Anti-intellectualism and the Bible

Anti-intellectualism and the Bible August 27, 2013

biblestudy2When I was a Christian, I worked very hard at maintaining the tension between faith and reason, much like I see many bright people still doing today.  I poured myself into biblical studies, learned the original languages, took classes on apologetics and worldview, discussed and argued over theology with friends into the wee hours of the morning, and even studied a bit of philosophy along the way.  Like many writers I read these days, I worked sincerely out of a conviction that the Christian faith can be a well-reasoned faith.  I labored all those years under the impression that you don’t have to “check your brains at the door” of the church, but can instead continue to feed both mind and spirit in a kind of symbiotic (even if sometimes strained) relationship.  What did not occur to me then but seems as clear as a bell to me now is that while my intentions were good, I was actually fighting against my own religion.  At the very least, to whatever extent Christianity is based on the Bible, it cannot be a consistently intellectual faith because the Bible is a fundamentally anti-intellectual book.

Oh sure, I know if you look hard enough you’ll be able to find an occasional prooftext for “reason,” but the truth is you can do that for almost anything you want.  Approached honestly, the Bible is a wildly diverse collection of writings from disparate communities using multiple dialects over a period of hundreds of years.  There’s something for everyone in there.  That’s why you can have hundreds of denominations all claiming the authority of the same book.  It’s like an old preacher friend of mine used to say, “You can’t construct a theology but for ignoring at least two verses. Can’t be done!”  He’s right.  But with all that diversity, there is at least one common thread running through the entire collection:  Anti-intellectualism.  By that I mean that the biblical writers don’t merely ignore the life of the mind, they often polemicize against it.

Consider the very first story in the book.  The Bible opens with an innocent couple placed in a garden containing a special tree at its center, a tree that would “open their eyes” and “make them wise.”  They were expressly forbidden from eating of that tree because it would make them “like us, knowing good from evil” (Gen 3:22; I’ll leave it to you to wrestle with the plural pronoun in that sentence).* Evidently a raised moral awareness was a big no-no (although wouldn’t they first need a sense of good vs. evil to even understand such a prohibition?).  The “bad guy” in this story is the one who encouraged them to gain such knowledge and for that he was cursed, becoming in himself the prototype for rebellious spirits for the remainder of the book.

lucifer
“Good Guy Lucifer”

The story goes on to say that Yahweh put “enmity” between the descendants (lit. “seed”) of the serpent and the descendants of the woman (Gen. 3:15).  Whatever the original author(s) meant by that, throughout the rest of the Pentateuch there seems to be a self-conscious tracing of the two lineages:  those who “called on the name of Yahweh” and those who didn’t.  While the former tended toward simplicity, piety, and an ultra-conservative primitiveness in all they did, the latter were always building cities, developing new technologies, and advancing creative arts and culture (cf. Gen. 4:19-22).  Even the very first children born outside the garden illustrate this duality.  It was the one who developed agriculture, rather than the one who simply tended animals, who displeased Yahweh.  At one point, the descendants of wickedness had the nerve to build a really tall building, and this particularly miffed Yahweh (see Gen. 11:1-8).  Evidently he didn’t like it when humankind advanced too much, so he stepped in and put and end to that business post-haste.  The Bible says Yahweh “confused their languages,” presumably so that they wouldn’t get too smart for their own good.  Clearly Yahweh was no fan of human resourcefulness.

As the Bible goes on, this disdain for human intelligence remains strong and surfaces often.  Like most ancient near eastern cultures, the Hebrew religion made a place for “wisdom literature,” which was in effect the earliest precursor to scholastic study.  But even there, the anti-intellectual theme resounds loud and clear.  The compiler of the Proverbs introduces his collection by redefining wisdom as “the fear of Yahweh” (Prov. 1:7), so that it takes on a primarily moral and religious tone rather than an academic one.  We are explicitly warned to “lean not on [our] own understanding” but rather “trust in Yahweh with all [our] heart” (Prov.3:5-6, perhaps the most often quoted words of the Bible, even above John 3:16). The writer of Ecclesiastes (arguably the most philosophical book of the Bible) even openly disparages the writing of so many books, complaining that “much study wearies the body” (Eccl. 12:12).  With a somewhat dismissive attitude toward all that book learnin’, he finally summarizes: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments” (v.13).  Evidently that’s all that matters.

Jesus was no fan of intellectualism, either.  He boasted that his message could only be received by the simple-minded because God chose to hide the most important things from the wise and learned (Matt. 11:25).  He would often point to a child and say that you must become like one of them in order to really “get” what he was offering.  Children are trusting and uncritical thinkers who automatically believe what their caregivers tell them about virtually anything and everything.  He even discouraged planning for the future—a characteristic trait of intelligent beings—as if that were somehow a sign of weak devotion to the faith (Matt. 6:19-34).  Bertrand Russell was right:  There is not one word in the gospels in praise of intelligence.  On the contrary, Jesus seemed positively against it.

russell

But no one denigrated intelligence and education more blatantly than the apostle Paul, the man responsible for writing 13 of the 27 New Testament books (and whose travel companions Mark and Luke are credited with writing a large portion of the rest of the New Testament).  He boasted that his ministry deliberately avoided “wise and persuasive words” because faith, according to him, must not be founded on “words of human wisdom”(1 Cor. 2:1-4). Like Jesus before him, Paul reveled in the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of his followers were not well-educated or highly intelligent (1 Cor. 1:26).  He bluntly declared that the message he preached was “foolishness” to those not enlightened by supernatural revelation (v.18), nor could it be otherwise because the human mind cannot properly grasp spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:13-14).  Paul clearly worked within a thoroughly dualistic framework which drew a sharp line between rationality and spiritual profundity.  (This, incidentally, is why I spent the last two blog posts explaining why faith and reason do not play well together in any kind of religious tradition which consistently adheres to the biblical concept of the word “faith.”)

