Read part one here.
After a humanist friend of mine posted a comment on the ads, I responded:
“I found the ads ironic.”
To which she replied:
“You gotta explain the irony, Rich. You want to quote something from a philosophically Humanist publication that is as bad as any of those Biblical quotes? Notice I said “Humanist”, not just “atheist”.”
And we were off. I’m going to call her “Margaret.”
A few things…first, humanists I’ve known are often pretty quick to cry foul when Christians engage in black and white thinking. Secondly, they also typically cry foul, often for good reason, when Christians handle opposing beliefs without academic responsibility…anyone can take something out of its context, without regard to the whole system, and make that worldview sound pretty silly.
I could do that to lots of things you say, most likely, and you’d consider yourself ill abused…in fact, I could probably take the very techniques inherent in the ads and make you sound like a crazed fundamentalist Christian.
Bottom line: it is very easy to take some quote, assert its stupid, and therefore assert the whole worldview is stupid. That kind of treatment of opposing beliefs often gets Christians accused of irrationality (most of the time secular humanists are doing the accusing), and rightly so. But that is what is going on here.
It is far more difficult to level a critique after taking pains to show what the passage (as opposed to just quoting a one liner and asserting what you think it means as self evident) actually means, understanding historical background, etc.
This is the very thing I try so hard to teach my seniors in the research methods class I have. Some of those ads on the website are laughable in the way they treat the verses.
To be fair, they are ads, not graduate research papers, so perhaps I’m expecting too much. A certain amount of leeway comes w/ the territory I guess. They won’t persuade many who are in the know, however.
Given the details, I disagree. You say “in fact, I could probably take the very techniques inherent in the ads and make you sound like a crazed fundamentalist Christian.” Please do so. And when I say do so, I mean take quotes from Humanist declarations, resolutions, and manifestos (such as the ones quoted in the ads) and put them alongside Biblical quotes in a manner that makes Humanism ethics sound monterous and Biblical ethics sound much more in line with today’s ethical standards. I do not think this can be achieved.
Also, Rich, born again Christians typically claim to follow the Bible to the letter. Having read the Bible and read about the Bible by Biblical scholars, I find such a thing to be impossible because the Bible isn’t internally consistent. However, my point is this: there is not a wide range of interpretation that can be made of Humanist declarations and manifestos. Their meanings are intended to be as clear as possible and they are written in modern language because they are in fact modern.
The Bible is an ancient and highly confusing book. It requires all sorts of apologetics and interpretations by clergy from various sects, theologians, and Biblical scholars often disagree widely about the meaning and context of many passages. This is what has allowed the Bible to be used to both advocate for both the abolition of and defense of slavery in the United States. While Humanist manifestos and declarations specifically apply to modern day issues and say what they mean clearly, the Bible is useless as a foundation for morality.
It’s greatest use in history seems to be by power-hungry charismatic individuals who use its supposed divine authority to push their own agendas.
People do it with Einstein and Darwin all the time. They take quotes from Einstein out of context (“God doesn’t play dice with the universe” and other quotes) to make him seem like a devoted theist, when most likely he wasn’t expressing devotion to a personal God at all, and given everything else he said/believed, probably wasn’t even a theist. Dawkins might be right on that one.
Likewise with Darwin: people isolate things he said to make it seem like he had these grand doubts about his theories. I doubt it, though.
Martha, what I was talking about is a commonsense approach to understanding anything, written or spoken: communication happens from the whole to the part, yet those ads treat the Bible like it is a collection of isolated sentences.
That, actually, is the locus of much of the confusion you mentioned. The Bible would be much less confusing to you if you read it like everything else. Don’t read poetry like historical narrative. Don’t read historical narrative like doctrinal instruction. Take each type of genre as it was meant to be taken–this is what is meant by “literal,” not “interpret everything the exact same way.” Don’t isolate sentences out of their context, and so forth–if you do any of that, you’ll most likely miss the boat.
Here’s an example: the ad that uses the 1 Tim passage to suggest Paul was an obvious mysogynist and that he oppressed women. If Paul was really arguing what the ad suggests, do you think he would have had women as ministry partners (as is evident in his other letters and from the book of Acts)?
There is no attempt to understand the intent of the passage as a whole and nor is there any attempt to take into account all Paul’s other statements regarding husbands loving, protecting, and providing for their wives. No mention of the mutual submission from Ephesians. It’s all as if he never said any of that. If I treated a humanist’s writing like that, I’d probably get skewered as being irrational.
Same for the one about trusting in the Lord. The suggestion is that the Bible is obviously against using the mind to rationally think with logic and evidence. Again, no effort to understand what the proverb might actually be suggesting. If it really did say that and that was the Bible’s message (“logic/evidence/intellect=baaad. Feeelings=goood!”), the history of Christendom most likely wouldn’t include guys like Augustine, Lewis, Aquinas, and Plantinga, and passageas like Romans 12 wouldn’t be in the Bible.
And on scholars, theologians etc “disagreeing widely:” you and I both know that there are many reasons people have for holding the beliefs they do, and many times those reasons don’t have much to do with the text itself. Some defend the turf they do because they want to impress a peer group. Others because it allows them to live a certain way they want to live. Still others because they’d give up lots of grant money if they gave up the game, etc etc. The point here is that pointing to the mere fact of disagreement among theologians and others doesn’t get you far. Best just to focus on the text itself, and your case for what you think it means. A solid, well-thought out and rational argument and interpretation will hold water, regardless of others (including “scholars”) that disagree. The mere fact of disagreeing voices does not mean there is no truth of the matter to be found.
By the way, what biblical scholars have you read? Sounds like you have read and consulted quite a few. Can you remember any names? Just curious.
Anything can be abused by power hungry charismatic individuals. This is not a mark against whatever is being abused. Again, just because I might be able to take take some stuff you say out of context and abuse your words doesn’t mean you yourself are at fault. It’s all about whether the connection is actually there.
Lastly, yes, the Bible is ancient, and yes it is from a different culture, but why is that a bad thing? Are you suggesting we have no wisdom to gain from something ancient and outside of our own modern culture?
Part III coming up!