Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Why Bible Courses Can’t Work

I’m one of those folks who thinks that courses in comparative religion, or about the bible as literature, can be a valuable thing. Unfortunately, they just don’t work in the real world. There’s really only two ways to teach such a course. You either teach that the Bible is absolutely true (in which case you violate the first amendment’s establishment clause) or you teach about the Bible as you would any other book, by examining the historical context, the archaeological evidence concerning the events discussed, the accuracy of its descriptions, and so forth (and there you run into objections from the more fundamentalist-minded).

Today we have two competing curricula for Bible course electives in public schools, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools and the Bible Literacy Project. The former is essentially designed to teach kids that the Bible is the true and accurate word of God and it is almost certainly unconstitutional to teach it in public schools (this has not yet been tested in court, but will be soon); the latter is designed to be a more scholarly and objective examination of the Bible and is running into the sorts of objections I mentioned above.

D. James Kennedy, a televangelist and purveyor of lies (and those two things are not coincidental), is predictably objecting to the Bible Literacy Project because it doesn’t sufficently endorse the truth of the Bible as God’s word:

Dr. D. James Kennedy, senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, sits on the advisory board of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a group that supports use of the Bible itself as a text in public school Bible classes. Kennedy explains why he does not endorse the BLP text.

“It is relativistic. It’s the typical liberal approach to the Bible,” says the Florida pastor. “When I was in a half-liberal seminary, it’s a kind of thing that they pushed all the time, the purpose of which is to undermine the students’ confidence and faith in the teachings of the Bible and in the Word of God.”

And this is why, ultimately, Bible course won’t work. To be sufficently objective to withstand judicial scrutiny, they have to critically analyze the claims of the Bible at least to some degree and that angers the more theologically conservative. That’s why, despite the fact that I think it can be a really useful course when taught right, such courses are probably best avoided.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave
    March 9, 2006

    “I’m one of those folks who thinks that courses in comparative religion, or about the bible as literature, can be a valuable thing. Unfortunately, they just don’t work in the real world.”

    I’m not sure what you’re arguing in this post. Clearly, as you say, the bible can either be interpreted literally or as one would Shakespeare. How does this “not work in the real world”?

    I know many people who have studied the Bible as literature.

  2. #2 GlennNYC
    March 9, 2006

    You’re certainly right about the dangers of any course that attempts to examine the evidence for or against the truth of the Bible (or any other religious text). But I disagree that the only alternative is to teach the Bible as true. When I was in high school I took a course on comparative religion that was really just that: a survey of all of the world’s major religions, discussing their major tenets and texts, and comparing and contrasting the religions’ treatment of various issues. There was no attempt to examine the “truth” of any of the religions or to marshal evidence for or against them. And this was, I found, very educational.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    March 9, 2006

    Dave wrote:

    I’m not sure what you’re arguing in this post. Clearly, as you say, the bible can either be interpreted literally or as one would Shakespeare. How does this “not work in the real world”?

    In the real world of public schools in America. Either option sparks far too much protest by the other side.

  4. #4 Sastra
    March 9, 2006

    Bible as literature courses work fine at the college level, and — in a sufficiently liberal area — in high school. Unfortunately, that second one can’t be assumed. There are fundamentalists all over.

    Teach the Bible as literature and you no longer intepret it the way they do in children’s Sunday school. Biblical scholars agree that Moses was not one of the authors of the OT, and the apostles did not scribble down their stories as eyewitnesses. There is no good historical evidence for Exodus, and a good bit of evidence against it. This undermines the way the Bible is taught in some churches.

    If you think they scream when public school science class contradicts their Biblical interpretation, wait till public school BIBLE CLASS contradicts their Biblical interpretation. There’s no saying “well, this is a different discipline, we go with the experts in the field” anymore. To people who believe the Holy Spirit guides their understanding, *they* are the experts in the field.

    I’m with Ed. I studied comparative religion in high school and even grade school a bit, and it was very valuable. But a “Bible As Literature” course with real content and scholarship will end up directly contradicting someone’s religion AS religion, and not just as a byproduct of some other branch of learning. This would probably lead to more trouble than it’s worth.

  5. #5 llDayo
    March 9, 2006

    What better way to test someone’s faith in the Bible than to critically analyze it? You’d think that if the fundamentalists were so adamantly sure the Bible is true than testing it against actual evidence would be the best way to validate their belief! I’m betting they’re too afraid to let this happen because they know it would probably lead to future sheep straying from the flock.

  6. #6 Dave
    March 9, 2006

    Ed–

    That makes more snese. It wasn’t clear in your original post that you were referring to such courses in public schools. I thought you just meant that the general study of the bible as literature was not possible.

  7. #7 Rob Knop
    March 9, 2006

    When I was in high school, I did study the Bible both as literature and hstory in English and History classes, my junior year. Now, of course, this was in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was at a private high school, so it’s a whole different ball of wax. In English, we read some of Genesis, but alot of Exodus and such — the Moses story. We also read Ecclesiastes, which is a fun one. In history, we were looking at the King David era and things around there, as part of a generalized Western History course. None of it was overtly theological at all, although naturally in English we were talking about the relationship of the characters in the stories to their religion and their Yahweh.

    -Rob

  8. #8 Raging Bee
    March 9, 2006

    It would be interesting to find out which sects/denominations/churches within Christianity support or condone scholarly and objective discussion of the Bible, and which refuse to tolerate any debate.

    I also note with interest that if such classes “Can’t work,” it’s only because certain interest-groups go out of their way to prevent them from working, by shouting down adult discourse with emotional dogmatism.

  9. #9 hilllady
    March 9, 2006

    I, too, had a bible-as-literature class in my public high school. This was back in innocent 1980s Vermont, and if there was a controversy around the course’s existence, I wasn’t aware of it. As I recall, we never discussed issues of faith, or how the text (old testament, revised standard edition) is used by religious groups. Instead we learned about archetypal stories and how to recognize their use in later literary traditions. So much of western literature draws on these stories. What a gap in our education if zealots had assumed we students couldn’t be trusted to think!

  10. #10 llDayo
    March 9, 2006

    Something else just came to mind. It is very hypocritical for fundies to want evolution critically studied in the classroom but the same shouldn’t be true with the Bible. Maybe we should make a deal with them? We’ll gladly let critical discussion into the classroom regarding evolution (as long as the criticisms have been verified scientifically) if they allow critical discussion of the Bible (as long as the criticisms have been verified scientifically). Seems like a fair deal to me ;)

  11. #11 countlurkula
    March 9, 2006

    I heard Dr. Kennedy on NPR’s Fresh Air some months ago, claiming that the big genocides of the 20th century were caused by belief in evolution. The host Terri Gross sounded staggered by this, but asked just mildly challenging questions, to which Kennedy quickly became defensive and a mite prickly (“We’re not extremists”, “I’ve studied this subject, you know”) I didn’t get the impression that he was accustomed to doing mainstream interviews.

  12. #12 Ironicus
    March 9, 2006

    Unfortunately, we predicted this back in December.
    http://tinyurl.com/om5qr

  13. #13 David Heddle
    March 9, 2006

    This is an interesting post, but some of the comments contain nonsensical statements. For example,

    Sastra:

    Biblical scholars agree that Moses was not one of the authors of the OT, and the apostles did not scribble down their stories as eyewitnesses.

    That should be: some biblical scholars agree, many others don’t. Please do not make it sound as if it is a indisputable fact. Of course, if the scholars who believe Moses did write the Pentateuch are dismissed as wignuts, then by biasing your sample in that manner your conclusion would appear to be correct.

    llDayo:

    What better way to test someone’s faith in the Bible than to critically analyze it? You’d think that if the fundamentalists were so adamantly sure the Bible is true than testing it against actual evidence would be the best way to validate their belief!

    I have no problem with that. Nobody has ever demonstrated to me any scientific or historical error in the bible. I welcome critical analyses.

    llDayo:

    because they know it would probably lead to future sheep straying from the flock.

    Impossible. The bible clearly teaches that no sheep can (permanently ) stray from the flock (John 10:29).

  14. #14 Flint
    March 9, 2006

    There seem to be three schools of thought represented here:

    1) Teaching critical analysis of the Bible is an unworkable idea because too many people are too tightly married to particular theological interpretations to tolerate any competing viewpoints and will prove disruptive.

    2) Teaching critical analysis of the Bible is a good idea because many if not most students are open to learning, and could learn (in many cases, HAVE learned) a great deal of value through the exercise.

    3) Teaching critical analysis of the Bible won’t cause any trouble with those who are so sure they are correct they can’t even *hear* anything else. Critical analysis of the Bible either ratifies their interpretation, or it’s not critical after all and can be ignored.

    Guess which position is put forth by the creationist?

  15. #15 Roman Werpachowski
    March 9, 2006

    When I was in high school, we analyzed several biblical texts on literature lessons. Most students were Catholic, some were devout ones, but noone objected to treating the Bible like any other piece of literature.

    I sometimes think that post-Communist societies, even those which are quite religious (like Polish) display a lot of common sense w/r to religion, much more than Americans do.

  16. #16 Michael LoPrete
    March 9, 2006

    Impossible. The bible clearly teaches that no sheep can (permanently ) stray from the flock (John 10:29).