So where does this leave the intellectual Christian today?  Clearly there have been many diverse intellectual traditions within the Christian faith over the centuries, some enjoying a rich and intellectually sophisticated history.  Some of the greatest western thinkers were Christians, and some of them even made theology and biblical study their primary focus.  I cannot and will not deny that.  However, I am arguing that these highly intelligent people developed and contributed to their various traditions in spite of the pervasive anti-intellectualism found laced throughout the Bible.  They serve as an excellent illustration of the human desire to understand the world better even in the midst of settings where such ambitions are disparaged.  On behalf of the human race, I’m proud of their drive to know more, and to make sense of the religion which they were taught to believe (in most cases when they were still very young and impressionable).

Some of them will find that their quest ultimately leads them out of any tradition which significantly relies on the Bible as a guide for intelligent thought.  Little by little they will come to see that each of the biblical writers brought his own prejudices and incomplete understandings into the process of producing that book.  Some will eventually conclude that the book which they were taught is perfect really gets a large number of things wrong.  For some, this will not deter them from worshiping the person of Jesus as they understand him from their own critical analysis of the gospels.  How one can then reconstruct an accurate picture of this man from such a deeply flawed book will have to wait for a future blog post.  As far as I’m concerned, major progress has been made by anyone who has made it over the initial hurdle of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.  I can share a beer with such a person and enjoy that conversation without much effort at all.  May their tribe increase, along with any others willing to defy the anti-intellectualism of the Bible.

_______

* It’s significant that an adamantly monotheistic religion would have Yahweh speaking of himself in the plural (Gen 3:22; see also 1:26, 11:7), and Christians are quick to say this must point to the doctrine of the Trinity.  But historians suggest that the earliest forms of the Hebrew religion were polytheistic, only later distinguishing themselves by ranking one god above the rest (“No other gods before me.”)


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  • Yeah, I know. I’m just being a bit more conservative about how to define a denomination for my purposes. And besides, the wiki link goes through the trouble of listing the more significant ones, and that number is closer to the more conservative definition.

  • Yeah, I know. I’m just being a bit more conservative about how to define a denomination for my purposes. And besides, the wiki link goes through the trouble of listing the more significant ones, and that number is closer to the more conservative definition.

  • Still…that’s 43,000 issues that created another denomination to be formed.

  • Greg

    Very insightful. I touched on this very subject in the account that I recently sent you. It would appear that we came to the same conclusion, albiet through differing channels

  • Greg

    Very insightful. I touched on this very subject in the account that I recently sent you. It would appear that we came to the same conclusion, albiet through differing channels

  • Scott

    I feel like a lot of the problems that come in reading the Bible come from poor translations or not understanding the original meaning of certain verses. Study Bibles are an excellent resource that far too few people read.

    I’d also dispute your reading of Ecclesiastes (or Qohelet). I just got through reading a great translation by Robert Alter, and he claims that that section is actually an editorial epilogue that was added to the original book to bring it more in line with the rest of the cannon. The editor created those lines in order to neutralize the otherwise radical tone of Qohelet. Apparently that is the accepted theory in Biblical scholar circles.The majority of the book also claims that wisdom is good to have, but ultimately meaningless as life is “merest breath”

    If you haven’t yet read Alter’s translation of some of the other books of the Old Testament, I highly recommend them. He gives very good insights, and whenever the translation deviates from other sources, he mentions it in the footnotes. He currently has finished the Torah (Five Books of Moses), Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (he calls it Qohelet).

    I would agree that the media and culture portrays the church as anti-intellectual. The churches themselves don’t do a great job of dispelling these rumors. I haven’t been to church in any serious manner ever, so I cannot speak from actual experience here. But I imagine that when you are preaching a 3000-1800 year old book that isn’t backed up very well by modern science, you need to exclude intellectual curiosity to a certain degree.

  • Scott

    I feel like a lot of the problems that come in reading the Bible come from poor translations or not understanding the original meaning of certain verses. Study Bibles are an excellent resource that far too few people read.

    I’d also dispute your reading of Ecclesiastes (or Qohelet). I just got through reading a great translation by Robert Alter, and he claims that that section is actually an editorial epilogue that was added to the original book to bring it more in line with the rest of the cannon. The editor created those lines in order to neutralize the otherwise radical tone of Qohelet. Apparently that is the accepted theory in Biblical scholar circles.The majority of the book also claims that wisdom is good to have, but ultimately meaningless as life is “merest breath”

    If you haven’t yet read Alter’s translation of some of the other books of the Old Testament, I highly recommend them. He gives very good insights, and whenever the translation deviates from other sources, he mentions it in the footnotes. He currently has finished the Torah (Five Books of Moses), Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (he calls it Qohelet).

    I would agree that the media and culture portrays the church as anti-intellectual. The churches themselves don’t do a great job of dispelling these rumors. I haven’t been to church in any serious manner ever, so I cannot speak from actual experience here. But I imagine that when you are preaching a 3000-1800 year old book that isn’t backed up very well by modern science, you need to exclude intellectual curiosity to a certain degree.

