Picking & Choosing from the Bible (Part 1)

Ask any atheist what their biggest complaint is regarding “moderate” or “casual” Christians, and I can pretty much guarantee the answer you’ll get:

“They feel like they can pick and choose what they want to believe. They accept some parts of the Bible and reject others, just depending on whatever suits them”.

Which is true, of course. There is absolutely nothing in that statement that I disagree with. But there are a couple of reasons you will never, ever find me criticizing Christians in this way.

The first is that even though the statement is technically true, it completely misplaces the blame. The problem is not with the believers who “pick and choose”; the problem is with a holy book which is so convoluted, so ambiguous, and so internally-contradictory, it’s simply impossible not to pick and choose which tenets to believe and which orders to obey.

Is it good or bad to be wealthy? Should you judge others or judge not? Are you supposed to honor your parents, or hate them and turn against them? Is salvation achieved by faith alone, or is faith without works dead?

When the Bible simultaneously teaches mutually contradictory concepts on fundamental issues of belief, what is a believer to do other than “pick and choose”?

Yet implicit in such criticism of “moderate” Christians is the unspoken assumption that they could somehow believe differently, and somehow find a way to believe in ALL of the Bible with 100% conviction. Yet not only is such an assumption incorrect, any attempt to criticize Christians in such a way actually gives the Bible itself FAR more credit than it deserves.


5 thoughts on “Picking & Choosing from the Bible (Part 1)

  1. I suggest the “Picking and choosing” argument is intended to bring home just how it is impossible it is not to. This counters the “perfect bible” argument.

    • “I suggest the “Picking and choosing” argument is intended to bring home just how it is impossible it is not to. This counters the “perfect bible” argument.”

      Personally I can’t say that I’ve ever heard it used that way. In the overwhelming majority of cases, I hear it used in reference to morally abhorrent biblical teachings, or simply ridiculously trivial teachings that are universally ignored (mixed fabrics, eating shrimp, etc) while others are accepted as forbidden (homosexuality).

      In any case, if the intent is to point out the contradictory nature of the Bible, there’s no need to use the “picking and choosing” argument, since you can go directly to referencing the contradictions themselves and avoid the problem entirely.

  2. I disagree with this page. If you pick and choose from the bible then you can no longer claim that that you follow it as the word of God. The Bible contradicts itself, you say? Well boo hoo. That just reduces its credibility even further.

    “Also, do we really want to imply that absolute fundamentalism is the more admirable position, simply because it happens to be more logically consistent?”

    Yes. Being a moderate christian is the most slimey position you can take. You are basically endorsing fundamentalism while absolving yourself of all responsibility. You’re saying “well, *I’m* not like that!” If being a christian gives you a free pass to believe or not believe whatever you want, to set your own morals as you see fit, and associate or not associate with other christians as you see fit, then the technically correct term to describe you is atheist.

    • Hello Ben,

      “If you pick and choose from the bible then you can no longer claim that that you follow it as the word of God.”

      The perfect and literal “word of God” no. But there are plenty of Christians (really, the vast majority around the world) who consider the Bible to be “inspired” by God, but written by men. Really, strict Biblical inerrancy is almost exclusively an American (and pretty modern) phenomenon.

      As for “moderate” Christianity, sure it may be slimy. On the other hand, extreme literal fundamentalism is about the most morally abhorrent religious position one can possibly take, which is why I’ll take slimy (or any other possible theological position) over that any day.

      Also, perhaps my main issue with using the “picking and choosing” argument (which perhaps I should have made more clear in my post) is that it’s essentially a zero-sum argument. It’s essentially saying, “Your position is logically flawed; either pick extreme fundamentalism or reject it entirely”.

      And with no assurance that the latter is more likely than the former, it could just as easily backfire as an implicit endorsement of fundamentalism instead of a criticism of Christianity in general.

      And given the fact that there are countless arguments against Christianity/religion which are *not* zero-sum arguments, I just don’t see the “picking and choosing” argument as being productive if the intent is to influence someone’s beliefs/behavior in a positive way, particularly when so many better arguments exist.

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