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Christianity, Culture

It IS a Problem with the Texts

Police: Oregon woman used box cutter to circumcise son at home

Keemonta Peterson, 29, of Portland, told police she decided to circumcise her baby at home after reading the Bible. She said she watched some YouTube videos about circumcisions before making the attempt in October, according to The Oregonian.  (LINK)

Yeah, yeah.  Another crazy person taking the Bible a bit too literally.  Are we surprised?  Do we think this is a good argument against Christianity?

Most people would say no, but I say yes.  It is a good argument against Christianity.  I alluded to the problem in my recent post about international women’s rights:

There is a problem with the texts.  Theyare abusive, and in many cases, it takes a high degree of credulity and some pretty creative cherry picking to consider them “pro-human rights” or “pro-women’s rights.”  For a person of conscience to be a Christian or a Muslim and also stand for women’s rights and international human rights, the impetus must come from internal feelings of human empathy.  The scriptures must then be bent to the will of the reader.

Let’s think about things we know.  We know that Biblical literalism is strongly correlated to low education.  That’s kind of a no-brainer.  Anyone with good science education — especially in biology or psychology — will be hard pressed to reconcile the gross errors in the Bible with scientific reality.

We also know that as a country becomes better educated and more affluent, religious influence goes down, both personally and politically.  We can dicker about which is the chicken and which is the egg, but education plus opportunity and resources equals high self reliance and low religiosity.

So what about Keemonta Peterson?  She read the Bible and took it literally.  Babies need to be circumcised.  Presumably, she doesn’t have good healthcare, and couldn’t afford to go to the doctor for the procedure.  But she didn’t want to upset God.  So she got a box cutter and did her best to make God happy.

In a country with high poverty, low literacy, and little to no available healthcare for the poor (That’s America, by the way), it’s exactly what we should see.  Poor, undereducated people shouldn’t be expected to understand the “nuance” of interpreting the Bible as a benevolent treatise on love and humanitarian respect.  On its surface, and at least several layers downward, the Bible is a horrific text filled with atrocity.  Anyone reading it without “proper hermeneutical training” shouldn’t be expected to “interpret” it as a love allegory.

On the other hand, in countries where most everyone is financially stable, well educated, and healthy, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen much.  First, the woman would have had the option of circumcision at the hospital, where her insurance would cover it one way or another.  So the problem is pre-solved.  But in such a country, nearly everyone would be educated enough to know that the Bible has to be taken figuratively if one is to be a decent human.  And once a society has made that jump, it’s just a baby step to taking the whole thing with a grain of salt… which leads to the low religiosity thing I mentioned earlier.

And THAT is why Christianity is awful.  For those ignorant and poor enough to feel like they need to rely on it, we have no reason to expect them to read it non-literally.  For those well off enough to feel like they are self-reliant, it takes only a modicum of humanitarian rationality to discard it as figurative, and place it where it belongs — on the bookshelf next to all the other mythology.

Christianity pulls the poor down and doesn’t enlighten the rich.  It is a solution without a problem.  It offers universal salvation then widens the gap between educated and ignorant.  It enslaves those who most need freedom while being waved aside by those who have help to give.

Any one of us — you, gentle reader, or I, or anyone else with half a conscience — could devise a better religion that would actually encourage people to be good to their neighbors, to care for the poor, and to respect the rights of others.  And if I invented a religion, I can guarantee there wouldn’t be any passages that could justify a poor woman cutting her son’s penis with a box-cutter.

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Discussion

10 thoughts on “It IS a Problem with the Texts

  1. Hamby I would write a response to this, but I don’t think it will go anywhere until we deal with what we left of last, because I know that’s exactly where we’d end up………again.

    Posted by cptpineapple | April 11, 2011, 6:15 pm
  2. Alison, let me make sure I understand the question before I go composing a book chapter. You’d like to know how I can justify my assertion that religious people “genuinely” feel a certain way and believe a certain thing, since I’m relying on my possibly faulty memory of my own subjective experience, and jumping to the conclusion that when other people say they felt that way too, that it’s really comparable?

    Posted by hambydammit | April 12, 2011, 10:45 am
  3. Well, Hamby, you said in the Huckabee post, that you had good replies to my points about your anecdotes and will post them after you got back from the humanist convention.

    But the reason I’m waiting is because they were going to come up anyway and we would have gone full circle.

    I was going to point this out from the article

    been attending mental-health counseling three times a week before she was booked in jail.

    But then I realized that you then would have gone into rant mode about how I couldn’t possibly understand being religious blah blah blah. Which would have gotten me snarky.

