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When people approach a religious text or any large book from which they intend to derive ethical teachings, nearly without exception the person will pick up the book and pay very particular attention to all the morals they already agree with. The philosopher George Smith says that " Christian theologians have a strong tendency to read their own moral convictions into the ethics of Jesus. Jesus is made to say what theologians think he should have said" 4. A homophobe will pick up the Christian Bible and realise that homosexuality is an evil sin. A misogynist will pick up the Bible or Qur'an and realise that after all this time he's right: Women are inferior, and he can quote the Bible or Qur'an to prove it. A fluffy liberal will read it and find all the hippy love-thy-neighbour bits and therefore will be able to prove that all those homophobes and misogynists have it wrong. In arguing against extremism, Neil J. Kressel 5 points out that "everyone picks and chooses, at least a little. Long texts that dance with moral issues suffer from the problem that some morals in one place step on the toes of other morals in other parts. The debates over which verses have precedence over others is a major symptom of this issue. In addition because of the volume of text and its frequent obscurity and complexity, there is plenty of scope for the imagination, and for personal bias, to find a way to interpret lines in a way that beat to the drum of the reader. Because of the kaleidoscope of different plotlines and levels of possible interpretation, one's subconscious and imagination is given accidental freedom to invent all kinds of morals. There is not a single moral "absolute" in the Bible that I cannot find a contradiction for in the very same book. For example, it is said by Bible believers that "do not steal" is an absolute moral found in the Bible, yet in the Bible we also find text where, under direct orders from God, people have stolen. There are serious and multifaceted contradictions between the OT and NT - some choose to get around this simply by ignoring Old Testament morals because they say they were overriden by the New Testament - but continue to use the bits that they like 7. Prof Dawkins does a good job of explaining why such disparaties can exist all within one book:: This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living. Most stories in holy books are about personalities - tales about what people are said to have done what. Most of them also involve war and cultural struggles between different peoples, and are often written from within one particular geographical area. It is possible to read these stories and take out of them a wide range of morals, and therefore, to think that these indirect lessons have divine mandate. The same occurs with all long texts. Take Tolkien's Lord of the Rings - it is very much like the Bible in style , and it is clear to see that you could spend your entire life analyzing it for morals. Many people who undertook such a task would come to different conclusions, just as with Holy Books. The simple fact remains that the parts of the text that say "Here follows a moral rule, to be obeyed by all people for all time" are very infrequent indeed. The Qur'an is much more frank than the Bible, but is still mostly about the retelling of events. The people in the book all have their own aims, which are relevant to the topic of the book and the life circumstances of that person. Most people's actions are simply not centered around any wish to provide universal instruction on behaviour - it's all about their problems at that time. Using characters from within this book we would find many seemingly contradictory morals. For example, for the side of Good, there is much killing to be done, yet part of the morals is that the bad guys kill people. People interpret the "real meanings" behind various stories in hugely varying ways, and volumes of books have been written on such interpretations based on political and moral undertones. The answer is that this describes all large books written by Humans. Attempts to read them as places for moral instruction is itself the problem, and the cause of schism, violent disagreements and fundamentalism. As time passes, the original cultural assumptions and cultural understanding of phrases and words will all change, making it impossible for many things to be understood by future audiences in the same way that the original authors meant them. The longer ago something was written, the less the context is clear to us today, and this opens the way for much culturally subjective opinion. A land of barbarians may feel quite free to brutalize others just as they brutalize themselves 9 , whereas band of s hippies spread love in a much more physical way. Over time, morals are simply read into texts differently, hence why religious prohibitions change over time too. We read text literally, chronologically and philosophically, but both The Koran and much of The Bible was written in prose, in poetry, using many symbolic aspects and word games. Shifts in time and place mean that there are unknown cultural references that we cannot possibly understand now, even if text that we think we are reading correctly. As a society changes its moral views, its interpretation of Biblical texts changes with it. This much is common sense. The force of