Cherry Picking


Something I have noticed across all belief systems (yes, even humanism) is cherry picking. This is the act of selectively choosing to follow some parts of a belief system but not others. For example, if my religion said not to work on Sundays and to never swear I might choose to work Sunday but I never swear. In this case I would be cherry picking. The same applies moral or political beliefs like how to be kind or what stand you should take on social issues. This happens so frequently it seems prudent to explore whether or not this is acceptable.

There is no hard evidence on how often people cherry pick their beliefs and so logically no one can say how common this is but it can be safely said if someone did document this in some way the results would be that it is a least somewhat common. So why do people do it?

  1. It’s Lazy: Cherry picking your beliefs from a system is lazy. It’s just easier to follow some beliefs than others. To be fair some beliefs systems are so vast it may be just too hard to remember all the beliefs, tenants and so on. However cherry picking is just easier and so it can be intellectually lazy.
  2. Convenience: Cherry picking is also more convenient. By cherry picking your beliefs from a system you can tweak a religion or ideology to suit your lifestyle. In this case it is only cherry picking if you could decide to do otherwise. For example a religion may say it is noble to be accepting of foreigners but you choose not to be because your political beliefs on immigration are stronger. Sometimes you have no choice like in my example above I might be choosing to work Sundays despite my religion saying it’s not allowed because I am scheduled for it and risk dismissal missing them, this wouldn’t be cherry picking.

Cherry picking can also be immensely hypocritical. A recent example of cherry picking would be the Kim Davis marriage license controversy that occurred last year. She choose not to issue marriage licences to gay couples saying it violates her religious beliefs while at the same having been divorced 3 times already, something the bible forbids. In fact as of 2014 divorce rates were highest among conservative Christians.

Cherry picking also opens up the possibility of the no true scotsman fallacy.  This allows people to dismiss anyone else who practices their religion that has done or said something wrong or socially unacceptable.

Cherry picking is not necessarily bad. As we grow as a person and as a society we learn new things and come to a better understanding of right and wrong and so we let go of antiquated beliefs. There are a multitude of examples of this from extremes like human sacrifice to small daily things remembering not to yell at the kids. So it then becomes a question of how many beliefs in a particular system do we reject before we aren’t really practicing the religion or ideology anymore? This may be a matter of opinion but sooner or later when you water something down enough it ends up just water.

In summary cherry picking is only acceptable when it is part of the learning process. In all other cases, especially those that cause others some kind of suffering (i.e. denying a couple’s right to be married) cherry picking is not a respectable act and so therefore can be rejected.



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