One thing that I see happen a lot on the internet, which often doesn’t sit well with me, is when people cite or quote scripture of a religion that they are not involved with and don’t really know much about, as grounds or justification of their beliefs.
As an example, on Reddit someone recently cited two passages from the Old Testament as an example of “what Christians believe” about a particular matter. As more extreme examples, I often see atheists citing various passages of scripture, ones that are never or almost never taken literally, as grounds for attacking religion.
I think this is pretty out of touch with how religion actually works. While I don’t identify as Christian (I identify with Why This Way), I’ve been active in a lot of different Christian communities over the years, mostly mainline protestant, and I have a pretty good sense of how a variety (certainly not all) of Christian denominations view scripture. All denominations have their own particular take or way of viewing scripture, and often, people are open to multiple possible interpretations.
The core beliefs of a church are usually not directly represented in scripture or holy texts, but instead, are represented in official denominational stances, and sometimes (not always) in creeds which are recited in services. The official beliefs or stances of the denomination reference scripture, but they have a particular interpretation of it. The interpretation is part of a long tradition, and the tradition is often as central or even more central than the scripture itself.
I think it’s really problematic when people who aren’t active in communities cite a holy text as justification for what these communities believe. Holy texts are just that…holy texts. They’re not statements of belief, or manuals of how to live. They often contain historical narratives from different time periods, and contain numerous contradictions if you try to read them literally…which is why they are interpreted by various traditions that change or evolve over time as the text stays more-or-less the same. If you want to engage in a debate or discussion about how to interpret the holy text, then I think that’s a valid and often productive thing to do—but say you’re doing that—don’t claim that you’re citing the religion’s official beliefs when you’re citing scripture, and certainly don’t attack or dismiss a whole religion on the grounds of a literal reading of their scripture that is not even embraced by any members or adherents of that religion…that’s one of the worst examples of a strawman argument.
This is not to say that I think you need to be a member or adherent of religion in order to discuss their beliefs. If you want to cite a religion’s official beliefs, do that—cite the actual beliefs as directly stated by an organization. And identify the specific denomination or organization making the stance too—don’t assume, for example, that all Christians believe something just because one particular denomination, church, minister, or theologian makes a statement to that effect.