God’s Exact Words: Bothered by the Good Book

Rev. Brady

In an earlier thread, Logiopath and I shared this exchange:

Logio:  The next time your boss tells you something, try and read a double meaning into the words. In other words, if the Gospel texts have any reflection of Jesus’ words, then what is said is probably what is meant (regardless of the accuracy of the statement).

Me:  That’s actually not bad advice. Never having managed people in a business setting you probably have never encountered the overly literal employee who ONLY does precisely as he is told or perhaps follows the instructions so ‘religiously’ that he botches things up….”But that’s what you TOLD me to do!” It helps to understand your bosses general intent (bad bosses kept this secret – Jesus did not).

Logio: You’re right, I’ve never been in management, but I understand giving instructions to students who are literal in their interpretation.

When I discussed this conversation with my friend, Jack the Trivia King, he snapped his fingers and, nodding his vigorously, said “Just like Greg Brady’s exact words!” Which meant absolutely nothing to me.

It turns out that this is a famous episode of the Brady Bunch (a TV show that puberty saved me from having to watch) in which the eldest boy (Greg) is told that he is forbidden to drive the family car for two weeks because of his carelessness behind the wheel.

Taking his father’s words quite literally, Greg instead borrows the neighbor’s car for a drive. Having been found out and now grounded, Greg complains that he did not disobey his parents; after all, he didn’t drive the family car. He was actually very obedient and followed his dad’s instructions to the letter.  To avoid further confusion, Greg suggests that from now on everyone should only say EXACTLY what they mean, using only EXACT words. His wise (and very hip) dad readily agrees and wholesome family hilarity ensues.

This sitcom episode is apparently a classic example of a literary ‘trope’ – “a storytelling device and convention that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.”; like the Genie granting three wishes or the boy who cried wolf.  In this particular case someone is taking an authority’s instructions so literally that they actually, and quite legally, subvert the authority’s purpose in giving those instructions in the first place.

In the workplace this is known as “Malicious Obedience” or “Destructive Compliance” or “Bothering by the Book”. In order to further their own agendas, the workers obey the rules so religiously that it subverts their employers intentions. Any well run business will encourage their employees to ‘take ownership’ of their responsibilities, allowing them the flexibility to be innovative in their interpretations of the workplace rules, as long as they remain in the spirit in which the rules were written.  In fact, good companies don’t give rules, they provide guidelines. Some of the most successful companies today (like Yahoo!) are quite radical in this respect.

This, I think, is a pretty good analogy for the differences between fundamentalist religion and progressive religion. Jesus would have been considered a progressive, if not even a radical -breaking the religious rules in order to better serve the spirit of those rules.

We’ve all witnessed the sometimes silly but often tragic results of people reading scriptures by their exact words.  More often than not they end up subverting the spirit of those words. Just as in how some have changed Jesus’ imploration to not judge others (in that case, adulterers) into a new legalist ‘sin’; sexual titillation.

Much worse, many have used the ‘exact words’ of Hebrew and Christian scriptures to justify slavery, prejudice and war, the ‘exact words’ of Matthew and John to justify anti-Semitism, the ‘exact words’ of Paul to justify male chauvinism and homophobia and the ‘exact words’ of Mohammed to justify misogyny and initiate violent intifada;  all zealously bothering by the Good Book.

As Greg Brady painfully learned in that episode, taking someone at their ‘exact words’ is something you learn to avoid as you grow up. If you want to avoid confusion and if you want to better serve authority.


, , , , , , ,

  1. #1 by Wally on July 31, 2009 - 10:56 am

    After reading the material you guys post, I believe you are your own gods… Truth can only exist if it fits your individual tastes. As a motter of fact, it seems like the whole EC is like that. They are not sure what anything is about but they are certain that traditional orthodox interpretation if the Bible is wrong. Does anyone else smell a rat? It was Satan who challenged God’s ability to make rules and he continues to do so today…

    I know, you guys probably believe that Satan is just the personification of the evil tendencies of man…

    Anyway, this has been enlightening. Someone said that Haight-Ashbury was dead but it’s not. It has been revived by the EC-newage-environatzi movement. Peace, flower children. 😉

    • #2 by Christian Beyer on July 31, 2009 - 11:22 am

      Actually I think Satan is a metaphor for our egos, which has much more potential for evil than any angel, fallen or not. As “Satan” lives within in all of us it is impossible to hide from him, not even in church. But that’s another topic.

