. . . For the Bible Tells Me So

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave or on a desert island you know that religion is a prime political topic these days. You are unlikely to meet anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about the differences between Christianity and Islam. This, however, is one of those cases where the vast majority are blithely ignorant of the facts.

Now, in defense of the common man I have to say that this isn’t surprising because religion is not logical. Unlike, say, math, religious knowledge is purely rote. There is little consistency in the sundry narratives on which the Christian and Islamic scriptures are built.  They are anthologies compiled of often-inconsistent screeds written over time by different authors. This is not good for an interesting read. What makes the topic of religion even more misunderstood is that faith in one religion discourages interest in others.

I felt enlightened to read an insightful column on the subject by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times. Titled How Well Do You Know Religion, the article begins with an interesting quiz that compares Islamic scripture with Christian. I got 9 out of 13 right, somehow, guessing included. How did you do?

When you finish the article, dear reader, ask yourself these questions: Were the Crusaders reading the same bible as the one we know?  Are ISIS reading the same Qur’an as the other 1 billion Muslims in the world?  Also, are demagogues as effective now as in the old days, or is the public better educated and informed nowadays?

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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25 Responses to . . . For the Bible Tells Me So

  1. I didn’t do the quiz, but there was only one I was pretty sure of.

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  2. Jim Ruebush says:

    I got 7 of 14 and some of those were lucky guesses. I need more learnin’ on this subject.

    We attended a public talk at the library a couple of weeks ago conducted by the Imam of the local Mosque. He spoke of how terrorism is not part of Islam. Afterward, there were questions addressed from the audience. It was a well received talk.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I doubt you need any more learning on this, Jim. As I said to Elyse, the message is that you can find whatever justification you’re looking for in scripture if you look long enough. I appreciate your comment, and your activism. I think Melanie agrees – no real need to take the test. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Elyse says:

    I got 7 out of 14. We (and I include myself in this) really don’t know what we are talking about when we discuss religion. Scholars in every single religion debate the nuances; yet folks will pop open a beer and pontificate…

    But of course the point is, we’re wrong about each other, and our selves. So we need to stop fighting about things about which we have no clue.

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  4. Elyse says:

    Oops. I forgot to say what a thoughtful post this was. I’d missed the column, too. Thanks for pointing it out.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Thanks, Elyse. Coming from you, that means a lot.

      I think the main takeaway of this is that religion presents cafeteria choices that can encompass just about anything imaginable, so it’s not only wrong but counterproductive to blame the religion and not the interpreters of it. Buried within the issue is the wrong assumption, just as you say, that people assume they understand their own religion. Then they go to church every week to have it interpreted for them. Go figure.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jim,

    I’m too embarrassed to reveal my rather poor showing on the test. Even so, I am neither inclined to re-​read the bible nor get a copy of the Quran to plow through. Then again maybe there are some Cliff’s Notes available.

    That said, I see the Abrahamic religions as the genesis (pun intended) of unitary totalitarianism. That is, authority is vested in a single entity with power over the entire universe – but mostly men. This is a paradigm shift from the paganism practiced by others during the B.C. millennia; i.e., the Romans, the Persians, the Egyptians, etc. Thus was born God.

    Now, as we know, the God of the old testament was a mean SOB. If you didn’t follow “his” orders, as interpreted by the clergy of course, you would die a horrible death or some such. God was the ultimate tyrant. Jesus, on the other hand, provided a kind of counterpoint to his “dad” with all his love your neighbor as yourself, don’t judge others, the golden rule, etc.

    So what we have in the bible is a neat dichotomy – the Old Testament drives the Republicans and the New Testament is for the Democrats. But, it is the Republican authoritarianism that has ruled western civilization ever since.

    Authoritarianism begets violence, which, if it defeats the foe, begets control, which begets power. And treats to power – real or imagined – often lead to or inspire more violence and the cycle starts over. Republicans see such threats as evil. It’s the devil his own self causing all the mischief through proxies like ISIS. It’s the us versus them, the evildoers, the devil incarnate. No compromising here. Why, that would be like surrendering!

