Tag Archives: philosophy

To interpret literally or liberally?

I was raised to believe that everything the Bible says is literally true, and as a nonbeliever I still tend to interpret the Bible pretty literally. Here’s why:

Literalism is the natural form of religion that results from reading the scriptures. When people read the Bible with no preconceived ideas about what it should say, they will tend to assume it means exactly what it says. I wouldn’t expect it to even occur to anyone that the Bible might not simply mean what it says, unless someone else told them to think that. Or unless they were unable to accept what they were reading because they already had other, more strongly-held beliefs that were incompatible with the Bible.

Non-literalist religion is a self-deceptive phenomenon that results when people consider themselves religious, but also have beliefs and values that conflict with the scriptures. If they don’t want to outright reject the Bible or admit that their values don’t come from their religion, they have to make up metaphorical interpretations of the Bible that agree with what they already believe, and ignore what the Bible actually says.1

In a lot of cases, what the Bible says was meant completely literally, and was originally interpreted literally, and no one saw a problem with that. But as humanity’s knowledge of the world and standards of morality have improved over time, it has become increasingly clear to most people that what the Bible says literally is absurdly wrong. So those who can’t admit that the Bible is wrong have had to increasingly reinterpret it figuratively. Some take it so far that they’re basically atheists in denial.

Even literalists are now so used to thinking of certain concepts and expressions used in the Bible as figurative that it might not even occur to them that those things might have once been meant literally. But compared to what the writers intended, literalists aren’t literal enough! Like most people in ancient times, the writers of the Bible actually believed that people literally thought with their hearts. And their kidneys.2

Continue reading To interpret literally or liberally?
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Good deeds for bad reasons

The Bible describes and promotes a lot more evil behavior than you would expect from a “good book”. Not all of it is like that, of course. But even when the Bible talks about good behavior, the reasons it gives for behaving that way are usually all wrong.

There’s a Bible verse that addresses the issue of doing things for the wrong reasons. Paul thinks that as long as you’re doing the right thing, it doesn’t really matter why you’re doing it. Well, I disagree. Reasons are important. Your reasons for doing things influence which things you choose to do. If you’re not doing things for the right reasons, you’re probably not going to consistently do the right things.

What would be a good reason for, say, showing hospitality? Why should you provide people with lodging and food? In the past, one good reason was that it took a long time to travel, and there weren’t a lot of commercial hotels around. So the only way travelers could get shelter at night was to rely on strangers to offer them a place to stay.

The Bible’s justification for promoting hospitality, on the other hand, doesn’t even have anything to do with helping people! Instead, the Bible says you should let people stay in your home because your guests might actually be angels. That’s a dumb reason, isn’t it? How is it in any way better to provide for angels, who don’t need your help, than to provide for humans, who do?

Continue reading Good deeds for bad reasons
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Faith is not reasonable

Faith is commonly regarded as a virtue. But is it really a good thing? What exactly is faith, anyway? Let’s look as some definitions.

Faith: Complete trust or confidence in something. Believing something without question. Firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Faith can also mean an obligation of loyalty, and if we’re still talking about beliefs, that would mean being devoted to sticking to a particular belief (which goes along with believing something firmly and without question).

“Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking.” —Bill Maher

So then, faith means you decide to believe a particular idea even though there’s no evidence for it, and then you completely refuse to ever question it or consider changing your mind about it, disregarding all evidence to the contrary. Faith means being gullible regarding some ideas, and closed-minded to others. Faith means abandoning reason, willfully ignoring the evidence, breaking the connection between your beliefs and reality.

“There is no virtue in accepting something on faith, since it may very well be false, and it is clearly not virtuous to believe the false.” —Charlotte Schnook

Clearly this is an unbelievably bad way to form your beliefs. Considering what faith actually is, I don’t see how anyone could possibly think it was a good thing. There’s absolutely nothing good or reasonable about it. Having faith is just like having a delusion, except you’re doing it on purpose. If you want to have true beliefs and avoid having false beliefs, having faith is probably the most counterproductive thing you could possibly do.

Unlike reason and evidence, faith provides no way to determine which things you should believe. Any belief can be “justified” by faith just as well as any other. If you have faith in one religion, why not have faith in another religion? Why not believe that you are a six-legged zebra from the planet Japan? Why not accept on faith that you should give me all your money right now?

You can probably think of some reasons not to accept those things, but why do you suddenly think you need to have reasons for what you believe? If I tell you that Ahura Mazda is the real God, or that you are a six-legged zebra from the planet Japan, or that you need to give me all your money, why do you question it? You don’t need a reason to believe; you just need to have faith, right?

“If something can be used as a justification for everything, then it shouldn’t be used as a justification for anything.” —Matt Dillahunty

When the inherent irrationality of faith is pointed out, religious people will sometimes protest that their faith is based on evidence. Well, if you’re trying to base your beliefs on reason and evidence, that’s great. You’re more reasonable than some religious people. But letting evidence shape your beliefs is not what faith is, and it’s not what the Bible tells you to do. The unreasonable way of thinking I described above is exactly the kind of thinking that the Bible encourages, and describes as faith.

The Bible on faith

The Bible says faith means confidently believing in something you hope is true, but that you don’t actually see any evidence for. To live by faith is to live blindly.

Continue reading Faith is not reasonable
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