Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee

I figure I have about four posts to go to get through the end of Exodus 22, and I really hope to finish them before the month is out. My output has slowed down greatly as of late for various reasons, some of which are beyond my control. However, I wanted to take a break to talk once again about my aims for this blog, mostly for my own benefit. (Partially that's because I don't think most readers will care much about this, and partially it's because the greatest portion of my readers come through here from links on the SAB which will probably have no reason to link to this post. Then again, maybe I'll link this in the discussion forum in hopes of feedback; we'll see.)

What I wanted to muse upon is the nature of the categories of notes in the SAB, and the different ways that I feel a need to respond to them in turn. As I touched on in an earlier post, there are some categories like the "Sex" category regarding which there may be differences of opinion that need some meta-discussion. As both Steve Wells and I agree, sex per se is not a bad thing, but it's a charged issue, and the way people approach on both a personal and societal issue are important. I want to address some of the ways that I feel Steve Wells and I may differ on many of these issues.

Anyway, the categories of notes listed for the SAB are: Injustice, Absurdity, Cruelty and Violence, Contradictions, Intolerance, Women, Family Values, Prophecy, Science and History, Sex, Language, Homosexuality, Interpretation, and Good Stuff. Wells feels that these are all important categories, and I agree for the most part. However, I may have a vastly different understanding of the way to approach these issues as a Christian, and I think it's important to articulate this difference.

In starting the blog, my main intent was to offer reflection on the matters of Contradictions, Prophecy and Interpretation. I feel most of the time that those are the most important categories from a logical point of view. If the Bible can be found to be clearly wrong in any area, it would be found in one of these, and logic is the basis for understanding what may or may not be a problem with these categories. Science and History is a close relative, but as I have said time and again, I'm not really an expert in either area, so I may not be able to address many of those particular issues.

The problems I have in trying to deal with the SAB is often in the other categories. The trouble is, all of these things are very subjective to your own world-view. "Injustice?" What makes something just or unjust? "Cruelty and Violence?" What is a clear criterion for something being "cruel"? While violence is generally well-defined, there are many specific cases where people don't see eye to eye, such as the case of capital punishment. Some people think capital punishment of any sort is cruel and violent, while others feel that there is a big difference between, say, a firing squad and lethal injection. And of course capital punishment is a big place where people split sharply on the matter of "injustice", some people feeling that to not have capital punishment would truly be injustice. While I will respond to items marked as "Injustice" or "Cruelty", it's really me pitting my opinion against Wells', and the reader will probably accept whomever has the opinion that fits their own. On the flipside of that, the same goes for "Good Stuff".

"Absurdity" is definitely something in the eye of the beholder. One of the things that I've run across several times in the SAB is the claim that a certain verse is absurd, usually with no explanation. On the one hand, it makes me ask what the point of the label is, but on the other hand, I realize that by nature one usually cannot explain absurdity: either something is absurd to you or not. What can you say?

"Family Values" and "Women" are two categories that seem to me to be titled in a sarcastic manner. Note that "Honour thy father and thy mother..." is not marked with either of these icons, although this is clearly a matter of family values, and is notable in that the mother is specifically mentioned, I think. (The Bible certainly can be sexist at times, and it would not have surprised me if this verse simply had said "father".) The point of these categories is to point out matters pertaining to these two issues where Wells feels the Bible is coming up short. Sometimes I may agree; more often I will disagree, although in such cases, it may simply be a matter of personal opinion once again.

Likewise, "Homosexuality" is an issue that I suspect is mainly used to bring up instances of supposed homophobia in the Bible, although there are certainly more than a few verses quoted that are pertaining to supposed homosexual interaction between characters in the Bible, such as King David and his friend Jonathan, whose relationship many have hypothesized about. In such cases, though, once again little commentary is given, although perhaps it is not so necessary, and only serves to be food for thought? The trouble with dealing with the issue of homosexuality is that there are varying societal norms when you compare ancient Israel, first-century Greco-Roman culture and modern times. A Christian is likely to assume that throughout all times and places, God's standard for sexual morality does not change. Of course, that doesn't mean that even every Christian understands it the same way.

But closely related to the issue of homophobia in our society, (maybe less or at least differently so in Hebrew society) is the issue of "Intolerance", which is a more difficult but vital issue to address. The thing is that yes, the Bible is intolerant. I won't try to argue against that (at least in general), but I will argue that there is a reason for it, and it can be seen to some extent to be a logical approach to building a new monotheistic religion.