    Meanwhile, the Democrats are mostly helpless to intervene. In the polity in the U.S., Christian ethics have become compromised. These are the liberals, the fighters of inequality, the keepers of political correctness, the pacifists, the altruists. But their only chance of success is to emulate the Republicans, at least in part.

    That’s my brief explanation of how the Jews and then the Christians and then the Muhammadans became, and still are, more at home with war than peace. Sadly, I don’t see any reason or circumstance that will cause the worldview of any of those entities to change any time soon, if at all. So the violence goes on.

    Herb

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ Herb,

      While it may be clear that ISIL and its self-proclaimed caliphate has been able to leverage its OT-style scripture to justify its actions I find it interesting that Donald Trump seems to have found a similar method to energize his own surprisingly devoted followers. It may not be religion per se but, like religion it plays to the same kind of visceral fears and resentments as those driving young, male jihadists. And like the OT approach, aggression is seen as the correct approach.

      Younger white working-class males miss the old times when their parents could find good-paying jobs and financial security. They not only miss it, they’re scared. Hence the effectiveness of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. I found an extremely well-written column online this morning (from a surprising source) that makes this case convincingly. I think you and the other readers would find it interesting too.

      Thanks for stopping by, Herb. I always appreciate your insights.

      Jim

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    • List of X says:

      “Now, as we know, the God of the old testament was a mean SOB. If you didn’t follow “his” orders, as interpreted by the clergy of course, you would die a horrible death or some such. God was the ultimate tyrant. Jesus, on the other hand, provided a kind of counterpoint to his “dad” with all his love your neighbor as yourself, don’t judge others, the golden rule, etc.”
      In other words, God and Jesus invented the good cop/bad cop routine… 🙂

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  6. I got 10 out of 14. I was surprised at the ones I got wrong and surprised at how many I got right. Not a great deal of guessing involved, I have spent some amount of time studying both.

    Formal religion has been at the center of so much of what is wrong historically and today. It has been the center of much of what is right as well, I think we forget sometimes that faith and religion is what has civilized us right along side of all the terrible. It is religion in itself that is terrible, it is the corruption of religion, it is the inherent need to be on top, the Alpha that makes religion terrible.

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  7. Jim Wheeler says:

    You said,

    . . . I think we forget sometimes that faith and religion is what has civilized us right along side of all the terrible.

    Most people would agree with this, but some would not. Humanists for example. Anthropologists and sociologists generally maintain that human beings are cooperative and altruistic by nature, but only in the context of tribal-sized groupings. The trouble comes with larger populations because of the invention of agriculture and the concept of property. Offhand, I can’t think of an example of a non-religious society that interacts differently from a religious one.

    Thanks for joining the conversation, Val. I appreciate your views.

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  8. Score:6/14 What an embarrassment. I also confess that the ones I got right (all except No. 10) were based on guesses. Even though I’m a humanist (or maybe non-theist, or maybe pagan is closer since I revere nothing more than nature) it’s still important for educated people to know the texts that inform their society, so I hang my head in shame but will probably never read either scripture. You have some very interesting and thoughtful comments here from your followers.

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    • I occurs to me I might better have said “the followers of your blog” since I didn’t mean to imply a sect of Wheelerism! 🙂

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      • Jim Wheeler says:

        Aw, no need for embarrassment here. This is of course rote knowledge of arcane stuff. Sometimes I wonder whether the brain can get so full of trivia that it crowds out rational thinking! That could explain a lot, eh?

        As for Wheelerism, if all my followers were to come to a riot, I think there would be about two torches and a pitchfork. 😆

        Be well, and Merry Christmas, Helen.

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  9. PiedType says:

    I, too, only managed 6/14. It was having to know particular books of the Bible that threw me. I haven’t studied those since childhood Sunday School.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Ah yes, Sunday school. I recall even as a teen-ager trying to make sense of the bible, starting with the assumption that the adult world must have figured out the meaning of life and if I only persevered I could finally understand it. After all, the book was universally touted in my world as the ultimate answer. The youthful mind lacks the experience and education for a comprehensive view of the matter and it’s comfortable to stop questioning in adulthood.

