The Baby and the Bathwater

When I first left the church (about 20 years ago), I kind of assumed that the experiences of people who left the church were pretty much like mine. Or, more precisely, I didn’t really have any idea of how other people’s experiences might differ, and — before discovering the online exmo community (about 10 years ago) — I didn’t have any way to connect with other exmos and find out what their experiences were like.

Discovering the incredible range and diversity of mo/exmo experiences has been a joy — a never-ending fountain for my curiosity about the human condition — that holds my interest lo these decades after I should have long ago started “leaving the church alone” (according to the conventional wisdom).

Even before rediscovering my online fellows, I had grasped that religion is tied to a number of different (otherwise unrelated) aspects of life:

  • Traditions
  • Rituals
  • A long-term communiy network
  • An opportunity for leadership
  • An opportunity for service (that others will appreciate)
  • A sense of purpose (+ a set of rules to follow)
  • An identity
  • Answers to the “big questions”
  • A source of comfort in the face of the unknown
  • A framework for understanding altered states of consciousness and for interpreting one’s natural sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of nature
  • probably a bunch of other stuff I haven’t thought of. 😀

Personally, when I was an active participant in the CoJCoL-dS, I loved the theatrical productions! I loved the road shows, and playing “Emily” in a Stake production of “Saturday’s Warrior” in 1979 when I was 7 years old was probably the high point of my entire Mormon experience. I loved the fact that it was possible to organize these sorts of amateur productions and expect to generate an audience simply because, hey, we’re a community and we do stuff together.

I also loved being part of this “peculiar” out-of-the-mainstream current in American History.

On the other hand, I hated the petty, arbitrary rules, divorced from their real-world consequences, I hated the “lessons” where there was hardly even a pretense of actual information transfer, and I hated, hated, hated the emphasis on conformity and the way the conventional “worldly” popularity ladder was doubly (perhaps quadruply) re-enforced by Mormon culture. Coming from something of an Asperger family, I think my Mormon experience was best portrayed by Rudolph and Hermy in that one Christmas special:

Hermy: Just fixing these dolls’ teeth…
Hermy’s boss: What? Listen, we have dolls that talk, walk, blink, and run a temperature — we don’t need any chewing dolls!
Hermy: I just thought I’d found a way to… to fit in.
Hermy’s boss: You’ll never fit in!! * slam! *

But, upon reflection, it is obvious that the whole thing would look very different for those for whom “fitting in” was never a challenge. Such folks would logically have an entirely different set of reasons for leaving, and, no doubt, an entirely different set of fond memories that make them sad to leave. The combinations of which parts of Mormonism one might love (and respectively hate) are almost endless.

If you go to any randomly-chosen congregation of the CoJCoL-dS, there’s probably someone sitting in one of those pews thinking: “Heavenly Father wants me to be here at church and I am demonstrating my faithfulness to Him by sitting through this and making my best effort to pay attention and try to convince myself that I am learning something new (or, failing that, at least trying to not fall asleep),” — as I was thinking every Sunday, back when I was a true-believing Mormon teen. Someone else in that same congregation is probably sincerely thinking “I fell such joy and peace here, surrounded by the saints, singing with them, sharing their spirit. This is the high point of my week.” Both of these reactions are normal and common (as are many others).

But what happens when those two people have a “faith crisis” (as it is called), that is: a change of belief. What happens when they get the picture that the CoJCoL-dS isn’t what they thought it was?

Most likely they will react very differently because they value different parts of the Mormon experience. And very often they will begin to judge each other — wrongly, unfairly — because they don’t understand each other’s perspective.

Person A will likely be saying: “Woo-hoo!! I am so. outta. here!!!”

Person B will perhaps say: “I will re-interpret my faith and find a more nuanced set of beliefs so that I can continue to stay LDS and continue to feel the joy that I feel here.”

Then person A may ask person B: “Why are you living a lie?” Especially if person B is in a marginalized group (woman, gay, intellectual, poor). “Why are you torturing yourself here when you could be free?!”

