Religious texts and seemingly picking and choosing

(104 Posts)

I can't help but notice lots of the religious people i know (largely Christian but not all) seem to pick and choose which bits of their religious texts they follow.

For example in the bible there are many examples which just don't fit with society values today but my question is: who told you you could choose which bits to follow..? Wouldn't you try and follow all the rules? If not, why?

I'm sorry if I'm not putting this across right, it's difficult to think of the right words to not sound rude! grin

1919 Tue 08-Oct-13 20:04:02

ColdFusion
Why can't non believers discuss Christianity?

I think it's probably impossible to understand and believe in something without first defining (contextualising?) it internally. In that respect I think that anyone who claims to believe in God has subjectively defined God within the context of their own mind and experience and therefore constructed him in their own image. How else could you comprehend something so ambiguous and supernatural? I think that this is demonstrated quite well in the fact that not all people of religious faith have the same concept of God.

I wouldn't discount the bible as entirely worthless, it has cultural and historical value.

Stop trying to smuggle God into your arguement when non believers do not accept his existence as fact.

Yes the bible is confusing (which reflects its cobbled together nature). It's also extremely contradictory and illogical in parts (have a look at the sceptics annotated bible website). You utilise blind faith to jump over these gaps but without the 'Holy Spirit' to obscure my ability to think critically, I find it extremely difficult to justify belief in something so explicitly flawed.
Atheists recognise that faith is not a virtue.

1919 Tue 08-Oct-13 20:06:35

*argument

I

The bible is not a book of rules. If you try and treat it this way you will end up picking a choosing the bits you like and ignoring the rest which is what I presume the OP is referring to.

There are two tasks with studying the bible. The first is about the text itself. Unless you can read Biblical Greek or Hebrew you have to read in translation. There is the genre - are you studying a letter, poetry, myth, gospel? Who wrote it, when and why? Does this piece of writing show evidence of later editing and reediting? What was the culture, family relationships, politics of the time? What were the issues that faced the writers such as the exile in the old testament or the growth of the new churches in the new testament.

Once you have got to grips with all of the above you can get on with the second task which is application. Often that interpretation is provisional and up for discussion.

In studying the Bible I'm trying not to pick and choose which bits to follow and this is especially true of the hard bits which I don't like so I come back to them time and time again rather than just dismiss because I find them hard.

I hope that makes sense.

headinhands Italy Wed 09-Oct-13 17:46:33

Would it have made sense if god had inspired or put a few extra chapters at the start of each book explaining that? Why would he not say that? And even with that knowledge of history and ancient languages, people still come to very different interpretations. I've often thought how foolish it would be to take the same approach when writing important instructions like flying a plane. Imagine you were as ambiguous, vague and contradictory. And arguably the bible is supposed to be more important than that.

niminypiminy Wed 09-Oct-13 20:04:30

headinhands, I suggest you try to write a set of unambiguous instructions -- say, for tieing a shoelace. Then, ask someone to tie a shoelace using only your instructions. The problem, as you will soon find out, is that language is inherently ambiguous, and the more complex the linguistic structures you use, the more ambiguity results. Even very codified uses of language, such as in legal reports or scientific articles, is not immune from ambiguity and multiple interpretations. Your demand that the Bible should be unambiguous is impossible for anything written in any human language. And whether, and how, you believe God might have inspired the Biblical texts, we have still nothing more than human language to record that inspiration.

Fugacity Wed 09-Oct-13 20:55:41

Don't blame God.

If humans are ambiguous in their interpretation, blame humans!

There are very few areas of scripture which are controversial. Most of those areas are only controversial because they go "against the flesh". Most Christians agree on most matters of doctrine. Differences are often "petty". They seem to bother atheists far more than they bother Christians.

I'd disagree with you there Fugacity as currently there are areas of scripture that are controversial - women in leadership and gay marriage to name but two. Also Christians don't agree on doctrine and debates around atonement are just one of those areas where Christians have different approaches. As long as Christians can say the Nicene Creed we are in the same building which is good!

