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Jun 18 2010

Is Cherry Picking a Good Thing?

This is actually a question I can see both sides of, even though I know which side I come down on. And recently a fan wrote in to express the following:

I’m ok with cherry picking religious beliefs in general because I think that it has helped push beliefs towards a more beneficial outcome. Today you hear people claiming that the Christian God is Love and other such nonsense, but I’d rather them intentionally ignore the bad parts in their holy book than to accept it all unquestioningly if they’re going to believe in both cases already.

He raised some good points about how it’s good many Muslims are moderate–and not like their more fanatical counterparts. I get the point, I really do. But here are my thoughts:

This is a question with no answer. Someone recently posted on Facebook an article about an American association of physicians who initially came out with a position that it’s OK to “nick” infant female genitalia as a substitute for a full female circumcision–which they feared some families would go back to the old country to get if doctors here wouldn’t do it. However, they then reversed their stance to say that, in fact, doctors should counsel and support the families, but not perform any such ritualistic procedures.

What should they do? Should they cause small harm, in order to mitigate greater harm? Or should they stand firm against all harm?

I compared it in a recent dialog to chemo therapy. Some chemo treatments have long-term, or even permanent awful effects on people’s bodies. But the idea is that this toxic cocktail will save someone’s life, so we induce harm, in order to mitigate worse harm. And most people agree this is the right course. BUT, what if we found a cure for cancer that inflicted no harm tomorrow, but some oncologists insisted upon continuing to use chemo treatments? Would it still be the right course of action?

Making religion somewhat less toxic, I can see, is preferable to having it be fully toxic. But I personally, as a reformed Christian myself, know that there is a cure available that eliminates the harm altogether. And with that knowledge, I can’t, in good conscience, pursue the course of mitigating harm, when a cure that eliminates the harm is available.


I can’t speak for everyone–but this is how I view it and how I address the problem.


And I think it also covers the “cherry picking” question. To support a book that encourages subjugation of women and killing other people who don’t believe what you do, to me, is inexcusable. It would be like joining the KKK because you like the social networking, but reject the racist agendas.


So, for what it’s worth?

35 comments

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  1. 1
    ls

    I agree that, if we just _had_ to have adherence to religious holy books, the current practice of the vast majority of theists of cherry-picking the "good" stuff and ignoring the bad is to be preferred.But, as Tracie points out here, we _don't_ have to have this adherence. In other words, this begs the question – why bother with the holy shit (literally) at all? What this really demonstrates is that the believer _is_ relying on an external morality and _is_ able to choose right from wrong _independently_ of the holy edicts. I think the better thing to do is to point this tendency out to the believer wherever possible instead of simply acknowledging that they do this. Let's tell them _why_ they do this; then hopefully they can then come to the understanding that the holy shit is superfluous (regarding right vs wrong) and can be dispensed with.So in my view, it's a good thing only insofar as it serves as a tool to demonstrate the superfluity of the "good/bad come from the bahble" crapola when it comes to moral choices to the believer. But in and of itself, no, I think it's mostly a vacuous thing that doesn't serve any purpose.LS

  2. 2
    Confused

    The question becomes though, by what standard do we cherry pick the sacred texts? How do we determine which parts are okay and which parts to toss out? Inevitably two groups of followers will disagree on something they've decided to cherry pick. Both groups being supported by the same sacred text, how do we say one is right without being hypocritical?

  3. 3
    Guillaume

    Here is my take on cherry picking: to define a moral or an ethic, it is reassuring that worshippers, whether they are Christian, muslim or others, cherry pick. They would be like their coreligious fundies otherwise and the world would be a much worse place. I remember many religion teachers from my teenage who knew the Bible enough to see that there were horrible things taught in it, they simply thought it was man's perception imposed on God's book. They simply couldn't believe that a good God would condone or advocate massacres, cruelty and injustice. One had to "read between the lines" as one of my teachers said. Contradictory, but I am glad they were not advocating a literalist interpretation of the "Good" Book's "moral" code. However, cherry picking is intellectually dishonest, if not cowardly, when one claims that any sacred text or any faith is true in any metaphysical sense and has absolute moral authority. You can't have it both ways and accept that your book is wrong on a number of issues and then claims it is all authoritative.