    I think you’ve got your verses wrong, and if you mean the passage you cite generally, it’s certainly not a clear teaching, unless you count advanced mental acrobatics as clear.

    Even if your interpretation was exactly what was meant, the issue is utterly unverifiable. There’s no way to show that your assertion is in fact the case.

    Anyway, llDayo seemed to be speaking more to evangelical leaders’ financial (rather than theological) bottom line, and there. Those who leave may not have been sheep to begin with (which I think is an intellectually lazy way out of the quandry), but they take their money with them, temporarily lost sheep or otherwise.

  17. #17 David Heddle
    March 9, 2006

    Michael LoPrete,

    It’s the correct verse?one of many used to support the doctrine that one’s salvation cannot be lost?i.e., no sheep can permanently stray. (Otherwise John 3:16 should say those who believe at the time of death will have eternal life?instead it promises eternal life at the moment one believes?and if it can be lost then it wasn?t eternal.) While this doctrine is not accepted by all Christians, it is accepted by enough?including some of the great theologians, that asserting it requires “mental acrobatics” doesn’t hold much water.

    I reread llDayo’s post. If he did mean that he thinks they are worried about the financial loss, it certainly is unclear. And it also makes no sense?high school students don’t give much to the church, their parent’s do. And if you are saying that llDayo actually meant they were worried about the loss of future tithes from these students, five or six (or more) years down the road, when they are through with college and working, then I suggest that’s a bit much to infer from his comment. In fact it requires mental acrobatics.

  18. #18 Michael LoPrete
    March 9, 2006

    It’s the correct verse?one of many used to support the doctrine that one’s salvation cannot be lost?

    Please do not shift the goalposts, it is a dishonest debate tactic. You cited one source, I looked it up and saw that it didn’t match up with what you paraphrased (and I still think you mean John 10:27), and called you on it. I thank you for the clarification, but you DID shift goalposts in your response.

  19. #19 David Heddle
    March 9, 2006

    Please, you sound so Panda’s-Thumb-like by your hair-trigger bellyaching that “the goalposts have been moved.”

    I said John 10:29, and I meant John 10:29, which reads:

    My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

    Those who the Father has given to the son are saved. No one can snatch them away, so says the verse. Not Satan, not a PZ Myers evolution course (which I would gladly let my kids take–I hear he is good in the classroom), and not the most bible-antagonistic teacher in a bible study.

  20. #20 Jeff Hebert
    March 9, 2006

    Someone call the bridge patrol, we gots us a troll!

    David Heddle said:

    I said John 10:29, and I meant John 10:29, which reads: My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. Those who the Father has given to the son are saved. No one can snatch them away, so says the verse.

    Does that mean God the Father can’t snatch them out of his own hand? Does it count if the souls jump out of his father’s hands all on their own? That’s not “snatching”. What about luring? I wouldn’t consider it snatching if someone was lured. Snatching intimates that the souls are removed against their will, but if they were lured of their own will that wouldn’t really count, I wouldn’t think.

    What if God the Father just drops them? Then he bypasses the whole snatching requirement altogether, which seems wise. Or what if they were winched? Winches are slow, that probably wouldn’t meet the “quickness” prong of the “Snatching Test” either.

    Gosh, religion is so fun. Why can’t we have a secular course on it that all the fundamentalists would agree with again? I forget.

  21. #21 Dave L
    March 9, 2006

    David Heddle said:

    Nobody has ever demonstrated to me any scientific or historical error in the bible.

    I would guess that the stuff about rabbits chewing their cud and inferring that bats are birds must have been translation problems…

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    March 9, 2006

    The problem with this notion that no “sheep” (a term I hate in this context and can’t imagine why anyone would welcome – the shepherd’s job, remember, was to raise the lambs to be fleeced or slaughtered) can go astray is that it requires calling everyone who has left Christianity a liar or claiming that they were never a “real” Christian. I was a Christian as a teenager. I was quite devout and believed it as strongly as one can believe anything at such an age. I left Christianity as a young adult.

  23. #23 David Heddle
    March 9, 2006

    Jeff,

    And I see you know how to deal with a troll: use humor that is neither funny nor to the point. We are not discussing whether you find the passage sensible?you cannot, it?s actually impossible for you to think of scripture as anything other than foolishness. The point is whether Christians have anything to fear by a critical analysis of the bible?and especially if they can be lost. Viewed self-consistently, they have nothing to fear?except perhaps more of your bad jokes whose flaw is not that they poke fun of scripture but rather they are dumb.

    Dave L,

    Oh gee, gosh, no I never heard about those things, next thing you’ll tell me is the bible teaches Pi=3. OMG my faith is shattered!

    Ed,

    It’s not calling you a liar–I believe that you believed. A false assurance of one’s salvation is warned about in the bible, and it is a big problem with today’s “easy-belief-ism.” Of course, the better alternative and my hope is that you are engaging in extended but nevertheless finite backsliding.

  24. #24 Halcyon
    March 9, 2006

    “It’s not calling you a liar–I believe that you believed. A false assurance of one’s salvation is warned about in the bible, and it is a big problem with today’s “easy-belief-ism.” Of course, the better alternative and my hope is that you are engaging in extended but nevertheless finite backsliding.”

    So no one ever stops believing because those that stop never believed fully in the first place? I don’t even think there is a goal post for that one then. :p

  25. #25 Ed Brayton
    March 9, 2006

    David Heddle wrote:

    It’s not calling you a liar–I believe that you believed. A false assurance of one’s salvation is warned about in the bible, and it is a big problem with today’s “easy-belief-ism.” Of course, the better alternative and my hope is that you are engaging in extended but nevertheless finite backsliding.

    I didn’t say anything about my assurance of my own salvation; I said I was a Christian. I believed it very strongly. But if you believe that I believed, and you believe that I now don’t believe, then it takes some real tap dancing to claim that no “sheep” ever leaves the faith. The fact is that people leave the faith all the time, for all sorts of reasons. There are only two possible explanations for someone who takes the “no one ever leaves” position – either they were never “real” Christians in the first place, or they’re just temporarily backsliding and will be back. The latter is clearly wrong in many cases, since lots of people live their entire lives and die without rejoining the faith. The former is shallow and presumptuous and perhaps even insulting. I don’t know why it is so hard to accept that people can and do leave Christianity after believing it for some time, just as people can and do accept Christianity after not believing it.

  26. #26 raj
    March 9, 2006

    Quick point: neither the curriculum of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools nor curriculum of the Bible Literacy Project is a comparative religion curriculum. Comparative religion requires education in a number of religions, not just one.

  27. #27 Ken Brown
    March 9, 2006

    To get back to the original point of the discussion:

    First, I don’t see any reason why the Bible/Qoran/Uppanishads/whatever could not be taught in a comparative religions-type course in which the purpose is simply to explain what is believed/claimed rather than whether it is true (theologically or even historically). There’s nothing to stop the kids from debating their views on the latter issue, but such views wouldn’t be part of the coursework itself. I don’t know whether either of the two curricula you cited follow this approach, but it seems like it would avoid the problems you mention.

    Of course, that leaves out most of the really interesting questions, but there is a social dynamic at work here that has to be taken into account: The fact is, almost every denomination (and certainly all the mainstream ones) explicitely endorses historical criticism of the Bible, but very few people in the pews are equipped to perform this kind of study or deal with its results. Unfortunately, making such people aware of all of the debate and uncertaintly that textual criticism and historical interpretation allow is a delicate matter – obviously no pastor is eager to sacrifice devotion to God for intellectual subtlety, and even fewer would be willing to leave that job to a public school teacher! As important as this subject is, I think Ed is right that it just can’t work in public school.

    (By the way, this comes from someone with a BA in Biblical Studies with an emphasis on historical criticism.)

  28. #28 David Heddle
    March 9, 2006

    Halycon,

    No–did you not read where I wrote, concerning Ed, “I believed you believed”? Why do you interpret it as if I wrote “I don’t believe you believed”? There’s the goalpost, right where it belongs. (You guys are amateurs compared to the Panda Thumb crowd–they would have charged me with multiple logical fallacies by now. You just keep invoking the moving goalposts. Is this like a training area for PT?)

    Ed,

    There is nothing I can do if it is insulting, and the answer to your comment

    I don’t know why it is so hard to accept that people can and do leave Christianity after believing it for some time

    Is simple: I don’t have a choice. It’s what the bible teaches, insulting or not. No flexibility on my part. Apart from the bible, it wouldn’t be hard for me to accept, but there it is plain, as day. You do know that “belief” as in “intellectual assent” is not sufficient, which is why there is the concept of “saving faith” with three components: notitia or knowledge of the contents of gospel, assensus which means you also give intellectual assent, and finally fiducia which means, in short, you not only understand the content (notitia) and believe it (assensus) but you also think it is good. The demons, the book of James tells us, have notitia and assensus, but still they tremble. So it is with some who believe they are Christians. The parable of the sower makes it clear. Many believe (like Simon the magician) but without a saving faith.

  29. #29 tacitus
    March 9, 2006

    Ed, I suspect that David would be more accurate if he said that he believes that you believed you believed — i.e. you sincerely thought you were a Christian but you were fooling youself into thinking you were (unless you are, of course, just in a marathon backslide :) ).

