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.

 

Natasha

Tags: Atheism, Bible, Cherry, Choosing, Christian, Muslim, Picking, Religion

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Hi Jason

 

Thanks for the very reasonable response which I enjoyed, especially the little glows of humour.

 

With Damah I wasn't saying that athiests are like that. By outflow, I meant that as Dawkins says, as there is no God there is no good or evil and no meaning or purpose, values are relative.  I can see in that kind of world that our actions have no ultimate meaning.  Damah seemed to be saying that there was no God to hold Him to account and so he could live anyway he chose.  Athiests can say that what he did was not good for society, but with Dawkins, they have to also say that it wasn't morally evil - as that concept does not exist in an atheistic world.

 

2.  In terms of groundless claims - i.e God, I am sure you would agree there is no certainty in this area.  I do not know why athiests exist.  The boat that everyone is in is looking at the evidence around us and then saying what is the more probable cause / worldview.  I would disagree that Craig's arguments are weak in any way (they are not his, its just classic Christian appologetics).  I think, things like:

 

a.  The universe having a beginning, ie. matter time and space, at the big bang necessitates that the cause of the universe is immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and given the choice to create and the fine tuning - intelligent and personal.  The facts are in favour, probability wise of the existence of a first cause of this order, ie. God.

Of course, the steady state theory has been proved to be wrong, matter is not eternal. So either nothing created nothing from nothing, or Someone /thing created nothing out of nothing.  Its just probability that the latter is much more likely.

 

b.  The incredible fine tuning of the universe, and I guess it would be good to look at some of that also points in the same direction.  We live on a knife edge that is so improbable that the most probable cause is a designer.  Even Dawkins says that the chances of our being here and the universe being the way it is are astanomically against it.  So he puts his weight on a multiverse idea, which of course has not a shred of scientific evidence, its contrary to his argument that the cause must be simpler than the effect, and its hugely incredible.  I can come back and quote probabiluty statistics, but its obvious really.  Its not science, its just wanting to find any answer that does not include God.

 

3.  The moral argument does have weight.  We beleive and live as if there is moral good and moral evil and an absolute standard.  In my example, the holocaust was wrong even if the whole world thought it was right at the time.  This is natural law.  To say something is good and something else is evil, you have to have a third thing to measure them by.  Athiests say that third thing is society, which = moral relativism, but athiests and everyone else do not believe that in practice or live like it.  We live as if there is an objective, outside of us moral code that has been supplied.  And for good reason.

 

I won't go from there to Christianity, as thats my personal journey - and the right one I think.  But surely you cannot look at the design of the universe and say that the probability is in favour of athiesm.  Or first causes.   I agree this could leave you as an agnostic or deist, and I would have to go all christian on you to go any further! :-)  Point is though it is not irrational in any sense to believe in a creator, given the evidence. 

 

Dawkins.  I could accept what you say about Dawkins if he hadn't set himself up as the champion of science and reason and put out the challenge that he would talk to religious people and win the argument.  He has made himself a paper champion.  He did to his credit debate John Lennox about the God Delusion, and I don't think he came off well.  If he wants to paint all religious people as lunaticts then he has to step up to the plate.  Its a clear, put up or shut up.  I would be embaressed if I was you.

 

There are lots of christian ministries and folk who speak out and write against the nutters like Benny Hinn and Pat Robertson etc.  We don't need Dawkins, he is no friend.

 

Dawkins has not done a service to mankind, quite the opposite.  I think 9/11 showed that religion can be dangerous, the world was aware long before him.  What he has done is demonise all religion doing incredible damage.  Chrisitanity has been an incredible force for good in this world, and still is.  The new athiests are re-writing history.  Sam Harris even calls Mother Theresa evil, not that i am a fan of the whole nun thing. But its just ridiculous.

 

I would also have to disagree that we are born as athiests.  I think we are born with a sense of the transcendent, with a sense of God.  Thats why athiests are in the extreme minority.  Most people who are athiests, I would guess, have a reason to be so - i.e they had a bad experience of religion that preceded their search to free themselves from the shackles of God. But i am betting the mostly all of them had a prior sense of God.  Its natural, even Dawkins talks about his sense of awe.  In biblical terms God has 'put eternity in people's hearts'

This nice corner of 'I don't know', is that your position?  Are you agnostic?  If all I had was the things I mentioned above I would be agnostic.  I have other reasons that take me to Christianity.

