Friday, August 29, 2008


I started responding to comments in my last post and, as I wrote, I decided I needed more space. And, it's something I want to discuss. I am particularly interested in how my respected theist readers respond to this.

Let's talk about "respecting religion". Sure. I know that some people have no problem reading the Bible, having faith, and remaining sane. It's probably the norm. But, when faith allows less sane people to flourish in their absurdity, we have to stop it. When everyone "respects" the abusive man who is "just following the Bible", it's time to get real. Nancy believed every word of the Bible that she read. She believed that her husband had power over her and that her role was to be submissive and obedient. Thomas had been told to lead forth a righteous family and, no doubt, some one pointed him to the passages in the Bible that back up the duties of a father.

Thomas, no matter how nuts we think he is, was following the mandates of the Bible. Wrong or right, the Bible justifies most of his delusions. So, if you defend the Bible, then you're defending him. The Bible says "spare the rod, spoil the child" (and about ten other justifying verses). If you see the problem with following those verses, then how can you defend the work as a whole?
Just how many awful verses of advice would the Bible have to maintain before you'd see that it's a book we shouldn't respect?


Cris said...

Actually "Spare the rod spoil the child" is not found in the Bible, it was written by Butler in the 1600's.
But it's true that the Bible is full of cruel and inhuman mandates, and it's clearly not a text to follow.
You really don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand this, but as we have seen, the people who are more likely to follow these teachings have some serious problems of their own.

Tom and Nancy, if you are reading this, please check
It's an interesting interview of a home schooling Christian mother who explains why she is against corporal punishment, and who campaigned to ban an ad for a spanking tool.

sha said...

What I find interesting is that I have met plenty of literal Bible believers who don't seem to have a pattern of abuse in their families. The families seem to be genuinely happy, not that fake happy you sometimes see in abusive families.
I think if you are abusing people in your family and you base it on the bible then you have more serious issues that are beyond the Bible and it's teachings.

Anonymous said...

Actually, cris, see Proverbs 13:24 (NIV):
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

Deepa said...


Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (New Internation Version)

Cris said...

What I meant to say, is just that the phrase "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is not in the Bible.
But the principle is definitely there.

Ian said...

I'm not entirely sure Nancy does believe every word of the bible she reads. I suspect she's like most believers that she naturally and unconsciously filters out those things she's not been culturally attuned to.

It is the cultural framework of evangelical Christianity that allows these things to happen, imho. The bible is such a flexible, opaque book, that its primary use is to justify whatever you already have been told is true. This is why the same bible is used to justify such a broad range of different delusions and sociopathies.

And this, I'm afraid, is why deconversion is so rare and difficult. It isn't primarily a process of becoming rational or increasing in understanding (although that can precipitate it), it is a process of rejecting ones cultural context and absorbing a counter-culture that you have been told is evil.

Some people love that (there are deconversion boards full of rebellious teens!), but it isn't easy. Particularly for adults with children and a lot invested in their social context.

Atheists, I think, love to see it through the rose-tinted glasses of a battle for reason. I suspect that's why we're not very successful.

All imho, of course.

Cogito said...

I think the bottom line is, any system of belief that demands that you turn off your rational faculties is highly dangerous. The people who "believe" in the bible and remain sane are the ones who allow themselves to question it and who parse it according to modern humanistic morals. While I have a kind of respect for someone who tries to follow the "directives of God" word-for-word, in practice I much prefer the reasonable hypocrite who believes the bible is the Word of God . . . except the insane parts that contradict what they know in their gut to be right.

Perpetual Beginner said...

One of the trends I hate most in modern religion is the increasing respectability of bibliolatry. It boggles my mind when people can take the bible as the absolute, literal Word of God. The bible itself says it isn't. "...written not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh, that is, the human heart." (2Cor 3:3) Believing it its literal truth sets one up for the liar's paradox.

