Over the last couple of days my wife has run afoul of a grimly serious Christian on Facebook. It started when a friend of ours posted a biblical quote: Deuteronomy 23:12-13 “Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.”
It was a bit of poop humour, to be honest, although I made the point in a comment that this sort of basic sanitation would have been a very practical thing for an army in the field.
And then this self-identified Christian chimed in, rudely demanding to know “What bible did you get this from?” and telling us to “Read the truth in the Holy Bible.”
Umm… Yeah. This is from the bible. King James version, and my friend had provided chapter and verse. When this fact was pointed out, the Christian replied, flatly, that we should “Be carefull (sic) of what you say, God will not be mocked.”
It was at this point that my wife jumped into the conversation, rebuking this person for trying to censor our conversation, and for trying to do so with biblical threats when it was clear that she wasn’t even aware of the existence of the original passage (pun not intended) and perhaps she should study her religious texts before coming down on others.
So the Christian responded by repeating “God will not be mocked” and providing the biblical chapter and verse that phrase comes from “Galations 6-7”. Except, of course, it’s actually spelled “Galatians”, being St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, the ninth book of the New Testament. So I corrected her spelling with, I must admit, a certain amount of glee. (My wife pointed out that the passage in fact refers to hypocrisy, not blasphemy, and called her out on her error.)
And then this Christian lady advised us that we should take a biblical study course, because we “might learn something.” I managed to refrain of asking whether the lessons might include the correct spelling of the books in question. I could not, however, refrain from asking her what the course had to say about Luke 6:42. (“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”)
This entire conversation actually comes to the root of the problem I have with organized religion – especially the kind of Christianity I was brought up in. I was raised in a devoutly Catholic family, so I know my bible, okay? Not line-for-line, but I’ve got a good grasp of the broad strokes. I knew, for example, when my friend shared the original passage from Deuteronomy that it involved the Deuteronomic Code, a collection of Hebrew laws pertaining to ritual cleanliness and purity. It makes sense – both practically and spiritually – not to shit where you sleep, but to go outside the camp, dig a hole, and then cover everything up afterwards. I don’t know if the following line – Deuteronomy 12:14 “For the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.” — is scientifically correct, but I’d imagine that “not dying of dysentery” could have been interpreted as a sign of divine favour.
My problem with organized religion is this: You can make scripture say whatever it is you want it to say. When you have a text as old and convoluted as the bible – the product of thousands of years of Jewish law, scholarship and interpretation capped with centuries of Christian philosophy and correspondence, all of which has just sort of accrued over time into an enormous collection of documents, it ends up being self-contradictory, often to the point of being nonsensical.
Add in a variety of translation issues — especially the multiple linguistic shifts from Hebrew and Aramaic to Greek, then to Latin and on to Tudor-era English —and you have a real problem with textual accuracy, especially as regards the King James Version of the bible. As a linguistic artifact the bible is absolutely fascinating, but as a guide on how to treat other people it can often be severely problematic. Especially if you like to cherry-pick scripture to support your opinions and preconceptions.
Which – mea culpa – is exactly what I did.
Using my knowledge of both the bible and Google search, I was able to pick and choose passages that supported my point and undermined my opponent. It was amusing, yes, and kind of fun to hoist this humourless person on their own petard (which is a Shakespearean reference, not a biblical one) but it really does illustrate the point that blindly adhering to the minutia of a religious text rather than embracing a positive, life-affirming philosophy rather undercuts the moral and spiritual value of religion.
After all, “even the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
Update — My friend had to take her post off Facebook. The Christian person who we were arguing with is a family member, and it was causing friction that they didn’t need. I respect that decision. You can’t choose your family, after all.