THE LARGER TRUTH

There are precious few good things to say about being raised Catholic, but if nothing else I'm glad I was not raised in one of the religions that believe ancient religious texts to be literally true. To have to believe – and to be repeatedly taught by parents and authority figures – that the Bible is a true, historically accurate document would, I imagine, leave one with a skewed sense of the line separating fact and fiction. I distinctly recall being about four years old, hearing the story of Noah's Ark, and thinking, "No fuckin' way, man. How big was this boat? How'd they get every animal on the other continents? What did they eat?" And when a story has enough obvious holes in it that small children roll their eyes, its literal truth is going to be a tough sell.

The good thing is, when I pointed out that the story makes no sense my dad explained to me the concept of allegory. While the tale might not be exactly what happened, it captures the essence of some historical event and teaches us a lesson worth learning. Ah. OK. Then it made more sense. Had the conversation gone in another direction ("No, little Eddie, this IS exactly what happened, and you are not to question it") I'd be a very different person right now, I think.

In Catholic schools I always found the clergy to be refreshingly candid about key events in the Bible being historically dubious and essentially fables. Catholics won't budge an inch on dogma, but they won't try to tell you that, for example, the Biblical accounts of the nativity (Jesus's birth) stand up to scrutiny. At this time of year you're probably seeing numerous plastic, glowing depictions of little J-Money in a manger, being visited by wise men and whatnot. Have you ever really thought about how nonsensical that story is? Leave aside the virgin birth part, even, and the story is still holier than the boxer shorts I no longer have to throw out now that my wife left me.

1. Why would Joseph and Mary return to Bethlehem for a census? What kind of census would make everyone in the Roman Empire pack up and go back to their place of birth, even though they no longer live there?

2. The Gospels offer two different but equally ridiculous explanations of how Jesus is a descendant of King David through his father, despite the fact that Jesus is not actually related to Joseph by blood.

3. How did the Magi/Kings/Wise Men/whatever show up at precisely the right moment on their journey of hundreds of miles "following a star"?

4. Why December 25? Our calendar didn't even exist yet.

The answers are quite simple. He was ham-handedly "related" to David and born in Bethlehem because – surprise, surprise – the prophecies stated that the Messiah would be related to David and born in Bethlehem. The Wise Men is just a narrative flourish, and December 25th was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice (Dec. 21/22, but Christmas day drifted over time due to changes in the Julian and Gregorian calendars).

This does not bother most Christians; they are comfortable admitting that the details of the story – the facts – are not relevant; the larger truth represented by the story is what counts. If telling this little Nativity fable is or was useful in convincing people of that truth (Jesus is the son of God and the Messiah), then so be it. The facts are subservient to the message.

This mindset is quite common and it's one of the major reasons that we talk over and past one another about so many topics these days, especially regarding politics. Half of us say, "Wait a minute, these numbers don't add up" and we can't wrap our mind around the fact that the other half of us don't care whether or not they do. Who cares if the numbers add up, the underlying belief is still valid. This struck me repeatedly throughout the campaign, especially with Romney. What the candidate says, and how frequently his statements contradict themselves and change, is not really important. What matters is the ideology he represents. Tell the proles whatever will satisfy them; it's OK to lie, exaggerate, or embellish to convince them of the greater ideological truth. If some funny math, half-true examples, and fabricated anecdotes help people believe that tax cuts stimulate the economy, then all the better. So what if the details don't add up as long as the message gets across.

This is just a theory on my part, but it goes a long way toward explaining why people are able to hold strong political beliefs and be unfazed when you point out that their facts are all wrong. Facts aren't important when you're in the business of converting the heathens to the word of the Lord.

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61 Responses to “THE LARGER TRUTH”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    But the loudest (and thus the most influential–thank you very much, Current State of Public Sphere) Christians are the ones who believe that the Bible is, in fact, inerrant. And even those who don't always have to do what I always think of as The Big Reconciliation, which is that the OT's Yahweh and the NT's Heavenly Father are the same Guy. Uhhhhh…No. Not. Apart from their mutual insistence on keeping the Sabbath, they are completely and utterly distinct in their respective visions of absolute truth and the attendant virtues. So…no. It's not much of a leap to go from there to "Lowering Taxes and Increasing Revenue are the same thing."

    As for the Christmas story (which, for the record, I adore), I am loath to cite Seth Macfarlane as the final word on anything, but the comment of Roger the Alien on AMERICAN DAD, as he eagerly anticipates the Nativity Narrative during Christmas services, sums it up pretty well for me with regard to literalism: "I hope I haven't missed the part where the three Chinese guys give perfume to the star baby. [laughs] It's like the diaries of a madman!"

