What About The Bible… ? Chapter 4

CB064037When we treat the Bible as a history book we come to more thoroughly understand the varied opinions put forth. But I very much understand that a significant portion of those who call themselves Christians believe that every word, every punctuation mark came directly from God and therefore is literally true and without the possibility of any error.

It seems to me that this group of Christians actually put the Bible itself above Jesus’ messages and therefore have made it into an idol to be worshiped in and for its own sake.  The inerrants, as they are often called, put forth an argument that if there is absolutely anything in the Bible that is not absolutely true then the Bible as a whole is worthless. This logic totally confuses me. I have never seen its application anywhere else in the world. Is there anything logic that even comes close to this type of belief?

There have been hundreds of different books written about Abraham Lincoln. It is absolutely certain that not everything in them is factual. Each book is for the most part one person’s opinions about this or that aspect piled onto the history of his life. Each book adds a little more insight, and probably a little more myth, into the nature of that famous person.

The U.S. Constitution written more than two hundred years ago is a very unique document in human history. It has allowed our country to flourish while many others wither and die.  It is a very wise and amazing document. But even that document has somethings that are shameful by 21st century eyes. The establishment that some of its citizens are only worth 3/5 of others is an embarrassing part. Should we throw the whole think out and start over again because it contains some things that are just flat wrong by today’s standards? Of course not. We instead add amendments to correct previous wrongs.

The other part that some put on the Bible is that it is God’s total word for all time.  That it answers all our questions and nothing else is required. In some ways that shows to me that these believers think that God is no longer necessary in today’s world. That he has been replaced by the Bible. That he has nothing else to teach us!  He has nothing more to say to the 21st century follower than he did to the 1st century follower.  That he is somehow now an absentee landlord replaced by a book!

Thank God (pun intended) there are also many others outside this inerrant belief system that think that God has given us revelation throughout human history. He give us scientific knowledge when He knows we can handle it. He gave us the key to DNA so that we can now start to solve health crises throughout the world. He has been giving us new revelations and discoveries for the last two thousand years and will continue to give us more in the future. God was not done giving out pieces of his omnipotent knowledge twenty centuries ago. Far from it!

Scriptures does not give us all the answers to life, reality, or the universe. But, it is the major source of the stories and fables around the times that Jesus walked this earth. We all gain valuable glimpses into the life and teachings of Jesus from those stories. For that reason the Bible is revered text but it should never never be idolized.

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Our Own Version….

February 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-02-17_08-51-46MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (AP) — A snake-handling pastor who appeared on the National Geographic television reality show “Snake Salvation” has died after being bitten by a snake during a weekend church service in Kentucky.

SOURCE: Snake-handling Ky. pastor dies from snake bite – Yahoo News.

While this is maybe of the extreme part of the spectrum it is still a typical example of how we pick and choose what we want to be the image of God.  It takes one verse out of the tens of thousands found in the Bible and uses it for the main focus of spirituality.  Examples such as this are used by the serious critics of the church to illustrate the absurdity of believing in God. Regrettably that is not without some degree of truth.

Yes, this is an extreme example but by no means the only one. There are literally thousands of groups, some small some very large, who take a miniscule piece of biblical text and explode it into a major belief system.  To some degree even Protestantism is an example of this. Martin Luther, who is generally acknowledged as the pioneer of that version of Christianity spent years searching biblical text for  something to ameliorate his enormous feeling of low self-esteem and utter worthlessness. When he discovered that single verse in Ephesians that said the grace is a gift and not from works he had is “aha” moment like so many others before and after him and found his version of Christ.

This is very much a forest/trees situation.  We should be looking at the overall message of the Bible and particularly of the words of Jesus Christ to find our place in life. Instead we search and search for that one iota that seems to relieve our current conditions and then practically throw away the rest of the forest to only concentrate on that one tree of knowledge. From that point on our focus on the Bible is to find similar verses to the one we found to back up our new-found system of belief and there have been centuries of that very practice occurring.