  4. 4
    ls

    >The question becomes though, by what standard do we cherry pick the sacred texts?<Actually, that already _is_ the basic question. And the answer is "it's complicated" (human morality is actually a huge subject and a lot of ink has been spilled on the matter).But the really important thing is getting away from _biblical_ morality (speaking xianity-centrically here) which isn't a moral code at all. Instead it's an utter clusterfuck of contradictions and puny, measly and barbaric notions about mankind and how we should treat our world and each other. That's step #1. But that done, we at least have hope because we've escaped the fantasy world of the bahble and can now use reason and evidence for making moral judgments in the normal way.LS

  5. 5
    Marymanard

    I agree that Cherry picking is wrong. it is a violation of your religion, and proves it to be a false religion.However. I beleive that the Bible is True and correct and the word of God. and I adhere to it in its entirety, in correlation with further revelation that was necessary. The Old testament is just that OLD it was right in that time to wipe out evil just so abruptly. but with the new testament we were given new commandments to turn the other cheek instead of eye for an eye. If you are going to believe in the Bible it must be taken literally. not by reading between the lines or adding to or subtracting from it,at your own whim.

  6. 6
    Excredulous

    Whether theist or atheist, it's good to have as many true beliefs as possible. So cherry-picking is preferable to uncritically accepting everything. It's better still to go even further and eliminate all beliefs that are unsupported by reason or evidence.

  7. 7
    Murphy

    Yeah, i've heard the whole “oh you're only looking at the bad stuff in the bible and ignoring all the good things it teaches” cherry picking argument before, and I don't by it.He was on a slightly different topic when he said it, but I think Shilling absolutely nailed this on an episode of the non profits.Imagine that there there is a guy you know. Nicest guy you've ever met. Always polite and curtious. Pays his taxes. Donates to charity. Works hard. Volunteers at the local soup kitchen. Loves his wife and kids. On weekends he even waits until after midday to use one of those irritating blower vax on his driveway. But…. every couple of years ye goes out and kills a hooker…. Is this guy moral?If the answer is no, then it really doesn't matter what good stuff the bible says. As long as every other page is an endorsement of slavery or ethnic cleansing or rape or whatever, the whole thing is rotten and you can't accept it as any kind of moral guide.

  8. 8
    Ing

    "However. I beleive that the Bible is True and correct and the word of God. and I adhere to it in its entirety, in correlation with further revelation that was necessary. The Old testament is just that OLD it was right in that time to wipe out evil just so abruptly. but with the new testament we were given new commandments to turn the other cheek instead of eye for an eye. "Ok, good to know. You're a monster.I'm not being coy here. You are a monsterous human being. You claim that genocide used to be ok. That when the bible says it was good to smash a babies head against a rock and revel in the spilled blood, it was at the time. You don't understand humanity or morality at all. You don't LOVE your fellow man, you can't because you thought 'hey some time in the past it would have been ok for me to enslave my hindu neighbor.' 'in the past it was ok to pelt my child with rocks until he died from internal bleeding.' You don't see rape, genocide, murder, theift, cruetly as bad because you see it hurts people and you care about them. You see it as bad because your master told you. You're not a good person. You're amoral. You don't get to call yourself a 'good' person. You're an ignorant ogre who on the change of your master's whim would be willing to rip the throat out of your grandmother. Those past things that are bad now, ok then because they were just following orders. Yeah, when you say that you don't get to call yourself a person anymore in my book.

  9. 9
    Ing

    Oh also honey, Jesus claimed that not a SINGLE word of the old testament was invalidated by him. So yeah if you're not keeping Kosher and putting homosexuals to death you're going against the direct word of your Fuhrer. To answer your question Tracie THIS is exhibit A on why cherrypicking is unacceptable to me. The religion in general fosters this ignorant mind poison that turns people into sleepwalking amoral slaves.

  10. 10
    Ithonicfury

    Also dont forget that the New Testament isnt all butterflies and rainbows flowing out of Jesus's hands.Theres still PLENTY of slavery endorsement and racism (even by jesus himself), woman bashing, outright stupidity etc.So even trying to hand-wave the OT away doesn't make the bible that much better.

  11. 11
    Strangelove

    I often wonder how believers can be presumptuous enough to interpret the word of their heavenly master. They believe to have been revealed the ultimate truth about the universe by its very creator but still dare to pick and choose only those parts from his divine wisdom they already agree with.Why should your interpretation of the holy word have any more merit than e.g. that of Fred Phelps? As a fallible human being your interpretation and cherry picking you must necessarily distort the will of your divine dictator.To me there is only one way out: You either accept your holy scripture in its entirety, verbatim, or you abandon it completely. Everything else is just a hypocrisy."Is Cherry Picking a Good Thing?" If you pick from a source that inspired countless atrocities in the past then no, it's not. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

  12. 12
    Guillaume

    @Maryanne-I will add to what people said to you that you are confusing moral and worship. They are two different things and in many regards mutually exclusive. Because a God or a sacred text commands you to do something does not make it de facto moral. And many of the Bible's teaching cannot and should not be applied to modern democratic society, especially not as moral absolute.