  2. Jonathan Says:

    What if the so-called noble lie, that "it's OK to lie, exaggerate, or embellish to convince them of the greater ideological truth," IS the larger truth, according to some sects? Conservatism has always championed unearned privilege. In a society that could be reasonably described as out of control, and in a subcultural context that historically has favored hierarchy, maybe that's what the 47.47% really are really voting for.

  3. wetcasements Says:

    Actually Ed, December 25th was a Roman holiday called "Sol Invictus."

    So basically, it's even weirder than you have it — Christmas Day was literally based on a previous, highly pagan holiday.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sol_invictus

  4. Middle Seaman Says:

    Modern societies believe in the absolute truth of science. Same societies believe in a set of values invariant of religion. For instance, telling the truth, not harming people in daily life, respect parents, etc.

    The Pope has no problem with any of the above. He accept evolution, global warming and telling the truth. Our society is not modern. It doesn't uniformly accept science. Thus, evolution doesn't exist for some. Or as the story goes: when a a farmer saw avery strange animal crosses the field, he said "this animal doesn't exist."

    The larger truth is therefore secondary to the larger set of values.

    Once we evaluate a refined set of values, e.g. human rights, the divergences is much larger. But that was not the topic.

  5. Talisker Says:

    In Mark Twain's shorter formulation: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

    There is a parallel with the entirely secular notion that the masses are too stupid to be told the real reasons for doing things. Irving Kristol phrased it a bit more elegantly (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Irving_Kristol):

    There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work.

    This ties in with the old Leninist idea of a party vanguard, who must take action without waiting for the people to realise that a revolution is necessary. It was adopted by the architects of the Iraq war, some of whom pretty clearly understood that the idea of Iraq presenting a military threat to the USA was fiction; but they considered it a useful fiction to initiate their grand project for reshaping the Middle East.

    Coming back to Catholicism, the more educated cadres are pretty clear on the distinction between allegory and fact, but this is not always true among the rank-and-file believers. (Someone I know went to a Catholic school and amused himself by tormenting the nuns with theological questions of the kind Ed raises, until the Jesuit headmaster asked him to stop.) The hierarchy is content with that state of affairs; let the rubes believe whatever they want, as long as they do what we say and keep filling the collection plate. Lenin may have learned a thing or two from the Jesuits.

  6. Alex SL Says:

    So yeah, all this stuff about the stories in the bible being completely ridiculous is not really news. What I don't get is this:

    "This does not bother most Christians; they are comfortable admitting that the details of the story – the facts – are not relevant; the larger truth represented by the story is what counts."

    What the heck IS the larger truth? The whole point of the story is, as you correctly point out, to claim that Jesus is the Messiah/son of god. If he isn't, what is left of Christianity, really? (The same goes for other stories: If Adam, Eve and ancestral sin are all allegorical, for what exactly did Jesus die on the cross? To pay with his blood for our allegories?)

    It may work in politics, because that is not so much perceived to be about what is right but more cynically about what serves one's interests; but in religion, it may just be that these cognitive problems are what leads to an increasing polarization between agnostics and fuzzy pantheists in all but name on the one side and literalists on the other…

  7. Talisker Says:

    @Alex SL: I think the usual response is to say that God is like, really mysterious, dude.

    Less snarky version: Retreat into saying that God is incredibly difficult and maybe impossible for puny mortals such as us to understand, and the best we can do is use stories and metaphors. Trouble is, if you go too far down this road it rather undermines the "do as we say or burn in hell forever" aspect of religion.

  8. Xynzee Says:

    There's a common sentiment amongst those in the fields of theoretical physics and maths that the more they know the less certain they become.

    It's those in the pews of the humanities that spout the absolutist certainty dogma of science.

    Even Roberts has recently put the kibosh on "young earth".

  9. Talisker Says:

    @Alex SL, more specifically on Jesus' crucifixion: I suppose you could take the line that the forgiveness-of-sins stuff is a metaphor, but the part about Jesus being executed for preaching peace and forgiveness is real. (Fight the power, man.)

    If you take it at face value, the whole redemption thing gets even more weird. So, the omnipotent God made these rules, which Adam and Eve broke, and he decided to punish all of their descendants, but then he decided to send his son (who is also himself) to be sacrificed to himself so that he could decide to forgive us for the inherited guilt from Adam (and what a fucked-up notion that is) which only exists in the first place because he wanted it to. Clear?