Person B judges back: “Your thinking is too limited and black-and-white. You were unable to trade in your literal belief for a nuanced belief like mine, and that’s why you threw out the baby with the bathwater.”

I contend that neither person’s choice is necessarily wrong, but that both judgments are wrong.

People who leave the CoJCoL-dS (and or God-belief) aren’t throwing out the baby with the bathwater. They simply have a legitimate difference of opinion about which part was the baby and which part was the bathwater.

I’ve already said most or all of this before, but I wanted to explain my point of view in one simple article to have something to point to when I see these “Grayer Than Thou” essays, like the recent interview with my brother. I agree with John that modern ideas about the discipline of History have colored people’s expectations about how literally true the Bible should be. But, ultimately, that isn’t the reason I rejected it, and I doubt it’s the reason for most atheists. Even if the Bible were literally accurate as a secular history, that wouldn’t justify treating it as Holy writ or as wise stories (literal, symbolic, or otherwise). I’ll respect it as wise if it’s wise. I’ll treat it as good advice if it’s good advice. OTOH, given that it’s an ancient work that isn’t even as wise as some much earlier ancient works, I’m not going to revere it and treat it as though it were somehow magically relevant to my life. Period.

I get that the whole “It was never meant to be taken literally!” argument is very comforting to people who cherish the Bible. But, please don’t turn that around and use it as a barb to poke at those who don’t see the Bible’s relevance as justified, as though we are somehow limited and unable to imagine that the Bible could be “symbolic” instead of “literal.” We don’t all have to have the same faith journey! Our differences are beautiful! 😀

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chanson

C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

29 thoughts on “The Baby and the Bathwater

  1. “Your thinking is too limited and black-and-white. You were unable to trade in your literal belief for a nuanced belief like mine, and that’s why you threw out the baby with the bathwater.”

    This makes me think about a particular review of my novel by a gay Mormon who we both know. He argued that because the ex-Mormon gay character is the one who suggests to the gay Mormon character arguments of how to be “gay and Mormon,” the arguments thus

    come across as disingenuous, presented…by a character who never seriously considers embracing Mormonism. They would have a completely different resonance had they been presented by Brendan, the character who ultimately commits to Mormonism. But Brendan is presented as incapable of asking these kinds of questions.

    This is a kind of “Grayer Than Thou” standpoint, I think, where a problem in the Church is believed to only be solvable with a perceived ideal amount of insiderness, when really, Mormons ought to be more open to the amount of useful thinking that comes from outside the Church. I mean, I get that the goal of fixing a problem in the Church means that you have characters with viewpoints that are ultimately inside, but personally I think that there’s more to be said about a sustained relationship/dialogue between “inside” and “outside” than an expectation for people to embody a perfect shade of grey for the sake of the Church.

  2. But, please don’t turn that around and use it as a barb to poke at those who don’t see the Bible’s relevance as justified, as though we are somehow limited and unable to imagine that the Bible could be “symbolic” instead of “literal.”

    Yes! I have several degrees in literature; i devoted my life to the study of it in part because I believe in the power of stories and myth to do all sorts of things, even (especially?) when they’re fiction. But that doesn’t mean I have to like all stories and myths equally or be moved by all of them or find them all equally uplifting and valuable. In the same way that I get to hate Milan Kundera and William Faulkner and Henry James and Emily Bronte and Stephenie Meyer and love Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens and Tim O’Brien and Oscar Wilde, I get to find Christianity and the whole “you are redeemed through the torture and execution of the son of god” thing repellent and gross. To me, that’s not just the bathwater, that’s the nasty turd floating in the water that necessitates hauling the baby out and drying it off a bit early. You can’t get rid of it soon enough.

    I’m willing to believe in some sort of vague godlike thingy somewhere in the universe, manifesting some sort of godlike power (and, quite frankly, godlike indifference to everything that is not god–which I guess is nothing, since supposedly everything is god, but whatever), but I seriously do not want to be christian. At all. I think it’s gross. I’m not going to interfere with anyone else’s ability or right to embrace christianity as fully as possible, but I’m also not going to feel the least bit sorry or sad or deprived that I let it go.

