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Meditation 1173
They have not read and nor understood their scripture.

by: John Tyrrell

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Last month there was one of those little religious tempests over an Ohio high school's decision to remove from display a plaque lising the Ten Commandments. Apparently the school authorities made the decision recognizing that someone would almost certainly decide to challenge the display in court, a legal challenge the school would lose. They wisely decided it would be better to spend scarce public funds on educating students than on legal fees in a losing cause.

One student in particular was not happy with the decision and announced he was going on a homework strike until the plaque was again on display in the school. In announcing his decision, he stated that the Ten Commandments were not just a religious symbol, but "but guidelines it would behoove all students to follow."

Guidelines it would behoove all students to follow? My immediate thought on reading that was "This kid has not really read nor has he really understood the Ten Commandments as written in the bible. He's just parroting nonsense taught to him by his parents and /or Church."

Clearly that student did not understand those "guidelines" are more concerned with religious observance and obedience to authority than they are with morality. And it certainly does not "behoove" anyone of a different religious viewpoint to follow them, or to have them thrust before their eyes every time they walk down the school hallway.

And if you really want to put those guidelines in their proper context, Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6 are very clear on who it would "behoove" to follow the commandments: those brought "out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."

I forgot about the story until Newsweek made the popular understanding of the Bible its cover story. I do recommend this lengthy article for reading - do so before it disappears behind a paywall.

The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin by Kurt Eichenwald.

The article opens with:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

This is no longer a matter of personal or private faith. With politicians, social leaders and even some clergy invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don’t understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy.

Those are pretty strong words, and the article goes on to back them up with solid arguments.

And that Biblical illiteracy of which Eichenwald wrote is what results in a young Ohio high school student whose religious beliefs lead him to feel strongly about the Ten Commandments to illogically announce that they are just some kind of guidelines suitable for everyone to follow. The problem is he's not unusual. Among Christian evangelicals, he's the norm.

Deep in the article, the author makes a point about the impact of minor inconsistencies in the gospels.

To illustrate how even seemingly trivial contradictions can have profound consequences, let’s recount the story of Christmas.

Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem. His father, Joseph, had been planning to divorce Mary until he dreamed that she’d conceived a child through the Holy Spirit. No wise men showed up for the birth, and no brilliant star shone overhead. Joseph and his family then fled to Egypt, where they remained for years. Later, they returned to Israel, hoping to live in Judea, but that proved problematic, so they settled in a small town called Nazareth.

Not the version you are familiar with? No angel appearing to Mary? Not born in a manger? No one saying there was no room at the inn? No gold, frankincense or myrrh? Fleeing to Egypt? First living in Nazareth when Jesus was a child, not before he was born?

You may not recognize this version, but it is a story of Jesus’s birth found in the Gospels. Two Gospels—Matthew and Luke—tell the story of when Jesus was born, but in quite different ways. Contradictions abound. In creating the familiar Christmas tale, Christians took a little bit of one story, mixed it with a little bit of the other and ignored all of the contradictions in the two. The version recounted above does the same; it uses parts of those stories from the two Gospels that are usually ignored. So there are two blended versions and two Gospel versions. Take your pick.

Many of us who came to disbelief from a Christian background probably have a reasonable familiarity with a lot of the issues of bible interpretation raised by Eichenwald, and far more familiarity than those "cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed." But in the article-length constraints of magazine reporting, Eichenwald's article is one of the best summaries available.

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