I do understand why non Christians find the Bible frustrating. A short and easy to read manual would be so much easier than a library of material written over thousands of years by different authors all trying to get to grips with a relationship with the divine in their time and their culture.

headinhands Italy Thu 10-Oct-13 13:19:02

I wouldn't say I find the bible frustrating. It's fascinating yes, even more so when you have come to the conclusion that it, as with all the other religious texts, was written by people who thought they were having a relationship with a god and sought to fit the reality of life into that belief. There's also the political element of utilising the text to subjugate certain groups with society.

headinhands Italy Thu 10-Oct-13 13:25:18

And niminy your assertion that the written word is open to abuse only backs up my point that a super intelligent god would know this gaping flaw. I'm not sure what he could have done but the message is not clear and distinguishable from other religious texts. A loving god could not blame a rational person for deciding that they are all made up.

technodad Thu 10-Oct-13 20:44:50

If god is so powerful that he can make the whole universe. Surely he could use our telecommunications network to contact all the world's leaders and explain everything to them. If he can create a sun, then he can manipulate electrons to transmit a radio signal with any message.

Why would just he right some crappy old book?!

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 10-Oct-13 23:35:18

And you would believe their ex

DioneTheDiabolist Thu 10-Oct-13 23:38:40

Oops blush

Technodad, what do you think your reaction be to the news coverage of our world leaders claiming to have received an e-mail from god?shockgrin

niminypiminy Fri 11-Oct-13 14:36:00

I don't think I ever said that the written word was open to abuse. I said that language is inherently ambiguous -- that's a very different thing.

It's a bit wearisome to have to keep on repeating that the Bible was written by human beings and not by God, and that it is made up of an extremely various collection of texts written (and re-written) over many hundreds of years. It's wearisome to have to keep on repeating that it records the Israelites' and later on the early Christian church's evolving relationship with God, their growing understanding of him, and their up-and-down relationship with him. It's wearisome to have to keep on insisting that not all Christians have the one-dimensional, literal, inerrant view of the Bible that is so often imputed to them -- on this thread, most notably by headinhands.

The kinds of questions you are coming up with (why didn't God write the book so that it couldn't be misunderstood, why didn't he send a radio message) sound clever, but they aren't really. They're not genuinely engaging with what people are saying, and they're not taking account of the fact that people read the Bible in the light of the tremendous amount of historical and textual scholarship that has been done in the past two hundred years.

I'm happy to talk about the Bible. I love talking about the Bible. But I get tired of having to say the same old things again and again, and never get past the first point in the discussion.

technodad Fri 11-Oct-13 15:58:26

But surely the point is, the fact that is was written by humans, has huge numbers of errors, and can be interpreted in many ways is the problem. I don't disagree that it may be (in some small part) backed up by some supporting evidence, but it seems crazy for people, in this modern age, to believe any of the supernatural nonsense.

To make a star, god would have to have manipulated trillions and trillions of electrons. To send a radio or TV signal he would only need to manipulate a relative few electrons. Has he now lost his powers? Or is he just too busy killing children in Africa to stop for a chat?

So... Why does he allow us to all keep arguing and having wars, when he could talk directly to us all. Why does he only talk to some people, and in the form of dreams and visions. It doesn't make any sense.

Generally, when things are too strange to be true, it generally means it is made up! Should we not just all wake up and spell the roses?

niminypiminy Fri 11-Oct-13 16:19:26

Sorry, Technodad, I'm just going to have to take that line by line:

"But surely the point is, the fact that is was written by humans, has huge numbers of errors, and can be interpreted in many ways is the problem." Problem in terms of what? I'm not sure what kind of errors you are thinking of (does the book of Psalms have errors?), but I don't see that the fact that it can have multiple interpretations is itself a problem. On the contrary, it means the Bible is a hugely (and uniquely) rich resource.

