer. Anyway, the very apparent core value of the bible is worship or suffer eternal torture. It’s that or what George Carlin said “He loves you, and he needs money”.

    • pjmaertz

      This is a great idea. I’m guessing the religious guy is a disingenuous fuckwit who doesn’t even know what he thinks the core message is, and would not be down to do what you suggest.

  • Nox

    There is no core meaning of the bible. There are core meanings of parts of the bible (many of these are in conflict with the core meanings of other parts of the bible). But the bible is a loose collection of texts from unrelated authors with no unified meaning.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

    Ooooh, I know. We covered this in Sunday School a long time ago!

    “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad”, which translates into “Hear, Oh Israel, The Lord your God, The Lord is One”. The central, core tenet of the Bible is an insistence that not only is there only one God, it’s this God in this book (scroll?). The ethical and moral values of the God-figure are beside the point.

    • Andrew Kohler

      As yes, good old Deuteronomy 6:4-9–to be recited when you lie down and when you rise up, bound on your doorposts (mezuzah), on your hand and your forehead (t’fillin, more or less unused in the Reform Movement from what I can tell), et cetera. I remember in Hebrew School being told that the most important verse is Leviticus 19:2: “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” I hope that doesn’t mean “order genocide and genital cutting, condone slavery, have weird obsessions with animal slaughter, be incredibly homophobic and misogynistic, and harden the Pharaoh’s heart for an excuse to commit mass infanticide,” all of which seem to be in keeping with the “core values” of the Hebrew Bible. And, get to the New Testament and you lose dietary laws and genital cutting but gain…eternal torture for nonbelievers! Also add vicarious redemption. The list of core values doesn’t really change, but rather gets longer.

  • Ken

    The “core meaning and message” of the Bible can be virtually any fucking thing you want it to be. That’s why there are so many denominations that have formed and been fighting over the meaning of the Bible for thousands of years.

    The Bible is not a single book. It’s a compilation of many books written by many different people for many different reasons. As JT pointed out, it doesn’t really have ANY single core meaning and message. That’s why it’s such a terrible read!

    • Andrew Kohler

      That and all the “begats” and minutiae about animal sacrifice, approaching the altar, what’s unclean, etc.

  • baal

    As most comments suggest, the logic problem with the question is the assumption that there is an answer. Said differently, the “core” varies with each xtian sect. I’m expecting the question poser will agree with WLC and suggest it’s some thing like, “God loves us all so much that all that love shows what a good God God is.”

  • invivoMark

    $20 says he says it’s “love”.

    I’ve heard that trite affectation all too many times.

    Like the love of David for Saul’s daughter inspiring him to murder 200 people and collect their foreskins. See, the core value is love.

  • unbound

    I would personally respond with 2 Kings 2:23-24. Let them look that up and fret about it for a while. The apologists have the usual word-twisting methods to rationalize the brutality, but I find it interesting that most xtians have never read this before…so there can be some shock value.

    I’ve also found a slightly better effect when dealing with feisty xtians (or staunch republicans for that matter) to have them do the research. If I provide the information, it just gets rationalized immediately that I’m a commie / liberal / unethical atheist, so they can ignore. If they have to look it up, they have to face the information without the convenient crutch that I probably filtered it somehow.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani J. Sharmin

    Two of my favorite quotes on the topic of the real meaning of the Bible are the following by Hector Avalos.

    “But perhaps most important of all, these liberationist theologians miss the fact that Yahweh himself is the ultimate imperialist in the books of the prophets. In fact, this is a feature common to all monotheistic religions because they suppose the existence of one god who created the world and therefore owns it.” (Hector Avalos, “The End of Biblical Studies”, Part 1, Ch 6, “Liberation Theologies”, p. 278)

    “Because it is hard to erase all of the injustices found in biblical law, another favorite technique is the ‘trajectory’ argument. Thus, apologists can argue that, while things may look bad, they are heading in the right direction. Of course, this already prejudges what the right direction is, and also plays pick-and-choose with what counts as a trajectory (e.g., why not say the trajectory is enslaving the entire world to Yahweh?).” (Hector Avalos, “Yahweh Is a Moral Monster”. In “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails” ed. John W. Loftus, Part 3, Ch 8, p. 220)

    Take Harry Potter for instance. Nobody will argue that Harry Potter approved of Delores Umbridge. The book is written with such clear composition that anybody arguing the contrary would be obviously wrong. Why couldn’t god have been as clear as any mortal author about how he feels about, say, gay people shacking up with each other?

    It always makes me smile when you make references to Harry Potter. I think that the interpretations of the Bible which call God loving are like “interpreting” Harry Potter and coming to the conclusion that Voldemort is the good guy and totally believe in equality. I’d add that (most of the time) when we fans want to change something in the books, we acknowledge we’re changing it (e.g. fan fiction is labeled fan fiction).

    • Andrew Kohler

      Apologetics as fan fiction? I think you’re on to something!

  • iknklast

    Here, this might help: A “True Christian” once pointed out to me that the core meaning of the bible was that “the wages of sin is death” and that Jesus had paid those wages for us on the cross. (John 3:16). He made those two verses out to be the entire meaning of the Bible.

  • http://faehnri.ch/ eric

    This email came from me. Thanks for the anonymity though. Heh, Bilbo.
    All good stuff, from JT and the comments. Thanks.

    I was mostly angered by this person’s smugness of “you don’t understand.” It threw me off enough to seek help. But I calmed down and asked what is this person getting at? Notice the “you don’t understand” response doesn’t address the argument itself. As JT says, stay on target.

    This person never considers that someone that doesn’t agree with them might understand perfectly the same way they do. That’s enough to disregard this already.

    This is similar to something else I hear a lot, “you must believe to understand.” It’s saying it’s true because you already think it’s true. This form of argument has a name. It’s called an assumption.

    As for the core meaning, I guessed that it was some meaningless platitude, if the person had anything at all. They finally gave it after much prodding. It’s – wait for it – god loves you and wants you in heaven. Yup.

    And you know what, I will keep debating. I had actually given up. Not from this one, but many others of not getting anywhere. The most common response to my refutation of some point is liberal Muslim Obama something something… The last straw was when I’m told we have to shoot the gays in the streets. But I guess that’s when I’m needed most.

    • invivoMark

      Called it! I want my $20.

    • Randomfactor

      god loves you and wants you in heaven.

      And is so inept that he fails to acquire all but a vanishingly small percentage of humanity, consigning the remainder to eternal torture. Any teacher with that kind of failure rate would never make it through probation, let alone survive even if they’d achieved tenure. Add in the torture and it becomes a justification for preemptive action.

      Before Eve ate the apple, the world was in the hands of a capricious deity who demonstrably works through ruthlessly deleting his mistakes without regard for the fact that they are unique beings every bit as much as he. After eating the apple, her eyes were opened and she realized: it’s up to me.

      We’re just lucky the mythical Eve brought the mythical Adam out with her.

      Here’s the core value of the Bible, atheist style: “It’s up to me.”

    • Glodson

      As for the core meaning, I guessed that it was some meaningless platitude, if the person had anything at all. They finally gave it after much prodding. It’s – wait for it – god loves you and wants you in heaven. Yup.

      Did you ask what verses in the Bible lay out that core value? I would love to know which ones mean that, and why the others we can cite don’t have an impact on this core meaning.

      • http://smingleigh.wordpress.com Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

        Maybe that was just Tuesday’s core value?