 

I wasn't referring to the books of Sam Harris and Hitchens but to their debates.  I have read some of Dawkins (God Delusion) but not the other guys.  My reason for being here is evolving.  I wanted to learn first hand what athiests think and why, but I have been alarmed by the stereotypes and groundless sweeping generalisations.  So if I can also help bring some balance to that, I would be a happy chappy.

 

Lastly, when I said I don't mind if people choose athiesm, what I meant was I am a strong believer in freedom of thought and speech and every individuals right to choose their own path.  That doesn't mean that I believe athiesm is a good or legitimate path or that its good for society.

 

Sorry, this seems like an unorganised ramble.  Let me know if you want to be clearer.  Thanks again for some stimulating discussion.

 

Trevor

 

 

 

Jason

 

sligjht edit.  I meant either Nothing created something out of nothing, or someone / thing created something out of nothing.  Tiredness, sorry.

 

Also I meant if this were all I had to go on I would be a deist, not agnostic.

 

Trevor

Thank you for clearing that up the accidental correlation of atheists and psychopaths.

"Dawkins says, as there is no God there is no good or evil and no meaning or purpose, values are relative."

I don't recall Dawkins saying this although he may have but that doesn't need to alter my opinion since Dawkins, despite his intellect, does not constitute a sort of divine command theory to me. Good or evil are merely words utilized as descriptors for events or people and do not suggest supernatural aspects are in play. We may call an act evil but does that mean Satan was prodding those involved to commit such acts? Evil or heinous acts are committed for any number of reasons. As a matter of comparison, lets say a man stabbed his twelve year old son in the chest with a knife, it would be rather easy to conclude that he had some form of mental disorder which made him commit such an "evil" act of violence, during questioning he tells the officers that god told him to do so. Could you say he was wrong? Could you say he may not have a mental disorder and actually was commanded by god to do so? From the christian perspective you might have to consider it at least, I for one don't.

2: I would agree that there is no certainty in this area any more than I am certain of the existence of unicorns, I know you have heard this argument before so we can agree that neither of us knows, however I am not the one claiming "something" exists therefore the burden is not on me to offer proof, not to mention the impossibility in disproving a negative. I am sure you believe in god and that's just fine with me. I apologize if it sounds harsh but to me god is irrelevant, christians are relevant as they make up a large portion of our society and can alter it in ways I may not like. As far as god is concerned though do you want god to exist or are you simply resting on what you perceive to be facts or probabilities? Do you want god to be all loving all powerful and all that? if you do want these things to be true does it not strike you are eerily coincidental?

You suggest that god is the most probable and that other theory's (multiverse) are far less probable. I would be willing again to state the all to familiar "I don't know" response adding again that not knowing does not equate to god with the addition of what we know today is quite different from what we knew a thousand years ago, who's to say what we will know in another thousand years.

"But surely you cannot look at the design of the universe and say that the probability is in favour of atheism." I may have to use Hitchens on you here (ask your god to forgive me) We exist on a ball of water and dust hurling through space at break neck speeds amidst a cosmos filled with stars billions of which have already died out long before our species evolved billions more since, on this planet filled with a wide variety of animals, more than 90% of which have already gone extinct, and at some point in the future our star will swell as it dies engulfing the planet and it's inhabitants in an inferno of destruction just as so many stars before, some design. Not a direct quote, I could never do Hitchens justice. I personally do not see design but that's just me and even if you do see design it does not mean designer any more than that it doesn't, again, proof is a requirement and not mine.

Why would I be embarrassed for Dawkins? I'm not him, though I have enjoyed his work. Sensationalism is the name of the game these days and both sides use it to their advantage, when a christian goes off the deep end atheists go on the attack usually for good reason, but sometimes as a knee jerk reaction. But in the interest of a debate Here's the link for WLC VS. Harris

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqaHXKLRKzg&feature=related

Spoiler!! Harris wins.

I don't recall any ministers speaking out against the fraudulent hucksters I mentioned, I guess fox news didn't air that.

What Dawkins has done is reopen a case against faith which has existed for far longer than you or I. He was not the only one to speak out, and for his concern he and many other atheists receive death threats almost constantly. Does not seem very christian of them and only serves to prove his case.

