Sep 23, 2006

How To Read The Bible

Larry posted a list of 10 Book Questions, such as what book would you want on a desert island, what book do you wish was never written, etc. Larry gave us his answers, and freinds wrote in to give theirs.

My friend Allen read the blog and sent his answers to me. He didn't know if his answers would offend Larry. Because lots of Larry's friends included the Bible. And Allen did too: as the book he'd wished had never been written. I assured Allen that Larry would love his answers and post it.

I put down the Bible as my desert island book. I am grateful for the Bible. I'm grateful God prompted people to write the stories down. I'm grateful my ancestors passed on their faith to me. I'm grateful I grew up in a home that read the Bible.

But I'm NOT grateful for some of the ways that the church taught me to read it. Like believing that everything in it is literal (the universe was created in six days) Or thinking that you can take any scripture out of the Bible (and out of context) and apply it as God's word for you right at that very moment. Hmm, let's open at random! Malachai 2:3 ... "Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread excrement upon your faces."


Larry, his friend Doug and I have had a recent exchange about these sorts of questions. How literal is the Bible? What about evolution?

Larry blogged about it. I wrote this to Doug. ...

I recommend you read phycisists Sir John Polkinghorne and Hugh Ross. Christians who support evolution aren't saying that God wasn't involved at all. In fact, neither are the scientists. According to Polkinghorne, the leading physicists admit "the universe is a put-up job:” designed and manufactured by Someone. Polkinghorne is the President of Kings College Cambridge and was knighted for his work in physics. He’s not a nut job.

The second law of thermodynamics states that "matter left unattended moves toward disorder." Matter gets less complex and less durable over time. Mutations are less durable. A mutation compromises the organism's integrity and it will die off. So an amoeba (or a reptile mutating into a... bird?) can't mutate into something more complex, unless ... the matter was ATTENDED, being shaped by Something. That's the gist of Intelligent Design.

God took materials and built upon them, one by one. You see the record of that process when you look at the evolutionary record. You're watching things be created.

Genesis One is a poetic account of that process. Let there be light and darkness. Then there was water and dry land. Then there were plants, then animals and then ... Man. Interesting, the order of creation, as told from Day one to day Six, is the same order as we see in the fossil records.

I faith in God and evolution can be compatible. What's really no longer believable is for scientists to insist that it all happened without Outside Help. And it's no longer believable for fundamentalists to insist that the earth was created in seven days.

WAIT: the sun and moon weren't created until Day Four, then what were they using to count Days One Two and Three?

I was taught that everything was inspired by God, every jot and tiddle was right and correct and literally true. And if I didn't believe that, I wasn't a real Christian.

Funny, how had to believe it was all literal ... Except the Song of Solomon! that lurid, steamy sex poem that goes on for chapters and chapters!

"Uh, no it isn't REALLY about sex. It's about ... uh, it's about, the rapture we shall experience when we are united with Christ as his bride for forever."

So who decided one was literal and the other figurative?
Who was interpreting these answers?
Where was I getting my scholarship from?
Oakie Tent Revival preachers?

Reading Biblical Jewish texts from Baby Boomer Glasses

It was a rude awakening when I realized I was reading the Bible from a different POV than the age in which it was written. We have been influenced by the Enlightenment and the Age or Reason. Which are great. But why are we applying the Scientific Method to a piece of LITERATURE, and demanding that a poem or a prophet's vision stand up to a scientific proof? Would you try to prove an algebra problem with a psalm? You can’t read Beowulf and try to extrapolate a scientific formula or a news article out of it.

It was sobering when I realized my faith was influenced by 20th century Pentecostal Oakie literalists. And of course I'm influence by consumerism: eat up the Bible, digest it and get what I can out of it FOR ME AS AN INDIVIDUAL.

Well, how did people interpret scriptures 500 years ago? Or in Jesus' day? It was an eye opener when author Rob Bell explained that Genesis 1 is structured as a Hebrew poem. Any Hebrew scholar would recognize the structure as a poem, not as a factual account to report in a newspaper.

It's been hard to face, but I realize t my faith is made stronger by testing it. The Bible isn't a
math problem, where if one part of it is found to be off, the whole math problem is wrong. Instead, it's a story. Maybe the details get mixed or viewed different ways, but the story is still the same and still true. Did David kill thousands or tens of thousands? Or did the writer just mean A LOT? Did Eve tempt Adam with an apple, or was that a parable, created to
illustrate how we came to be separated from God? It doesn't matter to me.

I think the line has to be drawn when people want to throw out the entire Bible as allegory or poetry. Clearly parts of the Bible are accounts of the history of the Jews. I & II Kings, Samuel, etc. The Epistles were written to churches, they were Paul’s opinions of how the new churches needed to clean up their acts. Paul argued with some of the apostles, they had different opinions and such. He wasn't God, he was just one guy.