    I see that David believes he has to abide by all that the Bible holds true but, just like all fundamentalists, he appears to be very selective in what teachings he chooses to follow. As always, he sows his comments with sarcasm and condescension–hardly Christian virtues at the best of times.

    But in any case, we’ve already reached the end of this discourse. He’s invoked the “it’s what the Bible says” clause and so further appeals to reason and logic will fall upon deaf ears.

  30. #30 David Heddle
    March 9, 2006

    tacitus,

    How can I be a fundamentalist, as you say, when the crux of Ed’s post is that fundamentalists oppose courses involving real critical analysis of the bible (or, as llDayo wrote, fundamentalists worry about lost sheep) when clearly I have indicated that I (a) am all for such courses and (b) have no concern over lost sheep?

    It seems a tad inconsistent to me.

    As for complaining when I argue that’s what the bible teaches, as a Christian what do you expect me to say? Something like: well the bible teaches that, but I don’t like that particular teaching, so I choose to ignore it?

  31. #31 Skemono
    March 9, 2006

    How can I be a fundamentalist, as you say, when the crux of Ed’s post is that fundamentalists oppose courses involving real critical analysis of the bible (or, as llDayo wrote, fundamentalists worry about lost sheep) when clearly I have indicated that I (a) am all for such courses and (b) have no concern over lost sheep?

    It seems a tad inconsistent to me.

    Now that’s just pathetic. No-one ever said that these were necessary conditions for being a fundamentalist. It’s perfectly possible to be a fundamentalist without satisfying either of those criteria.

    And by the way, it’s not inconsistent of tacitus to say something in disagreement with IlDayo. We aren’t plugged into a hive mind, you know.

    As for complaining when I argue that’s what the bible teaches, as a Christian what do you expect me to say? Something like: well the bible teaches that, but I don’t like that particular teaching, so I choose to ignore it?

    Personally, I don’t expect much of you at all.

    But it would be nice if you attempted using actual logic instead of trying to claim that something is actually its complete opposite–either Mr. Brayton wasn’t a Christian when he was, or he is a Christian now when he isn’t–and touting your interpretation of a translation of a revision of a thousands-year old text to claim that settles the matter.

  32. #32 Ed Brayton
    March 9, 2006

    David Heddle wrote:

    I don’t have a choice. It’s what the bible teaches, insulting or not. No flexibility on my part. Apart from the bible, it wouldn’t be hard for me to accept, but there it is plain, as day.

    Well, that’s at least an honest answer. It’s just not one I could accept. And really this is one of the primary reasons why I left Christianity, because I could not suspend my reason and say, “I don’t care if it makes sense, I just believe it.” The problem with that approach, in my view, is that it could defend any unreasonable belief equally well.

    You do know that “belief” as in “intellectual assent” is not sufficient, which is why there is the concept of “saving faith” with three components: notitia or knowledge of the contents of gospel, assensus which means you also give intellectual assent, and finally fiducia which means, in short, you not only understand the content (notitia) and believe it (assensus) but you also think it is good. The demons, the book of James tells us, have notitia and assensus, but still they tremble. So it is with some who believe they are Christians.

    This does not apply in my case, nor, I suspect, in most cases of people leaving Christianity. I cerainly thought that it was good, even that it was absolutely necessary to avoid a wasted life.

  33. #33 David Heddle
    March 9, 2006

    Skemono,

    On the basis of this thread, two attributes of a fundamentalist were specified, and I don’t possess either one any more than you do. While I agree that they aren’t necessary and sufficient, it is still a fair question to ask on what basis I am labeled a fundamentalist? Is it because I believe the bible? Is that the simple equation: fundamentalist = bible-believer? If so, then both Ed and IlDayo should have written some fundamentalist-minded or some fundamentalists.

    You wrote:

    But it would be nice if you attempted using actual logic instead of trying to claim that something is actually its complete opposite–either Mr. Brayton wasn’t a Christian when he was, or he is a Christian now when he isn’t–and touting your interpretation of a translation of a revision of a thousands-year old text to claim that settles the matter.

    Of course, it (my interpretation, assisted by much scholarship of others, of the Bible) does settle the matter for me. Must I liberally sprinkle every statement with the qualifier “in my opinion”? Isn’t that understood? I don’t expect Ed or any of you to believe what I believe, I am merely stating that my belief (in the impossibility of losing sheep) means I don’t have the concern that IlDayo expressed. Do you see the difference? I am not out to convince you of “the perseverance of the saints”, clearly Ed denies that, I only pointed out the ramification of my acceptance of that doctrine.

    Ed,

    I would argue it is not suspending reason. If (in my opinion!) the bible were not self-consistent, but I believed it anyway, then that would be suspending reason. If it has teachings that I find hard, but nevertheless accept, that (in my opinion!) is a different matter altogether. For example, if I were God, I’d save everyone. But the bible clearly teaches that some are lost. I don’t consider it a suspension of reason to accept that, even though it is difficult.

  34. #34 Raging Bee
    March 9, 2006

    DAvid Heddle wrote:

    I said John 10:29, and I meant John 10:29, which reads: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

    This is NOT the same as saying “no sheep can stray.” It merely means that those whom God embraces cannot be snatched from his embrace. It says nothing about voluntarily leaving a church or changing a belief. So you did indeed move the goalposts by wrongly paraphrasing the verse.

    Oh, and, regarding your point about the historical accuracy of the Bible: has it been proven that the Sun stood still in the sky for one day? That the Red Sea parted to allow some people to cross, but not others?

  35. #35 Halcyon
    March 9, 2006

    “No–did you not read where I wrote, concerning Ed, “I believed you believed”? Why do you interpret it as if I wrote “I don’t believe you believed”? There’s the goalpost, right where it belongs. (You guys are amateurs compared to the Panda Thumb crowd–they would have charged me with multiple logical fallacies by now. You just keep invoking the moving goalposts. Is this like a training area for PT?)”

    No I did read that, but it will teach me to post here when at work, but your comment about ‘a false assurance of salvation is warned about in the bible’ seemed to imply that maybe you didn’t believe that. You’ve moved the goal posts still because you won’t allow for the possibility that the person may really lose their belief. You use that quote to defend your belief as proof that it hasn’t been proven wrong then tell us that you won’t accept that it ever can be proven wrong.

  36. #36 Jeff Hebert
    March 9, 2006

    David,

    In reading back over your posts here, do you honestly believe you are acting in a Christ-like manner? Can you point to passages in the Bible where Christ was insulting, rude, or demeaning to those with whom he had interactions, even those who insulted and ridiculed him? Because that is how you come off.

    This brand of snide, cruel heavy-handedness is one of the most off-putting aspects of the Christian fundamentalists (and if you think every word of the Bible is literally true, I don’t think it would be fair to call you anything else) I have come across around the Internet. With virtually every post, you act in a manner entirely inconsistent with the savior you claim as your own.

    My boss is a Young Earth Creationist who also believes every word in the Bible is literally true. Yet he conducts his life and his arguments with unbelievers in a kind, giving, understanding, Christ-like manner. How he comports himself is a far greater testament to his faith than his arguments. You, sadly, have neither. Your arguments are weak, and your manner shames the memory of the man you claim as your role model.

    Good luck with your life and your faith, sir, and I hope you will carefully consider, before you hit the “post” button, if what you are about to say is truly in the spirit of Christ.

  37. #37 Michael "Sotek" Ralston
    March 9, 2006

    Hmm. A mix of circular argumentation and argument from false authority.

    Specifically; argument from authority which is claimed to be not false via circular argument. (“It is true because the Bible says it is true.” “How do you know the Bible is right?” “Because the Bible says it is.”… admittedly, that second half hasn’t shown up, and instead we have ‘faith’, but … that’s not much better.)

  38. #38 Skemono
    March 9, 2006

    I would submit that you are a fundamentalist not because you believe in the Bible, but because you believe that your interpretation of the Bible trumps any form of logic, and allows you to redefine reality to conform with your interpretation.

  39. #39 Treban
    March 9, 2006

    There is a lot of argument and discussion in this thread. I think it really boils down to quite simple terms. It is absolutley unacceptable to teach the Bible as fact in a public school – the constitution does not and cannot allow it. If you were to teach it as literature and analyze it / dissect it you would piss off the fundementalists – who by definition are not rational people. They would go apoplectic and lawsuits would be waved around and it is just not worth it. Comparative religion classes are great at a highschool level and I think quite valuble for most anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. Now if it were a class dissecting a different sacred text per quarter? Maube not, still running into fundies who’d get pissed, though it might create a bit of unity between some of the major religions of the world. . . . .

  40. #40 Treban
    March 10, 2006

    Wow, interesting thread developed after the point I stopped reading.

    Mr. Heddle, you seem to find it more important to “defend” the Bible than to be civil, though to your credit as the thread moves past your initial few comments your attidude improved. Unfortunately, it seems it was necessary for (I would assume) a number of non-christians to remind you about Christ like behaviour for your civility to show through.

