Thing I Did Today Some Might Think Out of Character (But Isn’t)

Which is: Pulled the Bible down off the shelf, read a passage to my daughter and then discussed it with her for a good long time.

Which passage? This one.

Why? Because Jesus had some smart things to say.

Why does an agnostic keep a Bible handy? See above.

108 Comments on “Thing I Did Today Some Might Think Out of Character (But Isn’t)”

  1. There’s a few good things in there. Basically for me, giving is only real if the giving is its own reward. Telling the world about it is likely looking for other rewards: validation, praise, etc. And real genuine giving packs a mighty reward. So don’t feck it up by looking for rewards elsewhere which don’t compare.

  2. I’ve read that passage to many a noisy Christian in my time.

    The New Testament makes much more sense when you stick to the Gospels. That Paul fellow had issues.

  3. Yes, I think that is an excellent passage to keep in mind. I’ve also noted that the single thing that Jesus had a lot to say about was hypocrisy (at least 20 references[1]). It seems to me that he was against it[2].

    [1] As opposed to things like homosexuality, which he never brought up at all as far as I can see.

    [2] Although one might not guess that based on the activities of a lot of his “followers”.

  4. John@2: That’s an excellent summary. I can see why you get paid the big bucks to write.

    Actually you’re the second, um, unlikely-to-quote-Scripture blogger I’ve seen quote Scripture today. What’s this world coming to? (Grin)

  5. Agnostic here. I have both bibles and torahs at home. And I took a year of Biblical Greek and Biblical Hebrew in college. In a previous attempt at college, I had an art history professor call the Western world the Greco-Roman/Judaeo-Christain civilization. When you start looking at it that way, it makes total sense to study the influences on the West, all the way back to Abraham. Give you an idea of where we’ve come from and such.

  6. oh yeah? well _I’ve_ read “The Bible”, “The Torah”, “The Qur’an” and a number of other covers of religious books that were sitting on shelves.

  7. He was a smart guy. If only someone would base a religion on his teachings.

  8. @Tully #3:

    Actually, what “that Paul fellow” is credited for in the New Testament is a mish-mash of his actual writings (which were pretty close to what Jesus taught) and stuff other, more conservative, Christians thought would be a good idea to put in the Holy Book, some 30 to 50 years after both Jesus and Paul were dead. A good part of the job, for Bible scholars, is to tease out what the characters of the story actually said and did, from what later tradition believed about them.

  9. @Steve #11:
    They tried that. What we really need is for people to follow his teachings.

  10. There’s a line in Jerome Bixby’s masterful “The Man from Earth”, where a long-surviving Cro-Magnon man who was the historical Jesus says “The New Testament is a good code of ethics. Words put in my mouth by men smarter than I am.”

    There’s another passage, Matthew 25:40, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (KJV) That parable is presented in the context of acts of love and charity, and it was only a few months ago it occurred to me that it applies equally to acts of cruelty and malice.

    That epiphany haunts me.

  11. Reminds me of a sign in the field house back in high school where we used to weightlift. It said, “The best kind of pride is that which compels someone to do their best even when no one is looking.”

  12. It takes on a slightly different meaning if it’s being read (or pointed out) to you by your actual father, though.

    I’m an atheist with a Bible, too — enough of modern culture is based on it that you’re going to miss a lot if you’re not familiar with the Bible. (And yeah, it’s sometimes fun to point out passages to people who claim to be Christian.)

  13. On my bookshelf, I have several bibles, in a couple of languages, plus a daily devotional thing and an interpretation book. I don’t use the devotional thing, it’s too Hallmark for me.
    But right next to all that I have my copy of ‘Jesus and Mo: Big Al’, so I think I’m going to hell anyway, assuming there is a hell and I believe in it.

  14. I’ve always prefered the imagry and cadance of the King James version myself. Nuance always seems to be lost in modernizing the language.

    And no, an agnostic owning a bible is not unusual. Heck most of the hard core Atheists I know (myself included) own several.

    Actualy one of my favorite pasages is the next four lines folowing the ones you were discussing.

