Chapter 10: You Must Find Truth For Yourself
This doctrine not only implies that the Bible contains truth, but that this truth is available to anyone who bothers to look for it, with no partiality or reliance on any mediator. It brings to mind some of my mother’s favorite scriptures:
Built On Self-Accountability
In Chapter 9 we discussed the fundamentalist’s need for justice and fairness. If you have a belief that fairness and justice are the order of the universe it demands that everyone also have equal access to the truth. How can you hold anyone accountable if they could not have known better? Since salvation can only come via the gospel, it necessitates that the gospel is available to everyone, only then can you be left without an excuse to bear the full weight of your guilt. For them, it is imperative that we do not depend on anyone but ourselves for our salvation.
As I have pointed out before, the fundamentalists (like the Puritans before them) have no central authority like a Pope to tell them what to believe. This independence only makes sense when viewed with this doctrine that truth is inherently knowable by everyone. Furthermore this emphasis on self-reliance is also responsible to the Christian fundamentalist’s natural dislike for anything called socialist. While Jesus may have preached compassion for the poor, programs that aid the needy offends the fundamentalist’s emphasis on self-reliance.
So in fundamentalism the individual becomes responsible for their own soul salvation, answerable to no one but God himself.
This doctrine also helps us understand why Christian fundamentalism is so successful here in America, because of each believer being answerable only to God is nearer to the democratic ideal than other authoritarian religions. But this leads us to a very troubling problem…
The Disagreement Paradox
If everyone has access to the same absolute truth, right before our eyes in black and white (& red), why is there so little agreement among different groups of fundamentalists? If THE TRUTH is easily available to all who ask, and THE TRUTH is the same for all believers, then shouldn’t all Christians (or at least all fundamentalists) have the exact same teachings?
Since I don’t believe that fundamentalists have access to THE TRUTH I cannot answer these questions for them. However, assuming that they are not getting divine revelation, I can think of at least two explanations as to why fundamentalists disagree on several basic doctrines.
1) Most of them fail to understand what they are reading
I think this is an important reason that the King James Version of the Bible is preferred among fundamentalists, because almost no one in modern times can fathom Jacobean English. This lack of understanding allows the ancient archaic words to take on a mystical property that inspires people and at the same time allows them to hide behind the misunderstandings and errors generated by the use of this dead language.
My grandfather was a prime example of this lack of understanding. I never did know why he was so sensitive to the idea; however, he intensely disliked and challenged the practice of tithing. You will remember that this is the 10% income tax imposed on every member of a fundamentalist church. He preached against it for years, always quoting his favorite scripture:
His argument went something like this; since the original injunction to pay tithes was in the Old Testament, it was part of the old laws that were done away with when Jesus died and rose from the dead. The biggest problem with his whole line of reasoning is that the verse he based his argument on doesn’t actually read the way he quotes it.
Now, let me show you the actual verse he was supposed to be quoting:
As you can see, his version was close to this verse, but leaves out one important detail, the word “circumcised.” Once I was old enough to see the difference for myself, I became curious as to why he would misquote it this way.
I remember that one time when my grandparents were visiting us, we were having our routine Bible study. Thinking that I would bring up the issue, I suggested we read Galatians Chapter 5. My grandfather was delighted!
The way we conducted these Bible studies was that each person would take a turn reading a verse or group of verses aloud and then we would all discuss the meaning of it afterward.
My grandfather volunteered to read first so that he would get to read his pet verse for us. As he came across the word “circumcised” he said “circa…”, “circum…”, “some big word that no one understands anyway…” and he went on with the rest of the verse. I suddenly understood how he thought; he felt that any words he couldn’t understand weren’t worth paying attention to!
I finally worked up enough nerve to confront him on this question. He rambled on for quite a while and never did say anything that made sense. Out of respect I sat quietly and listened to his whole explanation. I never did hear him say anything that made sense, but I was able to verify that he had no idea what circumcision was. I let him go on believing what he wanted, but I gained a new appreciation for how easily error could become firmly ingrained doctrine in someone else’s mind.
This scripture was actually Paul’s attempt to make the church more attractive to non-Jews. Isn’t it odd how people hesitate to convert when they have to mutilate their genitals without a pain killer? Anyway, he was trying to discredit the Jewish Christians who were requiring gentile converts to convert to Judaism (and be circumcised) prior to becoming a Christian. His argument was that by requiring circumcision, they were resurrecting the Law of Moses and effectively invalidating the newer covenant instituted by Jesus. In his view, they might as well go to the temple and start offering animal sacrifices all over again. This whole debate and this scripture had nothing whatsoever to do with my grandfather’s argument against tithing.
I feel it is extremely important that the fuzziness of meaning here was not a disability to him, but rather a tool to be used for intentional self-delusion. It is all the more devious in that it can be used to deceive others as well. It is human nature to see what we want to see and ignore conclusions that we are uncomfortable with, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a poor vocabulary can be exploited to suit a purpose. Not only that but such selective reading is a lot less work compared to looking up the actual meanings and usage of words.
I suppose it would be my curse, that I could read the King James Version of the Bible and understand what it was saying, as plainly as if I was reading a newspaper or magazine. Of course, I have several fundamentalist friends and family who would argue that I don’t understand it or I wouldn’t be the heathen I am now.
There is one more thing I would like to mention before going on to my second explanation. I must be completely truthful. There is another very good reason that many people prefer the King James Version above all others, and I was among them. This version is extremely beautiful, it sounds so majestic and regal that nothing else compares to it. I still prefer reading it over any other version, and only use the others to clarify points. I always thought it was a shame that more people couldn’t read and comprehend this gorgeous, sensuous language.