  13. 13
    DavidCT

    It is impossible to take moral guidance from the bible and not cherry pick. The difference between fundies and "liberals" is only a matter of degree. Not even today's fundamentalists take all of Leviticus as a moral guide. With a book as contradictory as the bible, no believer can take the whole thing at face value and be functional in the real world. I do not understand how a believer can reject the OT and still believe in an all powerful god. The logical conclusion should be that the people of the old testament were a bunch brutal barbarians because that is the way god wanted them to be. He could easily have made them a bunch of sophisticated barbarians more like what we have today.

  14. 14
    ls

    I think someone's just trolling here, but it's a good example to go through to point out the contradictions for the morons who really do believe this kind of stuff:>However. I beleive that the Bible is True and correct and the word of God.<No, you don't. See below.> and I adhere to it in its entirety, in correlation with further revelation that was necessary.<Of course you don't – note the "in correlation with…" excuse you've implanted in your statement. Unless you actually follow the edicts in Leviticus for example, you actually _don't_ adhere to biblical teaching "in its entirety". Do you keep indentured servants in your home? According to my bible (KJV), Leviticus 25 says you can and even should and outlines the rules for human being trafficking. God's law, right there in your book. Do you really follow it to the letter as you say you should? If not, why not? >The Old testament is just that OLD it was right in that time to wipe out evil just so abruptly.<Er, no, the OT is _part of the bible_; that's why it's still in there.> but with the new testament we were given new commandments to turn the other cheek instead of eye for an eye.<Er, ok, so…. then what of the OT and it's eye for an eye edict? Is it really god's word or not? If it's just old stuff as you say, why is it still in the bible? Think about it – why are the revisions in the NT necessary? Couldn't god have gotten it right the first time and not have to leave it up to mankind to filter through all this stuff and try to figure it out?You don't need to answer out loud. Just consider the questions; try to come up with more of your own, too.LS

  15. 15
    Afterthought_btw

    My big problem with cherry picking, is that the original texts are still there. It might be different if each generation that cherry picked themselves away from the barbaric practices in the Bible and other 'holy' books were somehow able to expunge completely the things that they rejected, but they can't. No matter how much cherry picking they do, they still insist that (insert religion here) is true.That means that all it takes is for one charismatic individual, in the right place, to preach a return to a 100% literal, no cherry-picking, approach to the holy book, and you could well be right back in the shit once more.

  16. 16
    ls

    >You don't understand humanity or morality at all. <Actually no – we need to give credit where credit is due on this. If the writer here isn't just trolling, we can show that she actually _does_ have an understanding of a basic morality based in cooperation, kindness towards her fellow human beings, etc.As I said, note the trap door she's injected into her original statement of compliance: "I adhere to it in it's entirety …with further revelation that was necessary". That's very different from "I adhere to it in its entirety" _period_. The latter is is what you'd expect from someone who really believes this shit. Instead, she issues a proviso and also goes on to offer more apologies like the OT is just "old stuff" that's been updated by new revelations, etc…. So clearly, this person (again speaking subjunctively since I'm not yet convinced she isn't just trolling) would actually be a good example of someone who's _better_ than her religion and is able to exercise at least some level of moral behavior.So a more accurate judgment, to me, would be that this person is simply confused. That's a lot more likely given the general confusion offered by Gawd's Law in the first place, especially when it's regarded as a body of factual knowledge rather than the simple, garden-variety mythology that it really is.Very very few people really honest to Gawd follow this crap to the letter which really shows that their morality is quite intact….LS

  17. 17
    ls

    >I do not understand how a believer can reject the OT and still believe in an all powerful god.<The believers don't really understand it either, so don't worry – you're not alone.In fact, when you boil it all down, the entire discipline of Christian theology is nothing more than an institutionalized expression of confusion over the nonsense of the bible and the attempts to patch it all up into something that does make sense. It sill amazes me that you can get a _college degree_ in this subject and never really understand that your concentration is actually "Bullshit". Listen to Christopher Hitchens take down Dennis Prager for example (on youtube), or listen to the Matt Dillahunty vs. Matt Slick show on the TAG. In both cases the apologists are literally made monkeys of, but they continue to retreat into theological nonsense in order to stay afloat, _utterly_ unaware of what they're actually doing.So even the adherents recognize the inherent ridiculousness of the bible when it's regarded as a true plan for living and expend considerable mental effort trying to reconcile that notion. All of that goes away when you consider it a work of literature or mythology – then it's just poetry and fairy tales and looks "right size".LS

