Do You Want to Pick Some Cherries?

cherrypicking
Yummy

What cherries am I talking about? I am talking about cherry picking written texts, most often heard in reference to the Bible. So, I will discuss cherry picking in general, and its use in sacred texts like the Bible and the Koran. Cherry picking could even be applied to non-textual experiences. For one we cannot possibly pay attention to everything in our environment; although, the parts missing from our consciousness may still be influential in our thinking. We also bring a lot of background information with us as we encounter situations and texts, which we are often not aware of (in philosophy these are called presuppositions).

Anyway, what is cherry picking, besides delicious? Cherry picking is when one takes a sentence or two, sometimes more, of a text, especially out of context. In the Bible it is quoting a verse or two. The biblical text is unmercifully cherry picked by both believers and nonbelievers. If one reads atheist’s texts one gets the impression that only believers cherry pick the Bible. This is not so; although, atheists are more likely to give a context to their cherry picking.

But, the Bible is not the only orchard that is picked. A big area that I have come aware of is in climate change debates. Climate change deniers often cherry pick the data in order to support their arguments. It is not just these deniers that cherry pick data, however. Unfortunately, some scientists do their own picking in order to support their hypotheses. Granted, that this is hopefully rare in science, but probably not as rare as one might hope.

Getting back to the Bible and other sacred texts, it is not only believers and nonbelievers who accuse each other of cherry picking. Liberals accuse fundamentalists, and fundamentalists accuse liberals of it. The liberals say that the fundamentalists use violent passages to support their violent acts (I will say that most fundamentalists are nonviolent.) Today this is especially true of the Koran. The Jihadist are accused by their more liberal brethren of perverting the Koran. The liberals argue that there are plenty of peaceful passages in the Koran that the Jihadist ignore. While peace is to be preferred to war in most cases, both sides do their own cherry picking.

Christians and Muslims are not the only believers to cherry pick the Bible; possibly the most inventive are the Jews. One use of cherry picking by Jews of the Hebrew Bible involves what is called a midrash. Often these Midrashim (the Hebrew plural) take a specific verse an expound upon it. One example is an explanation of why Moses was not a good speaker. According to a midrash, Moses was given a choice of choosing a nice attractive object or a hot coal, so the Egyptians could test how smart Moses was, and if he was a threat thereby. As the story goes, Moses was guided by god to pickup the hot coal and place it in his mouth, which showed to the Egyptians that Moses was not going to grow up into a threat against the Egyptian people, and which explains his speech issue.

Gematria is another example of Jewish cherry picking. It is the conversion of words into numbers using the number system of the Hebrew alphabet, and then using the number to form a different word or relate it to a different part of the Hebrew Bible. So in this instance, not only do the users of this system cherry pick a verse, but they cherry pick just a word.

The Jewish use of cherry picking gets even worse depending on your view of such things. In the Kabbalah (the Jewish mystical system) they expound on single letters. Now this is quite a stretch. If a single letter can mean something, than it can mean anything.

So is it wrong to cherry pick a text. In some cases, I hesitate to say most cases, it is quite unavoidable. Take quotes for instance. There are whole books and websites devoted to presenting quotes. Rarely, maybe never, is any context given in these presentations. And, then the person who takes a quote from these sources and puts it in his or hers own writing may have no idea of any context that might be important for a better understanding of the borrowed quote.

In some cases people will use somebodies quote as evidence to support their view of this other person and lend support to their pet idea. Einstein is an often quoted scientist, one of the most famous scientist of all time. Some of these quotes are used to prove that Einstein believed in god. One quote is “God does not play dice with the universe” which he stated in his fight against quantum mechanics, which he had happen to help found. He also made some statements on spirituality that are used for the same purpose. But, he is also known to be critical of religion. Now, I do not know, and probably no one using these quotes knows, if Einstein believed in god. It is quite possible that he was using the dice statement figuratively, and there are some atheists who claim to be spiritual or that the spiritual does exist. One of these is Sam Harris.

So, I think pretty much everybody cherry picks at times; this includes me. In my criticism of the Bible I pick text that points out how Christianity is not a very nice religion, not that any are in my opinion. It is not that there are not nice religious people. I know plenty. Matter of fact, I am hopelessly in love with a Catholic. And, while I certainly could not agree with their religious reasons for being nice, they do seem to look on the better side of religion. I do feel that they have other than religious reasons for being nice, though. One is that you tend to feel better when you act nicely. Actually, feelings are integral to moral decision making.

The question comes up, considering that cherry picking is rife, is it a bad thing? It depends. If you quote out of context and context matters, it is usually bad, unless you and your audience are aware of the context. When context does not matter, it appears that cherry picking is fine, if not at least neutral. So, my advice is to be mindful of context. If context does not matter, than taste those sweet cherries. Of course, watch for those stones and have a napkin handy.

I leave you with one of Christians’ favorite cherries: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. . . .”¹ Perish is not exactly explained here, but in verse 18 the unbeliever is “condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”¹ I guess name is code for belief in Jesus as the son of god. But, there are other places in the gospels that do declare what happens to the unbeliever. They are put in a trash dump and burnt forever. All for not believing in a story so preposterous as to defy belief (although, not everyone’s apparently).

And this god was willing to destroy the whole world without the saving grace of Jesus before he notice Noah and decided to save him and his family and the animals known to Noah. I say known by Noah because there were plenty of animals not recognized in the Bible.

Which brings up the cruelty to people who lived before Jesus. They did not have a name to believe in, so eternal life would not have been available to such people. This is not to mention all the people who have died from Jesus’ time to the present who did not believe in his name or have not heard of his name.

baxtongue
Baxter does not like cherries

¹Crossway Bibles. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (with Cross-References [not shown) (p. 1071). Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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15 thoughts on “Do You Want to Pick Some Cherries?