    I have recently come back to my faith and relationship with God. I do not however believe literaly in every word of the bible. The “mental gymnastics” required to intellectualy accept every word as the literal truth are beyond me. This does not mean I do not study the bible and meditate on the bible and listen to the Holy Spirit as I try to understand and interpret what I read. I could personaly care less what any biblical scholar has to say about it. Oddly enopugh I also don’t have any problem reconciling evolution with the bible. I wouldn’t dream of trying to explain how I reconcile two seemingly contrary ideas except to say that I am far more impressed by a God who could set the universe in motion than by a god who just “poofed” it all into existence a few thousand years ago deceptively making it apear that it’s all billions of years old.

  41. #41 Roman Werpachowski
    March 10, 2006

    Treban,

    I personally think it would be a shame if objective Bible studies, aimed for example at investigating historical basis for the biblical events (like, was there any real natural catastrophe which originated the biblical flood? was there any epidemic in Egypt which originated the biblical plagues?). It would be a very interesting course, maybe a bit difficult for high school students.

  42. #42 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Sorry, some of you have the impression that I think every word of the bible is literally true–that’s not so. When Christ says he is a vine, I don’t think he meant you could pick grapes from his body.

    I think the bible is inerrant as inspired. Inerrant is not the same thing as literal. People often confuse the two. I am also not a young earth creationist. I am an old earth creationist.

    Also, I don’t think the bible trumps logic, because I never find it in conflict with logic. That is, I find it self-consistent. When someone says “you never allow logic to trump the bible” all they really mean is “I don’t believe it, and I’m pretty smart, so you shouldn’t believe it.”

    Halycon,

    You’ve moved the goal posts still because you won’t allow for the possibility that the person may really lose their belief. You use that quote to defend your belief as proof that it hasn’t been proven wrong then tell us that you won’t accept that it ever can be proven wrong.

    Once again I didn’t say that a person couldn’t lose their “belief”, whatever that means. I said they couldn’t lose their salvation. How easy are these goalposts to move? Merely by stating what I believe? And I am willing to be proved wrong, but from the bible, not because that doctrine doesn’t feel right to Ed based on his experience. Over the past, oh, four years, I have radically changed my views on baptism and eschatology based on biblical arguments. So I am quite willing to listen to your biblical arguments demonstrating that one can lose his salvation, but I will not be moved by experiential arguments.

    Raging Bee,

    So I am a fundamentalist (I gather) because I insist that my interpretation is correct (John 10:29) and yet you are free to trump it by asserting a different (and uncommon) interpretation?

    As for parting of the Red Sea and the sun stopping, I do believe they occurred–so is yet another definition of fundamentalist one who believes in the miracles of the bible? Of course, you make a technical but fair point. When I wrote that the bible is historically accurate, I should have clarified that I didn’t mean that all of its historic references were proven true, but that none are demonstrably false.

    Michael Soltek: I have written that “I believe it because the bible says it.” You then extend that, to prove your point, by assuming that I also believe “the bible is true because it says it is.” And where have I said that? The last reason anyone should believe the bible is true is because it says it is true. The book of Mormon also claims to be true, but I don’t think it is. My belief in the truth of the bible is not based on its self-claim. That would indeed be circular.

    So is a fundamentalist one who is a strict literalist or one who believes in inerrancy, even if he welcomes critical analyses of the bible and is not worried about lost sheep, and even if he is not a YEC? And then there seems to be something about the miracles, too. Sorry, I am now very confused about what you think a fundamentalist is.

  43. #43 raj
    March 10, 2006

    It’s unfortunate that you all have allowed the thread, which was entitled “Why Bible Courses Can’t Work,” to be hijacked by someone (Heddle) who merely wishes to espouse his own interpretation of the Wholly Babble.

    Quite frankly, it isn’t worth discussing issues such as “Why Bible Courses Can’t Work” in comment threads because the comment threads virtually always get hijacked in the same manner.

  44. #44 Jeff Hebert
    March 10, 2006

    It’s unfortunate that you all have allowed the thread, which was entitled “Why Bible Courses Can’t Work,” to be hijacked by someone (Heddle) who merely wishes to espouse his own interpretation of the Wholly Babble.

    Quite frankly, it isn’t worth discussing issues such as “Why Bible Courses Can’t Work” in comment threads because the comment threads virtually always get hijacked in the same manner.

    You’re absolutely right, Raj. Good point. I apologize for taking the bait.

    Signing off of this thread.

  45. #45 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    No, I’ll stop posting, and you guys can resume. I’ll merely point out the obvious: that my first post was on topic, and after that I merely responded. When it is N on 1, it may appear that the “1” hijacked the thread, but in reality the N are just as guilty.

  46. #46 Ed Brayton
    March 10, 2006

    Hey, I think the discussion here has been quite interesting. And frankly, I don’t think David has been very rude as some have suggested. One of the most interesting things about blogging is the interaction, and just like a normal conversation it can sometimes take off in different directions.

    I also think that Heddle is quite right to point out that the phrase “Biblical literalist” is a bit of a misnomer. Even the staunchest fundamentalist does not take every word of the Bible literally, and the verse he mentions is a good example. There are many others. Even the most theologically conservative recognize that there is metaphorical or figurative language in the Bible. When Isaiah says that the mountains sang and the trees clapped, even Jerry Falwell would say that this is not meant literally but figuratively.

    It’s also reasonable to point out that the term “fundamentalist” is overused and under-defined. It has come to be used for anyone who is theologically (and usually politically) conservative. Historically, that’s not accurate and I am guilty of using this as shorthand myself at times. But I should also note that, contrary to David’s claim, my post did not use the word “fundamentalist”, it used the phrase “theologically conservative”, meaning Biblical inerrantists of whatever stripe (and there are many – YECs and OECs can both be inerrantists, for example, because each believe the Genesis account to be true, but they interpret the text quite differently).

    Anyway, I don’t have any problem with Heddle sticking around and commenting on this or any other thread, nor do I have a problem with threads going off into other subjects as long as those subjects are interesting. What I won’t do is allow the comments to become like so many PT comment threads, full of nothing but flames and juvenile insults.

  47. #47 Raging Bee
    March 10, 2006

    Mr. Heddle wrote:

    …but I will not be moved by experiential arguments.

    Does this mean you’re not interested in MY experiences, or you’re not interested in ANYONE’s experiences? Either way, I find that an appallingly stupid statement, since the people whose beliefs and spirituality I respect most are the ones whose spirituality is fuelled/enriched by experience, and who have made spirituality real in their own lives.

    A recovering addict (to take one example) whose “higher power” played a real role in improving his life commands my respect. A loudmouth shouting Bible verses and not listening to the experiences of his audience (if any) does not.

  48. #48 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Ed,

    But I should also note that, contrary to David’s claim, my post did not use the word “fundamentalist”,

    Actually Ed, your post did use “fundamentalist-minded” at the end of the first paragraph, which is what I believe I attributed to you.

  49. #49 Chance
    March 10, 2006

    When someone says “you never allow logic to trump the bible” all they really mean is “I don’t believe it, and I’m pretty smart, so you shouldn’t believe it.”

    No that means your not using logic is a manner that is usually found in other intellectual exercies. You demean all thinking with your comment.

    Personally I don’t think one can lose their ‘salvation’. I think the doctrine makes little sense philosophically and brings about huge contradictions. Not to mention makes God a liar. BUT I don’t think any of this can discerned from the reading of the bible itself which is as hodgepodged and confused a book that exists.

    The myriad of denominations, sects, and churches are a testament to this fact.

    I would argue it is not suspending reason

    It is is you buy talking snakes, donkeys, bushes, flying horses, chariots and on and on. Yes you are suspending reason.

    , I should have clarified that I didn’t mean that all of its historic references were proven true, but that none are demonstrably false.

    It is demostrably false that the Earth stopped moving. Simply because we are still here. Of course one can believe we were all protected from the events that would occur in response to such events but one then could equally agree that your being controlled by Raelians.

    “I believe it because the bible says it.” You then extend that, to prove your point, by assuming that I also believe “the bible is true because it says it is.” And where have I said that?

    Well you don’t believe it because of logic, or because it says it but yet you maintain it is inerrant. Odd.

    ActuallY I’m glad Heddle showed up. His views and the dissenting opinions over just 1-2 of the verses in the bible and the resulting argument is EXACTLY why it should/could never be taught as a truth in schools.

    I think anyone who looks at the bible as inerrant is a fundie. It’s broad and all inclusive and only offensive to those who are insulted that I may think they take the bible inerrantly.

    One of my favorite C.S Lewis quotes:

    ‘ I can’t conceive of anyone getting to Heaven if they can conceive of another soul going to hell.’

    That about sums it up for this white boy, and I carry the thought over to God himself.

  50. #50 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    David wrote:

    I don’t have a choice. It’s what the bible teaches, insulting or not. No flexibility on my part.

    and

    For example, if I were God, I’d save everyone. But the bible clearly teaches that some are lost.

    You have the choice not to take the Bible as your authority. Nobody is forcing you to worship a god who sends people to hell.

  51. #51 Jeff Hebert
    March 10, 2006

    Well heck, it’s Ed’s blog and if he doesn’t mind the discussion, who are we to say him nay?

    I’ll also agree with Treban, the posts by David I took offense to were his earlier ones. Since then the discussion has been more civil and interesting.