  18. 18
    Ing

    @ GuillamuneI would modify your statement a bit. What God commanded and how the Isrealites supposedly lived and did shouldn't have even been applied in the past. It was evil, vicious, and barbaric then and they only get a excuse due to ignorance. We know better, we know it was wrong then, which is why we dont do it now…ideally

  19. 19
    Ing

    @IcionofuryYou should read the Acts of Thomas, which starts with Jesus himself selling the apostle (and apparently his brother) into slavery. Truely he is the prick of pricks.The Jesus people use now a days has more in common with Disk World's Death than it does with the actual character from ancient scriptures

  20. 20
    Dee W

    I think this post and the last are indicative of a common view among some atheists and nontheists–that religion in moderation causes no harm and should not be criticized because hey, at least it's not fundamentalism, right? The person who called into AETV to ask "what's wrong with being 'spiritual'?" is an example. The idea is that while irrationality is, of course, bad, it's okay in small doses and might even have some good side effects. Like getting people to love their neighbor and to be calmer, gentler people.I think this type of reasoning is based on a more disturbing set of premises:- That most people need religion and will never stop believing in their sky-gods. We should instead push for moderate religion, since a complete lack of religion is an impossible goal.- That people need to be manipulated with lies in order to get them to act morally. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but whenever I hear someone nonreligious say "What's wrong with a little religion?" it sounds to me like they're saying "I am smart enough to make decisions based on reason and reality, but all these other people are dumb and need their lies to function."

  21. 21
    Ing

    @LSI'm taking her at face value and responding to that. If she believes what she claim she isn't better than her religion, she is amoral. Without morality. There is no judgement of good or evil for her only obidience. Genocide isn't bad because of the harm it does, it's bad because God decided to fuck with us and put arbitrary restrictions on our abilities. At any time he could say 'yup, lets bring that back, kill at the muslims'. Or he could do something different and say 'changed my mind, now child sacrifice is good. boil your children in lard and eat them'. There's no difference qualatativly between "A man has no greater gift than to lay down his life for a friend" and "blessed is he who dashes the little ones against rocks". I'd like her to answer how she knows Hitler wasn't given the go ahead from god. He hailed Luther and all that and was following in tradition and scriptural hate of the jews. His soldiers wore "God is with us" on their buckles dedicating their slaughter to Jesus thus they fly under the banner of the Christ god. How do we know God didn't side with them and gave Hitler the same order against the jews that he gave the hebrews against the cananites? You can't say it's not in his character because they believe he did it before and just hasn't SINCE. No, I cut her no slack. She is monsterous because she's sold herself into slavery and is willing to do any order no matter how grotesque to serve her master. She endorses the ultimate moral relativism, she is amoral. If she really believes that she's no more moral than a scythe; no say whether her master uses her as a weapon or tool for harvest. She was born human and sold her personhood to aspire to be a scarecrow. SHe is a Quisling who has sold out to the ultimate tyrant for the promise of personal gain in orgamism land. I doubt she fully realizes the implications of her belief, but if she does endorse it fully and embrace it then she should be locked away before she has a dream or hallucination of Jesus telling her to gun down a preschool.

  22. 22
    Ing

    @ Dee WExactly, as I said before the non-handicaped shouldn't be allowed to live in wheelchairs just because they think they're too weak to walk. I'm mad at these people and this crap specifically because I believe people can do better, they've just latched onto an excuse to avoid personal growth.

  23. 23
    Guillaume

    @ng-Of course wanton violence, cruelty and genocides were wrong then just as they are now. I meant that whatever the context these stories were written, they cannot be deemed moral by modern standards, hence they are worthless as moral guidance, let alone moral absolutes. I should add that this is something Cherry Pickers perceive, but fail to follow to the logical conclusion.

  24. 24
    ls

    >I'm taking her at face value and responding to that. If she believes what she claim she isn't better than her religion, she is amoral. Without morality. There is no judgement of good or evil for her only obidience<You're possibly correct, but again, my point would be that, unless further information about her demonstrates otherwise, she probably _doesn't_ believe that the bible should be "taken literally" and "in its entirety". This is strongly suggested by her remarks; i.e. the backpedalling provisos I pointed out earlier. Also, the probable fact that she doesn't engage in human trafficking in the manner advocated in Leviticus, etc.So, like many Xians, it's very likely she at least doesn't _act_ like she believes that bullshit.Martin Luther King, for example, clearly was not a good Christian for the same types of reasons (this insight is courtesy of Christopher Hitchens, not me). And we can thank goodness that he wasn't – he too rejected most of the morality of the religion he aligned himself with and cherry-picked at will. And in so doing he practically single-handedly rescued our entire society from certain oblivion. This is what distinguishes a national/world hero like MLK from a petty, mean criminal like Pat Robertson even within the same religious tradition – the former really _can_ tell right from wrong, where the latter clearly cannot. Guess who's the "better" Christian?I still suspect she was a troll, since we don't seem to have heard from her since….LS

