As a Christian, you might expect me to say that I believe that the Bible is the greatest book in the history of the world. The doctrines taught in the Bible have, arguably, led to more philanthropy, selfless action and other beneficial things such as schools, hospitals, etc. than any other book, religion, worldview or ideal.
Many critics of Christianity might also point out the number of people who have died as a result of the doctrines people have learned from the Bible. While such things contribute absolutely nothing to the truth value of scripture, it is a glaring enough problem, from an emotional standpoint, that it would seem that the Bible is also the most dangerous book in the history of the world.
Recently, I’ve been listening to some old episodes of the radio show Unbelievable. This is a weekly show that allows Christians and non-Christians to have friendly discussion regarding their points of view on various topics and world view issues. Often, there are atheists on the program and I’ve been finding a very similar line of thinking while listening to a number of them.
One thing that seems to be consistently brought up is the pain and suffering in the world, throughout history, that is attributed to religion. Regardless of whether or not one points out facts such as how many more millions of people suffered and died in the name of anti-religious, secularism their view of Christianity is unaltered. It’s one of those “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with facts” kinds of things.
What I find interesting is that, as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are continually brought up in these conversations, their stance is, like Hitchens, that religion “poisons everything.” Even when they give ascent to the fact of how much good is done in the name of religion, and Christianity in particular, they always end the comments with something like, “but, a great deal of evil is done by them, as well.”
Now, let’s take a moment to use one of Greg Koukl’s Tactics. In this case, we’re going to use the tactic called “Taking the Roof Off.” This is where we apply the logic being used by those opposed to our position to show how, if applied consistently, it doesn’t really hold water.
The logic involved here seems to be that the Bible (or religion in general) causes people to do bad things. These things could be anything from physical abuse of children for not saying prayers or reading their Bibles or castigating a particular social or cultural group of people or refusing to associate with people who hold a worldview with which someone may disagree.
If we apply this same logic to another area, I’m not sure that those who try to use that argument would agree with the conclusion. For example, a number of teenage boys will often suffer mental, emotional or even physical abuse from their parents (usually the father) if they fail to perform well in certain sports or academics. So, in the example of high-school football, many students have fathers who will straight up abuse their teenage son if he fails to do well in football. Should we, then, conclude that high-school football is evil and should be done away with?
The fact is, people abuse good things. They take something that was intended for good and use it in a way that causes pain and/or suffering. This is the case with guns. This is the case with technology. This is the case with lots of things. And, it is also the case with the Bible.
If you simply pick and choose the passages you want to pull out of the text, you can use the Bible to justify pretty much any action or behavior you want. But, by doing so, you’d often be taking the words out of context. Both the literary context (the meaning based on the idea the writer is expressing), the biblical context (the meaning based on the entire work of scripture), the social context (what did this mean to the people to whom or by whom the text was written), the historical context (what was the prevailing understanding of the world by people at that time and in that place) to name a few.
For example, many people have credited the Bible with condoning (even commanding) the practice of slavery. If you take a passage or two from the Old Testament, you might think this is the case. But, when taking all the factors into consideration, one realizes several things about this accusation that really don’t stand up to scrutiny. The same is true with regards to issues such as the treatment of women.
What it comes down to is this…I truly believe that the Bible is the greatest book in the history of the world when it is understood correctly. I also believe that the Bible is the most dangerous book in the world when its text is taken out of linguistic, literary, biblical, social, historical and/or cultural context.
We have to take all these things into consideration. What style of writing is it? Is it a historical record? Poetry? Proverbs? Prophecy? When was it written? To whom was it written? By whom was it written? What does the rest of scripture say about it? How would the culture or society at the time of the writing understand it? Is the text simply reporting what was or is it actually commanding that it be so? All these questions, and more, should be asked when trying to determine if a given behavior or action has a “biblical” justification.
What are some ways you’ve heard about someone misusing the Bible to justify something that they should not have been doing?
Grace, love and peace.