  15. I’m starting to notice a trend. It seems we sf fans share an affinity for:

    a.) Keeping copies of holy books on hand even when we don’t subscribe to their beliefs, and

    b.) Filing them in entertaining configurations.

    My Bibles are bracketed by the Book of Mormon, the Dhammapada, and various works on Native American beliefs on one side, and the Zombie Survival Guide on the other.

    ‘Cause, you know, he already came back once. What if, the next time, he brings friends?

  16. You told your daughter that, “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    Huh. I wonder who’s gonna pick up the therapy tab.

  17. Perhaps because my mother was an atheist and we had several copies of the Bible in our house and still do, I don’t find this at all out of character. And knowing that you majored in philosophy in college makes it all the more likely that you would also have a Koran, a Bhagavad Gita and other religious texts. In fact, I believe that a well educated person, whether agnostic or devout, should be acquainted with the important texts of the major world religions. There is a lot of “good stuff” in them and many, if not all, share the same themes.

  18. John@7: Ah, you’re right. I guess I stretched the point a bit. But you did teach from it., so it still counts.

    Joe@18: I’ve heard of fans at a chronically bad football team’s games hoisting Luke 23:34.

  19. @23 Mark Horning I love the language of the King James Bible also, but I have one in more modern English to understand what most people are reading/taught these days.

  20. adelheid_p:

    “And knowing that you majored in philosophy in college makes it all the more likely that you would also have a Koran, a Bhagavad Gita and other religious texts.”

    Yup, although in the case of the Bible, it was on hand before then. The KJV version I used, in fact, is the one given to me by my high school (it has my diploma in it). The school was not a religious school but it was tradition — one may also choose other religious texts if one likes. At the time I briefly considered asking for a blank book, but then I thought that was just silly and also, at the time I was between Bibles, and the one they gave out was really nice.

  21. So, what, Scalzi? You’re telling us this so that everyone will think you’re sooooo great? Announce it with trumpets, too, WHY DON’T YOU.

  22. Joe Rybicki @ 18:

    I think that passage was particularly relevant yesterday.


    I’m yet another agnostic who owns and has read the Bible. (King James version and in English, verily, as Jesus spake it.)

    But then, I’ve been known to annoy free-market types by quoting Adam Smith.

    Unfortunately, my memory is not what it used to be.

  23. As something of a language nerd, I enjoy bible gateway simply because it allows you to really check the translations.

    For example, since I switched it to koine on a whim, I noticed that the bit about hypocrites is interesting because all of the english translations just take the greek word “hupokritoi” and translate it hypocrites.

    The thing is that hypocrite means slightly different things in english and greek. The basic greek meaning of the word is actor, while in english only the negative connotations of someone putting on a false act survive.

    The thing I find interesting, though, is that the word translated in that edition as the “to be seen” is “theathenai,” which just happens to be a cognate of our word theater. The Theatron in greek is quite literally a place to be seen.

    What is fascinating about that is that (if I am reading it right) the passage equates those who show off charity with actors on a stage. Now, in the Roman world, actors were barely one step above prostitutes, so it is effectively declaring the people in the synagogues and on the streets to be just about the lowest class of society possible.

    Anyhow, that is enough of me rambling about language. I will have to remember that passage as it does have quite a nice message.

  24. @32: If I read John’s chosen passage correctly, it says doing good works JUST for the attention is contraindicated.

    OTOH, see Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (KJV)

    Nice flashlight.

  25. The bible is just a book.
    And any book has a lesson to teach (well, maybe the bible has more than one).
    I think it’s important not to close any door to the knowledge.
    I’m an atheist and I enjoy my bible.
    I don’t need to be a space marine to enjoy Old mans war, do I?

  26. The gift is in the giving. Whenever someone tries to thank or repay me, that is what I say. There is no feeling that is greater than to feel you have helped someone else. “Assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives… For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt the generosity..” Gribran Khalil

    It is also certain that some part of our enjoyment is in the reflected view of those who know you gave. In fact there are some who argue that is the part of the evolution of why we give at a cost to ourselves. I wonder if we removed all acknowledgment from acts of kindness and charity, how many would continue to give.

