As I flit around random debates about religious beliefs, I frequently come across a kind of response that is used by believers and disbelievers alike. You can't pick and choose. So when a north wales vicar created a collage of clippings from the Bible depicting a harsh and murderous god, and which he, the vicar, rejected, his bishop offered the comment that there are some passages which we have to struggle to understand. But you can't just reject what you don't like. (And he'll investigate that vicar, by the way.) Don't pick and choose, is the message. It's all or nothing.
There were non-believers commenting to similar effect about the same vicar. Most Christians pick and choose, but some more than others. And if you are going to do that, you should get out altogether.
I suppose I can understand the non-believer's frustration. If folk will choose their beliefs in this sort of way it's much more difficult to knock them down. You can't say, 'You think X but that is silly,' because you might get the response, 'But I don't believe X.'
'Okay then, you believe Y and that's another silly one.'
'But I don't believe Y either.'
This gets really frustrating like the rabbit that won't stand still while you shoot it.
Well, okay, maybe that's unfair. The frustration is that the church has so many leaders of a fairly liberal and rational persuasion who are propping up an illiberal and irrational edifice. Though the illibs and irrats don't see it that way – their critics from bothends of the spectrum usually often say such wishy-washy folk who resort to thinking should get out.
And it's the 'don't pick and choose' that comes from the doctrinally 'correct' spectrum that really annoys me. Because what does it amount to? By picking and choosing I am exercising my rationality. I am making judgments about what is true and what is false, what is good and what is bad, what is praiseworthy and what is reprehensible. Why should anyone not do this? Because the Faith – the whole set of beliefs and practices – was delivered to the church under divine guidance, complete and non-negotiable.
The trouble is, by what process of rational thought can anyone ever come to the conclusion that this is a reasonable position to take? There's no escaping it – we have to pick and choose, we have to make up our minds. And when something is clearly wrong we should not devise ways of making it mean something else that we can accept in order to preserve an illusion of believing the Authority that has been imposed upon us.