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Feb 25 2012

The Bible Means What We Want It To Mean

I have often made the argument that the Bible can be used to justify almost any position. Kind, decent, reasonable people can find plenty of support in it for being kind, decent and reasonable; hateful, barbaric people can find plenty of support for being hateful and barbaric. All Christians pick and choose the parts they like and discard the parts they don’t. Like Rick Santorum’s views on dominion and the environment:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told an audience at the Colorado School of Mines where he was a guest speaker Monday at the Colorado Energy Summit.

“We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create,” Santorum said to applause from the conservative crowd.

I have no idea what the hell that word salad in the second paragraph means. But essentially, Santorum thinks that the Biblical statement that we are to take “dominion” over the earth means we can do any damn thing we please. Liberal Christians, on the other hand, tend to think the same verses mean we should protect the environment. The Bible is, in essence, a really elaborate Rorschach test — you see what you want to see.

45 comments

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  1. 1
    wheatdogg

    Santorum seems to believe that we (humans) are separate from the Earth, somehow. In other words, we can wreck the Earth without causing harm to ourselves. Rather short sighted of him, but look at who we’re talking about.

    It’s also a very strange way to interpret the Biblical injunction to “use it wisely and steward it wisely.” It would be wise to keep enough of the Earth intact for future generations, for example.

    The second graf nearly contradicts the first, if I am parsing it correctly. He seems to be saying humans are smart enough to outwit Mother Nature, so that she (it) can’t wreck us.

    Not too many earthquakes or hurricanes where he lives, I reckon.

  2. 2
    brianthomas

    But essentially, Santorum thinks that the Biblical statement that we are to take “dominion” over the earth means we can do any damn thing we please.

    Yes. And really why wouldn’t a Christian think this way? Why would they give a crap about the earth? All that matters to them is suckin’ Jesus’ blood so they can “get theirs” and win the lottery trip to heaven. I am frankly amazed at just how selfish and narcissistic the Christian ethos is….and how incapable Christians are of seeing this.

  3. 3
    'Tis Himself

    wheatdogg #1

    It would be wise to keep enough of the Earth intact for future generations, for example.

    Santorum and many other dominionist Christians agree with Sir Boyle Roche:

    Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?

  4. 4
    timberwoof

    I’ve seen a bumpersticker that reads, “The Earth is just a rest stop on the highway to heaven.” I guess you let the Buddhists clean it up.

  5. 5
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    I have often made the argument that the Bible can be used to justify almost any position. Kind, decent, reasonable people can find plenty of support in it for being kind, decent and reasonable; hateful, barbaric people can find plenty of support for being hateful and barbaric.

    While this is obviously true when it comes our observing Christians from the outside-in, we encounter such examples on a daily basis, as outsiders I don’t think we can stop at this point without making another important related point.

    That point is that if we competently analyze the Bible to determine how it stacks up morally to an objective standard, the evidence is obvious and convincing. The Bible advocates evil, hate and barbary where the standard we’re to adhere to, that of the biblical god, demonstrates a level of hatred and barbary which is difficult for humans to sufficiently conceptualize since his evil promises to cause people to suffer unimaginable torture for infinity; where it takes some effort to develop the thinking skills to begin to appreciate the ramifications of eternity. Just like it takes to begin to appreciate the immensity of the universe or the size of an atom or smaller.

    Sure there are passages which order us to not act in an evil manner – to demand not mere justice but instead grace as well. But we can’t ignore the many examples commanding us to submit to and celebrate a god whose examples are infinitely evil where his moral framework of blind infantile submission guarantees those who follow him will act immorally to a degree that causes great human suffering.

    I think this is why the odds are stacked against Christians who are genuinely good people and we see the more liberal Christian denominations dying away more quickly than conservative Christian denominations who exuberantly promote ignorance, hatred, and barbary. The more educated we become the more difficult it becomes for good people to justify their submission to a deity whose holy dogma is irrefutably evil. That increases the attraction for evil people like Pope Benedict, Albert Mohler, Richard Land, and Tony Perkins, to increase their influence with the remaining though dwindling collective flock.

  6. 6
    harold

    The Bible is, in essence, a really elaborate Rorschach test — you see what you want to see.

