Bible Bashing

I’m reading a loved one’s latest missionary letter, and it’s a blow-by-blow account of some righteous argument he reportedly “won” while tracting. It’s a hilarious/sad/scary story, as the argument focused mainly on theodicy (and are there ever winners in theodicy debates?). His letter drips with hubris, righteous fire, and above all, familiarity–that used to be me (and perhaps you as well).

Everyone told me as a missionary that we shouldn’t “bible bash” and argue because “the Spirit can’t work where there’s contention.” Nobody told us not to bible bash because we were stupid 19-year-olds who didn’t know anything.

There’s probably a lesson in here for adults, too…


  1. I would always tell my mission companions that non-Mormons weren’t idiots, that many of their faiths (especially the predominant Catholicism of my mission locale) had centuries of history and theology on Mormons – and some of our “obvious” interpretations of the Bible are only obvious because we’ve been acculturated to them and are correlating them with other LDS scripture. “Bible bashing” often means “heated exchange of poorly thought-through proof texts.”

  2. KerBearRN says:

    And to me, that explanation of why not to bash kind of reeks of paternalism. Bashing and/or arguing is just disrespectful of the beliefs of others. If you have a testimony, share it in humility. All else is just arrogance.

  3. I cringe when I remember the following exchange with a man on the door-step of his house:

    Man: JS was a charlatan! Polygamy was just a justification for his sexual desire. It is unchristian!
    Me: Abraham was a polygamist and so was David, would you say that they were not Christians either?
    Man: That was a different time. In our era, God does not accept that practice.
    Me: Hypothetically, what if God did come and ask to take another wife, would you do it?
    Man: No!
    Me: That is exactly why you are not a Prophet and JS was! He was willing to do whatever God ask, even if he did not like it. And you should repent for being unwilling to follow God when he speaks.

    The conversation went downhill from there and ended shortly after. In many ways, some of the most unchristian things I have ever done happened when I was missionary.

  4. I don’t remember my setting apart specifically granting me arrogance…must have picked that up on my own.

  5. Snyderman says:

    As I’ve attempted to overcome my own inclinations towards “Bible bashing,” I’ve started looking at other people’s arguments differently. I can’t say when exactly I decided to do this, but I know that at some point I decided that I didn’t feel comfortable disparaging or condemning other religions and viewpoints unless I had tried (as far as I could) to live/understand them. So that’s what I started (to try) to do.

    And after a number of years of attempting to do that, I can say that my perspective has changed from thinking other religions and viewpoints are wrong to thinking that they are either: 1) different or 2) incomplete. I’ve started appreciating differences more, because not all differences are bad, they’re just different. And those religions/viewpoints/ideologies/what have you that I disagree with generally aren’t wrong, necessarily, only incomplete. Their conclusions, as I see it, are based on incomplete information. And I have trouble condemning them because I find that I, too, am usually working with incomplete information.

  6. justapunkkid says:

    Although there were a handful of times I engaged in Bible bashing, because I was blessed with a 9th grade Geography teacher as a father, who taught me that just because something made sense to me didn’t me that it was the only way to look at it.

    A short ramble that has nothing to do with bible bashing, but will I SWEAR in the end. Bear with me: My first year of highschool my family moved to Honduras (for reasons rather uninteresting and unimportant to the post, yes even more unrelated). I attended a Honduran public school. Being the son of a geography teacher, geography was one of my strong points. So I was a little put off when my teacher, and my entire class thought that there were only 6 continents! They further believed there were 5 oceans, when EVERYONE knew there were 7 continents and 4 oceans!
    When I told my dad how ‘clueless and dumb’ geography was down here because they thought there were 6 continents and 5 oceans my dad said, “who says there isn’t?” I was dumbfounded. Try every geography book I’d read since 2nd grade! North and South America were clearly separate continents! (I did have to conceive that dividing oceans is a pretty arbitrary thing, it didn’t take long to empathize there) they were divided by an isthmus—now a canal—the same way Asia was divided from Africa!

    My dad taught me two things right then. 1-continents were just ways people look at a map and divide things in a way that was logical to them. I saw 7 continents and thought the reasoning behind that was logical because I was raised in a society that believed that. Both positions were logical once you really understood all the background logic. 2- he said “Jason, when some people look at the same map as you they see a different geography. You don’t have to agree with them, but now is a good time for you to learn to understand why they see things the way they do and if you still want to persuade them of the error of their ways, to do so in a way that appreciates some of the strengths of their position.

    Okay- NOW BACK TO BASHING: I was always the pain in the butt missionary that didn’t let other missionaries bash the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Catholics, Evangelicals, or any other group because I’d learned at a younger age that if I was born Catholic, Evangelical, Jehovah’s Witness, or any other group it would be very hard to leave not because I was prideful, but because I was human. I had a whole network and lifetime of reasons why I liked living the way I was living. This didn’t mean I didn’t believe the gospel was true or that I didn’t try as hard as other missionaries to convert. But my approach was one of realizing that they would be more interested if I could show them how the restored gospel took what good they had and added to it.

    Although like I said, there were a handful of times I was sucked into bible bashing. I post this story to show that I think bible bashing actually is the result of a network of thinking engrained in the “natural man/woman” that we are just so smart. It is a demonstration of pride. Telling those preparing for a mission ‘don’t bible bash’ I don’t believe will be nearly as effective as teaching them how to respect others of differing view points both in religious and non-religious situations.

  7. I never Bible bashed. But I was a sister, and we did other dumb things instead, like engaging in microaggressions against each other.

  8. It’s amazing that your self-righteousness against your family members behavior doesn’t prevent you from judging him. Hypocrisy, thy name is by common consent.