Yet bibliolatry has become such a norm that people who believe it can sneer at those who don't as "not real Christians" and nobody bats an eye. Not even a lot of atheists and secular humanists, some of whom seem to view any religious conviction as equally irrational as believing in the literal truth of a self-contradictory collection of stories, fables, and history. And the whole thing is made worse by every "bible-believing" Christian I've ever met, all of whom use the bible use the bible like a drunk uses a lamppost - for the support it gives their position rather than the light it sheds on the subject.

jimmy said...

Who says it stops at the Bible? I read two articles recently that really shocked me, and me very glad that we live in the U.S. for all its problems. The first was at the site and basically talks about how the United Nations now bans any criticism of the Sharia laws in Muslim nations. They are not allowed to even discuss human rights issues in those countries if these laws are at all involved.

And following on that was this article: which describes how Afghan women are being sent to jail for years because they were raped. No, that was not a typo. They were raped, and because they had sexual relations with a man, they were sent to jail, in some cases for as long as 20 years. At least our country has not descended to that kind of lunacy.

Yazbec said...

That's a great analogy, PB. I think it fits the NPZ patriarch to a tee...

As to the original question of this post, I cannot speak to the believer's position on this topic. I do know that it is an area where I have great difficulty. The way I see it, if you have faith in something in contradiction of huge masses of evidence then your position is at best faulty, at worse dangerous (h/t Cogito). I do know that I have a great topic to bring up at my dinner party this evening with a couple of theist friends!

Bill said...

I think that the problem is a combination of taking things literally that were never meant to be taken literally and things being outdated: Jesus says both "I speak in parables" and "there is much I cannot tell you yet". As a Baha'i, I believe Baha'u'llah brought that needed update, including an emphasis on the use of reason and the harmony of science and religion:

The third teaching or principle of Bahá'u'lláh is that religion and science are in complete agreement. Every religion which is not in accordance with established science is superstition. Religion must be reasonable. If it does not square with reason, it is superstition and without foundation. It is like a mirage, which deceives man by leading him to think it is a body of water. God has endowed man with reason that he may perceive what is true. If we insist that such and such a subject is not to be reasoned out and tested according to the established logical modes of the intellect, what is the use of the reason which God has given man? ...

(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 63)

Thranil said...

ian said:

"I'm not entirely sure Nancy does believe every word of the bible she reads."

I'm not sure that Nancy reads much based on how her writing is barely readable... and I'm not being snarky, I'm dead serious. She comes across to me as someone who is barely literate to begin with, so to expect that she would read anything as difficult as the bible? I just don't see it...

Calladus said...

They may be gone, but Google Reader has all of their posts.

People deserve respect until they prove otherwise.

Ideas, philosophies, and data about the world do not automatically deserve respect - in fact they deserve a dollop of healthy skepticism until they stand or fall on their own.

If your religious philosophy demands belief in the supernatural, supposes miracles and requires a set of morality that actually removes rights from some classes of people, then I will not automatically respect it unless and until proof is provided that is equal in magnitude to the requirements of that religion.

Deepa said...

I agree that there are certain passages of the Bible that are cruel, misogynistic and just plain weird. So I understand why some would find it difficult to believe in a 'flawed' book but to me, it does not mean that the entire message of the Bible is wrong. Every Christian I know picks and chooses the passages they believe in, either consciously or subconsciously. Even the ones who say that they are literal believers.

The Bible has been around more or less in its current form for about 2000 years. It has influenced our evolution as a society (especially western society) mostly for the better. I know that unspeakable atrocities have been committed in the name of the Bible but isn't that true of all religious books? When huge masses of people apply themselves to any book, be it the The Bible or Harry Potter or The Origin of Species, there will be some who simply don't *get it*.

I will not say that everyone should respect religion. What will happen if religious people have to prove that religion deserves respect? We would have examine our beliefs, we would have to think and study more and not be complacent. And that is a good thing.

new.atheist said...

Hey Pmomma, I've been following this saga for the past few weeks, and I haven't yet given you props for how you've handled this whole situation, but I do first want to say kudos to you.