Ignorance Due To Laziness
If experience has taught me anything it’s that most Christians don’t know anything about the Bible and don’t read it. It’s not so much that they can’t read it, as that they won’t. I guess they feel that as long as they don’t know much then they won’t be held accountable for not living by it. It’s an evil combination of laziness and blissful ignorance. Why do I say evil? Because these are generally the same people who want to destroy our civil rights and force religion on the rest of us.
More than any single factor, I was led to atheism by reading and knowing the Bible itself. I wish far more Christians would read the Bible and I will challenge them that very few individuals who actually know the contents in the Bible can still believe in it. Maybe they know this and that’s why they refuse to read it.
2) The Bible can be made to justify just about anything.
Honestly, you can take either side on just about any issue and dig up a Bible verse that supports your position. Don’t believe me? Let’s pick a couple topics…
For women having equal rights…
Against women having equal rights…
(1 Timothy 2:12)
Life begins even before conception…
Life begins when you take your first breath…
In addition to these examples, the Bible contains verses and sayings that most people never realize are there. There are Old Testament stories of sex, rape, incest, sexual perversion, murder, genocide, violence, mutilation and torture so graphic that few examples in modern literature can challenge it. It also supports slavery, sexual discrimination and many other views that would be repulsive to the average American. People who are so anxious to have our children to read it in public schools should take a second look at it before they get so excited.
As I mentioned way back in chapter 3, the Bible also says quite a lot of contradictory things that are normally overlooked. I don’t want to repeat material, but I want to emphasize that these are not a few minor instances; there are literally hundreds of examples that could be mentioned. How easy would it be therefore to use any one of these verses or positions and ignore the other? When confronted with the proof, the fundamentalist will usually either say that it doesn’t mean what it plainly says or they will jump to “The Great Paradox of Hidden Meaning” I discuss in Chapter 11.
From my experience and knowledge, it appears that almost any position no matter how absurd can be justified through scripture.
When I was a minister this exact same complaint was thrown at me many times, that I knew the Bible so well I could support any position I wanted to, whether it was wrong or right. Now that I am no longer a Christian, I find it curious that it didn’t bother them that the same Bible could be made to support both positions with equal conviction.
Why is the Bible so ambiguous?
This brings me to another of the questions that always bothered me as when I was a Christian. If God is all powerful, why didn’t he create a Bible that was clear and easy to follow? It is certainly possible to write a book that is logically consistent and absolute. If he existed and were all powerful, then he could have made a book that was straight-forward saying “Do this!” and “Don’t do that!” without anyone being able to question the facts. And if he really was a loving God and just, why wouldn’t he want to do it? If you are going to convict someone to eternal damnation, you sure wouldn’t want ANY ambiguities at all!
Yes, I realize that the Bible was written over hundreds of years and translated many times, but surely it would be no problem for an all-powerful being to over-see the process and ensure “his word” was properly preserved in every language. Compared to popping the entire Universe into existence that would be child’s play!
What’s REALLY in there?
This chameleon ability of scripture to be all things to all people is what really alarms me about such complete reliance on the Bible for moral authority. Especially when I hear my friends and family suggest that we use the Bible as the basis for federal law. They actually want to declare it as the foundation for our federal government. If we follow their suggestion and make the Bible federal law do we…
Start stoning witches?
Start stoning witches?
- And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee.
- And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.
- When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.
- (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)
- And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him.
- And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep.
- And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them.
- Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.
Stop paying for Medicare and Medicaid, instead send the sick to faith healers?
(James 5:14, 15)
Punish marital infidelity with the death penalty?
(Leviticus 20: 10)
Execute children who swear at their parents?
Even if we skipped using the whole Bible and just adopted the Ten Commandments into out legal code as some suggest, we still could not avoid some of these same difficulties.
I cannot comprehend exactly what using the Bible as law would do to America, but to me it would make our nation a living hell. I bet you I wouldn’t stay in this country for five minutes under Biblical law, and the majority of Americans (most of them Christian) would be going along with me.
What it all boils down to is this; the Bible is worthless as a standard of morality since any position can be justified. The reader must already have morals before reading it because they won’t get any from its contents. I could seriously use it to justify murder, rape, genocide, discrimination, slavery, masturbation, prostitution, abortion, child labor, public executions, mutilation and torture of criminals, all because I have scripture to support it, and you couldn’t stop me. How else do you think a disgusting group like the Ku Klux Klan could claim to be a Christian organization? It’s because they are able to find scripture supporting their sick racist views in the Bible. Anyone who wants to make the Bible the law of the land either doesn’t know what it contains, or they are a fool.
Disclaimer: Let me repeat this one more time in case you have forgotten what I have said so many times before. All that I have said above is not because I hate the Bible. It makes really interesting reading and gives great insight into the ancient world. But I also understand that it is nothing more than a collection of documents written by multiple authors containing bits of wisdom and history rolled into fables and myth. A large collection of documents with some good and some really bad ideas; but most definitely written by ordinary men and nothing more.
It would really surprise many that the oath we take to hold political office and testify in court was forbidden by Jesus:
For some reason Americans seem to think that by having someone place a hand on a Bible, it becomes a legitimate Christian activity that is sanctioned by scripture. Wrong! In this verse Jesus is reported to have forbidden more than simple affirmations. Furthermore we have enormous evidence that taking the oath doesn’t do anything to make politicians more honest or trustworthy, so why bother?
One can easily see that the self-reliance and independence of fundamentalism established in previous chapters of this book logically leads to a belief that the ultimate truth is knowable by anyone. Beyond that, their sense of justice, fairness and accountability forces them to conclude that their version of THE TRUTH is available to anyone who cares to look with out exception. Often this belief causes them to behave with indignation toward non-believers because they feel it’s our fault that we don’t see things their way.
In the next chapter will see that fundamentalists also hold the exact opposite view (that THE TRUTH is hidden from all but a select few) at the same time.