All Christianity is “Cafeteria” Christianity.

Yes, I know. It’s a blanket statement. It’s also accurate. And yes, I know….it applies to other religions, too. Not all, but many. Can I continue now? Thank you.

Here’s the thing. There is simply no way to live biblically in today’s world, AJ Jacobs notwithstanding. Don’t believe me? Okay. Short quiz. How many garments of undyed natural fibers do you own? How many animals have you killed, cut up, and burnt as an offering to god? Stone your kids when they don’t listen? Do you have kids? Did you take a lamb or a couple turtles to church the week after they were born? NO?! What’s wrong with you? Okay….something easy. Diet. Do ya like lobster? How about bacon? Cheeseburgers? All, as it turns out, an abomination and unclean.

Incidentally…the bible. That part where god says not that anyone who changes his word is curst. Of course…he says that in Ancient Hebrew in the TORAH, before Jesus even existed. That was then changed, translated, changed again to sound pretty, interpreted and re-worded into Latin, interpreted another dozen times or so, re-worded into English, and then re-interpreted to mean whatever you now think it means. Words can change so quickly, 20 years is enough for a word’s meaning to go from one thing to another. But somehow, the bible means exactly the same thing now as it did 2000 (or, several hundred, depending on your version) years ago? Nnnno.

People believe the parts they want to believe and leave off the parts they don’t like. Which means they should probably leave off telling people the WHOLE book is the word of god, and we all need to follow it exactly, when THEY can’t even follow it all themselves.  

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8 responses to “All Christianity is “Cafeteria” Christianity.

  1. This is going to be sort of an offbeat comment, but I’ve been thinking about it off and on all day today, and your post has given me the perfect opportunity to share it with a thinker.

    One of my brothers and his wife have been trying to adhere completely to Thou Shalt Not Lie…no exceptions. Even if it means hurting someone’s feelings, it’s best (they believe) to tell the unvarnished truth. Even when I reminded them of the second greatest commandment to love one another, they were unmoved.

    So here’s my thought for the day and the story that prompted it. by posing as a prostitute Tamar tricked Judah, her father-in-law into having sex with her because he had not fulfilled his promise to her regarding his youngest son. She had twins nine months later and is mentioned in the genealogy of Christ. My question is: She was deceitful, but was it wrong? Was it okay to lie (in the sense of pretending to be someone else)? Didn’t he lie, the leader of one of the 12 tribes?

    Anyway, I think I see your point in that we should all just try the best we can without pushing our interpretations on others.

  2. leftcoastlibrul

    Hi, marlajayne, thanks for the comment.

    I’ve run up against this before, and it makes me smile, if at the same time I cringe a bit.

    I usually point the theist back to the commandment and point out that it does not prohibit lying. In fact, it prohibits “bearing false witness against one’s neighbor;” a particularly nasty type of lie. Essentially, if you are called upon to tell the truth in front of witnesses, you MUST tell the truth.

    The parable of Tamar’s trickery of Judah is actually layered (Jewish parables teach multiple lessons, which I actually rather like) and spoke to justice of not keeping one’s promise and additionally warning against the dangers of soliciting a prostitute. So it was not her lie that was central to the parable, but rather Judah’s promise breaking (because he didn’t want to lose his last son) and solicitation that was being warned against.

    I’ve always found that story rather interesting, as god struck down Er and Onan for being “wicked,” but didn’t strike down Judah himself; as he dealt in bad faith with Tamar.

    I am certainly not endorsing lying; I’ve raised my children to be as truthful as possible. But I believe only a sadistic bastard takes smug pleasure in telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth 24/7. Why on earth would I crush my friend’s feelings by telling her that her new baby is ugly? Or telling my sister in law that her pound cake sucks? No. Those are things close to those women’s hearts, and there’s no reason to not be diplomatic; my white lie harms no one.

    Now, were my boss to ask me my opinion on a new procedure she thinks is great and I think is potentially harmful? Bet yer buns I’d be saying something.

    So by all means, marlajayne, feel free to respectfully disagree with your brother and his wife. There’s no biblical prohibition against lying. I have found, however, that it’s just easier to live as honestly as possible (while still not hurting anyone needlessly). And my personal integrity and self respect demands it, as well.

  3. While I’m sympathetic to your point (I’ve even blogged about it several times), you should probably more carefully study literalist doctrine. You’ve mixed decent points with poor ones, and that makes it too easy to dismiss the entire argument.

