On Biblical inerrancy and the priorities of fundamentalists

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It is a widespread opinion in the Western world that the degree of kindness and humanity displayed by a Christian is inversely proportional to the intensity with which he or she takes the Bible seriously.

The more one believes in the Bible, the more arrogant, callous, dogmatic and even cruel one becomes.

I see two problems with this principle.

The Bible hasn’t a consistent ethic

One first major flaw of this theory is that it assumes that we call the Bible is entirely coherent in terms of its (apparently horrendous) moral doctrines. This is, of course, completely false. The Bible is a collection of books often widely differing in terms of their ethical and theological conceptions and  strongly conditioned by the cultural and historical context in which they were written. If it is silly to mock ancient Greeks because of their false scientific beliefs, it is also extremely problematic to judge people from the past as totally wicked according to our own advanced and enlightened modern moral standards.

Conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists can only uphold their belief in Biblical inerrancy by utterly distorting the genuine historical meaning of countless passages: in order to maintain the illusion of “the unity of Scripture“, they constantly have to resort to extraordinarily ad-hoc and implausible hypotheses for fitting conflicting passages to each others.

I’ve argued that even if Jesus shared many assumptions of other Jews of His days, he traced back every moral rule to the demands of Love and rejected the existence of arbitrary commands stemming from the Father.

Fundamentalists constantly ignore important principles found in the Bible

One of the clearest examples concerns homosexuality. Compare the proportion of passages dealing with this sexual orientation with that of those addressing problems of social justice (broadly defined as any endeavor aiming at alleviating the burden and pain of the weakest members of one’s society). What’s the ratio between both quantities? 0.004?

If the goal of fundamentalists is really to perfectly follow their Scripture, why are their own priorities so incredibly out of touch with those of the Biblical writers?

There is another problem here. Many of their favorite proof texts either don’t teach what they believe or do it in a way which would oblige them to reject important doctrines from the New Testament.

Let us consider the famous case of Sodom and Gomorrah. For very influential Biblical writers, homosexuality was NOT the main cause of their destruction.

  •  Isaiah 1:10, 17: Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! … Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
  • Ezekiel 16:48-50 — Regarding Jerusalem: As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did these abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.
  • Zephaniah 2:9-10: Therefore, as I live, says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Moab shall become like Sodom and the Ammonites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste forever. The remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nation shall possess them. This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they scoffed and boasted against the people of the LORD of hosts.
  • Book of Wisdom 19:13-18 (found in the Roman Catholic Bible) — Regarding Sodom and Gomorrah: On the sinners, punishment rained down not without violent thunder as early warning; and deservedly they suffered for their crimes, since they evinced such bitter hatred for strangers.

Conservative Evangelical like quoting again and again the book of Deuteronomy:

Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.

cherry picking christians

But they’re wholly oblivious to the fact that for the ancient author, the following practices were also abominable for the Almighty:
Leviticus 11:10-19 – (6) “But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is an abomination to you. They shall remain an abomination to you; of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall have in abomination. Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is an abomination to you.”

In Continental Europe, there are many Conservative Evangelicals who are aware of this all and consequently find fighting poverty and injustices much more urgent and important than combating homosexuality.

Given that, it’s still kind of a puzzle to me that Conservative Christians in America devote such an extravagantly disproportionate amount of their God-given time to the confrontation with the “sin” of queer people while trying to uphold crying inequalities between the healthcare of poor and rich children.

If I were allowed to get a bit cynical at my lost hours, I’d surmise it’s a lot easier to harass a minority one is not a part of than to deal with other sins which have a real grip on one’s own heart.

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22 thoughts on “On Biblical inerrancy and the priorities of fundamentalists

  1. The alleged contradiction (in image form) between Gen. 9:3 and Lev. 11:7-8, 10 is a poor example. Gen. 9:3 is directed towards Noah and by extension humanity in general. Lev. 11:7-8, 10 is directed towards the Israelites alone.

    If the goal of fundamentalists is really to perfectly follow their Scripture, why are their own priorities so incredibly out of touch with those of the Biblical writers?

    How do you know the priorities of fundamentalists are out of touch with those of the Biblical writers?

    Let us consider the famous case of Sodom and Gomorrah. For very influential Biblical writers, homosexuality was NOT the cause of their destruction.

    You conveniently left out Jude 7. Now I argue that this refers to man-angel sex but many will think it refers to homosexuality.