I’m not sure if any of us are exempt from this phenomenon.  Knowing the heart of God is just something that none of us are really capable of  doing. God is just too vast for our puny intellect.  It is kind of like us trying to explain our society and its inner working to the ant we are about to unknowingly step on.

Instead of looking for that single tree to latch on to we should all be forest watchers. We will never completely understand the ecosystem of the forest but we should try to see its overall beauty. During our journey into the forest we must also understand that others who are also searching might have a different current concept of the forest. That does not make them wrong or us right, it is just different. In fact not a single one of us will ever really get it “right”. Not one of us…

What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 3)

How did the Bible get so filled with things that have nothing to do with the messages of Jesus? That is one of many questions I have pondered over the last decade.  I want to study more about King Constantine and how the Bible was put together under his watchful eye.2014-02-13_11-37-06 Here is the crux of what I know now.

Constantine was a king during the age where the Roman empire’s power was dwindling. He was losing his grip over his kingdom. Some say that is why he grabbed on to the idea of making Christianity a mandated state religion. I know he was not baptized until soon before his death so that puts his sincerity at question. Was he just covering his bases? There is very little historical text now available that pre-dates the first compiled Bible so we really can’t be sure just what is not in Constantine’s Bible or what was added. These types of questions need to be understood in order to put the Bible in its proper sphere of influence. Was it written by God or redacted to meet the needs of the most powerful world government of the time?

2014-02-13_11-39-37I personally take the Jeffersonian stand of Christianity to at least one degree or another. That is Thomas Jefferson’s belief that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and made it complicated. I’m sure he was well-meaning but given his background it was inevitable that he would add rule after rule on being a Christian.  After all he was educated and trained by the Pharisees of his time and if nothing else they were absolutely about rules. Upon serious reading of Paul’s many letter it is surprising how little his teaching overlap with any of Jesus’ word or messages.  In fact he seemed to know very little about Jesus other than his brief personal experience on the road to Damascus.

We know that the documents that eventually made up the first Bible were generally not written until at least forty years after the events took place.  Before that all the biblical stories were likely passed down as was very typical of the time via an oral tradition.  We also know that except for Paul, who was not one of those who sat at Jesus’ feet,  most of the other leaders of the early church were very likely illiterate.  This necessitated that someone else would take their stories and put them into literary form.  For the most part we still don’t know who those scribes or the authors actually were. Under these types of conditions it is very likely that myths and fables were included in the written text.  Thomas Jefferson believed that is how most of the miracles of Jesus were established. It was just overzealous people adding a little bit to enhance a point. Those who study other historical sources know this is a very common thing of human nature.  George Washington was almost a god in early America and many myths were generated  and recorded about him. The most similar is probably about chopping down a cherry tree.

In closing I am not saying that the Bible is without value simply because human foibles are contained in its text but it is important to understand that possibility when trying to put this document into the proper perspective in today’s church.  The messages of Jesus that are contained within these various writings, even though they were very likely tarnished by human actions,  are what is paramount to our following Jesus.  The Bible itself is just a means to convey those inherent messages.

The church frustrates me. I was once asked by a wealthy church what they could do to help end homelessness. I looked around and saw the thousands of square feet that lie empty every night, the dozens of toilets, the showers in the family life center, the full industrial kitchen and wanted to say, “It is a two step plan. 1) Read the Gospels. 2) Take it seriously.” I wanted to say that. But I didn’t.

Look, Jesus nowhere says to stamp out poverty. However, he does say, fairly often, to love your neighbor. And if you truly love your neighbor, then how can they sleep outside? How can they go hungry? How can we have an “other?” The church wants to work n the homeless problem, but before they can take that on, I think they need to deal with their “Not taking Jesus seriously” problem.

SOURCE:  What Folks Who Live Outside Do Not Need: Hugh Hollowell is on the Red Carpet | Margot Starbuck | Red Letter Christians.

