Monday, December 14, 2009

Response to @bekahferguson: Abortion and the Bible, part 1

This post is way past overdue. But I got my nails done today, which means I can type again, so here it is.

The anti-choicers on Twitter are, for the most part, laughable. They cannot string two coherent tweets together without resorting to name-calling or worse. Logic fails them, and basic science is Greek to them. And, most of the time, Greek (and Hebrew, and Aramaic, and whatever other languages were spoken in Bible times) are also Greek to them, since they know as much about the Bible as I do about skinning cats.

However, @bekahferguson doesn't fit that description. She can discuss without name-calling, and when you bring up a point she actually addresses it. And when I asked her for Bible verses that condemned abortion, she actually was able to provide them (something no other anti who's told me the Bible condemns abortion has been able to do).

She emailed me a list of verses, and while I didn't compare each and every one, it seems many of them are also addressed by Joyce Arthur here, a link that was posted on Twitter last night.

This morning, @bekahferguson replied to my RT of the Joyce Arthur article with this article, which takes Joyce Arthur's same verses and says how they are pro-life.

The funny thing is that the author of the second article begins by saying (emphasis mine):
When reading the text, one should keep in mind her approach to textual interpretation. As any informed Christian knows, Bible verses can be manipulated to make a case for almost any kind of theological belief. Verses that seem to contradict that argument can be easily reconciled through a number of tactics, in order to maintain one's stance. The assumption that many theological hucksters try to foist on an unsuspecting public is that texts, like the Bible, interpret themselves. No research on anything outside the text is necessary in order to understand it. Although the Bible has many passages that can be plainly understood by any literate individual, if one is to grasp what the Bible says in-depth, it is simply impossible to do without being familiar with history, theology or what other parts of the Bible say. Blind proof-texting is not a sound approach to scriptural interpretation. But this is precisely the approach Ms. Arthur has taken. She isolates from their contexts whatever verses she produces, even to the point of contradicting herself.

True, to be sure, but as easily applied to Ms. Arthur's analysis as to "Suzanne's" (even though she seems to think that by dividing the article into sections with roman-numeraled titles, she has made her article sound much more scholarly and therefore "right"). Ms. Arthur has a list of references at the end of her article; Suzane just uses her humongous brain and unequivocal interpretation of the Bible to make her points.

And, um, all that stuff about contradicting yourself? Well, dude, you just proved you don't know your Bible too well... because the Bible itself contradicts itself. Stop and think about what the Bible is, how it was written. It's a huge text, written over a span of hundreds of years, by many different humans. It's not "the Word of God," it's the Word of God as interpreted by the flawed humans who wrote it down and transcribed it and translated it and rewrote it for hundreds and hundreds of years. So, when you read the Bible, you gotta take a deep breath and grab the saltshaker. You have to interpret, because the words you are reading have been interpreted, since before they were written down for the first time.

While Joyce Arthur's article does contain an amount of snark, and towards the end it sort of unravels into God-hate (though, given the snark, one wonders how much of it is honest, how much is tongue-in-cheek), Suzanne's article does everything she accuses Ms. Arthur of doing. Suzanne keep saying that Ms. Arthur is missing the context... but then Suzie doesn't really bother to fill us in. And her entire article is spent saying how Ms. Arthur is wrong and how mean she is because she's a bully and stuff. Wouldn't Suzanne have written a much more useful and compelling article telling us how the Bible is pro-life, instead of telling us it's not not-pro-life?

But I digress...

In college, I took a course called "The Search For Extraterrestrial Life." Yes, for serious. I thought the class would be fun; we walked in the first day and the first thing we saw what a formula as long as the blackboard was wide (and these are the wide college-classroom blackboards), which we would study and get to know intimately throughout the course of the class. The formula consisted of all the elements and stuff needed to create life on a planet, and the variables dealing with the probability of these things being found on other planets in or out of our solar system.