    But they’re wholly oblivious to the fact that for the ancient author, the following practices were also abominable for the Almighty…

    Of course they are aware of Acts 15 and similar NT verses.

    • Hello Jayman, thanks for your answer.

      I think we’re largely talking past to each other.

      I utterly reject Biblical inerrancy and believe that if you interpret every Biblical author using the HISTORICAL METHOD (as you would do for the book of Mormons, Pagan myths, the Koran or Talmud), you’ll find out that they almost certainly disagree with each others about at least some important issues.

      This is what scholar Thomas Stark demonstrated in the following groundbreaking book:
      http://www.amazon.com/The-Human-Faces-God-Scripture/dp/160899323X

      So my point was that for at least SOME important Biblical writers homosexuality wasn’t the cause of the destruction of the towns.

      “How do you know the priorities of fundamentalists are out of touch with those of the Biblical writers?”

      Tell me how many PERCENT of the Bible deal with homosexuality, and how many percent deal with caring for the poor and overcoming one’s pride and haughtiness?

      “Of course they are aware of Acts 15 and similar NT verses.”

      Luke in Acts and the author of Leviticus had most likely conflicting opinions on that topic, even if the former might not have been fully aware of this.

      Cheers.

  2. Take a look at that first image: That image is of the Westboro Baptist Church, which almost everybody in the entire country reviles. This includes fundamentalists.

    The creator of that image used the example of a notoriously despised hate group to paint a broad picture of EVERY fundamentalist, then expressed the wish that they should all die in a fire.

    Classy. And an excellent example of hate speech.

    The Pentateuch and Old Testament in general were specific laws written to a specific people, and not binding upon all people at all times. As jayman pointed out, Acts of the Apostles makes this distinction quite clear.

    People who mention Sodom and Gomorrah always love to point out all of the things God punished them for BESIDES same-sex relations. But why is this inconsistent with the idea of God ALSO having a problem with same-sex relations?

    And naturally this ignores some of Paul’s very clear New Testament teaching against same-sex relations.

    On this issue I would rather side with St. Paul, 2000 years of consistent Church teaching, and natural law theory as understood by its foremost experts throughout history than I would with 20th and 21st century progressives.

    Given that, it’s still kind of a puzzle to me that Conservative Christians in America devote such an extravagantly disproportionate amount of their God-given time to the confrontation with the “sin” of queer people while trying to uphold crying inequalities between the healthcare of poor and rich children.

    Quite the claim. Any evidence of this? I’ve never, ever, met ANYBODY who tried to uphold “crying inequalities between the healthcare of poor and rich children”. I don’t think such people exist. Rather, Marc, I think they disagree with you about what form of healthcare payment is fair for everybody who is involved in paying for it, and they are VERY concerned for not being *forced* to fund things they believe are intrinsically immoral. The Hobby Lobby decision was a major victory in that regard, at least.for now.

    I think that you’re saying these things about them because you’re in favor of universal healthcare – and shame on you for that.

    And to you, “disproportionate” is hardly a fair claim, since you consider ANY amount of time devoted to that topic “disproportionate”.

    • I second Malcolm here, on all points. But I have little else to say here – this is a merry-go-round that keeps repeating, and at this point it’s just dull.

      Conservative fundamentalists (insert picture of WBC at their worst) spend so much time picking on queer people (insert picture of the most wholesome, carefully orchestrated same-sex couple) because of their HATRED (insert very poorly photoshopped picture of of nice-looking people burning in hell) and meanwhile want poor babies to DIE (poorly photoshopped picture of Ronald Reagan devouring the flesh of a three year old, in front of her sobbing parents, who by the way are two very nice looking men).

      I don’t think anyone who offers up these images even believe it. I suspect that pretending as if it’s believable is a bit of social formality, a kind of shared subcultural narrative that everyone clings to consciously and defensively, because a direct intellectual exchange on these points is too dangerous.

      Pardon me if I refuse to give credence to this feigned delusion by debating it further here.

      • Hi Crude.

        As I just explained to Malcolm, I did nothing of the sort.

        And you certainly know I repeatedly exposed so-called “progressive” hate-speech and distance myself now from people such as John Shore, even if we have many other points of agreement.

        I do know NICE FUNDAMENTALISTS living in Germany, so I’m very far from saying they’re all hateful morons and I constantly refrain from making any unwarranted generalization.

        But their irrational thinking and ABOVE ELSE their belief in God’s arbitrariness make them extremely dangerous for others and even for themselves.