"I would also have to disagree that we are born as athiests.  I think we are born with a sense of the transcendent, with a sense of God.  Thats why athiests are in the extreme minority.  Most people who are athiests, I would guess, have a reason to be so - i.e they had a bad experience of religion that preceded their search to free themselves from the shackles of God. But i am betting the mostly all of them had a prior sense of God.  Its natural, even Dawkins talks about his sense of awe.  In biblical terms God has 'put eternity in people's hearts"

Well, I have to rude for a moment so cover your ears "Holy Dog Shit!" Sorry had to get that out of my system. You think that's why atheists are in the extreme minority??? Something is becoming rather obvious and there are two possibilities, either you want to be called a boob or you have not read much about the subject of atheism I suggest another video called Atheism, a brief history of disbelief.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2250104590805018608

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3162184064060187674

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=502247489673453933

The transcendent means what? And of course where is your proof for this? How is a sense of awe somehow equate to god? Because if it does than I saw god in heather locklears boobs. I have had no prior sense of this god you speak of though others may have, each experience and the details surrounding the conclusions drawn differ for each individual. The reason atheists are in the minority (in the U.S.) is due to oppression and lots of it, You may not see it as much in the U.K. but in the U.S. it is quite noticeable. Other countries have greater percentages of atheists and those number are growing well globally. There are lots of reasons for this but I'm a bit too tired to delve into that area.

No I'm not agnostic but clearly (as it's defined) atheist. The agnostic position always gave me the feel of a level playing field in regards to evidence of god that is to say agnosticism sees the possibility of god as equal to the impossibility, that he can't know one way or the other. I disagree, there is absolutely no evidence of gods existence so I am an atheist. The "I don't know" corner refers to how it all started if it started at all. I like most anyone else should honestly say, I don't know. They may continue with "but I think" or "I have an idea" but once they say "I believe" it begins to get spooky since the conversation turns to preaching. By the way, how do you know, given the sheer number of other religions around the world that you have the right one? And, simply based on probabilities which appear to be important to yous god theory, yours will most likely be wrong as will all others but one. No person of faith seems that concerned though, does that mean they are certain of their choice or what I suspect, *whisper they don't really believe it*?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jason and Suzanne

 

Just a quick apology for not yet responding.  Its been a hectic week, some of which I have been away.  One occasion was in Oxford hoping that Dawkins would grow a back bone and turn up to a debate ;-)  He didn't incidently which WLC would have preferred as what was arranged instead was a panel of 3 Oxford academics from different disciplines who listended to Craig and then gave their responses, and then Craig responded to them.  Obviously WLC won the day by leaps and bounds.  Not that winning is the thing, its just that, in my opinion, he is right.  Even the guy chairing it was an Oxford academic athiest, so the deck was well stacked - not that it mattered.  I hope atleast Dawkins someday watches it from the safety of his own home ;-)

 

Anyway, sorry for the delay.  I am slowly catching up with posts.  Being the only christian here, can be labour intensive.  Not a complaint, its a privellege to be here.

 

 

 

Who the **** is WLC ?

Hi Simon

 

William Lane Craig is a christian who debates the world's leading athiests on the existence of God.  Here is one of his debates with Peter Atkins a scientist.  Worth watching some of his debates.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qT1pp_jCUw

I think we're born as crazy bizarre little fruit-loops who will believe pretty much anything.

Love it, I am definitely adopting that definition!

@Trevor - you've got an energetic brain, and no mistake. 

Yes, I would be pleased if you set out your world view, I was going to ask you to do that. 

I've got no problem with people cherry-picking from The Bible, it makes practical sense.  I myself cherry-pick from all over the place. 

Moral objectivity:  I see why you say that atheists live as if there is a "God".  In my opinion, it's true, they do.  Your God is God, our God is Life.  Our moral basis is the sanctity of Life, the livingness of living things, health and well-being.  Of course, as you have said I think, this in itself is too simplistic and vague to use as a moral guide in everyday life - we need a little more than that - just as belief in God, on its own, is too vague, and even (I contend) WWJD, although sound, may be too complicated and difficult to interpret in an instant.  It seems to work best in guiding deep reflection.  Now, The Bible is very far from being an objective guide (because cherry-picking is necessary).  Jesus, I agree, is an objective guide.  I trust his goodness, his integrity, his courage and his free-thinking - even if I don't always agree with everything he said. 

You're mistaken to say that atheists believe in moral relativism.  Nobody believes in moral relativism, apart from scoundrels. 

I have heard Richard Dawkins say he is a fan of Jesus. 

