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Imbibable Criticism
January 10, 2007 — 5:34 am

Ordinarily, when Justin writes something I don’t agree with, I don’t say anything. First of all, I’m laz… um, busy. But there’s also the part about it not mattering. We don’t have to agree on everything, and this web site is only half mine. But since Justin has decided to cover the entire Bible, it looks like I’m in store for several months of having to cringe at his side of the blog just about every day. So I’ll just say my piece now and get it over with.

I don’t have a problem with Justin’s goals as he’s stated them. As far as I’m concerned, atheism is entirely unobjectionable. Disbelief should be the default starting point for most extraordinary claims, perhaps tempered by a “trust but verify” approach when dealing with people who have a demonstrated record of reliability and clear thinking. If you have no reasons to believe in something, you shouldn’t believe. Simple as that.

I also share Justin’s goals of ridding our regulatory regimes of rule by the religious right. It doesn’t matter whether Jefferson’s phrase “wall of separation between church and state” is actually in the Constitution — it’s a damn good idea regardless. I’ve always felt a sort of tangential pride that a Mormon family sued a Santa Fe public school district so they’d stop having prayer in school. A Catholic family joined the suit; apparently they all felt harassed as members of minority religions in the largely Southern Baptist town, and school prayers were reinforcing the dominant religion. This is a perfect (small-scale) example of why the First Amendment was phrased to prevent Congress from respecting an establishment of religion — if one religion is the de facto public standard, matters of private conscience become officially subordinated, and can thereby suffer. There are so many different types of belief, and non-belief, that trying to recognize them all equally becomes as ridiculous as it is impossible. Much better to leave religion out of the public sphere altogether, and let people worship, or not, on their own.

So what’s my objection? It’s not irreverence, or I wouldn’t be such a big fan of Life of Brian. And it’s not like I hold the Bible entirely sacrosanct. Hell, Mormons believe it’s currently missing a bunch of crucial stuff that was once there, and that it’s further burdened by inaccurate translation.

Maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve spent such a large chunk of my own life studying the Bible seriously — and not just from a Mormon perspective. This is a set of books, from a series of cultures alien to our own, that’s been repeatedly transcribed, translated, and retranslated over thousands of years. Trying to give it a such a straight, superficial reading without ancillary reference and pretending to understand it is almost like having a whispered message garbled by a game of telephone into purple monkey dishwasher-esque gibberish.

Now, I know, that’s not what Justin says he’s doing. He wants to take on some set or another of fundamentalist Christians by demonstrating that a surface reading of the Bible, taken literally, is absurd. I just don’t see what’s supposed to be enlightening about that. Almost anybody could dismantle this sort of literalism in less than five minutes to the satisfaction of anyone not prone to arguing that “the Bible is true because the Bible says it’s true.” So, fine, demonstrate that. Take 10 minutes, even. But move on. That horse is done beat to death already.

What would be much more interesting is taking on all the layers of apologetic interpretation that more intellectually sophisticated Biblical scholars engage in. Ground yourself in the culture, idiom, and myth of the people that spawned the books, and engage the actual arguments of those who profess to believe today. While I may still disagree in the end, that’s at least a form of criticism I’d be happy to imbibe.

— Eric D. DixonComments (1)

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1 Comment
  1. […] was mainly because of Eric’s spot-on criticism that I folded so quickly. Back then, I was much more hard-nosed about the whole […]

    Pingback by Let There Be Light | Descend the Stair — October 17, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

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Eric D. Dixon

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