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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I think you have a good point.  I guess it could be because there is a central leader in the Pope, who can make or change the rules.  What he says goes and of course, that gets passed down the line until it reaches the neighborhood church.  The priests then decide how and if they will apply these orders to their congregations.  It's like a bunch of kids seeing how much they can get away with behind their parents backs.  

I don't know how other catholics were raised, but when I was growing up, we didn't call ourselves christians.  Christianity was a separate religion. Only recently have I heard some catholics call themselves christians.  



That has to be an American thing. Worldwide, Catholics certainly think of themselves as Christians


Any lay people can generally get away with anything. There may be social consequences to certain behavior (especially in the past), but only church employees can be officially punished

Hello, again, Simon:

 I gave a lot of thought to your response, and I can't disagree with a lot of what you have to say.  My problem is your insistence that we must credit "Jesus" with all the good things that negated the bad things to which you rightly refer.  Essentially, though, the logic of your position rests on your clear assumption that such a person as Jesus actually existed.  A growing body of scholarship, even among most religious scholars, is that "Jesus" was simply a symbol - an amalgamation of many such seers, prophets, holy men, and street corner weirdos that permeated the middle east in those times.  I have challenged many theists to provide me with some reliable, historical evidence that Jesus Christ was a real person,but they always fail to do so.  The answers I get are either that it says so in the Bible, or that Roman records from the period show that a man was crucified about the time the Bible says Jesus was.  

   As to the first point, I put absolutely NO credibility in the Bible as a historical document when it is actually a translation or a translation of a...taken from a mish-mash of partial manuscripts as selected and edited many years after the posited time of Jesus.  The translations by the new Christian church established under St. Augustine (hardly an unbiased source ) hundreds of years later identifies the writers as men who presumably lived long after Jesus' demise.  None of the "authors" of the books included in the Bible used by most Christians could have possibly known Jesus (with the possible but unlikely exception of Paul); therefore, their accounts are, at best second hand gossip.   

   As to the second - that secular Roman records mention a man who was crucified at the approximate time and location of Jesus' ignominious end - those records indicate that many men were done away with in that horrific manner.  There is nothing in those records to indicate that a specific one was Jesus.  And there was no reporter from al Jazeera standing by when Jesus' reanimated corpse pushed aside the rock of his tomb.  There simply are no other records other than those produced by the emerging Christian religion many years after the fact that any of these events depicted in the New Testament ever took place.

   If you want to cite the Dead Sea Scrolls as evidence, you have two problems.  First, they are the writings, not of some accepted historical authority, but of a small group of religious zealots called the Essenes who huddled in caves with little else to do but make up stuff.  You can't credibly assume that they were historical rather than mythological in origin.  Secondly, even if you did accept them, they are relevant, not to Christianity and the historicity of Jesus, but to the canon of the Jewish tradition - The Old Testament, which you, by implication, have rejected.

   Admittedly, many of the beneficent things attributed to "Jesus" are worthy of respect and emulation, but you have failed to convince me that ordinary men wouldn't have produced them without the testimony of someone called Jesus of Nazareth, born in a manger, under a moving star, to a blessed virgin - ya da, yada, yada - popularizing them.  I think they are so clearly self-evident as positive human values that they would have been incorporated into our value system long ago by the consensus of rational humans determining what was in their best interests as a humane society.

   When Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons who come to my door ask me, as they usually do, how I could be a moral person without the guidance of god, I tell them, "No, it's YOU who would be a vile, criminal, immoral person without the god you fear, but I  CHOOSE to be a good person because I think it the right and efficacious thing to be in order to be happy in this, my limited  life span."  In short, maybe you think you wouldn't have been a moral, ethical, compassionate person without "Jesus," whether historical or mythological, to give you direction, but I have no doubt that I would have.  And, really, I'm pretty sure the vast majority of human beings, including you, would have, also.  


Like you say, the evidence that Jesus existed is unreliable.  But to me, it doesn't really matter if he existed or not.  What's important is the story and its wisdom that has come down to us.  Those things are amazing, and not at all commonplace.  They don't seem to turn up in any other stories or myths.  And whoever thought them up, whatever their name was, was amazing.  I happen to think he probably did exist, since the stories of his everyday life have the ring of truth about them: he sounds like a radical with fire in his belly, and only a radical with fire in their belly could have originated those stories.  An ordinary writer could not have thought that stuff up. 