  10. Freeportguy Says:

    To back up your point, we know from the "horse's mouth" that Republican gospel follows two fundamental rules:

    – Nothing said is "meant to be factual"
    – Republicans do not give a toss about "fact checkers"

  11. Alex SL Says:

    Talisker,

    Oh, I never claimed Christianity made any sense in the first place. Just that I can well understand those who, faced with the choice between holding nothing but fog in their hands or clinging to a literal "truth", go with the latter. And that I think it is easier for people to lie about their true motivation in politics than when they believe that they have just lied about their personal god. Yes, people can pull that off, but it must lead to some severe cognitive dissonance.

    As for the retreat into metaphor, it comes with a danger that many liberal believers appear to underestimate (and I am generously counting the Catholics in here; they don't actually burn witches any more, after all). The danger is this: you may have decided to not take your holy book literally any more, but you still teach your flock or children that it is the source of morals, the foundation upon which your beliefs are, and should be, built, and inspired by god.

    Well, a few people every generation and, if the circumstances are right, most of some generation a couple of decades down the line is guaranteed to look at the book and go: Wait, it says in here we should stone homosexuals, that women are inferior and that diseases are caused by demons. Yes liberal priest, it says here, look, and as we both already agree that this is god's word, and as it is consequently god's plain word against your obfuscating waffle, who do I believe?

    This dynamic makes religion hard if not impossible to lastingly reform.

  12. c u n d gulag Says:

    Every religious book is a propaganda piece, meant to prop-up, and then maintain that particular religion's 'Cult of Personality.'

    It's also a great grift for goniff's out to shake-down rubes. Keep societal order. Make the little ladies nice and subservient. And give followers easy people to hate – the ones who don't believe that the book you follow, is God's book – and who have the temerity to suggest that the book they follow, is.

    And not one of those books makes a lick of sense.

    But humans don't want to think that we're all temparal beings, who evolved from single-celled animals over billions of years, on the only habitable orb that we know of, in the cold empty space of a massive universe. And the fact that we even exist at all, is all due to chance.

    And so we create books full of myths and allegories, to comfort ourselves, make ourselves seem unique, that there's some higher order in the universe, and that we, of all creatures on this Earth, are not the subjects of random chance.

    Einstein was wrong when he said, "God does not play dice."
    If there is a God, then surely He/She/It was/is playing dice.
    And even if there is no God, then somehow, dice are constantly still being rolled.

  13. anotherbozo Says:

    This has to be one of Ed's best blogs—at least the connections he makes are new to me. It's provocative beyond its intended scope, even. The ideology-trumps-factual reality meme reminds me of what was called Post-modern critical theory a few years back. Maybe some of you in the MLA can correct me if I'm wrong, but it involved a relativism so extreme as to completely upend the so-called Western Canon. It seeped into my own art classes while I was still teaching. Grossly simplified, through its tenets Shakespeare was a royalist and a sexist, for example, and if you chose to regard his work as nevertheless worthy it was your choice. Titian painted naked girls for merchants to ogle in their leisure time, and thus his entire oeuvre could be dismissed. This Postmodern criticism was essentially nihilist. So there could be no cultural consensus, Western or even international; there was no bedrock of human value, were only different individuals or tribes pushing agendas. It's all a groping for power, and whoever is in power, while it lasts, gets to set the agenda for everyone else. Through this logic our very Constitution, I guess, can be discredited, because there is no essence to a human being, no agreement as to bedrock values of any kind.

    The cultural and political history I could point to as helping to sift and define enduring value was all discredited; there was/is no essence, and the mere endurance of values, their persistence across time, was no test either. (After all most civilizations, through most eras, have embraced sexism, to name only one example.)

    Anyway I was glad to get out of teaching when I did. Refuting ideologues with facts is hard enough; advancing the subjective values of art against a nihilistic mindset is well-nigh impossible.

  14. Mr. Prosser Says:

    @Jonathan: Yes, that is exactly what they are voting for. They can only see themselves and those like themselves. The tired cliche is the echo chamber. Reality bit them in the ass and the reaction will be ugly. Remember, even the poorest of the 47% are still pretty well off in comparison to the rest so they have a lot of power and influence. The Big Lie will be reinforced in the coming years. cf: See Douthat's latest.

  15. ladiesbane Says:

    Romney should be heaving a sigh of relief that his brush with reality is behind him now.

    It was a rough way to learn there is no Santa Claus, but he'll be happier not having to move into a smaller house and have people make unavoidable demands all the time. The nice thing about just being an obscenely wealthy guy instead of being President is that when reality knocks, you can refuse to answer. Any Aryan from Darien will tell you that.

    Operating from faith (belief without solid evidence) in one arena doesn't imply that you are incapable of demanding evidence elsewhere — but the more faith you have in complex structures unsupported by proof, the more cracking there is in your logic masonry. Build your house on a few crummy assumptions and you have to baby it to keep it from crumbling.

