Thursday, December 8, 2011

Banned Questions V

My continuation of comments and additional answers to the questions in “Banned Questions about the Bible”, a book by Christian Piatt.

Banned Questions IV

I skipped this one earlier but then thought it worth addressing:

In the Old Testament, God seems to be actively involved in world events. In the New Testament, God is portrayed as less interventionist but still directly involved. Now, it seems God is much more abstract. What happened, and is this a good or a bad thing?

Gary Peluos-Verdend completely confuses you with “it is important that we understand the interaction of god’s agency with human agency”. Jarrod McKenna goes quite a bit further, suggesting the question is easy. He dismisses any theology that would say god is elsewhere or that god is everything. He says God is the redeemer. I won’t try to explain that, but he tries by using a series of other words that theologians pretend have meaning like “web of creation”, Trinity, Incarnation, “heal the brokenness” and grace. This is all almost completely useless.

In an earlier time, a “banned question” would get you a smack on the back of the head, or time cleaning the pews. Now, it gets you a string of words that sound like they are important, and will keep busy if you want to find out what a bunch of people think they mean. In the end, you will find out that someone a long time ago started using these words, and since then, people have argued about what they might have meant.

Where are all the miracles?

This question has one of the stranger quotes in one of the answers. There is a brief discussion about televangelists and faith healers, then, “Perhaps we don’t see or hear about more miracles because too many Christians have made us too cynical. When we put God to the test in prayer, it may put undue pressure on everybody. “

This is really twisted. It avoids the question and tries to deflect the reader into loosening up their rational thought process. What pressure does it put on anybody to test whether or not prayer works? Since when is praying a test for God?

Christian Piatt has some nice words about the miracle of birth and the little, everyday miracles, but he also says, “There may have been a time when people miraculously received sight, walked on water, or came back from the dead.”

This is dangerous thinking. Either we can demonstrate that miracles happen or not. If we can demonstrate that they are currently not possible, then they were not possible in the past. By some definitions, miracles go against what we can prove to be possible, so if one was claimed to have happened in the past, the only way to disprove it is to have been there and have collected evidence. This sets up non-falisifiability and is as worthless as my claiming that there is a pink dragon in my garage, unless you go look, because he goes away when you look.

Modern Christians attempt to reconcile the modern world with the worlds of Jesus and Moses by creating a world that has physical laws that have changed over time. If that were true, science would not work.

Are there any mistakes in the Bible?

This question has been central to the de-conversion of many since the Enlightenment. Many people still focus on this. If you come from a community that claims there are no mistakes, but then you find some, I can understand that it would be important. Many sects have dealt with this by modernizing the notions of God’s word and revelation, as does this book. Finding books or websites that discuss the known discrepancies is not too difficult these days but unfortunately many people will still not find these until later in life and continue to be surprised by them.

David J. Lose starts out with an important distinction that anyone looking to the Bible for truth should consider. That people didn’t think in terms of facts the same way we do now. In a Marcus Borg’s Heart of Christianity, he says, “ the pre-modern meanings of English words believe and believing and Latin word credo very different from what believing has come to mean in our time.” Credo “does not mean ‘I hereby agree to the literal-factual truth of the following statements.’ Rather its Latin roots combine to mean ‘I give my heart to.” The word itself is possibly related to French term cri de couer (cry of my heart)- meaning "a passionate belief that comes from the heart...Given the pre-modern meaning of ‘believe,’ to believe in God is to belove God.” (39-41)

They don’t include Borg’s book in their references, but in this brief answer, David does gives you a decent way of approaching the Bible. The rest is pretty much repeats of earlier commentary about the Bible being “inspired” instead of inerrant. Great for discussion with a fundamentalist, but elementary to someone who has already dealt with that question.

In some cases, Paul (the purported author of many New Testament books) seems to support women in leadership roles in church, and in others, he says, they have no place. Which is it? Any why the seeming contradiction?

Becky Garrison scores big again with this answer. Although others in this book have given passing references to translation problems, changing doctrine, unknown authorship and understanding historical context, Becky applies that knowledge skillfully to this answer. She addresses women covering their heads and suggests this was done because others in the Roman Empire were doing it, and a small persecuted religious sect probably should be pragmatic and not draw attention to itself. The stronger statement about women being submissive in Ephesians, was probably edited in later, according to scholars, says Becky. She ends with this whopper:

“As the church became more closely aligned with empire, it began to tone down some its more radical teachings, such as the full equality of all in Christ.”

I wish she had more time to develop that thesis.

David J. Lose reiterates some of what Becky says, and makes an interesting comment about how the New Testament chronicles the splits that may have been occurring in the early leaders. The Letter to Timothy, sometimes attribute to Paul but more likely came later, constrains gender equality. This pattern of splitting of doctrines soon after the death of the original authors can be seen in other major religions, such as the Sunni/Shia split for Muslims and the North/South split of Buddhism. Rather than diminish religion and expose it as a farce, these patterns of cultures dealing with values bring color to history and give us an opportunity to reopen the conversations. I find it much more interesting than trying to guess how Paul would have voted on the Equal Rights Amendment.

All 4 answers take a strong stand that Paul was following an egalitarian message of Jesus and the statements that clearly state otherwise were probably added later by a male dominated world. This is the clearest stand like this that I have seen in this book so far.

Who gets to decide which laws in the Bible are irrefutable, which laws are out of date, and which laws should be applied only in certain situations?

This is the essence of the problem with religion. People who think they know the answer to this question and ignore any actual laws of their government when they enforce what they believe is God’s law. Or more often, just tell you what they think you are doing wrong. Fortunately, the answers are light hearted and admit that no one should be deciding this, only attempting to understand it. Nadia Bolz-Weber sums it up best. She says she would like to just know the rules and then follow them, but, “To do this is to effectively leave Jesus idling in his van on the corner as though to say to him, ‘If we know what to do to be saved, we’ll just do that rather than rely on you’.”

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