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Friday, August 14, 2015

"Let's Send Them Bibles!"

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I'm kind of baffled at what always happens after some disaster occurs on the other side of the world. Inevitably, you'll get Christians saying, "Let's send them bibles!"

Mostly, after a disaster, people send a lot of humanitarian aid. Christians and Christian organizations are a huge part of this. Which is great! And if they want to send bibles too, okay, I'm fine with that.

But it's just so bizarre that evangelical Christians think sending bibles is a useful way to teach people about their brand of Christianity. It's not.

Evangelical Christians think that their beliefs come directly from the bible. They think if you believe the entire bible is inerrant and inspired by God, and you read the entire thing, you will end up with all the correct Real True Christian beliefs.

Haha... right.

Here's what happens if you have no prior knowledge of Christianity, and you start reading the bible: You start out with creation stories, like how Tubal-Cain invented iron and bronze tools. Then you get to the bizarre hijinks of Abraham's family, like how Judah had sex with his daughter-in-law because she was disguised as a prostitute (an honest mistake, yes?).

If you stick with it, eventually you get chapter after chapter of detailed regulations about exactly how to build the tabernacle and exactly how to sacrifice animals. And so on, through accounts of ancient Israelite history, poetry, graphic and gory prophesies of doom, etc.

The bible is weird, and a lot of American Christians don't realize that.

For those of us who were raised in the church, we learned the more well-known bible stories in Sunday School class. The ones that were a bit more, uh, PG-rated (or could be cleaned up enough to be PG-rated). We were trained to just sort of ignore the other bits- the more WTF bits. But WTF bits can be found on almost every page of the bible. As for the poor people you are sending bibles to- they don't know which parts are inspirational stories/ deep truths about the nature of God and which parts we just don't talk about.

We learned about Noah and the ark and how it cute it must have been to have two of every animal there together, and ignored the fact that God killed all humans on earth except for 8.

If you give a bible to a poor person in Asia, and they read the story of Noah's ark, odds are they're not going to come away with the message "What God did was reasonable and just. All those people deserved to die. Wasn't it so nice- merciful, in fact- for God to save Noah's family?"

Odds are, they're going to have some questions about it. The kind of questions we don't ask out loud in church.

They don't know we're supposed to pick out John 3:16 and treat it as the most important verse ever. They don't know that the basics of the "gospel" are Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, and 10:9. There's nothing in the bible that says these verses are more important than all the others. There's nothing that says these are the core principles of Christianity.

Evangelical Christians always talk about how the whole bible is so great, and every word is inspired and important, and how we should all read the whole thing. Meanwhile, they base most of their sermons and bible studies on a small subset of the bible.

And they don't even realize they're doing this. That's why they think that if they give someone a bible, and that person reads and believes the bible (whatever that means) they'll end up becoming an evangelical Christian.

But, you guys, the bible is weird. The bible is full of different types of literature, compiled over hundreds or thousands of years, and it's really diverse and interesting and worth studying. But you need some sort of strategy to go about reading and interpreting it. Some sort of hermeneutic.

There are Christian organizations who actually work to help people around the world, and they understand this. They do the work to find out people's real physical needs, and the best way to help them. They bring food, water, and medical care. Most of them also teach their version of "the gospel", and I don't have a problem with that, as long as it's done in a way that respects people. And they know that dropping a bible on someone is not the same thing as teaching their version of "the gospel."

The fact is though, there will always be evangelicals running around suggesting "let's send them bibles!" They think if you read the bible and take it seriously, you'll automatically become a Real True Christian. They think that the phrase "I believe the bible" actually has some kind of well-defined meaning. They think that their beliefs come from just reading what the bible clearly says.

Is this because evangelicals talk all day about how important it is to read the bible and base your whole life on it, but most have never actually read the whole thing?

Or, perhaps more disturbingly, we've read it, but we've been trained to ignore the parts that don't fit our idea of what Christianity is. We've been taught to "use the more clear passages in the bible to interpret the less clear ones" where "less clear" means "this pretty clearly contradicts what the church taught me." We've been trained to just gloss over the bits about "you guys are in SO MUCH trouble for not helping the poor" and focus on the parts about rules for sex. We've been made to believe that to be a Christian means thinking everything God says and does in the bible is good- so we try not to think too hard about the Canaanite genocide and all the other WTF things God commanded.

Those third-world disaster victims you want to send bibles to? They've received no such training.

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