RE: Quote-Down: Atheists’ Point Of View on Quoting Scripture

I recently wrote an article complaining that it has been my experience in discussion of my faith that on occasion my discussion partner has provided me with some ad-hoc anti-religious quotes for me to go away and think about. I explained that, depending on the content of the quotes, it can sometimes just come across rude, and is often counter productive, even if they don’t mean to be. For the full article see here:
However, one of my good friends pointed out an obvious point I had missed: the fact that it is very frustrating when Christians quote scripture as authority when trying to defend thier faith. And I do, in part, agree with her.

Obviously, some caveats are in order: when a non-Christian asks about what the Bible says, or about what Christians believe, then of course quoting scripture is appropriate. This is because the question is directed at ‘what’ Christian belief is, rather than ‘why’ we as individuals believe it.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was reading a blog by a Muslim who was trying to defend the principles of Islam. And I take my hat off to him because He attempted to tackle the issue of polygamy. And not many do in our Society! To be honest he didn’t argue the case very well, and made reference to the fact that there were more women living in America than men, so it was a kindness to marry more than one women, or there will inevitably be women who are left single (as if no-one would EVER choose to be single???).

As I suspected, a western women had made a comment. In a nutshell she wrote something like this: ‘I’m not a Muslim. I found your article on polygamy quite offensive. Your arguments are weak and bizarre. Do you have any better arguments?’ It is the response to this that we shall focus on. The answer this lady was given was a string of Qur’anic ayat stating that polygamy was ok:

‘And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.’ (4:3)

Do you think that is a satisfying answer?  No? Why not?

It is not a satisfying answer because the lady doesn’t believe that the Qur’an is authoritative. So quoting the Qur’an is no more persuasive than quoting any other work, that is, in the perception of the western lady.

Also she was not asking ‘what does the Qur’an teach about polygamy?’, but rather, ‘why do you, Muslim, believe that polygamy is ok?’ Therefore, it is not a question about Islam, rather it is a question about why the individual believes Islam is ethically sound. She is asking for individual thought, not confirmation of an ideal that one has subscribed to without any evidence of personal consideration.

It might be that the Muslim’s answer is: ‘because the Qur’an says so’, which is called a circular argument because he believes the Qur’an is true because it says it is true. I.e. there is no outside reference to support his belief. If that is the case then it is honest that he admits this. However, I would imagine, and hope, that this conversation would prompt the Muslim to think about why he believes polygamy is right.

Christians can do exactly the same. How many times have you seen a conversation like the following on the Internet?

Christian: Jesus loves you!
Non-Christian: How do you know that?
Christian: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
Non-Christian: But I don’t think I believe the Bible is accurate.
Christian: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’

I don’t think the last comment was helpful, and might just annoy the non-Christian. The reasons for this are that either the Christian has not listened to what the non-Christian has said, or the Christian hasn’t understood. The Non-Christian confirms that they do not believe the Bible in accurate, so quoting scripture is not going to help! Unless of course the Christian’s answer was something like this:

Christian: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’. I believe this because I have studied the History of the 1st century and am persuaded that the New Testament is accurate. I’m also convinced because the ethical principles of the Bible, I feel, are still very relevant today. On top of all of this I have met God personally, and it a similar way as described in the Bible.

I.e quoting scripture isn’t the problem – its quoting scripture without explaining why we believe it that can aggravate those who do not believe the Bible is authoritative.

Therefore, lets try to be attentive to the objections of our friends and colleagues, and aim to ‘always be ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that is in us’ (You see, I can use that quote because I’ve just spent an hour explaining it, and I am also directing it to Christians who already view the Bible as authoritative ;))

  1. #1 by Arthur on June 30, 2012 - 3:26 pm

    Very clear and concise. Good points.

  2. #3 by Mike Ashton on June 30, 2012 - 3:54 pm

    Excellent article Ruth!

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