      • Randal Rauser would entirely agree on these points.

        As much as I like Randal, his endorsement – especially on views like these – don’t carry much water. He’s off in the camp where if a gay couple specifically targets you to bake a cake for their gay wedding, even if you’re happy to bake a cake for them just in the normal course of business, you should be fined out of business. Because, you know, that’s what Christ would want.

        And you certainly know I repeatedly exposed so-called “progressive” hate-speech and distance myself now from people such as John Shore, even if we have many other points of agreement.

        Lothar, I get what feels like a kind of intellectual whiplash from your posts.

        Yes, you did weigh against Shore. But you did that for him absurdly going ballistic at merely, unknowingly quoting a conservative source about a topic they were so clearly in the right on (or at least had an obviously reasonable point on). When he was screaming about how conservative Christians want to beat gays to death with their bare hands, you actually couldn’t really see the problem.

        I do know NICE FUNDAMENTALISTS living in Germany, so I’m very far from saying they’re all hateful morons and I constantly refrain from making any unwarranted generalization.

        Just to be clear:

        Given that, it’s still kind of a puzzle to me that Conservative Christians in America devote such an extravagantly disproportionate amount of their God-given time to the confrontation with the “sin” of queer people while trying to uphold crying inequalities between the healthcare of poor and rich children.

        ^^ This is an example of you not making unwarranted generalizations? Really?

        But their irrational thinking and ABOVE ELSE their belief in God’s arbitrariness make them extremely dangerous for others and even for themselves.

        There’s nothing ‘arbitrary’ about the condemnation of sodomy, etc. It flows pretty straightforwardly from Natural Law reasoning, Biblical teaching, and otherwise.

        And, ‘extremely dangerous’? No, Lothar – again, I don’t think even you believe this. This seems far more like what they absolutely must be in order for you to even begin to confront them. If people who condemn sodomy are rational, reasonable people coming to a defensible conclusion – even if one you think is wrong – then all hell breaks loose, and your fight becomes one hell of a lot more difficult.

        You live in a world where moral arbitrariness abounds. Over a quarter of the philosophers in the Philpapers surveyed were flat out moral anti-realists, with a recent history of secularists killing millions in the name of ‘the poor’, among other things.

        Oh, but it’s the christian fundamentalists who are really dangerous.

        • What are your thoughts on Marc’s focus on “niceness”? I find it extremely problematic. Unqualified, it opens the door for the wolves in sheep’s clothing from Mt 7:15. Furthermore, we ought to ask ourselves how many Germans were “nice people” in 1933. I would claim that niceness without backbone is extremely dangerous, and yet the very property of having a backbone means that you’re not always ‘nice’.

          I would personally use the word agape, as it alone really captures what makes a person trustworthy. Does the person give of himself/herself to others, to build them up? If not, then I’m inclined to think of that person as someone still plugged into The Matrix: easily subvertable by the system—perhaps through that “fear of death” mentioned in Hebrews 2.

    • Hello Malcolm.

      I IRONICALLY included the first image to debunk the popular view that fundamentalists are the most consistent Christians out there. I did not by any means endorse the original meaning of its author.

      “On this issue I would rather side with St. Paul, 2000 years of consistent Church teaching, and natural law theory as understood by its foremost experts throughout history than I would with 20th and 21st century progressives.”

      Fine. But ancient writers and Thomistic scholars were wrong in significant respects (such as heliocentrism, the age of the universe and so on) so there is absolutely no warrant they should be right on homosexuality. This has to be determined by using the empirical method.

      “And to you, “disproportionate” is hardly a fair claim, since you consider ANY amount of time devoted to that topic “disproportionate”.”

      No. I would feel much less bothered if modern conservative Evangelicals devoted the SAME proportion of time to homosexuality as the authors of the New Testament or of the whole Bible did.

      As for healthcare, I think that any comparison between Europe and America shows the STARK effects of making it unconditional .
      There might be SOME Conservatives who sincerely oppose Obamacare while feeling concerned about poor children, but many of them seem much more preoccupied by the defense of their abstract political ideals.

      Friendly greetings.

      • I IRONICALLY included the first image to debunk the popular view that fundamentalists are the most consistent Christians out there. I did not by any means endorse the original meaning of its author.

        This doesn’t seem like much of an explanation. It’s a pretty clear attempt to associate fundamentalism with a cartoon caricature that even other ‘fundamentalists’ recognize as exactly that. This isn’t ‘irony’.

