Monthly Archives: June 2015

Reading Iron Age Minds in the 21st Century

Dale B. Martin’s book, Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation, is an excellent resource in this particular moment in U.S. history as the walls of sexual orientation segregation crumble. This past week the Supreme Court decided to equalize marriage for same-sex couples. With this announcement many fundamentalist Christians decried the decision as immoral. ‘It goes against God’s law’ was a common cry.

A question that must be asked (as the author does) is essentially, What were they thinking? What went through the minds of biblical authors 28 centuries ago? That time period was ancient. That society was insular and fragile as well as as far from American democracy as can be imagined. The concept of personal freedom and guaranteed individual rights was unknown. Ancient theocracies granted few liberties.

Yet, some Americans living in the second decade of the 21st century wish to impart biblical law onto our society. That’s the fundamentalist’s desire. That’s their agenda.

They don’t get the fact that theocracy and democracy cannot coexist. That ideas from the Iron Age do not stand up to modern day facts. That myth and legend no longer trump truth.

Author Martin examines, as his title suggests, the context in which the Bible stories involving sex and sexual relationships were written. Martin names “the myth of textual agency,” that is, the “common assumption … that the Bible ‘speaks’ and our job is just to ‘listen” as a prime fallacy in the modern world. We cannot ‘just listen’ without understanding the culture of the times in which the stories were written.

This is precisely where the fundamentalist goes awry. Martin argues against this assumption about what he calls a “speaking” Bible. He instead argues that textual meaning is inseparable from interpretation, which itself takes place ‘in specific contexts and under the influence of traditions and interpretive communities (religious and scholarly).’

The author contends that those who read the biblical passages literally cannot  hide behind texts when making statements about Bible and homosexuality. He insists that they will need to specify more clearly, and take responsibility for, the full range of considerations that lead them to adopt this or that position in the contemporary debates. It is my experience that such debates- especially on Internet blogs- inevitably end with a quote from Scripture as ‘proof’ of Truth.

Many who argue (conclude) in this manner seem to be ignorant of the historicity of biblical documents, specifically that most of what we have today are translations not from Hebrew but from Greek. New Testament authors used the Greek Septuagint versions of Hebrew texts. Martin points out two Greek words which have become problematic especially in reference to homosexual content. These are the Greek words arsenokoitês and malakos. The original meaning or intent of meaning is lost to history, yet the English translators jumped to homosexual interpretations that literalists cling to when they wish to condemn gays and lesbians.

The upshot is that modern translations of biblical references cannot be read in a literal context without understanding the original mindset of the original author. Yet, it persists, sadly.

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The President Sings Amazing Grace

What a man! President Obama sang, without accompaniment, Amazing Grace at the funeral of Senator/Reverend Clementa Pinckney, assassinated by a racist 21-year-old white man in Rev. Pinckney’s church. The murderer also killed 8 others during their Bible study in the church basement.
The President gave the eulogy at the service and emphasized the word grace throughout his talk. Grace. One letter separates grace from the word race. Race- the reason for the murders. Yet those in the church during the funeral service emphasized grace rather than race.
Amazing!

The Simplicity Among the Great Complexity

The complexity of both the micro and macro world is beyond most of us. Fascinating for sure, but hard to understand. I actually ‘get’ the universe or multiverse a bit more than the other micro world of quantum mechanics. I was good in school with the proton, electron and neutron, but the boson, gluon and quarks fails to imprint onto my brain. I don’t get it no matter how hard I try.

Then there is the other concept that also fails to imprint on my brain. That dynamic duo, the ever-dueling concept of Heaven and Hell. Discussion of each leaves me as clueless as subatomic particle theory. Interestingly though, lay people are much more interested in the double H’s even though these are as unclear as tetraquarks.

Oh, I know, there are volumes of material about the Heaven/Hell theory, but, unlike the Higgs Boson, it is mere speculation. No one has ever experienced Heaven or Hell. It is pure hypothesis. Quantity is no proof of Truth.

If one analyzes the HH concept, it is nothing more than the human desire for reward and punishment. Somewhere in our post-reptilian brain we learned these two concepts and, upon the analysis of human existence, a conclusion was reached that an after-death reward/punishment scenario was justified. Life apparently was not long enough; an after-death epoch was needed. 

As a result, a Supreme Judge was envisioned- one who kept score, noting goodness and badness. Thus the need arose for a codified set of good and bad behaviors. The concept of sin bubbled up and, as expected, the need for cleansing. How and by whom was appointed to holy men who arose from the elders of the tribe. Rites and ritual along with temporal punishment developed. As did dogma. And the concept of righteousness and condemnation. Naturally a complete and complex system developed to enable the HH concept to be housed. 

Sigh.

What do you suppose those ‘good’ people do in Heaven all day long? I’ve wondered about that. I have heard that they contemplate the face of God. Really? Anything else? Does Time exist? What about relationships? Consciousness? Do we bring our unique personalities? Do we ‘know’ our families and friends? Do we mourn someone who did not make it? Have we emotions? How long does it take to be comfortable without our personal bodies? How will we recognize others without a body? Do we think? 

Squirming while Reading the Bible

Author Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, has raised a bit of a stink in Bibleland. The biblical purists have summarily denounced it as ‘garbage,’ if the Amazon ratings correctly reflect the opinions of that group. Oh well. 

Enns knows that. After all, he was fired from his conservative theological institution for his bold views about the Bible. Yet he never will please that set of purists and he doesn’t hope to. Rather, he hopes that non-purists will embrace the Bible more deeply because of what he writes. 