I knew a woman whose church refused to allow musical instruments because they weren't mentioned in the Epistles. Forgetting that, uh, the Epistles were written to address PROBLEMS! Maybe the music was just fine.

Imagine how Paul feels now, because people made all sorts of extrapolations on what he wrote. Forget Paul, Imagine how Jesus feels.

I realize that we can go to the extreme and discount the entire Bible as poetry or story telling, and then get out of any repsonsibility we have to its content.

But I undersand just a little why my friend Allen wished the Bible had never been written.

I'll never go that far. But there are a few christian theologians I wished I'd never been influenced by.


Anonymous said...

A couple of quick, perhaps obtuse, thoughts:

First, I'm pretty sure that evolution was not developed with God in mind. I think naturalism and macro-evolution are by definition godless. I'd check it, but my source has been borrowed.

I also believe that God is the Great Scientist, who isn't 'afraid' of anyone's queries. Wouldn't he encourage curiosity about his Creation? I believe that God made the world partly for discovery, because it's an amazing, literally awesome place, and helps us to understand God better.

Allen Lulu said...

Ugh, I knew I would somehow find myself drawn to comment on this and I am loathe to because I always seem to come out sounding like some sort of heathenistic zealot. But, that said. I had a long talk with a couple of Rabbis about this stuff a few years ago, I think it was Rabbi Finley and Rabbi Kravitz, one very reform (a gun toting hunter) the other a Chabad Rabbi most notable for starting "Jews for Judaism, an organization dedicated to EDUCATING jews who, when faced with the question of "why is Jesus not the Messiah" and they don't have the answers, can finally answer them. (In short, all but one of the established criteria have not been fulfilled, etc.) I have meant to discuss it with Rabbi Beliak, a great uniter in the community (Jews on First and a board member of Interfaith Group United for Justice and Peace., but I couldn't get my ass to Whittier for New Year's,so I am a bad jew....
Anyways. at BEST, BEST!!! I believe the bible is nothing more than an interpretive template to be used as guidance as to how to live a good life. There is nothing, to me, that seperates the bible from the Koran or Dianetics. Who are we to say that Xenu didn't exist when so many seem to be able to put faith in stories that have very little (if any) veracity and depend, almost completely, on the ability of people to believe in something they "feel" but have never seen. Does that make me an Atheist? I guess, in the most literal sense of the word. I would believe if there was some sort of unshakeable truth, but, in the end, there isn't. What there is, though, is a very large contingent of people who feel better about themselves (often superior) when in true Darwinistic fashion, without their organized faith as coalition, they would probably just cease to exist.
I don't begrudge anybody the ability to believe what they want to believe. Who's to say?
The thing that I am most disheartened by, besides the many many people who have been persecuted (jews, gays, people who think differently than the "righteous") and murdered (see: Crusades, Nazi Germany, Caligula, Darfur, the workers in the WTC) in the name of some arbitrary and unproven belief system.
Look, this is how I see it. Judaism reigned supreme as the untoppleable religion 2000 years ago. We are celebrating a year in the 5000's this year.
Then another idea came along and it took a while but it came to dominate.
Does that mean that it is the end all be all? Far from it. In fact, I think that anyone who looks at that which exists now is the true unalterable and everlasting answer to all is, in a word, foolish, in another, shortsighted and in another, stupid.
Close your eyes, step into your flying Delorean, set the flux-capacitor for 3000 years from now and, guess what? Could be that those people might worship Tom Cruise. What? Tom Cruise? But he's a loon. He's crazy!! I'm fairly sure most of the naysayers were saying the same thing about Jesus back in the day.
Were they wrong? Possibly. What if they were right? We will never know. Religion is like an extreme and exhorbitant game of telephone. It's just storied and interpreted stories at that.
So, 3000 years from now there will be writers/bloggers/mindterrorists arguing about the veracity of Xenu or Tom the Cruise or something else.
My biggest issue is that it prevents so many people from just living life. From just enjoying the limited time they have here because they are so preoccupied with what comes after, when there is no proof that there is ANYTHING after. It's all based on whimsy.
"What if you die and there is nothing there?"
"Well, I won't know that because I will be dead."
Good argument. But there should be a follow up.
"Then haven't you wasted a crapload of your life?"
"I don't see it as a waste, for it gives me solace and hope and answers to questions that have bugged me since, well, since my parents first indoctrinated me into a world of organized, methodical, religious thinking."
Okay, that might be sarcastic.
It also might be true.

Allen Lulu said...

That may have come out a little harsher than I meant it to. I haven't had much sleep in the past few days. I apologize for the force behind that.

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