the problem with some Christians’ thought processes
In this essay, let’s take on those who claim to be Christian, yet cherry pick verses from the Bible to legitimate their self-centered behavior.
If you are interested in more such images, then you can check out this essay from deep in our archives (recommended for the agnostics among our readers).
Atheists can enter the terms “atheist” or “atheism”in the search box on the blog site to find our previous essays addressing atheism.
Now to the topic at hand . . . .
Disclaimer: We are not attacking Christianity. This is not a “hit piece” on Christianity. Rather, these thoughts are meant to get people’s attention and hopefully motivate at least a few individuals to greater honesty and the effort to live a more authentic Christian life.
Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), the son of a Lutheran pastor, observed that Christians live their lives just like those with no religion. G. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936), a Christian, lamented that “Christianity was found difficult and left untried.”
When I read some of the posts and comments on some of the many Christian blogs (or on blogs whose writers’ claim to be Christian), I am puzzled and bemused. Many of these bloggers will quote from the Bible to justify their positions on a wide range of issues (concerning behavior, conduct, allowable actions, etc.). We will not address specific issues here as readers would lose sight of the main point I will try to make with this essay. There are those who look to the Bible for guidance and instructions on how to conduct their lives, and then try to conform their decisions and actions to what the Bible tells them. From some of the posts and comments, it appears that this process is reversed in some Christians’ thinking, and these individuals make a choice – often a self-serving choice – and then go to the Bible and seek a verse, or two, that appears to support, or validate, their choice.
A person can selectively look for verses that seem to give support for a choice already made. One can also choose to ignore other verses in the Bible that would contradict one’s choice(s). What some of these Christians fail to consider is that the Bible does not contain specific instructions for every situation under the sun, for every conceivable situation, for every possible action or activity. Those who wrote the Bible (actually when referring to the Old Testament, those who eventually set the oral tradition down in writing after several centuries) did not foresee, could not have foreseen, many of the issues of the current times. Inspired or not, the future was not an open book to them.
As well, it must be said here that the authors of the Bible, and many ancient pagan philosophers (Aristotle is the best example), were woefully ignorant on many subjects and thus had a flawed understanding of these subjects. They had limited knowledge and much that they thought to be accurate was actually not correct. For example, the current medical and scientific knowledge tells us how human reproduction works. The Aristotelian view of human reproduction was and is incorrect. What puzzles me is why Aristotle’s view was accepted without question for so long. Simple observations (such as women who are older and no longer menstruate also do not become pregnant) and a little common sense leads one to the conclusion that there must be more factors at work than what Aristotle claimed. We have recently seen verses from the Old Testament – that give evidence of similar ignorance and incorrect knowledge about human reproduction – being used to justify or rationalize actions that we do not see as moral in light of the current knowledge. But, I digress.
Yet, there are larger moral principles in the Bible that can help us to deal constructively, morally, with contemporary challenges. Perhaps we could say that the spirit of the moral law can help us when the letter of the law is silent. We can, as rational beings, use our reasoning ability to deduce from the spirit of the law, from the larger principles found in the Bible, what is the right thing to do in a specific situation where the Bible is silent. We can do this if we are honest and objective in our thinking. From some of the posts and comments that I have read, it appears that factoring in the larger principles is not happening in the thinking of some Christians. At least, in reading their comments, one rarely finds mention of a larger perspective, of looking to the larger principles.
What if something is neither explicitly nor specifically condemned or prohibited in Scripture, but such action or activity violates the larger context, the larger spirit of the law? Do we give ourselves a free pass? If so, we then do not have a properly functioning conscience. (I will mention in passing that this approach is rather similar to what some of the judicial activists on our courts do. For some jurists, if the US Constitution does not explicitly prohibit something that something must, by default, be a “right”. The Constitution’s silence on so many issues then proves to be fertile ground for finding many so-called rights.) Yet, I have read on some blogs that (paraphrasing) “we do not find, or cannot find a verse that prohibits such and such action or activity. Therefore, it is or must be permissible.” Depending upon the particular action(s) in question, this myopic approach, these conclusions, can lead people to take actions that are not truly moral.
I do not think that one can find a verse in the Bible that specifically condemns the use of heroin. But, one can learn from the Bible that we are not to harm others or ourselves. Since the use of heroin is so very dangerous and destructive to one’s health, we can see that it is wrong and needs to be avoided. Similarly, if we truly believe that murder is wrong (and forbidden), then it must be wrong (and thus forbidden) in all its forms, even if the Bible does not specifically mention all the forms that murder can take. (Murder can be defined as the purposeful (intentional) taking of innocent human life (not in self-defense). Killing in legitimate self-defense is not murder.)
To stress the point: it seems to me that many who claim to be Christians, look to the Bible to justify or to validate or rationalize their choices, their actions or their failure to act, even when these are not moral or ethical. These folks are being intellectually dishonest with themselves. Some appear only to want to live by the moral law when it is easy to do so, when it requires very little effort, little sacrifice of themselves. Self-deception. Many of these individuals are fond of quoting the Scriptures. It makes them feel good. However, actions do speak louder. Christians need to be wary of hypocrisy and living like a Pharisee.
This is what we might refer to as “comfortable, easy Christianity”. Give lip service to being a believing Christian, yet then continue to live as we please, for ourselves. (Nietzsche’s observation was true in the Germany of the late 1800s, and it is true of many Christians in the USA of today.) Follow the moral law when it is convenient and easy to do.
But, consider for a moment, what might Jesus say to those who claim to be Christians, and yet cherry pick or selectively interpret verses in the Bible to contradict or circumvent the main moral principles that we should observe and order our lives around?
The moral commandments actually call men to freedom – freedom from our own very self-destructive tendencies, both individual and collective.
Here is a revolutionary idea for Christians: try doing what is right, and do not strive to be popular. Make your loving actions a positive example to all. Do what is right even when it is not easy to do so. Do the right and proper thing when it is not convenient to do so, when it requires that you make a sacrifice, that you give of yourself. Actually live the Christian principles. And, do not twist Scripture so as to make it appear that something that is morally wrong (because it is destructive) is somehow not wrong (and thus permissible).
I do not usually quote the Bible. But, we will include this passage as food for thought.
“The folly of a man supplanteth his steps: and he fretteth in his mind against God.” Proverbs, 19:3.