Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bible-based Arguments: Morality Gone Wrong

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy the Patheos website. Few sites on the web give space to so many disparate points of view under one roof, so to speak. They have blogs for Atheists, Catholics, Progressive Christians, even Pagans. And they have a group of blogs devoted to the viewpoints of Evangelical Christians. Evangelical Christianity has, by and large for the last 30+ years, been closely associated with conservative values and the Republican Party. I don’t demonize Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. As far as I’m concerned, some conservative ideas (such as limited government) appeal to me. But the Evangelical Christians I’ve encountered on the web have a tendency to write things that border on the absurd, if not running full-tilt into absurdity with all the volatility of a braying jackass.
One of the blogs on Pathos I found, The French Revolution, caught my attention a few months ago with a post. David French, the writer of the blog, wrote a piece entitled “Christians Must Use Explicitly BiblicalArguments”. The point of this essay is that French believes American Christians should use bible-based rhetoric to fight the “culture war”. Three issues from said conflict he highlights are children, abortion, and same-sex marriage, the three biggest hot-button issues for conservatives and evangelicals.
French and all the other evangelicals like him are certainly entitled to their beliefs, as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Having perused some of his other articles, French is certainly an effective writer. His passion for the topics he pontificates on is palpable. This piece is partly an argument against his faith claims but only in so much as it relates to using the Bible for moral guidance. I will not be engaging whether or not French’s particular deity exists but rather his claims regarding the Bible and how it can be used in a cultural context.
As it should be clear, French rejects the notion that cultural, political, and economic issues should be devoid of biblical arguments. I find using a text written by Bronze Age savages and revised by Iron Age political and religious hucksters a poor guide. I’m working under the assumption, based on French’s writings, that he views the Bible as being inerrant. This claim is demonstrably untrue and all one needs is to read the first two chapters of Genesis to see what I mean. I would like to address some of the points brought up by French, though.
Children: It’s been my experience that conservatives and evangelicals have no political use for children once they’ve escaped the womb, with one major exception. That exception is the school voucher program, which uses state funds (read federal, tax-payer dollars) to allow children to attend private schools. The schools in question are almost always Christian private schools, so federal money is being used to indoctrinate children in the Christian faith. School voucher programs have been tried in Florida, especially under the Jeb Bush administration, but they’ve met with no success. I mention the faith-based nature of the private schools because I highly doubt school programs of different faiths are given access to the voucher program.
Often times, evangelicals on the conservative side of things don’t really give a shit about children until they reach military age. Even here there is an exception. Evangelicals have to make sure all children (not just their children) don’t end up as godless evolutionists. The Bible is used with child-rearing for one simplistic reason: teaching children they must respect and fear authority figures but never question them. I was taught to respect and fear my parent in the same vein I was taught to respect and fear my god. Fear is not an effective method for control. Respect is earned, especially with regards to parents, and it should be based on the parent’s performance. If you’re a shitty parent, god-fearing or not, you don’t respect your child. Why should the child return the gesture?
Abortion: This might surprise some readers but I don’t like abortion. However, I don’t have a uterus, so my opinion on the matter is about as useful as dry land is to a whale. I’ve voiced my opinion before on female empowerment and part of that empowerment is the right for women to choose what they do with their bodies. Too often Evangelical men think the church and the government should be permanently parked in a woman’s uterus. They often talk about the life about the child, which is a valid concern but not for the reason you think. The arguments Evangelicals use is less about the child’s welfare and more about punishing women for sexual activity. Consistently, Evangelicals have stood against effective sex education and against making birth control measures readily available to young women and adult women. Their stance on such measures is thinly-veiled contempt for female sexual freedom.
The Bible is not a good source for creating anti-abortion rhetoric. This is a book with a deity ordering its tribal followers to commit genocide on several occasions. Repeatedly in the Old Testament the Hebrews are instructed to wipe out an entire tribe of people, often times saving the pre-teen girls because they are still virgins. Breeding out the tribe through the rape of children is such a wonderful way to show how much more moral you are, isn’t it? On occasion, YHWH even instructs soldiers to cut babies out of the mother’s wombs to ensure enemy tribes have no further generations. If the Bible is inerrant that includes the parts even Evangelicals cannot make appropriate accommodations for. Often, people like French simply ignore them in favor of passages that back their own ideologies.