        Fine. But ancient writers and Thomistic scholars were wrong in significant respects (such as heliocentrism, the age of the universe and so on) so there is absolutely no warrant they should be right on homosexuality. This has to be determined by using the empirical method.

        How in the world is ‘age of the earth’ and ‘heliocentrism’ even relevant to this question? First, that was hardly an area of much concern to ‘Thomistic scholars’ or even ‘ancient writers’. Second, moral questions are not automatically empirical questions, and the inference (‘Absolutely no warrant’) doesn’t follow. Third, if you assume it does follow, then let’s make this clear: everything is up for grabs for you. Including the need to care for the poor, to forgive one’s enemy’s, and much of anything else. Those are yet more moral claims.

        Finally, saying ’empirical’ makes it sound as if this is a question you can solve apart from metaphysics and even (a)theological grounding, but it doesn’t work. Especially when you’re making value judgments, you’re ending up with value judgments and metaphysics whether you like it or not – and at that point, all it takes is something as simple as an embrace of Aristotilean/Natural Law views, and you’re pretty much guaranteeing an empirical result that will roll against you.

        As for healthcare, I think that any comparison between Europe and America shows the STARK effects of making it unconditional .

        Yeah, we see some of those STARK effects in America in other areas; an ever-growing class of people mentally and emotionally enslaved to the will of the state and the political parties who will continue to give them things UNCONDITIONALLY. The very idea that people can differ about the best way to go about these things is utterly alien to you.

        There might be SOME Conservatives who sincerely oppose Obamacare while feeling concerned about poor children, but many of them seem much more preoccupied by the defense of their abstract political ideals.

        As opposed to the proponents of Obamacare? You’re automatically assuming that anyone who supports Obamacare cannot be doing so because of their ‘abstract political ideals’, because you like the results.

        And let’s make something clear: you accused these people of ‘trying to uphold’ inequalities explicitly. It’s bullshit – as if conservative evangelicals are out there saying, ‘Heh heh, I sure hope the poor suffer! That’s great. Hold on, don’t give them charity! You’ll ruin it!’

        Malcolm is right – those people do not exist, or are such a fractionally small group of people that to treat them as ‘conservative fundamentalists’ is insane.

        • Something that makes me sad is that if Marc were to correct the errors you point out, he might be able to really influence things toward the better. Sticking to vagueness and stereotypes may change culture, but probably not toward the better. That being said, getting one’s facts straight and supporting them with sufficient evidence is very hard. Most people don’t do this, and those pesky mirror neurons make it so easy to be conformed to our surrounding culture. Methinks this is part of the reason for Romans 12:1–2!

      • I IRONICALLY included the first image to debunk the popular view that fundamentalists are the most consistent Christians out there. I did not by any means endorse the original meaning of its author.

        I’m glad to hear it. I’d clarify that if I were you.

        But ancient writers and Thomistic scholars were wrong in significant respects (such as heliocentrism, the age of the universe and so on) …

        …Both of which have nothing to do with natural law, and everything to do with scientific research. Natural law arguments against homosexual relations have nothing to do with prevailing science.

        There might be SOME Conservatives who sincerely oppose Obamacare while feeling concerned about poor children, but many of them seem much more preoccupied by the defense of their abstract political ideals.

        Sorry, but you’re going to need more than that when you’re painting such a broad brush over a such a diverse group of people. How much would you like it if I started a sentence with “Almost all Progressives are…” and then used the phrase to make a negative point without any actual research but a gut intuition to back it up?

        I would feel much less bothered if modern conservative Evangelicals devoted the SAME proportion of time to homosexuality as the authors of the New Testament or of the whole Bible did.

        The Bible has a TON inside of it written about marriage in general. There’s even an entire book in the Old testament entirely about sexual love (“Song of Solomon”). Evangelicals are attaching huge importance to the issue of same-sex marriage (I rarely see them talk about same-sex relations publicly, actually) because they attach huge importance, and rightfully so, to the state of marriage. The Bible has a LOT to say about that.

        And using your logic I can point out that homosexuals are also attaching too much importance to getting married as compared to the percentage of the Bible spent on it.

        Your problem with the Evangelicals is that you disagree with them about what marriage entails. Let’s not pretend it’s a matter of proportion, because if it is, you’re writing too much on the topic as well by your standards..

      • labreuer,

        Pardon me if my comments here are a bit more sparse.

