Abortion and the Bible, Part Three

Today I’ll wrap up my series on abortion and the Bible. In previous posts I showed that Exodus 21:22-23 can be interpreted in two radically different ways. If men are fighting and accidentally hurt a pregnant woman, causing her to lose her child, one interpretation says the culprit should be fined for the miscarriage. But others read this passage as saying he should be executed for causing a premature birth in which the child later dies.

People disagree about how to translate the ancient Hebrew – miscarriage or premature birth? Exodus of course is one of the core books of the Jewish Scriptures, also called the Old Testament by Christians. Jews have generally favored the miscarriage interpretation, and pro-choice Christians say this passage suggests that abortion is not murder. Pro-life Christians tend to view these verses as involving premature birth.

I am not an expert on the Hebrew language, but when I studied for my doctorate in religion I learned that translating ancient texts is definitely not an exact science! There is often very substantial disagreement.

On this web site I have argued that God did not “write” the Bible and that many commandments attributed to God show signs of human weakness, ignorance, and even mindless viciousness. (Example: a child that curses one of its parents must be killed.) But suppose we assume for the sake of discussion that every verse of Scripture does reflect God’s will. What should we say about a passage like this that is so important and yet so ambiguous? Here are four possible ways of thinking about this predicament. None of them are at all attractive:

  1. God doesn’t care about clear communication. Murky and confusing commandments are just fine. That’s a bizarre suggestion.
  1. God guides some of us toward the right interpretation. That would mean Scripture is a helpful guidebook for those God favors, and a source of error for everyone else – odd, for a God of love and mercy. In this case it would suggest that God let Jews make the wrong interpretation for millenia, and finally revealed the right one to pro-life Americans.

During the American slavery controversy, Bible passages condoning slavery were quoted much more often by southern preachers than by clerics in the north. Did God give northern clergy the right interpretation just because they lived in anti-slavery states? Or was their exegesis shaped by their political views?

  1. God hates us all and considers every person worthy of eternal torture in Hell. It doesn’t matter much what we do on Earth. None of our actions are good in God’s eyes, so guiding us with clear Biblical teachings is unimportant. The only thing that matters is taking Jesus as savior, to avoid the fires of perdition. Fortunately these days few people accept such an extreme version of Calvinist theology.
  1. God didn’t realize how important the abortion controversy would become later on, especially in the U.S. So it wasn’t important to clarify this passage. But that would mean an all-knowing deity created a guidebook for living that would go out of date. That’s just silly.

Furthermore abortion has always been a significant concern. “Abortions have been performed since ancient times and recipes for ridding women of pregnancies are as bizarre as they are plentiful. The Egyptians prescribed crocodile dung. The ancient Greeks recommended pennyroyal, an extremely toxic herb as likely to kill the women as to abort the fetus. Other colorful abortion aids included sitting over a vat of boiling onions, honey/salt/mouse feces suppositories, mashed ants/camel spit/deer hair paste, and stepping over a live viper.” For more, click here.

Saying for the sake of discussion that the Bible is 100% God’s word leads us to bizarre conclusions. Logicians call this reductio ad absurdum – reducing to absurdity. If we follow some idea to its logical consequences and these consequences are ridiculous, the idea is probably just wrong. So this passage about abortion in the Bible helps prove that “Biblical inerrancy” is an error.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Did God Really Say THAT!? just click the “Follow” link on this page. For my main web site, visit http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com

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Abortion and the Bible, Part Two

Last week I quoted a passage that has caused a lot of controversy about abortion and the Bible, Exodus 21:22-23.

When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined . . . If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life . . . (Revised Standard Version)

Scholars argue over what it means that “any harm follows.” Continue reading “Abortion and the Bible, Part Two”

Abortion and the Bible, Part One

I’ve been trying to show that even though there are good ideas in the Bible, some Scriptural commandments attributed to God definitely do not reflect divine guidance. But now let’s take another tack. Let’s assume that every word of this book was inspired by God, and consider the implications. The passage I want to consider pertains to abortion and the Bible, Exodus 21:22-23.