  27. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    This Wikipedia entry demonstrates how many religions state the above as a fundamental teaching:

    Yes, I know, it’s cliche but, I haven’t seen anything in my 65 years that says it better.

    Oh, and throw away any bibles composed since KJV. Also, read “God’s Secretaries” by Adam Nicolson.

  28. @37: Well, yes. Besides the fact that my previous comment was just a dumb joke, there’s the whole problem of how, if talking about good things you did were totally out of the question, it would have been awfully tough for Jesus to get a religion going.

  29. Irène @12: I’m well aware of the history, as many Xian-raised agnostics are. Being one, I’d probably phrase your closer differently. As in “A good part of the job, for Bible scholars, is to tease out what the characters of the story are credited with actually saying and doing by the early reportage decades later, versus what even later tradition wanted to believe about them.”

    But I did not come to bag on the vagaries of historical attributions based in faith, only to tout the more reasonable bits that were generally sound human principles regardless of one’s faith or lack thereof. My favorite Bible is the Jefferson Bible.

    And I still think that Paul dude had issues. Don’t even get me started on the Nicenean and Constantinoplean Councils … ;-)

  30. @42: I apologize for taking your remark @32 more seriously than intended. Taken in context as a joke, it’s pretty good.

  31. @35 Joel D: Would the Jewish/Hellenistic/Roman/etc. cultural mix that was Judaea in 30 CE have definitely had Roman attitudes toward the theater? I’ve no idea, just asking.

  32. That’s a good bunch o’ verses. My favorite Bible Chapter all told would have to be 1st Corinthians 13, though.

  33. As you know, I’m not agnostic. It would be interesting to know what brought on the discussion. Glad you have so many references on hand with which to teach my precious granddaughter. Love Mom

  34. Excellent! Also excellent that you have a more accurate translation (NIV) to offer. As much as I like the language of the KJV, my dad (Jewish from Poland and Israel) who read both Greek and Latin (and a little Aramaic) used to snicker as he read the KJV – because the translation is so far from the original.

    We also keep a bible, a Q’uran and writings from Tao tradition and Confucian tradition as well as writings from both some Native American trads and some Celtic/Pagan trads. I need a good Torah and a copy of Sun Tzu as well :>. I could also use a decent copy of Hindu writings as well as something from the Buddhist tradition…

  35. @Sarah.
    By my understanding, they would have even more hostile views. Theater=Greek/Roman pollution of traditional family values. Its the kind of thing Herod liked and that the more radical jews did not.

    They also certainly would not have had the more positive views of Theater that we know from ancient Athens. I believe those were mostly replaced by less positive views across the Mediterranean by the first century CE. I could be wrong on this, though.

  36. Rick York @41: why throw out all post-KJV translations? Which is what they are, after all – not “compositions”, unless the translation is very creative indeed. I understand that the KJV style sounds very beautiful to modern English speakers, but not why it invalidates all other translations.

    Mindful of the French saying about translations, by the way, I can’t recommend enough learning the original languages somewhat for your Bible-reading needs. What comes across as leaden in English is often poetry in Hebrew or Koine Greek.

  37. I suppose I’m in the minority here: I’m a practicing Episcopalian, but I almost never refer to my Bible at home. Which makes me a rather typical Episcopalian, I’m sure. I do wholeheartedly agree with you, John, that Jesus had much to teach anyone with an open mind and a true heart, whether persuaded of his divinity or not.

    I particularly appreciated our rector’s homily last Sunday, which he delivered sitting on the chancel steps with children gathered around as it was our monthly family liturgy (no Sunday school, child-friendly sermon). The Gospel passage concerned how people would know the followers of Jesus, and the rector emphasized that it would not be through rituals (although they help those who wish to follow them), not through adherence to a set of laws (though they can provide useful guidance) and most certainly not through opposition to those who believe otherwise. You know the followers of Jesus by the way they love one another, and humanity at large. Simple and profound. Jesus has, by that logic, many followers who would never visit a church; and many who visit churches fail to grasp the truth of what it means to be a Christian. Love is all.