"I don't disagree that it may be (in some small part) backed up by some supporting evidence, but it seems crazy for people, in this modern age, to believe any of the supernatural nonsense." Modernity is no defence against the proliferation of nonsense, as a quick look at Twitter shows. I think you are saying that there is no evidence that the supernatural events narrated in the Bible are true (but you have phrased it very badly so I am guessing): but belief in the supernatural is normally founded upon experience. People who believe in God have the evidence of their experience that he exists.

"To make a star, god would have to have manipulated trillions and trillions of electrons. To send a radio or TV signal he would only need to manipulate a relative few electrons." The problem is not God's powers but our limited human understanding.

"Has he now lost his powers? Or is he just too busy killing children in Africa to stop for a chat?" How many times do Christians have to say that they do not think that God is responsible for atrocities in Africa or elsewhere -- rather it is human beings, using their free will, that do these things?

"So... Why does he allow us to all keep arguing and having wars, when he could talk directly to us all. Why does he only talk to some people, and in the form of dreams and visions. It doesn't make any sense." Do you think God likes us arguing? He wants us to make peace -- but we're not in a hurry to do it, are we? He is trying to talk to everyone all the time. Some people aren't listening.

"Generally, when things are too strange to be true, it generally means it is made up! Should we not just all wake up and spell the roses?" Um, even if we discount the fact that there are different types of truth, and that many things are both made up and true (such as theoretical physics, or mathematical theorems), this resounding bit of apparent common sense really is just nonsense.

technodad Fri 11-Oct-13 16:46:08

but I don't see that the fact that it can have multiple interpretations is itself a problem.

You should! Two interpretations means that one, or both person is wrong. You can't both be correct. You will probably talk about beauty or love now, but you will be confusing the discussion with a debate about aesthetics, rather than a debate upon facts, so don't bother going there.

but belief in the supernatural is normally founded upon experience. People who believe in God have the evidence of their experience that he exists.

Hmmm, people who believe in God THINK they have the evidence of their experience that he exists. Sadly, they use confirmation bias and do not assess the evidence in a way that does anything other than support their existing views.

The problem is not God's powers but our limited human understanding.

This is a perfect example of where you are just gaffing off the point with some words that mean nothing. You are just making up some words to fill a hole which you can't answer with any credibility.

I know for a fact, that IF God could make a star, then he could make a TV signal. You can't counter that, so you say "it doesn't work like that, silly boy", which is not based on any facts and doesn't counter the point at all. You might have well thrown in the word transcendence to get the full bingo card!

How many times do Christians have to say that they do not think that God is responsible for atrocities in Africa or elsewhere -- rather it is human beings, using their free will, that do these things?

Utter rubbish. How did "free will" cause Malaria? Malaria existed before humans did. Your response does not make sense. Please give provable evidence than other meaningless words.

Do you think God likes us arguing? He wants us to make peace -- but we're not in a hurry to do it, are we? He is trying to talk to everyone all the time. Some people aren't listening.

I don't think god exists to care about us arguing. We are not all listening, because there is nothing to hear! I can't prove that, but I am not the one claiming someone I can't see is talking to me. You need to do the proving!

Um, even if we discount the fact that there are different types of truth, and that many things are both made up and true (such as theoretical physics, or mathematical theorems), this resounding bit of apparent common sense really is just nonsense.

You clearly don't understand what a "theory" is. A theroy is a guess, which is then challenged again and again, until there is sufficient evidence that it is very likely to be true, and then it is still challenged and peer reviewed.

Made up stuff is when someone guesses, and then stops trying to challenge that view. AKA - a belief system!

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 11-Oct-13 17:47:51

Techno, would you believe a "transmission" on tv, radio or the Internet if it came from god?

niminypiminy Fri 11-Oct-13 17:49:37

1. Two interpretations can both be correct. In the humanities this happens all the time, even where so-called 'questions of fact' are concerned. The concept of the fact is complex and used differently within different disciplines (see brief wiki guide here. Saying that 'this is a debate on facts' as if a fact was self-evident is overly simplistic.