I'm not saying at all that I 'wouldn't have been a moral, ethical, compassionate person without "Jesus,"', or that those values would have been missing from humanity without him.  All I'm saying is, he definitely helped the situation.  We would be worse off without him.  As an atheist, I don't look to religion for guidance.  But I think Jesus had a lot of good ideas.

Not sailing to Byzantium

After Copernicus, God slowly but perforce disappeared from the heavens no longer just above the inconstant moon. Today, there are only obtuse mothers in Texas who think that the moon shines by its own light according to Genesis. But, closer to xian marrow, Darwin forever abolished from biological explanation the “teleological cause” of Aristotle and the "ideal forms" of Plato. Those imported theological monsters, Purpose and Design are dead. After Darwin, xianity ceased being intellectually respectable.

Nature is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Neither a source of comfort (natural theology) nor a source of despair (existentialism). Both are rooted in the same mistaken presupposition that supernatural meaning can be found by searching the heavens for gods or quarrying human inwardness for moral laws.

• Moralities can not be evaluated by a moral yardstick -- that leads nowhere but endless repetitions of assumed (god-given) moral superiority or bland admissions of cultural relativism, two horns of a false dilemma. But, that does not mean yardsticks don't exist.

A morality is a cultural artifact. All moralities are irreducibly social. However, in any culture, some so-called “moral” rules are necessary boundary conditions. Thus murder -- the deliberate killing of an in-group member, a person -- cannot be generalized; otherwise, no culture could exist.

No god needed. A lesson, learned in economics and anthropology, but not in theology -- given certain rules (patterns of behavior) complex systems of interaction, order, growth, adaptability can arise spontaneously -- market capitalism and morality as examples.

Five hundred years before the xian cult arose Chinese culture had already learned it A follower of Confucius asked, … saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not ‘reciprocity’ such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Analects 15:23 [trans. S.R. McIntyre 2003]

Cultures of liars, of thieves, of rapists, of cannibals do not exist -- social instability, arising from a failure of reciprocity, precludes their formation.

Of course for Marvin Harris there is a noted “cannibal kingdom” but the prey on whom the Aztec elites dined were corpses of non-persons. To dignify these religious heart stealers of high culture, let’s say that they practiced “exophagy” not “endophagy”, dining out rather than dining in.

• Xianity and its morality are cultural atavisms given over to indoctrination by god-proxies, paternalist norms, and the enforcement of socially undesirable mores. They instantiate norms not shared by other groups and which do not constitute necessary conditions for an open, secular culture to exist.

These mores usually appear as enforced restrictions (legal and illegal), for example, on sexual practices, on birth control, on abortion, on rights of women, on medical practice, on medical research, on teaching science in public education.

For a thousand years xianity and its allied morality easily survived in western cultures without well-grounded methods for establishing knowledge claims.

Both Science and secular Law, once freed from ecclesiastical censure and canon law, have operated successfully using a reality principle, a finding of fact beyond a “reasonable doubt.” Without formal systems of rule-governed empirical method and rule-governed review, Science and Law would disappear.

Beyond a reasonable doubt lies unreasonable doubt, beliefs neither creditable nor credible. Faith, the willing suspension of disbelief, has always been theater of the absurd.


the anti_supernaturalist

Hi Rich


Glad to see there are also moderate athiests! :-)

Rich your missing the point, I am not saying - poor me.  I am just amazed and surprised as I took most athiests to be thinking people.  But what I have seen here is a group of people saying "ooh thats an evil God and they are evil people so we are sooo right"    I see a herd of athiests building straw men and then charging at it, and congratulating each other for knocking the straw men over.  Its just silly.


If you are going to evaluate anything it should be on the best arguments and reality.  Picking extremists (as you call them) and then characterising all christians like that is surprising to me, and not very honest.


If anything all I hear here, is poor us athiests, we have been used and abused and persecuted by christians, lets get em.  Really Rich?  Forgive me for trying to bring some reality to your straw men.


I guess its human nature, Christians do it about athiests too, which is why I came to learn first hand, which has been received with condescenion and ridicule.  Not a great advertisement for your athiesm.  Simon has given me hope that not all athiests are like that though.