  38. This don’t want to offer a comprehensive defense of Paul in this forum, but it is interesting that Romans 2.29 seems to hold a similar concept: “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

    Appreciated the post. Was trying to figure out a way to express that appreciation and then notice that the NIV put quote marks around “acts of righteousness.” And now I’m in a rage.

  39. Yeah, dude, KJV is hardly any sort of original language. You don’t want to read modernized language? Learn the damn Greek.

  40. It is good to introduce children (and young adults) to the idea of non-public giving. Regardless of the religion(s) (if any) of the household. And the idea of “pay it forward”.

    My currently-favored translation is the New Oxford Annotated Bible 3rd ed (which isn’t one of the choices at the site you linked, but I suspect that’s could be that NOAB doesn’t seem to be online at all.) More for the depth of the notes than actual changes in wordings (although it’s fun to see some of the groups denouncing it.)

    The Jefferson Bible is interesting.

    And I have a bunch of other religious books, too. Probably a dozen Bibles, and even more translations of the Tao. (Feng-English and Red Pine being my favorites.)

  41. John, I’m sorry, this is a bloody awful passage, because it still sets getting a reward as the motivation for moral virtue. It’s just that it’s the job of Invisible Sky-Daddy, not your fellow man, to give you that reward. So on the whole question of why an “agnostic” would reference a Bible to teach a moral lesson that doesn’t really say what he appears to think it says, color me still very confused. The best you could say about the passage is that it’s a zinger of a riposte to public displays of fundamentalist right-wing hypocrisy. If that was the message you were imparting to Athena, then, well, okay. But no legitimate moral virtue needs a religious context to be comprehended.

  42. @35, Joel Don, given that you have copped to some classical language knowledge, there is something I’ve always wondered about. “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. Is it really “Kill”? Or is it “Murder”? I sure seem to recall a whole lot of “That guy needed killin'” rationalization happening in the Old Testament. I always figured that word didn’t mean what they thought He meant. Anybody got any information on that?

  43. Thomas @57, if you wanted to say “John, don’t teach your kid anything religious-like,” why not just out and say it?

    Daryl @58, my Hebrew is shamefully rusty, but my understanding is that the term ‘kill’ is actually closer to ‘murder’. It isn’t intended to mean “never, under any circumstances, take a human life.”

  44. The Jefferson Bible makes me crazy, because I don’t think he based his deletes on any scholarship, but on his beliefs. It reminds me of a bible my grandmother had. (She was also more interested as a scholar – she wasn’t a Christian.) The editors had simply skipped the parts they thought weren’t “literary.” When I realized they’d left out some psalms I donated it.

    I have no problem with people like the scholar Bart Ehrman who intelligently search to see the history of the texts and what was added. His stuff is fascinating. But people who arbitrarily slack and hack do annoy me. Though maybe I should cut them some slack – after it all it took hundreds of years to decide what was IN the Bible!

    Ehrman’s book, Lost Christianities, is fascinating if you’re interested in how we did end up with the books we did.

  45. Mythago @59: Because I wasn’t what I was saying. I was pointing out what I think is the correct interpretation of the passage, and explaining that I still didn’t understand why an “agnostic” would find the passage a good moral lesson to impart (as he seemed to suggest a mere reading of the passage in question would answer that).

  46. Thomas M. Wagner:

    Suffice to say a) your opinion of the wisdom of the passage and mine differ, b) you neglect to consider that the passage could possibly be a springboard to lessons about why and how one engages in charity, not necessarily related to a god, c) when I want your opinion of what moral lessons I should be imparting to my child and what source materials I use to do so, I will let you know.

    I entertain the notion I am misunderstanding the tone of your comment.

  47. It isn’t intended to mean “never, under any circumstances, take a human life.”

    yes. Unfortunately, this is accurate.

    “Under the Old Covenant God allowed the Israelites to kill other humans … for … adultery”

    Of course, the website above doesn’t give the whole picture:

    “In much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are laws that command that people be killed for absurd reasons such as working on the Sabbath, being gay, cursing your parents, or not being a virgin on your wedding night.”