22: When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23: If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life . . . (Revised Standard Version)

These verses have important implications for the pro-life vs. pro-choice controversy. Continue reading “Abortion and the Bible, Part One”

Why Read “Did God Really Say THAT!?”

After 25 posts, it’s time for a brief reminder of the purpose of this site. The key question we’re confronting is whether the Bible is the 100% literal word of God. Here are four and a half possible answers:

  1. Not at all. God did not inspire the Bible, either because there is no God or because God doesn’t cause people to write holy books.
  2. Somewhat. God helped shape what’s in Scripture, but no moreso than any other book.
  3. Mostly. Taken as a whole, Scripture reflects divine inspiration.
  4. Entirely. Every word of the Bible is divinely inspired.

And then there’s option 4A: Entirely, with minor exceptions, such as human errors in copying texts. But God prevents serious errors from corrupting the divine message.

A great many people accept 4 or 4A. But the entries on this web site are intended to conclusively prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the only possible options are 1, 2, or 3. Why? Because the Bible contains many passages which claim to reflect higher guidance but actually reflect human error. Read a few posts and decide for yourself.

My suggestion for a starting point? The Heartblink, posted on November 18, 2012. Type that title in the search box or look for it in the Archives. After you read this post, ask yourself whether you can think of times when you’ve heartblinked some painful reality. If so, I’d love to hear your story.

Roger Christan Schriner

To subscribe to Did God Really Say THAT!? just click the “Follow” link on this page. For my main web site, visit http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com/

How Biblical Literalism Supports Bigotry

I’ve been taking a break from this blog, but recently I ran across an article that’s important and relevant, so I wanted to share it. It’s by Doug Muder, and it’s one of the best essays I’ve ever read about discrimination of all kinds, discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Muder has strong political opinions that some of us will enjoy and others will find irritating. But regardless of his political positions, he has really done his homework. He provides startling quotes and data, some of which show how people use religion and Scripture to rationalize their own prejudices. Here’s an example:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

This wasn’t written by some racist in the 1800s. It’s from a ruling by a circuit court judge in 1967. Continue reading “How Biblical Literalism Supports Bigotry”

Signing Off for Now

I’ve now finished my new book. It took a full year longer than anticipated, forcing me to put off many important priorities. So I’ve decided to suspend this blog for a while. I still welcome comments on the two dozen items I’ve already posted.

For those who might be interested in my new book, here’s some basic information. It’s called Your Living Mind: The Mystery of Consciousness and Why It Matters to You. This publication confronts the most bewildering puzzles in philosophy of mind. It explains how dedicated scholars have struggled with these riddles, apparently without success. I offer opportunities for the reader to reflect and experiment, and I present my proposed solutions. I have tried to explain subtle ideas in straightforward language, minimizing technical jargon. Issues are clarified with illustrations, diagrams, and specific examples.

Your Living Mind was written for several kinds of readers. Do any of these statements fit for you?

* You want to develop a well-crafted personal philosophy of life. Understanding consciousness is part of that quest.
* You want to learn about yourself, to know who and what you are.
* You have been interested in the “big questions” of philosophy and psychology, and you’d like to revisit this sort of reflection.
* You find it fascinating to learn about the mind and the brain.
* You have already explored contemporary consciousness studies, and you enjoy playing with new ideas about “philosophical zombies” and other enigmas.

It’s now available on Amazon.com.

Roger Christan Schriner

Biblical Literalism and Atheism

I’ve recently come across a book called Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Christianity Today has recommended this book to Christians who want to understand why some people reject theism.

Most of the authors grew up in Christian or Jewish families, and as children many of them took everything in Scripture literally. Joseph Levine, for example, “was taught that the world was literally created in six days almost six thousand years ago, and that the theory of evolution was mistaken” (p. 17). Continue reading “Biblical Literalism and Atheism”