Why I Don’t Use Bible Verses as Evidence

Why I Don’t Use Bible Verses as Evidence March 29, 2012

It has been noted that my writing comes from experience and is secular in nature. This frustrates some of my readers and gratifies others. Here is where I officially stand on the matter.

Bible verses are extremely soft evidence. Fundamentalists have taken them to “inherently” mean something they have made up for themselves. The notion of pledging your virginity to your father? Not in the Bible. The idea that birth control is evil? Not in the Bible. “Abortion is murder”? Even that isn’t in the Bible. If I were to quote Bible verses on these issues, however, I would be instantly dismissed as “misunderstanding” them. That’s because Scripture follows culture in fundamentalist and extreme evangelical circles. You believe something first, and find a Scripture to justify it later. How many evangelicals are allowed to read Paul’s epistles without having certain verses plucked out and spun into elaborate webs of meaning? Abortion, homosexuality, modesty, and submission – they find their way into almost every evangelical-fundamentalist sermon, but it’s a special occasion when preachers decide to expound on 1 Corinthians 13 (the “love” chapter). Interestingly enough, I have never heard an evangelical-fundamentalist sermon that made as big a deal out of giving to the poor (something that was, you know, a big deal for Jesus) as they do out of sexuality and marriage.

I will similarly not be convinced of a moral position with sole reference to Bible verses. This is because I am not so arrogant as to assume that anyone (myself included) has discovered the absolute, ultimate, true meaning of a set of words that have been disputed, dissected, translated, twisted, studied and stretched for two thousand years. Likewise, I am skeptical that most people who have undertaken to explain the Scriptures to me on the internet have read some or any of the centuries of debate that preceded them. I say this not to recommend blindly following Augustine, Aquinas or another father of the Catholic Church (especially as I’m not Catholic), but to cast doubt on the claim that modern American evangelicals can look at the Bible uncritically, through their own cultural lens, and claim that it appears exactly as it is with utter disregard for other interpretations. If you have not weighed other interpretations honestly before choosing yours, you are as objective an observer as a toddler trying to read a book that’s sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool without jumping in.

That said, I am now going to violate my own rule for the purpose of demonstrating that “not dripping with citations from the Bible” does not equal “unchristian”.

What Biblical claim do I have to write about Christianity, and to criticize fundamentalism? I give you two verses. (They’re even in KJV!)

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this;
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself
Galatians 5:14

Ye shall know them by their fruits.
Do men gather grapes of thorns,
or figs of thistles?

Matthew 7:16

I do not need to speak Christianese to see the blatant discrepancy between the words of Jesus and the actions of modern American fundamentalists. I also do not need to use Bible verses to demonstrate the disastrous, cruel effects of patriarchy on families and young people of both sexes. I can tell when a person is acting lovingly, and I assure you that “love” exists only in the most perverted way in fundamentalist culture. It exists between individuals in fundamentalism despite, not because of, its theology. Fundamentalist theology makes love so contingent, critical and controlling that it does not really deserve the name of “love” at all. Love is given freely. It is not bound up in ropes made of denim jumper straps. It doesn’t flee to high ground when a woman swallows a pill.

To me, Jesus’ core message was that love should be our moral compass. We don’t need the law to be our conscience for us. We are capable of making decisions that are good for ourselves and help others, based on our own sound intentions and thoughtful observations. Jesus never told anyone to turn off their brains.

The fruits of fundamentalism are crushed souls, mindless obedience, inflated egos, dashed dreams, limited spaces, cumbersome garments, financial ruin, neglected children, and, above all, fear. All of this is done in the name of love, by parents and spouses who usually do love their families. But they are carefully led down the road to believing that you show love by controlling, or by submitting to control, and that the freedom and affection they once had was “of the devil,” their inner voices wrong. If your beliefs are the cause of such cruelty, I assure you that they are as “Biblical” as a ham sandwich. By your fruits, I know you.

When Jesus spoke the truth, he didn’t cite the Torah. When Paul spoke the truth, he didn’t recite what Moses had said. While I am neither Jesus nor Paul, I condemn the idea that only what is said with the label of Scripture attached is moral or valid. Christianese is obfuscating, a masking device used to make abhorrent ideas sound like God’s. If love is written in your heart, your speech will be pure, whether or not your words are plagiarized.

When I write, it is not my desire to convince you to agree with everything I think. It is not to convince you that I’ve found more Truth than anyone else. Compassion is my compass and empathy my exegesis. If you are discerning, you will be able to see through the Christianese to reality, and through my common speech to some of the ideas Jesus gave, which I strive to follow.

So while I will, occasionally, use Scripture to point out the gaping chasm between evangelical-fundamentalist culture and actual things Jesus said, I have no plans to write windy exegetical posts that string together Bible verses only to be told that I “don’t really understand” them anyway, or that my “motives” are “selfish”. I do plan to write about the things I’ve seen, felt, heard and thought – as well as what I’m seeing now, from the other side of the fence.

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