The Orange County Regiser has this account of a recent anti-religious demonstration by the Southern California group Backyard Skeptics:

Atheist group criticizes Christianity, Bible verses

ORLY? What a shocker…

About 15 members of the group Backyard Skeptics participated in the demonstration, some displaying posters with phrases such as: “Smile. You’re not alone. Millions are good without God” and “Worship me or I’ll send you to eternal hell … Have a nice day … (signed) God.”

The group’s leader, Bruce Gleason, along with a fellow member, tore up sheets of paper printed with verses from the Bible to make their point.

One paper that was torn to pieces was printed with the verse, Matthew 5:29, which states: “So if your eye – even your good eye – causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away.” Another, which was torn, Corinthians 14:34, states “The women are to keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak.”

A this point it should be said that prior to this event, the story was badly misreported. The media had taken the “atheists are going to rip up bibles” meme and run with it, which clearly was incorrect. And in fact I went on a little twitter rant (starting with this tweet) about how I didn’t support the group’s tactics. So I’ll take this opportunity to retract my previous criticism. Symbolically and as a matter of fact, printing up individual pages with specific verses and ripping them up is substantively different from destroying books. I have a problem with the whole book burning m.o., but not with what the Backyard Skeptics actually did.

Moving on, the part of the story that really caught my eye was this:

Isabel Moore of Huntington Beach, a self-professed “born-again Christian,” said the group is taking specific verses out of context.

“Most would have a different meaning if taken in proper context,” Moore said. “We have to read the whole passage and not just one verse.”

Perhaps the most vocal of those disagreeing with the Backyard Skeptics was Greg Allen of Santa Ana.

Allen, a Christian, said he spends most Saturdays preaching at the pier.

“There is a level of frustration when you deal with the type of argument that they bring,” Allen said. “They misrepresent the Christian view and what the Bible is actually presenting.”

“…a different meaning if taken in proper context…”

“They misrepresent the Christian view…”

The “out of context” defense of the bible is one of the most common, and most fallacious arguments that Christians (and Muslims, and most devout religious believers of any faith) put forth. The idea is usually that a) we need to understand the historical context of that time, and b) the criticized passages from these holy texts make more sense if you read them in context.

So my first question would be this: Is your Supreme Being not omnipotent and omniscient? Most believers claim that “he” is. So why is he bound by ANY limitations we could possibly imagine, be them historical, cultural  or otherwise? If the bible truly is the word of a god who has a divine plan for every human for all time, why was that god restrained to the historical context?

And furthermore, even if we grant a metaphorical, less literal view of the bible as more liberal believers tend to do, what is the context that could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, justify advising a person with one blind eye to gouge out the other one if they experience the universally human feeling of lust? We don’t even need to read the surrounding text, because it is absolutely insane to think that there could be any reasonable context for giving a person such cruel and inhumane council.

Likewise, what is the context that could possibly justify telling the women to keep their mouths shut, but not the men? It doesn’t matter how elaborate of a contextual house of cards you build around such a contention. At the end of the day, it will remain indefensible.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s look at the larger context of Matthew 5:29. It’s part of the revered Sermon on the Mount, and after Jesus, so the story goes, has denounced murder, he moves on to adultery:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Not only does this command not get better with context, it gets worse! In addition to eye gouging, the amputation of hands is also recommended as good insurance for hell avoidance.

Come on. If you actually believe the bible is true, then what kind of cruel, twisted deity are you really worshipping?

The real deal is that people, from their own rational judgment, know better. Which is why we don’t see thousands of eye-less, hand-less believers walking around town. People pick what they want to believe from their holy texts, ignoring the rest. But when critics rightfully point out the immoral teachings that are abundant in their sacred book, they still feel obliged to jump to its defense, even when it is downright crazy to do so.