If They Only Had a Heart

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2016-06-28 – My fellow liberals LOVE calling right wingers stupid. LOVE IT. But, not only is that tack insulting, it is wrong.

Evidence for their stupidity includes their denial of human agency in global climate change, a variety of widely believed conspiracy theories, and rejection of vaccines. (Oops, I guess some liberals are guilty of being anti-vaxxers, as well. But we’re not calling this stupidity.)

The fact of the matter is that these beliefs require an extraordinary amount of mental agility. Unfortunately, their mental agility is misplaced.

I don’t watch much TV. (I don’t offer that as proof or disproof of my own stupidity, just proof that I can’t manage all the things I want to do and still find the time.) But when I’m out of town, I sometimes catch a few programs. That happened on my recent vacation.

One program was devoted to the scientific proof of the Bible. In one segment, structural engineers offered detailed calculations to show that the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) was possible. They assessed the structural strength of brick and tar (the material discussed in the Bible) and the structural shape of the ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats and concluded that a ziggurat could have been constructed using these materials to a height that would dwarf modern skyscrapers.

Coulda woulda shoulda.

The Bible says nothing about the height of the tower (מִגְדָּל֙/migdal—essentially meaning “big thing”), but these folks seemed to think that calculations about the mere “possibility” of a tall tower somehow bolsters the believability of the biblical account. It doesn’t persuade me, but it is certainly not stupid. It is ingenious. But it’s a kind of straw man argument.

I read biblical passages differently. To me, this passage talks about hubris. To me this passage talks about the value of a common language in fostering human cooperation. The compressive strength of baked clay has nothing to do with the lesson of the passage. There’s nothing stupid about it. It just doesn’t have heart.

Another segment of the same program explored the physics of the sling that David used to slay Goliath (1 Sam. 17). To me, this is a story of courage, of the weak defeating the strong. To biblical scientists, it’s a story of angular momentum. Ingenious. But it’s a straw man. No one was suggesting that slings were not used as lethal weapons. And certainly, no one was suggesting that the Bible was false on the basis that slings don’t exist. They exist. You can make one. And you can go out and kill someone with your sling, if you want to do the research.

To me, the truth or falsity of specific incidents in the Bible are beside the point. But it’s not stupid to argue in favor of the truth of the Bible. I have done so myself. (It was the topic of my senior thesis in college.) But I’ve learned that the truths of the Bible are often hidden in debates like these.

Onanism (Gen. 38:8-10—commonly misunderstood to equal masturbation) is not the central message of the Bible (sorry to disabuse you of this notion). The central message is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). (Just ask Jesus: Matt. 22:39.)

Brains over heart is the problem—not a lack of brains. If they only had a heart.

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