      1. In other words, god can be anything you desire. You maybe right about human emotions. I do not think religious belief is based on reason. It seems like it is more an emotional belief with some rational components. Think about the word hope. To me hope is more like a feeling than a thought; although, thought and feelings are intimately connect in my view. See “Why Are People Afraid of Their Brains?” for more on the last sentence.

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  1. Hi Steven,

    I hope you’re doing well today and have dined on only the sweetest, juiciest, most plump cherries you could find then planted the pits in fertile soil.

    I enjoyed this post not just for its stance on and definitions of cherry picking but especially because it showcases your maturation as a writer by way of your emerging voice. I am impressed by your use of humor, (“What is cherry picking, besides delicious?”; “watch for those stones and have a napkin handy.”, etc.) and even more by your skillful use of many different aspects of cherries as a versatile controlling metaphor throughout the entire essay. Great job, my friend!

    My thoughts on cherry-picking: Everybody does it all the time; it is another term for: parsing, relativism, selective truth, alternative facts; it is indispensable to forensic debate and reasoned discourse; and its practice is pervasive at all levels of our society.

    I agree with your conclusion that cherry-picking is most nefarious when a heaping helping of the loveliest & most luscious cherries are not just offered but are consumed by the recipient with no thought or investigation into whether or not they have any true nutritive value or are merely aesthetically pleasing. That is, the proper context and deeper meaning are neither offered nor considered.

    This is why our society is so fatally divided right now. We have two monstrous agribusiness orchards (let’s call them “Lefty’s Luscious Cerises, Inc.” and “The Right Kirschen, LLC”) monopolizing (or would it be bipolizing? or maybe duopolizing? Yeah, I like that, ‘duopolizing’!) cherry production because their consumer bases have come so much to love & depend on the beautiful, delicious, addictive but ultimately non-nutritive fruit being sold that we have grown too lazy and complacent to seek out the hearty, less attractive, doubtless more bitter, but certainly more nourishing fruit offered by the dwindling, hard to find independent producers.

    Harry Potter mewled at me as I left for work this morning. I’m not entirely certain, but I think he was asking me to give his regards to Baxter.

    Take care, be well, and happy thinking!

    Denny

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    1. Too bad cherries are not in season now, but I think they are going to be soon.

      I first want to thank you for such a supportive compliment. I value your comments, and with your English background it means a lot to me what you say about my writing. Do you really think I am growing as a writer. From with in my own mind it is hard to judge. Anyway, much thanks.

      You make some good observations. One thing I did not mention in the blog was the hypocrisy of a lot of cherry pickers. While they complain about others’ cherry picking, they say nothing of their own, as if it is fine if they do it, but not others.

      Baxter said, “meow, meoow, meow, meeow.” Translation – Harry who?

      Thinking is always happy unless it hurts :-).

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  2. Hy Steven

    After reading this i have the question that as we all do cherry picking and quote anything as we need it without any context then don’t you think it’s natural in humans? Because first there are many interpretation to any quote and anyone could interpret anything as he want. Second even if their is one meaning to a quote even then we create the skepticism in it for our benefits in it because when truth is not favoring us then we has to make it as we think because we as human prefer things to be in our way. And last in practical power politics where wining and benefits is the purpose to achieve there no one sees the real meaning rather find their own for themselves. So this makes me to think it’s natural is us and what your thought on this?

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    1. Yes, I think it is perfectly natural to cherry pick. That is why I believe everyone does it. Interpretation is, I suppose, in the eye of the reader. However, I do not think it is proper to try to twist another’s writing, like some deconstructionist do. I do think it is humans that give meaning to the world.* I do not believe there is any inherent meaning in the world. That said, I think that meanings can be more or less right or wrong. If we give a meaning to something, and it does not cohere with the world, than that meaning would be wrong. Again, I think it is natural to cherry pick a text or data (for that matter), but everything we do is natural, since we are all part of the natural world.

      * For more on meaning see my blog “What Do You Mean?” here

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  3. Einstein most certainly did NOT believe in a personal god and explicitly stated so in this quote that I found in Hitchens’ THE PORTABLE ATHEIST: “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me that can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” (Albert Einstein, in a letter March 24, 1954; from ALBERT EINSTEIN, THE HUMAN SIDE, Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, eds., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981, page 43.)

    Einstein was once asked whether he believed in God and he replied, “I believe in Spinoza’s God.” This quote might be the source of theistic confusion. Most theists have never even heard of Spinoza let alone studied his philosophy, so they simply drop the key word “Spinoza’s” from the quotation and quote Einstein as having said, “I believe in God.”

    Simply put, Spinoza did not believe that God created the universe. He believed that God WAS the universe. You cannot pray to this god and ask for favors because it is not a personal god who cares about human beings any more than the universe cares. And you cannot learn about this god by studying an ancient book, you can learn about it only through science and mathematics. This is the “god” that Einstein believed in.

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    1. Gary, thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      I did not go into Einstein’s actual belief in god for two reasons. The first is that I was just providing an example outside that of the Bible proper, and it would have carried me to far a field to go into it more deeply. The second reason is that I do not belief anyone can tell for sure what Einstein’s beliefs about god were, and I do not even know if Einstein was sure what his beliefs in connection with god were. That being said, he, like you pointed out was definitely not a theist (a person who believes in a personal god that is interested in he or she and one you could pray to).

      As far as Spinoza’s god is concern it is as bad as deism (see blog – https://aquestionersjourney.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/why-deism-is-not-the-answer/). Pantheism (god = universe), as is deism (god the watchmaker), is a retreat from theism for those unwilling to give up some type of belief in god.

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