    Or for trying to recruit you into another religion: “If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)”

    And don’t think of slacking of in doing God’s killin’: “Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood. (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB)”

  48. It wasn’t my intention to be offensive and I’d be the last guy in the world out there trying to give unsolicited parenting advice. When I mentioned “…a riposte to public displays of fundamentalist right-wing hypocrisy. If that was the message you were imparting to Athena, then, well, okay,” that should have been read as “okay, I understand” and not “okay, I approve.” My bad for the lack of clarity there. And yeah, we’ll have to agree to disagree on the passage’s moral merits (a matter entirely apart from whether you’re showing them to Athena or not).

  49. Thomas M. Wagner:

    Thanks for the additional clarity, there. I understand you better now.

    For me, in that I don’t think there’s a God and if there is he/she/it is not engaged in what we do in any meaningful sense, the wisdom of the passage comes in the lesson that one doesn’t offer charity because one seeks the approval of other men, or wishes to be seen being a “good man”; one does them because it is in itself the moral and correct thing to do, regardless of whether anyone other person sees or acknowledges it. It’s part and parcel of the idea that character is who you are when no one else is looking.

  50. John @ 66: I agree 1000% with that sentiment naturally, which is why I’m troubled by the conclusion of the passage, where a reward is still promised, it’s only God’s exclusive prerogative to give it. Among those of us who are public as atheists, a constant refrain we hear is that lack of divine belief gives one no basis for morality. Apart from simply being as annoying to hear as it is for gay people to be told they’re somehow anti-family, it reinforces a notion promulgated by Christian teaching that morality is essentially rooted in obedience to authority. While it’s good and virtuous to avoid the expectation of earthly reward for good deeds, one is still entitled to hope for the divine fruit basket of gratitude for their good deeds, as well as punishment for being insufficiently devout. Yes, virtue ought to be its own reward, which is why Matthew 6:4 makes me think, “Oh, you went one sentence too far there!” Like all those wannabe writers who go “Yes, but…” whenever they want career help from you.

    Nothing would in fact delight me more than to know you were giving Athena grounding in world religions and their histories. She’d be a lot more knowledgeable about the Bible than 98% of the Christians out there thumping it.

  51. Thomas M. Wagner:

    “Yes, virtue ought to be its own reward, which is why Matthew 6:4 makes me think, ‘Oh, you went one sentence too far there!'”

    I find it useful to keep the sentence to establish context, and to from there explain why someone who is not a believer would still derive wisdom therein.

  52. Great passage to share with Athena, John.

    In the early seventies I went to a university of 3,200 students named Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. And you know what? Every building, athletic field, commons area, et. al. was named after some big dollar contributer to the university. Our PE building was named after the Gibson that had the first chain of deep-discount stores in the southwest. Sure seemed incongruous to me at the time and still today. All those charitable folk needing their name on bricks and mortar or asphalt. Remember the guy, Pepperdine, who founded and built all the Western Auto stores? Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, bears his name because of his seed money to start it. Yep, we Christians say we follow the teachings of Jesus a lot more than we actually follow them stands as a very valid criticism. One of the things I appreciate about what you share here John is that you see clearly the differences between what we people of faith in the supernatural do and what we should be doing to be true to our faith. We need you, John. Keep reminding us to live our calling, not just play at it.

  53. htom:
    The NOAB uses the NRSV as its translation. You can find the NRSV online in multiple places with Google, but if you want the NOAB commentary, you’ll need to get access to Oxford Biblical Studies Online, which is a pay site.

  54. “In much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there are laws that command that people be killed for absurd reasons such as working on the Sabbath, being gay, cursing your parents, or not being a virgin on your wedding night.”

    This is a bit like saying that it’s impossible to have a law making libel actionable and the government cannot ban Satanists from performing human sacrifice , because it says so RIGHT THERE in the Constitution, what part of “Congress shall make no law” did you not comprehend?

    We know that the First Amendment doesn’t permit a religious exemption from murder laws and that the Framers didn’t accidentally forget all about libel, because we know the context in which the Constitution was written (English common law) and we have a large body of laws and cases that interpret it. Same thing with the laws of what most of you probably refer to the Old Testament. They’re very similar, unsurprisingly, to things like the Code of Hammurabi, which in reality provided fines and mild punishments instead of INSTANT DEATH.

