Tuesday, May 25, 2010


In the ancient world there was this group named the Hebrews. They were a collection of immigrants who moved to Egypt, the most powerful nation in the world at that time. The move to Egypt made sense for poor immigrants. Egypt was rich, fertile and very well organized. It seemed as good a place to thrive as any. However, the Egyptians weren’t as happy with the immigrants as the immigrants were with their land. In fact, they were scared of these new inhabitants of their traditional land. So, in order to keep them under control, they enslaved these new immigrants, making them work for the good of the community. The immigrants weren’t happy about this, but they figured it was better than where they came from.

As the Hebrews settled into slavery, they decided to create opportunities to better themselves. And the best way to get out of slavery, they figured, was to adopt the Egyptian way of life. They worshipped the gods as the Egyptians did. They ate what the Egyptians ate, and learned to love it. They made their living like the Egyptians did. Many of them, hoping to get out of their slavery, even managed to be hired as overseers, whipping their co-slaves in order to make them work harder. They did anything they could that might get them out of the life of death and oppression they lived.

It was only when the Egyptians tried to kill their children off to reduce their population that they realized that the Egyptians would never accept them. So, as most of these Hebrews were descendents of Abraham, a worshiper of the Most High God, they decided to pray to the Most High, begging Him for deliverance. And God heard and decided to do something about it.

When God created humanity, he created them as a bundle of needs. If humans didn’t feel they needed anything, they wouldn’t do anything. So every human has needs that they seek to have met. These needs include the obvious ones: food, shelter, water, health, warmth. But they also include other needs we may not always think about, but they stir us just as powerfully: security, relationship, peace, honor and pleasure. We pursue all of these things, sometimes to the detriment of our other basic needs. We’re crazy like that.

Because we are basically lazy and we want our needs met without having to think about it, we create systems to help our needs be met. Sometimes these systems work, sometimes they don’t. But when a system is even marginally successful, then it becomes Egypt to us—it enslaves us, captures us and makes us serve the system even to the detriment of ourselves, or to the downfall of humanity as a whole.

Monday, May 24, 2010

But I Need A Canadian Slave!

I received the following email from a friend. It's spam, but it's got a good point. How can we pick and choose parts of the Bible we believe in?

In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Death and Humanity and God

Now, we could blame this whole picture on the world on Adam and Eve, but frankly, given the same choice—surrendering to God’s ethic of love or being selfish—we often make the same choice. So we can’t blame anyone else. And every time someone acts for themselves instead of God, that person is handed over to the realm of Death. Paul puts it succinctly: “The wages of sin is Death.”

And we see Death everywhere. In our broken relationships, in our hatred against other races or nations, in our anger against the poor, in our creation of more efficient weapons, in our abortion statistics, in our destruction of animal species, in our wars. Death is way more in charge of humanity than God.

But God hasn’t given up on humans. He doesn’t hate them or want to kill them. In fact, God spends a lot of time offering humanity another option. If humans would give up on their ways of Death and selfishness and surrender themselves completely to God, then God will accept them. He will forget about the past and take them back to the time before the Tree. Not the paradise, but allow us to have true knowledge of good and evil, which is only found in Him. He will lead us in the way of love. If only we would surrender to Him.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"It is Good" to Evil

Most everyone agrees that there are problems on the earth. And most everyone agrees that humans are the source of the problem. How did we get to this place? The Bible tells the story of all of us, and it is found right at the beginning of Scripture.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God is a powerful guy. He can make whatever He wants and all things we see and touch and understand was initially made by Him. It could have been done immediately. It could have taken eons and a long process. But He did it. At the same time, He made all the angels and spirits who inhabit the spirit world. There are lots of them, and people call them names like Hades, Michael and Lucifer. They are important characters in our story, so don’t forget them.

After creating the universe and the earth, over time, the earth was “void”, which is just another word for chaotic and meaningless. God looked at the earth and said, “That’s not right.” So God decided to make order out of this chaos. He cleaned things up, put the seas and rivers in their place, planted a bunch of flowers, got some livestock and there we go—a wonderful place to spend your retirement. And God did. He took a break, looked around and said, “This is good. A nice place. Glad we made it.”

