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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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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.” Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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/

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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). Read the rest of this entry »

 

In my previous posting I reported an experiment in which I opened the Old Testament at random five times and glanced through the text of the two facing pages before me. It turned out to be very easy to find verses that did not seem divinely inspired. I could imagine a loving deity shuddering at the thought that these passages are part of a book that people read for divine guidance.

Example: Execute anyone who has the wrong theology, which is commanded in II Chronicles 15:13.

Now let’s try the flip side of this experiment. Go back through the pages you selected at random and look for statements that do sound divinely inspired, or that at least express keen insights.

Here’s what I found when I tried this, and I realize that “your results your vary.”

The pages I picked at random began with Leviticus 8:31, Judges 20:44, II Chronicles 15:7, Proverbs 8:35, and Jeremiah 39:4. Out of the five two-page segments that began with these verses, I found uplifting material only in Proverbs. Even in that section most statements were common-sense platitudes that essentially told the reader, “Be good, work hard, and treat others well.” No doubt we need to hear such messages repeatedly, but a normal individual of average intelligence should discover these principles without a revelation from on high.

Here are the verses that seemed insightful, beyond mere “let’s-be-good” platitudes:

“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8)

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19)

“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)

I especially appreciate the first of these items. It pushes against the peculiarly-common human inclination to waste time arguing with fools. I still fall into that trap at times, so it’s a good lesson for me personally.

Again, try this yourself. Open the Old Testament to five different places at random, revealing ten pages. Look for passages that sound like genuine divine revelations, statements which give you that spine-tingling feeling that something transcendent has broken into our human world. (“Love your enemies” is a good example.) Then do the same with the New Testament. See what you learn.

Roger Christan Schriner

This blog deals with the question of Biblical inerrancy. Is every verse of the Bible literally true, due to being inspired by a loving and all-knowing God? As I have indicated, I am impressed by the very large number of Bible passages that do not seem to have been inspired by such a deity.

Today I tried an experiment. I opened the Old Testament at random five times, and briefly scanned the text of the two facing pages before me. I was wondering how often I would find the sort of troubling statements I’ve discussed in earlier posts. The pages I opened to began with Leviticus 8:31, Judges 20:44, II Chronicles 15:7, Proverbs 8:35, and Jeremiah 39:4.

This experiment has its limitations, because to understand a Bible passage one has to read it in context. Old Testament material is often part of a long historical account of the nation of Israel and its relationship with surrounding nations and with God. But even without spending much time establishing context, it was clear that certain Biblical themes are very often encountered:

God wants us to carry out elaborate rituals to do penance for our sins. Carry out these rituals precisely “lest you die” (Leviticus 8:35). Example: “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not rend your clothes, lest you die….” (Leviticus 10:6).

The men of that era often slaughtered each other over theological and moral issues (Judges 20-21). God supposedly intervenes in such military campaigns (Judges 20:28). Physically seizing women and forcing them into marriage was considered acceptable behavior (Judges 21).

Those who do not accept the established religion shall “be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman” (II Chronicles 15:13).

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom….” (Proverbs 9:10). “The fear of the Lord prolongs life….” (Proverbs 10:27).

Military invasions, victories, and defeats often result from obeying or disobeying divine commandments. “Because you sinned against the Lord, and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you” (Jeremiah 40:3).

I can imagine someone contending that all of these passages reflect God’s will, but it would be a bit of a challenge to make that case.

Try it yourself. Open the Old Testament five times and read the two pages revealed, seeing if you encounter statements that do not seem divinely inspired. And do the same for the New Testament. (I’m obviously not saying that every human action reported by Scripture is divinely inspired. The question is: Does it seem as if God wanted the text written as it was? Does God, for instance, want people who don’t believe in the correct theology to be put to death?)

Try it. Think about it. If you pray, pray about it. See what you discover.

Roger Christan Schriner

The Bible repeatedly claims that God caused the death or injury of thousands of people, including those who had done nothing wrong but were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have suggested that rejoicing in such carnage is a human failing rather than an expression of divine wisdom. And it is striking that so many religious people manage to read these passages with an easy conscience.

We humans have a remarkable ability to distance ourselves emotionally from tragedy and cruelty, as long as it’s not happening to anyone we personally care about. I remember singing a jubilant song in Sunday school about Joshua and the battle of Jericho – “and the walls came tumbling down.” I identified with the Hebrew soldiers who gave a mighty shout that pulverized the walls of Jericho. But I did not think about what happened next, as the invaders stabbed and speared the city’s inhabitants.

Here’s another example: In Genesis 7:11-24, God becomes angry about human sinfulness and decides to kill every living thing that walks, runs, or slithers on the Earth, except for Noah’s family and two animals of each species.

As a child, I was captivated by the picturesque imagery of Noah’s ark, with cheerful little beasties marching up the gangplank two by two. Perhaps like me you sang that happy little ditty: “The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo.” Catchy songs can make it easier to “heartblink” evil, temporarily immobilizing our own moral instincts.

If I had reflected more deeply I might have considered what it would have been like if my dog had been caught in that flood, bewildered, terrified, struggling to stay afloat through exhausting hours or even days, and finally drowning. I might have imagined that tragic scene being multiplied by millions of living creatures who had done nothing to deserve such a fate. I would have realized that it made no sense to punish animals for human misbehavior and that this passage could not possibly have reflected the will of any God worthy of worship.

Some studies seem to show that as a general rule religion doesn’t make people more moral. Certainly churches try to teach us to be good. But if spiritual communities teach both adults and children to overlook troubling aspects of Bible stories, it is teaching them to dull their own moral faculties.

Churches should urge people to read the Bible with their moral instincts fully functional. If they see something that doesn’t make sense, intellectually or ethically, they should be encouraged to bring it up and talk about it. But that would mean abandoning Biblical literalism, the doctrine that every bit of the Bible is literally true.

It is not literally true that a perfect deity would destroy the innocent with the guilty. Congregations and clergy need to say so, clearly and courageously.

Roger Christan Schriner