    David, I’ve read parts of your blog and you seem interested in basic definitions, which I think is wise and profitable. It’s hard to have a discussion when everyone’s using the same words to mean different things. You’ve rejected a number of labels and definitions in this thread, so I would prefer to just ask you directly:

    1. How do you define Biblical inerrancy?
    2. How do you define “biblical literalism”, or is that not a useful or valid term to use at all?
    3. How would you define “Christian fundamentalism” and what criteria should be used to know if someone is a fundamentalist or not?

    I see from your blog that you consider Creationist to mean “anyone who believes in God” so we already have your definition of that.

  52. #52 raj
    March 10, 2006

    Ed Brayton | March 10, 2006 09:23 AM

    I did not suggest that Mr. Heddle was being rude, nor did I intend to. Nor did I suggest that he was a troll–and I did not intend to do that, either.

    The subject matter of the post related to the proposed bible study curricula and also mentioned the possibility of a comparative religion curriculum, which–as I noted–neither of the proposed bible study curricula were. As far as I’m concerned, it would have been nice to discuss those issues, rather than diverting the discussion here to minutiae regarding the bible. If you find a discussion regarding the minutiae regarding the bible, that’s your business, but, if you want such a discussion pursued, perhaps you should consider beginning an “open thread” for such a discussion there. Then, those who might be interested in discussing the merits and/or constitutionality of the various proposed curricula could do so here.

    BTW, this phenomenon of comment threads or message boards being hijacked is not new. In my observation over the last decade or so, is quite typical on issues such as religion (primarily bible minutiae), abortion, and gun control/2d amendment. Over at the NYTimes gay rights board, we still have more than a few posters who feel it their obligation to scratch every itch that comes their way. Given the number of anti-gay trolls that post there, it makes the board useless.

    In short, consider starting an open thread for discussion of biblical issues. Given the number of translations of the various books purporting to comprise Wholly Babble into English alone, you’ll surely end up with a tower of babble.

  53. #53 Michael LoPrete
    March 10, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Nobody is forcing you to worship a god who sends people to hell.

    This is sort-of true; technically speaking, it is possible to believe in the Bible’s inerrancy and at the same time so strongly disapprove of God’s interaction with his creation such that one would refuse to worship him.

    That said, faced with the conclusion that the Bible is the word of God, I think as a general matter we can say that it would be a matter of internal consistancy to fall down in worship. In that way, I don’t think David has a choice.

  54. #54 Chance
    March 10, 2006

    That said, faced with the conclusion that the Bible is the word of God, I think as a general matter we can say that it would be a matter of internal consistancy to fall down in worship. In that way, I don’t think David has a choice

    Except there isn’t internal consistancy so the argument fails. There are Christian sects that do not think Hell is literal or for that matter even exists. This includes many Catholic theologians.

    And secondly why on Earth would you feel it is more consistent to worship based on this fear? Would that not demean both you and God?

    But really these religious discussions are tiresome and ultimately pointless. Occasionaly fun though.:-)

  55. #55 Jeff Hebert
    March 10, 2006

    Raj said:

    I did not suggest that Mr. Heddle was being rude, nor did I intend to. Nor did I suggest that he was a troll–and I did not intend to do that, either.

    I think Ed was referring to me, Raj, not you. I’m the one who made both those claims. I stand by them regarding David’s earlier posts, but as I said, in my opinion his posts since have been more civil.

  56. #56 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    True, Chance. I am just irked by people who think they aren’t responsible for being the kind of bigot that really believing everything in the Bible makes you. Worshipping a nasty person makes you a nasty person, and it’s not excused just because a book says you have to.

    To be clear, I don’t think this applies to people who “pick and choose” from the Bible and don’t really think that that God said and did the nasty things it says he did. They might be inconsistent, but that’s a lot easier to deal with.

  57. #57 Dave L
    March 10, 2006

    David, my comment about rabbits chewing their cud was not made to antagonize you, but you have to admit that it is a ‘scientific error’. Sure maybe there was a mistranslation and they really meant that they chew their dung, or maybe no one had noticed at the time the Bible was written that that’s what rabbits were actually doing, but the verse as written in at least a few translations is in error.

    The thing that I guess I find inconsistent is that you speak about another verse up above and what it ‘clearly’ says, when others have pointed out other very reasonable interpretations. It does seem clear by that, and the fact that there are numerous Christian denominations, that the Bible is not as clear as you claim. If there are questions about the meaning of such simple concrete words as ‘cud’, it would seem that what was ‘meant’ by far more complex and nebulous words as ‘salvation’ and ‘faith’ is also less than clear.

    Which to piggy-back on what Chance and Ed said, is all the more reason that Bible classes won’t work.

  58. #58 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    OK, I’ll take Ed’s comments and Jeff’s as license to return to the discussion.

    Chance,

    It is is you buy talking snakes, donkeys, bushes, flying horses, chariots and on and on. Yes you are suspending reason.

    If believing in miracles means that one has suspended one’s reason, them I am guilty. However, I take it to mean something different: that one uses progressive rather than circular logic, and that one’s viewpoint, while perhaps wrong, is self-consistent. That is, a reasonable person who accepts the same premises would more or less reach the same conclusions

    It is demostrably false that the Earth stopped moving.

    It is not demonstrably false that the events in Joshua 10 did not happen (Whether they happened by the earth literally stopping I couldn’t say). You can only say they are inexplicable by science. But that’s why they are called miracles rather than parlor tricks.

    Well you don’t believe [the bible] because of logic, or because it says it but yet you maintain it is inerrant. Odd.

    Actually, I never said I didn’t believe it “because of logic”. I said that the bible doesn’t trump logic (for me) because I don’t see any conflict between the two. Now what you wrote, without just-cause, that my belief is not based on logic, happens to be more-or-less true. Why I believe it is (a) not because of logic [although it is bolstered by logic] and (b) not because it claims to be inerrant, which would be circular. You may find it odd, but that is because you haven’t examined all possibilities.

    I agree with the Lewis quote. I for one cannot conceive of (in the sense of ‘understand’) anyone going to hell even though I believe it to be true.

    Gretchen,

    You have the choice not to take the Bible as your authority. Nobody is forcing you to worship a god who sends people to hell.

    The first sentence (according to my theology) is false. The second is true.

    Jeff,
    Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the original writings were inspired by God, meaning while they preserved the personalities and styles of the writers (i.e., they weren’t dictated), the writings were also preserved from error. The original manuscripts, in the original language, with full contextual and cultural considerations, are free from error. This is a doctrine that says scripture is error free, but it doesn’t say what is scripture, and so it is separate from the question of what are the right books of the bible. It also doesn?t mean that we are spared translation errors or redactions or misinterpretations.

    Biblical literalism is a hermeneutic usually associated a group called dispensationalists. These would include the “Left Behind” types. They seek to understand the bible by taking as much of it as possible literally. I think this is wrong–much of the bible, especially apocalyptic text, is written a very non-western style in which teachings are spiritualized. In the narrow question of creation, literalism usually means those who insist that the Hebrew word yom, which is used in biblical Hebrew as both “day” and “age”, must be taken as a literal 24-hour day in Genesis. I disagree, and believe that it is intended as “age” in Genesis. In a sense, I am also literal. I think the Genesis account, with yom meaning age, is literally true.

    I don’t have a good definition for “Christian Fundamentalism.” Used “in the family” that is, among Reformed (Calvinistic) denominations, it is used to refer to legalistic, Arminian denominations. We would, for example, refer to Bob Jones University as “fundamentalist.” However, since it is so ill-defined (as we have seen on this thread) I prefer to avoid it.

    Chance,

    Except there isn’t internal consistancy so the argument fails. There are Christian sects that do not think Hell is literal or for that matter even exists. This includes many Catholic theologians.

    Yes, they are called liberal denominations. Obviously I don’t understand them. If you get to pick and choose what you want from the bible, on what basis do you choose? If there is no hell (even though Jesus talked about it more than heaven) why would you believe the “nice” sayings attributed to Jesus? Either he is a liar or the book is unreliable. Also, your statement about Catholics is true but with a caveat: official Catholic dogma affirms hell, so a Catholic is not actually “free” not to believe in it.

    Gretchen,
    What kind of bigot am I for believing in the bible?

    Dave L,
    Good point, I’ll strive to avoid using the word “clearly”. When I wrote my novel adverbs were supposedly (doh) exorcized from my vocabulary, but they have come back.

  59. #59 Michael LoPrete
    March 10, 2006

    Chance,

    By internal consistancy, I meant internal to the person. If a person believes X is true, but acts like Y is true, they’re not consistant with themselves. I used “internal” since this inconsistancy can’t be detected (unless you believe in mind-reading, I suppose). Looking back, I should have realized that “internal” comes pre-loaded to mean something different in the context of a theological discussion.

  60. #60 countlurkula
    March 10, 2006

    Words are slippery if you choose them to be, and hard as rock if you choose them to be. Sometimes the words seem to throwing the question back at the reader. What does it mean for love of money to be the root of all evil when we can’t avoid living with it? To honor your mother and father? To render unto God what belongs to God? The questions are answered by our actions much better than any armchair midrash.

    Biblical errors — not just the contradictions, but all the many, many things in the book that don’t ring true — are caveats. They are reminders that it wasn’t dictated from on high like divine memos, but that you have eyes and ears and a mind and a heart and that those are your main tools in life.