Not taking Jesus seriously is by far the biggest problem I have with the church.  Jesus clearly told us again and again and again to love each other, even our enemies. Why has this message been lost to such a degree on today’s church?? That is the most frustrating  thing for me right now.  But I must admit that this problem is not a recent one. It has been going on for many centuries.

One example of this is why did the church spend so much of their resources building lavish cathedrals when so many were dying from starvation?  I could point out hundreds of places in its history where the church just didn’t take Jesus seriously but I want to instead focus on the present and future, not the past. We can’t do anything about what has already happened. All we can do is to try to live up to Jesus’ words now and hopefully show them how to do it  in the future.

The Bible makes it very clear that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior that everything changes in our lives. We are dead to our previous life and will be born again into a life of following Jesus. A radical change of behavior is supposed to occur. While this idea is inspiring it is just not reality for the vast majority of us. Why is that? From my decade long study I believe a big part of that fault lies with church leadership. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time they have lost the true meaning of what being a Christian is supposed to be all about.  The message of current church has simply been re-tuned into something not even remotely what it started out as.

This lack of leadership, of course, starts at the local congregation.  I believe that there are many pastors, priests or whatever you want to call them, know in their hearts that they are not teaching their flock the true messages of Jesus. They know it but simply don’t have the courage to buck the rules and regulation of their superiors. They don’t have the courage to disagree with the most vocal in their congregations who have drifted into other agendas.  Part of that is because they, like all of us, don’t want to be fired from their jobs.

Jesus made it clear that following him was not meant for the weak. It takes courage to stay on the message of Jesus….

FuzzyWhat About The Bible… ? (Chapter 2)

I know that from all the rhetoric about this topic you are expecting the next word in the title to be “Clear” but actually for me it is “Fuzzy”. I don’t know how many times in my life I have heard the phrase “just study the bible for the answer to your problems. When a child dies from a fall in the bathtub the Christian answer to our total devastation is to “read the Bible”. It is as if we can just randomly open a page and then the tragedy in our life becomes clear.

Lets face it the Bible is simply not the homogeneous document that many want you to believe. When we realize that it is a collection of documents by for the most part unknown authors, who were recording events as they saw them or a story told to them.  Does that mean that the Bible is not worth reading?  It is very worth reading as long as we keep its origins and purpose in mind. Many of the people who wrote the various documents were, or at least they believed they were, inspired by God. They thought they were relaying God’s messages to those who read their words.

One of the major problems I have with the Bible is that you can take a stand on just about any topic and find some verses here and there appear at least on the surface to back up your position. If you were for slavery there are places where people are told to obey their masters, and therefore slavery must be condoned by God. Examples abound in this realm.

From a personal perspective I find the Old Testament very boring and even sometimes against the teachings of Jesus. In fact Jesus himself said as much when he mentioned that  an eye-for-an-eye was wrong or when he rebuked the religious establishment of his day for all their food restrictions and other unnecessary rules. Instead he was replacing those rules with two simple commands. Love God and love each other.  Catholics don’t seem to idolize the Bible to the extent that most Protestants do.  But then again there is  worshiping of Mary to replace it.

There is very little in the way of public documents to be found about Jesus. When the Bible was formed by the council under the tutelage of a Roman King many of the documents that they did not include in this compilation were purged as heretical. In fact just having some of those “other” words was often punishable by death!  Fortunately some alternate views have managed to resurface after many centuries but most are gone from antiquity. While the Bible is anything but perfect it is almost all we have about the history of the early Christian years. For that reason alone it should studied and will justifiably be held in reserved reverence.

According to a 2013 study by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institute, 23 percent of 18- to 33-year-olds are religious progressives, 17 percent are religious conservatives, and 22 percent are non-religious. By contrast, only 12 percent of 66- to 88-year-olds are religious progressives, while about half are religious conservatives.