As for your post on how people respect the bible, I think I'd also like to bring up that there are parts of the new testament that do away with parts of the old testament, and I'm not sure how those who take the bible literally reconcile that. I think somewhere Paul says Jesus brought a new covenant, so this is why most Christians don't follow the Jewish dietary laws. I'm not exactly sure how they determine what laws from the old testament they still follow, and which ones they ignore; I have a feeling this is where a lot of liberal interpretation comes into play. They can eat pork and work on the sabbath, etc. yet still think they should beat their children and condemn gays, and I don't get it.

Anyways, people who are taking the bible as word-for-word literal translation pretty much say that anything that contradicts the bible must be wrong. Period. Science, personal experience, other religions; if it's contradicts the bible it's just wrong.

I grew up Catholic, and so we were taught that not everything in the bible was literal. The Catholics have a *lot* of dogma that surrounds the bible, so in their belief system, the bible isn't the end-all-be-all of religion, and I think for them it then makes sense that it works both ways; if the Bible isn't all inclusive, then it also makes sense that not everything in the Bible is literal either.

That being said, I don't think it's an issue of "respect" so much as perhaps an issue of "reverence." I respect the Bible just as much as I respect Aesop's fables and Grimm's tales; there are a *lot* of good stories in each of those books, but there are also a lot of tales of miserable people doing bad things. I don't understand why anyone would revere any of those books.

reddhedd said...

I don't respect the bible, or religion, simply because of the negative, harmful things they bring to, or out in, most of humanity.

It's like a glass of pure, cool spring water....with 5 drops of rat poison in it. Sure, percentage-wise, it's not much poison...the vast majority of the glass is filled with wonderful, healthy stuff....but I still don't want to ingest it, or let my children ingest it, and I want to dissuade others from taking a sip as well.

And, I would argue that more than a tiny bit of the bible is harmful.

Calladus said...

If parts of the bible are hurtful, or just wrong, then to me this is evidence of authorship by humans instead of an almighty deity.

And if it is authored by humans, and it contains sections that are hurtful or wrong, then the ethical thing to do would be to caution people against using it as an instruction book to life.

People use the bible as a "human maintenance manual" - and say that by following the bible you can become a good person. While at the same time, liberal believers say that parts of the bible must be ignored because they are bad.

Look at this from my point of view. What if I had an auto repair manual that was known to have erroneous information in it? What if no one dared to correct that information?

Mechanics from different repair shops around the city all have different opinions about the manual. Some insist that it must be followed to the letter, while more liberal mechanics say, "Well, of course it is common sense to NOT cut your brake lines as is instructed on page 73!"

Instead of making excuses for this book, instead of defending parts of it, wouldn't it be better to just warn people that it is dangerous to take it seriously?

Wouldn't it be better instead to tear out the hateful, hurtful parts in a similar manner as Thomas Jefferson did? To re-write, revise, edit and simplify it to a point where it is both useful and no longer dangerous?

Christians almost had it right with the Golden Rule. Better to keep the Golden Rule, and to toss out the bible.

Keep reading and studying the bible, but when you are done put it back on the shelf where it belongs - next to the books of Greek and Roman mythology.

Anonymous said...

My mother was a Biblical literalist (and an unchurched fundy). The Bible is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, according to Mom. She said she disapproved of cherry-picking and, when I first decided to read the Bible, like a good Christian girl (age eight or so) I took her at her word.

My first mistake was reading The Book like any other book. My second and third were being born a weak woman and not seeking adult "guidance".

The result, besides a strong dislike of Psalms and a fondness for Deuteronomy (What's the reasoning for this law? And that one?), was that by the time I'd read the Bible, cover-to-cover, three times... I was a soft-shelled atheist after passing through a brief flirtation with Catholicism. I could not reconcile stoning rape victims who didn't scream even if the rapist had a sword to her throat with Jesus. I couldn't accept Paul as anything but a man of his time... and if I wanted to find a guiding light from Roman history, I could do better.

TL: DR If you don't allow yourself to cherry-pick what is literal and what is not, you have no choice but to err on the side of rabid fundamentalism or atheism. However, most fundamentalists do pick and choose, no matter how loudly they deny it (and, goodness me, they can be pretty loud).

