Posts Tagged “biblical literalism”

MohlerPerhaps the most influential single theologian in the US is R. Albert Mohler. As the head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he’s the doctrinal custodian of the Southern Baptist Convention, and thus serves as one of the commandants of the Religious Right. I’m not sure why they thought they should do it, but CNN published his idiotic apologia for the Religious Right’s relentless war against gays (WebCite cached version):

Are conservative Christians hypocritical and selective when it comes to the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality? With all that the Bible condemns, why the focus on gay sex and same-sex marriage?

Given the heated nature of our current debates, it’s a question conservative Christians have learned to expect. “Look,” we are told, “the Bible condemns eating shellfish, wearing mixed fabrics and any number of other things. Why do you ignore those things and insist that the Bible must be obeyed when it comes to sex?”

Unfortunately, despite having posed it, Al doesn’t actually answer this question. Rather, he rationalizes avoiding an answer altogether. I’ll let his dodges and swerves speak for themselves … if you can stomach reading it.

What I would like to point out, is that Al — even though he’s a strict Biblical literalist — factually lied about what the Bible says:

Some people then ask, “What about slavery and polygamy?” In the first place, the New Testament never commands slavery, and it prizes freedom and human dignity.

In reality, the New Testament most assuredly does support slavery. It does so more than once, in fact. Read on:

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Eph 6:5-6).

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. (Col 3:22)

I’m astonished that a supposed expert on the Bible such as Al Mohler would have said something as clearly and demonstrably untrue as this … but he did, nonetheless. Did he really think no one would notice his lie? Did he really think that people like myself, who have actually read the Bible (not only in English, but in other languages, including the original κοινη Greek of the New Testament), would not have been aware of this? Did he really think people are that fucking stupid? My guess is, he did think he’d get away with it — largely because he’s preaching to his own choir; other Southern Baptists would have taken him at his word and not questioned his statement. Regardless of his presumption of being able to get away with it, though, Al’s lie earns him entry into my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

It’s obvious by now that America’s Christofascists have to resort to lying about their own religion in order to support their hateful rhetoric. I’m not sure where in any of Jesus Christ’s own teachings they discovered the mandate to lie about him, but I’m sure they must have found it. Somewhere. I haven’t managed to find that chapter and verse, but Al and his cohorts must know what it is. I wonder if they’ll deign to divulge it to the rest of us “mere mortals”?

Photo credit: james.thompson.

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Michele BachmannWith Christofascist Michele Bachmann leaping to the fore of the pack of Religious Rightists who are climbing all over each other to become the Republican candidate for president next year, and she being a rigid fundamentalist Christian, I suppose it was inevitable that the scriptural role of women in Christianity (especially in Bachmann’s version of it) would come up. She appeared on all the Sunday shows — since she won the more or less useless Iowa Straw Poll — and addressed this on Face the Nation, as CBS News reports (WebCite cached article):

Appearing on “Face the Nation” Sunday, Rep. Michele Bachmann stood by her comment in Thursday’s Republican debate that when she said that wives should be submissive to their husbands, she meant that married couples should have mutual respect.

In 2006, Bachmann said her husband had told her to get a post-doctorate degree in tax law. “Tax law? I hate taxes,” she continued. “Why should I go into something like that? But the lord says, be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.'”

Naturally, therefore, this dutiful scriptural Christian wife did precisely as her husband had told her to do. In other words, she was obedient. However, when questioned on this, Bachmann said something very different:

“I respect my husband, he respects me,” she said. “We have been married 33 years, we have a great marriage…and respecting each other, listening to each other is what that means.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see how “obedience” can be “mutual,” a word which implies “equality.” Continued questions only caused Bachmann to fall into even more ridiculous semantic claims:

“Do you think submissive means subservient?” O’Donnell asked.

“Not to us,” Bachmann said. “To us it means respect. We respect each other, we listen to each other, we love each other and that is what it means.”

Unfortunately, neither “submissive” nor “subservient” even comes close to implying the kind of equanimity that Bachmann outlines in that last sentence.

Those not familiar with fundamentalist Christianity may not understand what this is all about. It comes from two Bible verses, nearly identical, found in two different deutero-Pauline epistles — Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18. These are translated into English variously:

Ephesians 5:22

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (New American Standard Bible)
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (King James Version)
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. (New American Bible)

Colossians 3:18

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. (NASB)
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. (KJV)
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. (NAB)

In the original Greek, these verses are as follows (courtesy of Unbound Bible):

αι γυναικες τοις ιδιοις ανδρασιν υποτασσεσθε ως τω κυριω (Ephesians 5:22)

αι γυναικες υποτασσεσθε τοις ιδιοις ανδρασιν ως ανηκεν εν κυριω (Colossians 3:18)