  • Well said! I don’t think the biblical viewpoint nowadays is beneficial to science in any way. It requires a non skeptical view which is not helping a scientist who needs skepticism to understand problems. While in the past great scientists (eg. Newton) may have been theists, it is important to remember that everyone at that time was a theist and even nowadays there are “theists in name only” in churches every Sunday.

  • Well said! I don’t think the biblical viewpoint nowadays is beneficial to science in any way. It requires a non skeptical view which is not helping a scientist who needs skepticism to understand problems. While in the past great scientists (eg. Newton) may have been theists, it is important to remember that everyone at that time was a theist and even nowadays there are “theists in name only” in churches every Sunday.

  • Fred

    Neil, as always, a thoughtful article. I’m not sure what I want to write in response yet, but I am going to share it with a few Christian friends on Facebook and see if I can draw them in as readers, too. Your articles do an excellent job of maintaining a critical but mostly non-judgmental tone (such a hard challenge when writing on this subject).

    One structural comment: since you’re getting a lot more comments, is there some way to be able to expand the “Recent Comments” section to list more? For example, with last week’s article I replied to a number of readers and it was just so hard to keep track of who was writing what, when!

  • Fred

    Neil, as always, a thoughtful article. I’m not sure what I want to write in response yet, but I am going to share it with a few Christian friends on Facebook and see if I can draw them in as readers, too. Your articles do an excellent job of maintaining a critical but mostly non-judgmental tone (such a hard challenge when writing on this subject).

    One structural comment: since you’re getting a lot more comments, is there some way to be able to expand the “Recent Comments” section to list more? For example, with last week’s article I replied to a number of readers and it was just so hard to keep track of who was writing what, when!

  • Lee

    I’ve often thought that if only I could convince my faither friends/family that have even a small tinge of intellectual capacity to simply read one book by Russell, or Sagan, or Dawkins, etc. they could no longer subscribe to the faith based belief systems they hold so dear. The resiliency towards acceptance of reason and rational thought promoted by religious indoctrination continues to blow me away.

  • Lee

    I’ve often thought that if only I could convince my faither friends/family that have even a small tinge of intellectual capacity to simply read one book by Russell, or Sagan, or Dawkins, etc. they could no longer subscribe to the faith based belief systems they hold so dear. The resiliency towards acceptance of reason and rational thought promoted by religious indoctrination continues to blow me away.

  • I just found this youtube channel called “Minute Physics” and the episode about the badly-named “Big Bang” is very much worth watching:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3MWRvLndzs

    The best soundbite is this:

    Q. What happened before the big bang?

    A. What’s north of the North Pole?

  • I just found this youtube channel called “Minute Physics” and the episode about the badly-named “Big Bang” is very much worth watching:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3MWRvLndzs

    The best soundbite is this:

    Q. What happened before the big bang?

    A. What’s north of the North Pole?

  • ffauth

    There’s so much in here that it’s hard to start without writing without responding individually to each component. I’m going to address a small part due to time.

    There is no question that the theme of God being a Lord of the supernatural (and therefore at times contrary to human reason/planning) is strewn throughout the Bible. But the scriptures are balanced in a way that you have not shown in this article, Neil. What about Nehemiah and rebuilding the city walls, for example? What about Joseph’s gift for planning that saves Eqypt from famine? What about the wisdom inherent in Proverbs, which does address planning for the future? What about all of the times in Israel’s history where God has required their work, planning, etc.?

    Just looking at Matt 6:19-34, Jesus is specifically teaching about worry. He doesn’t say not to plan for the future. He says don’t worry about the future, because worry is futile. He gives an illustration of how flowers, who aren’t even sentient, have a certain peace to them.

    And Christ’s solution to the worry: focus first on God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all of these things will be added to you. In other words: live today and do the job of today in communion with God (which may include preparations for tomorrow), but don’t *worry* about tomorrow. This rings true to me, as I’ve struggled with anxiety for much of my life. But I find when I do today’s work with a mind for the future, but I don’t obsess about the future, it works.

  • ffauth

    There’s so much in here that it’s hard to start without writing without responding individually to each component. I’m going to address a small part due to time.

    There is no question that the theme of God being a Lord of the supernatural (and therefore at times contrary to human reason/planning) is strewn throughout the Bible. But the scriptures are balanced in a way that you have not shown in this article, Neil. What about Nehemiah and rebuilding the city walls, for example? What about Joseph’s gift for planning that saves Eqypt from famine? What about the wisdom inherent in Proverbs, which does address planning for the future? What about all of the times in Israel’s history where God has required their work, planning, etc.?

    Just looking at Matt 6:19-34, Jesus is specifically teaching about worry. He doesn’t say not to plan for the future. He says don’t worry about the future, because worry is futile. He gives an illustration of how flowers, who aren’t even sentient, have a certain peace to them.

    And Christ’s solution to the worry: focus first on God’s kingdom and his righteousness and all of these things will be added to you. In other words: live today and do the job of today in communion with God (which may include preparations for tomorrow), but don’t *worry* about tomorrow. This rings true to me, as I’ve struggled with anxiety for much of my life. But I find when I do today’s work with a mind for the future, but I don’t obsess about the future, it works.

