THE THEOLOGICAL ENGINEER  



The Misunderstood Bible

Not News; Just Weak


By Jeff Laird
See also S. Michael Houdmann's "Newsweek, Eichenwald, and the Misunderstood Bible"





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Misrepresentation of Christianity is rampant, especially in mass media. The claim "I am a Christian" isn't self-verifying, nor does it imply any actual knowledge about that faith. Those who don't actually read or study the Bible have little beyond rumor and pop culture to feed their perception of Biblical truth. As a result, it seems the most ignorant claims about the Bible are swallowed whole, by those who either don't know better, or who'll accept anything agreeing with their preconceived notions.

This past week, Newsweek's cover story was an article by Kurt Eichenwald, titled The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin. Despite the title, his article does nothing to dispel general ignorance about the Bible. On the contrary, it's chock full of ignorant, arrogant, uninformed and generally irrational nonsense. To the theist, atheist, journalist, or middle-school newsletter editor alike, this is an embarrassing publication.

A major part of my ministry work, and personal study, is taking in criticism of the Bible. Some attacks are legitimate, in that they're grounded in a certain level of careful thought, and/or evidence. Not that I agree with the conclusions, but there are criticisms of the Bible and of Christianity that are respectable, if nothing else. There's substance there, and intellectual and logical integrity. Those kinds of criticisms have taught me much, and refined my faith.

Eichenwald's article is nothing like that.

While scolding Christians for being wrong and uneducated about the Bible, Eichenwald pours out arguments that aren't merely misleading, or one-sided. They're factually, hilariously, obnoxiously wrong. It reads like a transcript from an atheist chat room discussing the latest Dan Brown novel. I rarely laugh out loud when reading, but I can honestly say this piece inspired me to LOL more than once, in no small part because it's passed off as high-level journalism.

In short, brutal honesty, Eichenwald's effort is so aggressively shallow, it raises questions about his intentions, and those of his editors. If this is really how he approaches any issue, let alone the Bible, his opinion isn't worth the pixels it's carried on. I half wondered, half hoped it was some kind of bizarre reverse-trolling experiment; sending up a balloon full of nonsense to see how many people noticed.

As always, length is an issue when responding. The article itself is nearly 9,000 words long. Few people are willing to read a 500-word answer to a 10-word question, let alone a few dozen times over. Answering every error in decent detail would literally run to the length of a short novel. So, rather than swat every mosquito in the swarm, consider the following brief, but representative examples. There's much more to be said for each issue, and the article itself, than I've taken time for here.

HURRICANE OF HYPOCRISY

First off, one can readily agree — in theory — with Eichenwald's condemnation of those who don't know the Bible, don't read the Bible, don't follow the Bible, yet attempt to leverage it for political or personal purposes. Likewise for those who feel the need to treat homosexuality as somehow "worse" than other sexual sins. Those of us who contend for Biblical truth are frustrated, to put it mildly, at the number of people who claim the name of Christ, yet abuse His words. Those who arrogantly claim to speak for God, via the Bible, in ignorance and shallowness, are rightly the targets of scorn.

Unfortunately, Eichenwald projects his own flaws onto others when he condemns those who...
...pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch...invoking a book they seem to have never read and whose phrases they don't understand, America is being besieged by Biblical illiteracy.
Likewise,
...the history, complexities and actual words of the Bible can't be ignored just to line it up with what people want to believe, based simply on what friends and family and ministers tell them.
And,
Jesus said, Don't [sic] judge. He condemned those who pointed out the faults of others while ignoring their own.
But wait, there's more:
This examination is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Instead, Christians seeking greater understanding of their religion should view it as an attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias that has been heaped upon it. If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it. Too many of them seem to read John Grisham novels with greater care than they apply to the book they consider to be the most important document in the world.
This, from a muckraker who contradicts his own arguments, ignores vast swaths of Biblical scholarship and theology, not to mention deeper examination of the texts, in favor of silly caricatures, seemingly based on non-existent research, who passes along blatant falsehoods, picks and chooses which verses to read, carelessly, then judgmentally wraps it all up in a smug, patronizing claim to the inside track on the real meaning of the Bible.

SCARECROWS ON PARADE

A major problem with Newsweek's piece is its reliance on the fringe of the fringe. Eichenwald's claims cruise so far over the left field fence that even his cited sources don't actually support him. Consensus scholarship, including non-Christian and skeptical sources, contradicts him as well. No matter what you want to hear, there's one PhD lurking somewhere willing to support it, but that's not exactly an honest approach to journalism.
Eichenwald's piece on the Bible is reliant on sources so fringe of the fringe they don't even support him.tweet
To justify his condemnation, Eichenwald rolls out a personally-collected freak show version of Christianity: Christians who reject all climate change "because of promises God made to Noah," view Syrian resistance to attacks as a sign of the apocalypse, "banish" children from their homes, insist the Old Testament "debunks science," and so forth. I talk to Christians with some...unique...views of the Bible, and have yet to encounter one of these theological unicorns. The images attached to the article include snake handlers and, of course — of course! — the Westboro Baptist posse and their "God Hates F*gs" nonsense.

As a side note, I'm advocating a new informal logical fallacy: the argumentum ad Westborum. The "Westboro Blunder." Invoking Hitler for no good reason is semi-jokingly known as the argumentum ad Hitlerum, an irrelevant association trading on shock value. Westboro's been burnt to a crisp by virtually every mainstream church and sub-sect I can think of, yet they're dragged into everything by the anti-Biblical crowd. Newsweek's not the first to succumb to the argumentum ad Westborum, but it's still a vapid association. Grow up and get serious, already.

Comically, Eichenwald's preferred interpretations of the text are as obnoxiously shallow and self-serving as anything these groups supposedly stand for. We can take potshots at free-range kooks all day, but they aren't a fair representation of a belief system. Reasonable people don't pick the most irrational, extreme version of the opposition as their target — they approach the strongest, most common, most rigorous, or at least the more mainstream versions.




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Published 12-29-14