Then the question arises, Who should take charge of this place? God put spirits in charge of the heavenly bodies—sun and moon and stars and such. Why not the earth as well? But it’s such a magnificent, complex creation. It’s got to be someone really powerful and wise. God drew into himself and then decided: “I’m putting humans in charge of the universe.”

This was a grave disappointment to the spirits. They all wanted a piece of this action, and now it looks like they aren’t going to get a piece of it. But no one wanted to say anything to God, because… well… He is God. But one spirit gets the guts to speak up. Some people call him Lucifer, but he’s known around the spirit world as The Dragon. Dragon says, “Most High, I speak for all the spirits when I say that I think that putting humans in charge of the world is a really bad idea. They are weak, naked, stupid and pathetic. I mean, just look at them! They are naked and helpless and you put them in charge of the whole world? You should really reconsider and put a spirit in charge of the world.”

But God’s decision was irrevocable. Once He makes a promise, He keeps it. And he promised all of the earth to humans. So Dragon decides to do something about it. He’s going to show God just how pathetic these humans are. So Dragon goes to earth in the guise of a… well, a Dragon. And where does he find them? Hanging out by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Now we need to have a little background knowledge here. Just as God set the humans in the garden, He gave them one rule that wasn’t instinctive to them: “You can eat of any tree in the garden, but not of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. On the day you eat of that tree, you will certainly die.” This wasn’t actually a tough rule. The garden actually covered thousands of square miles, containing millions of trees. There is only one tree in all that land, amidst all those trees that they couldn’t eat. No problem, right?

But when the Dragon found them, they were hanging out right by that one tree they shouldn’t eat. So it wasn’t a tough proposition to get them to eat of it. The Dragon deceived Eve, but Adam ate of the tree willingly. He told them it would make them like God. And, in a sense, it did.
When the people ate of the tree, the text says, “Their eyes were opened. They saw that they were naked and they were ashamed.” They weren’t ashamed of eating the fruit. They weren’t ashamed of disobeying God. They were ashamed of that which they were from the day they were created. There was nothing wrong with being naked, or desiring another person or having sex. It was just a married couple and God. Perfectly natural to be naked. But they were ashamed.


It has to do with the properties of the tree. To eat a tree’s fruit is to take it’s properties into oneself. And the tree was that of knowledge of good and evil. This doesn’t mean that one objectively knows what good and evil is—rather, it is creating within one’s mind what is good and evil. Until the humans ate of the tree, they didn’t try to understand good and evil. Whatever God said was good was good. Whatever God said was evil was evil. But when they had the ability to guess themselves what was good and evil that everything got screwed up. Because that which was good was immediately called evil. They were ashamed of that which was good.

This process continues to this day. The Roman Catholics call it “scruples”. This is considering something neutral or good to be bad. To have traditions that are inflexible. Calling good evil. Calling evil good. From the beginning of creation to today we have done this until we have ended up with the United States Income Tax Code—the largest collection of stupid rules ever created. Why do we have this? Because it is in the nature of human beings to created stupid, pointless rules. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real good or evil. There is. But humans like to make up their own rules, not try to discover what is really good.
What is really good? Well, God set it up right from the beginning. In the nature of a man is the desire to love a woman, no matter how different she is. It is in the nature of a woman to love a man, no matter how strange he acts. And when God is present, it is in the nature of both of them to love God. Thus, the basis of all ethics is to love those whom you are with—whether another person or God.

But humans screwed that up. They decided to make ethical decisions out of their imagination rather than what God actually knows. So the last part of what God said had to take place. “On that day you will die.”

The problem we have with the story at this point is that the humans didn’t die. They didn’t even get sick. God threw them out of the garden, but they thrived—they cultivated land, had children, eventually built cities. So did God lie? Not at all. We just have to understand what the ancient world means by death.

Death is not just an event, something that happens to one’s body. Rather, death is a person—or, rather, a spirit. Remember Hades, Michael and the Dragon? Well, Death is just one of these guys. And he kills people. So rather than the cessation of the humans’ bodies, God put them under the control of Death.