  3. @1 Very interesting that the same point or argument is credible coming from a believer but not from a non-believer. (I wonder if it matters whether the author who wrote the believer character is a believer or not.)

    This is why I feel bad picking on John here — he’s under the same pressure to provide believer credentials if he wants religious people to listen to him.

    @2
    I believe in the power of stories and myth to do all sorts of things, even (especially?) when they’re fiction.

    Exactly! Sometimes having to believe a story is true ruins it. Which is, of course, a big part of John’s argument. My point of disagreement is in his erroneously assuming the converse. Just because someone doesn’t find a given story uplifting and valuable, that doesn’t mean it was the having-to-believe-it’s-true that ruined it…

  4. I have spent part of the evening looking up verses in the Doctrine and Covenants. To elaborate on @2, and to add to @3: some stories are just soul-killing, in just about every way possible. Lapsed Mormons talk often enough about what caused the first serious cracks in their faith. One major factor for me was taking seminary as a freshman in high school and committing to read the D&C. I actually read the damn thing twice as a freshman, and at least four or five times (maybe more–I honestly lost count) in my later teens and 20s. I was only 13 when I started it, but I could tell that it was just so BADLY written, on every possible level: bad sentences, bad organization, bad logic, bad overall doctrines. I read it now and wonder, how the hell did I hang on another 12 FREAKING YEARS? I must have been pretty damn committed and invested to retain any faith at all in the face of that nonsense.

  5. @4 so true.

    If you listen to the second podcast, it becomes clear that John has some good goals:
    (1) To argue that believers can and should criticize (and reject) the bad parts of the scriptures, and
    (2) To justify revering the recent CoC D&C chapters (many of which show real moral leadership) as holy writ.
    In order to argue those points, he obviously has to affirm a belief that the “standard works” (the Bible, BoM, D&C, and PoGP) are holy writ.

    Personally, however, I prefer the simpler solution of simply rejecting the claim that these works are holy. There are good bits, but they are outweighed by the bad. And, on principle, I think it is problematic to fetishize particular texts. I would rather encourage people to weigh various ideas and texts on their merits.

    (Note: I don’t mean this whole discussion to be a response to John. It’s just that he makes a very intelligent and compelling case for why one might stay LDS, so I’d rather respond to what he said in the podcast rather than try to respond to my own invented “grayer-than-thou” straw-man.)

  6. In Varieties of Religious Experience, William James states, “a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of their fate.”

    I’m willing to accept that. By that definition, for instance, de Profundis, one of my favorite things Oscar Wilde ever wrote, is a revelation.

    But by that definition, Mormon “scripture” is NOT revelation. It is not a “true record,” nor does it deal with “the inner experiences of great souled-persons.” The BOM is a novel, and the D&C is mostly just instructions, and they’re both made up.

    I realize that others can and have devised other criteria by which LDS scripture are revelations, and that’s my point: the fact that people dismiss LDS scripture as irrelevant at best or downright detrimental at worst is in no way a sign that they do not understand the value of wise writing or the function of a canon.

  7. I really recommend this article from Sunstone 18 years ago, “Teaching Confessions to Saints: A Non-LDS Professor and her LDS Students,” written by Linda Rugg, who taught a course on “the admittedly esoteric topic of Scandinavian autobiography” at BYU. The reading assignments included essays by Michel Foucault, Paul de Man and Philippe Lejeune, arguing various positions about the role of the author and the nature of autobiography. Rugg writes,

    I had not reckoned the impact of such ideas in a community where testimony is of central importance…. What fascinated and excited me as a teacher was the stake my students had in these ideas. It was not simply an academic question, as it had been in classes I had taught at OSU, of understanding difficult theories. The BYU students were quick to understand precisely because they had to take a position regarding testimony, selfhood, and authorship. What if, one of my students asked, we say that Joseph Smith is an author function? Because Joseph Smith is understood to be a prophet, an individual chosen by God to reveal truth, is it not important that we understand his texts as written by his hand? Would it make a difference if we discovered that some of the texts ascribed to Joseph Smith were produced by another person, not a prophet? Are the texts received as prophetic because a prophet writes or speaks them, or is an individual prophetic on the basis of his or her texts? What about the issue of truth value?