    And that’s just the issue isn’t it? That’s why we talk past each other for four years. To my recollection, you use anecdotes for virtually anything about religion. I simply dismiss your anecdotes as credible evidence [but NOT the feelings you experiences] for reasons stated before, and you insist on using them.

    Perhaps I should have restrained myself, and not said anything on this post and let it go, but I know that unless we deal with this we would just continue to talk past each other and I don’t want that happen.

    Posted by cptpineapple | April 12, 2011, 12:47 pm
  4. Well, Hamby, you said in the Huckabee post, that you had good replies to my points about your anecdotes and will post them after you got back from the humanist convention.

    I recall. But between us, it’s quite common for me to spend an hour writing a reply to what I think you’re asking only to find that you were thinking about something completely different. I’d like you to clarify for me so I know I’m answering precisely the right question.

    I was going to point this out from the article

    been attending mental-health counseling three times a week before she was booked in jail.

    I intended for you to point it out, believe it or not. I wrote this whole article with you in mind, and this is a partial answer to the question of anecdote. You pointing out the mental health counseling thing is a nice way to begin the conversation. So I left it for you. 🙂

    Perhaps I should have restrained myself, and not said anything on this post and let it go, but I know that unless we deal with this we would just continue to talk past each other and I don’t want that happen.

    Nah… I expect you to keep saying the same things. One of these days, one of us might find a way to communicate with the other well enough to get to the bottom of this.

    Think on this for a few minutes… or maybe a day or so… and then let’s dig into your issue with anecdotes more deeply: The human sciences are basically collections of anecdotes. Especially in sociology, researchers conduct surveys, which are essentially quantified collections of anecdotes. From large collections of anecdotes, they extract useful information about what people believe and how they act.

    When we’re talking about “people” in a broad sense, we are talking about anecdotes. When we say “Republicans generally believe that cutting government programs is a good idea,” we mean that we have collected thousands of anecdotes, and the majority of them are anecdotes about Republicans believing in spending cuts. The methods for collecting the anecdotes include controls against heresay and other unreliable “gossip,” but at their heart, they’re still anecdotes — stories about people’s experiences and beliefs.

    To speak intelligibly about religious beliefs, we must rely on anecdote. The question is how we will do it. Will we select one story and try to base an entire paradigm on it, or will we carefully collect as many as possible?

    When someone says we are “arguing from anecdote,” they mean we are committing the logical fallacy of assuming that one (or a few) stories are representative of an entire group. And that IS a mistake. But at some point, a hundred, or a thousand anecdotes represents more than a story and a leap of logic. They represent a real phenomenon experienced by a population. Again, it’s about methodology and numbers.

    And that returns me to my original offer. If you simply can’t find any ex-evangelicals to talk to, come to the States. I’ll introduce you to enough for you to do as many scientific surveys as you’d like.

    Posted by hambydammit | April 12, 2011, 1:03 pm
  5. I wrote this whole article with you in mind

    awwww 😛

    As for anecdotes, I think you’re missing some important info.

    I recall. But between us, it’s quite common for me to spend an hour writing a reply to what I think you’re asking only to find that you were thinking about something completely different. I’d like you to clarify for me so I know I’m answering precisely the right question.

    I’m going to try to articulate my issues with the anecdotes more clearly.

    My main issue is anecdotes in the other direction. You can bring up others who were hurt by religion? Ray Comfort can bring up others who were helped by religion. I’m sure he gets thousands of emails from people about how jebus helped them get out of gangs, or stop taking drugs, or whatever.

    I mean have you ever listened that the guy talk? “My life was empty until I found jebus”

    That’s the problem with anecdotes. Everybody has them.

    I can’t say they didn’t feel that way. I can’t say that their lives didn’t improve.

    Science isn’t an army of who can shout the loudest.

    I can’t find a coherent way to reject one and accept the other. This goes in line with your most recent post. Confirmation bias. If the prices didn’t go down, they’d ignore it. If they did it would be because of jebus.

    Second is the methods of data collection. It’s true that surveys are anecdotes, but simple surveys don’t do it.

    You remember that survey about non-religious people you posted? How long was it again? I can’t remember off hand, so I won’t critisize specifics of it, but it asked a lot of questions and for damn good reason. They want to take as many factors on the table of possible.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multivariate_statistics

    Now what do you know from that news article? Not a whole lot. What do we know about her mental health? Not a lot.

    Remember that study I posted? About how it took other factors into account and got different results? Without controlling for coalition, the results looked like religious people were more likely to do nasty things, but with coalition controlled for, they’re not.