Now Death’s master, it just so happens, is the Dragon. So they were talking and Death said, “So I’m in charge of these humans now. I think I should just kill them off, then the creation can be handed off to someone else.” But the Dragon was certainly crafty, and he had another idea, “Wait a minute, Death. How about this. Instead of killing them off, let’s let them live. We can make them as miserable as we want, and we can rule this world through them. God will never revoke his promise. So we’ll be in charge of this creation always.” Death knows a good idea when he hears it.

So now, according to the Bible, the Dragon and Death are in charge of the world through the humans. Death loves to play with the humans—causing things like tsunamis, plagues, earthquakes and famines. Encouraging the occasional war now and then. So that life on earth is complete death. And this makes humanity forget about love more and more. Love is put aside when death reigns.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Final Note On The Bible (for a while)

I do not believe that everyone who claims the Bible is inerrant is wrong-headed about the Bible. But the far majority of people—no matter what theological disposition—fail to read the Bible for what it says.

Some claim that the Bible cannot be read objectively, because of the cultural context in which we live. The Bible is not just a book, a text, nor even simply communication from God. It is the cultural center for so many people, that everyone is going to insist that it states THEIR truth. Because, from our self-centered perspective, All Truth is Our Truth, the “facts” and biases that we already accept. Thus, if the Bible is true, then we do not need to agree with it, but it needs to agree with us. For this reason, no one can read the Bible for what it says, nor can one communicate what it clearly says without being rejected by the mass of people. Because they see the Bible as their book, not God’s.

What Michael Card said is right: If God truly came in flesh, then those talking to him would be of the opinion that he was insane. And if the Bible is truly God’s communication, then the mass of humanity must reject its message.

But there are a variety of ways of rejecting. You could say, “That’s just wrong”, but when a bunch of people will reject you when you reject God, you’ve got to be more nuanced. So you say, “It doesn’t mean that.” You say, “Let me explain what God says.” And pretty soon, when you have enough people looking at God’s word, and they are all seeing that it says that which it does not say. And so they can be led into lies, further and further away from God. It is hilarious that when agnostics and atheists argue against God, they are arguing against the false perception of God and a false perception of righteousness that have been given to the masses by religion rather than what any holy book actually says.

This is why I think that every person who believes that the Bible is communication from God must be obsessively careful to only speak of what the Bible actually says and not to use theological language, or to add their own idea of “wisdom” to it. I know it’s popular to do that, but it drives the truth of God further into recession. We must have God’s pure word, the pure communication without adding to it. We must insist that God has given us enough communication through His Son and not reject Jesus by insisting upon theological layers that Jesus didn’t proclaim. We must insist upon objectivity, not orthodoxy. Only then can we truly proclaim the “insane” message God has given to us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Seeing But Not Perceiving

I am truly disturbed, actually, by the use of the Bible by people who claim to have Jesus as their Lord and the Bible as true. These very people disregard the words of Jesus with an ease and a dismissal that the critics of the New Testament—heck the critics of any piece of literature—cannot match. I find myself unimpressed by those who have a high theological regard for Christ or for the Bible, because their “high” regard tend to be translated into already knowing who Jesus is and what the text says before they ever come to the text. And if anyone points out that their understanding of Jesus or the Bible doesn’t match what is actually stated, they will claim one of a few statements that throw doubt on the one questioning them:
“I interpret the Scripture by the Spirit”
“All of the church fathers understood this.”
“I follow sound hermeneutic principles.”
“This scholar (usually from a hundred and fifty years ago) agrees with me”

Interpreting Scripture is difficult, and changing someone’s mind is almost impossible. I’ve frankly given up convincing anyone of my point of view of Scripture if they strongly hold to another point of view. I just give my reasons and move on. And, frankly, I hope that others do the same.

But it truly disturbs me when someone will hold to a high theological view of Scripture but deny what it clearly says in black and white. People who think that Jesus claimed that it’s okay to go to war. That the law of Moses can be fully lived out today. That the United States upholds the ten commandments (although that may be a misreading of the Constitution, not the Bible). That suicide is an unpardonable sin. That Jesus spoke parables to "clarify" His truth. If the Bible really is God’s word, then we need to believe it for what it says, and not try to impose our own beliefs and traditions upon it. This means we have to open our eyes without the theological/philosophical lenses and just let it speak to us, not us to tell it what it should say.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Most Important Reason The Bible Is Important

It is about Jesus.