    I would say that in Mormonism, the answer to the bolded questions is generally YES to the former and “it depends” to the second.

    And that’s frankly a problem for me. I don’t think everything a poet writes is poetry; I don’t think everything a prophet says should be prophecy.

  8. Are the texts received as prophetic because a prophet writes or speaks them

    This is kind of what I was getting at when speaking of fetishizing a text @5. I don’t have a problem with valuing a text that speaks deeply to you obviously, nor with a culture holding a set of great works in common.

    What I don’t care for is having a text that can’t be analyzed and treated like other texts because of its claimed provenance and holiness. A text where — regardless of what’s actually in it — the contents are considered profound, almost magically so, and assumed to be a priori on a plane far above human-produced works that merely “record the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of their fate” or some other such human endeavor. 😉

  9. What I don’t care for is having a text that can’t be analyzed and treated like other texts because of its claimed provenance and holiness. A text where — regardless of what’s actually in it — the contents are considered profound, almost magically so, and assumed to be a priori on a plane far above human-produced works that merely “record the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of their fate” or some other such human endeavor.

    Yes! I have been thinking about how MISERABLE I would be if I were born into a religion that revered the Twilight series as God’s own truth and held it up as a template for all human interactions.

    And that’s one thing about a lit degree: I actually took a secular bible as lit course, where we discussed authorship and translation and influence. We treated it exactly like any other text. It held up as story and as myth and as poetry (except the super boring bits like Leviticus), and there were even some genuine insights into suffering and human nature, as in Job or Ecclesiastes.

    But as a way to understand god or to know anything about the supernatural? Nuh-uh. Didn’t work.

  10. I actually took a secular bible as lit course, where we discussed authorship and translation and influence. We treated it exactly like any other text. It held up as story and as myth and as poetry (except the super boring bits like Leviticus), and there were even some genuine insights into suffering and human nature, as in Job or Ecclesiastes.

    I took a “Classical Literature” course in High School that was one quarter of Homer and one quarter of “Bible as Literature.” I was still (mostly) a believer at the time, and yet I still found it very cool (even trippy!) to analyze it as an ordinary ancient text, like the Odyssey.

    We’re currently studying the Epic of Gilgamesh at my house as a family Summer reading. It is so fascinating! It is a surprisingly relatable and wise story, considering that it is perhaps the oldest literature we have access to (and because of our cultural assumption that such an old culture should be barbaric).

    Additionally, it’s so amazing to learn how — within the past couple of centuries — people have rediscovered the writings of this culture that is so much older than all of the history and literature that has been traditionally known! To learn that lots of cultural innovations that we’ve traditionally ascribed to the Greeks or the Hebrews are actually significantly older. Note that the Sumerian culture isn’t some isolate — it directly influenced the Semitic and Indo-European cultures of the area, including the writers of the Bible.

    This is part of why I think it’s such a shame to treat the Bible as some sort of exceptional, magical text. If it were viewed as simply an important ancient text (like Homer’s work), it would be thrilling to see how the Bible was influenced and inspired by the culture of Babylon, and to see Babylon’s corresponding cultural heritage from Sumer. As it is, most of our culture sees this most ancient of ancient history as (at best) irrelevant, and at worst threatening (to see the antecedents of this supposedly divine work). So this wonderland remains in the realm of obscure academic study….

  11. I have been thinking about how MISERABLE I would be if I were born into a religion that revered the Twilight series as God’s own truth and held it up as a template for all human interactions.

    lol. literally. Great insight! 😉

  12. If the Bible were treated as a non-magical text, then the gnostic gospels would be given as much consideration as the Bible proper and concepts like “female ordination” would be no-brainers.

