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

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My mom does that, this is also the woman who told me if I could prove the book of Revelations was fiction she'd become and atheist. To me, it seems as though some theists pick out certain things they believe in because they are still so afraid of what their religion has taught them to actually dispel the religion as a whole. 

Natasha,

 

People do seem to inherit religion and the traditions and assumptions that go along with it. If we can teach people how dangerous those assumptions are maybe we can make a difference in the world. I didn't really become an Agnostic until I was 18...if we could start a rite of passage of some sort - perhaps an age where everyone should question their beliefs and go religion/philosophy/political outlook shopping maybe...just maybe people will use logic when deciding the outlook that shapes their entire intellectual perspective. I don't know what we could call it - Any ideas?

I think if Christians (or Jews, or anyone who uses any form of Bible, old or new parts of it) DIDN'T cherry pick the parts they like and discard the ones they didn't, the world would be an insane place. Just look at Leviticus...

Working on a Saturday? (=Sabbath). Death.

Eating shellfish? Death.

Wearing mixed fibers? Death.

Entering a building for God with an eye defect (such as wearing glasses)? Death.

Staring at a neighbor's wife? Death...

And many peculiar habits that the Israelis had thousands of years ago would be still commonplace as described in Bible. Like burning lambs and other cattle for sacrificing to god, killing children, particularly firstborns, like in so many examples of when "God told him to do" so, and still keeping slaves (it's ok if they are from a neighbor nation, so I guess for US folks keeping some Canadians would be acceptable).

A great place to start would be http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/ for any particular area in mind.

And for a second point, Bible (and any religious books usually) is just too full of contradictions in itself to be able to take literally.

I just checked out the link...Such fun! You have my thanks.

In Catholicism, they're called "cafeteria catholics." "I'll take the eucharist and confession, but I can't accept the church's policy on priests and marriage or on abortion." Most people go to church for the social aspect and care little for theology.

Good question for discussion.

 

On the surface it would seem to make most sense that a religion is an "all or nothing" deal. It starts with a "guidebook" (the Bible, the Quran, whatever); values and morals flow out of that and then the religion is based on those values set forth in their holy book. But that's not the way it works in practice. I think that most people have a set of values they either learned in total from their parents, or got the initial foundation that way and then built on it from their own experiences and observations. By and large, people don't really select their religion; they belong because their parents did. So then religion is really just an overlay (or "close fit") on top of their set of values, morals, whatever, not the primary driver  or yardstick of those values. 

 

If that's true then it would be highly unlikely that any religion would be an exact fit for a person's value set, so cherry picking becomes almost inevitable. However if you bring that up to religionists I'd suggest you'd get a lot of people who denied they cherry pick. Probably don't even think about it. 

The word "disciple" comes from the word "discipline." The discipline involved in being the faithful member of a religion is that of conforming to the religion's theology.

You're not being very faithful if you pick and choose what you believe.

Isn't argument on the internet a wonderful way to acquire knowledge? There are people of so many backgrounds that have ran across so much information that it really opens up the world's mind as to how things are viewed. That being, religions are being called out on their inconsistencies. IE, it's common for Arabic speaking Muslims to not only say that you have to read the Qua'ran, but you must do it in Arabic. Yet when you confront a Muslim on a site like this and run into that claim, you'll immediately find a Arabic speaker challenging the claim of a false translation. The beauty of argument in these areana's allows us to gain knowledge that we may not otherwise gain in a lifetime. This is also leading to the swift eradication of religion when you consider the scale of time and religion.

 

Keep it up.

Suzanne -
you don't want to discuss with Trevor any more?  Why not?  Aren't you interested in what he's got to say?  I am.  I don't expect him to agree with me, I expect him to listen to my point of view and respond to it, and give me his point of view, and I can respond to that.  It might sharpen up both of us.  I don't consider my views and opinions finished and completed.  Rather, they're always going to be a work in progress. 

Your statement, "something isn't necessarily true just because everybody believes it" is going on my list of basic moral axioms. 

Trevor -
if Suzanne's closed down, then I want to ask you - those passages she quotes from the Bible, how are they not misogynistic?  Surely they are.  I think you're tying yourself up in knots trying to defend the undefendable.  Which comes down to what somebody else said - sometimes cherry-picking from The Bible is the morally right thing to do, and Christians know this, because most of them are not monsters.  The Old Testament, surely, is a load of craparoo.

What I mean is, it's so arbitrary, contradictory, ordinary, and uninspired, that it can't be relied on as a guide to anything.

Hi Simon

 

Yes its sad that Suzanne didn't want to have a discussion, but I did ask her this at the beginning, if she just wanted to make points or enter into dialogue.  She obviously just wants to make points, which is fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and to express it.

 

I will get into this with you and directly answer below.  After that I would like to return to my questions on what basis Suzanne and co can be morally outraged.  In her axiom you quote she seems to be arguing for an objective universal moral standard that is true even if no one believes it - ie. the holocaust being evil even if no one thought so (I know we do, its hypothetical).  I again suggest that athiests live as if there is a God (because there is!) who provides a standard that is outside of ourselves and culture, even while they deny him.  The truth is written on our hearts.  Anyway, as promised, I will leave that for now and get back to the idea of misoginy.

Let me start with an illustrative statement. 

