While putting together the ‘Can You Be a Christian and…’ series, I encountered on more than one occasion the line of reasoning (I use the term lightly) used by moderate Christians that, essentially, certain parts of the Bible are no longer relevant. So you can, they said, be both a free thinker and a Christian; you can be gay, so long as you disregard what the bible says about homosexuality; you can be a Christian woman if you dismiss Paul’s denigration of women; you can acknowledge evolution provided you reinterpret what the bible says about creation; you can be a realist if you ignore the bible’s supernaturalism.

But if you’re going to disregard anything the bible teaches that appears incompatible with what we know about psychology, sexuality, biology and reality, then how does the Bible’s central objective truth, as one commenter on here calls it, survive? What makes its core message (that, in some way, Jesus’ death and resurrection is capable of saving humankind) an immutable, eternal truth, while almost everything else can be compromised, deemed to be ‘culture-bound’ and metaphorical, to the point of irrelevance?

I recognise, of course, that fundamentalist Christians don’t do this. For them the bible is inspired, infallible and immutable. They’re prepared to compromise themselves, science and reality in order to honour and preserve what the book says. For them evolution, feminism, homosexuality and independent thinking will always be wrong. The alternative is to acknowledge that the bible doesn’t get everything right and to take the approach of the liberal progressive Christian who is prepared to adjust and adapt what it says; to emasculate it.

Which brings us back to asking where this process stops. If progressive Christians are prepared to dilute to the point of meaninglessness what the bible has to say about creation, women, sexuality and reality itself then why not what it teaches about Jesus and salvation?

It’s a fact that almost all varieties of the Faith, including fundamentalism, are happy to ignore completely Paul and Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of God was due to arrive, in all its glory, in their own time. It’s the same with Jesus’ moral extremism (giving to all who ask, loving enemies, turning the other cheek.) So why not the rest of it?

Why are Paul’s muddled theology and selected bits of the Jesus stories considered to be the baby while the rest of the bible is the disposable bathwater? On what basis do progressive Christians decide what is inessential and what is crucial, critical, indispensable? Ideas about angry deities, blood sacrifice, the sins of the people and the resurrection of god-men are every bit as culture-bound as the bible’s perspective on all those other issues.  

Because really, in the end, it’s all bathwater.


Things a Christian Wishes (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)


On his blog recently, Doctor Benjamin Corey offered up a post called ‘S%#t I Wish (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)’. I discovered it via the Friendly Atheist blog and naturally felt compelled to respond to Doctor Corey’s four bits of S%#t. The comment I posted on The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey is as follows:

S%#t 1: Please stop saying or insinuating that we’re a bunch of uneducated or unenlightened idiots.

Do atheists say or insinuate this? I’m not sure they do. I would suggest atheists find it difficult to understand why people of evident intelligence choose to believe propositions for which little or no evidence exists, that are rooted in myth and which, in reality, fail to deliver on their promise. It’s not that believers are necessarily unintelligent or idiots – clearly many are not – it’s that they are prepared to disengage their intelligence, critical faculties and rationality in order to believe all manner of spurious nonsense.

S%#t 2: Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists.

I’m surprised you offer this as something you wish atheists would stop ‘insisting’. First of course, atheists don’t insist that anyone read the Bible the same way as anyone else. We would prefer it if no-one read it at all. It is well past its sell-by date and has nothing to offer people living nearly two thousand years after its creation; it is after all a testimony to the failure of the beliefs that spawned it (the Son of Man ascending to the Earth to establish the Kingdom of God here).

Second, implicit in this demand is that there is an intelligent way to read the Bible and there’s the ‘ring-wing fundamentalist’ way. In fact, you don’t even insinuate that certain Christians are ‘ignorant’ and ‘unenlightened’ because of how they read the Bible, you say so explicitly when you talk, ungrammatically, about the ‘unenlightened, ignorant nonsense that fundamentalists do with the Bible.’

But at least fundamentalists regard the Bible as the Word of God (agreed they cherry-pick it and don’t behave according to it precepts) and claim it is ineffable and infallible. Perhaps, as you suggest, more enlightened Christians are free to interpret it in more liberal ways, dismissing that which is context-bound and so on. But then, where does that leave it? Is it authoritative or not? Does it speak directly to people or can it only ‘really’ be understood through the exegesis of scholars? If the latter, as you imply, then can it only be read and understood by those with above average intelligence? How does this square with Jesus’ insistence that his Kingdom was for those with child-like trust?

S%#t 3: Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.

Difficult this one. It depends whether myth and fairy tale are synonymous. Having taught English literature for many years at a university in the UK, I would argue they’re not. To the layman, however, they probably are in that both involve fantasy beings, implausible events, symbolic characters, sacrifice and enlightenment – just like religion really. So no, there is definitely a case here, Dr Corey, that if the cap fits… if your ‘belief-system’ walks, talks and smells like a myth (or fairy tale) then it probably is. You are stuck with atheists pointing this out to you, I’m afraid.

(By the way, your examples of Mickey Mouse and the Old Woman in the Shoe are not fairy tales. One is a commercial enterprise involving anthropomorphised animals and the other a nursery rhyme. I suggest you consult scholars who can explain to you what a fairy tale is, and the differences and similarities between it and myth.)

S%#t 4: Maybe lay off the whole, “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity” type of argument, because it’s obnoxiously untrue.

Reference for this quotation or did you just make it up? Sam Harris perhaps comes closest to saying this sort of thing – comes close but doesn’t actually say it. He says on balance that the good religion has done is outweighed by the evil perpetrated in its name. He doesn’t, though, say no good has come from religion. Sorry, Benjamin, but this is a straw man ‘argument’ you’re presenting here and is itself ‘obnoxiously untrue’.

Would we be better of without religion? Without the myth, the deadening of critical faculties and the adversarial nature of ideologies (even within Christianity)? Of course we would. Without precepts like ‘love your neighbor, love your enemies’? No, but then these are not exclusively religious. Far too many believers disregard them anyway.