  55. I’m an atheist and I own a Holy Bible and a Book of Mormon. I’d probably own some of the others, but I discovered the Internet and found I didn’t need to keep copies on hand. I keep the two mentioned before because the Internet is notorious for altering Biblical passages, which isn’t always true of less common religious texts (though it happens, so one must always be careful).

    But, I imagine we’re in the same boat on this subject. Just because we don’t believe a certain religion doesn’t mean we don’t have the religious texts on hand. They serve a purpose, and I imagine the Bible has been of interest to you as a writer simply because it’s a rather strange and amusing text.

    And good for you in talking to your kid about these things.

  56. @58
    Sorry, I do not have any Hebrew. On that particular question my understanding matches Mythago’s, but that understanding is entirely hearsay. I could look up the Greek word, but it wouldn’t really be better than the English.

  57. There’s an Oxford Annotated BIBLE!?!!?

    *nerd Golum explodes from head*


  58. John.

    “Again, in English” sounds exactly like what my 10-year old daughter would say as well.

  59. I need not reward to convince me to do good, I do good for it is how I wish to be treated. This may be how other would like to be treated as well because I know no other way than the life I lived and can only change by actions that have been made.

  60. Why would it be strange to have a bible if youre agnostic? The bible is one of the most “important” books in existence and It would be alot more strange if you dident.

    Im an Atheist and I have 4 in my home.

  61. John, everybody seems to be talking about the religionosity of your entry. But I think the coolest part is that you, as a father, sat down (well, maybe you were standing) with your daughter and discussed important stuff. Good for you.

    Watch it, though. You keep doing that kind of thing and Athena is going to grow into a clear headed, independent thinking adult.

  62. So, if my only reason for doing ‘good’ is because it makes people like me, and in doing ‘good’ I save someones life, I should not do ‘good’ and let them die?

    (Just cos I’m interested…)

  63. This is a bit like

    If the first ammendment was quite so explicit as:

    “do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death,”

    then you might have a case.

    But given it explicitely states, in just that one example, three times that the punishment is death, I’m having a hard time accepting that, you know, this is all just overly dramatic flourish of language.

    And unless you’re really trying to argue that, no really, the history of Christianity is that no gays, non-virgin-brides, non-christians, and so on, were harmed in the making of this movie, then I’m not sure what your point is.

    There’s a story in the bible where a bunch of scholars and lawyers wanted to try and legally trap Jesus in some kind of philosophical “gotcha”. They brought a woman to Jesus caught in the act of adultery and said “Moses commanded us to stone such a woman” and demanded Jesus answer. They weren’t talking figuratively, they meant literally stone her to death.

    It was here that Jesus said “let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”.

    Which I view as sort of a Supreme Court ruling that looks at a history of executions and rules that they are not constitutional.

    But the point is, these guys were arguing for a literal translation to stone an adulterer to death. And at least up until that point, I think it would be safe to say that a literal translation was how things worked, at least in some jurisdictions.

  64. I guess I focused more on the “Why does an agnostic keep a Bible handy?” part than on the specific verse you brought up.

    One of the reasons I read the bible is to see what people are capable of doing. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes not.

  65. Scalzi, Jesus mostly paraphrased what the other rabbis had been saying all along. So why not just paraphrase it yourself? A true statement should be able to stand on its own merit no matter who says it.

    Did you use the bible as a teaching tool because it is more eloquent than the way you would have phrased it to her? I think you’re pretty eloquent most of the time. Why did you do it this way? It’s wisdom no matter who it comes from, and can be discussed without the bible.

    I don’t think you want to teach Athena that an idea carries more weight when an ancient prophet said it in a book that is sufficiently dusty with gravitas. That’s one of the worst ideas in the history of our species.

  66. I’m fond of the later Comment (by Charles Lamb, if memory serves) that: “The greatest pleasure in life is to do a good deed in secret — and have it discovered by accident”.

  67. Matt Arnold:

    I’ll repeat what I said earlier to Thomas M. Wagner: When I want your opinion on what I teach my daughter and how I choose to teach it, I’ll be sure to let you know.