At one point in the class, the professor took a moment to soapbox on the beauty of science, and how "it's like clockwork": this element combined with that element make this thing, and this thing combined with that one leads to that other thing, and so on and so forth. If you recreate the conditions on Earth way back when (after the Big Bang), you will see life be born in the same way it happened all those billions of years ago, because that's the way the system is set up to work, like clockwork. One thing leads to another, which leads to another, and evolution is beautiful.

Which, you gotta admit, is pretty cool.

He concluded his speech with, "And this is why there is no God. There is no need for a God, because science makes it happen, and it all happens by itself, without the need of a deity to help it happen."

And that's when I almost stood up in that 300-plus-seat lecture hall* and said, "Now wait just a minute, genius!"

Yes, it's all set up to work like clockwork. WHO DO YOU THINK SET IT UP LIKE THAT??

Of course it is set up to work without God sticking His hand in it all day long to fix it. He's a busy guy! He's got stuff to DO! Do you think that "perfect" system just happened by chance? Seriously?

The professor and I took the exact same fact, and drew opposite conclusions from it. He did not want to consider the existence of a God, so he saw this fact as proof that God was not necessary, therefore He was not real.

I, on the other hand, do believe there is a God. I saw this same fact and took it as "proof" that God must have created the system to work without His help.

Same thing happens with the Bible. Many times, you will get out of it what you were looking to get out of it. And I admit this is true of myself, too. Yes, when I read the Bible I am reading the verses with my own bias, tainted by my previous understanding of what the Bible tells me.

Everybody takes verses out of context from the Bible. How can we not? The verses are numbered sentence by sentence! It's like they wanted us to take each sentence by itself, out of context.

Some people will look for more context than others. To some, "context" merely means reading the sentences before or after the one verse, or even reading the full chapter. To others, "context" means reading the chapter and reading different translations. To those who can read ancient Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic and whatever other languages the Bible was originally written in, "context"means going back to those original words (if you have access to the original scrolls) and reading those words, then researching what connotations those words had back in that era, and what the historical and sociological context was, what meaning those words and actions had in those days.

Context is complicated, and hard to get to. Some of the context is completely lost to us, because we do not know what those words meant in that day. Even if we could all access the original words (and we all learned those ancient languages), we cannot understand what those words meant to the people writing and using them. There is too much context we do not have.

So, if you want to read the genius that is my interpretation of a bunch of Bible verses, tune in tomorrow.**

*Not that all the seats were occupied, but still.
** Um... or whenever I get around to writing part 2 of this. Which, honestly, will probably be Wednesday or so.


  1. Every time I read one of your posts, I always want to say, "Hey now, STOP WITH THE LOGIC TALK."


    I envy you your faith. Mine has been shattered in the last several years and I am trying to figure out how to get it back. Unfortunately, old men in bathrobes are making it really hard.

  2. Actually, I've read the entire Bible several times in my life (I was raised as a devout Christian), and all those quotes in my article were not taken out of context at all. When writing that article, I was always careful to read the surrounding text, plus I have a pretty good understanding of the historical context in which the Bible was written, when the books were likely written, and by and for whom etc., since I've done a lot of research on the origins of Judaism and Christianity (an interest of mine).

    "Out of context" is just the excuse many Christians use to bash any interpretation of the Bible they don't like, so they don't have to refute the interpretation. And you're right that the Bible is full of contradictions and disparate themes. So the "out of context" charge is unfair because so much in the Bible is itself "out of context".

    Btw, I remember seeing Suzanne's rebuttal before, but concluded it wasn't worth responding to. Of course, my article was never meant to be a serious academic article, and I make no apology for the snark and sarcasm. It is, however, the result of a complete review of every single passage in the Bible to do with pregnant women, fetuses, and infants.

  3. Joyce: I don't blame you for not responding to her "rebuttal." I found it humorous that she took the time to write had you submitted your article as a paper in a freshman English course, you would have failed... yet her article was in dire need of proofreading (several sentences were missing a verb or had other glaring syntax issues). Suzanne's rebuttal comes across as a petty child's angry response, using big words to sound grown-up and intelligent. But I digress...

