Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You're interpreting it wrong!

Alternative title: "The problem with liberal Christians"

   One of the common defenses for the Bible is that one is "interpreting it wrong." This is usually used in defense of the amoral teachings of the Bible, like how to mark your slave as belonging to you. (Another defense for slavery is that it was the "culture of the time"...because God, you know, can't tell people that their culture is wrong, so he has to instead make the best of a bad situation.) Sometimes the defenses seem mostly legit. There are those who point out that the Bible does not allow one to harass homosexuals. OK, the Bible does say something about he who is without sin may cast the first stone along with everyone is a sinner, resulting in no one being able to cast stones. But, it does make clear that a man sleeping with another man (doesn't seem to say anything about women on this) is a sin. So, things like denying homosexuals the right to marry and reparative therapy are fine. (Also for reparative therapy, such a program is just trying to help people out of their sin, so it's really hard to condemn such a practice without also condemning Alcoholic Anonymous...at least from the Christian perspective.) Others are complete hog wash. The Bible says that women shall submit to their husbands, but Michelle Bachmann claimed in a debate that submit somehow actually means respect. Not buying it, Michelle.

   But, there is actually a much bigger problem with these believers interpreting the Bible. They all interpret it as the "word of God."

   There has been an analogy, apparently first used by Sam Harris, that has been going along the blogosphere as of late. It is that of the talking hair dryer. Basically the analogy goes as such (emphasis mine):
Let's say that you meet a person who says to you, "Every morning, I hear messages for me coming out of my hair dryer. They tell me to picket the funerals of AIDS victims and to demand that it be made illegal for gay people to buy health insurance."

Now let's say a second person cuts in with, "That's not true! Every morning, I hear messages from my hair dryer, and they tell me to donate money to the poor and volunteer at my local soup kitchen! That first guy has just misinterpreted the message of the Holy Hair Dryer."

Is the second viewpoint an improvement over the first? Sure. Would I rather live in a world with people who profess the second viewpoint rather than the first? Of course. But at the same time, isn't it obvious that there's still a problem with it?

   The problem, of course, is that they both think their hair dryer is talking to them! Argue about misinterpreting all you want. It misses the larger problem.
...[A]ttacking only faith's worst manifestations, while giving faith itself a pass from criticism, would be like treating a sick person's symptoms without curing the underlying disease. As long as people are using the presumed will of imaginary supernatural beings as the basis for their decisions, there will be those who use this method to justify doing evil...

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