    Romney has been babied a lot. He is isolated from reality on so many levels…his wealth, his privilege, his political beliefs, the people he keeps around him, the information sources he trusts. I hope he enjoys a reality-oriented paradigm shift, but what are the chances?

    Let's just keep in mind that he will still never have to break his back flipping hospital mattresses; never walk the tightrope between paying for heat and paying for food; never have to split pills to postpone his next medication refill; never have his heart broken by not being able to feed or clothe his children. The biggest threat to Romney is erosion.

    All that power he has. And what does he choose to do with it?

  16. Talisker Says:

    @Alex SL: Agreed. And even the most "metaphorical" religious groups may hang onto some things which don't make sense.

    No Catholic theologian is going to stop in the middle of celebrating Mass and say, "Of course as we all know, this is just a metaphor and it's not factually true that Jesus died from our sins and was resurrected." He may think of it as a symbolic ritual which is not expressing any literal truths, but it's unlikely that all of the congregation will see it that way.

    A Catholic who doesn't literally believe in Noah's Ark is one thing; one who doesn't literally believe in heaven is quite different, even though a small child can spot logical flaws in the latter ("Granny remarried after Grandpa died, so which husband will she be married to in heaven?").

    All this provides a convenient starting point for fanatics and zealots.

  17. Mo Says:

    What religion pushes and sells is the most addicting drug possible for the human race:

    Self Righteousness

  18. sluggo Says:

    There was cultural in Evangelical Christianity with the start of the Moral Majority. I grew up Baptist and went to a grammar school run by Bob Jones grads in the 1970s.

    The crap that gets thrown around nowadays, would have been seen by those people as bat shit crazy. Sure, they believed in a literal translation of the Bible, but there were limits to that belief , like not following the punishments outlined in Leviticus, or that God creating the world may have taken a little longer than than six days. That one was reconciled by saying that a day may have been longer back then, say, a million years.

    Anyway, like I said, something has changed, and has changed for the worse. I think that money and politics is the cause of that change.

  19. Dookie Says:

    I'm assuming this post was in reaction to Sec. Geithner's interviews on yesterday mornings news programs. It was kind of hard to watch and makes you wonder who could possibly buy the load of literal dung spewing from his mouth…unreal. I know everyone understands he is lying, but it's in the context of a political battle, so if you happen to be on his side you feel the need to overlook how obvoius the lies are. It's just sad this is what it has come to in this country. It's all politics, facts are not required.

  20. bb in GA Says:

    @talisker

    At the risk you genuinely don't care…

    ("Granny remarried after Grandpa died, so which husband will she be married to in heaven?").

    Jesus dealt directly with this question starting in Matt 22:23 in his response to a question from the Sadducees who were a religious group who did not believe in the resurrection of souls (as opposed to the Pharisees who did.)

    //bb

  21. Bill Says:

    @anotherbozo

    So postmodern critical theory just sounds like a way to say "the shit we make now is just as relevant and important as the shit made by The Masters," no?

  22. Anonymouse Says:

    GenX'er, raised Catholic, went to Catholic school briefly. My experience was that nobody I knew took any of that stuff seriously. Church was just something you did on Sundays, much like people go to sports bars and watch football games. Ironically, there was far more tolerance and diversity in Catholic school than there was in the public school, which was all-protestant-christianity, all-the-time.

    The "bible is the inerrant word of god" folks crack me up; clearly they've never *read* the bible.

  23. mel in oregon Says:

    many people are raised in brain washing religions including yours truly. the question is how did we escape? usually the first thing you start doubting for most at the teenage years is how hypocritical the people in the church are as opposed to the beliefs they profess to adhere to. you see the greed, affairs among some of the married members, & shit you know, pretty soon it seems like all bullshit. then as your education proceeds you realize we had apes as our ancestors based on all the fossil & dna evidence. so that doesn't square with adam & eve. then you have to look at all the horror caused by christanity, the crusades, inquisition, inslavery of 300 million blacks, genocide of american indians, old women burned as witches, & pretty soon the things taught in church all seem like the total nonsense they are.

  24. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    I'd point out that most mainline protestant churches train their clergy in the "historical-critical" school of Biblical scholarship, i.e., exactly what you're talking about here. They don't always reliably convey this training to their parishioners, however.

  25. bb in GA Says:

    @mel

    "& pretty soon the things taught in church all seem like the total nonsense they are."

    Some of the nonsense I have absorbed in church:

    God is love

    Love (eros, philao, and agape) are the most important concepts in life

    Treat other people like I want to be treated

    Forgive others because we are all imperfect and I am in need of forgiveness too.

