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Monday, July 28, 2014

A rationale for including God in our conversation about the Judeo-Christian Bible

In light of this most recent series of articles, it occured to me that a summary of the rationale that underpins my thesis may be in order. My guest commentator is correct in asserting that the conversation of the last few days has assumed certain things (for me, those assumptions are based on earlier posts on this blog). However, as some of those posts are now archived (and some folks may not be familiar with them), I have decided to offer a few words about my assumptions regarding this topic.

First, just in case my most recent posts have not made clear my position on the Judeo-Christian Bible, I would like to briefly restate it here. I believe that the book regarded by most Christians as "The Holy Bible" is: 1) a revelation of the Divine will, purpose and character, but it is not the only one; 2) a representation of Divine authority, but it is not itself the authority; and 3) not the word of God, but it does contain some of "His" words.

Now to the point: Why do I believe these things about the Bible? or In light of all of the errors, mistakes and inconsistencies, why haven't I rejected the book altogether? My rationale:
1) The Hebrew God was unique among the gods of the ancient world. Throughout most of human history, the gods have been an entirely human conception that could be equated with living or mythical creatures or naturally occuring phenomena or forces. The Hebrew Divinity claimed to be beyond human understanding or quantification. "He" couldn't be compared to anyone or anything else and insisted that there wasn't any image or name that could adequately represent him.
2) Likewise, the Hebrew Scriptures were unique among both the religious and secular writings of the ancient world. Unlike the writings of larger and more powerful cultures, the Hebrew writings were not regarded as state secrets and sealed away in a royal library somewhere. On the contrary, they were largely composed after the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had fallen. They were written for a people who had been conquered and subjugated by their more powerful neighbors. Unlike their contemporary counterparts, they did not extol the virtues of heroic death on behalf of the state. Instead, they talked about things like survival, family and individual responsibility before God.
3) These writings (produced by a relatively small and obscure group of people inhabiting a narrow slice of the Levant) were adopted by a significant portion of the human race as their sacred text(s). In the evolution of Western thought, we don't ignore the contributions of the Egyptians, Greeks or Romans. Hence, it doesn't make much sense to ignore a collection of writings that has had such a profound impact on virtually every aspect of our culture and thought (some good, some bad).
4) In the midst of all of the errors, mistakes and inconsistencies, there are several coherent themes running through these writings. Some of these include: God, covenants, survival, love, redemption and salvation. Likewise, although we can point to several inconsistencies within the context of the four gospel accounts (and the history/epistles that follow them) which are included in the canon, we must also admit that there is a remarkable degree of harmony extant in these documents written by many different people over a period that may have covered almost a hundred years. Among a largely undeducated people accustomed to an oral tradition and without access to modern communication and traveling aids, I still have to admit that this is a remarkable achievement (even taking into account the documents which have survived that didn't make it into the canon).

Finally, as my guest has indicated, our individual and collective judgment regarding what constitutes perfection may not be in sync with the Divine conception of perfection. When two people stand before a painting, what appears to be incoherent or flawed to one of them may not appear as such to the other. If we are all part of a greater collective consciousness (and I think that it's very likely that we are), doesn't it make sense that we would individually reflect different aspects or pieces of that consciousness? And if that is the case, how can we reject or ignore any part of that consciousness?

I rejected Fundamentalist Christian notions about the "authority" of Scripture many years ago, but it seems counterintuitive to me to reject those writings as having no value in informing us about the Divine. In similar fashion, the Atheist rationale for tossing both the writings and the Divinity does not appear to me to be grounded in sound reasoning or true wisdom. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. This one will not be so long. It would appear you have had the recent pleasure of the Bible Prehistory MOOC conducted by Jacob Wright. Great class. His theory is a thoughtful alternative to some of the conventional views on the biblical project, but I think he takes his conclusions farther than the evidence can fully support. He has a very romantic idea about the post-exilic community, writing, redaction and transmission. The “open access” argument is his weakest, but that’s a whole other conversation.

    I view the Bible as a valuable source of meaning but give it no more truth-bearing credence than several other sacred texts of other cultures. Its preservation and ubiquitous use in western culture is (ironically, with Wright’s views in mind) in no small part thanks to the power of a state – the Roman empire. If Constantine had not given imperial sponsorship to the texts – who knows whether they would be any more extant or influential today than, say, the Confucian canon? No, I do not think the Bible is to be favored for any reason at all above many other sacred texts but should be highly valued, nonetheless.