Send in the Clown

By Credo Quia Absurdum
 A Christadelphian makes a fool
of himself on British TV

Quite by chance I happened to catch a bit of a BBC Sunday morning program today - The Big Questions – which takes the form of a debate with a few selected interested parties with contributions from an audience of members of the public.  

Normally I would avoid such programs like the plague, because they are so superficial! How can you answer the “big questions” in a 20 minute debate format with half-a-dozen protagonists? Plus it is fronted by the BBC journalist Nicky Campbell –the master of the false dichotomy. (You need to be in the UK to know this!)

Watch the show at the end of this article. 

What provoked my interest however was the Big Question "Are bible stories the way to teach morality?" with the first speaker in favour being one Luke Bamford of Peterborough Christadelphians! 

Luke Bamford made the
Christadelphians look eccentric

Accompanied by his prophet puppet, and with his leather-bound bible in his hand, he tried to convince the audience that the bible was fully inspired by God, was a literal historical record (including all the animals on Noah’s ark) and was a great way to teach morals to children.

When questioned by Campbell on the morality of God deciding to kill everyone on earth just because they wouldn’t do what he wanted, Bamford came out with the excuse that they had been warned for 120 years and had ignored the warnings – God didn’t really want them to die, but they had been warned!

If Luke Bamford had taken a look at Genesis record of the Noah and the flood in his leather bound KJV (I just have a feeling it was the KJV!), he would have been aware that there is NOTHING in Genesis to suggest that the population of the earth were warned. It is just pure speculation – or maybe its years of Sunday-school embellishment of the myth that has given him that idea!

Andrew Copson (Chief Exec of the British Humanist Association) argued against him that whilst the bible had some good stories to teach morality (e.g. the good Samaritan) it was no better in this respect than many other works of fiction – and he cited Harry Potter and the works of Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, as containing moral tales that were more suited to teaching modern children than the bible.

Luke Bamford was pressed by Nicky Campbell on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and also on the New Testament injunction that wives should “submit to their husbands” and asked to explain how this taught morals. His explanation of the hierarchy of authority; God – Jesus – Man – Woman, will be familiar to all ExCDs, but was greeted with some incredulity even by the other Christians who were arguing on his side!

Anyone who was watching the program would be left none the wiser on the question, and one had to feel somewhat aggrieved that Andrew Copson seemed to have just one ally against the various Christian voices, and the whole thing descended into bickering about interpretation of the bible amongst the Christians with Bamford insisting the “God wrote it” and others saying no!

However it was interesting that a Christadelphian had been able to get this public exposure. Whether this is a good thing for the Christadelphians is a moot point. To have their biblical literalist views aired in a public forum and sneered at by the fellow believers in the audience – not by the humanists who were much more dignified – was perhaps illuminating.

But what about the question? Can we teach morality from bible stories?

If you pick the right stories I guess you can.

But what about the basic Christian myth of the death being caused by a woman made from a man’s rib who was persuaded by a talking snake to eat fruit from the tree that would give her and her partner knowledge of good and evil?

What about Lot, offering his virgin daughters to the sex crazed men of Sodom to “do what you like with them”. Not to mention the drunken incest that followed with Lot and his daughters!

What about the Levite and his concubine – another incident where a man offered his virgin daughter to save his male guest from sex crazed men?

What about the stubborn and rebellious son. According to Deuteronomy he should be stoned to death. Proverbs tells us “Whoever spares the rod hates their children”

Are these good stories to teach morality to children?

And the fundamental myth of Christianity – that we don’t have to bear responsibility for our actions – we can be forgiven because God’s anger against us is somehow placated by the temporary death of his son. The consequences of our actions have been taken from us and suffered for us by Jesus!

How is that moral?

The real truth is that morality is fashioned by evolution and the social nature of our species. We find stories that illustrate ways to live morally and they are helpful in teaching, but the bible does not have the monopoly on moral tales! And quite rightly we choose to ignore the stories which are less helpful, and embellish other stories to make them fit in with our human morality – which is exactly what Luke Bamford was doing when he argued that God warned people about the flood even though the Genesis record is silent on the question.

Bible stories are deeply embedded in our culture and should definitely be taught to children, but they will get at least as much moral instruction from the Greek myths, Aesop’s fables, Shakespeare’s play and a whole range of modern novels and films.

Will anything be learned? I doubt it – people like Luke Bamford seem absolutely convinced that they are right, and the fact the virtually everyone else disagrees probably makes him even more firm in his convictions. That’s the religious mind-set for you!

Part 1

Part 2

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