Monday, January 30, 2017


People need to read the bible more.  If they did, they would understand we are probably going to have to raise taxes.  There are an estimated 152 million men in America.  And, according to one source, about 57% of them have committed adultery.  If we did as the Bible instructed us to do, we’d raise some serious tax money.  Enough to put 866,000 American men to death.  I don’t know how typical Maryland is, but in Maryland it costs about $3 million to execute somebody.  $3 million times 866,000 is $2,598,000,000,000 if I’ve done the math right.  The good news is, I’m sure once we really get the executions started, the cost will go down, so we will not actually have to raise that large a sum.

Executing adulterers isn’t the only thing we have to take care of.  We need to apologize to the Confederacy for forcing them to give up slavery.  Maybe pay them some compensation for all the years they had to pay an exorbitant price to cotton pickers after 1865.  If we had read our bibles (as many did) we would have concluded (as many did at the time) that the Bible not only approves of slavery; it has rules for regulating it.

To wit:
·      "slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling" (Ephesians 6:5), or 
·      "tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect" (Titus 2:9). 

Gay men have gotten away with entirely too much.  No matter how hard they try, gay people cannot deny that the bible says quite clearly:
·      "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22). 

And please note, in passing, that if you read Luther’s translation, remembering that it was Luther who first translated the bible into the vernacular so we could all understand it, you will find:

·       Du sollst nicht beim Knaben liegen wie beim Weibe; denn es ist ein Greuel.  Which in English translates to “thou shalt not lie with a boy (sic) as with a woman, for it is a horror/ atrocity/ anathema/ abomination."

Pick your translation.  English speaking people will find “mankind” where German speaking people find “boys.”  In either case, you get the idea.  Diddling is a definite no-no.

OK.  So while we’re into Leviticus, which Christians and Jews both agree is sacred scripture, look what we find in the very next chapter, Leviticus 19:19:
·      Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

So no linen and wool, no mixed crops.

and in 19:26:
·      Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment...

So no juicy steaks, looks like.  And no reading of Harry Potter, which celebrates enchantment.
·      Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
     No shaving your beard.

It’s in 20:10 where you find the command to execute adulterers, which is where I began all this:
·      And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

Now there is a way out to the scary prospect of killing 866,000 or so of our fellow citizens, actually.  One can stop reading the bible literally.  And one can cherry-pick.

Cherry-picking has gotten a bad name.  It has come to be understood as "the overemphasis of token data that supports a preferred conclusion, excluding all contradictory evidence."  Much of the time, it is a term associated with religion because it flows easily off the tongues of the self-righteous, the holier-than-thou who want you to know you’re a sinner and they’re sinners too except that they’ve been saved so they’re in God’s good graces while your ass is going to hell.

I think that's unfortunate.  We have done ourselves a disservice in seeing cherry picking as a term with negative connotations only, when there is no reason not to see it as a synonym for using your head.

Personally, I’d just as soon chuck any and all so-called holy scriptures out once and for all.  They’ve done – and continued to do – so much harm, riling up the insecure and the low-informationals and making them bash about shouting things like “Allahu Akhbar” or “Hallelujah,” depending on the part of the Eastern Mediterranean region their religion is native to.  But I appreciate that for every verse like Psalm 137:9
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
 there are verses like the six verses of the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

And you don’t have to be a Christian, or even believe in God, to recognize how beautiful those words are in the English language and how comforting they are to folks who see themselves as helpless and vulnerable little sheep and their deity as a kind of shepherd.  The “valley of the shadow of death” in this poem makes this passage popular at funerals.  I wouldn’t want to take this inspired piece from anyone.  And not just because it’s carved into my dear grandparents’ gravestone.

Feel like you need some inspiration to get yourself out of bed and go to work so you can afford some new clothes?

Try Proverbs 13:4:
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Looking for a reason to take a day off and stay home instead?

