How Important is Your Holy Book to Your Religion?


Earlier today I listened to a very interesting interview with Matt Dilahunty and Aron Ra. During the interview, they discussed their views on honest religious belief. One point that was made was how some people will use the Bible to support a belief that isn’t actually supported by the Bible. Another included the statements “why won’t you let me believe what I want to believe?” and “I’m a Christian, but I don’t actually believe anything in the Bible.” This led me to wonder: how important are the religious texts of believers?
I have been told many times that I can’t question the Bible. It’s God’s word, so it is above questioning. But I’ve never met a single Christian who actually followed the Bible word for word. I’ve met some who have claimed that Christians are supposed to, and they do, but they aren’t actually following the Bible word for word. So how much of the Bible do you have to follow to be a Christian? 75%? 50? 25? I’ve heard Christians say that only the New Testament counts, so that would mean that only 50% of the Bible must be followed. But that contradicts Jesus in the New Testament, so that bit would have to be disregarded. That means that less than 50% of the Bible is necessary. Others use the Old Testament to condemn others, but they ignore passages right beside the passages that they quote. So, is only part of the Old Testament necessary? If so, doesn’t that go against God? How can we know what parts we’re supposed to follow and which parts we aren’t?
And what about the people who call themselves Christians but don’t believe the Bible? Can they be Christians? Is belief in God and Jesus good enough? Can someone use the Bible as a guide without taking it literally? Are they still a Christian? At what point do we say that someone is not a Christian?
What about people who call themselves Mediums? Or use homeopathy or crystal healing? Can they be Christians? Or are such things sins, as stated in the Old Testament?
What about other religious groups? How important are their religious texts to their religion? Must they follow them word for word? Do they? What does all this mean for the religious? Does it mean anything?

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10 responses to “How Important is Your Holy Book to Your Religion?

  • littleknownblogger

    So, to that final point, it is not a matter of “who is right or wrong”, but “what is the definition of Christianity”. Some other group might have a more valid belief system, but if they do not accept what defines Christianity, then they are not Christian.

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  • littleknownblogger

    *When I say believer, I mean “person who believes in a god.”*

    Then in answer to your question, “allowing people to believe what they want to believe” is a function of government, not of religion. A religion simply identifies people who share similar beliefs–so while in the United States you are free to have whatever beliefs you like, if you believe that the universe is ruled by a Flying Spaghetti Monster who grants his followers the ability to use the force, you are by definition not a Christian. This has nothing to do with “tolerance”, but is a matter of “identity”.

    “Why would the Nicene Creep and Apostles Creed be more important than the Bible? They were both determined at the end of the Roman Empire/beginning of the Middle Ages. That’s a long time after Jesus died. The creeds were also determined by men, so could thy not be wrong?”

    Historically, one became a Jew by being a Jew; Judaism is simply the customs of the Jewish people. The cult of the Christ was a reform movement within Judaism; there were never a “Christian people”. This led to significant in-fighting among its devotees among matters of political and metaphysical interpretation. The actual “Christian religion” was established by the First Council of Nicea, and the Creeds were created as a common statement of faith for all Christians. They are not “more important than the Bible”, but they serve a different function. The Bible collects writings important to the spiritual development of the Christian. The Creeds define what Christianity is. They were written by the people who created Christianity for that specific, explicit purpose.
    So, there are other beliefs, and other interpretations of the Bible, which might be more valid, or more correct. That is another topic. But when you ask “what qualifies one as Christian”, it is the Creeds.

    “As for your comment about passover, in the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites (Judaism didn’t exist yet) that foreigners were supposed to observe passover. If foreigners who don’t actually worship this God are supposed to observe his holidays, can’t it be said that non-Israelites/Jews who adopt their God should also observe his holidays?”

    Well, “Judaism” didn’t exist yet when the Torah was being written, but we don’t use “Isrealite” to describe people in the modern world. And the instruction was for foreigners LIVING AMONG the Isrealites to keep the Passover. This was not because it held specific value for those people, but to maintain the integrity of the community. Everybody in the community follows the rules of the community. Since modern Christians (outside of Isreal) do not generally live in Jewish communities, that statement is irrelevant. Additionally for Christians, unlike any other group, the sacrifice of the Christ is seen as a permanent Passover sacrifice, so even Christians of Jewish descent are not bound by the Passover rules. (I asked this same question in college. 🙂 )

    “You said that a Christian is a Christian if they follow the atual critera for being a Christian. What is this critera?”

    The Creeds. That is their explicit function, by the people who actually defined Christianity.

    “What about Christians who say there is a different criteria? How do you know that you’re right and they’re wrong?”

