Friday, February 24, 2012

Two Different Bibles?

“Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”—from “The Merchant of Venice”

The Religious Right has been claiming the high ground for years to the point of stating that one cannot be Christian unless one holds their conservative values and that liberals seeking social justice are godless. So I was very pleased to run across a website for The Christian Left which tells me that it is not just the “godless” who are seeking social justice.  Though if it were, it wouldn’t bother me, nor change my politics.  If being a Christians means I have to be anti-sick, anti-poor, anti-oppressed, anti-minorities, anti-women, anti-environment, pro-wealth and pro-war, then I am just as happy to be out of it.

The home page of the Christian Left is quite lengthy but well worth reading*. It begins:

We are The Christian Left. We’re all around you. We’re among the people. Take a look. We’re part of the Body of Christ. We’re Christians. We’re Liberal. We make no apologies. In fact Jesus' ways are “Liberal.” That’s why He was killed. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the conservatives of their time . . .We’re not ‘Communists’ or ‘Marxists’ either. We reject all such labels. We will not be profiled or pigeonholed and we will not ‘Be Quiet.’ We’re Christians. We’re Liberals. Please get used to it . . . The most common religious viewpoint which might be described as ‘left wing’ is social justice, or care for the poor and the oppressed. Supporters of this might encourage universal health care, welfare provision, subsidized education, foreign aid, and Affirmative Action for improving the conditions of the disadvantaged. Stemming from egalitarian values (and what Jesus Himself said), adherents of the Christian left consider it part of their religious duty to take actions on behalf of the oppressed.

When we have Rick Santorum making statements like Obama’s agenda is some phony theology not based on the bible or others suggesting “liberalism is a hatred of God”, Mike Lux at Crooks and Liars wonders “What Bible is Santorum Reading?” 

[T]he Bible I read…is overwhelmingly supportive of helping the poor, showing mercy to the weak, refraining from judging, treating others as you would treat yourself, calling on the wealthy to give their money to the poor, and all kinds of other liberal, lefty, progressive values.

Several paragraphs such as this one bring out the clear message of social justice:

The anti-immigrant conservative has to ignore Leviticus, which says: "Don't mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself." The pro-death penalty conservative has to ignore Jesus who told the Pharisees that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. The anti-labor conservatives have to not worry about Jesus' brother James (the undisputed first leader of the early Christian church according to most historians) saying "Now an answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries coming to you ... Laborers plowed your field and you cheated them: listen to the wages you kept back, they are calling out: realize the cries of the workers have reached the ears of the Lord."

He continues:

Now, look: people have every right to believe whatever they want to believe about God, Heaven and Hell, sin and salvation, the soul, and all sorts of theology. . . And if you want to believe in a God who doesn't care about the poor, loves the wealthy more than anyone else, and wants you to be selfish, feel free. But when you claim to fervently believe in the holy words of the Judeo-Christian Bible, and your political philosophy is violently opposed to most of what is actually in that Bible, I have to call you out on that. . .

I will go so far as to say that the modern conservative faith is the direct opposite of what the Judeo-Christian Bible teaches: modern conservatives argue that everyone should take what they want and devil take the hindmost, that we are all on our own, and that if you are rich it means that a Darwinian selection process allowed you to succeed, and that you owe nothing to anyone else. Modern conservatives are far more faithful to Ayn Rand, who openly rejected Christianity because of its values of helping the poor and caring for others. Give her credit for one thing: at least she was honest.

Now someone will say “Well, you are just ‘Cherry-picking’.  The whole Bible is inspired by God and you just can’t pick and chose.  ‘[E]ther it’s all God’s truth in all its parts, or none of it is’”.  My answer to that is to refer you to my previous post “Why can’t I own a Canadian?” 

Every religious denomination, every preacher, every bible teacher cherry-picks in the sense that some verses are emphasized and others are ignored.  That is why there are so many different versions of Christianity. During the civil war in USA, Northern Christians used their bibles to prove slavery was wrong while Southern Christians used their bibles to prove slavery was right.  (Hence Southern Baptists – and thanks, Snowbrush).  Martin Luther cherry-picked Ephesians 2:8-10 and justification by faith became the founding scripture of Protestantism.

Contrary to what the fundamentalists would have you believe, the Bible did not “fall from the sky on the 4th of July” fully formed in its King James version.  The notion that “the Bible (KJV) is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, its own origins, and salvation” is wishful thinking.  It is Holy Scripture; it is not a history text, biology text, chemistry text nor physics text. As Galileo famously argued, scripture teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

The books of the Bible were written over the centuries by men for men (and not always by the men whose names appear on the various books.  The bible was translated by men for men, interpreted by men for men; labouriously copied over and over again by men for men, with errors, additions and subtractions deliberate or otherwise until the printing press made such work redundant.  Books were added and subtracted until the present day canon was arrived at.  Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox each have very different canons.  Catholic Bibles have 73 books, 46 in the Old Testament, and 27 in the New Testament. Protestant Bibles have 66 books with only 39 in the Old Testament. Orthodox Bibles have 76 books with 49 in the Old Testament.

See Here for a brief outline of the Church Councils convened over several centuries to agree on biblical canon. Politics, power and money have been part of religion since humans first bowed down to a rock.

So everyone reads the same bible, more or less, cherry-picks the verses to support their ideology and accuses the other of being godless.  More on this subject another time.  I have been all week getting this far but have found some excellent writings (see below) on the subject of reading the bible which I hope you will read.  I hope to come back to it at a later date.

Charles Scriven, Ph.D., chair of the Seventh Day Adventist Forum board (publisher of Spectrum), president of Kettering College of Medical Arts wrote a series of three articles in 2010 in the Spectrum Magazine blog around “Why Can’t I own a Canadian?” examining how people read the bible.  They are Grace, the Holy Spirit, and the Threat of Fundamentalism; Part I and Part II and Biblical Realism as an Alternative to Fundamentalism, Here.  

*Note: You may want to read the comments at the bottom as well before you make up your mind about The Christian Left.  They seem to be banning any commenters from their FB page that raise any issues they do not agree with and do not differentiate between trolling and honest dialogue.  They have no problem with comments on their website though.


  1. Well, I learned about two Bibles when I moved to Western Canada. One contained The Holy Scriptures. The other was a Canadian Wheat Board Permit Book. Both of those bibles (from the Greek biblos, meaning "book") had a significant impact on communities in which I lived.

    But I'm not sure if that's what you've been talking about, BF. I think I'll need to re-read.

  2. Odd how so many of the extremist right never seems to make it to the new testament.

    Pardon my play on words but Rick Santorum has no chance in hell of seeing the inside of the White House. Weren't such people relegated to an institution in the past?


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