  • Lee

    I’m not sure how the perceived “balance” has any bearing on the lack of intellectual emphasis or merit missing from the bible. Further, should an offsetting “good” found elsewhere in the text really balance out the truly evil things, especially in the OT? An interesting, yet not surprising, study recently released demonstrated a higher correlation between intelligence and non-belief than with believers (http://rt.com/news/atheists-more-intelligent-religious-433/). Now that seems a gross generalization to me and to be fair, the study was very broad and based on previous findings and still I believe the argument bears out discussion. I’ve often encountered the quip from christian friends when engaged in discussion…”so you think you’re smarter than all the christians out there?”. My response is always a polite…”not smarter, just more informed”.

  • Lee

    I’m not sure how the perceived “balance” has any bearing on the lack of intellectual emphasis or merit missing from the bible. Further, should an offsetting “good” found elsewhere in the text really balance out the truly evil things, especially in the OT? An interesting, yet not surprising, study recently released demonstrated a higher correlation between intelligence and non-belief than with believers (http://rt.com/news/atheists-more-intelligent-religious-433/). Now that seems a gross generalization to me and to be fair, the study was very broad and based on previous findings and still I believe the argument bears out discussion. I’ve often encountered the quip from christian friends when engaged in discussion…”so you think you’re smarter than all the christians out there?”. My response is always a polite…”not smarter, just more informed”.

  • Lee

    I was reminded of an interview conducted with Richard Dawkins wherein he makes the argument that considering Jesus was as intelligent and reasonable as his followers/desciples describe, he most likely would have been an atheist. I know, I know, our christian friends will decry blasphemy, but the interview is interesting and the thought experiment is a fun one to tease out. Link to interview…

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2011/oct/24/john-harris-national-conversations-podcast-richard-dawkins

  • Lee

    I was reminded of an interview conducted with Richard Dawkins wherein he makes the argument that considering Jesus was as intelligent and reasonable as his followers/desciples describe, he most likely would have been an atheist. I know, I know, our christian friends will decry blasphemy, but the interview is interesting and the thought experiment is a fun one to tease out. Link to interview…

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2011/oct/24/john-harris-national-conversations-podcast-richard-dawkins

  • From my perspective, it’s quite common for the Bible to not simply balance itself but even contradict itself. One committed to infallibility will not allow such, and will not rest until a resolution (no matter how logically contorted) is found. For example, in one place it says honor your father and mother, and then in another Jesus says you must hate them or you cannot be his disciple. So for you to find places where people in the Bible could not consistently keep to their commitment to primitiveness (who wants to live in huts instead of houses?) doesn’t really alter my point. Like I said, there’s something in there for everyone.

    But Jesus isn’t just saying don’t worry. He repeatedly tells his followers to give away what they have, not keeping it for themselves, depending instead on God to provide for them. He told his preacher boys they shouldn’t even carry a wallet when they travel but instead depend on the providence of God through the kindness of people. I wonder how many (sane) people would do that today?

    It’s nice that you are able (with most others) to find a way to understand his words that make them less literal. But he went so far as to tell people to give their stuff away.

  • ffauth

    I’ll respond more to Neil’s comments below. But obviously, offering a balanced commentary is something that atheists and theists should agree is good in any commentary. The verses that Neil cites can be taken in multiple ways. When looked at within the context of the rest of scripture, those verses have a far less sharp tone to them. The “Do not worry about tomorrow…” verses that I cited above, for example. But I’m happy to look at any particular verse. (And yes, I have read the whole Bible, multiple times, and some parts probably hundreds. I am aware of its contents pretty thoroughly).

    I’m pleased to meet you, by the way. Sometimes this topic can be very “energizing” so I am working hard to listen and respond – but time is obviously always a factor as I am sure it is for you, too!

  • ffauth

    I’ll respond more to Neil’s comments below. But obviously, offering a balanced commentary is something that atheists and theists should agree is good in any commentary. The verses that Neil cites can be taken in multiple ways. When looked at within the context of the rest of scripture, those verses have a far less sharp tone to them. The “Do not worry about tomorrow…” verses that I cited above, for example. But I’m happy to look at any particular verse. (And yes, I have read the whole Bible, multiple times, and some parts probably hundreds. I am aware of its contents pretty thoroughly).

    I’m pleased to meet you, by the way. Sometimes this topic can be very “energizing” so I am working hard to listen and respond – but time is obviously always a factor as I am sure it is for you, too!

  • Lee

    Indeed, I enjoy a good spirited, amiable discussion. Most often I find that the majority of believers simply can not stomach the arguments that challenge their beliefs and usually resort to the methods as discussed in Neil’s “Interview with an Atheist” video/blog or worse.

    One thing I always do now when engaging a believer in these discussions is try to determine how well read they are on texts other than those supporting their position. I find it very difficult to entertain discourse with believers that simply refuse to read the other positions and this gives me an opportunity to gauge just how serious they are in there own worldview journey. Neil offers a unique perspective as a well read, genuine, deconvert who shares an insatiable need for truth…objective truth. Generally, if an individual refuses to research other worldviews and constricts their knowledge to a single antiquated text, any discussion will be a dead end. Faith is inherently limiting in this way as it contradicts the truth seeking methods employed by science and in my opinion stifles human’s innate curiosity and thirst for understanding.

    I often use as an example the old “go to” parenting answer for most any challenge from a angry child…”just because I said so”. No child ever has been satisfied with that reasoning and I for one believe it’s extremely dangerous to enforce that line of thinking with children. It perpetuates lazy thinkers and when the “just because” fails them down the road it creates distrust/doubt. The same can be said of “faith” in my opinion. I will always have respect for those that have done their research, applied critical thinking skills to the information they’ve discovered and continually challenge and weigh all the support before shaping any worldview.