  9. #8 – The use of the word “we” in the post is instructive. Also, you do realize your own comment is an example of what you mistakenly chastize Kyle for doing, right?

    I agree, Kyle. The main reason missionaries should never “Bible bash” is their own youth and ignorance. There really is a lesson in there for us as adults.

  10. If the objective is to “win” rather than to communicate, we’re already finished–regardless of what book/idea we’re fighting about.

  11. I think Zeezrom was about the only person who arguably had a change of heart as a result of some old school bronze plate bashing. Probably not a good missionary tool for the rest of us to employ.

  12. Well, I love to discuss theology with strongly converted people. Is that bashing? In one exchange I got skunked. As a missionary, whenever we had a new area I loved to talk to the religious leaders, the priests, etc., in the area. In one place there was a very handsome and manly (sexy) priest we talked to on multiple occasions. He got us on the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. We, Mormons, accept that it was symbolic, but in the bible there is no such symbolism. Jesus says “this is my body,” pretty much unequivocally. I had to gulp and say, OK, you are right, which is where the Catholics get their doctrine of transubstantiation. The stuff remains bread while the substance becomes body. But did the apostles apprehend that it was symbolic? (I have to think so. Did Monty Python address this issue?)

    And, what did Jesus mean when he talked about none being given in marriage in the hereafter? This is a big deal in the evangelical community. I know our explanation, but the question remains, having been put forward by other intelligent people. Anyway, we agree with the Gnostics (presumably). We will go on to be aeons with our spouses, since the aeons seem to come in pairs, and there are lots of them.

    I do not lie awake at night thinking on this, but if bible bashing is done without the animus (is that within the definition?) then we can learn from the experience.

  13. RE#8 – The difference between your judgement and Kyle’s is that he will most likely respond with kindness and respect when he directly interacts with his family member. Also neither his post nor the comments that followed directly made any judgements of people that were meant to degrade them, but instead they were presented in a spirit to support the idea that gaining people’s respect by respecting them are more important.

  14. On my mission, bible-bashing was mostly viewed as a form of recreation, like employing wild door approaches and selecting the suspicious people to sit next to on the bus so you could feel ’em squirm (those horrible Mormons!). In other words, something you did when you were fed up with the typical quasi-adversarial interactions with humanity. Bad missionary!

    I think the typical 19-year-old male has some evil in him, and it’s hard to bottle it up all the time when it feels like people are being mean to him. Part of the process of learning charity.

  15. h_nu, I don’t mind the critique, but I definitely mean this post to be more inclusively judgmental.

    The idea of my little brother standing on a doorstep arguing about theodicy issues in broken spanish is just as preposterous as me doing the same thing (which I’m sure I did, only in even-more-broken Finnish). So I suppose I’m judging every know-it-all 19-year-old missionary…of which I was one.

    And the last line of the OP is meant to imply that this isn’t only an issue for 19-year-olds.

  16. “I think the typical 19-year-old male has some evil in him”

    So true!

  17. I’ve personally been guilty of “winning” at least two debates with Christian opponents who started to question their faith in Christ thanks to my tireless efforts.

    Not a great feeling, I must admit.

  18. I think the thing that is missing when you are trying to “win” is the listening. Arguing leads you to stop listening to your opponent, and the Holy Ghost.


  19. The subject comes close to home with “relative and absolute truths.”

  20. justapunkkid says:

    Number 12- I do think there is a difference between having sincere theological discussions and bashing. (BTW- Amen to our response on the ‘no marriage in the afterlife scripture.’ Has no one clued us in that Jesus was answering a question about people who were married in this life? Dunno, always been curious to me.)

    I think the difference is how intent we are on learning and sincerely listening to the other. When I got sucked into bashing I no longer really cared about the other person. I was bound and determined to make them look dumb, and me look smart. I guess the way I defined bashing is that it was something I did for my own glory. (Like Kyle posted, there is a fleeting feeling of a war hero that I’ve also felt in those moments.) But discussion and sharing was something which was edifying and like RW sometimes I had to walk away thinking ‘wow, they are totally right.’

  21. Kyle, I had the opposite problem, at 23 years old, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps, spending 3 months being trained (indoctrinated) to repress my own cultural bias, then 21 more in Central Africa reminding myself that I was a guest in someone else’s culture, to listen more than to speak, above all not to judge or preach.

    In short, I was a boring guest, prim and proper, parroting every proper view expected of me. I was a dud. Smug and aloof.

    In hindsight, why could I not just relax and be myself, flaws and all, instead of the politically-correct smiling robot I portrayed. Central Africans are constantly telling jokes, often dirty, men holding sweaty hands while walking for a feeling of intimacy. What stopped me from cracking jokes of my own? How white guys can’t jump. At the watering hole, men bathed naked, only I was left to notice: prudish, ashamed, and embarrassed. Naked men, joking, talking, touching each other with narry a sexual thought: innocence before the fall. Male bonding is critical to Central African boys, their peer group will be a second family throughout their life. I was their math teacher, would it have so destroyed my objectivity, credibility, authority to join in? In this venue, clothes were the interloper, somehow dishonest. Life in Africa is lived out loud, and always two or more are gathered to join in, just not me.

    Twice I passed a colleague peeing at the side of the road who called me over, shook my hand with his free right one, and conversed about some crisis at school that day. All I could think of was to race back home to wash my hand with soap.

    In each case, I brought evil into the Garden of Eden, warped my own personality nominally for others comport until none felt comfortable with me, and grew suspicious of people trying to say hi.No Central African was so poor they would not share what they had, and none would have offered as I did the hundred white lies to avoid social interaction. I was a discredit to my race and calling, but my sins must have been forgiven. I was told after I left they they liked and missed us already. How I wish I’d have a second chance to really get to know the people and their musical language.

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