Second, the conversation about income inequality in the U.S. and abroad — the driving force behind the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement — is gaining momentum. Taking up the cause of the poor is a central tenet of religious liberalism. Both Jews and Christians point to the Bible, including this verse from the Book of Psalms: “Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy.”

President Obama talked about income inequality in his State of the Union address a couple weeks ago and will discuss the global wealth gap at a summit devoted to the issue in March when he visits the Vatican.

And that gets us back to the pope, who appeared on the world scene nearly a year ago. It was a very particular moment.

The world’s richest and most powerful nation has become more ethnically diverse and therefore more religiously tolerant than ever before, driven by a young generation that is increasingly disinterested in conservative social views. And that trend coincides with a growing global focus on the wealth gap.

So: take a new world religious leader from a developing country, with strong views about inclusion, diversity, and poverty mitigation. Then stir in two major demographic and socioeconomic trends driven in part by the world’s most powerful country.

SOURCE: This Is the Year Liberals Take Back Religion from Conservatives | Deborah Caldwell.

Let me begin this post with the fact that I am one of those 12% of seniors who is religiously progressive. Given my world I think the 50% who are classified as conservative is probably a low number. I wish it weren’t so but that is how my world stacks up. In my version of Christianity there can be no such thing as a conservative follower of Christ.  The words of Jesus found in the bible show us that he was a radical of his times, especially among the religious establishment.  Sure, like with many other topics, you can find a verse or two here or there that might seem to put him in a conservative light but the overwhelming volume of words precludes that possibility.

It is heartening to continue to see the trend of the faith community drift away from political conservatism. Every poll shows an increasing trend in this area but I wish it were happening even faster.  I love the fact that Catholics have chosen a progressive pope as least as far as helping “the least of these”. I am a fervent believer that diversity in our country and in our religious establishments is a good thing, maybe even a God-given thing.  Part of diversity is accepting that others are different from you. I try to even celebrate that fact.

It is good news indeed to see that among your younger generations only 17% are religious conservatives. I hope that trend grows in the coming years and more churches follow suit….

The Thing Is…..

February 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

CB064037What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 1)

I have been spending quite a bit of time lately thinking about the Bible and my experiences with it over the last decade or so. Around 2003 I decided to take up a serious study of theology and in particularly those around the words of Jesus. I naively thought I could get some clear directions for my spiritual life if I just understood why the Bible seems to mean so many different things to so many people. What I have discovered over this period of time awakened me. I did not get the concrete answers I was looking for but I did glean some surprising discoveries.

So, for the next several  weeks I will be spending Mondays {Sundays on the re-blog} on posts about that journey into the Bible. I have always been a little hesitant to voice my discoveries because if they surprised me they might well shock some of my friends, particularly the evangelical friends I had when I started the study.  It seems that as I have gotten older I am losing my sense of embarrassment about saying what I believe. I have grown to the point, and  I do mean grown, where I feel I can now openly discuss the personal insight I have come to understand. I simply no longer really care if it upsets some.  Maybe in the long run I am hoping that it does just that and as a result a few will see that truly following Jesus has nothing to do with their self-proclaimed “faith” in the Bible but instead it is about faith in him and doing what he told us to do.

Let’s face it the Bible is not a book that you can causally, or even seriously, pick up and glean some ready-made answers to life’s problems.  Especially in times of personal conflicts. In fact much of it (meaning the Old Testament) is quite boring and not understandable in today’s context. Yes, if I search hard enough I can find a verse, usually taken out of context, that might console me a particular situation but for every one of those found there is another which disturbs me. Psalms is a ready example of that. There are places where God’s love clearly shows through and then there are other places where is he supposedly commands genocide such as the 137th Psalm.

All of these conflicting stories and thoughts make some degree of sense when I see the Bible as more of a history book written by man than words dropped from heaven. Christianity like much of the world’s history is messy and the Bible if you  look at its contents objectively reflects that fact. That understanding is critical to finding its proper place in Christ’s church.

