Algernon Sydney v. Estelle Walker

A headline in yesterday’s paper read “Mom expected God to provide food, daughter testifies,” regarding a New Jersey court case on child endangerment. Back in 2006 an unemployed mother decided, based on what her religion dictated, that God would sustain her family. Her children nearly starved to death after eleven days without food. In a society where those who take their religion literally like to wear it on their sleeves, and politicians receive excessive adulation for their piety, this case is a splash of ice-water honesty. Reality is, people starve to death. Many of them children, many of them religious.

The non-biblical adage “God helps those who help themselves” can properly be traced to Algernon Sydney, a seventeenth-century British philosopher. Quite apart from this noteworthy comment, Sydney was also aware that taking the verses of the Bible out of context you could prove just about anything. He famously wrote, “If you take the scripture to pieces you will make all the penmen of the scripture blasphemous; you may accuse David of saying there is no God and of the Apostles that they were drunk.” Found guilty of treason for his own words taken out of context, Sydney was sentenced to death. Today many people believe his words are biblical.

God help the man who speaks the truth

Perhaps the reality is that people do not want to own up to responsible religion. Believing that God dabbles almighty fingers into the realms of physics, biology, and chemistry every day, violating the laws of nature, they suppose that our little planet is the focal point of a grand cosmic scheme. Meanwhile, a glance at the paper reveals evil perpetrated in the name of God, and a glance at history reveals sensible thinkers facing the gallows.

4 thoughts on “Algernon Sydney v. Estelle Walker

  1. Sydney was also aware that taking the verses of the Bible out of context you could prove just about anything.

    Heck, you don’t even need to take stuff OUT of context to say anything. It is a well know principle of logic that if a syllogism contains both A and Not-A, then any conclusion can be drawn. And since the bible is a compilation of many writers with differing theologies (and not the congruent work of the holy spirit), you get contradictory statements. Thus all you have to do is hunt for them, work them into your argument and BANG ! you’ve got whatever you want.


  2. Pingback: Bible vs. Bible « Sects and Violence in the Ancient World

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