Not all Christians are extremists, but your entire image is tarnished by them. And all so-called "liberal" or "progressive" Christians do is give cover to the extremists. They simply don't take them on and don't speak out against them. It's their very inaction that has enabled to them to become so politically powerful and threatening in the last three or four decades. At the most, some may criticize them on single issues, which isn't enough. Which means they are complicit in their actions. If you you don't want to be associated with them, do something against them.


There are certainly Christians that we can live with. That doesn't change the fact that the entire Christian theology is morally reprehensible and profoundly anti-human at its very core



Sorry but there you go again, 'the entire christian theology is morally reprehensible and profoundly anti-human'.  Sweeping Straw men.  Massive statement, and if you want to get into unpacking it with me seriously - you will see its a falacious one.  Your idea of christianity is morally reprehensible but the reality isn't.


If you want to get into it lets start with what we have today and how christians are told to live, in the Bible. 

It's not a strawman. It's what Christians believe in. Numerous people here have told why the core Christian doctrines like original sin, vicarious redemption, salvation through faith alone or infinite punishment for finite "crimes" (including thoughtcrimes) are immoral. You can read numerous books on the subject.


You'll claim that that those people are wrong, that they don't understand Christianity, that you need to educate them, or that they haven't been introduced to the right kind of Christianity. yet Then you'll make up or quote verbose, illogical and nonsensical Christian apologetics. It's not going to convince anyone. Do you think we haven't heard your arguments a hundred times already? They've all been found lacking. And that includes the best theological arguments your theologians can come up with. They've been debunked for centuries


"In the Bible" is the absolute worst way to convince any atheist. We consider it a book of fairly tales and myths. Some parts of it are philosophy at best, and a very complex one. Selectively quoting from it, and interpreting horrible passages in nice ways is not going to convince anyone.

Correction: that should say "not a very complex" one



Pedantic semantics are just silly too.  You know that when I said about an evil God, that I did not mean that an athiest believes in God, but that you call the christians idea of God evil.   Along with your straw men comments.  It doesn't buttress your arguement or point by distrating to sillyness.  It may help my observation that I am concerned that athiests aren't such thinking people after all.


I know what you mean about being lied about and misrepresented.  I see it on this side all over the place.  Doesn't feel good does it?  And it doesn't help the cause of honest discussion, or holding views honestly. 


I'm not advertising anything.  And you are right that I am the outsider here, so perhaps I am wrong to want you to be more honest in your discussions - I don't know.

Rich, this has always been the puzzle to me:

If you don't like being characterized as a nasty Christian, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Change your image! Demonize the demons - Exactly.

Hey, Trevor, I don't know what religion you are, but can you tell me why xians sit on their hands while:

Mormon old men marry girls as young as twelve, babies arriving around the age of fourteen, pubescent boys in the compound are kicked out, no education, as they are a threat to the old geysers.

Why catholics go to church and prop up the hierarchy, while, from the pope down, protect serial pedophiles, when they should be sending them to jail.

Why do jehovah witness cover up their serial pedophiles, instead of sending them to jail.


Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" - 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Why any female wants to belong to any religion, when she is told and treated as an inferior and must be subjugated  by men. 

Why do men allow their partner to be treated this way. Is it because he doesn't have a backbone nor respect for his partner.

This is the point, as many well read and educated Atheists have already said, we KNOW the bible, and when I read it, really starting seriously from the age of fourteen, and now I am 120 years old lol, I have read things that I just cannot believe it says, and then for people to read the same stuff, and ignore it. I just don't get it. 

How can xians gloss over the rape, murder, selling off of daughters to rapists, killing children. I just don't get it. What do you actually look at and absorb.

Nothing makes up for these crimes - nothing.

Atheists do not care what people believe or not believe, do not give a hoot,  but it is when stuff is done in the hiding behind the cross TO THIS DAY, AND IS STILL HAPPENING, the horrendous crimes against humanity.


Start reading, my friend, it is called Educating Trevor - you may be really surprised.

How can you ignore what is going on in the world, and whatever country you come from> Whatever country you come from, it is happening there. Why aren't xians appalled, when Atheists are. How do you do you sit on your hands, turn your head the other way, and still call yourself a xian.

Why aren't there groups of xians protesting of the criminal acts done in your name.

Hypocrites of the world united = Xians.



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