    As a deconvert myself and father of three under 12, I can honestly say that the non-theistic worldview I have chosen (Secular Humanism/Metaphysical Naturalism) provides a rich, spiritual, and wondrous appreciation for the universe and the role we play in it. I might also add that it seems the preferred worldview for creating productive, critical thinking, problem solvers for the future…something this world needs on a grand scale.

    Cheers,

    Lee

  • Lee

    Indeed, I enjoy a good spirited, amiable discussion. Most often I find that the majority of believers simply can not stomach the arguments that challenge their beliefs and usually resort to the methods as discussed in Neil’s “Interview with an Atheist” video/blog or worse.

    One thing I always do now when engaging a believer in these discussions is try to determine how well read they are on texts other than those supporting their position. I find it very difficult to entertain discourse with believers that simply refuse to read the other positions and this gives me an opportunity to gauge just how serious they are in there own worldview journey. Neil offers a unique perspective as a well read, genuine, deconvert who shares an insatiable need for truth…objective truth. Generally, if an individual refuses to research other worldviews and constricts their knowledge to a single antiquated text, any discussion will be a dead end. Faith is inherently limiting in this way as it contradicts the truth seeking methods employed by science and in my opinion stifles human’s innate curiosity and thirst for understanding.

    I often use as an example the old “go to” parenting answer for most any challenge from a angry child…”just because I said so”. No child ever has been satisfied with that reasoning and I for one believe it’s extremely dangerous to enforce that line of thinking with children. It perpetuates lazy thinkers and when the “just because” fails them down the road it creates distrust/doubt. The same can be said of “faith” in my opinion. I will always have respect for those that have done their research, applied critical thinking skills to the information they’ve discovered and continually challenge and weigh all the support before shaping any worldview.

    As a deconvert myself and father of three under 12, I can honestly say that the non-theistic worldview I have chosen (Secular Humanism/Metaphysical Naturalism) provides a rich, spiritual, and wondrous appreciation for the universe and the role we play in it. I might also add that it seems the preferred worldview for creating productive, critical thinking, problem solvers for the future…something this world needs on a grand scale.

    Cheers,

    Lee

  • ffauth

    Lee, these are good thoughts. I have five kids myself, all between five and nine years old (we are adoptive parents of two separate sets of sibling groups — our house is insane sometimes!) It sounds like while we disagree on faith, we likely share many of the same values for our families. We are very “thinky” over here – always willing to listen and consider what others are saying – and I mean that genuinely. That’s why I read here. I’d like to hear the criticism.

    I admire the search for truth, and believe that any faith one has should stand up under any test anyone can levy on it. Neil rightly points out in another article that many Christians/theists wouldn’t read this blog for fear that it might “corrupt their thinking” or something similar to that. I think that’s bogus. Either your faith stands the test of scrutiny, or it’s not worth holding onto.

  • ffauth

    Lee, these are good thoughts. I have five kids myself, all between five and nine years old (we are adoptive parents of two separate sets of sibling groups — our house is insane sometimes!) It sounds like while we disagree on faith, we likely share many of the same values for our families. We are very “thinky” over here – always willing to listen and consider what others are saying – and I mean that genuinely. That’s why I read here. I’d like to hear the criticism.

    I admire the search for truth, and believe that any faith one has should stand up under any test anyone can levy on it. Neil rightly points out in another article that many Christians/theists wouldn’t read this blog for fear that it might “corrupt their thinking” or something similar to that. I think that’s bogus. Either your faith stands the test of scrutiny, or it’s not worth holding onto.

  • ffauth

    Neil, I understand the criticism about logical contortion, but I’ve never found myself really twisted around the axle as you describe. Take for example the “honor your parents” and “hate your mother and father” verses. If you read the verses surrounding Christ’s assertion, it seems pretty clear to me that it is hyperbole. He is basically saying, “If you don’t put me so far in front of everything else, so that your love for them seems like hate, you cannot be my disciple). It is a verse that describes counting the cost of discipleship.

    In terms of Jesus’ assertion to give away what they have, not keeping it for themselves, I see this practiced by serious missionaries (whom my family supports) even today. I’m not sure anyone is leaving behind their wallet in today’s day and age, but I’m also not sure that such a tactic didn’t work circa 30 A.D., and the fundamental message still seems pretty clear.

    In terms of dealing with the infallibility of scripture, I’m not sold on the concept – at least not in the literal way modern day evangelicalism claims it. But I think perhaps even more relevant than infallibility is whether or not you take everything literally, or if you take it how it would have been taken by the writers and the readers at the time. I tend towards the latter.

  • ffauth

    Neil, I understand the criticism about logical contortion, but I’ve never found myself really twisted around the axle as you describe. Take for example the “honor your parents” and “hate your mother and father” verses. If you read the verses surrounding Christ’s assertion, it seems pretty clear to me that it is hyperbole. He is basically saying, “If you don’t put me so far in front of everything else, so that your love for them seems like hate, you cannot be my disciple). It is a verse that describes counting the cost of discipleship.

    In terms of Jesus’ assertion to give away what they have, not keeping it for themselves, I see this practiced by serious missionaries (whom my family supports) even today. I’m not sure anyone is leaving behind their wallet in today’s day and age, but I’m also not sure that such a tactic didn’t work circa 30 A.D., and the fundamental message still seems pretty clear.