    Another thing is selection bias. Would I get reliable data if I go to the atheist convention or on atheist website? Probably not. Because the atheists who DON’T have those feelings or who DIDN’T have those thoughts wouldn’t show up.

    Third is the use of anecdotes. To go with your example of “Republicans generally believe that cutting government programs is a good idea,”

    Does that mean that Republicans will generally support the cut of government program X?

    Not really. That’s applying the general to the specific, which doesn’t always follow.

    That’s the issue with anecdotes. When the subject gets scientific treatment, they often blow up in our faces.

    And that returns me to my original offer. If you simply can’t find any ex-evangelicals to talk to, come to the States. I’ll introduce you to enough for you to do as many scientific surveys as you’d like.

    If I wasn’t working in the summer and going back to school in the fall I would have taken you up on this.

    Posted by cptpineapple | April 12, 2011, 2:58 pm
  6. My main issue is anecdotes in the other direction. You can bring up others who were hurt by religion? Ray Comfort can bring up others who were helped by religion. I’m sure he gets thousands of emails from people about how jebus helped them get out of gangs, or stop taking drugs, or whatever.

    I mean have you ever listened that the guy talk? “My life was empty until I found jebus”

    That’s the problem with anecdotes. Everybody has them.

    Ah. I can understand that concern. And to a degree, it’s valid. I mean, if we added up all the people who say they’ve received a miracle, we’d probably have ample “proof” that miracles happen. But that’s why we have controls and carefully quantify our data, and separate belief from fact. (And that’s what we’ve been talking about… beliefs.)

    And for the record, please recall that I don’t dispute people’s belief that Jebus helped them through the tough times. So I have no problem with the anecdotally overwhelming observation that lots of people believe Jebus helps them. And that’s what we’re talking about here. So when I say lots of people believe that committing one evil to avoid a greater evil (hell) is ok, I’m doing exactly the same thing. And I haven’t yet heard a reasonable argument for why we shouldn’t trust all the people who say they believe (believed) that.

    So yeah… I and the evangelists are doing the same thing. And I think both of us have perfectly valid points, and that overwhelming anecdote is enough proof for both claims.

    I can’t find a coherent way to reject one and accept the other. This goes in line with your most recent post. Confirmation bias. If the prices didn’t go down, they’d ignore it. If they did it would be because of jebus.

    Sure you can. We accept what people believe based on what they say they believe. We have little choice in the matter. We examine those beliefs against the evidence and see what comes up. In the case of Jesus performing miracles, we have to reject the belief because… well… there aren’t any miracles documented. At all. But again, this is about what people BELIEVE. And my claim was that many Christians BELIEVE that committing an injustice is justified if it keeps people out of hell. And I think there’s ample empirical evidence to demonstrate that Christians DO routinely commit injustices, and that they believe they are doing the right thing.

    As for the rest of your article, I think you’re getting your knickers in a twist over a lot of things that simply aren’t relevant. The only place I am using anecdote (in this instance) is to generalize about what some Christians BELIEVE. We’re not talking about empirical studies about which group commits more injustices than the other. We’re not talking about comparing rates of political insurgencies among theists and non-theists. We’re simply talking about what certain Christians believe. That’s it.

    If we accept my premise that some Christians BELIEVE in injustice as a means of keeping people out of hell, we need to examine those groups specifically (not just everyone who identifies as Christian) and see whether or not they do in fact routinely commit injustices, and whether they justify them (to themselves or the press) with their religious beliefs. Then we can talk about how belief effects actions. Which is fine. It’s great, in fact.

    But it doesn’t change the validity of the observation of belief.

    I suggest that you think for a bit about the difference between belief and belief-motivated action. The two are not inseparable. That is, I can believe firmly and completely that my neighbor is going to hell. I can also believe that some injustice is ok if it saves my neighbor. But I may not ever act on either of those beliefs. Some other belief may prevent it (as in my belief that jail would suck), or social convention, or peer pressure, or whatever. But my belief is still real, and the MECHANISM those beliefs enable is still real, whether I act on it or not.

    Posted by hambydammit | April 12, 2011, 3:35 pm
  7. My main issue is anecdotes in the other direction. You can bring up others who were hurt by religion? Ray Comfort can bring up others who were helped by religion. I’m sure he gets thousands of emails from people about how jebus helped them get out of gangs, or stop taking drugs, or whatever.

    I mean have you ever listened that the guy talk? “My life was empty until I found jebus”

    That’s the problem with anecdotes. Everybody has them.

    Ah. I can understand that concern. And to a degree, it’s valid. I mean, if we added up all the people who say they’ve received a miracle, we’d probably have ample “proof” that miracles happen. But that’s why we have controls and carefully quantify our data, and separate belief from fact. (And that’s what we’ve been talking about… beliefs.)