    For example, literalist doctrine throws out cleanliness laws because the New Testament says to do so (Acts 10). A reasonable question then is whether Acts 10 can be used to remove the prohibition on mixed fibers that Christians have dropped (and I argue it is nonsense to do so). But you need to actually discuss address Acts 10 to have a useful argument here (and of course Matt 5:18….)

    Similarly, when you make claims about how the Bible has been changed over time, you need to cite what you think has changed and why. Anyone can say “the Bible is corrupted.” But what was corrupted and how do we know?

    In fact we know quite a lot about how the Bible has been corrupted (and where it probably has not been corrupted). You might point to Timothy 3:16 in Codex A for instance for intentional corruption intended to reinforce the deification of Jesus.

    We know that the Canonical Gospels are likely the best historic record we have. We also know they are terrible historic records that would never be used to definitively establish any other historic event. The other records (non-canonical gospels) just happen to be even worse.

    If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend Bart Ehrman’s popular books as the best place to start. Misquoting Jesus is a good primer on early textual corruptions. I’m also quite fond of Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code for a broad overview of early Church history. I’ve got some reviews on my bookshelf if you’re interested.

    BTW, I tried out that “Ultimate Bible Quiz” you noted. 77% means you need to study more. It told me “You know the Bible 100%” and I’m just a hobbyist. “Ultimate” is kind of a stretch.

    Anyway, I think you’re on the right track and your brain is in the right place, but I also feel atheists should be in one of two camps: either (a) deeply study Christian theology so that you can make specific, cited refutations (as we demand they do with Evolution rather than just spout their half-understandings), or (b) like Dawkins, realize that arguing Christian theology is like arguing the wing spans of fairies and ignore it. But I think atheists should avoid making theological arguments without carefully studying the theology and history and responding to the existing apologies.

  4. leftcoastlibrul

    Hi, pantheophany, thanks for the comment.

    I also feel atheists should be in one of two camps: either (a) deeply study Christian theology so that you can make specific, cited refutations (as we demand they do with Evolution rather than just spout their half-understandings), or (b) like Dawkins, realize that arguing Christian theology is like arguing the wing spans of fairies and ignore it. But I think atheists should avoid making theological arguments without carefully studying the theology and history and responding to the existing apologies.

    That’s nice. It’s too bad we don’t have an organized group; you could better tell us how we should present ourselves.

    I’m happy to make “specific cited refutations” if you’d like some, but I think my point is just as easily made by your assumption that I haven’t, in fact, studied theology (why do people do that? After I go to the trouble of explaining in my blog that I was brought up Catholic and in another entry explained how I’ve studied Christianity and Judaism….wherefore the automatic assumption that I’m lying?). I don’t feel the need to cite every book I’ve read on the subject (The Battle for God, incidentally, is superb, not sure if that’s on your shelf as well, but I consider it far better source material than something punching holes in a fictional book that Christians got their noses out of joint over), because my ego doesn’t need that kind of stroking. If called on it, however (“where did you develop this opinion?”) I don’t mind providing some background.

    I believe all Christianity is cafeteria Christianity (please note I’m forwarding this as my OPINION) because quite simply, all the laws and dictii put forth in the bible (leviticus in particular) are not workable in today’s society, and most Christians with whom I’ve spoken blithely ignore certain tenets because it just makes sense not to stone your kid for disobeying or not shaving the corners of your beard. Likewise, women not only talk in church, they now preside from the pulpit (okay, jumping from Leviticus to Paul, but you get the general idea).

    I never stated the bible has changed. I said it’s been translated many times and many of the words have changed meaning. Of course they have. Words change in meaning over time.

    What’s most unfortunate is that people cling to certain passages and insist that the meaning NEVER changes, and should never change. That’s impractical. Society, technology and our attitudes change; how can we keep to something that was written so long ago that has little bearing on life today? As I told thenonconformer in a different post:

    . I think there are a lot of important lessons in the bible, but that they should at least be put in perspective. There are a LOT of “guides for living one’s life” out there; many of them philosophy (I don’t read self-help, I consider most of it vapid). If we look at the bible as philosophy and put it in that context, I think we’d be better off than if we pour all this belief into it.