The Greek word in question, then, is υποτασσεσθε, a form of the verb υποτασσω which can mean any of the following: “to submit to,” “place under,” “be subordinate to,” “to obey,” “be under the authority of,” etc. but which is assuredly related to υποτιμω, which means “to abase.” Not one of these possible meanings of υποτασσω comes anywhere near to expressing the kind of equanimity or mutuality that Bachmann suggests it means. In fact, the context of the verse — both in Greek and in English translation — only further confirms that it means anything but equality, and that is in the mention of “lordship” (e.g. “as unto the Lord” or τω κυριω). The concept being conveyed in both verses is that the husband-&-wife relationship is the equivalent of the Jesus-Christ-to-his-Church relationship, in which the latter is decidedly subject to (or subordinate to, or under the authority of, however you want to say it) the former. There is absolutely no equality, either stated or implied, in either of these verses. Not one iota of it. (Pun intended.)

The bottom line of both these verses is that wives — and by extension, all women — constitute a second-class within Christianity. No other interpretation of these verses makes any sense, because the exact words here cannot be construed to mean anything else — if one assumes (as Bachmann and her fellow fundamentalists supposedly do) that the Bible can only be read strictly and literally. If on the other hand one assumes these epistles were written by mere human beings, and specifically by male authors trying to propound their authority over women … well … that’s something else.

Really, this whole idiotic episode is just Bachmann’s way of veering out of the way of the strict scriptural directive that women are to be subordinate to men, so that she can then justify running for president, an office in which she would have authority over men (if she were elected). There’s no way around it.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr.

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Biblical Contradictions (screen shot from Project Reason)It’s not news to anyone who’s seriously studied Christian scripture that there’s a very large number of contradictions in the Bible. That this is so is only natural; the Bible’s many books were mostly written separately and often in ignorance of one another, so there are bound to be points of disagreement among them. Many Christians realize this, and have no problem with it. But Biblical literalists — who believe their Bible to have been written directly by God — cannot admit this, since any inconsistency or contradiction within it would make it les-than-divine.

Thus, Biblical literalists live by the mantra that “there are no contradictions in the Bible,” which they repeat ad nauseam, although it’s not true. Even in the face of the hundreds of Biblical contradictions which have been cataloged over the years, they continue to insist they do not exist. The contradictions are only “apparent” and not real, they claim; they’re the result of “taking passages out of context” (whatever that means), or of bad translations, of bad interpretations, or of failing to understand the nuances involved … the list of excuses and rationales is endless.

The truth is that Biblical literalists simply refuse to acknowledge the reality of those contradictions. They won’t let facts get in the way of what they wish to believe.

As a way of, perhaps, hammering home the extensive nature of the many contradictions in the Bible — even though literalists will still never accept them — the folks at Project Reason have devised a visual representation of them, showing graphically which Bible verses conflict with which others and vice versa. You can even get it in large and small poster-sized PDFs.

Here is just the portion of it covering the New Testament (click to enlarge this snippet of the graph):

Project Reason, the Scripture Project, graph displaying Biblical contradictions; New Testament section only

Project Reason, the Scripture Project, graph displaying Biblical contradictions; New Testament section only

The data used to create this is from Steve Wells at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. It’s a useful Web site, but its source text is the King James Version of the Bible, which for reasons I explained a few weeks ago, is a deficient translation. Unfortunately … and this is likely why Wells used it … it’s the only major English translation which is in the public domain, and therefore free to use. Any other would have to be licensed for use on a Web site, and that would likely be very expensive. A site based on the original Biblical languages would be better, however, current scholarly editions of the New Testament in Greek are also not in the public domain — and therefore would also be costly to use. Older ones such as the Textus Receptus would be deficient as well, and no better than the KJV.

Fortunately, the majority of Biblical contradictions are unaffected by translation; nearly all exist in the original Biblical languages. So even this is more than sufficient to show that there are contradictions in the Bible. Since only one unassailable contradiction is required to disprove divine literalism, that’s no problem at all. There are hundreds to pick from. Substantiating only one of them is trivial.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist and Unreasonable Faith.

Photo credit: Project Reason, the Scripture Project.

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You’d think that religious fundamentalists would have more to worry about, at the moment, than the tragic death of Sea World Orlando orca trainer Dawn Brancheau at the hands of orca Tilikum (WebCite cached article). But you’d be wrong to think so. The militant Christians at the American Family Association have decided to weigh in on the matter, and decided that — had scripture been obeyed, as they read it — Brancheau would still be alive. They posted the following on their own blog (cached article):

Bible ignored, trainer dies

You are aware by now that a 12,000 pound killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau yesterday by pulling her into a pool and dragging her around until she drowned, in front of a crowd of stunned guests.