    And for the record, please recall that I don’t dispute people’s belief that Jebus helped them through the tough times. So I have no problem with the anecdotally overwhelming observation that lots of people believe Jebus helps them. And that’s what we’re talking about here. So when I say lots of people believe that committing one evil to avoid a greater evil (hell) is ok, I’m doing exactly the same thing. And I haven’t yet heard a reasonable argument for why we shouldn’t trust all the people who say they believe (believed) that.

    So yeah… I and the evangelists are doing the same thing. And I think both of us have perfectly valid points, and that overwhelming anecdote is enough proof for both claims.

    I can’t find a coherent way to reject one and accept the other. This goes in line with your most recent post. Confirmation bias. If the prices didn’t go down, they’d ignore it. If they did it would be because of jebus.

    Sure you can. We accept what people believe based on what they say they believe. We have little choice in the matter. We examine those beliefs against the evidence and see what comes up. In the case of Jesus performing miracles, we have to reject the belief because… well… there aren’t any miracles documented. At all. But again, this is about what people BELIEVE. And my claim was that many Christians BELIEVE that committing an injustice is justified if it keeps people out of hell. And I think there’s ample empirical evidence to demonstrate that Christians DO routinely commit injustices, and that they believe they are doing the right thing.

    As for the rest of your article, I think you’re getting your knickers in a twist over a lot of things that simply aren’t relevant. The only place I am using anecdote (in this instance) is to generalize about what some Christians BELIEVE. We’re not talking about empirical studies about which group commits more injustices than the other. We’re not talking about comparing rates of political insurgencies among theists and non-theists. We’re simply talking about what certain Christians believe. That’s it.

    If we accept my premise that some Christians BELIEVE in injustice as a means of keeping people out of hell, we need to examine those groups specifically (not just everyone who identifies as Christian) and see whether or not they do in fact routinely commit injustices, and whether they justify them (to themselves or the press) with their religious beliefs. Then we can talk about how belief effects actions. Which is fine. It’s great, in fact.

    But it doesn’t change the validity of the observation of belief.

    I suggest that you think for a bit about the difference between belief and belief-motivated action. The two are not inseparable. That is, I can believe firmly and completely that my neighbor is going to hell. I can also believe that some injustice is ok if it saves my neighbor. But I may not ever act on either of those beliefs. Some other belief may prevent it (as in my belief that jail would suck), or social convention, or peer pressure, or whatever. But my belief is still real, and the MECHANISM those beliefs is still real, whether I act on it or not.

    Posted by hambydammit | April 12, 2011, 3:35 pm
  8. Hamby, what I meant with the anecdotes from christians isn’t about miracles, it’s about religion having a positive influence on their life.

    The coherent argument I was looking for is to accept both people do good DESPITE religion and people do bad BECAUSE of religion. When they both quote scripture.

    It’s basically the same evidence Joe the Christian quotes scripture as he gets out of the gang and turns his life around and Bob quotes scripture as he murders somebody.

    It’s the same type of evidence, but it’s rejected for one thing, and accepted for the other, I don’t see how Joe’s quotation of scripture means he didn’t do it because of religion, while Bob’s quotation does.

    As for the irrelevant studies part, I do think they’re relevant seeing as you constantly argue that without religion, there would be less injustices. I post those to show that that does not follow.

    If you want to argue against religion because it’s irrational and factually wrong, fine you should. But if you want to argue that in order to make the world a place with less injustices, we need to get rid of religion, that’s a whole nother claim.

    I agree with you that beliefs affect things which is why I want to make sure all beliefs are accurate.

    Posted by cptpineapple | April 13, 2011, 3:02 pm
  9. Well, I suppose we’re right back where we started, then. ~Sigh.~

    Maybe next time.

    Posted by hambydammit | April 13, 2011, 3:51 pm
  10. Ok, so where are you going with this then?

    Some Christians believe X therefore….?

    Is it “Some Christian believe X and act unjustly on X, ergo if they didn’t believe X they would be less likely to act unjustly”?

    What would you have said if your prediction ran true and I posted the counsiling part in my first post?

    I’m guessing: “Well Alison, even if she had previous mental issues, Christianity played on those and made her do something nasty. That’s what Christianity does. It plays on our weaknesses and exploits them to make us do injustices while thinking we are just.”

    or

    “Well, Alison, beliefs mess up our brain/thinking so I can’t really say she may have suffered from the illness due to indoctirnation.”

    or something else.

    Posted by cptpineapple | April 13, 2011, 4:35 pm

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