    Although it must be noted that what some people see is more related to obvious, cynical, short-term, self-serving ulterior motives than what other people see.

  7. 7
    Phillip IV

    Santorum thinks that the Biblical statement that we are to take “dominion” over the earth means we can do any damn thing we please.

    Yup, and that’s with anything and everything – well, save for our own genitals. In a nutshell, the rule comes down to “everything’s yours to screw, save other guys”.

  8. 8
    Michael Heath

    I don’t think a proper reading of the Bible allows one to make an arguable case justifying contemporaneous humans ruining the environment at an onerous cost to future generations. Instead I think the justification to harm the environment is a symptom of the recent merging of conservative politics with Christian fundamentalism/evangelicism. This merging has caused conservative Christians to increasingly favor their political ideology and submission to those authority figures over the traditional Christian philosophy and its leaders. This is also true within the Catholic hierarchy as well. Where those Christian leaders also submit to the political overloads of the political aspect of their movement, though I think obliviously – delusion sure is a bitch.

    Evidence this is purely political in the inability of anti-environmentalist Christians who make religious-based arguments to make a biblical case. They simply can’t coherently leverage Bible verses within context and consistent with their original or obvious meaning. This Santorum argument is par for the course rather than an exceptionally bad example.

    Roger Williams, many of the framers, and many other enlightened Christians hundreds of years were correct in arguing that politics corrupts religion when you merge the two. That separationism benefits religion. This Santorum argument serves as a nice illustration of the framers’ argument.

  9. 9
    Jeremy Shaffer

    “We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create,” Santorum said to applause from the conservative crowd.

    This is just a round about way of saying that we need not worry about climate change. As absurd as it may be, Santorum’s just telling the Earth that if it feel froggy about what we’re doing it can jump when ever it wants.

    The Bible is, in essence, a really elaborate Rorschach test — you see what you want to see.

    Given the people I have experience with, it isn’t even that. It’s an elaborate Rorschach test that most never actually look at but tell you they saw exactly what they are told they are supposed to see.

  10. 10
    Chiroptera

    The Bible is, in essence, a really elaborate Rorschach test — you see what you want to see.

    That’s a very good analogy. But, like most analogies, it’s not perfect.

    At least when someone is looking at an inkblot, they are aware that they are looking at a smear of ink and not an actual picture of a butterfly.

    I have no problem with those who realize and admit that they use what they think are the “good parts” of the Bible for their inspiration. I, myself, will occassionally quote the Bible — and the Tao Te Ching, Shakespeare, Orwell, and the Founders of the USA — to make a point.

    Sometimes an earlier writer will have what I consider to be good insight to a situation and will have already expressed what I believe in a way that I cannot improve upon. It is also a good rhetorical effect to quote from the common cultural icons to make a point.

    The problem with conservative Christians (and similarly for many of other faiths as well) is that the really believe that the Bible is telling them that their beliefs are correct. They are using an imagined authority figure to reinforce what is often their a priori beliefs.

    What is disturbing about this is, of course, the lack of critical thinking that one has to rely on to not realize how one is “cherry picking” what one wants. Also, it says something, I think, about the psychology of a person who needs the validation of some imagined authority for their beliefs. Finally, the problem, of course, is once they believe that “this is what God says, full stop!” further debate becomes difficult if not impossible.

  11. 11
    Pteryxx

    wheatdogg:

    It’s also a very strange way to interpret the Biblical injunction to “use it wisely and steward it wisely.” It would be wise to keep enough of the Earth intact for future generations, for example.

    But 40% of USians think the Rapture will happen before 2050. They don’t believe there WILL be any future generations to save anything FOR.

  12. 12
    Modusoperandi

    It’s strange how often their Biblically-derived conclusions happen to match the best interests of Big Business.

  13. 13
    Michael Heath

    Chiroptera:

    Finally, the problem, of course, is once they believe that “this is what God says, full stop!” further debate becomes difficult if not impossible.

    As conservatives came to dominate the GOP and increase the religious aspect of their political ideology, we’ve begun to see more conservative politicians who are their voting base rather than plutocrats exploiting and pandering to the conservative base. These politicians who are the base rely far more on the defect Chiroptera points out, to the point it’s frequently expressed literally – see Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Rick Santorum as illustrative examples. “End of story!” being a popular conclusion.