Try Matthew 6:28:
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

We sneer at Catholics who practice birth control and call them hypocrites.  Well, I don’t, but some people do.  We also call them “cafeteria catholics,” and imply that they are lazy and irresponsible for selecting only the rules established by their ruling hierarchy and by scripture which it suits them to follow. 
“Don’t kill?”
“Absolutely.  Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Don’t eat meat on Friday.”
“OK now to eat meat on Friday.”
“Don’t masturbate.”
“Can we change the subject?”
“Don’t marry outside the faith.”
“I know it’s wrong, but I love him.”
“Don’t divorce.”
“You try living with this asshole!”

Anybody who actually does read the Bible – I mean really read the Bible – confirms early on what common sense and an education beyond grade school will make plain – that the Bible was not written by a deity or by folks whose hands are guided by a deity, but by a lot of different people in different times and places, working within a faith community and sharing common attitudes, values and beliefs, for the most part, each putting the tribe or community’s knowledge in writing.  Since it’s done over time, discrepancies have crept in.  It should surprise nobody that the two different sets of writers of Genesis have different notions of how things started.  One version has Adam and Eve created at the same time.  The other has Eve created later.  The quaint tale of God getting up each day and going to work to create different things on different days is a curiously human idea of how one goes to work, complete with taking a nap when it’s all over.  Hardly the image of a god who, if he chose, could do it all at once at the snap of his human-like fingers.

Such inconsistencies are of little consequence to folks who cherry-pick the bible and find in it an appeal to love one’s neighbors and forgive people who wrong you.  It’s no more possible to do that in most cases, but it feels right.  There is something praiseworthy about the notions.  It matches our gut feelings and the life experiences we build up which have led us to an understanding of right and wrong and the advantage of supporting the right to the greatest degree possible.  People who read the bible for inspiration, for positive thinking, for its comforting notion that there is a big daddy out there who will take care of you and explain away all the absurdities and injustices that plague our everyday, those people – let’s call them seekers – make one understand that religion need not be cruel and destructive.  In fact, it’s only cruel and destructive if you cherry-pick the wrong parts.  If you ignore the love/duty/friendship/charity portions of the Qur’an and stress the militant parts, for example.  If you sing praises to the Lord of Hosts (ever stop to realize that Hosts means armies?) instead of the Lord who makes the blind to see.  And while we’re at it, “Heavenly hosts?”  Really?  God needs an army in heaven?

There’s a battle going on over whether Islam is really a religion of peace, as its name implies.  Or whether, as people like Hamed Abdel-Samad and Sam Harris like to claim, Islam is inherently violent and that ISIS and Al Qaeda and all the other Islamic terrorists are merely “reading their Qur’an correctly.”  Yes, the answer is.  They are reading their Qur’an correctly.  They open it up, see that its tells them to cut off the heads of infidels, and go out and do their god’s bidding.  There was a time when the pope got Christians to behave in like manner.  They were reading their scriptures correctly.  What they were not doing was cherry-picking, recognizing that their so-called holy scriptures are compendia of history of their tribe at different stages in its development and therefore by nature wide-ranging in scope and contradictory in content.

Don’t want to bash the brains of your enemies’ kids against a rock?  Don’t.  Cherry-pick that part out and toss it in the trashcan of history, something from a time of intense hatred of one’s enemies and the need to be brutal and heartless.  Don’t like the rule in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 that says
   If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.
Toss it out.  Recognize that we have evolved as a society where women are not the property of men any longer, and put that rule in the “no longer relevant” column, along with the rules for not eating pork or shellfish.

Time to take a second look at the word “cherry-pick.”

It’s not a word to throw at people with a sneer.

When I lived in Saudi Arabia I remember talking about abortion with one of my students.  Not a very well-educated young man, not traveled, not sophisticated.  “What does the Qur’an say about abortion?” I asked him.  “I don’t think it says anything about abortion,” he answered.  “I think that’s one of the places where Allah wants you to use the brain he gave you to make your own decision.”

A Protestant might have an easier time with his answer than a traditionalist Catholic.  But in the end, thinking Christians can agree with thinking Muslims and Jews and others as well that right and wrong are not something you look up in a book.  You deal with it as best you can.  You struggle with moral dilemmas, you use the wisdom of your community and loved ones to find a course of behavior to follow.  You may even use some holy scriptures on occasion for inspiration.

But you cherry-pick.  

Pick the good parts.  

Leave the rest.

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