The clearest, most accurate communication about God is Jesus himself. And the Bible is the only place that has the most historically accurate information about Jesus. The Gospels are the best books about Jesus ever written, collecting together eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching. The rest of the New Testament considers the basic implications of Jesus to those who follow Him. And the Hebrew Scriptures are the very books Jesus quoted from, using it to definitively describe what God is like and what He wants from humanity. Jesus is still the most important person influencing the world today—perhaps in this last century more than ever! If we want to know about Him, about his most correct representation of God, then we need to go to the Bible.

Yes, there may be contradictions, but the most important aspects of Jesus are clearly communicated. Jesus teaches us about love and humanism and inclusion and all that is communicated clearly not just in the gospels, but in the whole of the New Testament. It talks about freedom from sin and oppression. It talks consistently about what is really good and rejects what is not really good, or only looks good. The fact that all institutional churches of all ages have rejected what is true in the New Testament doesn’t mean that it is any less true. The fact that theologians have rejected the true Jesus and his true teachings for the sake of their own security and worldly hopes doesn’t make Jesus less true or his philosophy less significant.

The New Testament is the most accurate statement about how we can relate to God ever written. There is history to be found there, and there is philosophical truth. But that’s not what it’s about. It is about being plugged into the greatest power of the universe.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Else is the Bible Important?

It is about Humanity’s Connection with God
The Bible’s single theme is the relationship between humanity and God. It speaks of how God relates to men through individuals and government, through judgment and mercy, through prophets, philosophers, kings and everyday people. It speaks of how people relate to God through ritual, though prayer, through reading, through mystical experiences, through everyday life, through childbirth, through eroticism, through mourning, through exile and through work. It is the broadest explanation of spirituality and spiritual life that exists.

It Gives a Common Story for Believers
For those who believe in God, the Bible gives what might be the only common element between them all. It is the storybook for all believers, where examples of all things occur. It also gives a common language, full of quotes and unique turns of phrase which is used by many cultures, whether they believe or not. The Bible is the basis for all of our discussions about God, letting us know who God is and how He relates to humanity.

It is God’s Communication about Himself
The Bible is God’s word. This means that it gives us God’s communication. To be honest, if we read it carefully, we can see that contains God’s word, as it does not claim for itself that God is speaking through every verse. But it does give us God’s words, within colorful, varied contexts. God speaks to individuals, He speaks to nations, and more importantly, He speaks to us. In this book alone God tells us what He thinks it is most important for us to know. He tells us how we ought to live, how we can relate to Him, how we can gain His best. The Bible is the only book that clearly and definitively answers these questions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Why Is The Bible Important?

Some might question my interest in the Bible. After all, if the Bible isn't inerrant, then why do I have such intense interest in it? And I want to make it clear, that my interest in the Bible is not simply scholastic, nor is it limited to the New Testament. The Bible-- as a whole-- is the most important artifact in my life, and it has changed me more than any other person or thing. I have read commentaries on almost every major book in the Bible and I dearly love almost every detail of the Bible. It is unbelievable important to me personally. And not just me.

The Bible is the best selling book in the world, perhaps 2.5 billion copies sold. It is the most printed book, with 6 million copies printed—the second being Mao’s Little Red Book at 900 million (The most popular Harry Potter book sold about 100 million copies). It is also the most translated book in the world— at least portions have been translated into 2454 languages. Clearly, it’s important to somebody.

But why is it important? And does it deserve its reputation and acclaim?

It is one of the oldest books in the world
The Bible, more than any other book, reflects a wide spectrum of ancient life, customs and thought. It is a sourcebook of ancient history, spanning a period (at least) of a thousand years.

It Expresses Human Experience
Because the Bible is written by forty different authors, as well as a number of editors. And it tells the stories of hundreds of people, who lived over a period of time of 2000 years (from Abraham to Jesus). All these stories cover the broad spectrum of human experience: joy, love, guilt, anger, lust, hope, sorrow, sacrifice, selfishness, murder, piety, hypocrisy, power, humility, farming, building, ruling, slavery, visions, butchery, and so much more. In all of these experiences, the Bible invites each reader to experience all this, and to see it all from the perspective of the ancient Hebrews. No book, novel or otherwise is such a masterwork.