    This is a big admission, but I honestly can’t recall a single Book of Mormon story (left the Church when I was 15). I figure it’s because it’s not a memorable text, and a lot of work has to go into making it memorable — and perhaps my ward just wasn’t in the business of making the stories kid-friendly. On the other hand, books that I read as a teenager that I’ll never forget include Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha and Richard Adam’s Watership Down whose spiritual themes affected me a lot. Nowadays, the only thing I’m left with is a vague understanding of ideas in the Book of Mormon: like the Fall as “neutral” instead of “bad,” God’s pronouncement of American exceptionalism (ughhhh), etc — which are less “mythological” the way Joseph Campbell talks about myth, and more… I don’t know… like a 19th century guy taking bits and pieces from here and there. I’m still convinced that a big reason “sharing one’s testimony” exists in Mormonism is to ritually inundate oneself into mediocre myth, because true myth doesn’t require so much work on the part of the believer.

  13. I honestly can’t recall a single Book of Mormon story.

    I read the damn thing a dozen times and I still struggle to remember its stories. I remember bits of plot, like Alma chopping off the arms of the Lamanites, or Samuel the Lamanite standing on the wall (though that’s mostly thanks to the Friberg illustration). But the characters are all so one-dimensional that there’s nothing to grasp onto in terms of trying to differentiate and remember them. All the good guys blend into one good guy, and all the bad guys blend into one bad guy, and none of them are especially interesting. They’re all just Joseph Smith’s sock puppets.

    And the thing is, even if you can read the bible and say, “Oh, it was never meant to be taken literally!” you really can’t do that with the BOM. Joseph Smith did want people to take it literally. He tried to pass it off as history. And it SUCKS, both as history and as literature. I agree with Alan that Mormons do all this work to convince themselves that this text is special, when it so manifestly is NOT.

    I really liked Parker Blount’s piece in the December 2012 issue of Sunstone on “Ancient Fairy Tales Written for Our Generation.” The claim that JS had to be some sort of genius to have written the BOM falls apart when you realize that its stories are just boilerplate folk or fairy tales, and not especially good ones at that. Giving the BOM some special status is like deciding that the three little pigs, Jack and the beanstalk and Sleeping Beauty should serve as the basis for how we live our lives today. Why would anyone do impose such silly limitations on themselves?

  14. What? That wasn’t Alma, lol. And don’t you guys remember Korihor, or Nephi cutting off the head of Laban (and all that murmuring that made the Liahona not work), and the finger of God lighting up the rocks for the Jaredite submarines? And Alma-the-Younger’s coma and the Gadianton robbers, and that crazy Lord of the Vineyard?

    I could go on… but I agree, it’s not that interesting a novel. I like Elder Cunningham’s take on it: “You mean the Bible’s a trilogy, and the Book of Mormon is Return of the Jedi?”

    I really liked Parker Blount’s piece as well. (It was the same as his presentation as Sunstone, right?)

  15. That wasn’t Alma, lol.

    Oh. You’re right: that’s Ammon. But that pretty much proves my point: they’re all interchangeable, with no distinguishing features.

    I remember that there was a band of people called the Gadianton Robbers (great band name!) but I can’t remember what they did. I don’t remember anything about the Lord of the Vineyard or Alma-the-younger’s coma.

    And I actually have a freakishly good memory. It’s one of the traits that people who know me well remark on.

    Yeah, I remember Nephi and Laban, but that’s probably because it’s the only really decent story in the whole thing, so it gets told a lot, and it’s at the beginning, so everyone reads it when they start the BOM and never get to Ammon. I finished the BOM at least a dozen times; I must have started and abandoned it a dozen more.

    I remember Korihor most because of how stupid I found it, even as an adolescent. Some guy claims that there is no supreme, benevolent supernatural being in the universe, no afterlife or other world–because a very powerful supernatural being from another realm appears to him and tells him that there are no supernatural beings or other realms. Even as he is being fed this ridiculous contradiction, Korihor knows this supposedly wise, trustworthy supernatural being is actually a not-quite-supreme, malevolent supernatural being hoping to enslave his soul for eternity, but K decides to let himself be fooled, because…. Just because.