    Forgiveness frees you from bondage regardless of the attitude of the recipient.

    Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight…

    Jesus is just alright with me :-) Nah, I leaned that from the Doobie Brothers…

    I could fill up the page with a lot more, but you get the idea

    //bb

  26. anotherbozo Says:

    @Bill:

    As I understand it, it's relevant if you subscribe to the agenda, whatever that is. "It" being the cultural artifact of choice. Old, new, doesn't matter.

  27. Talisker Says:

    @Bb: don't really care, but thanks anyway.

  28. Anonymouse Says:

    @BB; most of that is the Golden Rule, which existed long before Christianity and appears in just about every culture on the face of the planet. It's how social groups get along.

  29. bb in GA Says:

    @anonymouse

    mel's point was that the things taught in church were all/mostly (maybe my spin on mel) nonsense.

    Your criticism aside about the historicity of what I learned, it remains, I learned it in church.

    Are you saying because these items I listed (not exhaustive and certainly IMO not all related to the Golden Rule) don't pass some kind of anonymouse's religious originality test, then they don't qualify to be on the NOT nonsense list?

    //bb

  30. Brian Says:

    Been discussing exactly this with my dad for years. Very well put, Ed. Fundamentally, belief, and the consequences of putting belief before skepticism, are what drive the otherwise incomprehensible appetite for utter bullshit that broad swaths of the public consume. And it obviously isn't limited to politics. I think most infomercials are selling faith-based products. Buts that's another topic.

  31. sluggo Says:

    @bb

    1. Mel is just a non-capitalizing crank. I Mel is actually another pen name that you use. :)

    2. Good reference from the Book of Matthew. Jesus sure liked to piss in people's Cheerios.

  32. BruceJ Says:

    The Roman census was an economic stimulus package lobbied for by the Inn&Stable Association Of Greater Judea. Or maybe it was the Greater Judean Association of Inns&Stables.

    Damned splitters

  33. fuzzbuzz215 Says:

    Lord Ronnie

  34. Sarah Says:

    bb, I certainly wouldn't presume to speak for anonymouse, but I did see your usual obnoxious, smug self-righteousness in the comment she referenced. You seem to be suggesting that your church has the monopoly on the Golden Rule, and the fact that you learned it in church was what validated it. Do we really need to talk about all of the bad things that have been said and done in the name of God, Jesus and the Church?

    "If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed." Albert Einstein

    BruceJ, LMAO at the Life of Brian reference.

  35. ladiesbane Says:

    bb: I didn't see your comments as being smug at all, but I've been to a lot of churches that spoke that way and walked it likewise.

    I can't stand it when people gripe about Christianity not owning its good ideas. Do people sneer at the Buddha because he recycled Hinduism? Let them take ownership of their bad ideas first.

    People aren't grapes, folks. You can't hang them in a bunch. Religion seems to make good people better, and bad people worse. But the goodness or badness is a pre-existing condition and I give the person credit, for better or worse, not the god. There are no puppets here.

    But since we're on the topic, anyone who can resolve the theodicy problem for me without resorting to miracle fixes such as ineffability gets a lollipop. (Anyone who can quote the relevant passage from "Good Omens" gets two.)

  36. bb in GA Says:

    @sarah

    You have a special disdain/distaste/hatred for me that is well nigh irrational.

    I am your boogeyman. Boo!

    I am and did none of what you say.

    You haven't a clue why I aspire to do good or be better. I agree with Dr. Einstein (and You!)

    I hope you are leading a fulfilled and happy life away from G&T…

    //bb

  37. Xynzee Says:

    What is being debated is far far closer to what Anotherbozo pointed out, and is classed under "post-modern narrative" more than anything. It's the same thing that allowed for free states to coexist w the "peculiar institution" and 3/5 "compromises". Upon sorting that out we find that the same event has not two but three *equally* "valid" names to go unchallenged, so was it the Civil War, the War Between the States or the Wa' o' No'thin' Ahgreshun? — side note/benefit: actual non-biological legal entities now are "human".

    It's the same thing that allows "Dr Jenny from the University of Google" to pass on her research papers. I saw a news item the other day on the importance of vaccination, and they allowed a snippet on those who get to plant their seeds that vaccination causes autism. That 9/11 was a grand conspiracy, seeing how Shrub was theirs that one's on the Left.

    These are tools that those in power use to manipulate those below to stay there. No the people will say/do whatever to stay there. The MSM is hopefully starting wake up to this and calling them out on this.