In the Old Testament, there is a certain amount of intolerance in the form of God instituting punishments, even up to death, for false worship. While the New Testament is not so bold in that manner, there are frequent reminders that the only way to enter into God's salvation is through Christ. In both cases, the context is that God is trying to create a new understanding among His people of His nature and will. Why does God want pagans cast out of society or put to death in ancient Israel? Because He does not want His people to be led astray into false worship. As it happened, we'll see that even with these safeguards put in place, they often were led astray nonetheless.

God wants people to do the right thing, and as He knows ultimately what is that right thing, He has no need nor desire to do things halfway with the Israelites. The Bible is not about political correctness or tolerance of relative points of view; it's about God. When it comes to God and our dealings with Him, in a spiritual sense there is no room for tolerance, only room for being right.

9 comments:

Ken said...

Can I just mention that I love the way you title your posts?

Brucker said...

I suppose you just did. Thanks.

Jason said...

Interesting and well thought out.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, one counter to the intolerant God notion is that it is logically at odds with the "thy neighbour" notion presented throughout.

Additionally, one could argue that the threats substitute any meaningful understanding of the world and God and the things around. It's tantamount to me holding a gun to your head and ordering you to believe me. How does this correlate to the the understanding, compassionate God who loves all His creations? In that regard, your comment about establishing a new religion is particularly poignant. A vengeful, violent God that doesn't tolerate dissent or discussion sounds like a totalitarian dictatorship administered and promoted by what are fallible humans. It becomes difficult to assert what exactly are the tenants of God, and what are those applied by men for social and political reasons, especially when they seemingly contradict the more peaceful, understanding God portrayed elsewhere

Brucker said...

I tend to think of God's manner of dealing with people as being analogous to a parent dealing with children. Developmentally, Israel is like a toddler, about to take its first steps and learn to walk on its own. God isn't going to let this toddler play in the yard with a bunch of roughhousing other children that are going to hurt His child and stunt its proper development.

So the option for these other children is clear out of the way or get spanked, hard.

Steve Wells said...

Ken likes your titles; I seldom understand them.

Take this one for instance, "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee".

What do you have against whom? Are you talking to me, Brucker?

But I know what you're doing. You're quitting. There's just too much cruel, nasty, absurd stuff in the Bible to even try to defend it. So you're going to focus on contradictions. I understand.

Contradictions, of course, are the least of the Bible's problems. That's why believers like to focus on them. You can always talk your way around them by saying, "that's what the Bible says, but that's not what it means."

But you can't do that with Deuteronomy 25:11-12, to take just one out of 1000 examples that you've decided to avoid.

"When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her."

You're left sputtering something like, "What is a clear criterion for something being 'cruel'?"

But I think most people know cruelty (like pornography) when they see it. And Dt.25:11-12 is cruel (absurd, unjust, insulting to women, etc.).

Those two verses alone would be enough for a rational and moral person to reject the Bible. And since believers are unwilling to even try to defend the morality of verses like that (and 1000 or so others), there will be fewer and fewer believers as time goes by.

It used to be easy for Bible believers to avoid the cruelty in the Bible. Few people read it anyway. But now with the internet, it's impossible to hide.

But good luck trying, Brucker.

Brucker said...

Ken likes your titles; I seldom understand them.

They don't always make the best sense, I'm sure.

Take this one for instance, "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee".

What do you have against whom? Are you talking to me, Brucker?


The meaning is twofold: I am stating that I have certain ways in which I disagree with your criticisms, but at the same time I am admitting that you have some legitimate reasons (to you) for disliking certain sections of scripture.

But I know what you're doing. You're quitting. There's just too much cruel, nasty, absurd stuff in the Bible to even try to defend it. So you're going to focus on contradictions. I understand.

Not quitting, just admitting that when there are certain areas in which we have a fundamental difference of opinion that is slanted by our personal world-views, we may have to agree to disagree. As I am now in the book of Joshua, I am going to have to defend the concept of "Holy War". I suspect that while I do have justification for the concept, there does not exist any justification that would satisfy you. That's okay, I understand. There are certain things that seem simple and obvious to either of us that the other will never fathom.

Contradictions, of course, are the least of the Bible's problems. That's why believers like to focus on them. You can always talk your way around them by saying, "that's what the Bible says, but that's not what it means."

