…Because Scripture Tells Us…

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.

At this point, I want to say “jesusfuckingchrist“, but then I remember Lev 24:14-16, where a blasphemer (one who curses the name of God) is ordered to be stoned to death. And he was! Lev 24:23

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)

6 thoughts on “…Because Scripture Tells Us…

  1. While there are indeed many horrific stories contained in the bible… most are described in the Old Testament.
    “Christians”–who it seems your wrath is directed– preach or hold dear the New Testament. Your rant would in fact be more effective targeting the appropriate religion.
    Christianity as a point of order, suggest Jesus was sacrificed (by the folks your rant should’ve been criticizing) in order to supersede those penalties in the OT. Those harsh penalties due to the covenants provided to Abraham by God. Circumcision and animal sacrifices, etc.. are again the articles you contend are the fault of Christians, are in fact no longer practiced, advised, or required by Christians.
    And yes, Christianity absorbs the OT in its doctrine, but the focus is Christ’s teachings which are exclusive of the older text.
    I don’t know if you were unable to find fault with the New Testament, and decided to articulate three examples from the OT as being the archaic and misguided dogma of Christianity or you simply are umm not very knowledgeable of religion. Either that or you have a certain agenda that includes false arguments as a method to degrade Christians. You would be better served to actually research what you speak of rather than listen to a radio preacher for your base of knowledge.
    Good day and God bless you.

  2. Interesting. Someone likes the word “rant”. I’d characterize it more as a comment, but YMMV.

    While Joel doesn’t think the OT examples have much to do with modern Christianity, the Crazy Pastor, who “follows that Jesus guy” could preach on any of those Scriptures.

    Do I sound confused? You bet.

    If you don’t think the OT is relevant anymore, get rid of it. Don’t call it Scripture. And don’t preach about any of it.

    I know enough about religion to know that it has very little, in fact, nothing to support it’s existence, other the the collective wishful thinking of a large number of people, which does not make it true, just popular. Of course, I’m open to being convinced to the contrary, but in 52 years, I’ve seen nothing that does it for me.

  3. Yep I could preach on any of them, but Joel is indeed correct when he makes the point that Christianity studies the Old Testament in light of the New. The entire book of Romans, especially chapters 1-8 are an explanation of how the Old Testament fits with Jesus Christ. So is the book of Hebrews and Galatians and many other passages.

    So would I preach we should stone people? Of course not. Those penalties are no longer required by God, because Jesus Christ was sacrificed by God in our place. There’s infinitely more nuances and depth, but it begins there.

    Naturally many more questions arise, such as why God would allow -and in fact command- such harsh penalties be taken out on people. There are also the underlying assumptions you and others have concerning what God should be doing, or should be like, when we should be asking what He IS like instead.

    After all, how could God possibly judge the world if He by definition cannot carry out a punishment and remain a loving God? Is there room for punishment and judgment and under what conditions or sentences and who defines this. Etc…

    Good questions, but only if they are actual questions. If they are rhetorical then there isn’t much room to “being convinced to the contrary.” You’re probably right though. It wasn’t a rant. On second look, your post just seems like a guy who hasn’t been convinced in 52 years. 🙂 That’s understandable.

    Even if we disagree, I still hope your weekend rocks. Take care.

  4. Yes. All good questions, and never rhetorical, though with time, they may appear to be so. I’ve asked them all. I’m willing to ask them again. I don’t hold out much hope for satisfactory answers, as I see the same answers repeated ad infinitim . Nothing new. All of it simply relies on passages from the bible, which is a bootstrapping reply.
    One can’t rely on the bible for authority until you prove that the bible is a reliable authority. If you are going to throw out the entire OT because the NT supplants it (as I extrapolate yours and Joel’s comments to say), then why accept the NT? Because Jesus says so? Where does he say it? In the Bible.
    I get dizzy following circular reasoning.
    But so far my weekend has rocked. Weather in the low 80’s, no humidity, bright blue sky, and my daughter is flying home for the week. Life is good. Thanks. 😉

  5. Even if we accept that God no longer requires the following of all those harsh OT laws, it still doesn’t explain the whole “kill everyone except save the virgins to be raped” thing. Unless you’re going to claim that Jesus was sacrificed so God would no longer order virgins to be raped?

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