Thank you for explaining the Biblical passages about women.  I suppose I don't object to a man being the "head of the household" if it means he is the guide and protector, and is a good man who (if a Christian) conscientiously follows the teachings of Jesus.  After all, it's men's job to stick their necks out, fight wars etc.  The rest of what you said doesn't sound misogynist so much as sexist.  Where, exactly, is the authority that says women aren't allowed to do certain things?  Forgive me, but fuck that.  I have heard about those Corinthian women, they sound like a lot of fun.  God said they aren't behaving like women?  Well, they're behaving like women who enjoy sticking pigs.  All that stuff you explained is just Man Made.  I was pleased with your quotes from what Jesus said.  I would have been very disappointed if he had had a bad attitude towards women.  It just shows how enlightened he was if he was able to come up with those things 2000 years ago.  He probably loved "fags" too, but I can't see that making it into The Bible. 

The story of Adam and Eve has to be misogynist.  Please explain to me how it's not.  Adam created as the original human being, Eve a mini-me created from Adam's rib to please and serve Adam.  The downfall of humanity caused by a woman.  Oh, those bitches, will they ever learn?  That story created 2000 years of oppression and misogyny.  Again, completely Man-Made.  Jesus wouldn't have said that.  I swear, Jesus should have thrown away the Old Testament and just started again.  Humanity would have been much better off. 

You seem to be assuming that God is male (God's relationship with Jesus is a model for headship - how does that imply "male headship"?  That's just an assumption.).  Man.  Made.  Even if those passages can be argued not to be misogynist - frankly, they encourage misogyny.  I prefer enlightened feminism - we're probably not quite there yet, as the philosophy is quite young - but it's more life-enhancing and liberating for everyone. 

@ everyone: 

Who is WLC? 

Christopher Hitchens et al may well be cleverer than the people on this site, but that's no reason for us to slavishly believe everything they say, or to assume that there's nothing we can contribute.  Those people don't know everything.  There are other clever people around.  Would they even want us to hang on their every word?  I doubt it.  They don't seem like ego-maniacs - they seem more interested in free enquiry, bless 'em. 

I have recorded this BBC World Service programme about "evil", if anyone's interested.  It's very illuminating. 

Jeffrey Damah committed evil in the name of atheism, it's bound to happen once in a while as the argument exists that there need be no morals without God.  (Let's face it though, he is a dick.)  Beyond that, atheism is such a very simple belief that there's not much scope for it to breed complicated nonsense.  Christianity by comparison is very complicated so there's a lot of room for interpretation.  Also - religion by its very nature can encourage people to think they're right just because they're religious, and that's a basic mistake in moral practice, as it closes down self-questioning and opens the door for all sorts of shitty behaviour.  I know you don't recognize it Trevor, and I believe you, but I think you're naive as I see it all the time in Christians and Muslims.  To be fair, atheists can often say "I'm right because I'm rational" or "I'm right because I'm not religious".  Anyone who thinks they're better than other people is frightening, and a fool.

Hi Simon

 

That did make me laugh!  I'll have to get back to you on this as my wife is claiming to be a computer widow.  Tomorrow im off for the hopeful debate between William Lane Craig and Richard Dawkins, so will re-engage as soon as I can.

 

Just one question though.  Do you personally agree or object to women fighting on the frontline, hand to hand combat in war?

 

Trevor

Yes, she must be wondering where you are. 

 

I perceive that nature lays out some basic gender roles in all animals.  For every species of "dumb beasts" - one gender does this, the other gender does that.  They're born like that.  I presume that humans too have wild-animal gender roles of our own, back from when we were completely uncivilized: the first people.  However.  Nowadays, we are not running around the savannah in co-ordinated groups, bringing down our dinner with spears.  Most of our existence has been much more complicated than that.  That's why I believe it's a mistake to set out detailed gender roles for ourselves.  We should leave them basic, vague, and most importantly, flexible.  We are a miraculous species and we can, with our art and science, outwit nature itself, and successfully proceed to do our own sophisticated thing.  So we should view gender roles as helpful suggestions at best. 

 

If women want to fight hand-to-hand in front line combat - let them.  They should have the right and privilege to die for their country, the same as men. 

 

I know two families where the woman is the head of the household.  It's fine, it works very well, everyone accepts it happily (insecurity notwithstanding...) and it's the most effective thing to do by far.  If you doubt me, you haven't met Calamity Jane.  It would be weird, artificial and perverse to force them to step down and submit to the will of their herbivore menfolk. 