      Don’t you see, Wally, that what you call orthodoxy is actually no such thing? It is only one of many Christian spins on man made ancient writings, even though they may be inspired by God. The idea that the bible is inerrant and infallible is a fairly new Protestant doctrine, created out of the fear that modern scientific inroads would result in the demise of Christianity (something the Creationists are still struggling with).

      Not satisfied with the unsatisfying Gospel of peace and grace that Jesus preached we have made Jesus into a schizophrenic God who preaches forgiveness one day and then returns to initiate violent apocalypse tomorrow (or maybe in the next 2000 years.) This is exactly what WE would do if we were Jesus. We would never let the unfaithful and the heretics get away with…well, not exactly murder but at least for disagreeing with our doctrines.

      Since you introduced the sixties analogy let me play along; have you ever considered how closely religious fundamentalism resembles cultic fascism? An authoritarian demand for commonality of thought, unswerving devotion to a unified ideal, public oaths, no room for dissent and an exclusionary fortress mentality that labels “others” as enemies to be feared and battled.

      Sieg Heil, mein bruder! 8)

  2. #3 by logiopath on July 31, 2009 - 12:35 pm

    Wally, if I am my own God, then I am in serious trouble.

    I believe in God–and have no reason (as Kant has been quoted as saying) to reject orthodox doctrines such as Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus. What I reject is the silly and often cruel dogmas that have arisen.

    For example Jesus said He came to free humanity, but the church has placed people under heavy bondage.

    So, please don’t assign me as an autotheist, I am certainly not of that variety.

    Chris, on the other hand . . .

  3. #5 by logiopath on July 31, 2009 - 12:36 pm

    And I don’t mean to misquote the quote of Kant–I don’t reject these doctrines, but I am certain Kant had many questions. If you want to know what he rejected, you’d have to ask him yourself.

  4. #6 by logiopath on July 31, 2009 - 3:40 pm


  5. #7 by Alex on July 31, 2009 - 5:30 pm

    “Does the church of today much resemble the church of the first century?”

    If the Church is truly the Body of Christ, then yes, it must be.

    • #8 by Christian Beyer on July 31, 2009 - 6:02 pm

      OK, I hate to keep splitting hairs, Alex. But then what do you mean by the “Church”?

  6. #9 by saradode on August 13, 2009 - 10:21 am

    Wally, can you please just try to consider that your (and I don’t necessarily mean “you” in particular–it’s not personal) brittle and unyielding, “one size MUST fit all” understanding of the Divine simply limits what is by definition limitless, creates obstacles to people’s ability to form close, loving, direct relationships with God, and creates a kind of stick-figure Jesus whereupon human judgment and prejudicial tendencies are pasted on, obscuring the beauty of the lessons of love and limitless compassion that God asked him to teach?


  7. #10 by Alex on August 13, 2009 - 9:58 pm

    What I mean to say is that the Church is a mystery.

    Your statement only makes sense if the Church is created by man, but a man cannot create a Church, only Jesus can.

    If the Church is Jesus’ body, then it will be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    If it is not, then I can only assume that what you are describing is not the Church but something else.

    • #11 by Christian Beyer on August 13, 2009 - 10:29 pm

      Sure. But do we have any instances that suggest there is a ‘church’ then? I don’t men disparate and islated examples, but something that has been consistent and constant.

  8. #12 by Alex on August 14, 2009 - 9:17 am

    Yes, my friend, it is the Orthodox Church

    • #13 by Christian Beyer on August 14, 2009 - 11:43 am

      Yes, I’ve been hearing this from others as well as you. I’ll have to give you the benefit of the doubt.

  9. #14 by Alex on August 17, 2009 - 9:10 am

    You’re welcome to come see for yourself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: