Cherry Picking the Bible: A Perplexing Phenomenon

Cherry picking. We all do it to some extent. We read things from our favorite authors and cheer them on when they say things that we're agreeable to and just gloss over the things that fail to resonate with us. With a shrug of the shoulders we move on. As an example, many people in the godless community cheer enthusiastically when they hear Christopher Hitchens share his religious criticism, but begin to part ways when it comes to his views on the US involvement in Iraq. This happens with Sam Harris, too. Some love his debates on religion, but drift away on his ideas around free will, gun control, or his use of the word “spiritual.”

This level of cherry picking seems understandable. We're not going to agree with people all of the time on every subject. Just watch the comment threads on this post or any post in any online forum. People may agree with some things the author talks about, but strongly disagree with other things. It's just that cherry picking the bible seems to be on a different level.

God, as the character described in his bestselling book, didn't just have different opinions than others. He was cruel. He was depicted as worse than any serial killer the world has ever known. The atheist community has done a great job illustrating the examples of genocide, slavery, and other acts of terror that this being is responsible for in his story. I'll spare repeating all of this and just recommend that any curious readers that have somehow missed this criticism read a Bible or check out for an abbreviated illustration. As Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion,

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

In light of the cruelty we see in this character, the cherry picking just seems odd. It isn't a matter of having differing opinions on controversial subjects. It's the equivalent of, and slightly worse than, quoting pleasant things said by people like serial killers. One doesn't typically hear people quoting potentially decent things said by serial killers or evil dictators.

“Sporting chivalrous contest helps knit the bonds of peace between nations. Therefore may the Olympic flame never expire.” Adolf Hitler at the first Olympic torchlighting ceremony in Berlin 1936 (

“If you are going to do something, do it well.” Charles Manson in an interview with Diane Sawyer in 1994 (

“Nothing is impossible for a man with a strong will.” Kim Jong-il in “Unification of the fatherland is an act of supreme patriotism” written in the 1970s (

“When you work hard to do something right, you don’t want to forget it.”  Ted Bundy, serial killer.  Michaud, Stephen; Aynesworth, Hugh (August 1999). The Only Living Witness: The True Story of Serial Sex Killer Ted Bundy (Paperback; revised ed.). Irving, Texas: Authorlink Press.

These quotes sound like something you may see floating around social media pages in the form of nice little memes until you recognize the source. This is the same way some atheists see quoting nicer, inspirational things from the Bible. It appears that the horrible things in the Bible are ignored as people cling to some of the nicer things that are taught. When confronted with this, people just make comments about literature and how it was a different time. Meanwhile, believers continue to pick and choose what is literally believed and what is just metaphorical literature. The formula appears to take this form:

Formula 1: Written Words + Agreement With Written Words = Literal Truth

Formula 2: Written Words + Disagreement With Written Words = Metaphor

Let's apply the formula:

Formula 1: The scriptures condemning homosexuality in the Bible (Written Words) plus a personal feeling that homosexuality is icky (Personal Agreement) will yield the claim that this is literally true. Examples of those following this formula would be James Dobson, Duck Dynasty Phil, and our friends at Chick-fil-A.

Formula 2: The scriptures condemning homosexuality in the Bible (Written Words) plus a personal feeling that homosexuality is okay (Personal Disagreement) will yield the claim that this is just a metaphor. Examples of those following this formula would be the more liberal forms of faith embracing homosexuality.

Don't misunderstand me here. I'm happy that people have the ability to cherry pick the bible. Otherwise, I would have been stoned to death by now for my apostasy. I only wish to illustrate why this seems so strange to me and express my wonder at how this is all so easily ignored for the religious once they are confronted with these questions from skeptics. Historically the world has given religions a shelter from criticism by condemning blasphemy. Even in the modern world in less violent regions criticizing religion is still often seen in an unfavorable light. I suppose that this is part of the reason this is so easily glossed over since it has always been considered bad taste to point out these nefarious teachings. Even with this considered, I'm still confounded by how easily the atrocities are looked over and that the main character of the book is still worshiped by so many people.

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