Lacking other ideas, more Billy Graham

Maybe I should do an all call for topic ideas and let readers post suggestions on things I should look up and write about. Sometimes I’m kind of at a loss. Do some thinking, readers, and get back to me.

Until then, here’s this weekend’s letter.

DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: How can I know if something is really wrong, or if it’s just something people think is wrong but it actually isn’t as far as God is concerned? Some people have a long list of things they think are wrong, but how do they know? — J.L.

I was going to do a whole post about this but I think it’ll work better to just mention it here instead. Did you know that Bible apps are incredibly popular for smartphones? The Christian Post reports on the “digital Bible explosion.”

iPhone Life magazine reported that Logos Bible Software was the #4 most popular Bible App download, and “BibleReader broke into the top 10 highest grossing book apps for the iPad earlier this year.”

Logos Bible Software is a leader in Bible software, offering Mac and PC versions of their program with advanced Bible study tools. 
Dan Pritchett, vice president for Logos Bible Software, told The Christian Post that even though the Bible hasn’t changed, new apps and software are making it more accessible to people.

And because people look to their smartphones for all their entertainment and boredom-buster needs these days, having bible quotes and devotionals a mere button tap away has been.. well, a god-send.

Bible app creators and marketers know the Bible’s content hasn’t changed in the digital age, but more and more people are turning to technology to fulfill their need to have hands-on experiences with Scripture. The goal of most Bible software makers is to make the Bible become, as YouVersion users have often said, “more seamlessly integrated into their lives.”

Having a digital bible on hand 24/7 certainly will make it easier to look to the book for some quick guidance about the right and the wrong one might do in life but let’s look at some things that are wrong and right according to the bible. For one thing, it’s probably important to decide what book you want to go by when deciding.

Take Leviticus, for example, one that’s popular with atheists and fundamentalists alike. Those rabidly against homosexuality get their notion of rightness from the verse in there regarding homosexuality as a sin (18:22). Atheists point to other passages that are anti-shellfish (11:10) or preaching against mixed-fiber clothing (19:19). The devouring of crustaceans while dressed in one’s Sunday best should be just as big a sin as two men in a bed when going by that book and yet how popular is Red Lobster after service? I don’t actually care to know; that’s just rhetorical.

Atheists like to drag the bible’s approach to slavery to the forefront. Jesus Christ himself supported slavery. It was the way of the world and completely acceptable in Christ’s time, and in Paul’s. How best to treat slaves was important enough to mention but abolishing slavery wasn’t even a germ of an idea in their minds back then, or else that would have gotten a mention, too. God was completely OK with the notion of slavery.

People who say they want to use the bible as their inspiration for right and wrong must read the book with mental blinders on, I think. True, some of the rules in there seem downright universal. Don’t kill, don’t steal, treat your parents right, do unto others, etc. Other stuff was clearly written down for the time those people were living in and have little to no basis in our current reality. These days we know that slavery is one of the worst injustices mankind can do to mankind and great strides have been taken across the world to fight against that practice. (I continue to follow the shellfish ban to the letter, though — “But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you.” Damn straight. Yucky.)

Billy Graham answers the question as if he can read God’s mind:

God cares how we live — because he knows that if we follow the wrong path in life, we’ll end up hurting both ourselves and other people. But he loves us and he doesn’t want that to happen.

This is why he’s given us a “yardstick” or standard by which we should live — and that “yardstick” is the Bible. In the Bible, he tells us how to live — both what we should do, and what we should avoid doing. Think how many problems and heartaches we’d avoid if we only followed the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (you’ll find them in Exodus 20 and Matthew 5-7).

With this advice, Graham is essentially asking J.L. and the rest of the readers to ignore whole centuries and books worth of scripture and insist they use his own mental measuring stick to gauge what parts are most important to follow. Graham may want Christians to live by those two sections alone, as if they’ll just save those bits and throw the rest into the trash as unnecessary, but as I’ve pointed out, there’s more in the bible than just those two sections. It’s a big book with more than just rules for living in it and people are willing to believe whole chunks of nonsense — and a lot of it is nonsense when compared to everything we now know about earth’s history, biology and the universe at large.

The Bible says, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

And God also insists that children have to be killed if they curse their parents. (Leviticus 20:9) He means it, too. In 20:8 he says, “Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.”

You can set any behaviour as right behaviour if you pick the “right” place in the bible to quote from. It’s quite fortunate that Graham is selecting sections that tend to mesh with current thought on appropriate human behaviour.

Although I think this one gives some people a few too many delusions of grandeur:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

That’s Matthew 5:10 and likely some of the basis for why some Christians are quick to get their freak on when asked to remove crosses or religiously patriotic posters. “I’m being persecuted for my beliefs!” (Thank God! I’m assured of heaven just for stating that!)

At the same time, the Bible isn’t just a list of rules. In fact, it tells us that we can never win God’s favor by keeping a set of rules. God’s standard is nothing less than perfection — and no matter how good we are, we fall far short of that standard. That is why we need Christ, because only he can forgive us and bring us back to God.

This thought-process is a large chunk of what’s wrong with our society in general, I think, and why there is a self-help movement and why plastic surgeons keep getting richer. The notion that there is a perfection we’re supposed to be aiming for winds up creating people who don’t have faith in their own abilities and are never satisfied with what they have. (As an aside, other theories of perfection once hobbled scientific progress, too. I’ve finally finished watching all of Cosmos, Carl Sagan’s genius documentary and one of the best parts was in episode 7 where he discussed Pythagorus and Plato and how their collective ideas both helped and hindered those who came after.)

Graham ends by pleading for readers to accept Christ as their personal saviour if they want to live righteous lives but I’ll suggest something else. I say look at the world we’re living in and what it needs in terms of care. Look at what people need in terms of care. Are you being kind and honest and approaching life in a way that improves your well being and the well being of those around you? Ask yourself if there’s more you should do. Should you be volunteering? Donating more to charity? Giving blood? Those are all things I know I should be doing more of. It’s not about living righteously as dictated by some old book so much as it’s about being the best person you can be, however how you might want to define the word.

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