  68. Do you want my opinion on what and how to teach Athena?

    You’ll need duct tape, a head of lettuce, three pounds of silly putty, and one MP3 player.

    Let me know.

  69. @Patrick – Creeepy. O.o

    @Greg – I really like your analogy, which I believe is corroborated by verses like Matthew 13:17 and Ephesians 3:4,5 which seem to indicated that Jesus and Paul both believed that people in the OT simply were not as enlightened about God’s true intentions.

    @Matt Arnold – Personally, I don’t care how many times, or from how many sources my future offspring learn valuable lessons. As a Christian, I do not care whether my child learns to treat others with kindness and love, whether that lesson comes from Me, Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed, a Wiccan or an Atheist. I’m also totally cool with her getting the same message from all of the above. If anything, it strengthens my faith in universal good, that the same brilliant message comes from so many disperse sources.

    @Scalzi – Hearing about people participating in actual Parenting is a very nice change from the norm. :) Thanks for a small window into the experience.

  70. Blogging can be a bad format for these kinds of subjects sometimes, hey.

    An observation about this verse that stands out to me is, paraphrased, “Not letting your left know what the right is doing.”

    It says to me to let it, charity, hospitality, etc, become second nature. It becomes such a part of you that you don’t even realize that it’s a part of you. You’ve become, nice, and it’s real.

  71. I don’t think it’s possible to be honestly atheist or agnostic without having at least researched religious books to a certain extent. To draw a rational conclusion involves taking measurements first. That having done so, I don’t believe in a god (or many gods, or even explicitly in no gods at all) is just a case of Occam’s razor more than anything else. Therefore, having a bible (or other religious text) around is in no way odd for a rational agnostic. I have a user’s guide for 3D Studio Max kicking around, despite being a LightWave and Maya guy. Just because I don’t use that package doesn’t mean there aren’t any good workflow tips in the Max book.

    Regarding Christianity specifically, if Christians in general (and the really noisy ones in particular) actually acted like their Christ said to, then I think the world would be a vastly more pleasant place. Organised religion and human bastardry is probably a discussion for another time, though.

    Side note: I love hearing these little snippets of parenting. I hope there are plenty of parents who read this and think “hey, nifty idea”.

  72. I’m just going to point at Wikipedia about the various versions of the NOAB because the distinctions between the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th versions are (somewhat) important. Your religious battles may differ.

    I should point out, too, I suppose, that neither the Gia-fu Feng + Jane English nor the Red Pine translations of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching seem to get much respect from serious students of those works, or at least those on Wikipedia.

  73. Were you explaining to her why she can reveal Santa’s true identity?

  74. *wraps Ryan Greene’s head in duct tape*

    Ok. Now I have demonstrated what the duct tape is for. Do you need more parenting lessons?

  75. John @#66: the wisdom of the passage comes in the lesson that one doesn’t offer charity because one seeks the approval of other men, or wishes to be seen being a “good man”; one does them because it is in itself the moral and correct thing to do, regardless of whether anyone other person sees or acknowledges it.

    With no tongue-in-cheek whatsoever intended, amen. (If only Laertes had paid heed….)

  76. John @83, we are going a bit far afield, but being Jewish, I admit I get a little tired of listening to people pontificate cluelessly about the “Old Testament” as if only Christians could possibly understand the darn thing, and from a perspective which which seems to be unaware of things like, oh, the Talmud. Or the long history of study and criticism and literary interpretation. Or the thought that, hm, maybe the later writings of a bunch of people who wanted to persuade their fellow Jews to follow this Jesus guy are perhaps not a fair and balanced approach to what the “non-believers” did and thought.

    Admittedly, I should know better than to try and argue with such people now, but hey! Somebody is WRONG on the INTERNET!!!!!

    On the actual topic, I’m amused that people are floored an agnostic would keep a Bible handy. It’s like saying that nobody in their right mind shows their kid anything from Shakespeare, because it’s all fiction.

  77. My parents were Very Catholic, and on Sunday mornings when I didn’t want to be dragged out of bed and made to go to church, I would try to quote the old Matt 6:5-6 on ’em. It never worked.