        You’re better read on that end of things than I am by far. I’m skeptical that it’s the ‘last mediating structure’, though that depends on exactly what is meant. Corporations, race, religion, culture all seem to be things which likewise provoke people to ally against the state, or view themselves as apart from the state. In fact, I’d have to ask if ‘The State’ itself hasn’t been a casualty. Does The State lend legitimacy to anything in most people’s minds nowadays? Or does everyone know that the state is just one more weapon to fight over and with?

        For me, what’s really fascinating about the gay marriage debate is the utter lunacy of so many of its proponents. I don’t mean that the mere act of being in favor of gay civil marriage is insanity, but the mental gymnastics people engage in to imagine themselves as advocating a civil right no less important or just than ‘freeing slaves’ or the like – which is only a particular bit of insanity at work, but serves as a great example. Not every one of them is like that, but at this point a failure to be that insane is a good way to get yourself bashed, similar to ‘accommodationism’ in the Cult of Gnu.

        Ah well.

        • For me, what’s really fascinating about the gay marriage debate is the utter lunacy of so many of its proponents. I don’t mean that the mere act of being in favor of gay civil marriage is insanity, but the mental gymnastics people engage in to imagine themselves as advocating a civil right no less important or just than ‘freeing slaves’ or the like – which is only a particular bit of insanity at work, but serves as a great example.

          Maybe it isn’t so insane, in their minds. Suppose we take Ezek 16:49–50 to mean that first Sodom had lots of nice things and refused to give them to the poor, and only then wanted some means of self-gratification and thus turned toward any and all sexual options. According to Jewish Encyclopedia’s Sodom, the punishment for giving bread and water to the poor was being burned alive. Well, if God created our physiology to indicate happiness when we take care of those who are in need of our particular gifts/resources and we refuse to do that, what else is there but base, biological means of getting them endorphins running?

          Dorothy Sayers offers another explanation which has hypersexuality being a symptom instead of a cause. In The Whimsical Christian, in the essay titled “The Other Six Deadly Sins”, Sayers recalls a young man who thought there was only one deadly sin. Sounds like a church obsessed with sex and only sex. She writes:

          Thirdly, there are two main reasons for why people fall into the sin of luxuria. It may be through sheer exuberance of animal spirits, in which case a sharp application of the curb may be all that is needed to bring the body into subjection and remind it of its proper place in the scheme of man’s twofold nature. Or—and this commonly happens in periods of disillusionment like our own, when philosophies are bankrupt and life appears without hope—men and women may turn to lust in sheer boredom and discontent, trying to find in it some stimulus that is not provided by the drab discomfort of their mental and physical surroundings. When that is the case, stern rebukes and restrictions are worse than useless. It is as though one were to endeavor to cure anemia by bleeding; it only reduces further an already impoverished vitality. The mournful and medical aspect of twentieth-century pornography and promiscuity strongly suggests that we have reached one of these periods of spiritual depression where people go to bed because they have nothing better to do. In other words, the regrettable moral laxity of which respectable people complain may have its root cause not in luxuria at all, but in some other of the sins of society, and may automatically begin to cure itself when that root cause is removed. (158–159)

          I’m fairly convinced that we are in a period of disillusionment, where people aren’t growing up because they see nothing to grow up towards. I just read NYT article The Death of Adulthood in American Culture and while it is the NYT and packed with as many cultural references as possible to sound cool, you also have articles like CT’s When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity (pdf). Well, if no goal which requires being one who conquers, then what is there other than sex, drugs, video games, buying things, sports, and social media? Neverland, ahoy!

          Food for thought?

  3. […] On Biblical inerrancy and the priorities of fundamentalists (lotharlorraine.wordpress.com) It is a widespread opinion in the Western world that the degree of kindness and humanity displayed by a Christian is inversely proportional to the intensity with which he or she takes the Bible seriously. + Conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists can only uphold their belief in Biblical inerrancy by utterly distorting the genuine historical meaning of countless passages: in order to maintain the illusion of “the unity of Scripture“, they constantly have to resort to extraordinarily ad-hoc and implausible hypotheses for fitting conflicting passages to each others. + Given that, it’s still kind of a puzzle to me that Conservative Christians in America devote such an extravagantly disproportionate amount of their God-given time to the confrontation with the “sin” of queer people while trying to uphold crying inequalities between the healthcare of poor and rich children.If I were allowed to get a bit cynical at my lost hours, I’d surmise it’s a lot easier to harass a minority one is not a part of than to tackle with other sins which have a real grip on one’s own heart. […]

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