Driving back from York County today, I started scanning the FM radio frequencies, since I was driving a rental car, had no CD’s to listen to, and it was a 40 minute drive back to the office. The scanner stopped on a Christian station (there are a lot of them in Central PA) , so I stopped it to listen for a bit. Lately, in the interest of knowing thine enemy, I get a kick out of listening to Christian preaching. It doesn’t affect me as it does believers, in fact it tends to reinforce my atheism, so what the heck, why not? Most of the music on the radio is crap anyway (top 40, hip hop, rap etc. – not what I call music) and my favorite public radio station was still out of reach, at least until I got closer to home.
So I’m listening to the preacher (and aren’t they all preachers on these Christian stations) and he’s saying, in that distinctive Bible-Belt, southern accent that is almost stereotypical of fundamentalist preachers (why do they all sound like Billy Graham, or Jimmy Swaggart?), “…because Scripture tay-ells us…” and then he proceeds to quote Ez 22:10-11 (great stuff, eh?), or something similar to make whatever point he’s trying to make. It doesn’t really make a difference what the point is. The purpose of the sermon is not to make a point, it’s to drive home the authority of the Scriptures. If it’s said enough times, eventually one doesn’t question the authority, one takes it for granted.
I find this phrase to be both amusing and irritating. Amusing because when you stop to think about it, it’s a meaningless phrase. Irritating, because when you stop to think about it, it’s a meaningless phrase.
One reason is because it’s one of those phrases that is so ubiquitous that we no longer stop to think about what it means. It’s like saying “…everything happens for a reason“. What’s everything? What is the reason? We just nod and assume we know what is meant.
When you hear this phrase, you should ask “what exactly do Scriptures tell us”? If you dig in just a little, you find that it tells us a lot that no radio preacher will tell you, or at least not the way it’s written. For instance, that the God we believe in (and I don’t include myself in the definition of “we”) has such a nasty temperament, if he becomes displeased with us, he is capable of drowning the entire human race, along with every living thing on the planet, save two of each “kind”. And drowning is not a nice, quick, humane way to die. A loving god could do better. If you ever read the drowning description in “The Perfect Storm”, you get a better feel for what it’s like than you do from reading Scripture. Genesis just glosses over it. Gen 7:21-23
So the next time you want to impart a moral lesson that involves punishment by drowning, you say “…because the
Scripture Perfect Storm tells us…”. That lesson will be far more effective.
Then there is the story of how God became angry with Moses because his son was not circumcised, and he wants to kill Moses as punishment. His wife saves the day by taking their son and circumcising him with a sharp stone, throwing the discarded, presumably bloody, foreskin at Moses. God is (surprise, surprise!) placated. Ex 4:24-26 That’s an odd story I never heard on the radio. The moral? Don’t forget to have your son’s foreskin hacked off (as Christopher Hitchens so colorfully describes circumcision) or suffer death.
So I resist the temptation.
There’s also that wonderful little fable about the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath. His reward? Death by stoning. Num 15:32-36 Would not justice have been more poetic if the man had been beaten with…a stick?
One more example. This one is quite well known, but rarely cited as authority by these radio preachers. After a particularly bloody, but successful, campaign against the Midianites, God orders all the remaining males killed (this was pre-Geneva Conventions), along with all the women, except the virgin girls, who he ordered to be saved for a wonderful little post-battle gang rape. (OK. I extrapolated that from the verse, Num 31:17-18, but why else save the virgin girls?)
When scripture is cited by these fake, smiling preachers spouting platitudes, while holding out their hands for your money, remember that they are attempting to link basic moral precepts common to all humans, in all cultures, throughout the world, to the presumed authority of the Bible. But a little brain power reveals that these precepts stand on their own, without authority. These basic precepts can never be validly linked to what is really in scripture.
“Do not murder”. “Do not lie”. “Do not steal”. “Treat those around you as you would want to be treated”. As Thomas Jefferson once so succinctly said, in another context, “We hold these truths to be self-evident“. No scripture needed.
Scripture doesn’t tell us these things; our brains, human reason, simple common sense tells us. We knew this long before these scriptures were even a twinkle in the eyes of the original scriveners. As someone smarter than I observed, “What? The Israelites thought it was OK to murder before Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments?”
Get real. Scripture tells us nothing we don’t already know. If someone says “…because Scripture tells us…”, they’re trying to sell you a bill of goods.
(thanks to Tobe38 for letting me riff off his post)