There are atheists who say they have more respect for fundamentalist believers than for liberals. At least the fundamentalists follow their own logic, even if it is horrible -- so the reasoning goes. Fundamentalists, supposedly, are consistent within their own worldview, they don't "pick and choose", they don't rely on fuzzy, feel-good reasoning. They have their picture and they stick with it, whereas the liberal Christian picture doesn't even make sense.
I want to speak up for the liberal Christians.
There's a sonnet by John Donne that begins "At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow / Your trumpets, angels . . . ". At the round Earth's imagin'd corners. You see, Revelations 7:1 says "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth." The Earth has no corners, but we may imagine them, let our religion in this one aspect be an element only of the life of the mind, a flight of the imagination that makes sense on an emotional, poetic level.
I get that. And you'll note that it's hardly a new idea! Fred Clark the Slacktivist has a certain liking for John Donne. That quote below his blog title about "knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend" is from another of Donne's "Holy Sonnets". And yes, I like that poem, too. For me the whole thing is mere flight of the imagination -- a view which the author would not approve of, I'm sure! Worse still, I don't necessarily agree with the poem's stance, even as metaphor, for it views human nature as sinful and speaks of help only as coming from without, and its call to be completely overthown is too similar to calls made by Christians for their reason to be overthrown for me to be able to be comfortable with it. Nevertheless, it is such a powerful, visceral cry for goodness that I can't help but be caught by it. Thus I can understand religious humanists, and the others who do not liberalise themselves quite so far, who blend truth and tradition by means of metaphor, retaining the structure of belief as an aspect of their lives, and retaining the belief itself to various degrees.
Some Christians, of course, are afraid that they or others will go this far. They would read what I have written above and say "See? This is why we can't go around taking stuff metaphorically all the time." Many of them would then go on to explain that not taking the Bible literally might let you support abortion or (gasp) homosexuality. Of course, the abortion thing is ridiculous, because there isn't a single verse in the Bible that guarantees either that abortion is wrong or that the soul is implanted at conception. In fact, there's at least one passage (Exodus 21:22-23) that sort of implies otherwise. Moreover, if anyone's 'picking and choosing' with no obvious justification, it's the people who pick the invisible verse condemning abortion along with "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination" (Lev:20:13) and Paul's statement in 1 Romans referring to "women [who] exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural" and "men . . . [who] were consumed with passion for one another" as "errors" and "degrading passions", while completely ignoring some or all of the following:
Deut 22:5 A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.
How many of the people who speak against homosexuality also speak against women wearing trousers? I bet some of them are women wearing trousers.
Deut 22:11 You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together.
Enough said. Nobody is demanding laws against wool/linen garments.
Lev 25:44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you [and not from the Israelites] that you may acquire male and female slaves.
Eph 6:5-6 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
(and many more from both Old and New Testaments)
People used to care about those ones, but people who liked those verses usually preferred to ignore this verse:
Deut 23:15-16 Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them.
Small mitigation, I think.
I could go on until everybody is bored, but I won't (go to the Skeptic's Annotated Bible and you'll be able to pull out hundreds of verses that most of those who deride homosexuality don't follow, I'm sure). People over the centuries have used the Bible for their purposes and derided as "pickers and choosers" those who didn't come to the conclusions mandated by the verses they chose. Such people always ignore plenty of other verses. The reason those people -- whether railing against homosexuality, miscegenation, women's rights or the abolition of slavery -- seem to refer to the Bible more often than their opponents is very simple. It's because they don't have anything else to refer to. It doesn't mean that they actually take the Bible any more literally.
If you're going to pick and choose, by all means pick "love your neighbour as yourself"! Yes, to do so requires an extra-Biblical value judgement (oh, no!), but at least there is some justification! Unlike fundamentalists, people who pick "love your neighbour" aren't picking and choosing for no good reason. They have a reason. It's quite a good one. It's the common human sense of morality, not mandated by the universe, but felt by nearly all human beings in some form. To be sure, morality of this type can get fuzzy around the edges, but the Golden Rule has arisen independently in many, many cultures, and it's always considered crucial. It's not arbitrary, merely relative to humanity. Humanity in general, that is.
Don't feed the fundamentalists. Don't tell them they actually take the Bible more seriously. They'll just say "Yes, that's right, the Bible forbids abortion!" (It doesn't. Remember?)