In a nutshell, following Jesus has nothing to do with idolizing the Bible itself. The purpose of the Bible it to point us to Jesus. It is to tell his story, nothing else.  When that task is done it becomes very secondary to our walk with Christ. Next time I will talk a little more about reading the Bible and what should be gleaned from that process.

Being Called a Heretic…..

February 6, 2014 — 3 Comments

If you blog long enough, someone will eventually call you a heretic. Self-appointed orthodoxy watchdogs plague the internet almost as much as porn.  Say something outside their particular theological tradition and they’ll damn your soul to an eternity in hell as fast as you can click “publish” on your blog post.

My latest accusation of heresy came last week on Twitter. My theological crime? I don’t believe in Biblical inerrancy.  I tried pointing out to my inquisitor that Biblical inerrancy is a 20th century fundamentalist invention, not something which is actually intrinsic to the Christian tradition, but things like “facts” and church history are but minor inconveniences to the religious zealot….

Biblical inerrancy is certainty grounded in fear and the need for control. Allow for any “error” in the Bible, so the inerrantists claim, and how can you trust any of it? The answer to this supposedly challenging question is actually quite simple.

SOURCE: The Bible Isn’t Perfect And It Says So Itself – Zach Hunt – Red Letter Christians.

The word might not have been thrown at me but I have been called a heretic several times in my life as being a follower of Christ and the primary reason is biblical inerrancy. Over my ten year diligent study of theology I have come to understand, as Zach Hunt in the quote above, that inerrancy is grounded in fear and the need for control and that it is very much a 20th century invention. Scientific findings, among many other things, have  been invading theological thought too much to be comfortable to many.

Biblical inerrancy has come to mean that if you don’t interpret the Bible the same as I do then you are simply wrong.  Being that there are more than 40,000 versions of Christianity around today there are also 40,000+ versions of biblical thought. Each claims to have the truth but which is the correct one? After my study I can say probably none of them. They each take a verse or two out of that document and form their beliefs around those few words.  They, like Martin Luther who grabbed Ephesians 8-9 as the reason to treat Christianity as a something for nothing religion, find a particular verse that totally aligns with their view of God and cling to it with almost total ignorance of  everything else.

In reality everyone of us who claims to be Christian is a heretic to others who don’t believe as we do.  I have been in a very reflective, maybe even melancholy,  mood lately. In some ways I am just not sure of my purpose for continuing on with this blog with any seriousness. Looking over this decade long search for the “truth” has led me to some basic conclusions about our search for God. I will be presenting them in the coming posts. Since I am just starting this particular line of thought I really don’t know how long this series will last but I am sure that I will be called a heretic by some for even bringing up the questions and thoughts that I have on this topic. As is typical of me I will not hold back because of that threat….

On December 5th, The Diversity Chronicle posted a blog with the clever title ‘Pope Francis Condemns Racism and declares that “All Religions Are True” At Historic Third Vatican Council’ . People quickly spread the piece via social media, and many—especially Evangelical Christians—attacked the Pope.

The fact that the article was a spoof and not true should serve as a reminder to always research and verify sources, but even more alarming was that so many Christians were seemingly waiting for a reason to blast Pope Francis.

It was as if people wanted an opportunity to turn on the Pope, and this article was the perfect fodder for their distrust. Thus, the story spread and became a viral message of how the Catholic Church was once again spreading a “false Gospel” and that the Pope was probably  working in collusion with the AntiChrist.

SOURCE: Do ‘Evangelicals’ Still Distrust Catholicism? | Stephen Mattson.

I must admit that Stephen Mattson is becoming one of my favorite bloggers over at Red Letter Christians.  He has an innate ability to stand back and report on things without the usual assumptions and prejudgements. Thinking for yourself in the religious sphere is a task that comes with a lot of criticism. Stephen Mattson certainly does not shy away from saying what he believes and that I very much admire in him.