More to come...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Good Side of Contradictions

Contradictions have one other benefit—the proof of its eyewitness accounts. This is especially true of the New Testament. All the stories claim to be from eyewitnesses, giving their stories. Some of these stories are opposing to one another, offering different details, even disagreeing about details. But this proves that the texts weren’t manipulated by someone trying to establish consistency. Rather, we truly do have eyewitness accounts—along with their contradictions, their inconsistencies and the different details. This is a greater evidence of historicity than a completely consistent account, for if you have ten human beings witnessing an event, you have ten different and sometimes contradictory accounts of a single event.

So what is the benefit of accounts that are sometimes contradictory? The benefit is in what they agree in. If you have ten people who see a car accident, and they disagree as to the color and make of the cars, but they all agree that the larger car was hit by the smaller one. Then one can disregard the eyewitness account of the color or make of the cars, but one can rely on the fact of the accident and who hit the other. The same with the Bible. We may not know how many angels were at the tomb, but we have a number of witnesses who claim to have seen an empty tomb and a resurrected Jesus—on that they are consistant. Not only do we know what to focus on, but we also know that what agreement we have we can better rely on because we have unimportant details that disagree with each other.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Contradictions and Theology of the Bible

Contradictions are not an argument against the inspiration of Scripture. God could have inspired the authors to focus on what is important. The important thing, in Genesis 1, is to offer texts that show the creation of the world by God’s hand, but not necessarily to show the order or timing of the creation. The important thing in the genealogies of Jesus is to show that he is an adopted descendent of David, not to get the exact names right. The importance of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is to show how Judeans had always rejected God’s prophets, not to get every precise detail correct. In this way, we can see that contradictions in Scripture help us to focus on the important details—the ethics and basic facts about God, not the details of history.

Contradictions, however, do land a blow against the idea of the inerrancy of the Bible. If the Bible can be shown to have one, solid, proven error, then it is not without error, thus not inerrant. If the Bible is not inerrant—which the Bible never claims for itself—then that offers a lot of other questions about the connection between faith and science, faith and proven historical data, and whether fundamentalist faith is accurate in any way. The Bible could be about many things, but it does not have to inform science, nor does it have to inform our study of other disciplines. The Bible is good for what is shows us—the ways of God, the salvation of Jesus, the fact of a spirit world, and the ancient history of the Jews. But we should not make the Bible say what it does not say for itself.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Are There Contradictions In the Bible?

When I first began reading the Bible, I found some contradictions. I also heard about other contradictions. As I studied the Bible more, and heard more preachers, I found that these contradictions have easy explanations. Okay, so there are two angels at the tomb in one text, and only one in another—is this really a contradiction? I mean, if there are two, are there not one? And the Judeans of John deny Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. But does this absolutely contradict Jesus’ birth there—which was not necessarily well known anyway? Many of the “contradictions” that are put forth are insignificant and not really a contradiction at all, but simply different points of view.

However, as I continued to read the Bible and really dig into it, I find contradictions that cannot be easily explained, at least if we allow the text to speak for itself. For instance, in Genesis 1, it says that plants were created before humanity, but in Genesis 2 it says that it occurred the other way around. In I Corinthians 11 it says that women should prophecy with their heads covered, but in I Corinthians 14 it says that women should stay silent and not prophecy at all (and this despite earlier in I Cor. 14 where it says that EVERYONE should have something to speak). In Matthew 1 there is a genealogy of Jesus which contradicts the genealogy given in Luke 3. While some claim that one if of Mary and the other of Joseph, both claim to be genealogies of Joseph.

Some additional contradictions are given by Dewey Beagle, found in Erickson’s Readings in Christian Theology, vol. 1.

Jude verse 14—Jude says that Enoch is the “seventh generation from Adam”, as quoted in the Book of Enoch, while the text in Genesis has many more generations between them.

II Kings 15:27—It says that Pekah “reigned twenty years”, but this is not possible, given the comparisons of other passages of II Kings.