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      • PiedType says:

        I’d already concluded in my teenage years that the Bible was at odds with my science classes … and only the science made sense. Virgin birth? Rising from the dead? An all-knowing person somehow living among the planets and stars? Basically I was told two stories about the world — the biblical and the scientific. I believed the scientific.

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  10. I may have posted this here before, so I apologize for the repetition, but it seems apropos to this discussion. I developed the following warning label for the bible some years ago in response to the general claim that the bible is inerrant and “god loves you.”

    “WARNING:

    “The contents of this book should be considered more as myth than history, more as wishful thinking than reason, more as escapism than inspiration, more as immoral than moral, and more as fantasy than science. The reader should take note likewise that there are numerous errors, contradictions, inconsistencies, and fallacies throughout this book.

    “Due to the graphic descriptions of atrocities, violence, torture, rape, child abuse, cruelty, misogyny, barbarism, murder, infanticide, genocide, and crimes against humanity, and due to the portrayal of the God character herein as a cruel, vindictive, paranoid, narcissistic, irrational, controlling, bigoted, irresponsible, and dictatorial tyrant, parental guidance is highly recommended.”

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  11. Jim Wheeler says:

    Well, when you put it that way . . . Ouch!

    A couple of other things always bothered me about Christian theology. One, the command to confess my sins when I hadn’t done anything wrong, and two, the practice of thanking the deity for all things good, including food, while not blaming him, it, her (?) for destructive acts of nature, e.g. floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning bolts, famines, and birth defects. Seems like it ought to be obvious that this stuff happens independently of any individual’s behavior. Or did I miss something?

    Thanks for this interesting Warning, Herb. I’ll be on my guard.

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  12. List of X says:

    I didn’t even attempt the test because I don’t know the texts well enough to make my results any more accurate than guesswork. But I know that there are passages in the Bible that demand cruelty and passages that ask for kindness – and the same is true for the Quran. And, unfortunately, THAT is the problem. With so much inconsistency, neither book can be fully followed, and it gives the choice to followers on which rules they follow: if they want to love their neighbors, that’s in the Bible. If they want to stone gays, the justification is in the Bible. If they want to behead the infidels, that’s in the Quran. If they want to live in peace with Jews and Christians, that’s also in the Quran. And whatever Christians or Muslims want to do, it’s all justified by their holy books – it’s either right there in the text, or can be deduced with some moderately difficult bending and twisting of the holy text.
    So yes, ISIS might be picking and choosing the most violent passages, but they are reading the same Quran as the rest of the Muslims. And because to a large majority of Muslims the Quran is the literal word of God, and these violent passages are a part of it, it will be extremely difficult to eradicate ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, Taliban, LET, Al Nusra, HAMAS, and so on.
    Today’s Christians seem to have learned to live with a less literal interpretation of the Bible, or just accepted the Enlightenment values, and I’m hoping that Islam can go through the same transformation.

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    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Gee, X, you could have just said “amen” and delivered the same message. 😆 But, seriously, you emphasize an important point. God, a.k.a. Allah, apparently invented not only good cop, bad cop, but also discourse cherry-picking. Otherwise, He would have done a better job of laying out the guidance.

      As for your hope that Muslims will drift toward a kinder, gentler mode of cherry-picking, I join you in hope but am not optimistic about it. Income disparity is the engine of hate and digital communication is just making it rankle more in the world.

      Thanks for visiting.

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      • List of X says:

        I am not optimistic about it either. I give it 200 years.
        As for income disparity, it does fuel the violence, but the religion is pretty much the only thing that justifies violence and even turns it into a holy duty. So you can eradicate poverty, but that’s going to stop only a small portion of religious violence.

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        • Jim Wheeler says:

          Maybe so, but I’m not so sure. I regularly read that it is hopelessness and the lack of a future that make so many young people amenable to martyrdom. That would apply not only overseas but to the couple hundred or so U.S. citizens who’ve joined ISIL. But we agree on the other thing – we won’t see any resolution in our lifetimes.

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