On the importance of "cherry-picking" from the Bible

“The extremists are the most honest of the people who have a religious view because they commit themselves to what their tradition tells them, and they stay closest to the text,” he said, explaining that moderate believers often “cherry-pick” the best parts of their religion, ignoring the rest. “Now, if that’s real religion, that’s honest religion, the world is very much better off without it.”

A.C.Grayling, speaking at the November 2011, Intelligence Squared debate, as reported in Slate
For the sake of the eternal argument it is important that the opposition be predictable. Debating with the "extremist" is like shooting fish in a barrel. It becomes more difficult to formulate a case when the fish are free to swim about as they please. At that point, the skeptic/atheist/non-believer will adopt plan B, and the accusation of "cherry-picking" - the nonsensical notion of picking and choosing what religious beliefs, or bible verses, one holds to. You are faced with the charge, "Accept all of it, or accept none of it!"

It is foolhardy to accept all of the Bible uncompromisingly. The Bible is the word of man. It is "inspired" in as much as it was man's faith in God that moved him to put stylus to papyrus. Sometimes it homes in on matters with pinpoint accuracy. At other times it is replete with personal taste and unhelpful adjectives - often in the space of the same verse. We have to be able to separate what is myth from what is historically accurate. We have to be able to identify a way of life that belongs to a people not our own. Not everything will be applicable, so not everything will be picked.
Everyone who perceives the peculiar poetic charm of these legends must feel irritated by the barbarian - for there are pious barbarians - who thinks he is putting the true value upon these narratives only when he treats them as prose and history.

Hermann Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis (page 9)
We cherry-pick the Genesis account because it makes sense to do so. But, we can also marvel at the wisdom of highlighting the source of our distress - shame. Thousands of years later, this remains unchanged. Still today we react to accusation in one of two ways: Blame others (as Adam did), or blame ourselves (as did Eve.)

Jesus was a man. His extraordinary humility came about partly through recognising his ordinariness. He offered to all men what he himself had experienced - oneness with God. He was not seeking followers, he just wanted people to listen to what he had to say. To be thoroughly moved, we have to hear his words as they come out of the mouth of a man who had been through the same things we have. We have to be able to translate what he says in to words we can understand. Often his sayings were reduced to sound-bites. At times we need to use our imagination and expand on a conversation that has been boiled down to, "Your sins are forgiven."

To denounce the man of faith for so-called "cherry-picking" is to misunderstand the Bible. It is not a book that primarily explains how things ought to be. It is a book presenting how things are. The fact that it follows the exploits of one particular nation is neither here nor there. The divine right of kings is found throughout the world; many nations believe their legal system is somehow inspired by God; religion holds sway over many peoples. There are some who believe fanatically, and some who say, "There is no God."

The Bible is a record of man's flight from God, and how it affects every aspect of his life be it national, political, religious or personal. It is remarkable in that it shows how much mankind has remained unchanged. On the other hand, there are those within the pages of the Bible who could see mankind's dire condition, and in their various ways, with the understanding they had at the time, they tried to peel back the layers that separate man from God.

These are just a few of the reasons why it is so necessary to "cherry-pick" from the Bible. It is imperative that we sort our way through this tangle of words, if only to make it truly applicable to ourselves. Unless we can learn to separate the sweet from the bitter, the ripe from the rotten, have we any chance of finding our way back to God.