    In terms of dealing with the infallibility of scripture, I’m not sold on the concept – at least not in the literal way modern day evangelicalism claims it. But I think perhaps even more relevant than infallibility is whether or not you take everything literally, or if you take it how it would have been taken by the writers and the readers at the time. I tend towards the latter.

  • So do you feel that putting devotion to Jesus beyond that of caring for spouse and children is a noble thing? As you put it: “so far in front of…that your love for them seems like hate”? Would any healthy life situation call for such a drastic choosing between devotion to Jesus and devotion to your family?

    If your answer is that God wouldn’t ask you to choose between the two, I would have to ask then why did Jesus just ask you to choose between them?

    Honestly that sounds imbalanced to me even when taken as hyperbole.

  • So do you feel that putting devotion to Jesus beyond that of caring for spouse and children is a noble thing? As you put it: “so far in front of…that your love for them seems like hate”? Would any healthy life situation call for such a drastic choosing between devotion to Jesus and devotion to your family?

    If your answer is that God wouldn’t ask you to choose between the two, I would have to ask then why did Jesus just ask you to choose between them?

    Honestly that sounds imbalanced to me even when taken as hyperbole.

  • “But I think perhaps even more relevant than infallibility is whether or not you take everything literally, or if you take it how it would have been taken by the writers and the readers at the time. I tend towards the latter.”

    Originalism in Biblical interpretation! I love it!

    The question that’s begged by any form of originalism is: How do you know how the text would have been interpreted by the people who were alive at the time it was written? Since few of us even understand what our neighbors, or even spouses think (Thank you, God, for confounding our speech.), I find it highly dubious that anyone alive today would know what people who died most of 2000 years ago -really- understood when they read Paul’s religo-babble.

    Mr. ffauth, your ability to “take [Biblical passages] how [they] would have been taken by the writers and readers at the time,” is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof.

    We await your presentation with ‘bated breath…

  • “But I think perhaps even more relevant than infallibility is whether or not you take everything literally, or if you take it how it would have been taken by the writers and the readers at the time. I tend towards the latter.”

    Originalism in Biblical interpretation! I love it!

    The question that’s begged by any form of originalism is: How do you know how the text would have been interpreted by the people who were alive at the time it was written? Since few of us even understand what our neighbors, or even spouses think (Thank you, God, for confounding our speech.), I find it highly dubious that anyone alive today would know what people who died most of 2000 years ago -really- understood when they read Paul’s religo-babble.

    Mr. ffauth, your ability to “take [Biblical passages] how [they] would have been taken by the writers and readers at the time,” is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof.

    We await your presentation with ‘bated breath…

  • ffauth

    This is written In a derogatory tone and I will not respond to it. Neil, I expect you’ll jump on this commenter the same way you do theists who behave similarly.

  • ffauth

    This is written In a derogatory tone and I will not respond to it. Neil, I expect you’ll jump on this commenter the same way you do theists who behave similarly.

  • Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Looking back at the guy I blocked (SilenceofMind), I see that he repeatedly insulted the intelligence of two or three people, and would not stop even after being warned. “iteach” has accused Paul of religio-babble (that’s not about you personally) and he has charged that you have claimed a knowledge that he deems extraordinary, and is asking for you to back it up. I don’t find that personally derisive or insulting. Your call on whether or not it’s worthy of response. But again, thank you for holding my feet to the consistency fire. I will always welcome the feedback.

  • Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Looking back at the guy I blocked (SilenceofMind), I see that he repeatedly insulted the intelligence of two or three people, and would not stop even after being warned. “iteach” has accused Paul of religio-babble (that’s not about you personally) and he has charged that you have claimed a knowledge that he deems extraordinary, and is asking for you to back it up. I don’t find that personally derisive or insulting. Your call on whether or not it’s worthy of response. But again, thank you for holding my feet to the consistency fire. I will always welcome the feedback.

  • @ffauth

    I admire the search for truth, and believe that any faith one has should stand up under any test anyone can levy on it.

    I would be very interested in hearing how you view your religion in light of the fact that archaeological evidence has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt the story of Moses, the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan and many other aspects of the Old Testament are all fiction.

    I am particularly keen to understand how you square away that Jesus refers to a fictional character,Moses, and the Law on numerous occasion.

    On the face of it, it seems he was either unaware that this part of Jewish history was nothing but myth, or, he knew the truth of the matter and chose to ignore it/or lied.

    There is another possibility, but that’s a topic for another day.

    How does a Christian deal with this?

  • @ffauth

    I admire the search for truth, and believe that any faith one has should stand up under any test anyone can levy on it.

    I would be very interested in hearing how you view your religion in light of the fact that archaeological evidence has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt the story of Moses, the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan and many other aspects of the Old Testament are all fiction.

    I am particularly keen to understand how you square away that Jesus refers to a fictional character,Moses, and the Law on numerous occasion.

    On the face of it, it seems he was either unaware that this part of Jewish history was nothing but myth, or, he knew the truth of the matter and chose to ignore it/or lied.

    There is another possibility, but that’s a topic for another day.

    How does a Christian deal with this?

  • ffauth

    Neil,

    To call any religious text someone subscribes to religo-babble is offensive because the phrase is pejorative, not merely critical. But the real problem I have with the comment is the insinuation that I am ignorant by saying he is “waiting with bated breath” which is a phrase one uses when a person a) presumes you have no response and b) is acting dismissive.

