I came across this graphic (without the red letters “Why Not?” – I put those on) this morning on Pinterest. It shows a picture of the Christian Holy Bible, English Standard Edition, with the caption: “This is not a bag of trail mix. You can’t just pick out the pieces you like and ignore the rest.”
It was placed on a board where the very same person had also pinned a graphic that read, “Freedom of religion means all religions, not just yours!” The logical inconsistency of these two messages struck me. With one message, the pinner is insisting on religious freedom, and with another message, the same person is demanding that insisting that only one approach to the interpretation of Christianity’s main text can be permitted.
It’s fascinating to see how people develop blind spots in their religious devotion. In this case, let’s suppose that a person did go ahead and accept the entire Holy Bible, without just picking the parts they like. If Christians really did that, they’d have to accept the parts of the Bible that celebrate warfare against people who have what the Bible depicts as the wrong kind of religion. They would also have to accept the line in the Bible where Moses brings the command, supposedly from Jehovah, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
If you truly accept the entire Christian Bible without question, as this graphic instructs, then you can’t accept religious freedom.
The insistence on Biblical holism leads to all sorts of nonsense because the Christian Bible isn’t really just one book. It’s a collection of books written by different people, and sometimes committees of people, over a long period of time. Some parts of the Christian Bible disagree with other parts about certain matters. A person who read the Christian Bible without discriminating between these different parts, trying to construct a religious meaning in which every word in the text is equally true and valid, could only end up with a doctrine that required the abandonment of coherent thought.
Why is it, really, that a person shouldn’t be able to take parts of the Christian Holy Bible that they like, and reject the other parts? That’s what people do with books all the time. It’s an intelligent kind of reading that refuses to comply with words on a page simply because they are words on a page. A flexible mind can read a book and find value in some parts, while rejecting other parts of the book as mistaken.
Our civilization has advanced because people have been willing to take pieces of wisdom from the sources available, combining them in new ways to achieve a spark of insight. Often, such sparks of insight revealed the flaws in the old sources of information. What would we have had our the world’s innovators do – reject their own insights for the sake of the old texts? Should the idea of that the Earth revolves around the Sun be rejected, because the Christian Bible says that the movement goes the other way?
I say that, if you’re going to be a Christian, the only way to do it that makes sense is to be a Cafeteria Christian. Cherry pick. Grab that holy book and shake it like a bag of trail mix, eat it up, and spit out the stale old nuts. If the raisins are offensive to you, toss them aside.
What kind of religion, after all, would require people to eat food that’s gone rancid? The Book of Leviticus, I think, demands that such unclean eating be rejected… and you can’t just pick out the demands of Leviticus because you don’t like them, can you?