    None of it makes any sense. I can’t even respect it, and people want me to revere it? It can’t be done.

  16. @15 So true about Korihor. I remember discussing in seminary the contrast between the story of Korihor and that of Alma the Younger (he wasn’t actually in a coma, but I think had some sort of supernatural incapacitation that led to his conversion to the true gospel). So the question was: Why did Korihor get run over by a chariot for leading people astray whereas the son of the prophet got a special conversion experience from God for similar crimes?

    That’s the thing about treating the book as holy writ — people are obligated to try to find some profound wisdom in stories like these because (on principle) it must be there…

  17. My parents had the kids scripture story books from deseret book. We would read them in sacrement mtg. (often). So I remember the Abinidi story, Alma the younger, etc. but mostly bc of the associated comics/drawings. We also had a D&C book complete with drawings of Emma scrubbing the floors after meetings and talking to Joseph. Joseph being married to other women was not included, for the record.

  18. Chanson,

    1. I am NOT arguing with atheists that they ought not to reject the Bible. I have no problem with atheists rejecting the Bible (and, as often as not, being Biblically illiterate). Please reject the Bible. Why should I care? But I do think it’s sad when atheists empower fundamentalists by agreeing with them that their black-and-white view of religion is the only real way a religion can be and their absurd literalistic view of the Bible is the only legitimate way to view the Bible. Yes, please do reject the Bible; but in rejecting the Bible, don’t empower fundamentalism.

    2. I would never argue that a person should come up with a nuanced way of understanding faith that allows them to accommodate themselves within the LDS Church. Many of my liberal Mormon friends argue that if they leave the LDS Church, the church will become a worse place. That argument only works if the possibility of reform exists. There is no possibility of reforming the LDS Church. Working within does not further reform; it is merely collaboration with the oppressor. All members with nuanced views should leave immediately.

    3. Although the situation of the LDS Church is black-and-white, its particular conditions make it relatively unique; substantial knowledge of this one particular institution does not allow a person to extrapolate to others. If other institutions are reformable, which is quite a normal characteristic among institutions, the situation I mention in point #2 does not necessarily apply to them. Institutions are actually powerful, useful, things and throwing them away when they are fixable can be akin to throwing out the proverbial baby. There can also be negative consequences (cf. your tendency on occasion to want to throw out the imperfect Democratic party, which empowers the totally unreformable Republican party).

    4. I presume you reject the words “holy writ” — so you really aren’t part of the conversation in defining them. You and I have different philosophies regarding powerful, traditional words. In my opinion, it’s more useful to grab hold and redefine them; you have argued for iconoclastic rejection. That also has effects that are useful, but while rejectionism can allow you to stand on pure ground, it often leaves you without leverage. For example, regarding the definition of “holy writ” — you reject it, so why quibble with my definition? I’m arguing with people who haven’t rejected it so that they will adopt my conception. You’re outside the argument.

    5. “We don’t all have to have the same faith journey! Our differences are beautiful!” Exactly. I don’t have any desire for you to have any faith journey other than the one you’re on. As I see it, your path has included organizing atheists — getting them to “come out” following the successful LGBT social/political model. I think that’s wonderful, important work. Please do that. But it would be more helpful from my perspective if you would do that in such a way as to single out fundamentalist religion as the problem, instead of supporting fundamentalist religion by buying into their definitions and helping them attack rational, progressive theists, who ought to be understood by you to be the allies we are.

  19. But I do think it’s sad when atheists empower fundamentalists by agreeing with them that their black-and-white view of religion is the only real way a religion can be and their absurd literalistic view of the Bible is the only legitimate way to view the Bible.

    My point exactly is that you are misrepresenting atheists’ position by presenting it as black-and-white, equal-and-opposite to the fundamentalists, and focused on the question of whether the Bible is literally true.