The quote above struck right at home with me.  To understand where I am coming from you should know that I spent the early third of my life as a Catholic. I was an altar boy and went the first seven years of school in a Catholic institution. Like many I dropped away during college and then left entirely after that.  I won’t go into the reason for leaving the Catholic church here but looking back it probably had more to do with pitiful management of the local church I was attending than anything else.

After my first and only marriage at the age of forty I joined a Lutheran church and stayed there until I was stripped of membership because of theological differences.  I would not refute my belief that he earth is greater than 5,000 year old or believe that the Bible is 100% literal and true.

Having spent a good deal of time in both Catholic and Evangelical churches I can say without a doubt that the antipathy between the two organization runs predominately on the Evangelical side.  Yes, I heard growing up as a Catholic that it was the only true religion but that dwarfed when compared what I heard on the Evangelical side.  I found that there are indeed many who thoroughly despise the Pope and believe him to be the antiChrist.

I think part of this antipathy comes from the Reformation but I think the bigger part due to a basic theological difference between the two. The Catholic church has always put an emphasis on “works” where as most Evangelical shy very much away from that very concept.  Evangelicals for the most part have put being a Christian as “fire insurance”. Say the right words and then go on living your life as you please.  Many of my Protestant friends seem too fearful of putting “works”/action at any level into their religious ideology.

“I’m Sorry”?

January 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sorry

Christians mistakenly believe that apologizing discredits everything they’ve ever said. As if saying “we’re sorry” will somehow negate the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. In reality, apologizing promotes honesty, transparency, authenticity and humility, things all Christians should exhibit throughout their lives. When Christians apologize, it adds integrity and legitimacy to their words and actions…

Maybe this is why Christians rarely hear sermons or teachings about apologizing to non-Christians. Mainstream Christian culture teaches the opposite: believers are always right. The inner-circle perception is that Christians don’t make mistakes—only non-Christians do.

SOURCE: Stephen Mattson: Can Christianity Learn to Say, “I’m Sorry”? | Red Letter Christians.

Saying I’m sorry is not something that I shy away from. I, like everyone else in this world have made some pretty stupid mistakes. Anyone who has studied much in the way of church history know that the church has also made some pretty serious errors. Like silently sat back during the 1950s and watched church after church in African-American neighborhoods be burned. They sat stoically in the background while basic civil rights were denied a large portion of the population. In fact many so-called Christians were fervent members of the KKK performing these atrocities!  Before that there was WWII. How many Christians stood by while the Nazi regime annihilated millions of people because of their religious affiliation?

Christian leaders have persecuted many as heretics only for them to later be deemed as saints.  Galileo spent the last part of his life in-house arrest because the church, which was the very dominant world power at the time,  called him a heretic for saying the earth revolved around the sun. Joan of Arc was burned and later made a saint. Mistakes have been made throughout the church’s history.

Shunning is one of the saddest parts of the current day church. When someone has been deemed a heretic by a local clergyman most of the church’s members basically write them off as friends. I have first hand knowledge of this fact. After eight years of sitting side-by-side with people I considered good friends  and after literally hundreds of hours of volunteer work to build most of the cabinets and shelves for the new church building I found how deep those friendships really were.  When I was told I didn’t have the “right” beliefs and therefore was no longer considered a member of the church without exception all of my “friends” fell away. I have been maybe not officially shunned but shunned just the same. I think, or at least hope, that some of that is just fear of association. They are afraid they might be next it they continue to associate with a heretic.

Getting back to the topic at hand the church certainly has much to say they are sorry for. It has been a pleasant surprise to see that Pope Francis has been saying, at least figuratively if not literally, he is  sorry about many different things the Catholic church has done. The Protestant church on the other hand continues in their ways of insisting they are perfect in all their words and actions. This arrogance, along with each denomination’s insistence that they are the only ones to have it right, is one of the saddest parts about the church today. All 39,000+ versions of it…