    As an example of dealing with the text as a people group in that era may have, the creation story may have been understood as myth designed to teach truths. I don’t think we know. But we do know that many other ancient texts were treated that way (at least, that’s what many of the Greek and Roman myths did, as probably did early Babylonian and Persian myths – no one really knows because we weren’t there. I probably should have said I try to take the texts with an open mind to other ways they may have been understood, rather than implying that I certainly know how they were taken. I don’t.)

    I don’t have enough biblical training to make educated guesses on the topic–so this is second hand from a friend who is a biblical studies candidate at Catholic University (happens to be a good friend).

    But my original point should be restated to say that I don’t think, especially for the early texts, assuming a 100% literal understanding is required.

  • ffauth

    Neil,

    To call any religious text someone subscribes to religo-babble is offensive because the phrase is pejorative, not merely critical. But the real problem I have with the comment is the insinuation that I am ignorant by saying he is “waiting with bated breath” which is a phrase one uses when a person a) presumes you have no response and b) is acting dismissive.

    As an example of dealing with the text as a people group in that era may have, the creation story may have been understood as myth designed to teach truths. I don’t think we know. But we do know that many other ancient texts were treated that way (at least, that’s what many of the Greek and Roman myths did, as probably did early Babylonian and Persian myths – no one really knows because we weren’t there. I probably should have said I try to take the texts with an open mind to other ways they may have been understood, rather than implying that I certainly know how they were taken. I don’t.)

    I don’t have enough biblical training to make educated guesses on the topic–so this is second hand from a friend who is a biblical studies candidate at Catholic University (happens to be a good friend).

    But my original point should be restated to say that I don’t think, especially for the early texts, assuming a 100% literal understanding is required.

  • ffauth

    I have only recently heard about the exodus criticism, so I haven’t had time to look into it.

    If true that it is beyond reasonable doubt that the events did not occur, and we truly can have that level of understanding, I would think that evidence would be pretty damning to the faith. I think it is challenging to obtain that level of assurance from lack of evidence, though. But like I said its pretty new to me and I haven’t had time to research it.

  • This is wonderful and heartening, and I mean no sarcasm at all.

    Your response illustrates the level of ignorance that abounds within fundamental and evangelical christianity, and no doubt Islam as well, I shouldn’t wonder.

    If you are truly interested in investigating this then you should start with archaeologists, Profs. Israel Finkelstein and Zeev Herzog.

    I am reluctant to provide links as you may suspect me of bias so if you are really keen you will look them up yourself.

    There is a fair amount on the internet so a quick Google search should set you on the way.

    I will say though that this information has been known for over a quarter of a century and is acknowledged by Chief Rabbi Wolpe and a number of christian scholars.

    I wish you the best along a new path of enlightenment.

    Come back and tell me how you get on?

    I’ll look out for comments.

  • This is wonderful and heartening, and I mean no sarcasm at all.

    Your response illustrates the level of ignorance that abounds within fundamental and evangelical christianity, and no doubt Islam as well, I shouldn’t wonder.

    If you are truly interested in investigating this then you should start with archaeologists, Profs. Israel Finkelstein and Zeev Herzog.

    I am reluctant to provide links as you may suspect me of bias so if you are really keen you will look them up yourself.

    There is a fair amount on the internet so a quick Google search should set you on the way.

    I will say though that this information has been known for over a quarter of a century and is acknowledged by Chief Rabbi Wolpe and a number of christian scholars.

    I wish you the best along a new path of enlightenment.

    Come back and tell me how you get on?

    I’ll look out for comments.

  • ffauth

    Neil, the short answer is, “yes” – I do believe that putting devotion to Christ ahead of spouse or children is noble.

    As far as whether such a drastic choice must be made, I would think the answer would be rarely. But without going into details in my own life, I feel like my wife and I have made the choice to “Follow Christ” over personal and familial comfort regularly. That has become the story of my life, in fact. Sometime in a less public forum we can discuss that.

    If you believe that Christ is God, it seems pretty balanced to me.

  • ffauth

    Neil, the short answer is, “yes” – I do believe that putting devotion to Christ ahead of spouse or children is noble.

    As far as whether such a drastic choice must be made, I would think the answer would be rarely. But without going into details in my own life, I feel like my wife and I have made the choice to “Follow Christ” over personal and familial comfort regularly. That has become the story of my life, in fact. Sometime in a less public forum we can discuss that.

    If you believe that Christ is God, it seems pretty balanced to me.

  • ffauth

    I am generally interested in investigating everything and will take a look at the researchers you cite as I have time. It’s not that I don’t have a desire to learn more. It’s moreso that my life is so busy I basically have a few snatches of time here and there to read. The Exodus criticism actually came up from a Christian friend who is studying it. First I’d heard of it, so it’s another hole for me to climb down when I have time…

    I will admit that because I have been brought up as a Christian, and have found the system to “work” in my life, I bring a great deal of bias toward the Christian faith and would need to have pretty solid evidence to unseat it in my mind. But I think that in order to be true to the faith itself, one has to admit that more thorough research should never controvert scripture. And I think that includes not trying to bend research to “fit” scripture in an unnatural way. That’s something I’ve been thinking more and more about in conversations with skeptics.

