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“That’s not a very good parody of Christianity” or: The opacity of doctrine

2012/04/06

This is going to build on what I write yesterday. I’m going to draw heavily on the short story Kissing Hank’s Ass, by James Huber. You can read it at the link or watch a short movie adaptation below the fold.

Huber has said one of the biggest complaints he’s received about this story is that it isn’t a very good parody of Christianity. This is actually true, but not the way people usually mean it. The centerpiece of the story is the following list of rules:

  1. Kiss Hank’s ass and He’ll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
  2. Use alcohol in moderation.
  3. Kick the shit out of people who aren’t like you.
  4. Eat right.
  5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
  6. The moon is made of green cheese.
  7. Everything Hank says is right.
  8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
  9. Don’t use alcohol.
  10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
  11. Kiss Hank’s ass or He’ll kick the shit out of you

You will not find anything resembling the following anywhere in the Bible.

  1. Love Jesus and you’ll go to heaven.
  2. Swear oaths in God’s name.
  3. Non-Christians are your enemies.
  4. Don’t eat raw meat.
  5. God inspired the whole Bible.
  6. The Earth is flat.
  7. God always tells the truth.
  8. Bury your crap after pooping.
  9. Never swear oaths.
  10. Sex is only allowed in marriage, with an opposite-sex partner.
  11. Love Jesus or you’ll go to hell.

Obviously, the concepts here have been simplified here to keep the skit moving, but my point is this isn’t just a matter of paring down a long, complicated list of doctrines to a few representative ones. A lot of these never appear clearly in the Bible at all and have to be pieced together. For instance, item one combines John 3:16’s claim that people who believe in Jesus get eternal life with some stuff from Matthew 6 about saving up treasures in heaven to infer than this eternal life must be in heaven. To get any solid information about what heaven is like, you have to read a couple other books and try to guess about how it all relates to each other

Item three involves Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 5, plus a bunch of other books and a lot of reading between the lines. It does say that unbelievers have all consciously rejected God and that sinners will try to drag you down with them, so this seems like a reasonable conclusion.

2 Timothy 3 does say that all scripture is divinely inspired, but gives no indication as to what is and isn’t scripture. While 2 Timothy was one of the last parts of the Bible to be written (despite what some Christians will tell you), The Bible as we know didn’t exist yet. There were a bunch of books floating around, some of which made it into our Bible and some of which didn’t, but no one had collected them. There was no consensus as to what which books belonged to the canon until well over two hundred years later.

Item ten is just as problematic. The Bible never says than marriage is between one man and one woman. It says a few things sound like they mean homosexuality is bad, but they are kind of vague and based on cultural constructions of sex that those of us in the modern West don’t relate to. It says multiple wives and concubines (sex slaves) are okay in the Old Testament, but then the New Testament seems to assume mono marriages and says prostitution is bad. It never actually says polygamy is no longer allowed or spells out whether God considers concubinage a form of prostitution as most modern people would. For that matter, it never actually says pre-marital sex is bad. It’s sort of implied because Paul says a lot of bad things about lust, but all the passages you get quoted in Sunday School as a teen either are explicitly about adultery (having sex with someone who is married to someone else) or sexual immorality, without ever spelling out what all that covers.

In short, if you read the Bible, you won’t find Christianity there, or at least not in any straightforward form. Most of the Bible was not intended to be a core religious text when it was written. It’s like learning Christianity when all you have to go on is a dozen church bulletins from eight churches and a sleeve from a Veggietales tape. Paul’s letters were intended as follow-ups to build on what the various churches were told to begin with. Seeing as no one thought to save his sermon notes or the Sunday school curriculum, we can only make educated guesses as to what this was. The gospels do purport to quote some of Jesus’s teachings, but he doesn’t even seem to realize he’s founding a new religion and he gives a few guidelines for behavior, but beyond that, it’s pretty cryptic. Revelation is far worse in this regard. Even without the contradictions, the Bible is hardly a guide to life. At best, you can cut it up, add a good deal of bailing wire and chewing gum and get a guide to life out of it. This is the major problem with the doctrine of sola scriptura, which I hope to elaborate on tomorrow.

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