    The fact the the Bible is not literally accurate (like a secular history) is almost totally irrelevant. I can’t speak for all atheists, but there are plenty of other answers that rank well above literal inaccuracy when it comes to the question: “Should I consider the Bible to be a good moral guide that is helpful and relevant to my life?”

    2. I can see both sides of this issue. If people feel it is valuable for them to try to work within the CoJCoL-dS o improve it, I won’t try to talk them out of it.

    3. I never said I wanted to throw out all institutions nor that religion has nothing to offer nor that religious institutions aren’t worth reforming. Quite the contrary. While I don’t think that God exists or that the supernatural claims of various religions are true, I think there’s more to religion than that. Many churches do far more good than harm, and I think we would do well to analyze what things that religion does that work for people.

    Reading your third point, honestly, makes me wonder if you read my blog at all, or even if you read this post. Regarding the Dems vs. Republicans, sheesh, it’s like I recommended to you to vote for Nader once (thirteen years ago) and it’s like you haven’t listened to a word I’ve said since…

  20. We’re obviously talking past each other as you’re imagining that I didn’t read what you wrote and I definitely feel that you neither listened to what I actually said in the podcast interview nor my argument written out in the comments above.

    Your assertion that I need to explain to atheists why they “should consider the Bible to be a good moral guide that is helpful and relevant” to their lives, both (1) presupposes a definition of scripture (that is not my definition), and (2) presupposes that atheists are in any way part of my intended audience (when they are not).

  21. @20 Yes and no. I think it was quite obvious from the get-go that atheists are not your intended audience. I never thought they were. My point is that that’s not a justification for spreading inaccurate stereotypes about atheists to your intended audience.

    Anyway, from your response (and Holly’s) it would appear that I was not at all clear about my particular objections to “holy writ”. I will write a post about it as soon as I can scratch up a bit of time. But I have discussion about OSC that I plan to post first. 😉

  22. @21 Sadly, it is not inaccurate to say that many atheists, including celebrity leaders like the late Christopher Hitchens, buy into the fundamentalist claim that the fundamentalist caricature of religion is the real religion. Beginning with that premise, many atheists then proceed to attack that caricature as if it were co-terminus with all religion.

    An even more extreme example within Mormonism would be Jon Krakauer — an atheist author who extrapolated from his study of tiny murder cults in “Under the Banner of Heaven” to argue against all of religion.

    Obviously, since the atheist movement is non-institutional, there’s not much you can do about self-appointed celebrity leaders doing the overall movement a disservice, but that’s where we are.

  23. I am NOT arguing with atheists that they ought not to reject the Bible. I have no problem with atheists rejecting the Bible (and, as often as not, being Biblically illiterate). Please reject the Bible. Why should I care? But I do think it’s sad when atheists empower fundamentalists by agreeing with them that their black-and-white view of religion is the only real way a religion can be and their absurd literalistic view of the Bible is the only legitimate way to view the Bible. Yes, please do reject the Bible; but in rejecting the Bible, don’t empower fundamentalism.

    This comment seems extremely disingenuous, since you go on to explain why you not only SHOULD care but DO have a problem.

    If you shouldn’t care and don’t have a problem when atheists reject the bible, to the extent that you ever so generously give them permission and encouragement to reject it, you really don’t have much to quibble about as far as the manner or results of their rejection.

    Atheists are fighting their own battles. Don’t ask them to fight yours. And don’t act like you’re somehow being magnanimous in giving them permission to pursue their own agenda when you really want them to sign on to yours.

  24. p.s.

    their absurd literalistic view of the Bible is the only legitimate way to view the Bible.

    When atheists reject the bible, they’re saying that fundamentalists’ “their absurd literalistic view of the Bible” is NOT legitimate. That’s one reason they reject it. If atheists thought the fundamentalists’ view of the bible were they only legitimate one, they would share it, wouldn’t they.

    So not only is your statement contradictory as to your own position, but atheists aren’t guilty of the thing you accuse them of.