  5. That’s nice. It’s too bad we don’t have an organized group; you could better tell us how we should present ourselves.

    A true dilemma for atheists. Together with agnostics they make up a larger portion of the US than Jews, yet wield a tiny fraction of the political clout. Some more organization among free thinkers wouldn’t be a terrible thing. But until then, I’ll have to keep spreading my opinions one person at a time.

    My assumption was not that you know nothing of theology, even less that you’re lying, but this posting doesn’t include any references to any of the standard responses from either Fundamentalists or Catholics. I assumed ignorance of the apologies rather than purposefully ignoring their counterclaims.

    As for whether the laws are workable in today’s society, I think they are just as workable today as they ever have been. Ultra-Orthodox Jews (of whom several are relatives) go to great length to follow them as closely as they have ever been followed (though Ultra-Orthodox Jews aren’t technically literalist in the sense of Southern Baptists). As for women talking and teaching in church, the church I grew up in specifically does not allow women to teach men because of this prohibition (I agree that the prohibition actually says they should not speak). I don’t know of any denomination that allows women in the pulpit yet claims to literally follow the Bible. Those denominations that allow women ministers tend to be exactly the cafeteria-style you mention. But not all denominations are so liberal.

    When you say that the Bible has been translated many times, I’m not exactly certain what you mean. It’s not like the NIV is a translation of a translation of a translation. It is a translation of a copy of a copy (of a copy….) but that’s a different thing. The OT in the NIV is translated off of the Hebrew, which is what it was written in.

    As for words changing meaning, unraveling that is the goal of most modern Biblical scholarship: to determine the original meanings to the original author and original audience. These are both cases where I’d love to hear how you developed this opinion about the interpretations of literalists.

    I certainly agree that we would all be better off to pick out the (quite few actually) good moral teachings of the Bible and leave the rest. So Christianity *should* be pick-and-choose, but your posting doesn’t back up your assertion that all Christianity *is* pick and choose. Perhaps it’s my long history with the Southern Baptists rather than Catholics. Southern Baptists actually believe they are literally following the Bible and treat other denominations as “cafeteria” (including Catholics, whose doctrine includes tradition being as important as the Bible). They are the type of denomination that I think should be directly addressed in a claim that *all* Christianity is pick-and-choose.

  6. leftcoastlibrul

    Hi, pantheophany. Thanks for the reply. Good post.

    WordPress ate mine. I will try to reproduce it as closely as possible.

    Biblical translations. Let’s see. What we call “The Bible” went through several translations, depending on your flavor of Christianity. The original book of the Old Testament, the Torah, (and the Tanakh that preceded it) was originally written in Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. These were taken by the Eastern Orthodox church and translated into Greek, as well as including several new books which became the New Testament. Agreed so far?

    After that (and I realize I am jumping through several hundred years of church history and major policy changes, so please bear with me), when the Roman Catholic Church broke with the Eastern Orthodox Church, it was translated yet again into Latin and certain phrases and passages were changed to sound more elegant.

    It was again re-translated after Martin Luther took paper, nail and hammer to the door of the Catholic Church into English. It was re-translated yet again some time later into the King James version, which is followed by most Protestant sects. In addition, both the RCC and many Protestant sects have either adopted or declined to adopt certain books of the New Testament put forth by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

    Now. It is not my intent to assert that the word of god was deliberately mangled. I am assured by linguists, however, that it is extraordinarily difficult to translate dead languages (Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin) under the best of circumstances. I have no doubt the RCC and translators for the later English editions did their best. But there are translation programs which show that there are, indeed, differences between the original and the current versions, and that meanings of several words in the original have changed over the centuries.

    Now. I am sure that Southern Baptists follow the bible as closely as they’re able. That said…there are simply some things that our current laws do not allow. Spousal abuse and child abuse laws, for example, laws against polygamy, and certainly the constitutional amendment outlawing slavery. Even when slavery was legal, it hardly followed biblical dictum, as we didn’t get slaves from Canada or Mexico. Not to mention, I know many southern ladies (was matron of honor for one in Atlanta this last February [my friends from the military are far-flung, but we do try to stay in touch]). I can quite honestly state that what those women do with pork is a skill I’ve tried hard to foster. And stopping through New Orleans on the way home to Dallas, there was a Baptist church that was raising funds with a tent revival and crawdad feed. I loves me some crawdads, I can tell you. Nor have I noted an aversion to combining cheese and beef. Or eschewing “non natural fibers.” And I’d be interested to know how many Gulf War widows are getting knocked up by their brothers in law. And working for Planned Parenthood, I can quite honestly tell you, there’s no shortage of pre-marital sex. I hope none of those girls are being turned out of their homes, although I can’t honestly state they’re not.