    It is a function of identity. Christianity was defined very specifically when it was founded. If you do not agree with the definition of Christianity, then by definition you are not Christian. Any more than you could be Buddhist without accepting the a Four Truths and Eightfold Path, or an atheist who believes in the existence of the ancient Greek pantheon as a literal fact.

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  • littleknownblogger

    *Earlier today I listened to a very interesting interview with Matt Dilahunty and Aron Ra. During the interview, they discussed their views on honest religious belief. One point that was made was how some people will use the Bible to support a belief that isn’t actually supported by the Bible.*

    This is very, very true.

    *Another included the statements “why won’t you let me believe what I want to believe?” and “I’m a Christian, but I don’t actually believe anything in the Bible.” This led me to wonder: how important are the religious texts of believers?*

    “Believers”? Or specifically “Christians”? Even then, we run into a divide: the traditional, Liturgical Churches will generally view the Liturgy as primary and the Bible as a resource. Evangelical Churches, not having traditions of mystagogy upon which to draw, will generally view the Bible as the end-all and be-all of Christianity (which can and should be viewed as idolatry… but that’s another topic.  ).

    *I have been told many times that I can’t question the Bible. It’s God’s word, so it is above questioning.*

    This is false, and unjustified. See my post on the Bible as God’s Word, here. And I’ve previously provided you with a link about taking the Bible literally.

    *But I’ve never met a single Christian who actually followed the Bible word for word. I’ve met some who have claimed that Christians are supposed to, and they do, but they aren’t actually following the Bible word for word.*

    True. As with all forms of “fundamentalism” (my time in the Islamic Middle East springs immediately to mind), Christian fundamentalism is about telling OTHER PEOPLE what to do.

    *So how much of the Bible do you have to follow to be a Christian? 75%? 50? 25?*

    None, technically. The requirements to be a Christian are found in the Nicene Creed, and the Apostles’ Creed. Firstly, very little of the Bible is actually instructions to be followed—most of it is mythology and prophecy. Most of what is instruction is contained in the Torah, the Mosaic Law, which had already developed into Rabbinic Law by the time of the Christ—Mosaic Law was a first set of instructions for a fairly primitive culture.

    *I’ve heard Christians say that only the New Testament counts, so that would mean that only 50% of the Bible must be followed. But that contradicts Jesus in the New Testament, so that bit would have to be disregarded.*

    True, but the Peshitta (New Testament) is significantly less than 50% of the Bible.

    *That means that less than 50% of the Bible is necessary.*

    I’m not sure how that follows from the previous sentence.

    *Others use the Old Testament to condemn others, but they ignore passages right beside the passages that they quote.*

    True. And they generally don’t understand the passages they are quoting. E.g.: condemnation of homosexuals. There was no concept of “homosexual” in the ancient world, so any Biblical use of that word is a mis-translation. What is condemned is the ACT of sodomy.

    *So, is only part of the Old Testament necessary? If so, doesn’t that go against God?*

    No. Even if divinely-inspired, the TaNaKh was written by human beings, for human beings of specific culture and time. Even in the places where God is said to create a lasting condition (such as the Passover), the TaNaKh is for the Jews, and no one else. Christians keep it for reference.
    How can we know what parts we’re supposed to follow and which parts we aren’t?
    If you are Jewish, there are millenia of scholarly treatises on the application of Mosaic and Rabbinic Law. If you are not Jewish, Old Testament Law does not apply to you.

    *And what about the people who call themselves Christians but don’t believe the Bible? Can they be Christians?*

    Well, that depends on what you mean by “don’t believe the Bible.” They are required to accept the tenets of the Creeds in order to actually qualify as Christians, and most of those are predicated on teachings found in the Bible. That is not the same thing as accepting every sentence of the Bible as a literal statement of history in English.

    *Is belief in God and Jesus good enough?*

    That is actually explicitly denied.

    *Can someone use the Bible as a guide without taking it literally?*

    They must, to use it correctly. But then, they shouldn’t be relying on translations, either.

    *Are they still a Christian?*

    If they meet the actual criteria for being Christian, then yes.

    *At what point do we say that someone is not a Christian?*

    At the point where they deny the Christian Creeds.

    *What about people who call themselves Mediums? Or use homeopathy or crystal healing? Can they be Christians?*

    There are… translation issues. In many of the places where “witchcraft” and such are spoken against, the original text is actually talking about various ancient mythological creatures. But King James was having issues with the witch-cults in England, and this was an excellent opportunity.

    *Or are such things sins, as stated in the Old Testament?*

    “Sin” isn’t really an action, it’s our nature. We are less than perfect, and therefore “sinful”. However, Christianity is about the forgiveness of sins. The Christ didn’t spend time among the priests and elites; he took his ministry to the whores and money-lenders.