Chalk another death up to animal rights insanity and to the ongoing failure of the West to take counsel on practical matters from the Scripture. …

The Sentinel then recounts that Tilly, as he was affectionately known, had killed a trainer back in 1991 in front of spectators at a now defunct aquarium in Victoria, British Columbia.

Then in 1999 he killed a man who sneaked into SeaWorld to swim with the whales and was found the next morning draped dead across Tilly’s back. His body had been bit and the killer whale had torn off his swimming trunks after he had died. …

If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum would have been put out of everyone’s misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives.

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, “When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable.” (Exodus 21:28) …

But, the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn’t kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, “the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:29)

(Links to scriptural citations in the NASB added by me, they were not provided by the AFA. They used the ESV, it appears.)

After dispensing its bizarre theological pronouncements, the AFA proceeds to dispense ersatz legal advice to Brancheau’s family:

If I were the family of Dawn Brancheau, I’d sue the pants off SeaWorld for allowing this killer whale to kill again after they were well aware of its violent history.

As if I actually believe the AFA is truly concerned about the surviving family. Have we finally figured out how pathetic these creatures (i.e. fundamentalist Christians like those at the AFA, not the orca) are?

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Kirk Cameron and his mentor, preacher Ray Comfort, have come up with a roundabout way to condemn the teaching of evolution. They’re distributing copies of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, but with their own introduction, which essentially says that the rest of the book is evil, racist, sexist, Holocaust-promoting crap.

CNN filed this video report on their strange propaganda campaign:

Given that Darwin himself died many decades before the Holocaust, Comfort and Cameron’s position that Darwin somehow supported it, is absurd on its face. It’s safe to say that pretty much no one living in Darwin’s time could even have dreamed of such a thing ever happening.

As for Darwin being a “racist,” that’s an anachronistic interpretation.

And I’m not sure that Biblical literalists such as Comfort and Cameron should even be going anywhere near the issue of Darwin — or anyone else for that matter! — being “sexist.” The Bible itself is chock-full of outrageous sexism, as anyone can find out just by opening it up. (Here’s a fairly comprehensive catalog of scriptural passages which clearly call for women to be treated as inferior. So on that score we have yet another example of the pot calling the kettle black — which is hypocritical, of course, but then, fundamentalist Christians like being hypocritical, in spite of Jesus’ clear injunctions against it.

These lies about Darwin and evolution quite naturally place Cameron and Comfort in my lying liars for Jesus club.

Update: The Primate Diaries blog lists several specific lies that Comfort told in his “introduction” to On the Origin of Species.

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The idea that Barack Obama is the Antichrist (which I blogged about before) is one of those “crank” notions that apparently refuses to die. According to Public Policy Polling, nearly 1/3 of New Jersey Republicans believe Obama could be — or truly is — the Antichrist. Rachel Maddow recently had Frank Schaeffer — the evangelical preacher and former Religious Right activist — on her show to discuss this. I have rarely seen anyone express the problem of Christian fundamentalism any more concisely than Shaeffer does here. He posits that these folks constitute an American subculture of their own, complete with its own customs and suppositions (transcript courtesy of Alternet; a Youtube video of this is below):

But I think the larger point this brings up is that the mainstream—not just media, but culture—doesn‘t sufficiently take stock of the fact that within our culture, we have a subculture which is literally a fifth column of insanity, that is bred from birth through home school, Christian school, evangelical college, whatever, to reject facts as a matter of faith. And so, this substitute for authentic historic Christianity …

Stunning, yet true … Christian fundamentalists do — in fact — utterly reject all facts that even appear to have the possibility of refuting their beliefs. They do not care what it is, they just refuse to accept it — reflexively and without hesitation. They view “facts” as impediments to belief … hurdles they must jump on the road of faith, if you will, or tests of faith thrown in front of them (by God or by Satan).

But Schaeffer doesn’t just leave it at that, he continues, explaining things even better:

And when you see a bunch of people going around thinking that our president is the anti-Christ, you have to draw one of two conclusions. Either these are racists looking for any excuse to level the next accusation or they‘re beyond crazy? And I think beyond crazy is a better explanation.

And that evangelical subculture has rotted the brain of the United States of America and we have a big slice of our population waiting for Jesus to come back. They look forward to Armageddon. Good news is bad news to them.

When we talk about the “Left Behind” series of books that I talk about in my book “Crazy for God,” what we‘re talking about is a group of people that are resentful because they‘ve been left behind by modernity, by science, by education, by art, by literature. The rest of us are getting on with our lives. These people are standing on the hilltop waiting for the end.