  61. #61 Roman Werpachowski
    March 10, 2006

    I wonder if the Bible literalist take into account the fact that what they read is a translation from an ancient language — and that their interpretation of the Bible verses is heavily influenced by the translator.

  62. #62 Jeff Hebert
    March 10, 2006

    David said:

    This is a doctrine that says scripture is error free, but it doesn’t say what is scripture, and so it is separate from the question of what are the right books of the bible. It also doesn?t mean that we are spared translation errors or redactions or misinterpretations.

    I assume you refer here to the different books included in the Catholic Bibles versus the King James and other Protestant Bibles? It seems permissible within the context of your definition for someone to believe in Biblical inerrancy and also believe that only certain books in a given Bible qualify as Scripture and thus are inerrant, is that the case? Other books may not be scripture, and thus can be in error while still being in a “Bible”, is that true?

  63. #63 Ed Brayton
    March 10, 2006

    Part of the problem here is that many of these terms are fairly fluid and used in different ways by different people. The term “fundamentalist” has a much more narrow meaning to someone with a background in Christian history than it does to the average person. But these days, it is most often used to mean anyone who believes in Biblical inerrancy and whose theological views are generally conservative (as well as, typically, their political views). It is much like the word “theory” being used to mean entirely different things in a scientific and a colloquial context. Or the popular meaning of “agnostic” (one who isn’t sure whether God exists) as opposed to the historical or classic meaning of the word (one who believes that it is impossible to understand anything about God). We run into this sort of thing all the time in conversation, so it’s hardly unique.

    When someone uses the broad meaning of “fundamentalist”, it does us little good to respond, “but that’s not what that word really means, it really means (insert narrow theological definition)” because we can be reasonably certain that the person we are addressing didn’t really use the term to mean that more technical definition. It’s certainly more conducive to the exchange of views to address what we know they meant, especially when the term is widely used that way, than to focus on whether they should have used that word or not. Words are meant to convey ideas and the same word can often mean different things in different contexts. If we know the idea that someone is trying to convey, then it’s best to engage that idea rather than engaging their label for it. It’s easy to get sidetracked by semantics, but it tends to obscure the clash of ideas.

  64. #64 Chance
    March 10, 2006

    If believing in miracles means that one has suspended one’s reason, them I am guilty.

    Yes, you are. So let’s not pretend your being reasonable in your arguments. That includes the innerancy issue. You start from a preconceived point of view and move from there.

    However, I take it to mean something different: that one uses progressive rather than circular logic, and that one’s viewpoint, while perhaps wrong, is self-consistent.

    I wouldn’t call what you are doing progressive logic. I do find your viewpoint consistent for how you think however. At least for the merits of this discussion.

    That is, a reasonable person who accepts the same premises would more or less reach the same conclusions

    Many reasonable people have reached many different conclusions starting with the same premises.

    It is not demonstrably false that the events in Joshua 10 did not happen (Whether they happened by the earth literally stopping I couldn’t say). You can only say they are inexplicable by science. But that’s why they are called miracles rather than parlor tricks.

    It IS demostrably false given our knowledge of how the Earth works to disprove that the Earth didn’t stop rotating. Computer models exist that could easily show what would result. They are not inexplicable by science if they actually occured. Thats a cop out and one frequently used by apologists. And many miracles do seem like cheap parlor tricks.

    (a) not because of logic [although it is bolstered by logic] and (b) not because it claims to be inerrant, which would be circular. You may find it odd, but that is because you haven’t examined all possibilities.

    Your arguments are not bolstered by logic. And then you make a presumption and attempt to make an argument on what you think another has examined. Again, odd.

    I agree with the Lewis quote. I for one cannot conceive of (in the sense of ‘understand’) anyone going to hell even though I believe it to be true.

    You don’t agree with the sentiment then. You are again exercising a cop-out. Lewis maintained that anyone who believed such a thing lacked the necessary forgiveness to get in, basically lacked an understanding of God’s love. Or for that matter real love at all.

    Yes, they are called liberal denominations. Obviously I don’t understand them. If you get to pick and choose what you want from the bible, on what basis do you choose?

    You also pick and choose.

    If there is no hell (even though Jesus talked about it more than heaven) why would you believe the “nice” sayings attributed to Jesus? Either he is a liar or the book is unreliable.

    I’d vote for unreliable. Or the fact that it is not meant to be read as a rule book and instead to lead to a greater understanding of Gods love. I find your theology rather primitive. It may work for you but it is rather primitive. It’s possible to think a variety of thoughts on a hell without anyone having more merit than another.

    Also, your statement about Catholics is true but with a caveat: official Catholic dogma affirms hell, so a Catholic is not actually “free” not to believe in it.

    But you don’t seem to understand catholism. Catholics at their base are ‘free’ to believe as they wish with God as the only judge. It’s an official part of church doctrine. They have official positions but also recognize the right of the individual as they view God as the only judge. I don’t agree with Catholic doctrine but that is what it is.

    The catholic church is huge and what is doctrine today may not be next century. It evolves.

    Hell is a disgusting concept with not 1 shred of evidence. That people fear something so obviously disgusting made by some supernatural force is to me, a blight on religion. I for one, am not sure anyone who thinks God will send people there will ever get into a heaven(if one even exists). Perhaps that is the ultimate meaning, learn to love and appreciate each other or else.

  65. #65 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    David said:

    Gretchen,
    What kind of bigot am I for believing in the bible?

    Many kinds, because the god of the Bible is bigotted against anyone who doesn’t do exactly what he says– including doubting that he says anything at all.

    And by the way, “according to my theology” is not actually an argument for anything, because anything could be true according to someone’s theology.

  66. #66 llDayo
    March 10, 2006

    Spaghetti Almighty, I didn’t start that argument I hope! I don’t have much time here at work to go into an indepth post but I’ll clarify some things that didn’t seem to be understood in my post.

    First, I meant theological, not financial, when I posted on “sheep straying from the flock”. One of the things that changed me from a Lutheran to an athiest was I couldn’t resolve the claims of the Bible with what scientific study has shown (for example, creation of the world in 6 days when we can observe a significantly longer, nonsupernatural “creation” and also the flood story having no evidence of it happening, aside from a localized event).

    As for fundamentalist, I was referring to adherents of a strict biblical interpretation of the text. I kind of take this as a given but as has been clearly shown, others have different ideas as to what a fundamentalist is.

    I hope that clears things up a little bit, even though the main disagreement was 50+ posts ago.

  67. #67 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Jeff,

    That is true. Since the table of contents is not inspired, Protestants, if they are honest to their (our) beloved doctrine of scripture-alone, must agree that it is possible some book made into the bible that doesn’t belong, and some book may have been excluded that does belong. Of course, they can believe that God guided the process, but that is an extra-scriptural belief. Catholics don’t have that problem, for they believe the Catholic Church infallibly established the canon.

    The reasons I am confident (though not 100%) sure in the canon would take up a lot of space.

    Chance,

    Thats a cop out and one frequently used by apologists. And many miracles do seem like cheap parlor tricks.

    It is a cop-out, but on your part, not mine. I have had this argument before, many times. It amounts to my not being permitted to claim that God can perform miracles, even though by definition God is capable of the supernatural. Most people, with even minimal rhetorical skills, understand that the miracles (there are about 100 of them, taking maybe 10 pages of biblical text in a typical bible, leaving much non-miraculous text to debate) are exempt from having to be verifiable by science. You fall below that standard, it would seem. I gather you believe that since simulations also demonstrate that a person can’t walk on water, then anyone who believes Jesus walked on water has suspended reason. That’s a rather crude form of begging the question.

    Your arguments [for believing the bible] are not bolstered by logic.

    Since I didn’t give you my argument for my believing the bible, how have you concluded that it is not bolstered by logic? I’ve only told you it was not for the reasons you indicated.

    I find your theology rather primitive. It may work for you but it is rather primitive.

    What do you mean by primitive? Do you mean old, or not well thought out? Because my theology is basically text-book Calvinism, the same more-or-less as Augustine, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Francis Schaeffer, etc. (And, more importantly, I believe it to be the theology of the bible.) These men, even their enemies would agree, were great thinkers, so I am confused by the term “primitive”. Unless you do mean old–in which case I agree.

    You don’t agree with [C.S. Lewis’s] sentiment [about hell] then. You are again exercising a cop-out. Lewis maintained that anyone who believed such a thing [hell] lacked the necessary forgiveness to get in [heaven], basically lacked an understanding of God’s love. Or for that matter real love at all.

    Since Lewis believed in hell (I can back that up with references) you have put him in an interesting position of condemning himself to it. Or do I misunderstand what you meant?

    But you don’t seem to understand catholism. Catholics at their base are ‘free’ to believe as they wish with God as the only judge

    Oh, but I do understand Catholicism reasonably well (And I am just starting a series on it on my blog if you are interested). Any Catholic teaching ex cathedra is deemed infallible. The faithful are required to affirm infallible teachings. That doesn’t mean they all do, but that’s a question of practice. In general, you can be excommunicated for repudiating dogma–just read all the pronouncements of the ecumenical councils and see how they typically end in something like: let whoever denies this doctrine be anathema. If it is not ex cathedra teaching, then there is some freedom. For example, Thomas Aquinas believed in predestination, but that teaching never became dogma, nor did an absolute repudiation of it, so in some sence a Catholic could believe it, though not many do. If you actually believe what you wrote, that “Catholics at their base are ‘free’ to believe as they wish with God as the only judge” then you know absolutely nothing about Catholicism.