The author knows that the Bible was written by a series of eastern Mediterranean rabbis in the 8th century BC who reflected the values, customs and beliefs of their tribe in that era. Enns also knew that the authors hoped to distinguish the Israelites from other Canaanite tribes and, in doing so, established a series of customary purification laws- laws which are not ‘obeyed’ by Americans. Further, the author points out how the biblical authors brought stories and myths back from Babylon and modified these as lessons for the Israelites. And finally, author Enns hoped to help clarify the many ‘God-directed’ killings found in the Bible- that most were hyperbole and were lessons to the people of Israel that YHWY was ‘on their side.’

Biblical purists, literalists and non-errants will never ‘get’ the Bible, but Enns hopes that his readers will come to understand the Bible in a whole new manner through his writing. It may be late for a whole swath who have rejected the entire Bible because they were forced to believe in the literal interpretation. 

The question must be raised: Why were biblical purists allowed to dominate the discussion? Why were others too timid to challenge them? What has been the cost of this untethered license?

What Replaces Religion?

As fewer Americans attend church the question arises: What replaces religion in ones life? To answer this one has to access what is missing that was provided by religion? After all, religion was an invention and, as such, must have had a cause.

I’d imagine that gathering together was a first cause. We see this in ancient stone works, temples and monuments. We are social animals and need and enjoy time together. 

Ritual naturally follows gathering and in ancient times rituals were formulated to honor and/or mark the passage of seasons and time itself. Rituals for belonging or membership were important as well. Rituals were invented to mark that which was not understood or feared in the natural world. Rituals for atonement, birth, death, illness, thanksgiving and even war were communal celebrated.

The building of elaborate worship spaces, decorated with art and engineered to demonstrate both permanence and power, was a natural outcome of the need to house ritual. Music and liturgy as well as the reading of sacred texts as well as the pronouncements of codified belief were an integral part of the gathering in the worship space.

A sense of awe or otherworldliness lifted the faithful from their dreary or miser lives as they worshiped in the ornate worship places. Sacred music lifted the heaviness of life and transported the mind and soul to the heavenly strata.

 In the worship place one might find someone, especially a priest (in the broad sense) in which to find consolation, to discuss a problem, to confess sin.

And now what? How do the so called ‘nones’ replace what a religion offered to people for millennia? I suspect that a none could easily dictate a complete list. Yet, the question might be raised, Is it enough?

Extraterrestrials and Incarnations

Here in Toledo an interesting lecture will be held on Wednesday with the curious title, Vast Universe: Extraterrestrials and Christian Revelation. Two points. It will be held at a Catholic university and the speaker is Catholic priest, Fr. Thomas O’Meara. That title is in fact the title of his book. O’Meara wonders both about the religious beliefs of these extraterrestrials as well as whether other incarnations of the Spirit (Jesus) have taken place in other sectors of time and space. 

In light of the fact that astronomers have identified nearly 1000 planets in our galaxy as potentially habitable, O’Meara wonders two things. First, if sentient, have these beings developed a belief in God? Further, have they encountered an incarnation of the Spirit which he names Jesus?

I ask a follow- up, compound question: Have any of these places concocted a theory of universal sin (Original Sin) and if so, by what means have they theorized that it could be mollified? Have they actualized the concept of Substitutional Atonement through killing?  Do they require that their Incarnation of Spirit be slaughtered as is believed in the Christian Faith?

For more insight into O’Meara’s theory, read a summary  http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/60/60.1/60.1.1.pdf

Ubuntu: Beyond Love one Another

“Love one another as I have loved you.” That is the essence of many religious lessons, this one specifically that of Christianity devoid of dogma. Those words attributed to Jesus weren’t original to him. One can imagine this phrase on the lips of many others before and contemporary with him. Even mothers saying that to a child in a teaching reference.

I came across this same principle in a reference while reading a post by Caroline Fairless on her blog, “Restoring the Waters.” In referencing Ubuntu, she writes, As my goal has been and continues to be, to find deep and holy community in what I have named the space between, it is of critical importance.

In researching this African principle Ubuntu, I discovered it means essentially what John wrote but goes much deeper. It states (demands) that a person’s personhood exists only because of a bond shared with the other. Sounds convoluted which, in fact, is essentially the point. Ubuntu raises the love one another to a much more complex interaction with the other. One does not benefit from the love of another unless that love is reciprocal.

We in the Western culture, especially in the U.S. Might not fully understand that concept perhaps due both to our pioneer roots as well as our free-enterprise economic system. Dog-eat-dog as the extreme outcome. The ‘bootstraps’ charge. The pejorative welfare queen. The quintessential socialism label.

We weren’t raised that way. African Ubuntu is sewn into the essence of that culture; it defines the culture. We don’t get it. That’s precisely why we reward the corporate CEO and disregard the factory worker. That exhibits itself in the political arena as well when an entire political party works to reward the few at the expense of the many. 

It seems to me that our American culture could never embrace Ubuntu. At best, we might give lip service to love one another from time to time. Below is an in depth look at Ubuntu.

 Reference http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/7-22-2006-103206.asp

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Perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place if more emphasis was placed instead on teaching respect, decency, and tolerance – on teaching Ubuntu. The word ‘Ubuntu’ originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. Or as the Zulus would say, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others. The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as:

“It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

For many Africans, while they may belong to different societies and have different traditions and rituals, Ubuntu usually has a strong religious meaning. In general, the African belief is that your ancestors continue to exist amongst the living in the form of spirits and they are your link to the Divine Spirit. If you are in distress or need, you approach your ancestors’ spirits and it is they who will intercede on your behalf with God. Therefore it is important to not only venerate your ancestors, but to, eventually, yourself become an ancestor worthy of veneration. For this, you agree to respect your community’s rules, you undergo initiation to establish formal ties with both the current community members and those that have passed on, and you ensure harmony by adhering to the Ubuntu principles in the course of your life.