2. Confirmation bias is also frequently used by people who think that God does not exist.

3. Who is using persiflage here? Since I believe that God is greater than our human capacity to understand or describe, and that it is a life's task to come nearer him, it is perfectly reasonable for me to say that human understanding is imperfect compared to God's perfection. You don't believe in God, and that's fine, but it doesn't mean that I am using words that mean nothing. I'm using words you don't like.

4. Well, there's a good argument that human actions and inactions lead to people dying of malaria.

5. I don't think that the existence of God is amenable to proof in the way you mean it (although his existence can be proved philosophically, though I don't think you'd accept a philosophical proof as proof), and, of course, positive proof of anything is impossible to achieve. As I say, that's a blind alley. As Francis Spufford argues in Unapologetic it is more useful to ask, whether believing in God makes sense. When I listen to God, does it make sense? Does it make sense of the world, and the messy business of being human, and the pain and joy that being human involves? For me, yes, it does.

6. In natural science a theory is not a guess but is a well-confirmed explanation, as wiki explains. All theories are 'made up', but not all can be experimentally confirmed. For example, you develop a theory in history that can never be confirmed because the evidence has been destroyed in the course of time. In that case, you have to rely on a convincing story, lateral thinking and corroboration. Doesn't mean it isn't true, though.

SatinSandals Fri 11-Oct-13 17:55:53

You can use the Bible to say whatever you want it to say! If someone gives you a quote you can always find one saying the opposite!

technodad Fri 11-Oct-13 18:05:55

Dione.

Probably. If it was impossible to happen through any other means, then it would be a good bit of proof.

It isn't going to happen though is it! 'Cos he doesn't exist.

technodad Fri 11-Oct-13 18:24:12

Niminy

1. Please give me an example.

2. This is a fair point. However, it is nowhere near as common. Furthermore, when professionals within thier field have debates then it is not the case. Prof. Brian Cox does not use confirmation bias, the Arch Bishop of Cantebury does.

3. What I am saying is, that you are making no attempt to explain why. You just fill the empty conversation with noise. Why did he take the time to help write a book, but make no effort today, when he could remove all doubt easily? The reality is, you can't explain why he doesn't communicate using sensible means, so you just say "it is complicated".

I want to know WHY he doesn't attempt to communicate using more sensible methods, when he is clearly capable of doing so.

4. My point is, that Malaria has been around for between 50,000 to 100,000 years. Long before humans existed. How did free will create maleria? Yes, farming causes more cases of maleria, but it didn't cause maleria. Please explain your argument and provide evidence of your position, rather than the confirmation bias that you have just demonstrated.

5. Sorry, if you can't prove it, then it don't exist! Simple!

6. But I am not talking about history. I am talking about the now. Ignore the old book, and open your eyes to reality.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 11-Oct-13 18:32:03

So, all it would take for you to believe in god Techno is a transmission that cannot be explained or replicated by people.

Thank you for your answer, I find it very interesting.smile

niminypiminy Fri 11-Oct-13 19:13:45

Technodad, I think we should agree to disagree. We're not going to get anywhere with this discussion in which you think I'm making meaningless noise interspersed with confirmation bias, and I think you're a nitwit. Let's take a break, eh?

HolofernesesHead Fri 11-Oct-13 19:18:32

just popping in to say hello smile

Niminy I'm reading Unapologetic - it's quite good, isn't it? I like how Spufford says that he wrote it as a caffeine fuelled diatribe in a Cambridge cafe - that alone is enough to endear it to me! smile

niminypiminy Fri 11-Oct-13 19:41:29

Hello Holo! Good to see you! Yes, it's a book I really enjoyed. I especially like the description of prayer and the chapter 'Jeshua' will stay with me for a long time. I like the sweariness too.

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