One-click shopping for religious truth

This from last Thursday, there was a conference in Montreal to discuss how scripture is used and misused by people and groups interested in pushing their own agendas or for ridiculing other belief systems.

“Each religion claims that its texts are legitimate, but very often there’s little historical evidence of that,” said Buddhist scholar Mathieu Boisvert, a religion professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

And “when religion is used for political ends, it definitely gets distorted,” added Concordia University Hindu scholar T.S. Rukmani.

History has shown that devotees of one religion don’t let their ignorance of another religion stop them from criticizing it, added Muslim scholar Sheila McDonough, a Concordia professor emeritus. People will pick and choose among the rival religion’s sacred texts to “prove” a misconstrued point, she said.

In the Internet age there’s also a danger of people one-click shopping for religious truth, said Ellen Aitken, dean of McGill’s religious studies faculty, which hosted the event with the Canadian Sikh Council. Christians have used a single verse to justify an entire point of view, she said.

For example, Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. have used passages from the Bible to oppose everything from abortion and homosexuality to the ordination of women and the global environmental campaign against climate change, Aitken said.

And I agree that’s a dilemma. Fundamentalists pick out one verse from Leviticus to justify their homophobia and atheists flip to their favourite bible editions (Skeptic’s Annotated is mine) and drag the gang rape of Lot’s daughters into the argument, or stoning people or any other ridiculous rule or law that catches their eyes while skimming.

Most religions are used for political gain in one way or another, done today as it has been for all of the history of politics, likely. It’s the best way to prove you’ve got your people’s best interests at heart if they think you think like they think. Isn’t that part of the reason Constantine converted to Christianity? Isn’t that a driving force behind Sarah Palin’s “Aww shucks” girl-next-door persona? Not just girl-next-door, but a church-going one, too. Just like her fans probably are.

Paul Brim of Burlington was wearing an “I Love Sarah” T-shirt that featured her trademark eyeglasses and up-do.

The 69-year-old served in the Korean conflict and is a member of Disabled Veterans of America.

“There’s no doubt in my mind she’s got backbone and will stand up for whatever it takes for the American way of life to continue,” he said.

Okay, but what if the “American way of life” as it is now shouldn’t continue? There are a lot of things wrong with the way things are. A lot of things need changing and the writers with the best seats in the political arena have blogged about this extensively. Good thing, too. I don’t have the chops to do the topic justice.

I finds myself wondering about the truths people hope to find in a book that hasn’t changed in eighteen centuries, save for paraphrasing. The bible doesn’t change. Most people see that as a good thing. I don’t. I don’t think it’s healthy to hang onto traditional thought patterns if they are completely at odds with today’s needs and awareness and experiences. I certainly wouldn’t claim the whole bible needs to be tossed, though. We could probably keep the proverbs, for example, assuming they’re teaching a truth that ought to be learned, like this bit:

4:5 Get wisdom. Get understanding. Don’t forget, neither swerve from the words of my mouth.
4:6 Don’t forsake her, and she will preserve you. Love her, and she will keep you.
4:7 Wisdom is supreme. Get wisdom. Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding.
4:8 Esteem her, and she will exalt you. She will bring you to honor, when you embrace her.
4:9 She will give to your head a garland of grace. She will deliver a crown of splendor to you.”

The more we learn, the more we can extrapolate and build onto what we’ve learned before. It doesn’t matter what theory you want to buy into for how we learn, the end results are pretty much for same for all of them. We change, we learn, we grow, we learn more, we change more. Around and around it goes, from first breath to final death. It doesn’t stop until we do.

Real knowledge has to come from more than one source, though. Nobody knows everything. No book contains everything. Some books and people are not right but the only way to learn which ones they are is by learning more.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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