  14. 14
    raven

    “We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things

    That is not exactly a true statement.

    We are intelligent beings, the dominant tool using technological species on the planet beyond dispute.

    That we know how to manage things is laughable.

    Wall Street. Wall Street is a basically a series of financial crisises punctuated by short term periods of stasis and it’s been this way for its entire existence.

    Same thing with our economy. We are still in the Great Recession which followed a bunch of recessions which followed the Great Depression which followed a bunch of other recessions and depressions.

    Civilizations. Every civilization that ever existed has collapsed or will collapse. In my life time, two have done this, the British empire and the Soviet empire. Ours will to some day. The way it is going right now, the Rick Santorum’s and the Tea Party will be holding the axe.

    Environmental mediated collapse. Almost all collapse are suicides. Quite frequently due to environmental degradation reducing the ability of the population to feed itself.

    Enron, AIG, Long Term Capital Management, Hedge funds, GM, and all the rest. Companies run by highly educated intelligent people go BK all the time. When they own nuclear power plants, it is even more dramatic.

    We haven’t even managed to settle our differences without wars that kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people.

    Santanya: Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

  15. 15
    raven

    It’s strange how often their Biblically-derived conclusions happen to match the best interests of Big Business.

    Not really.

    The vast majority of the time, the gods are sockpuppet gods and the holy books are sockpuppet books.

    The gods want what you want, hate what you hate, and you can prove it from the holy books that say what you claim they say. It’s all solipcistic.

  16. 16
    rjmx

    It would be wise to keep enough of the Earth intact for future generations, for example.

    Most of the evangelicals, at least, are certain we’re living in the End Times*, so there’s no point in worrying about posterity because there won’t be one.

    * Yes, yes, I know, they’ve been saying that for the last 2000 years, but you try telling them that.

  17. 17
    Michael Heath

    wheatdogg writes:

    It’s also a very strange way to interpret the Biblical injunction to “use it wisely and steward it wisely.” It would be wise to keep enough of the Earth intact for future generations, for example.

    Pteryxx responds:

    But 40% of USians think the Rapture will happen before 2050. They don’t believe there WILL be any future generations to save anything FOR.

    But the Bible provides no specific guidance to act in such a nihilistic manner in regards to the environment, just when it comes to procreation and arguably, abandoning the need for financial security. [Their are biblical contradictions which argue the opposite when it comes to financial concerns.] The rationalization to act as if there is no future when it comes to the environment seems completely embedded within their political goals rather than biblically based.

    Given the lack of biblical passages mandating the destruction of the environment coupled to clear biblical edicts humans be good stewards to the environment, I did some research around 2002/2003 on why conservative Christians were rapidly turning into global warming denialists. I could not conceive of a valid reason for them to almost monolithically begin to conform to denialism like they had to creationism. What I determined was that their religious authority figures were selling denialism where those religious leaders’ motivation was clear.

    The financial interests in the Republican party sought to obstruct public policy which attempts to mitigate the threat of global warming. Conservative religious leaders held power only if they could keep their flocks voting Republican, which was increasingly easy to do in the 1980s and 1990s when it came to a handful of litmus issues – abortion and promoting religion in public schools. Given the fact that climate change is arguably the defining challenge of our generation and perhaps the most important issue civilized humans have ever been confronted with, the Republican financial interests and conservative religious leaders were threatened by the potential loss of their voting base if many conservative Christians started to prioritize climate change over the old successful litmus issues. This remember was a time where Democrats have become moderate and therefore easier for conservatives to rationally justify voting for positions taken by Clinton and now Obama.

    The advantage conservative leaders enjoy, both political and religious, is this voting base’s gullibility, delusion, bigotry, and submissiveness to their authority figures. So turning the science of climate change into a liberal hoax by elites wasn’t all that hard, especially when you combined it with new motivations to remain loyal to the tribe – their increasing hatred of gays (in the early 2000s) and now Muslims.

    So IMO this isn’t really about the Bible or religion, but instead about religious leaders desire to maintain and enhance their political power coupled to the need for the voting base to remain loyal to a subset of plutocrats’ interests – the subset which now controls the Republican party purse-strings.

