A letter to the editor appeared in my local newspaper written by Ken Blinco, whoever he is. Since he expressed what a lot of Christians think, I responded:
Ken Blinco recently opined, using sexist language, that “Man has always made gods to suit himself.” Of course, he doesn’t think this applies to his own view of God or morality, since along with Ocie Spriggs he knows the truth and claims others don’t. But a recent study by Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago says otherwise, and I quote from Discover Magazine’s “Creating God in One’s Own Image” (Nov. 30, 2009):Epley asked different groups of volunteers to rate their own beliefs about important issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, the death penalty, the Iraq War, and the legalization of marijuana. The volunteers also had to speculate about God’s take on these issues, as well as the stances of an “average American”, Bill Gates (a celebrity with relatively unknown beliefs) and George Bush (a celebrity whose positions are well-known).Now this study doesn’t show that Blinco and Spriggs’s views are wrong, but it should make them less certain of what they pontificate about. People who are certain they are right and who claim divine knowledge do cause the rest of us harm. Just think 9/11, or Manifest Destiny, the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, or even the modern witch hunts and the killing of homosexuals taking place by evangelicals in Africa right now. For some reason it escapes them that the Bible did not fall from the sky into their laps. It has a history. It was written by human beings in the language of its day. It has a context. And the art of interpretation is complex given the number of different views of the Bible by different Christianities, who all claim the other Christianities are not true ones.
For many religious people, the popular question “What would Jesus do?” is essentially the same as “What would I do?” Through a combination of surveys, psychological manipulation and brain-scanning, he has found that when religious Americans try to infer the will of God, they mainly draw on their own personal beliefs.
Epley surveyed commuters at a Boston train station, university undergraduates, and 1,000 adults from a nationally representative database. In every case, he found that people’s own attitudes and beliefs matched those they suggested for God more precisely than those they suggested for the other humans.
There was a day when the sin of heresy was considered the worst crime of them all, because heretics could lead others astray into hell. So the church didn’t think twice about having heretics killed over things most Christians think are mere trifles. Then too, there was a day when American Slavery was easily justifiable by texts like Leviticus 24:44-45.
This is why in a political democracy we must insist that public policy is to be based not on historically conditioned Biblical interpretations of authoritarian texts, but on sound secular reasoning using such tools as the harm principle, first articulated by John Stuart Mill, where he argued that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."