Friday, January 25, 2008

Taking the Bible Literally

As a former Christian, I am keenly aware of the way that a typical Christian thinks about all of the external forces bearing down on his faith. But Christians are ideologues and as such are not moved by the data. They must hold the line at all costs. This leads to a "circle the wagons" mentality which started amongst conservative Christians in force in the 1910's and has not let up since.

One of the features of this bunker mentality is the insistence in taking the bible literally, just as it reads. It is an approach that I do sympathize with. When I lost my faith in the resurrection of Christ I did not retreat into liberal Christianity so that I could still have the warm fuzzies. I immediately realized that there was no point to this. I rejected Christianity completely, never once looking back and the world has made a lot more sense since then.

So for me it is an all or nothing proposition. Either plunge headlong into the bible and believe it completely, as the evangelicals do, or see it for what it really is, the work of men, as all written works are.

Ironically, this brings us back full circle to the fundamentalist position on the bible. I consider myself an amateur historian and I have picked up some of the principles that guide a good historian. Historians after all, must be textual critics and approach their sources with caution. And along with that, they wish to take a text as it reads, instead of subjecting it to fanciful interpretations.

So in one sense we agree with the Fundamentalist position on the bible, take the text just as it reads. But that is the problem, for when I did that I found contradictions and inconstancies in the bible. I searched in vain for plausible solutions and was forced to conclude that the bible was not what fundamentalists claim it to be.

So another irony is that in actuality, fundamentalists do not take the bible "just as it reads" but instead must add a layer of interpretation on top of it in order to patch together all the disparate works contained therein.

Take for example a fundamentalist favorite, the story of Adam and Eve. This is a story that we know was first told around campfires long, long ago after a meal and long hard days work tending the sheep or whatever. And as such it is a perfectly good story. It is a just so tale, that explains why we hate snakes, why men have to work their butts off in the field, why women have pain in labor, etc.

But if we want to be a fundamentalist then we need to take the story just as it reads. And so we have in the 21st century a man running for president who believes that the reason the world is such a shit hole is because a woman one day decided to take the advice of a talking snake and eat a piece of magic fruit. I wish that I could be in one of those debates and ask him on national television if he believes that. But I digress.

One of the interesting features of the story is that after the fruit has been eaten, YHWH is walking in the garden in the cool of the day and he can not seem to find the recently created couple. So if we take this story literally, then we must conclude that this god YHWH has limited knowledge. He did not know where his created beings were when he was walking in the garden and the text also indicates that he did not know that the fruit had been eaten. This is surprising to me because you would think that an act of such cosmic significance would send out some kind of vibe like when Obi-Wan Kenobi felt a "disturbance" in the force when Alderaan was destroyed. But no, this god is completely ignorant of the event until he is told about it.

Of course, buckets of ink have spilled explaining this away. I am perfectly aware of the arguments. But my point is that not even fundamentalists really take the bible just as it reads but must twist and bend it around to fit the theology handed down in the Church through the ages and one of these is of course that God is omniscient. So in this case he really knows what is going on, he is just asking questions of Adam for the rhetorical effect.

And we could go on and on. The Old Testament says that we should not shave, that we should stone our rebellious teenagers, etc. Yet I don't know of many evangelicals that insist on following these particular rules. Yet in the same texts you will find the 10 Commandments and also the condemnation of homosexuality. They seem to like those texts. Again we see they pick and choose what they want to emphasize and what to ignore.

This leads me to my conclusion, something that I have learned about human nature. Ultimately, everyone, even Christians, make their own rules. I have seen this time and again, in and out of churches and this rule applies to biblical interpretation as well.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

And They Laugh At Us...

I worked with a friend of mine up until a year or so ago. He was a Christian and seemed from comments that he made from time to time to not believe in evolution. In a casual conversation one day he was disparaging evolution, strongly implying that it was ridiculous, etc. I tried a new conversational tactic that I had developed just a year or so before this on him. I simply blurted out in response, "So you believe in a story with a talking snake and magic fruit." It had the effect I intended. It took him totally by surprise and he said that he had never heard anyone put it that way before to which I responded, "Well, that's exactly what it says!" I suspect that he could now see that it his beliefs could be made to appear absurd too. I am not saying that I converted him for I did not. But I did get him to pause and rethink his rhetoric. Unfortunately he left our company before I could debate him again.

The point is that sometimes you need to throw the more ridiculous aspects of Christianity back at them when they take that approach with you that your belief in naturalism is absurd. It certainly won't always work, but I am sure that many times you will be able to at least get them to pause and reflect on the absurdity of their own beliefs for a few seconds anyway.