Cherry-picking religion: Do some religious people just choose the bits they like?


Hello everyone, I am fairly new to Think Atheist, so thought I would start with a topic that has always confused me. If this has already some up somewhere on the site I apologise, but I couldn't find anything regarding this issue.


I have never been religious. I was lucky enough to have parents who always just told me to figure out for myself what I want to believe. (They are not religious as such either, but are what some would call spiritual, believing in an afterlife, I suspect for comfort more than anything else. I do not have these beliefs).


I have, however, always had many religious friends, most of whom are Christian or Muslim. I have had debates with them about religion, and learnt much from it, but one thing has always confused me, and as of yet, I have never been given a satisfactory answer. Why is it (and I am asking both theists and atheists here) that so many religious people feel that they can pick which parts of their chosen religion they want to believe, and which bits are "just stories" or similar? For example, one of my Christian friends believes in God, heaven and hell, but does not believe in creationism. Is there anyone else out there with beliefs like this, and how did you come to this conclusion of what you believe is true from the Bible (or other religious texts) or not?


I am not trying to anger anyone here, and I realise that not all religious believers are like this. I am merely interested in getting an answer.



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Amazing, I though I was the only person who used the characterization "Buffet Christians". Yay for us!

A few months ago, I posted a message on Facebook and I asked, "Would you vote for someone who wears magic underwear; believes that he can become a god and rule his own planet; and believes that he lived in heaven before he was born?"


A Mormon friend of mine responded within minutes with bible scripture that supported all of these assertions. Of course they were all just little snippets of text taken out of context. I was amazed at how quickly he responded and how his reply seemed that it was copied directly from a 'cheat-sheet' of Mormon facts. I'm sure that my Protestant friends would be able to find scripture that made exactly opposite claims.


I've known the guy since we were kids, fifty years ago. He used to be fairly normal. But when I talk to him now it's like talking to a mindless robot who recognizes key words and phrases and replies with stock answers. He is totally brainwashed.


Actually, this is pretty much a defining characteristic of organized religion. I have yet to meet a single christian (don't know many muslims) theist that has not cherry-picked their bible (to varying extents). Even the so-called "infallible literalists" are cherry picking, but they will probably vehemently deny it if you suggest to them that they are. 

It is a pretty much universal thing for Christians to either ignore, rationalize, or dismiss as incorrect the ugly and/ or absurd parts of the Bible.

If the "literalists" were truly literal:

1. They would believe that the earth is flat, that unicorns are real, and that bats are birds

2. They would believe that any person with a true belief in Jesus Christ could do miracles to the same degree as Christ and that if they asked for ANYTHING in his name, that it would be given to them. (Check the Bible's New Testament Gospels... the whole Christian claim that "God sometimes says 'no' to our prayers' is completely incompatible with the words of Jesus himself.) For more info on this particular nonsensical cherrypicking... see the website Why Won't God Heal Amputees

3. They would have to stone their children that mouthed off to them 

4. They would have to kill anyone who lit a fire or did any work on the Sabbath

5. The clergy would have to take and adhere to a vow of poverty

6. They would shave the heads of any woman who didn't cover her head in church or while she preached. 

7. They wouldn't allow women to teach any male over the age of 12.

8. They would be supportive of slavery and the "right" of a father to sell his daughter into sex slavery

9. They would ALL be supportive of polygamy

10. They would stone adulteresses and any citizen who suggested following another religion.

The list goes on and on... and I can tell you that I have yet to find even a hard-core fundamentalist who is willing to break the law to follow ALL of the teachings of God.

In a word... they are hypocrites.



I have two answers and an observation!


1.  It depends what you mean by creationism.  The Bible is literature and as all literature has genres it means a christian does have to do some thinking about what kind of book (66 books in the bible) he or she is reading.  Is it historical narrative, or poetry, didactic, or apocolyptic etc.  The way you read and gain information from poetry is different to historical narrative etc.


The difficulty christians have (I am one :-) is that Genesis overall seems to be historical narrative but the creation account has poetic form.  This leads to atleast 3 camps in the christian world.  One group believes in 6 literal days of creation, another group believes that its poetry for God creating all things but the bible is not a scientific text book so its not a comment on how he made all things, and a third group says 'I am not sure on this one, so don't want to be dogmatic'.  All are genuine christians who are not trying to pick and choose but rather to discover what the text actually means. 


