Wednesday, December 14, 2016
[I was going to title the blog post as "The Greatest Enemy of Religion," since it is pithier; but the point isn't truly Religion's enemy, as an institution...and I like Spirit instead of God because Spirit is more numinous, more hazy: God cannot be a "being" but must be seen as more of a verb--so say I.]
The greatest enemy is...The Bible.
Now, it doesn't have to be, need to be; but it currently is the greatest enemy. I am going to use a metaphor that Timothy Beal uses in his book, "The Rise and Fall of the Bible." Professor Beal compares the Bible (which he notes in the sixth chapter of that book, which I like quite a bit, is actually a mistranslation as the original Greek ta biblia truly means the scrolls, or the books) to a rock which people cling to, unchanging, hard, a foundation we can firmly stand on. Or...we could choose to see it as a river, which can carry us onward, to a journey that we leap into, that carries us to unknown places in unknowable ways, if we let it. If we stop clinging to what it is we think we know.
But I do not advocate forgetting it, or burning it or anything drastic like that. The Bible is valuable; it is necessary to read it to understand history and the current political situation; it is valuable spiritually if only for the parables of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount and many of what the historical Jesus said (one does have to realize that there is an historical Jesus, the man-Jesus, and another Superman-Jesus) as well as Psalm 23 and the Song of Solomon and many, many other writings within it.
The Bible is the enemy of the Spirit because religions keep teaching that it is unchanging, that it is fixed, that it is inerrant, has no discrepancies--is sufficient. The more you study the Bible for yourself, without the leading hand of some study manual or pastor, the more it becomes obvious that this is not history, and is not inerrant. We've been sold a pig in a poke.
Ever since the New Criticism of the mid-nineteenth century (cf Julius Wellhausen and Essays and Reviews, 1961) we have learned bit by bit that there is no original Bible. There are many variants. The variants do not always agree. They've learned that the Torah is not one story but several all melded into one, being pieced together by different factions.
And we've learned that there was no actual Eden, no real Adam or Eve (or Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, or Noah). Archaeology has not been kind to the Bible. Sure, it has found evidence for certain important events, such as the existence of many cities and civilizations mentioned in the Bible. However, the Noah's Ark, exodus, the First Temple, the wandering in the desert...nope.
They have learned that the Gospels are sometimes historical and sometimes not so much; you have to be careful to apply the tools of historical scholarship to the New Testament before saying that Jesus said this or that (cf Bart Ehrman). They have learned that Paul did not write all the letters ascribed to him. They have learned that Revelation was not written by John of the Gospel, nor did John the son of Zebedee, write the Gospel of John. Who wrote the other Gospels? No one knows.
If you read the Bible in parallel versions you will realize that discrepancies not only exist, they are everywhere. You will be unable to square certain sections such as the account of Genesis (there are two in Genesis but another in Job and another in Proverbs), which robe was placed on Jesus (the scarlet or the purple?), who saw Jesus and when at the resurrection (and where did he go and to whom did he go?), and you will be unable to account for modern scientific theories (evolution, the theory of gravity in Jericho's demise in Joshua...though alternate reading for that merely could allow for a long day's light...but still the Bible is still contradicting itself when it states that God allowed himself to be influenced by man for the first time here: "there has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice." Um...wrong. Cf Moses, cf Abraham.) And if any book will turn you away from God it's probably Joshua, where we are given a description of God that can be likened to Stalin.
That isn't to say you cannot find God in the Bible. You just have to be discriminating. The Song of Solomon. The Sermon on the Mount. Psalm 23. Genesis (if you don't allow yourself to treat it as some sort of scientific treatise). The parables. There's a lot of great stuff here. Don't ignore it. And don't pass it all off as the skeptics often do, throwing out the baby with the bath water.
God is in there, but he is hidden.
To reveal Him in the Bible you can do the same thing that you do when you reveal Him elsewhere: stop looking for Him as a Him (or a Her or an It) and start looking for the verb, the action, the love: love as action, moving through creation: love as creative action. That is God.
The Bible has become, in the hands of evangelical conservative Christians, a house of cards that has already fallen. It came against science and science won. It came against historical criticism and the latter won. To rely on this version of the Bible, the one of literal truth, is to plant one's foot squarely on the brakes of any future revival of Christianity.