Hi Simon

 

Sorry for the long delay.  Its been a hectic week, in which I have also been away.  Below will be my christian worldview as promised (copied from where I have used it in another thread).  Did you have any thoughts on whether you think women should be frontline soldiers engaged in hand to hand combat?  I will get back to you on the other stuff as soon as I can.  The problem with being the only christian on an athiest website is that I have trillions of discussion that I am engaged in!

 

My parents were not Christians and there was no church attendance, except weddings and funerals.  My first venture into the questions of life was when I was 7.  Disturbed by my thougths I went to my dad and asked, 'If we do not know what it is like to be dead then how do we know if we are alive.'  I guess it was a kind of a Matrix question!  In my teenage years I thought quite deeply about life and how absurd and meaningless it was.  I had university, marriage, work, retirement and death ahead of me, but to what end?  This did take me to the edge.  I had walked the path of Neiche who saw that without God we enter into nihilism, and Bertrand Russell who said that we have no choice but to build our lives on the foundation of unyielding despair.  Which is why the French existentialist Albert Camus regarded life not just as meaningless but twisted and cruel and that suicide was the only philisophical question left to discuss.  This lead me to look at the Christian worldview, by accident to begin with as my girlfriend happened to be a chrisitan.  What I discovered, I found much more satisfying.  I had questions about the nature of our existence, examples:

 

1.  I intrinsically know right and wrong but find it hard to live with my own failure to live upto what I think is right.  Lying is wrong but I lie, stealing is wrong but I have stolen, making people pay when they hurt you is a madening passion but when you do it, it has no reward only regret.  Not to mention hurting the people I love the most.  I suffer and I cause others to suffer, sometimes despite wanting to be better than I am - and at other times wilfully so.  Multiply my experience by 7 billion and you have a world of people who suffer and cause suffering. 

 

And yet, I am outraged at injustice, and have a nagging, no pervasive sense, that the world should not be like this.  People should not be like this.  I think thats a feeling common to our clan (humanity).

 

For me, the biblical idea that the world wasn't once like this, that it was the perfect place that part of me longs for now, and that humanity turned away from its creator introducing sin explains this.  The strong feeling of justice I have makes me think that the idea of a final judgment by God is right and necessary.  I'm outraged if people get away with crimes they have committed in this life, and if I am just a man then surely God's sense of justice is greater than mine.

 

The problem that leaves me with is that I know what I am like.  If I want justice which is common to man, then God will have to judge me too.  I don't like that.  Or atleast I need a way out.  Pulling myself up by my own boot straps doesn't work for me.  Like a child I could say, i'm sorry I wont do it again, but its not true - I keep doing it, even when I don't want to, and other times I do want to!  So religions that are 'try and be good enough' and be in our club and God will let you into heaven - don't cut it for me, or I think for anyone.

 

Does Christianity have an answer?  Yes, in Jesus' death and resurrection.  I know from the universal sense of justice that God must be just, but He must also be compassionate and loving and merciful.  So when Christianity says, God became a man and stepped into my shoes to be punished for my wrong doing then - it has my attention.  I don't see that in any other 'try harder' religions or 'ignore the problem and change your perception of reality' religions.

 

Then there is the problem of why there is many religions and athiests.  Christianity says we naturally do not know God because our sin has seperated and cut us off from Him until we personally are forgiven.  God is distant and 'unknowable' naturally, not because he is deistic or physically distant, but I am morally distant from him, which makes me relationally distant from Him.  So there are many religions, and 'most' (i think is true) people have a sense of the transcendent and that there is a God - but everyone is fumbling around in the dark - the result of that fumbling is many religions trying to find the God we all know is there - but don't know.  My take then is that atheism is a moral problem ever before it is an intellectual one - no offence intended.

 

Lastly, when I became a Christian - you will appreciate this least of all  -  my experience was inline with what the Bible says.  My 'conversion' was quiet but the effect was an unexpected feeling of being 'clean.' My conscience seemed to instantly get an overhaul and the God I didn't know relationally and experintially turned into the God I now knew.  Not in the sense of Fred next door, but a majestic sense of divine presence, of love - intense love.  Of prayer being transformed from feeling I was talking to myself to feeling that God was close, in the room.  The Bible went from being words on a page to having intrinsic beauty, meaning and power.  Thats lasted for the last 18 years.

 

This is me trying to be more concise and not wite so much!!!

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