    *What about other religious groups? How important are their religious texts to their religion?*

    Holy books are IMPORTANT to all religions, but they are tools for spiritual formation. Very rarely are they full of specific, worldly instruction. After all, that’s what governments are for. The notable exception is Islam, but given the nature of Sharia, Islam is better viewed AS a system of government—the Semitic version of fascism—than a religion in the same venue as the other major religions.

    *Must they follow them word for word? Do they?*

    Given the fact that every religion has multiple sects, the answer is obviously “no”.

    *What does all this mean for the religious? Does it mean anything?*

    Technically, everyone is religious. “Religion” (from the Latin “religio, religere”, “to bind together”) describes the shared features which bind a culture (marriage and funeral rites, metaphysical beliefs, etc. Theism is not required.). If you mean, “what does this mean for non-atheists”, then nothing. If the tenets of their religion require them to follow some book explicitly, then they should. If not, then not.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      When I say believer, I mean “person who believes in a god.” Matt and Aron were talking about Christianity, so I focused on that one religion, but I’m interested in all religions since the all hold their text to a different degree of relevence.
      Why would the Nicene Creep and Apostles Creed be more important than the Bible? They were both determined at the end of the Roman Empire/beginning of the Middle Ages. That’s a long time after Jesus died. The creeds were also determined by men, so could thy not be wrong?
      As for your comment about passover, in the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites (Judaism didn’t exist yet) that foreigners were supposed to observe passover. If foreigners who don’t actually worship this God are supposed to observe his holidays, can’t it be said that non-Israelites/Jews who adopt their God should also observe his holidays?
      You said that a Christian is a Christian if they follow the atual critera for being a Christian. What is this critera? What about Christians who say there is a different criteria? How do you know that you’re right and they’re wrong?

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  • hebrew awakened

    I’m arriving late to the party. I hope you don’t mind. 🙂
    As an introvert, I didn’t feel comfortable asking questions when I came across things that didn’t make sense, so I set about to find the answers… that was a lengthy affair and involved reading the bible front to back three times. Since then, I’ve read the entire Tanakh a few more times, then refocused and read the Torah over and over again – I can’t count how many times I’ve read the Torah. The end result: I’d love to say that I follow 100%. But the Torah itself allows for retribution for errors, and an annual cleansing of faults for things known and unknown. That, in itself, tells me that 100% is likely not my score.

    What I determined is that for me, only Torah is sufficient for my needs. I can read the rest to see errors and history and witness the inter-weaving of multiple other religions into the whole. I believe in Almighty, yet I don’t take that belief for granted – YHVH is not the ‘pez dispenser in the sky’, imo. The tools we need to live full and healthy lives are here. It’s our job to use them properly.

    That’s my half shekel’s worth. 🙂

    That said – it’s ever so important for each person to develop their beliefs – – not one single person can make that determination for another. Happy traversing.

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  • charles

    “But I’ve never met a single Christian who actually followed the Bible word for word.”
    I have many who think they do just that. They have a list of reasons for the parts they do not follow. For example, “Peter’s dream in Acts meant it is OK to ignore all the Old Testament dietary rules.” “In the Old Testament, God wanted the Israelites to be distinct from the surrounding nations, so that is why they had all those weird rules we no longer follow.” “Jesus’ death on the cross eliminates the need for all the ceremonial rules.”

    But it doesn’t answer all the questions, like why were some of the things Moses talked about ever OK? Slavery? A raped woman has to marry her attacker? Sure, Christians today don’t advocate those things, but apparently God used to think those things were OK. Huh?

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  • Sarabi Nikolanna Eventide

    I’ve run into this problem as well. I know many people who only follow about 30% of the Bible (or even just the 10 Commandments) and many more who haven’t read an entire chapter, let alone the entire book. I just talked to someone yesterday who preaches at his church. He admitted seeing the contradictions in the Bible. He justified his faith by saying “the book tells everyone to be good people, so that’s what’s important.”

    I personally need to be able to follow 100% to consider myself a believer. I’m pretty all-or-nothing when it comes to religion, which is why at the moment I’m sitting on the “nothing” side.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I’m much the same way. I could forgive some of the mistakes as human error during translation, but it would still have to be 90% accurate. And I’d have to fully agree with the morality if I’m going to take my morals from it. As it stands, much of the Biblical moral code rubs me the wrong way. A good portion of it is even illegal. So I think I’ll get my morals and my beliefs elsewhere.

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  • siriusbizinus

    Great post. As a former Christian, I’d say one needs to believe in just enough of the Bible to justify one’s faith. People I know who still believe won’t admit to it, but when I ask questions about the specifics of what they believe, I get different answers from everyone.

    When I had faith, I’d just chalk this up to some divine plan and not think about it. Now that I don’t, I realize it’s a HUGE sign that faith has more to do with self-justification than with a deity.

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