When atheists criticize religion, one of the things we harp about most is cherry-picking: believers embracing the parts of their religious teachings they like, and ignoring or rejecting the parts they don’t. We point out that sacred texts — the Bible, the Koran, etc. — are typically filled with anachronisms and absurdities, internal contradictions and factual errors and moral grotesqueries, and that nobody actually adheres to all their teachings… not even self-proclaimed fundamentalists. (Are there any Christian fundamentalists who decline to wear blended fabrics, or who stone their disobedient children to death?) And we point out that believers conveniently pick the parts of their sacred texts that they already agree with, or that they would most like to agree with, or that they happened to be taught by the accident of which faith they were brought up in.
Now, fundamentalists and other conservative believers will hotly deny this charge. They’ll insist that they really do follow the literal word of their sacred text. And they’ll come up with any number of contorted excuses for why they embrace parts of their religious text and reject others: why they’re wearing cotton-poly blends, why their disobedient children are still alive.
But progressive and moderate believers take a very different approach. They freely admit to cherry-picking. “Sure,” they say. “The Bible says a lot of things — things that are anachronistic and absurd, factually inaccurate and morally grotesque. The Bible (or whichever sacred text we’re talking about) isn’t a perfect document written by God — it’s a flawed document written by people who were trying to understand God. You think you’re telling us something we don’t know? Yes, we cherry-pick. We should cherry-pick. We have minds, and moral compasses, and we’re supposed to think for ourselves. Isn’t that what atheists do? When you read works by thinkers you find inspiring, you get inspired by the parts that resonate with you, and you reject the parts you think are screwed up. Why shouldn’t believers do the same thing?”
Yeah. See, here’s the problem.
Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Progressive Religious Believers’ Big Hypocrisy: Cherry-Picking the Parts of Religion they Like and Ditching the Rest. To find out more about why cherry-picking is just as big a problem for progressive believers as it is for religious extremists — and why cherry- picking is even a problem in the first place — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!
(Oh, and for the record: I didn’t put the word “hypocrisy” in the title. AlterNet often re-titles my pieces — it’s standard practice in magazine and newspaper publishing — and they did so with this one. I wouldn’t have chosen to do so, as it doesn’t quite express what I was getting at, and has a somewhat harsher tone than I was aiming for in this piece.)