Acts 7:4—Stephen claims that Abraham left Haran “after his father died”, but Genesis claims that Abraham’s father was still alive when he left.

Galatians 3:17—There is a strong discrepancy in the Bible to how long the Hebrews were in Egypt—was it about 400 years or a bit more than 200 years?

But these are but a few of the other serious contradictions that were discovered.

There ARE certainly some contradictions in the Bible text. But what does that mean for those of us who depend on the Bible as our main source of truth about God?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can Every Believer Understand Scripture Equally?

Is Scripture accessible?

It is as accessible as any other piece of ancient literature—we can understand it, if we work at it. It is accessible, but some people can understand what they read better than others. It is accessible, if one is literate, both in eye and in mind. This means that not everyone, in reality, has direct access to it. Not everyone can read, for one thing. And not everyone, even if they can read, can read well enough to understand all the words of the translators. And not everyone, even if they understand the words, can sift through the cultural differences to the principles of God’s word that can be applied to our culture today. Therefore, the simple reading and understanding of Scripture is not for everyone. Some people are dependent on others whom God has given the additional gift of interpretation.

Thus, it is arrogant to assume that everyone can be an interpreter of Scripture. Some have the gift, some do not. How this gift is determined is hard to say. But I will say this—many popular “interpreters” of Scripture are not interpreters at all, but re-writers. They are not interested in delving into Scripture to dig out the treasure that is discovered there. Rather, the “precious stones” they discover have the faux shine of the ideals of this world. They are filled with the judgments, prejudices, fears and assumptions of our own culture. To a certain degree, this is understandable. But when an interpreter only tells people what they want to hear, is “praised by all”, and does not hope in God’s deliverance, but in a deliverance from man, then such an interpreter must be avoided. To claim to be speaking God’s word when it only a re-packaged hope of one’s contemporary culture is the worst of all lies.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Culture and Interpretation

I have a friend who is a prophet, and I believe that she is truly inspired by the Holy Spirit. When she writes down exactly what she receives, then it is accurate—scarily accurate. But when she attempts to interpret it, to put it “in her own words” and thus to put her own understanding into it, then it becomes more difficult to understand, and harder to accept. It just doesn’t seem as “right” somehow. It is still inspired, but there are layers to dig through to understand what the Holy Spirit really says, and we have to ask questions to really figure it out.

Even so with the text of Scripture. It is written in a context, and interpreted for that culture to better understand it. Sometimes, it has the assumptions of that culture which are not explained and occasionally it includes the misconceptions of the culture of the author. This does not mean that God’s word is not there. But we have to sift through the culture to determine the culture. God’s word for us is not on the surface of Scripture—written in Greek or Hebrew, filled with idioms and not explaining the cultural assumptions that come with living in the Ancient world. To understand God’s word, we must work hard to unpack Scripture.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


It is a leap in logic to say that an author was “breathed into” by the Holy Spirit, to then say that everything that author wrote was 100 percent accurate, both scientifically and in accord with modern knowledge. Just like everything that God does on earth, Scripture is the work of both God and humanity. Since humanity is involved, this means that human culture, ideals, weaknesses and misconceptions were put into it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Future of Religion

The future of religion is in following Jesus’ humanitarian morality, in seeing all human beings as being equal in the need to have their basic needs met. The following precepts, that Jesus promoted, is really the ultimate moral end for all religions:
a. All humans are equal
b. All humans are to be ultimately punished by God, not humanity
c. Varieties of ideal communities should be established, having no authority except over themselves
d. Leaders should be chosen, not because of their capacity to collect power to themselves, but because of their ability to assist the most people of any kind, especially those under their care
e. Humans who harm community should be separated from the ideal community
f. It is the noblest ideal to meet other’s needs no matter the harm they do to oneself or one’s community
g. We change the world through accepting suffering, not by forcing suffering
h. The greatest sin is harming others and teaching young people to harm others.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What If We Lived In An Agnostic Nation?

Hitchens has a whole chapter to defend secularism—a belief system without god as a significant factor—against the truthful claim that Nazism, Stalinism and other atrocious societies were secular. Hitchens, not unlike a child trying to defend himself, points how religious groups—especially Catholics—associated themselves with the secular totalitarian governments. Hitchens does admit that secular societies don’t have a great track record, but, once again, just claims that the religious one is worse. I would say that first, there isn’t enough evidence to know the moral guidance of any secular societies, since we don’t have enough of a record of them, although I will say that the current tally up till this point isn’t very great.