    Gretchen,

    Many kinds, because the god of the Bible is bigotted against anyone who doesn’t do exactly what he says– including doubting that he says anything at all.
    And by the way, “according to my theology” is not actually an argument for anything, because anything could be true according to someone’s theology.

    Again, who specifically am I bigoted against?

    So when I state something as fact I am accused of being (essentially) dogmatic. When I qualify it with “according to my theology” then whatever I say is mush. This is a narrow path you leave me! How about “according to my theology which I am ever-ready to defend from the bible?”

  68. #68 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    David said:

    Again, who specifically am I bigoted against?

    Would you like a list? How about everybody who commits what is described as a sin in the Bible but who doesn’t believe they are doing anything wrong (in other words, is non-repentant)? Women who teach. People who work on the Sabbath. People who insult their brothers. Homosexuals. Anybody who is non-Christian. Etc.

    So when I state something as fact I am accused of being (essentially) dogmatic.

    When you state something as fact without providing any actual evidence to support it, you’re being dogmatic. Come on, you’re smart enough to know this.

    When I qualify it with “according to my theology” then whatever I say is mush.

    That much is true.

    How about “according to my theology which I am ever-ready to defend from the bible?”

    “Defending from the Bible” is only meaningful if you are arguing with somebody who actually believes the Bible. Otherwise you might as well be defending your theology from Archie comic books.

  69. #69 Chance
    March 10, 2006

    David,

    I see your resortig to angry retorts now. It was inevitable of one who takes himself so seriously.

    I gather you believe that since simulations also demonstrate that a person can’t walk on water, then anyone who believes Jesus walked on water has suspended reason. That’s a rather crude form of begging the question.

    No your misunderstanding. Of course I know miracles can’t be proved out. But I find people like you tend to think they occur in a vacuum. Leave no lasting impressions and only occur in such small regions of the world no other cultures seem to notice. The world stopping apparently had such little affrct on the globe that no other culture even noticed. Or the flood for that matter. If these events happened, surely evidence would be around. This evidence is subject to the same science as anything else.

    And of course anyone who buys into any of this has suspended reason, they are buying into them based on faith. This should be obvious to virtually anyone. Or at least anyone with any rhetorical skills.:-)

    Since Lewis believed in hell (I can back that up with references) you have put him in an interesting position of condemning himself to it. Or do I misunderstand what you mean

    He thought it existed but it troubled him greatly, he had a hard time reconciling it with a loving God and many say he never did. He simply said ‘What is god to do?’ Perhaps he did condemn himself to it. That wouldn’t defeat his statement or make it any less sense. It is a heartless person that can conceive of such a thing, and doesn’t say much for a loving God either.

    Any Catholic teaching ex cathedra is deemed infallible. The faithful are required to affirm infallible teachings

    Of course you understand Catholic theology better than the Catholic priests who tell me the church has it doctrines but the real church are the members. Your talking doctrine, I’m talking real life. You seem to want to make religion nothing more than words. Pharisee comes to mind. It’s supposed to be about people. The Catholic church does not toss folks out who disagree with them often. 98% of Catholics use birth control yet are still Catholic and in good standing. Likewise on a plethora of issues. You wish to pigeon hole a large and diverse faith. I know what your doing, I did it myself in the past. Your making the same errors.

    Catholics at their base are ‘free’ to believe as they wish with God as the only judge” then you know absolutely nothing about Catholicism.

    Right, ok. Moving on. Write away David. Spend your life writing about this jibberish on your website. This has gotten boring.

  70. #70 Jeff Hebert
    March 10, 2006

    Thanks David, it’s always interesting to see someone else’s take on things. You’ve obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the whole subject and I appreciate your taking the time to share it in a civil manner.

  71. #71 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Would you like a list? How about everybody who commits what is described as a sin in the Bible but who doesn’t believe they are doing anything wrong (in other words, is non-repentant)?

    Do you really believe what you are saying? How about men in NA*MBLA who have sex with children but don’t believe they are doing anything wrong? That perfectly fits your criterion. Am I bigoted against them? Maybe I don’t know what you mean by “bigoted”.

    Also, you seem to leave no room whatsoever for theological discussion if the Christian cannot use the bible to defend his theology. Is it that you simply believe there is no merit whatsoever to discussing theology, or is there some ground rule based on which I could discuss it, but just not using the bible. If so I am curious as to what it would be.

    Chance,

    No your misunderstanding. Of course I know miracles can’t be proved out. But I find people like you tend to think they occur in a vacuum. Leave no lasting impressions and only occur in such small regions of the world no other cultures seem to notice. The world stopping apparently had such little affrct on the globe that no other culture even noticed. Or the flood for that matter. If these events happened, surely evidence would be around. This evidence is subject to the same science as anything else.

    Well that’s far different from stating that a computer simulation rules out the possibility. First of all, there is no necessity for such an event as described in Joshua 10 to leave evidence. A flood–yes that should leave evidence. The fact that as far as we know no other culture reported such a disturbance is a legitimate question. But of course, a lack of such a report is only suggestive, not demonstrative. At any rate, the text says that the sun and the moon stopped, but that may be a description rather than a precise scientific observation, not unlike saying the sun rose. All we know from the biblical text is that it appeared to the armies that the sun and moon stopped–it does not say that God stopped the earth from rotating. Who knows how he did it, just like who knows how the red sea was parted? Maybe he can play games with the extra compacted space-time dimensions of String Theory. We simply don’t know. If you want to focus on something in the bible with the greatest potential for conflict with science, I’d recommend focusing on the Noahic flood.

    Of course you understand Catholic theology better than the Catholic priests who tell me the church has it doctrines but the real church are the members.

    Actually I probably do know more about Catholicism that some Catholic priests, just like someone like (Catholic) Mark Shea knows more about evangelism than many pastors. But that is neither here nor there. Although you are arguing by anecdote, let’s accept it. No one would deny that the real church is the members, not the doctrines. However, that is a far cry from “and those members can believe whatever they want as long as they believe they are OK with God” or however you put it earlier. If that were true, nobody would ever be excommunicated. You may be right (actually I don’t think so) that that is how the Catholic Church should operate, but that’s not how it does, at least that is not how it does officially.

    Jeff,

    My pleasure.

  72. #72 Ed Brayton
    March 10, 2006

    For anyone who believes that the Noahic flood was global, there’s more than just a bit of conflict between that idea and science. The evidence flatly contradicts such a claim.

  73. #73 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    David said:

    Do you really believe what you are saying? How about men in NA*MBLA who have sex with children but don’t believe they are doing anything wrong? That perfectly fits your criterion. Am I bigoted against them? Maybe I don’t know what you mean by “bigoted”.

    Bigotry is irrational prejudice. The judgment that the people I mentioned, people who aren’t harming anyone, are sinners is an example of bigotry.

    Also, you seem to leave no room whatsoever for theological discussion if the Christian cannot use the bible to defend his theology. Is it that you simply believe there is no merit whatsoever to discussing theology, or is there some ground rule based on which I could discuss it, but just not using the bible. If so I am curious as to what it would be.

    I am saying that a claim to truth which stems from theology has no validity. If, for example, you claim that a miracle occurred and use your theology as support, you are effectively offering no support whatsoever. Your theology is only evidence of itself– your belief in miracles proves you believe in miracles, and that’s it. I said that you have the choice not to take the Bible as your authority, and you said that wasn’t true according to your theology. But truth according to your theology has nothing to do with whether you actually have the ability to do something or not.

    (And as an aside, doesn’t your theology include a belief in free will? If that’s so, then you certainly have the freedom to reject biblical authority even on that basis)

  74. #74 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Ed,

    I agree, which is why I believe in a localized flood. Since virtually every region, including Mesopotamia, has recurring flooding, science doesn’t have a whole lot to say about that view. This (my) view does face legitimate (though I would say answerable) theological questions given that I claim the bible is inerrant, but that’s a different question.

    Gretchen,

    I do not see how believing that somebody is a sinner, even those sins that you believe do no harm, is a form of irrational prejudice. (That would make me prejudiced against everyone, including myself, but I thought prejudice demanded special treatment?)

    Yes my theology affirms both absolute sovereignty of God (everything that happens has been ordained) and free will. Which is of course a very interesting antinomy. I recently blogged about free will here if you are interested (which I suspect you are not.)

  75. #75 Chance
    March 10, 2006

    David,

    This is my last reply. This has really gotten tiresome. I’ll give you the last word.

    Well that’s far different from stating that a computer simulation rules out the possibility.

    A computer simulation would effectively rule out anything surviving such an event. It wouldn’t rule out Zeus using mystical powers to keep everything in check while it happened. It just makes thought like that extremely trivial.

    just like who knows how the red sea was parted?

    Of if it was at all, again if it actually happened in a real world sense science would have something to say about the mechanism. But of course Zeus could have passed a mighty wind with enough force to presure the water open. But how this happened who knows?