  18. 18
    peterh

    I take the 2nd paragraph word salad above to mean that with Insane-torum as point man, naturally, we will be able to control Katrina, Krakatoa, plate tectonics and ice ages.

  19. 19
    Pierce R. Butler

    Michael Heath @ # 5 et seq – If you haven’t read it already, you might enjoy Rachel Tabachnick’s look at “biblical capitalism” (linked article shows the Santorum context, with further links to how the church-Republican alliance has transformed the theology of personal salvation to one of raw dominionism).

  20. 20
    slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #17

    It should be recalled that the leading figures in climate change denial are the non-believing Koch brothers, which, apparently the born agains are either unaware of or don’t care.

  21. 21
    noastronomer

    If Rick seems to pick and choose what he likes from the bible he does the same for science. Here he’s all for science. Funny how he doesn’t like science when it tells him things he doesn’t want to hear.

    Mike.

  22. 22
    bubba707

    Use it wisely and be better stewards? Two words Rick, Cuyahoga River.

  23. 23
    w00dview

    Pierce, that biblical capitalism is some of the most dishonest and sleazy manipulation of religious teachings I have seen yet. That is fucking frightening. All of the Republican candidates are horrible, but Sanatorum is easily the most destructive of the lot of them as he seems to genuinely believe this horse shit.

  24. 24
    Sastra

    “We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create,” Santorum said to applause from the conservative crowd.

    Oh, dear. We are “intelligent beings that know how to manage things?” “Science and discovery?” This appeal to our strength and self-determination is starting to sound suspiciously like “God helps those who help themselves.”

    And as all true Christians realize, that dangerous little platitude is but a prideful distortion of the genuine Biblical message: Mankind’s task on earth is to admit incompetence and submit completely to the will of God. Santorum seems to be flirting here with the heresy of humanism.

    Could Santorum be … the Antichrist???

    Not only is the Bible a Rorschach test; exegesis is a game of Calvin Ball.

  25. 25
    sailor1031

    “We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things..”

    It is to laugh!! He is totally shittin’ us! Intelligent? GMAFB!

    As for the antichrist; there have been many of them including JP2 (sounds like an avfuel but it ain’t)….the most recent is Dick (what an appropriate name that is) Cheney. Who’s next? my money is on a joint chair held by the Koch brothers….Santorum is just the carney shill outside the tent – kind of like dubya was!

  26. 26
    wheatdogg

    @11 and others:

    Quite true. I had forgotten that aspect of fundie interpretation of the Bible. Some want to send the Earth into the crapper, because it will bring about the Second Coming. Others figure the S.C. is just around the corner, so why worry about the mess the Raptured will leave behind? (We got ours, so bye-bye y’all!)

    Former Secy. of Interior James Watt was one such person. He would have been happy to cut down most of the national forests for short-term gain, because no one would be around in the future to enjoy them anyway.

  27. 27
    Michael Heath

    wheatdogg:

    Former Secy. of Interior James Watt was one such person. He would have been happy to cut down most of the national forests for short-term gain, because no one would be around in the future to enjoy them anyway.

    That’s how Mr. Watt rationalized his behavior, but I think his motivation prior to and while he was acting was entirely driven by politics rather than religion.

  28. 28
    TCC

    It’s not even just that Christians read in the Bible what they want to hear: so much of Christianity is extrabiblical that you don’t even necessarily need Scripture to come down on one side of an issue or another. It fundamentally comes down to values, I think, and the more sheltered and unexposed a person is to ideas outside of Christianity (especially a relatively small segment of Christianity, like evangelical Christianity), the less likely they are to challenge any of the ideas they were taught as incompatible with some aspect of the Christian faith. I know I’m not the only one, for instance, who grew up valuing science, and that is sometimes a wedge issue, especially when religious people make it so. We learn in schools not to judge people based on their appearance, race, religion, etc., and then it becomes a very simple thing to apply that to sexual orientation, especially when we meet people who are gay and not the depraved demons that they are made out to be by the religious. The rationalizations and interpretations of Scripture, in my personal opinion (and from recent experience and reflection), only come after the fact, and that stems more from a need to have one’s beliefs come from Scripture than anything else. If you don’t care about that, then finding Scripture that can be used to support those beliefs is entirely superfluous.

