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.