    The fact that as far as we know no other culture reported such a disturbance is a legitimate question. But of course, a lack of such a report is only suggestive, not demonstrative.

    Exactly, just like when Joseph Smith said Jesus came to the America’s and Mohammed ascended into the sky. They simply didn’t have the technology then to photograph all the people flying around in those days.

    I’d recommend focusing on the Noahic flood.

    Why? Why stop there? Why start there? It’s obvious yes but no more a problem for people who look at the bible as interrant than talking snakes, donkeys, and bushes.

    Actually I probably do know more about Catholicism that some Catholic priests

    And everything else apparently. You should apply all this thinking to something worthwhile.

    As an aside in your codiscussion with Gretchen I find apologists always go to a sitting duck like NAMBLA while totally missing her larger point. NAMBLA is a disturbing group but if you can’t understand why they are disturbing minus a set of supernatural beliefs you simply can’t converse with Gretchen on any meaningful level.

    She is also correct that you can’t use the bible to buttress your claims. You have to make the claim on it’s own merit. Your presuming the bible to have some validity to the discussion. A presumption that is wrong in logic without proving out the presumption first.

    Have a great weekend.

  76. #76 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    David–

    Perhaps you are prejudiced against everyone. Arguably God is, so it would make sense. If God created all of us knowing that most (the vast majority of people who have lived and died did not believe in Jesus as Christ) would go to hell (and if he is omniscient, then he would), then we would be literally pre-judged.

    My general point is that God as described in the Bible is an asshole, and choosing to worship that god means responsibility for endorsing that kind of morality. Luckily or unluckily, depending on your perspective, most people who claim to follow that god haven’t read their Bible very closely to see exactly how true that is.

  77. #77 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Gretchen,

    My general point is that God as described in the Bible is an asshole

    Chance,

    [Gretchen] is also correct that you can’t use the bible to buttress your claims. You have to make the claim on it’s own merit.

    Let’s see, asserting god is an asshole is apparently a legitimate point of debate, but trying to defend the doctrine that someone cannot lose their salvation by referring to the bible, isn’t. I think I’m catching on. But wait, Gretchen used the bible to support her claim of asshole-iness, so now I’m confused again. Help!

  78. #78 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    Oh, give me a break David. I simply refuse to believe that you are not intelligent enough to recognize the difference between a claim about who God is according to the Bible and who God is, period.

  79. #79 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Gretchen,

    A serious question. How do you ascribe attributes to God, if you do not use the bible? Do you use some other holy book? Do you simply make assumptions about how god would be? I am (really) very interested.

  80. #80 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    David–

    I ascribed attributes to the god of the Bible, according to the Bible. You ascribe attributes to God, period, according to the Bible. Now do you see the difference? Saying “This is the case, according to this book” is an entirely different thing from saying “This is the case, because it says so in this book.” I could talk all day about the character of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, yet I would be making no statements about actual reality. But the statements you’re making are about reality.

  81. #81 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Saying “This is the case, according to this book” is an entirely different thing from saying “This is the case, because it says so in this book.”

    Nope, I don’t get it. Too zen for me.

    Let me ask a simpler question. Do you believe in a god, and if yes, how do you know his/her attributes?

  82. #82 Roman Werpachowski
    March 10, 2006

    The Catholic church does not toss folks out who disagree with them often. 98% of Catholics use birth control yet are still Catholic and in good standing.

    Actaully, the set of things Catholics are *required* to do/follow is pretty small.

  83. #83 Gretchen
    March 10, 2006

    Nope, I don’t get it. Too zen for me.

    Zen? Please re-read the Holden Caulfield example. It’s a difference between describing a character according to a text and affirming that the character exists.

    Let me ask a simpler question. Do you believe in a god, and if yes, how do you know his/her attributes?

    I’m not sure why it matters, but no– I don’t believe in a god. However I process and engage other people’s conceptions of gods on a regular basis. I can describe them according to their beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that I am affirming that their gods actually exist (which would be a theological claim).

  84. #84 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Roman,

    Actually, I believe there is some debate in the Catholic Church about whether the teaching on birth control is ex cathedra as expounded in the encyclical Humane Vitae, with the majority opinion being that it isn’t. If so, that would place it outside the domain of infallible teaching, and so it does not apply to my argument.

    I don’t know why you say the list is small–go find the council of Trent on line and search for “anathema.” You will find numerous doctrines that, if you don’t affirm, place you under the Church’s condemnation and subject to excommunication. Those are infallible teachings. For example, from Trent:

    If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:–whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

    In other words, any Catholic denying the doctrine of original sin is subject to excommunication. There are many such examples.

    Gretchen, now I get it.

  85. #85 Jon Rowe
    March 10, 2006

    Hey Dave. Did you see this excellent story in the Washington Post? Money quote:

    The Bible simply wasn’t error-free. The mistakes grew exponentially as he traced translations through the centuries. There are some 5,700 ancient Greek manuscripts that are the basis of the modern versions of the New Testament, and scholars have uncovered more than 200,000 differences in those texts

    An aside, looking at your picture on your blog — and I don’t mean this as an insult — you look like the perfect cross between Peter North and Tom Byron.

  86. #86 David Heddle
    March 10, 2006

    Jon Rowe,

    Yes I know that story, as I said biblical inerrancy does not mean translations are free from error or redaction. The WaPo story was one man’s spin–you can certainly find other scholars who argue that the painstaking checksums employed by scribes, among other things, has rendered the bible probably the most faithfully reproduced book from antiquity.

    Just to take one example, the WaPo story is completely wrong, or at least misleading, when it writes:

    Another critical passage is in 1 John, which explicitly sets out the Holy Trinity (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). It is a cornerstone of Christian theology, and this is the only place where it is spelled out in the entire Bible — but it appears to have been added to the text centuries later, by an unknown scribe.

    It is not wrong in that it questions the passage, it is wrong in its characterization that the passage is critical. No serious biblical proof of the Trinity uses that passage (1 John 5:7), precisely because it is generally believed to be a redaction. The Post makes it sound as if the doctrine of the Trinity rests on this disputed verse. Notrhing could be farther from the truth.

    I’m not insulted by who you claim I look like. I don’t even know who they are. I assume they are not known for their looks. Besides, I’m an old married guy, who cares if I am hideous? My wife is stuck with me.

  87. #87 Jon Rowe
    March 10, 2006

    “I assume they are not known for their looks.”

    Well, they sort of are known for a certain aspect of their physical appearance. And if you knew who they were, believe me, you wouldn’t be insulted.

  88. #88 tacitus
    March 10, 2006

    It is interesting to see how different sides of the young-Earth/old-Earth argument see Biblical inerrancy. The young-earthers tend to favour the plain reading of the text (ignoring silly diversions about Jesus being a vine–clearly an allegory). In the case of Noah’s flood, the Bible says that the waters covered all the surface of the Earth and the young-earthers believes that it means what it says, and no amount of scientific evidence to the contrary will change that belief.

    On the other hand, we have the old-earthers who appear to take a more reasoned approach to inerrancy. For Noah’s flood, they read the text from Genesis, but then look at the scientific evidence and agree that there is overwhelming evidence against a global flood.

    Oops, that could be a problem…. bit no, wait a minute. We’re still okay so long as we can find an interpretation of the text that appears to fit with the facts. And so we see that the old-Earthers summon up all sorts of evidence that the “all the Earth” in this context must mean “all the Earth as far as the eye can see” (or at least a great regional flood). So to Noah and more importantly, the writer of Genesis, it would only seem that the whole Earth is covered.

    So it seems we have a “reasonable” explanation for the Flood which keeps the doctrine of inerrancy intact without contradicting the scientific evidence. But even this, for many people believing in inerrancy, is a step too far. For them this approach is starting to make dangerous judgements about what seemed to happen as opposed to what really happened. After all, why stop at the Flood? Perhaps when people came across the empty tomb it just seemed to them that Jesus was resurrected.

    In any case, the regional flood explanation doesn’t really solve all the contadictions with science. Genesis is pretty explicit it saying that all mankind will be wiped out, and yet we know for a fact that human beings were far more widespread (Asia, Africa, Australia, America, etc) than a single region at any reasonable dating of the flood (if such a thing is even possible). Of course, you can continue to play games with language, meaning and context but you soon arrive at the point where the original story, as written down in Genesis becomes little more than a myth anyway–so why not call it that (and a Biblical lesson, if you want) and move on?

    In some ways, David’s version of inerrancy is caught in the middle of two sides both of which find it equally unsatisfying. The young-earthers object to what they see as game-playing and liberty-taking with the plain meaning of the text, and those who don’t hold to inerrancy at all are equally unimpressed by the necessity to have everything in the Bible to be historical fact.

    Mind you David seems to thrive on such debates, so I suspect he’s right where he wants to be :).

  89. #89 Todd Sayre
    March 12, 2006

    We should embrace this as an opportunity to teach the controversy. Donate some copies of “The God Who Wasn’t There” DVD and some copies of “The Jesus Puzzle” and “The Christ Conspiracy” or maybe some other books to any school that implements such a class. They wouldn’t even have to use them in a class, just put them in the library and then let students know that they are available.

    Both sides ought to be properly taught … so people can understand what the debate is about.

    Words to live by.

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