 

Simon says, "Athiests do not believe that there is a God"  let me know quote part of what Simon says,  "There is a God".  Its not just religious people that cherry pick.  The problem is that if you already are hostile to, and do not want to believe in something, with the level of emotional intensity that Suzanne and others have expressed then you are likely to be devoid of objectivity, you are likely to ignore the historical, literal, and theological contexts in which things are written.  This leads to the second problem that with those kinds of bias and emotional intensity, and perhaps feminist agenda (not certain on that one though) you are also very likely to interpret statements as misogony - woman hating - instead of considering the wider issues of complementarianism, i.e that men and woman are of equal value but that does not mean they have the same roles.  Feminism has denied this and said if men and women cannot do exactly the same things in all spheres of life then women are being oppressed.  I disagree with that idea and suggest that it colours everything that people holding that view engage with.  I didn't really want to get into debating feminism, Im just highlighting it as a pair of interpretive glasses that are not neurtral or objective.

 

So let me start with backround.  The ancient near east (ANE) was partiarchal and women were seen even as objects that were owned.  They had little or no rights in a grossly male dominated world.  In israel, occupied by Rome, men would not even talk to women publically in the streets.  Jews ridiculously had a daily prayer where they thanks God that they were not born female!  This was the cultural context of the whole ANE.  It was into this situation that Jesus came.  Many things got him in trouble with the main movers in their society, and ultimately led to his crucifixion.  One of the causes of that was that he broke all social norms, and outraged people by elevating the value of women and treating them as valuable and equal to men. 

 

1.  He affirmed men and women were of equal value both made in the image of God, and that women should not be divorced for just any reason, as was the practice (Matt 19).  He protects them in this and refuses to treat them like property, as rest of ANE did.

2.  He addressed and discussed things with women in public e.g John 4 & John 8.  Again, appreciate the cultural background where this gets him hated.

3.  Even more so, women who were outcasts, poverty stricken or were being judged by others for something (Luke 7, John 8, Luke 8). 

4.  Jesus tells them they have equal spiritual standing, Luke 13.

5.  Jesus commands men not to treat women as objects of sexual lust, Matt 5.

6. Jesus took care of and ministered to women, Mark 1, Matt 8, Luke 4, Luke 7 etc.

7.  In the crucial mission of the church women laboured side by side with the men, Acts16, Rom

     16, Phil 4.

8.  Women were deacons alongside men, example Phoebe.

9.  Jesus broke the religious rules of the day to help  women, Luke 13, going head to head with the powers that be, ending ultimatley in his own death.

10.  Jesus holds a woman up as an example of great faith that shames men, Matt 15

11.  Jesus taught women - totally against the convention of the day.  Luke 10.

 

I could obviously go on, but I just wanted a bit of context to the passages mentioned

 

Genesis 2 etc.

I agree with Suzanne that these passages teach male headship in the family.  That God has said that the buck stops with the man, and that he is ultimately responsible for the welfare of his family, and for the spiritual growth of his family, including his wife.  And that he is to love his wife unselfishly, and self sacrificingly as Christ loved the church (Eph 5).  I think nature throughout time has said the same, its instinctive - no matter how much feminists might not like it.  Of course, men often do a bad job.  But I think being a christian should make you a better husband not a worse one.  Gratefully, my wife thinks so :-)

 

1 Tim 2v11-15

This is saying that because of male headship that the burden of public teaching in the church is a male role, and being the main leader of a church is a male role.  It is NOT talking about in society in general, its talking about church services.  Obviously many don't like this, even within the church and so in the Anglican church there have been contentions of ordaining women - who are ordained now.  I disagree with that, as I think this passage says its  a male role.  Not a value distinction, just a role distinction.  Feminists hate it, but i'm not a feminist, I am a complementarian.  Equal value, no oppression either way, but different roles.

 

1 Cor 11v3-10

This passage says a woman should cover her head when she is prophesying in the church (so women can talk in churches!) because of the headship issues.

 

Head covering in Corinth was a sign someone was married.  To stand up in church without your head covered was a cultural statement that you were available and not married, which was disrespectful to your husband.  Suzanne cherry picked a bit here and included that men were the head of women, and she stopped there.  It goes onto say as God is the head of Christ.  Meaning that God's relationship with His eternal Son was not abusive or  restrictive in anyway - its a model for male headship.  Hence in Eph 5 again that husbands being the head means giving your life for your wife - like Christ did for the church.  And here the model of headship is the  beautiful relationships within the trinity.

 

I could further say by way of background that there was a strong feminist movement in Corinth who would regularly do something called pig sticking.  Women would shave there heads and hunt pigs with sticks by way of making a feminist statement.  The Bible says to women, don't do that - be female your great as you are.  And to men it says, yes be the head at home and at church but make sure you do it in a self sacrificing way - like Christ, or else your just sinning and carrying out your own evil desires.

 

There is no misogony here.  You have to be a misoginist hunter and see them everywhere to honestly interpret these as such.  Yes its 2000 year old culture and needs careful reading, but what i have said here is the established mainstream understanding of these passages, based on solid hermentutical principles by which you would approach any ancient document. 

 

I hope that helps.  I know it will not convince people who do not want to be convinced, but thats not my concern, i'm just answering your questions and showing what Chrisitans actually believe instead of what people here think we beleive.  No cherry picking involved.

 

Could I also lay out my worldview Simon to help you see where I am coming from in general?

 

Trevor, this is the first I have heard of the head covering argument being a sign that a woman is married.  I believe this conflicts with previous information I have learned, plus it doesn't seem to fit the context of that passage for a number of reasons.  Do you have a source that you can provide to shed some more light on this understanding of the context? 

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