That's not what I hear from most atheists, but then, no two atheists are alike in their beliefs, are they? Contradictions are easier, it's true, and that's why I tend to laugh a bit when I hear someone protest that "the Bible is full of contradictions!" When someone like you says they don't understand why God seems cruel, I consider that a far more serious issue that is much harder to address. But I intend to address what I can.

But you can't do that with Deuteronomy 25:11-12, to take just one out of 1000 examples that you've decided to avoid.

There's no need to avoid that. I'm sure you could find a hundred men who'd find that quite a fitting punishment. You just don't go for a guy's "secrets" in a fight, dude. Whether the punishment is excessive or not is a matter of opinion. I certainly wouldn't press for it.

Those two verses alone would be enough for a rational and moral person to reject the Bible. And since believers are unwilling to even try to defend the morality of verses like that (and 1000 or so others), there will be fewer and fewer believers as time goes by.

Yes, people have said that for 2,000 years...actually, more; this is the Old Testament we're talking about. Yet Judaism and Christianity are both still here, and adhered to by people from all sorts of cultures, professions and levels of education. Right or wrong, this is not going away.

It used to be easy for Bible believers to avoid the cruelty in the Bible. Few people read it anyway. But now with the internet, it's impossible to hide.

In Judaism, Bible reading on at least a weekly basis has always been a very common practice. A synagogue will read through the entirety of the five books of Moses on a yearly cycle. This stuff isn't secret.

But good luck trying, Brucker.

I expect to be successful. I don't expect to please you, or anybody else in particular. Diversity in religious belief is something that simply will always be present in the world, and I welcome it.

Steve Wells said...

In reference to the genocide in Joshua, you said: "I suspect that while I do have justification for the concept, there does not exist any justification that would satisfy you."

You're trying to satisfy me, Brucker? Why? If you're only talking to me, we could correspond in emails.

This is the web. You should talk to the world. Explain why Joshua "utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord commanded" (Joshua 10:28-32). There are more than 4 billion people out there who will go to hell (if your beliefs are correct) unless someone can explain how a good God could command such a thing.

Most people have a problem with God-ordered genocide, Brucker. You're going to have to explain why they're mistaken about that. Or else they'll reject the Bible and be damned to Hell.

"Diversity in religious belief is something that simply will always be present in the world, and I welcome it."

If your beliefs are correct, the more diversity there is, the more people will suffer in Hell. But you welcome it. You're such a tolerant guy.

Brucker said...

I'm not trying to satisfy you, at least not in particular. If you do happen to be satisfied by any answer I give to one of your arguments, then I suppose that's a good thing, but I never expected to change anyone's mind in particular. If I had ever thought there was chance that you would be swayed by many of my arguments, surely now that I'm far beyond a hundred posts in, that thought ought to be dashed to pieces.

I simply know it to be a fact that it doesn't matter what argument I come up with in response to your (or anyone else's) criticisms of the Bible, there will always be someone who will not find the explanation satisfactory. One person will say, "If there really is a God, why doesn't He get rid of all the evil people?" Then we look to Joshua and see God making an effort to get rid of evil people, and another (or even the same person) says, "If there really is a God, why would He stand for all this violence?" God can't please everyone, He can only do what He sees to be best.

You yourself demonstrate this in the two comments you left for me over the weekend. In one, you complain that God does not allow people the freedom to worship as they please, and here, you point out that if people worship as they please, they will end up in Hell. Now, I suppose the standard response to this (whether it would be yours or not) would be to ask why there should be a Hell at all, but that's a different theological issue that I have not touched on in this blog, and in fact may not, as I'm not sure where it comes up in scripture explicitly. Maybe a few places in the New Testament, I'm not sure what notes you've written there. As I touched on elsewhere, the real point of Hell is to allow people religious freedom. If you don't want God, you don't have to spend eternity with Him, and the only torture is really living without the God you thought you didn't need.

Despite the fact that I believe this to be true, I do welcome religious diversity because religion is something that needs to be studied and discussed openly in order that we may understand it well. That's what Martin Luther's reformation was really about in many ways, saying that forcing everybody to stick to the same exact religion and centralizing religious authority in a select few fallible (regardless of what Church doctrine may say) people is only a recipe for corruption. Yes, some people who worship wrongly are going to suffer for it in the afterlife, but I can't say for certain who those people are; I may be one of them for all I know! Better to have freedom of speech and religion to allow open discourse on religious beliefs as we have her on my blog and on your site.

I think Christians in general aren't as stupid as atheists want to brand them, but at the same time, they certainly are those who don't really know what it is that they believe.