A lot of Protestant fundies seem to practice Paulianity under a different name and certainly seem to have a yearning to rebuild a brutal patriarchal system. In their own way they're as fascinated with power as people in dom/sub relationships. The fundies just have an organized movement to force that lifestyle on everyone else... and they aren't honest enough with themselves to just go with their own feelings rather than trying to justify themselves with superstition.

Milo Johnson said...

Why can't I respect religion? Simple. Religion is incapable of being in accordance with established science. Religion is incapable of squaring with reason. Faith and reason are complete polar opposites and it is impossible to simultaneously walk on both sides of that fence. Nothing in the bible is supported by scientific evidence. The bible has most certainly NOT been around in its current form for two thousand years, it has been translated, edited, surgically altered, and rearranged to justify the desires of people who used it as a means of acquiring and maintaining power. Every word in it is suspect and of unknown and unverifiable provenance. Every rule, practice, custom, and mandate in the bible is completely contradicted by another part of the bible. There is no way that I can ever respect anything that is so easily used to support any position one day and the exact opposite position the next day. Scruples, ethics, and simple human courtesy are all attainable without referring to the bible, and no other religion/faith/superstition has any better track record.

Deepa said...

'Scruples, ethics, and simple human courtesy are all attainable without referring to the bible, and no other religion/faith/superstition has any better track record.'

I agree with this first part of this statement on principle. It can be argued that morals are mostly innate and the result of social conditioning. But are there any societies which have flourished without any sort of religion? I am not referring to individual people who are atheists in a mostly religious community. But a society as a whole which has never seen the need for religion.

Milo Johnson said...

The society of science has flourished without religion.

Berlzebub said...

@ Deepa:
Every society has had a religion. Even those with a secular government, including the U.S., has had a majority of the population that observed one religion or another. So attaining that data might be next to impossible.

The problem seems to be the neighbors. By neighbors I mean neighboring societies such as a neighboring family (or tribe), town, or government. Two groups can get along if neither feels the need to proselytize or convert, but if group A feels that group B has to be of group A's religion that's where problems arise.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts -- at the **********s:

Let's talk about "respecting religion". Sure.

******Nope. Respect is earned and not by vague entities like religion. If you are a decent person who happens to be religious, I will respect you. Not because you are religious but because you are decent. And I won't respect your religion or your choosing it. I will, in fact, if you insist on starting up with me, feel free to be disrespectful of your religion. If you leave me alone, I will tolerate your religion and respect your right to hold odd views. That's all the respect you will get or deserve on that front.

. . .

Thomas, no matter how nuts we think he is, was following the mandates of the Bible.

********My impression is that Thomas is a stupid man with an even stupider wife. He fell into a religion that allowed him to be abusive and she puts up with it.

********OTOH, if it hadn't been religion, it would have been something. Drinking, drugs, poverty, a bad day at the office -- an abuser will find a justification.


mom2boys said...

We should never be afraid to confront wrongdoing no matter where it is found. I think religion justifies bullies' behavior. They think it gives them carte blanche to do as they will. Most interesting is that in the Bible the world used for rod referred to a shepard's rod (which is not used to beat sheep) which would lead and teach the sheep. Dr. Sears, a popular Christian pediatrician, has some interesting things on corporal punishment on his website I encourage everyone who thinks that beating your children is ok to check out his site and the one posted by Cris and others. Not all Christians approve of spanking and their children turn out just fine.

spajadigit said...

I always say I respect the person, but I don't respect their beliefs. That simple statement goes a long way towards easing potential tensions when it comes to talking to people who are believers.

I think for too long religion has gotten a free pass- we can disagree about politics, soda preferences, whether a Star Destroyer could beat the Enterprise in a fair fight and no one has a problem with that. But as soon as you disagree with a persons religious views, it can go sour very quickly.

That's one of the reasons I like this site so much, and some of the others I haunt with some frequency. The more atheistic voices get out there to challenge the status quo the easier it will be to revoke religions free pass and get some serious dialogue going.