Certainly those dedicated to the scientific method have proven to be just as prejudiced, myopic and hateful as any religious person. And should secularism be in full charge, religious groups will be persecuted severely. This is not because secular groups are worse than religious groups, but because humans fear that which is not like themselves. It isn’t religiosity or secularism that is really the issue here—it is cultural prejudice and humanity at large. In general, no matter what one’s racial, national, cultural or religious persuasion, the marginalization and then the dehumanization of other groups will rule. This is the way of all humanity.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jesus and the Humanitarian Ideal

But I have to say, Jesus is ahead of all other religions, even by Hitchen's standards. First of all, Jesus sought reform, but accepted the persecution on himself. Apart from the others, reform is not to be imposed, but rather to be seen as a process which begins with the destruction of the prophet who announces reform. Jesus not only set up his own sacrifice, he also taught his disciples to accept persecution when it came. Interestingly enough, he didn’t insist that his disciples do as he did—actually manipulate the political and religious situation for his own personal demise. Rather, he told them to accept and rejoice in such persecution, but not to create it themselves.

(On a similar note, Mr. Hutchins, it may be “odd” or, as you imply, perverse, to manipulate the action of a prophecy. But Jesus insisted that he was fulfilling the holy text, not specifically the prophecies.)

So all of Jesus’ reform was never about war or the destruction of others. Rather it was using self-sacrifice to change the cultural and religious society. Thus, this is completely humanitarian, if not completely life-affirming as some would like to have Jesus’ teach.

Also, Jesus was and is the most consistent humanitarians in religious leaders. Admittedly, Buddha and others taught an equal affirmation of all life, but this proves difficult to be consistent in, as our very life requires the killing of other life, whether in our immune system or in our every breath. Jesus, however, taught the benevolence of all human life, without exception. This is, what “Love your enemies” means. Jesus is using the most extreme form of a moral statement—doing good to those who intend to harm you—to broaden a principle of benevolence to all of humanity, without exception. The fact that Christians continually find ways to find exceptions to Jesus’ broad rule is an example of their irreligiosity, not of a fault in the religion in and of itself.

Jesus also taught that all religious ritual is marginalized in light of this basic humanism. He spoke against the hardcore Jewish monolith, the Sabbath, to say that it is proper to work on the Sabbath—in opposition to all Jewish tradition—if that work is enacting mercy. Interestingly, Jesus’ followers continued in this tradition, claiming that all religious traditions—the Temple, circumcision, racism, ritual sacrifice, holidays—are not to be set aside, but marginalized in comparison to doing good. This is so much the case that the leaders of Jesus’ movement were not to be known as leaders at all, but slaves or servants.

In fact, I would say that were it not for Jesus, that religion would not ever been seen in humanitarian terms. I am not saying that Jesus was the first humanitarian, only the greatest populist spokesman for it. All throughout the Western history of the world, people have looked at Jesus, compared religions to him, and found the religion lacking. Indeed, I would say, that were it not for Jesus, there probably would have been no Enlightenment to begin with, for the idea of having a humanitarianism apart from ritual was most popularly spoken by Jesus—although first promoted in some of the Hebrew Scriptures. Many of the greatest humanitarian leaders since the enlightenment—Thomas Jefferson, William Wilberforce, David Livingstone, Albert Schweitzer, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Moses Brown, Florence Nightingale, Leo Tolstoy, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King—were all deeply influenced by Jesus and his humanitarian ideal.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Religion as Reformation

Most religions begin as a reformation. Moses’ law is a reformation of the common code of law in ancient society—a distinctly moral improvement. Buddhism is a reformation of the extreme practices of the yogi in Northern India. Christianity is a reformation of an exclusionary Judaism of Second Temple Judaism. Islam is a religious reform of the paganism of Arabia. Each of these is a moral, humane step forward from the cultural experience of the previous religions.