  29. 29
    wheatdogg

    @27:

    Oh, to be sure, money was involved in that policy position.

  30. 30
    matthewhodson

    The Bible is, in essence, a really elaborate Rorschach test — you see what you want to see.

    The bible is a vulva?

  31. 31
    Modusoperandi

    matthewhodson,
    “A Rorschach test? I’m tellin’ you right now, doctor, all I’m going to see are vaginas.” ~ Drew Carey

  32. 32
    Deen

    Of course the “End Times are here so why worry about the future of the environment” is a weak and dishonest excuse that they don’t really buy themselves. You’ll never hear a Rapture believer say that they don’t worry about the future of marriage, or the future of capitalism, because Jesus is about to return anyway.

  33. 33
    wheatdogg

    @32:

    Or don’t worry about making gobs of money before they die, the way some prosperity gospel shills preach. If you’re going to caught up into Heaven, why worry about how much money, cars and houses you’ve got beforehand? You still can’t take it with you.

    Of course, those same shills know (nudge, nudge) that the Rapture ain’t gonna happen so soon, if ever, so why not bilk the sheeple and live like King Solomon?

  34. 34
    matty1

    What does it say about you if you tell the doctor “that looks like a Rorschach ink blot to me”?

  35. 35
    Modusoperandi

    Rorschach was my favorite Sweathog.

  36. 36
    wscott

    Question for the group: Can you think of a single significant moral/ethical issue of the last century (or more) where people on both sides of the issue have not quoted the Bible in support of their position? I’ve been trying to think of one for awhile, and keep coming up empty.

    Begs the question: if your “moral code” document is so vague and contradictory that it can be used to support any side of virtually any position…then what the fuck is it good for?

  37. 37
    Chiroptera

    wscott, #36:

    The Bible isn’t vague nor contradictory. If you allow yourself to be led by the Holy Spirit, then it all makes sense and you will be able to read it correctly.

    On the other hand, if you allow yourself to be led by your own sinful desires (or Satan, if you prefer), then of course you’re going to spout nonsense.

    Hope this helps!

  38. 38
    Drolfe

    Chiroptera,

    Pitch perfect. (And why it’s so awesome to base arguments around “because God told me, that’s why!”)

  39. 39
    dingojack

    Didn’t Peter Aberlard say something like ‘Give me enough (religious) books and I can prove anything!’
    So to answer you wscott, it’s not about knowledge or truth (or anything objective at all), it’s about dogma.
    Moral relativism of this sort doesn’t require any basis in reality.
    Dingo

  40. 40
    Drolfe

    The best part is when two Christians are arguing past each other with Biblical justification. The one says to the other, “God has spoken to me in my heart; I know my position is true.” The other responsds, “nah-uh, prove it!” Hilarity ensues.

  41. 41
    lofgren

    One thing you hear liberal Christians say a lot is that the bible is a tool, and that some people might use it to justify violence or bigotry but most people use it to improve themselves. You shouldn’t be against religion or Christianity because you wouldn’t oppose all hammers just because a few (million) people killed another few (million) people with hammers once, right?

    Even if I accept the analogy, the bible always looked a lot more like this to me than like this. Sure, you can use either one to build a deck or cave somebody’s head in, but if all you really want to do is a little home improvement, one of these is clearly the better tool for the job than the other.

  42. 42
    ewanmacdonald

    Watt never actually came out with the quote attributed to him about felling the forests before the Lord returns. There’s no denying he was a very poor secretary of the interior but there’s plenty enough to criticise him about that actually happened.

  43. 43
    Paulino

    Hithchens once described the Bible as a “nice cafeteria”.

  44. 44
    raven

    Watt never actually came out with the quote attributed to him about felling the forests before the Lord returns.

    Yeah he did exactly that.

    “We don’t have to take care of the environment because jesus is going to be here any minute” or words to that effect.

  45. 45
    lpetrich

    In the beginning of Genesis, God doesn’t exactly say “Take care of the Earth and keep it a good home for all its inhabitants, because it’s the only one I’ll give you.”

    One *might* infer such a thing from the second creation story, where God creates Adam to be the gardener of the Garden of Eden. But Adam does not get in trouble for being a bad gardener.

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