  25. @23: Actually, you’ve completely missed the argument here. On your most recent blog post, you note with relief the victory Obama achieved over Romney. That’s the fight I’m talking about. In the battle of the US political culture war, fundamentalists are arrayed on the one side of the argument and would love to eliminate the separation of church and state by introducing measures to give state support to Evangelical Christianity. It was not atheists “fighting their own battles” that won that election; it was an alliance with rational, liberal Christians like Barack Obama alongside atheists and other non-fundamentalists.

  26. @24: No. What I’m saying is that while many atheists completely reject the surface content of fundamentalist take on the Bible — (and consequently reject the Bible) — many nevertheless are still hood-winked by the fundamentalist premise that the fundamentalist conception of the Bible is what the Bible is about. Obviously, this is not true for all atheists, but it is true for many celebrity atheist leaders and it’s certainly true for many average, relatively uniformed atheists.

  27. @25: Nope. It’s not so much that I “missed” your “argument”–it’s that I chose not to even bother with points 2-5 because your starting point, #1, is so incoherent. You say you don’t care if others reject the bible–and then you demonstrate just how much you do care.

    If, as you suggest @25, you care about defeating political conservatism and think that a broadly defined atheist rejection of the bible makes that defeat less achievable, you might do well to state that clearly, and perhaps you should state as well that that is one reason why you are troubled and distressed by atheists’ rejection and ignorance of the bible and cannot give them leave to reject it as they see fit.

    It was an alliance with rational, liberal Christians like Barack Obama alongside atheists and other non-fundamentalists.

    Huh. Here I would have said it was an alliance of women, young people, people of color, etc, that elected Obama. But then, I don’t define people primarily by religion. After all, you generally don’t know someone’s religion unless they announce it (which, admittedly, some people do through dress), and it’s one of the easier aspects of identity to change.

    @26: that might be what you wish you had said @18, but it’s certainly not what @18 expresses. Also, so what? Why do atheists need to care about what’s in the bible? For plenty of them, part of the point of atheism is not giving a shit about the bible–or any other religious text. Why do they need to learn it any more than Greek or Norse mythology or the Bhagavad Gita?

    And if you’re going to say that atheists need to understand and value the bible because doing so is politically useful against your political enemies, then say that up front and don’t pretend otherwise. Don’t say you don’t care if atheists reject the bible and are ignorant of its contents when you actually care a great deal, which is what you seem to be demonstrating.

  28. @27: Your argument continues to be incoherent. As you say, you have chosen not to understand what I’m stating and it shows. In fact, contrary to your repeated assertion, I do not care what you think about the Bible, Greek mythology, or the Bhagavad Gita — whether you’re an expert or totally ignorant on any of the subjects.

    You are incorrect about what I’m saying, but it also irrelevant to me that you don’t get it. I was drawn into this thread and the other thread because I was personally called out on them and I decided to answer the complaints of the author (with whom, obviously, I am personally connected) and am interested in talking to.

    I chose to answer you initially because you began your confused post with a personal attack, charging me with disingenuousness (presumably a case of psychological projection), but since I have no interest in convincing you of anything and since my talking seems merely to be feeding your own sense of self-satisfaction, I will withdraw from further dialogue with you, leaving you the last word.

  29. @28: Yep. Nothing proves your indifference to a conversation like a prolonged announcement about how you’re taking your ball and going home.

    As for the claim that saying your comment “seems disingenuous” is some sort of personal attack–really?

    If we’re going to talk about psychological projection, perhaps you just over-reacted here because you had a bee in your bonnet after your sister discussed in another thread ways you had very thoroughly misrepresented your past.

    You really ought to something about your aggrieved sense that disagreement with you is due to willful misunderstanding rather than 1) a close reading of what you actually wrote/said and/or 2) your inadequacy in expressing whatever ideas you happen to hold–particularly since it’s a problem that comes up in the other thread you’re currently commenting on.

    And hey! Thanks EVER SO MUCH for allowing me the last word! It’s just the sort of magnanimity you’d expect from someone who allows others their own view of religious texts.

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