  25. 25
    Ing

    @LSHer claim was that she believes it entirely, cherry picking is wrong, and she's only a human trafficker because she believe God changed the rules. If we transported her via TARDIS to 69 BC she would be willing to enslave people. By her own statement. I agree she probably sees it as wrong and woul dhave moral qualms with say beating her dog to death with a two-by-four if ordered by god…but she sees that humanity as a flaw. That's her lack of faith talking. It's not a shining glimmer of hope that she's a good person to her, it's a sign she's a degenerate worm blighted by sin. She's a person who aspires to be a mindless slave. And that's the problem with religion. If religion had convinced only one person of such a mindset it would be an abomination worthy of oblivion.

  26. 26
    March Hare

    Cherry picking is good. I cherry pick the best of the philosophy from the enlightenment, the best of economics from neo-classical and Keynesian and the best beer from the local pub.If I ever found anything of worth in a holy book I'd cherry pick that too (the golden rule is not only not unique to the bible it is actually immoral).However, the idea that we do a small harm to mitigate a greater one may be true when the harm is unavoidable but frankly if any parent came to me for a genital nick rather than full clitorectomy I'd have the child taken into care and the parents arrested. I can't see that any middle ground exists when it comes to the genital mutilation of children.

  27. 27
    Ing

    Ok I know the golden rule in the bible is poorly written synthax wise…but how is the rule itself immoral?

  28. 28
    March Hare

    The Golden Rule forces one to act, potentially against one's will – that is immoral. The Silver Rule alters the wording sufficiently to get round this.TGR also cannot say anything about the weak being bullied by the strong. You are prohibited by it from taking sides in obviously immoral conflicts.TGR would also lead to an equal share of wealth, or accumulation in those who do not follow the maxim. e.g. I would like rich people to give me their money, that also means I have to give my money to those less fortunate. Or it would mean I'd be unable to give to the poor as I wouldn't want them to give to me what little they had (depends on your particular reading of the rule.)Criminals would be allowed to go free since no-one would want to be locked up, so could not lock up anyone else.Suicidal people would be assisted to die (not that I am necessarily arguing against this, just pointing out that it is a consequence of the rule) and since we cannot truly know someone's intentions or mental state we would kill a lot of people that are sick or who are crying out for help.I could go on, but you get the gist.

  29. 29
    Dee W

    But that wouldn't make the Golden Rule immoral so much as incomplete. Any one sentence summary of morality is going to be incomplete and not applicable to all situations.

  30. 30
    Ing

    Good point. Makes one wonder why "Treat people as nicely as possible" isn't what they used for the golden rule.

  31. 31
    March Hare

    But even the 'treat people as nicely as possible' falls foul of, say, Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinian people. No simple moral rule has anything to say about an armed state persecuting a minority within their country. Especially in this instance where there is actually a valid (understandable if you prefer) security reason for it.It is a good principle, even though I massively prefer the silver version, but not the central plank of a moral framework.

  32. 32
    Ing

    "No simple moral rule has anything to say about an armed state persecuting a minority within their country. Especially in this instance where there is actually a valid (understandable if you prefer) security reason for it."See now silly me figured "treat nicely" and "Persecute" were incompatible.

  33. 33
    March Hare

    And what should one do to people who don't treat others nice?Or maybe a certain groups belief system is so incompatible with yours that persecution is the only/best/quickest/least harmful way to bring about a change in those beliefs?Like I said, it's a nice idea but it should not be the guiding light in your decision making, especially in its Golden or Platinum form.

  34. 34
    March Hare

    I think my problems with the Golden Rule start with the first word: "Do"Why not change it to: "Offer to do unto others as you'd like them to offer to do unto you"?Which still doesn't get round the problem of stopping a bully since you have to take both people's wishes into consideration.I much prefer an adaptation of the first of Asimov's three laws:Do not injure a person, or through inaction, allow a person to come to harm.

  35. 35
    mike

    I came up with using the KKK as an example before I ever heard Matt say it! I said it would be like joining because you like the feel of the white sheets but you have nothing against black people- cherry picking the bible

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