And this is a dangerous group of people to have as neighbors, and they‘re our national neighbors. And this is the source of all of these insanities that we see leveled at the president. One way or another they go back to this little evangelical subculture. It‘s a disaster. …

There is no end to this stuff. Why? Because this subculture has as its fundamentalist faith that they distrust facts per se. They believe in a younger of 6,000 years old with dinosaurs cavorting with human beings. They think that whether it‘s economic news or news from the Middle East, it all has to do with the end of time and Christ returns. This is la-la land.

And the Republican Party is totally enthralled to this subculture to the extent that there is no Republican Party. There is a fundamentalist subculture which has become a cult. It‘s fed red meat by the pawns like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other people who are just not terribly bright themselves and they are talking to even stupider people. That‘s where we‘re at. That‘s where all of this is coming from.

Schaeffer has a little advice for the Republican party, too:

And until we move past these people—and let me add as a former lifelong Republican—until the Republican leadership has the guts to stand up and say it would better—it would be better not to have a Republican Party than have a party that caters to the village idiot, there‘s going to be no end in sight. …

Look, in the year 2000 I worked for John McCain, to try to get him elected in the primaries instead of George Bush. But John McCain sold out by nominating Sarah Palin who comes directly from the heart of this movement and carries with her all that baggage. So, he sold out. I don‘t see anybody on the Republican side of things these days who has the moral standing to provide real leadership, or who will risk their position to do so.

I agree with Schaeffer on this … unfortunately there are no serious, credible, competent Republican leaders capable of seizing the reins of the party and casting off the fundamentalist subculture. At the moment, this “lunatic fringe” of furious and often armed wing-nuts is their sole source of political power (since they no longer hold the White House, Congress, or a majority of state houses or governorships). The GOP does not believe it can afford to jettison them. Of course, if they did, they would widen their appeal immensely among the 75% or so of the US which is not enslaved to religious fundamentalism … and in so doing they might acquire political power they currently don’t have. But, to their own and the country’s detriment, they staunchly refuse to take “the leap of faith” required to find out.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith blog.

Lastly, here is Maddow’s interview of Schaeffer, courtesy of Youtube:

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I’ve blogged before about Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, whose original education had been in a fundamentalist Bible college, followed by post-graduate work under the famous Bruce Metzger at Princeton Theological Seminary. His religious and theological credentials, therefore, are considerable.

Nevertheless, he is today an agnostic. Merely by being an agnostic, Ehrman arouses the ire of fundamentalist Christians. Despite this he’s published a number of books elucidating how and why Biblical literalism is flawed, and continues to do so.

At any rate, CNN recently profiled him on its Web site. In a time when religiosity has permeated the media — to an often-disturbing degree — this profile is a refreshing sight:

Former fundamentalist ‘debunks’ Bible

Just so you know, Bart Ehrman says he’s not the anti-Christ.

He says he’s not trying to destroy your faith. He’s not trying to bash the Bible. And, though his mother no longer talks to him about religion, Ehrman says some of his best friends are Christian. …

In Ehrman’s latest book, “Jesus, Interrupted,” he concludes:

Doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus and heaven and hell are not based on anything Jesus or his earlier followers said.

At least 19 of the 27 books in the New Testament are forgeries.

Believing the Bible is infallible is not a condition for being a Christian.

“Christianity has never been about the Bible being the inerrant word of God,” Ehrman says. “Christianity is about the belief in Christ.”

As I blogged before, this is the crux of Ehrman’s message. If I may quibble with the title of CNN’s article, it is not true that Ehrman “debunks the Bible.” Rather, he debunks “Biblical literalism” or the idea that the Bible is Christianity and vice-versa.

I find Christian fundamentalists’ objections to his work amusing:

Some scholarly critics say Ehrman is saying nothing new.

Bishop William H. Willimon, an author and United Methodist Church bishop based in Alabama, says he doesn’t like the “breathless tone” of Ehrman’s work.

“He keeps presenting this stuff as if this is wonderful new knowledge that has been kept from you backward lay people and this is the stuff your preachers don’t have the guts to tell, and I have,” Willimon says. “There’s a touch of arrogance in it.”

It is true that much of what Ehrman has to say is not really all that new. The problems inherent in Bible texts and in their transmission and translation have been known for at least a couple of centuries — at least, to scholars and textual critics, if not to rank-&-file Christians.

But that hardly invalidates anything he says, as his critics seem to think. Ehrman has a knack for explaining things well, even to this amateur textual critic. Moreover, if the worst they can say of him is that he’s “arrogant” and that they dislike his “tone,” those also do not make him wrong. (And if I might point it out … fundamentalists themselves are extremely arrogant and have a condescending tone … they claim to know “the Truth” and are more than willing to pound it into people, as if they’re entitled to do so. If that’s not “arrogance,” I don’t know what is!)

CNN is to be congratulated for this profile, which is sure to offend Christians of the Biblical-literalist sort, which is just fine by me … they deserve to be offended!

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