One of the banes of my existence as a theological tutor/lecturer is the (fatalistic?) tendency of students not to connect their biblical studies work with theological reflection. “Pick a topic, decide what you believe and throw a handful is supporting verses at it” seems to be a predominant methodology for some. Richard Briggs sums the problem up nicely in his glossary in “Be an expert in 137 minutes in interpreting the Bible.”
Using a Bible verse or passage out of context to provide a handy ‘proof’ of whatever point you are trying to make, regardless of the the Bible verse you used is actually trying to talk about. Proof-texting is extremely popular because it is much easier than interpreting the Bible properly.
(Of course, this leads into heated discussions about what “proper” interpretation is anyway.)
The other day I was reading this article on Buddhism and transhumanism (like you do when you’re looking at how religion and technology interact) and I came across this outstanding piece of proof-texting. Now I’m fairly sure that the author’s tongue is firmly in his cheek but this will go down in my proof-texting examples for the next time I’m teaching hermeneutics. Here is it,
Another powerful cognitive therapy is suppression of that notorious toxin, testosterone. Suppressing testosterone, either through castration or hormone treatments, dramatically reduces repeat offenses in sex offenders, while significantly enhancing the victimizer’s quality of life, no longer plagued by violent and shameful thoughts. Castration is also a demonstrated life extender for men, and one of the more extreme body modifications growing in popularity.
The Buddhist tradition appears to frown on castration, as eunuchs are barred from ordination. But Jesus appears to encourage castration for Christian men of stout heart. In Matthew 19:10-12, where the disciples ask if it is okay to marry, Jesus replies: “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
So perhaps, at least for Christians, testosterone suppression could be one of the technological assists for ethical behavior.
And quite possibly a remedy for proof-texting too! (At least for some of the class)
(Now there’s a thesis idea! Is gender determinative in cases of “proof-texting”?)