that change is often within society itself. The reading of morals from the Bible changes alongside society, but generally speaking lags by a generation or two. Examples are in diverse areas such as the abolition of slavery , birth control , women's rights , gay equality, individualism i. In the emphasis on 'getting up to date' the Churches tacitly recognize their own increasingly marginal capacity to influence society. The shifts of Church response on the issue of birth control illustrate the way in which moral theologians have attempted to come to terms with the changing moral practice of societies which they increasingly realize they know very little about. They refer to 'the quantity and complexity of sociological information', and [ All of the above problems come together when translations of holy texts are made. One thing that fundamentalists do get right is their determined and enviable attempts to read scripture in its original language which is easier for Muslim Arabs who still speak the same language the Koran was written in. But we have very few of the original texts of our major religions. We rely on copies-of-copies-of-copies, which at some point, have often been translated - quotations changed from Aramaic to Greek, entire texts from Latin to English, based on Greek translations. We know that even from very early on numerous mistranslations have been introduced 12 , such as the mistaken usage of the word "virgin" to describe the prophecy of Jesus' birth since the major Septuagint translation. It is surprising that anyone thinks a god would attempt to communicate with us in any particular language, let alone ancient ones. If I was god, I would transmit my message directly into everyone's brain. That way problems with translation and subjectivism would be removed and people could make informed decisions and moral choices based on the full facts, rather than miscommunicated ideals. This would end all translation and transmission problems too. Clearly, no gods have imparted such a universal moral message into the minds of mankind. If there is a supreme and omniscient creator god then it is responsible for creating the way that our brains work. Such a being knows that we can only interpret life subjectively, and that no text will mean the same thing for any two people. Therefore by design, any sacred text must only be designed by God for the specific culture into which the text arose. The Social Effects of a Poor Moral Framework christianity judaism There has been a long Christian history of horrible explanations of evil, wherein all blame is put on the victims. Disabled people, stillborn babies, the suffering of children and adults alike has all, from time to time, been explained as punishment for their sins. If not actual behaviour, then for thought crime, and, sometimes, the punishment itself is in order to prevent some serious sin happening in the future. The theory goes that God never punishes people through random bouts of suffering by accident: If suffering seems unjust and unfair, then, it is merely the case that God is judging and punishing people for reasons that their fellow Humans do not comprehend. Thoughts like these kill all sense of compassion and caring, and scupper any chance of granting relief to the victim. Everything is our fault: It is not our job to try and alleviate the pain that God has seen fit to bring upon us! I am sure that most modern, moral, readers, must react in horror to such an inhumane dismissal of evil. Many may even, through wishful thinking and ignorance, disclaim that no-one has held to such a monstrous justification. But you'd be wrong. We've seen it in the Jewish Story of Job in the Bible , where poor job has done nothing wrong, and God itself blasts down a warning that no-one may question God's judgements and methods. In the Jewish spiritual book, The Talmud, it said that 'if a man sees that painful suffering visits him, let him examine his conduct' and that 'there is no suffering without sin' That is, we all deserve punishment simply for being human, until such a time as we are saved, if we ever are. This was not mere philosophizing - the Christian church in the dark ages really did ban medicine and physicians on the grounds that our bodies deserve their pains and diseases. The same went for childbirth - it is painful and dangerous for women, because God made it that way as a punishment for all women 16 Genesis 3: Their activities were seen as a "direct affront to the divinely ordained pain of childbirth" and, according to a Scottish clergyman, "vitiating the primal curse of women" For the same reasons, "when the great American discovery of anaesthetics was applied in obstetrical cases, it was discouraged [because] it was an impious attempt to escape from the curse denounced against all women in Genesis iii. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, taught the same: The following statement epitomizes the Christian approach to female welfare: Let them die in childbirth - that is why they are there" This outright dismissal of pain and suffering arises because religious theology cannot answer the fundamental question as to why there is evil and suffering in the world. The result is a morality that can have a profoundly negative effect on human compassion. For more, see the following page, from which the above section was taken:
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