    I also found the "out of context" claims to be humorous, since you DID provide context, as well as resources at the end of your article. Your explanation of the Exodus passage shows the amount of research you have done to arrive at those conclusions. Suzanne, on the other hand, just wanted us to understand that she knew all this so much better than you did, and she just KNEW the context, so there. But she didn't really provide any "missing pieces" of context...

    While I found the latter part of your article to have taken the issue a bit too far for my liking (analyzing the "value" of life), I agree with the points you made. And no need to "apologize" for the snark (especially not to me) -- that was the tone you chose for that article, which was not, as you stated, meant to be a serious academic article. It's not like you resorted to calling the other side names, like "pro-aborts" or "poor-choice."

    Thanks for reading, and thanks for writing that article. :)

  4. Danine: Yeah, we need to do something about those old men in bathrobes. They're getting on my nerves, too.

    I've been lucky; I had my mom there when I was growing up, to tell me what the right thing was when those old men told me things that didn't make sense with the other stuff (mainly, the "God loves you" part), and I've found good church homes where the pastors have been relaxed, loving, (liberal-minded) people. So I've had good leaders and role models and examples to follow. Because my mom told me early on that sometimes those priests got it wrong, I was able to trust myself and focus on what made sense to me, and it's been easier to ignore the voices of the misguided leaders of the Church.

  5. I'd be really curious to hear your thoughts on Dawkin's "The God Delusion" - particularly the parts about the idea of an original creator setting up the evolution and other natural processes in the world.

    Having spent years in a religious group/cult {members of this religion will always deny it's a cult} and seeing how scripture was used and looking back on it now...I can't take scripture seriously. At all. I find it especially reprehensible that so many people hold it up as some sort of moral guide post. Have they read the Old Testament? I'm sorry. But I have no interest in getting my morals from a book in which the main player tells his chosen people to commit genocide, or let them murder their children as sacrifices so they can win a battle, or offer their daughters to be gang raped.

    All people pick and choose which parts of scripture to follow {AJ Jacobs aside ;P). I think the abortion debate needs to continue without appeals to scripture, especially because there's the issue of WHICH scriptures, The Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Gita?

    Anyway, I'm rambling now. But I think I'll be back to read more of your thoughts. I don't share your belief in God. But I share your belief that women deserve respect. :)

  6. Holly, I have not heard of or read "The God Delusion;" don't think I'll be reading it, though, since I will probably take anything presented there and view it through my own tinted lenses and still come out believing what I want to believe.

    I see what you mean about scripture, the Christian Bible specifically, and I agree: the stuff in the Old Testament is pretty barbaric. If I may defend my own :P , one pastor pointed out that *people* were barbaric then, so God had to talk to them on that level, "in that language," so to speak, to get through to them. He couldn't come in saying, "turn the other cheek" when he was talking to people who believed the proper restitution for stealing an apple was killing the perpetrator: God had to take these people through baby steps. Going from "an eye for I KILL YOU" to "an eye for an eye" was progress back then; once He got them used to that idea, He could begin to introduce the whole "turn the other cheek" thing.

    (Not that I'm trying to change your mind or say you're wrong. I like to blab, and this is my blog, SO THERE!)

    I also agree that there is more than ONE scripture. I only address the Christian Bible here because that's the only one I know enough to talk about. And I WHOLEHEATEDLY agree that Scripture does not need to play any part in the abortion debate -- unfortunately, it does, and that's what the vast majority of anti-choicers use as their "proof." This is why I felt the need to address the Christian Bible. (Also, because I am a Christian, and I see no conflict or contradiction whatsoever between my Christian faith and my pro-choice views. And I'm tired of people telling me there is.)

    Thanks for reading!

  7. Well said miss cox.

    Though you and I worship different deitys, I fully agree with you that the way our reality has been set up is proof positive that there is a great spirit behind it all.