  78. Hm. I’ve been thinking about both what I said back up at comment #1, and about “holy crap, what a firehose ‘notify me of follow-up comments via email’ has been” for this post. From the get-go it sounded more pessimistic and pragmatic than I think I am or meant it to be, but it probably says something at least about my state of mind for it to have come out so clinically and amorally. (Not immorally, that is of course different.) Maybe I have shifted my worldview into one where all really is self-interest in the end, and altruism “for its own sake” doesn’t really exist. But that’s not a human that I want to be, even if the behavior might be the same: is there a subtle different between rationally deciding that giving generously and anonymously leads to the broader, deeper, richer life in and of itself, and giving generously and anonymously because “it’s the right/moral/ethical/human thing to do? Or does the latter simply distill in the language of deterministic neurons into the former?

    Anyway: As a parent myself it has been interesting to follow along. I don’t know how to approach the topic of religion with my (quite young) children yet. They pick up words like “god” and “heaven” and haven’t formulated the really interesting questions yet, but it will be soon.

  79. I know I will regret commenting again (see 90), but here it is.

    @97 mythago, I believe you are correct in what you say but it is hard to get around it. There will always be people who believe they know everything and that what they read on wikapedia is completely factual and have no reason to look further. There will always be people who base what they know to be true on myth and old wives tales.

    Most can’t help themselves because they were taught something by someone they had respect for or the idea fit their current world view and they accept it as fact based on that alone. For example, a guy takes a college coarse. He enjoys his professor, finds him or her to be witty and enjoyable as a teacher. They learn many truly wonderous facts and enjoy the time in class with someone whose personality and enthusiasm the appreciate. One day the professor while teaching says, “There is no god”. Or, “Liberals are all nuts.” What’s a poor fella to do. He trusts this person.

    There are few who do the actual research on a subject matter such as this one, or politics, history, and economics to name a few hot buttons. “My mother told me this”, is often good enough for most.

    It can be easy to respond to ignorance with anger, but it usually doesn’t help. Blogging about it is also not a great form of communication. It is sometimes hard to if someone is joking, being sarcastic, or just plain insane. Communicating is so much more than words. Facial expressions and tones are all missing here. Body language is absent.

    I know it’s hard not to say anything sometimes, (look at me now), but I try to pick my battles carefully.

    Hey, by the way, sounds like your in pretty good company. Jesus was a Jew too!

  80. Emilo Lizardo[1] said it more eloquenstly:

    “Character is what you are in the dark.”

    [1]Not actually original to the Buckaroo Bonzai movie, of course. They were quoting Dwight L. Moody, who meant it somewhat differently than Dr. Lizardo.

  81. @85 Matt Arnold
    It’s not my place to make assumptions about Scalzi’s parenting either but by going to as close to the original source material as possible (granted that the original Aramaic texts would be closer) and not paraphrasing, he is also teaching Athena important critical thinking skills about understanding the original text and interpreting it for herself versus the message of someone else’s interpretation.

  82. Adelheid,

    I’m more interested in the topic of religion than of parenting. Critical thinking skills are good, and interpreting text is good, but why interpret an ancient text at all?

    I’m not interested in mystical magical mojo which only exists between a parent and a child, and which suspends all normal rules of human interaction. I had quite enough of that for one lifetime.

    I offer no parenting advice, nor do I wish to. My comments are on religion. Unfortunately, interactions between humans are sometimes both considered off-limits to critique or insight, because of these two topics. More’s the pity.

  83. Greg @ 63
    “And don’t think of slacking of in doing God’s killin’: “Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood. (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB)”

    Yeah, there’s also

    (short version: God instructs his prophet Samuel to tell Saul, the king of the Hebrews, to utterly destroy a rival people called Amalek. Saul fights them, kills almost all of them and captures Agag (the Amalek king). Samuel then goes apeshit: “What part of ‘utterly destroy’ did you not understand? Why is Agag still alive, you asshole?” (And the LORD repented that He had made Saul king over Israel) Then Samuel grabs a weapon and personally chops Agag into pieces.

    Shorter verson: When God says kill ’em all, He really means _all_, and mercy is _not_ an option. Nice guy, this God.

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