    So the real question is: why after 2000 yrs this guy from a provincial backwater who got himself executed for "challenging the man" with his message of "Be excellent to each other" causes so much pants wetting and knicker knotting.

  38. Bernard Says:

    lol, the stupidity of Religion is exemplified by its' followers. the fear of dying and that death being the end of our lives is why religions screw us over. scams one and all. what amazes me most is how people just don't see how spiritual/amazing the whole world and everyone is. that we are all part of one wonderous accident of evolving life. at least we were repeating the same old lies and fears until the Politicians/Rich figured a permanent way to sell us our own death. aka Global warming or privatizing the air we breathe and the water we drink. the quick road to destruction. Capitalism

    i really do thank St. Ronnie for the end times coming true. at least The Great Scammer got one thing right, figuring a way to make a killing/profit on killing us. As Marx said, Capitalism will sell us the rope we hang ourselves with. and we are taking the whole world, the ecological system, with us.

    the obvious inconsistencies and stupidities of organized religion are so self apparent it reminds of that same old phrase i have come to love: Willful Ignorance.

    but the Right must have it their way and thus shall it be. we shall die in a hail of glory,hell on earth. no food, no water, no air, just devolving into hades. for the Lord of Business hath decreed it so. and who am i to subvert the will of the Organized Apostates. lol

    Einstein is quoted as saying the stupidity of humans was beyond infinite. lol And religion sure proves that in spades. lol. at least i won't be around to watch our grandchildren's children cook in the Venus like environment the Gods of Greed have chosen for us.

    salvation, saved at last, the true irony of religion and its' vitrol. only a human God, using humans concepts, would do unto us what has been done to others. But, my God is so much Better than yours. so i am precluded from worrying about the evils created by yours. lol

    but don't look behind the curtain!!

  39. Steve from Canada Says:

    OK, speaking of allegory and irony, here's a good one:

    "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." Matthew 5:39

    I'm not asking rhetorically here, because I honestly don't know and am curious: What's the main method of reading that, understanding it, and then subsequently stomping around the world and bombing the shit out of everyone? Because that seems to be a popular Christian pastime.

    Not that it's an especially Christian pastime — far from it. But it seems kind of sad that Jesus apparently came up with a radical idea — totally scooped Gandhi, obviously — and his followers seem not to have noticed.

    But I must be missing something here. How can Jesus give us about the most unequivocally pacifist statement I've ever seen and nonetheless be followed by a flock comprising maybe 1% pacifists and 99% warmongers, imperialists, and avowed self-defense apologists?

  40. Anonymouse Says:

    BB: Your criticism aside about the historicity of what I learned, it remains, I learned it in church.

    @BB: yes, but it did not come from Christianity. As Sarah noted, you seem to believe that your faith is the bringer of all good things, when in actuality, the good things you claim were universal before Christianity was ever made up.

    If you're going to claim the good things, you need to own the bad ones, too: that it's perfectly okay to sell women to their rapists, that children can be stoned, that if a man doesn't like the fact his wife is pregnant, he can take her to a priest and make her drink a concotion of rotten grain to make her abort against her will, that it's perfectly fine to "rip the suckling babes from their mother's arms" and "cut open the women's wombs" to kill children if the voices in your head tell you so.

    According to your book, you are commanded to murder anyone who gets a haircut, eats seafood, works on the Sabbath, plants a backyard garden (two species in one plot) and wears clothing of mixed fibers….so, when are you going on the murderous rampage in Wal-mart?

  41. Major Kong Says:

    Actually I have no problem with religious sects cherry-picking which parts of the Bible they like and, ahem, skimming over the parts they don't like.

    They all do it.

    It's the ones that claim the loudest that they don't do it that torque me off.

    That's why there are roughly 20,000 Christian sects, each one of which will be glad to explain, in great detail, how the others are all wrong wrong wrong.

  42. Anonymouse Says:

    it doesn't bother me what the various sects claim they believe, unless it's one of the following:

    1) they claim to be *the only ones* who follow a specific set of rules (particularly the ones laid out in Hammaurabi's Code, long before Christianity was ever made up)

    2) they try to enforce their particular hangups on all of society (for example, ignoring all the many captured or bought sex-slaves, concubines, wife's servants, and plural wives to insist that the only "true" marriage is one narrow definition)

  43. mothra Says:

    What Ladiesbane said. And, hello, what in the hell is your deal with bb, Anonymouse. He absolutely DID NOT say he believed his faith was the bringer of all good things. He responded to your statement that church teaches only bad things. He listed some good things he learned in church. To counter your statement. And I as well will counter your statement. Believe or don't believe, but don't go all Bill Maher and embark on a campaign to denigrate all religion as bad. Because I can tell you about a lot of good things that a lot of church folk do–right across the street from where I work, a coalition of churches and volunteers run one of the largest food banks for the needy in town. ALL VOLUNTEERS, ALL CHURCH LADIES AND MEN. They feed the homeless. On a regular fucking basis. Why? Because they walk the talk. If it makes you feel better, okay I'll own that Christianity is responsible for a lot of bad things, too. But I bet I can point out a lot of atheists who have done some fucked-up shit. Fuck. I don't even GO to church and here I am defending religion.

