08 April 2011

Applying Karen Armstrong’s new ancient principle of scriptural interpretation

Here it is in all its glory, as expressed in The Charter For Compassion:

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.

Now let's apply Armstrong's new ancient principle to these scriptures.

  1. If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known ... thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die. Deuteronomy 13:6-10

  2. As for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; And for them are hooked rods of iron. Quran 22:19-21

  3. He had caused the cursing to come upon them... that ... wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome ... God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them ... that they shall be loathsome unto thy people. 2 Nephi 5:21-22

I can't find a way to apply the new ancient principle of scriptural interpretation to these verses.

So I hereby proclaim an even newer and more ancient principle of scriptural interpretation.

Any scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.

That way we remove all of the verses that breed violence, hatred or disdain from the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon.

But I have an even better idea: the newest and most ancient principle of scriptural interpretation.

Any scripture that includes verses that breed violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.

That way we can throw the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon in the trash.
(Or burn them. Your choice.)


Sheldrake said...

Genrally speaking, I don't like Karen Armstrong's views on religion but I think this approach still has some merit on a tactical level. Not everyone can make the transition from fundementalist to moderate to unbeliever without taking intermediary steps and her push for compassion lends itself to people who want to distance themselves from religious violence while still holding onto their religion. For sure, not an optimal tactic but it will win some religious moderates over.

As for the scriptures themselves: yeah it is kinda strange when I look back at them now. I used to consider myself a born-again Christian but I left that behind and transitioned through New Ageism, Buddhism and now I am an Atheist. In particular, there are scriptures where Yahweh clearly commands the death of men who have sex with other men (ie gay men) like myself. When I was a Christian, I just told myself "Yeah it sounds harsh but we serve a RIGHTEOUS GOD" and went on struggling with my secret homosexuality.
Now that I am free Christianity, I look back at that and cringe... How could I have been so savage in my self righteousness while struggling with the very "sin" the Bible was damning with the death penalty!? I'd like to think that its not possible for me to be so wrong like thatanymore; but I have to stay vigilante and keep examining my thoughts and beliefs.


Steve Wells said...

I ageee, Sheldrake, that Karen Armstrong's approach might make sense on a tactical level. But even if it is good strategy, it is also dishonest. And I'm not willing to sacrifice honesty to strategy.

I wonder, though, about the strategy. Since so few people read the Bible (Quran, BoM, etc.), it is easy for faitheists to claim that its all good, true, and beautiful if interpreted correctly (that is, dishonestly). Dishonesty covers a multitude of scriptural sins. It has worked for thousands of years. It will continue to work until people actually read the damned books they pretend to believe in and be honest about what they read.

Dan said...

I did some scanning of her "Case for God" book and was left with the impression that she isn't really interested in what the books say in specifics. She seems to think that religion is more like ancient psychology, it helps us navigate our complex reactions to death, etc. I think she would find a discussion of the versus in question to be distasteful. Almost as if she has transcended the harshness of them into the sublime.

She has even transcended atheism, in that modern atheism only confronts the fundamentalist of the religions and not the real thinkers like herself. I wonder if after writing her 23 books she even has a living equal, probably not.

Mark said...

I agree that that violence is illegitimate no matter what and should not be condoned. I disagree that any book should be burned. I can't condone violence but I can't throw away an ideology in its entirety when it's actually been positive for me and when it has also bred a wealth of knowledge and enlightenment. I can accept it's dichotomy. I don't need to believe it's perfect or beyond criticism but I can take from it what I think is positive and valuable. I don't need scripture to be perfect or right nor do I even care. I can take from it what is meaningful to me. I barely need even to look at scripture......I need only to read the works of those who were inspired by the islamic or christian or jewish or (fill in the blank) religion or philosophy and then wrote their own thoughts, their own songs and their own poems and contributed to the sense of wonder and connectedness I feel with the rest of the world....

Plenty of historical figures....scientists, musicians, philosophers who have dramatically changed the course of history were insane, troubled and sometimes downright wrong in other aspects of their lives. Does that make their contribution null and void? No.

Book burning is as ridiculous as those passages you've quoted.