  • ffauth

    I am generally interested in investigating everything and will take a look at the researchers you cite as I have time. It’s not that I don’t have a desire to learn more. It’s moreso that my life is so busy I basically have a few snatches of time here and there to read. The Exodus criticism actually came up from a Christian friend who is studying it. First I’d heard of it, so it’s another hole for me to climb down when I have time…

    I will admit that because I have been brought up as a Christian, and have found the system to “work” in my life, I bring a great deal of bias toward the Christian faith and would need to have pretty solid evidence to unseat it in my mind. But I think that in order to be true to the faith itself, one has to admit that more thorough research should never controvert scripture. And I think that includes not trying to bend research to “fit” scripture in an unnatural way. That’s something I’ve been thinking more and more about in conversations with skeptics.

  • No sweat. It blew me away when I first heard of it as well.

  • No sweat. It blew me away when I first heard of it as well.

  • Honestly, I’m already aware of the framework in which this prioritization is supposed to make sense. And far be it from me to intrude on your marital priorities.

    I’m simply observing that whenever someone brings up Jesus’ words about choosing him over spouse and kids, the usual response is to minimize it and say something like, “Yeah, I know Jesus says that, but he didn’t really mean anyone would really have to DO that.” I know this feels I’m misrepresenting the situation, I do. But I guess I’m relaying the way it strikes me now that I’m “on the outside.” It feels like Christians too often have to make excuses for the hyperbolic assertions of the Bible, and I’m not convinced it simply amounts to an issue of literary device.

  • Honestly, I’m already aware of the framework in which this prioritization is supposed to make sense. And far be it from me to intrude on your marital priorities.

    I’m simply observing that whenever someone brings up Jesus’ words about choosing him over spouse and kids, the usual response is to minimize it and say something like, “Yeah, I know Jesus says that, but he didn’t really mean anyone would really have to DO that.” I know this feels I’m misrepresenting the situation, I do. But I guess I’m relaying the way it strikes me now that I’m “on the outside.” It feels like Christians too often have to make excuses for the hyperbolic assertions of the Bible, and I’m not convinced it simply amounts to an issue of literary device.

  • Lee

    Always refreshing to hear your comments Fred. Your comments remind me so much of my personal search for the truth. I’m not implying that it will ultimately lead to a different view, just wanted to offer a word of encouragement to keep plugging away at it! Thanks for your kind words above btw.

  • Lee

    Always refreshing to hear your comments Fred. Your comments remind me so much of my personal search for the truth. I’m not implying that it will ultimately lead to a different view, just wanted to offer a word of encouragement to keep plugging away at it! Thanks for your kind words above btw.

  • Reblogged this on kindism and commented:
    Ms. Eddy claims “the time for thinkers has come” but if you think critically about Christian Science, or the Bible, you end up somewhere quite different than she intends.
    As someone shared on my FB feed this morning
    “If you rearrange the letters in the words Faith and Religion, you can make ‘Microwave.’ No, don’t test it or question it, just believe me.”

  • MJ

    The Roman Catholic Church can largely agree with your attack on Fundamentalism:

    “The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.”

    THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE IN THE CHURCH

    Pontifical Biblical Commission

    Presented on March 18, 1994

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pbcinter.htm

    The Roman Catholic Church does not agree however in your assertion that the Bible, specifically Jesus, is anti-intellectual. We can look at specific verses if you like, but any New Testament verses which suggest anti-intellectualism are usually intended to teach the necessity of grace. Firstly, that every good thing we have is given to us from God’s infinite generosity. Secondly, that our finite mind’s cannot, even in principle, grasp the infinite mind of God. Any attempt to do so will result in frustration. Thirdly (and least importantly), vain curiosity is not a good thing. For example, sitting around a coffee table late at night trying to decide who will be saved/condemned is never a good idea.

    Most of the verses can be attributed to the necessity to rely completely on God for salvation and not one’s own human efforts. Regarding communicating the faith to others the 1 Peter 3:15 says this: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

    MJ

  • MJ

    The Roman Catholic Church can largely agree with your attack on Fundamentalism:

    “The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations.”

    THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE IN THE CHURCH

    Pontifical Biblical Commission

    Presented on March 18, 1994

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pbcinter.htm

    The Roman Catholic Church does not agree however in your assertion that the Bible, specifically Jesus, is anti-intellectual. We can look at specific verses if you like, but any New Testament verses which suggest anti-intellectualism are usually intended to teach the necessity of grace. Firstly, that every good thing we have is given to us from God’s infinite generosity. Secondly, that our finite mind’s cannot, even in principle, grasp the infinite mind of God. Any attempt to do so will result in frustration. Thirdly (and least importantly), vain curiosity is not a good thing. For example, sitting around a coffee table late at night trying to decide who will be saved/condemned is never a good idea.

    Most of the verses can be attributed to the necessity to rely completely on God for salvation and not one’s own human efforts. Regarding communicating the faith to others the 1 Peter 3:15 says this: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

    MJ

  • I think you argument is addressed in the second paragraph. If you’re predisposed to believe the bible should be interpreted at certain way, you can find the lines that support that, but this also means ignoring any contradictory lines that can also be found in it. “poor translation” is essentially any translation that doesn’t agree with yours.

  • I think you argument is addressed in the second paragraph. If you’re predisposed to believe the bible should be interpreted at certain way, you can find the lines that support that, but this also means ignoring any contradictory lines that can also be found in it. “poor translation” is essentially any translation that doesn’t agree with yours.

  • pardon the typos.

  • pardon the typos.