    Small niggling point: the only gospel to mention kings is Matthew and he doesn't even say they show up on the night Jesus was born. He just says they show up at the house where Mary is with the child. Of course, the idea that there might have been kings is a story, too, so it doesn't really matter.

  44. Southern Beale Says:

    What I find fascinating, from a scholarly perspective, is all this stuff that our culture has added on to the Bible, much of it based on Renaissance art and whatnot. Mothra mentions the "Wise Men" (or Kings) — that's just one example.

    I did a post called Things That Aren't In The Bible, Holiday Edition a few years ago, giving a few other examples of this (I have a non-holiday version too). All of the stuff that people get in froth over related to the Nativity scene? Not in there. There's no stable, no innkeeper, no Wise Men bowing before the Baby Jesus in the manger .. none of that is in there. But someone painted a picture and the culture latched onto it and people started putting up Nativity scenes and thus a thousands lawsuits over religious displays in the public square were launched.

    And as for the larger comment on religious literalism, William Sloane Coffin wrote the definitive sermon on this in his essay, "Homophobia: The Last Acceptable Prejudice." Sadly, I'm not sure it's available on line any more, but it's in his book, "The Heart Is A Little To The Left." Basically his point is that EVERYONE picks and chooses what parts of the Bible to believe and what parts to ignore. Even the staunchest fundie does it, they have to — the Bible is so inconsistent and contradictory, it's necessity. So don't tell me we can't let gays get married because the Bible says it's a sin while you tuck into that plate of pork barbecue and wear your poly blend slacks and shirts.

  45. Da Moose Says:

    I went to catholic school for 12 years here in the DC area. I would probably do the first 8 years over again because I learned logic in sentence diagraming. But, I'd pass on my Jesuit education in high school. Overall it was overrated. As a side, the governor of Maryland is a Catholic who went to my high school and Cucinelli, a probable future governor of Virginia, also went to my high school. Both represent the ideological divide, soon to be represented by the Potomac, in the Church between the social justice Catholics (O'Malley) and the pre-Vatican 2 Catholics (Cucinelli). Our house truly is divided.

    BTW, you don't believe in dinosaur saddles!?!? You fool!

  46. Middle West Dave Says:

    Sorry about your wife.

  47. DB Says:

    @ Steve From Canada

    I think the main way they get around that verse and others like it is by interpreting them to apply only to personal rather than corporate morality ("corporate" in the old school sense of the term: a group of people acting as a body).

    Thus, if you, acting as an individual, shoot some people up, not cool—but if your nation (and, by extension, you, insofar as you are acting as a member of that nation) shoots a those people, that's fine (so long as the action is justified by some sort of "just war" principles—and of course, with enough casuistry, almost any military action can be "justified" in that way).

  48. julbo Says:

    Middle West Dave is the only one who caught that, and cared?
    Os is it old news?

  49. pjcamp Says:

    And where would they plug Jesus in?

    I mean really.

  50. Bernard Says:

    gosh, ain't religion grand, all the love and peace and unity and brotherhood.

    Ah the joys just roll like waters to the sea.

    allegories indeed.

  51. Steve from Canada Says:

    @Bernard: Based on the timing and content of your posts yesterday evening and this evening, I infer that you typically start drinking at approximately 8-9pm. But that's only if you hit the bottle like it owes you money starting right around then. Otherwise, you'd have to start earlier. ;-)

    @DB: I hadn't thought of that, mostly because I can't imagine on what grounds they would think to distinguish acting by oneself from acting in big, scary mobs. Most "just war" theory is based on what McMahan calls the "presumed permissibility of self-defense," so I don't know how you'd get (serious, good faith) just war theory off the ground.

    Self-serving rationalization, on the other hand, well, I know how that works! But I'd like to hear something more like a good faith, reasonable attempt to render Jesus's requiring that his followers "turn the other cheek" consistent with his followers' requiring that they kick major ass and take names, God Bless America. But I don't think I'll get it anytime soon.

  52. mm Says:

    Even people who I've known for years, and never thought of as even a little bit religious, are making right wing religious comments. They're probably getting them from Fox or hate radio.

