May 9, 2014

Many Christians Ignorant of Their Bible

Israel MK Effie Eitam at the American Bible So...
Israel MK Effie Eitam at the American Bible Society's Bible Library in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
People sometimes lie, claiming one thing and doing another. Besides lying, which implies intent, people often engage in self-deception. They may not even perceive the gross inconsistencies between what they claim and how they behave. This sort of self-deception is often involved in hypocrisy, and it can be extremely difficult to spot in oneself.

If Christians truly believed that their bible was sacred, holy, divinely inspired, and/or a guide for how they ought to live their lives, wouldn't it be fair to assume that they read it regularly? Shouldn't we expect them to not just read it but study it until they had learned it thoroughly? The Christian bible is a lengthy, complex, and frequently inconsistent collection of writings. If it really is everything Christians claim, it seems like they would take it quite seriously.

According to the American Bible Society's yearly "State of the Bible" survey, this does not seem to be happening. As summarized in this post by Cathy Lynn Grossman for Religion News Service, familiarity with the contents of the Christian bible appears to be rather poor among Christians.
When it came to assessing what the Bible says on several critical social issues, many showed fuzzy knowledge of the attitudes and behaviors addressed in Scripture.
We seem to have a bit of a contradiction here. On one hand, Christians are quite fond of telling us that their bible serves as a guide for how they live their lives. On the other hand, many of them seem surprisingly ignorant of the contents of their bible.

I suspect that self-deception is more relevant here than deliberate lying. Many Christians believe that they know the contents of their bible far better than they actually do, and many fail to see the mismatch between its contents and how they live their lives.

Fortunately for Christians, there are some options for reconciling this inconsistency and overcoming self-deception. First, Christians could devote far more time and energy into learning the contents of their bible to be sure that they really were living their lives along the lines of how it says they should (e.g., giving away their wealth, slaughtering nonbelievers, stoning those who offend their god, etc.). While those who actually did live in accordance with their bible would almost certainly end up in prison, they would at least be living the lives they claim to desire.

Second, Christians might stop claiming that their bible is anything other than an ordinary book. This would leave them free to ignore whichever parts they prefer to ignore and emphasize the parts they like. Little would change about their lives since most already seem to operate this way, but there would be a significant reduction in hypocrisy. For those who care about such things, that could be a benefit.

Third, Christians could recognize that much of their bible simply isn't relevant to modern life and set aside the primitive superstitions on which it is based. They could engage their rational minds and give reality a try. They could join atheists in attempting to live in the world as it is.

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