Which edicts are clear?

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Which edicts are clear? is a topic of discussion I use to introduce believers to the problem of instruction. It's based on the fact that, in every religion, adherent disagree on which edicts are set in stone and which are open for interpretation. By helping them understanding this, a religious person can determine why they make the distinction between clear and vague, and also why they tend to gravitate toward certain edicts. The goal here isn't to get too focused on how or why they interpret an edict they way they do, but rather to help them see that all religious edicts require some interpretation and to acknowledge their interpretation isn't guaranteed to be correct.

This discussion requires you to know a fair amount about the person's religion, so it may not be best to use when speaking to someone whose religion you know little about.

Step 1 - Identify an Edict

The first step is to identify the specific edict they're talking about, and figure out why they adhere to it.

For example, a Christian might say their god views homosexuality as sinful, and may quote Romans 1:26-27 as clear evidence of their position.

Step 2 - Propose a Difficult Edict

Bring up an edict from their religion that they probably won't agree with. Since all religions are fractured into schisms, this usually isn't too difficult, and this chart will help get you started. Whatever route you take, try to find an edict created by what they think is the same person. If they quote from the Torah, and believe Moses wrote the Torah, use another quote they think was written by Moses. This will simplify matters and prevent them from dismissing the edict as coming from a less-important figure.

For example, the Epistle to the Romans is attributed to Paul, and there are plenty of problematic edicts in the other works attributed to Paul. Like in First Corinthians 14:34-35 where Paul writes that it is disgraceful for women to speak in church.

Step 3 - Verify Their Position

Explore their understanding the edict you've proposed. Don't accuse them of defying the edict, instead, verify that they agree that the edict forbids or allows immoral behavior and determine if they adhere to it.

For example, the vast majority of Christians do not believe that women should be prevented from speaking in church, but there are a minority that do. Determine if they agree with the edict or not.

Step 4 - Request Justification

Regardless of whether they agree with the edict or not, ask them to justify their position. Ask how certain they they are that their justification is correct.

For example, they may claim that Paul also says women will prophecize in the church, implying that they are allowed to talk at certain times, so he can't have meant it as a complete prohibition on women talking. You can grant them their point and agree that Paul allows women to speak in church under limited circumstances, but ask them how broad these circumstances get.

Step 5 - Describe Different Beliefs

Mention other sects within their religion who don't follow the edict you've raised, but also sects which don't follow the edict they raised.

For example, Anglicans, Methodist, and Presbyterians not only allow women to speak in church, but ordain women as preachers. This seems to be in defiance to Paul's edict, not just in the First Corinthians quote, but also of the First Epistle to Timothy 2:12, where he says that women should not be able to teach or have authority over men. Also, some of those same Anglicans, Methodist, and Presbyterians don't believe that same sex marriage is immoral.

Step 6 - Ask For an Explanation

Ask them to comment on the beliefs of those Christians who disagree with their interpretation. You're not so much trying to get them to figure out their specific justifications for not following the edicts, but rather try to get them to understand how someone could ignore the edict.

For example, if they can't think of a reason for how someone could disagree with Paul's condemnation of homosexuality, and just view those who disagree as "un-Christian," suggest that there are certainly other Christians who would call them "un-Christian" for allowing women to speak in church. If this doesn't faze them, you can bring up other edicts they might not agree with. By pinning down their beliefs more specifically, and adding up all the believers who disagree with them, they will quickly find themselves in the extreme minority.

Step 7 - What If They're Wrong?

Discuss what it might mean, not so much if they're wrong, but what it means for all the other people in their religion who disagree with them.

For example, Christians are divided on whether women should be allowed to speak in church. If the ones who disagree are correct, it would mean that all those Christians who follow Paul's statements are not only wrong and preaching a false doctrine, but they won't even ask for forgiveness for their sin. Does that mean they will go to hell? But, if Paul's edict is accurate, then the people who let women speak in church are the sinners who won't ask for forgiveness. So, will they be the ones who go to hell?

Step 8 - Does Their God Care?

Ask if they think it's possible their god isn't actually all that interested in the edict you've raised.

For example, maybe the Christian god doesn't care if women speak in church. It's not like they're hurting anyone, so why shouldn't women be allowed to enjoy themselves by talking in church like men do? Of course, this would mean that the obvious interpretation of passage of the bible is wrong.

Step 9 - Loop Back Around

Apply that same logic to the edict they raised.

For example, maybe the Christian god doesn't care if same sex couples love each other? Maybe he's not interested in they type of sex that occurs between consenting adults? Doesn't it seem awfully micromanaging for the all-power creator of the universe to focus on what people do with their genitals?

Step 10 - Why Focus on One but Not the Other?

Regardless of which way they go on these questions, ask why they think certain Christians focus so much on one edict and not the other. Don't accuse them of doing so, ask in a general manner.

For example, since some Christians aren't sure their god is interested in keeping women silent in church, and aren't sure their god thinks it's evil to be gay, why do some spend so much energy condemning homosexuality, but not women speaking in church, or vice-versa?

Step 11 - Recap

The goal here isn't to prove any edicts right or wrong, or even discuss an individual edict's merits. The goal is to get the believer to realize that there are many edicts within their own religion that are not clear.