    And I’d agree that Paul probably spoke out of frustration that those women just WOULD NOT SHUT UP, and the prohibition is against speaking, not teaching.

  7. Biblical translations. Let’s see. What we call “The Bible” went through several translations, depending on your flavor of Christianity. The original book of the Old Testament, the Torah, (and the Tanakh that preceded it) was originally written in Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. These were taken by the Eastern Orthodox church and translated into Greek, as well as including several new books which became the New Testament. Agreed so far?

    Not really, but I think I see where you’re going. The Tanakh didn’t proceed the Torah, it includes the Torah. And none of the OT was written in Aramaic. You’re thinking about the NT here. My point of translation is that the LXX and the Latin Vulgate translations that you mention aren’t what modern translations (particularly the NIV) are based on. The NIV used the Hebrew, not the Latin translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew. So you can argue that the Hebrew has been poorly copied (though I don’t know many specific instances of that), and you can definitely argue that the Hebrew has been edited (*wow* has it been edited; P, E, J, R, D…. makes the head spin), but I don’t think multi-translation is the major issue in modern translations (and here I’m particularly pointing to the NIV). Now that isn’t to say that translation (particularly into Greek with the LXX) didn’t cause problems for the Gospel writers who appear to have been reading Greek rather than Hebrew, leading to doctrines like the virgin birth (which I believe is based on a faulty translation in LXX). And I’m not saying the NIV translators didn’t work in some doctrine in a few places when they were picking their words. This fuzziness in what word to pick is one of the reasons I’m always shocked that those who believe in a literal Bible would primarily read translation. If God wrote a book, wouldn’t you want to read it in the language he used?

    there are simply some things that our current laws do not allow. Spousal abuse and child abuse laws, for example, laws against polygamy, and certainly the constitutional amendment outlawing slavery.

    There is nothing in the Bible that requires any of these, so it is perfectly possible to live in conformance with both Biblical and US law (at least regarding these issues; animal sacrifice is possibly an issue, but Christians believe those laws are superseded by a one-time human sacrifice and so are not relevant).

    You are correct that American slavery was not Biblical. But again, the Bible doesn’t require slavery; it just regulates it. Most of the Biblical slavery laws explicitly only apply to Hebrew slaves anyway. But even the others were generally sidestepped by claiming that Africans were not fully human. I had a longer discussion about Biblical slavery here. I don’t think you’ll find many modern Fundamentalists who will claim that the US had Biblical slavery laws in the nineteenth century.

    As for the many kosher laws you referring to, that’s why I pointed you to Acts 10. That is the chapter that Baptists use to circumvent kosher and all other laws related to “unclean” such as the many menstruation laws.

    I’m not familiar with the “non-natural fibers” prohibition. Do you mean the mixed fibers prohibition (particularly wool and linen)? I’m totally with you on that one. I have never heard any excuse for letting go of that one (beyond the incredibly weak in my opinion “Christians are under Grace not Law” argument).

    As for premarital sex, can you point to the law in question that requires them to be turned out of their homes? I’m not familiar with it. In general, specific punishments for specific sins are assumed to be removed under the blood of Jesus (who washes away the sin, though not the crime which is distinct and may have a social punishment involved, but this is separate from the God-required sin punishment).

    All I’m saying is that there is a huge amount of contradiction within the Bible, and particularly between the Bible and Christian practice, but the examples you’re giving are a real mixed bag. Some are very difficult for Christians to defend (women should not talk in Church), and some are pretty easy for Christians to defend (we have no slavery today, so we’re not in violation of any Biblical slavery laws).

    Perhaps our difference is just goal and audience. My usual goal is to engage those Christians who are ready to really think about their beliefs and for whom a convincing argument could actually change their mind. I was just such a Christian, and I’m returning the favor of the guy who changed my mind. So I try to make sure my argument addresses the objections that they have or their pastor will confuse them with. Failing that, I would like them to actually practice a Biblical church, for at least the reason that a Biblical church would focus on changing hearts with speech rather than changing behaviors with laws (or guns). If Christians would focus on winning hearts rather than beating gays (figuratively and literally), they would be a much less dangerous part of our society.

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