    Also I've always thought that the 3 wise men were actually there for Jesus's bris. One of them was a moile. The timing is right.

  53. bb in GA Says:

    Obviously this is not a forum for Christian apologetics, but many of the comments about particular Bible verses ignore the basics or are ignorant of the basics of mainline Protestant and probably most of Catholic theology.

    Another tactic present is projecting a minority or marginal interpretation of a text onto the whole Body.

    None of these is new to the Christian worldview.

    IMO the absolute best argument against all this personal God stuff of any flavor is the one that ladiesbane brought up – theodicy – the problem of evil.

    I can rationalize the allowance of personal moral evil in the universe as the price paid for free moral agency, but natural disaster is the tougher one to deal with. It is just so irrational.

    No sucker for me, ladiesbane

    //bb

  54. Steve from Canada Says:

    @bb: I guess I thought you were in charge of Christian apologetics around here, so I was hoping you'd answer my question. But I don't blame you one bit for refraining. I didn't *intend* to present myself as a punk-ass troll who poses a supposedly innocent question about religion and can't wait to be a snickering d-bag about whatever answer I receive. But I wouldn't be surprised if anyone mistook me for such a person.

    However, the reason I asked is because I am, as you say, ignorant of the basics of Christian theology, but I teach "just war" theory and often like to quote that "turn the cheek" line from the Jeebs when I talk about pacifism. Then I'm lost when I try to explain how that could fit into whatever else we think we know about Christianity.

  55. ladiesbane Says:

    @Steve: I strongly recommend using even more quotes from the Jeebs when you are talking about the opposite of pacifism. For he comes not to bring peace, but a sword; and to divide houses, setting families against each other. He even says that if you have no sword, you should sell your coat to buy one. Jesus was no pacifist.

    If you are comfortable quoting from a later part of the canon, the Revelation puts Jesus on a white horse, saying, "and he that sat thereon was called Faithful and True; and in righteousness does he judge and make war." Seriously, read the whole thing; it's a quick sit. I have been a crusty old agnostic anti-theist since I lost my girlish giggle, but the Bible has had a strong influence on Western society; like the history of churches, it's worth knowing.

    And bb, I didn't think you'd fall for that trick question. Any definition of God (yours might be different) that involves not only omniscience and omnipotence, but omnipresence and omnibenevolence, is doomed. If God is so unlimited, God cannot but be present in every attacker as well as every victim, part of every cancer, part of all the bad. As for omnibenevolence, well, things work out easily if you assume God isn't totally good, or isn't always on our side. But some part of the definition always breaks down.

    The whole formula only works if the hard math is obscured by a placard reading "TRUST ME". It truly all works out if you have faith; it can't work at all if you don't. Which is why it's religion and not the weather, I suppose.

    God, I hope no one is still reading this. The cold medication is kicking my head in.

  56. pb Says:

    I think most Christians don't throw out "the larger truth" after hearing arguments against biblical inerrancy because they intuitively recognize that biblical inerrancy is not logically equivalent to Christianity. It could be the case that inerrancy is false AND that Christianity is true.

    bb, you said: "I can rationalize the allowance of personal moral evil in the universe as the price paid for free moral agency, but natural disaster is the tougher one to deal with. It is just so irrational."

    Just something to think about – Why think that more free moral agents would come into a saving relationship with God if natural disaster did not affect us? It could be the case that only in a world infused with natural disaster would the most free moral agents come into a saving relationship with the creator. It would be very difficult to show that this is not the case.

    I don't think the problem is strictly logical. I think the real hang up we have is the notion that we stand guilty before a creator and actually deserve something like natural disaster. This is sacrilege to most.

  57. bb in GA Says:

    @ladiesbane

    "TRUST ME". It truly all works out if you have faith;

    Yes ma'am, I think you have resolved it.

    Praying for your relief from the cold… and try applying Vicks vapo rub on the bottom of your feet and putting on a pair of sweat socks as you got to bed for the evening.

    @steve

    Was not thinking anything bad about you or avoiding you. Didn't know I was in charge :-)

    Your question is one of the 'hard sayin's' as comedian Brother Dave used call them. It is absolutely the most difficult passage in the new testament to implement and requires the most faith imaginable especially when 'they' are slapping around your wife or your babies. The ever natural male response would be to tear 'them' a new one or die tryin'

    //bb

  58. bb in GA Says:

    @pb

    copy that

    //bb

  59. ladiesbane Says:

    Gracias, bb, for the understanding, and the good advice. (Didn't that save soldiers in WWI?) Some days I miss my faith, some I don't, but I always miss the koinonia.

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