Religion is almost never a power play. It is an attempt to make life better for all. Sometimes religions, when they begin, might be misguided or too extreme. But time softens the edges and changes the perspective. Over time, all religions reflect the traditional norms of a society, rather than forms them.

Are All Religions The Same?

What is mysterious to me as well is Hitchens’ insistence at lumping all of religion together, as if what one religion does, all are guilty of. I am surprised he didn’t mention Kali worshippers in their massacre, and apply that to Christians and Jews as well, as if all religions were ultimately the same.

Not only are all religions not the same, but it is clear that institutional forms of religion often, if not always, butcher the original ideal of a religion in order to accept all the values of any given culture. Thus did Islam support the destruction of other monotheisms, Buddhism support religious ceremony, and Christians support war and fascism. These actions are opposed to the original intent of the religions as established.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Immoral Jesus?

I find it fascinating, not that Hitchens claims the Bible as immoral—one could certainly pick out a number of passages that indicates an inhumane bias, as Hitchens does. No, it is his chapter title that states, “The New Testament is More Immoral Than the Old Testament”. Not only is the author far distant from proving his point, I don’t really see how he claims that the NT is immoral at all. So he shows that John 8 isn’t in the original text. Christian scholars have admitted so for a century. How is this immoral? That some scribe decided to insert a connected text in a margin and another scribe got confused and put it in the text? How is that “immoral”?

Hitchen’s main claim that the New Testament’s morality of forgiveness is less than ideal. Hitchen’s idea of this morality is misguided, but even with this misconception, it is difficult to call this idea of “all forgiveness all the time” immoral. He misunderstands the basic idea of NT forgiveness, however. There are many times in the NT that people are NOT forgiven. In fact, the most brutal part of the NT, the deaths of Ananias and Saphira, is a display of not forgiving someone for their sin—in this case, of lying to God. Paul also declares one person to not be forgiven, and then, later to be forgiven. This all looks very inconsistent unless you understand the basis of Christian forgiveness, which is repentance. Many passages speak to what causes one to not be forgiven—and the main one is being merciless to another person. The one who abuses another, who deceives another intentionally in order to obtain gain, the one who hates, the hypocrite who teaches others their hypocritical ways, these are not forgiven.

This does not mean that these sinners are to be punished, exactly. They are not to be harmed by any followers of Jesus. Rather, they are asked repeatedly to repent, and if they hold to their unmerciful ways, then they are declared to not be a part of the community. That’s all. Any further punishment is up to God. Thus, it is not a wide open forgiveness, nor is it the harsh punishments of sinners of later Christianities.

What bugs me about Hitchen's statement most, that the NT is "immoral" is that this book, which I and many others follow as our guide to ethics and life, leads us to immorality. So Hitchen's is calling me immoral. I have never claimed that atheists in general are immoral. Nor have I claimed that any group is generally immoral. So how can he make that claim about me and those who are like me? That is simply hypocritical.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Necessity of Religion

Even if religion were not true, it would be necessary, for most of humanity is not rational and able to follow a unique path through the best truths and the best morals. Religion simplifies truth and morals, much that a government education bureaucracy would do. It promotes significant values to its culture, and does so in ways that could be understood by all its community. Perhaps it is simplistic and misunderstood by the over-zealous, such as any complex system is—such as a body of law or a collection of ancient texts.

Public Religion

Religion is both private and public. It is private in that it relates to one’s personal experience of God. That experience is personal in nature and typically non-repeatable, just as a conversation with a good friend would be. However, religion is also public in that one’s experience of God is shared with others and it changes one’s activity with others, hopefully in a positive way.

If any person has a relationship with God, it would be significant and life-transforming. If a person can keep their relationship with God private, not effecting anyone else, then that would be different and less meaningful than any other relationship we have. It doesn't matter if one is a politician, judge, pastor, printer or construction worker. If we have a relationship with God, it would only be fair to let others know this, as it is appropriate. Because the more intimate we become with others, then the more our relationship with God effects them.

This can be difficult because people judge other people's relationship with God. So we have to approach such communication carefully. We can begin with a general term, "I'm Jewish" for instance (if it's true) and if that seems well received, we can move onto more deep revelations of ourselves-- "God once told me to feed peanut butter to the fish that controls the weather." It's important.