2.  Do people pick and choose?  Absolutely!  And its not a good thing.  But don't we all do it?  Human beings are completely able to hold to contradictory 'truths' or ideas because - they want to - it supports and allows them to live the way they have already chosen.  I certainly get frustrated with people who call themselves christians and do this.  But I am not too harsh because I can tell my daughter to keep her room tidy because personal discipline is important, while my room is a mess because 'I have my own system and work better that way'  (Don't tell my daughter!)


The new age movement is a classic example.  It began as budhism and hinduism in India and believed you can be reincarnated negitively and come back as a rat because you were a bad person.  When this got shipped to America, people were looking for 'spirituality' that made them feel good and didn't demand anything of them.  So they took the eastern religions and got rid of the negitive stuff, so now you can only have positive reincarnations.  All very silly, but we all do it in different ways.


Final thought, do atheists ever do this?  Possibly.  A friend of mine is an atheist and the bottom line is that he does not want to believe in God even if he had loads of evidence, because he doesn't want to be morally responsible to anyone.  He also believes in astro projection which is about your 'soul' leaving your body, and other 'spiritual' experiences.  But hard sells Dawkins, the God delusion.  Obviously not all atheists do that, as not all christians do that either.  I guess, to err is human.


Many thoughtful atheists say there is no moral right or wrong just whats good for society and our species and that which is not.  And yet they live as if justice is important and some things are morally reprehensible (as they are), no matter where or when they take place.  Canabilism and rape maybe?  Can we say that we can imagine the world evolving in such a way that in time raping a woman or killing and eating your neighbor would be acceptable things to do?   Perhaps what they believe theoretically is at odds with how they feel instinctively and live.   I guess thats a kind of cherry picking.


Were all in the same boat!

Canabilism and rape maybe?


Woah, you've done it now.  That's what your Christian friends tell you?  Yes, I cherry-pick - I pick the "right" thing to do over the "wrong" thing to do.  I agree, if that's what you're saying, that moral relativism is bullsh*t.  It's just that atheists / atheism don't have a central register of moral values like Christians do - we all have our own moral systems, and believe it or not, atheists tend to be highly moral and idealistic people.  As you'd expect from people who have suffered at the hands of Christian hypocrite bastards.  (Present company excluded.) 

Hi Simon,


Ouch!  Glad you excluded me, but I guess you were being polite.  And sorry to hear that you have had such bad experiences of christians.  The charge of hypocrisy stings, I would need to know more of what you mean.  Often that charge is levelled because of a lack of understanding about Christianity itself.  I'm willing to help on that one if you want.


I do not doubt for a second that athiests are highly moral, I beleive that many are.  I guess I just think that thats despite what they believe, and because they are made in the image of God.  But it really wasn't meant as a character assasination on anyone, sorry if it came over that way.



Do you seriously think people here don't know anything about Christianity? Most atheists grew up as Christians. Some in very fundamentalist homes. We know about Christianity. And we rejected it. We don't need to be lectured on it



Sorry that my offer to help offended you.  I wasn't offering to lecture anyone, but discuss issues.  I am in discussions on this website where the understanding of Christianity and the Bible is actually limited.  A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. 


If I said something about atheism that is logically contrary to it, or misrepesented what Dawkins says etc, I expect many kind folk on this website would be willing to help me out.  I hope that such offers on both sides could be well received for the advancement of discussion.

Our knowledge and understanding of Christianity isn't that limited. It's just different from yours. Some here are very intimately familiar with it. Some here were hardcore Christians for many, many years, with a long process of deconversion and recovery. You can even find atheists who have studied theology.


Learning too much about Christianity - especially its early history - is actually a great way to become an atheist

Learning too much about Christianity - especially its early history - is actually a great way to become an atheist


@Steve that is exactly how I arrived at being an atheist.

Well said

I also agree that adherents to every ideology pick and choose what facts to believe and which to ignore.  Atheists do this too, but not very much (in their capacity as atheists), since atheism comprises approximately one belief. 


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