Christian America: French makes the correct claim that the majority of Americans are Christians. More than 75% of Americans, according to the Pew Research Council, claim Christianity as their faith. French’s implication is that since so many of our population belong to the same faith the rest of the country should follow the dictates of the majority’s faith. What French neglects to consider is that within that 75% are so many disparate factions of Christianity, with many placing emphasis on wildly divergent and often contradictory doctrines and dogmas. The disagreements between denominations are not to be taken lightly, especially when it comes to how to interpret the Bible. More often than not different Christian camps end up engaging in No True Scotsman arguments. If a supposedly inerrant book creates such sharp divisions, why should everyone adhere to its teachings?
Another thing to consider is the framework of our democracy. One of the reasons the American republic is worthy of praise is that its design is set up to avoid the tyranny of the majority. An example would be the proliferation of new religious movements in America, which is only possible because of the protection provided by the 1st Amendment. In moral terms, just because one has superior numbers does not give one the right to impose the majority’s views on others. The ability to do so is there but not the moral high ground to do so. The fact that French implies majority Christian rule is good should indicate how he feels about the “love your neighbor as you love yourself” line in the Gospels. If Muslims were the majority in America, would people like French submit themselves to Sharia law or decrees to live according to the Koran? I don’t think so.
Divinely Inspired: Considering the conflicting and mutually exclusive revelations of some groups, why should the Bible be considered divinely-inspired or inerrant for use in rhetoric? This echoes one of my previous points: if this book is a foolproof guide, why do so many people have so many differing opinions on it? Whatever proofs French or other evangelicals provide for the Bible can easily be used to provide validity to any number of other religious texts.
French claims that the Bible provides ultimate wisdom but again this is a book which involves slavery and genocide. Those two concepts are now understood to be morally repugnant. French and others like him are more than capable of building a foundation on this book but they’re building on sand, not stone. There are nuggets of morality in the Bible but they are tiny islands of civil behavior in an ocean of blood.
Biblical Literacy: French brings up a valid point that our culture is largely Biblical illiterate. The problem is it’s not the culture but the majority in the culture: Christians. In the many discussions I’ve had over the years with Christians I’ve often pointed out the many objectionable behaviors I’ve mentioned in this essay. Many Christians balked, claiming that those events weren’t in the Bible. When I would mention specific verses and chapters, I received the conversational equivalent of them sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting that they weren’t listening.
I encourage people to read the Bible. Read the damn thing cover-to-cover. Get as many different versions as you can and read them cover-to-cover. The fact is we need more atheists. The surest way for people to stop using the Bible as a moral guide is to realize the Bible is a cavalcade of contradictions, half-truths, and deplorable behavior. Certainly there are passages talking about love and forgiveness but there’s also human sacrifice as an acceptable practice as well.
       It’d be nice if I didn’t have to make this point so often but sometimes it needs to reiterated from time to time. French and evangelicals like him engage in deceptive cherry-picking to suit their political and personal prejudices. I did not mention same-sex marriage in this essay because I’ve already written extensively on that subject. But it’s important to keep in mind that for Evangelicals, they don’t hate gay people, God does, which makes it alright for them. Everything the Bible says is right and moral to Evangelicals, except slavery, treating women like chattel, murdering unbelievers, killing victims of rape, marrying victims of rape to their attackers, polygamy, bigamy, child rape, and human sacrifice, just to name a few. The Bible does not give us the moral basis for arguments. It often provides the antithesis of such arguments, the things we fight against. More pointedly, the Bible gains its morality from whoever reads it. For some, it’s a book speaking about joy and love and fellowship. For others, it’s a book filled with retribution and righteous fury. If French and other Evangelicals wish to use the Bible as foundational for their ideas on cultural issues, they should be free to do so. They should keep in mind that they’re using a book which got all of the easy moral questions dead wrong.

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