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Monday, May 15, 2006

the weakest and least inspiring kind of faith?

A commenter wrote:

"Radar, though I am not myself a man of faith I retain great respect for people who are commited to their faith; who find strength and wisdom in that faith. But I have to say I've always found the kind of faith you are expressing here on your blog to be the weakest, least inspiring kind."

Well, I must have a faith you can hardly bring yourself to respect at all. Let's find out why?

"How frail and on what shaky foundations rests a faith that is afraid of objective examination; that allows for no mystery, just a dry, colourless literalism. Clinging to literalism backs one into a corner, forcing one to adopt all kinds of denials and excersises in logical contortionism to explain away the contradictions and absurdities produced by a literal approach to the text."

So you want your truths to have mystery or they are of no value? I am guessing that you are not into sky-jumping, then, or if you are you won't be for long. Wouldn't an air of mystery as to whether your parachute was packed properly add to the fun? Perhaps you should seek out a restaurant that has been closed down for unclean conditions a few times previously, since the possibility of ingesting e-coli would add to your dining experience.

Hmmm, objective examination? I doubt if any faith has undergone more thorough examination, nor any book taken more intense scrutiny, than Christianity and the Bible, respectively. Whereas you are going for death by adjective, in fact a literal interpretation of the scriptures was preached by Jesus, adhered to by the Apostles and has been the basis for most of the great men of the Christian faith down through the ages. Ask Martin Luther or John Wesley or Matthew Henry whether they were literalists. Oh, you can't because they are dead? Well, when I get to heaven I will ask them for you. Grins.

Logical contortions are the friend of modern liberal bible criticism, trying to find ways to make the Bible less that what it is. Thousands of years after the fact, liberal scholars try to find new authors for the books, or change the likely dates the books were written and other such contortions. Sure, you think that the descriptions of dinosaurs in the Bible are absurdities, fine. Contradictions? Is the following a contradiction? (Proverbs 23:4 & 5):

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest you also be like him

Answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest he be wise in his own eyes."


I am a Bible literalist. No one is forcing anyone else to believe this way. But this is a common thing among Christians, to believe that the Bible is true. In fact, if you don't, I wonder how you determine which parts to believe and which parts to throw out. And of course God has to either be lying or mistaken in that He inspired words such as these in II Timothy 3:16:

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,"

ALL scripture, when you study it carefully, means, well, ALL SCRIPTURE! No small parts of it are to be ignored or considered extraneous.

"Myth is not a bad word, Radar. Myths can contain many truths, and are not to be sniffed at for being symbolically, rather than literally, true. I no longer believe in the literal magic of the Bible, but I still find inspiriation of much of what it has to say, especially the teachings of Jesus. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." '

Now, here is an interesting thing. Using the Bible, which you claim is unreliable, in order to make your point? You take that passage from I Corinthians 13:11. Let me post a bit more of it...verses 8 through 13.

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known."

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."


Does this mean that knowledge is childish? Has that which is perfect already come? Do you really understand what this verse means? It was not spoken by Jesus, but rather written by Paul as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Note that in the end when childish things are put away one is left with faith, hope and love. So faith is not a childish thing.

My personal belief is that if you accept the Bible as a good book that has good stuff in it, like the sayings of Aristotle, the literature of Mark Twain, the poetry of Robert Frost, then you will glean some good from it. I will not argue with that. But you will not get much benefit from the Bible unless you take it for what it claims to be, the Word of God. No more than you will from reading Robinson Crusoe.


Peter writes this in II Peter 1:21 -

"for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."

Paul explained that he wrote by inspiration of God in Ephesians 3:3-5 -

"how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:"

My "weak and uninspiring" faith has caused me to abandon a self-centered hedonistic lifestyle and devote a great deal of time and effort to help others. My wife and I give money and time and energy to the cause of Christ. We work in church ministries. We pray for others. I don't think that we are all that special, we are simply believers. It is the Spirit of God in us that has inspired us to give more than lip service to our faith. One of my adult sons is in the military, but the one who is not gives part of his time to church service, working in one of the ministries. My oldest daughter and my son-in-law do the same at a different church. All of us believe that the Bible is literally true.

In fact, my experience has been that there are millions of Christians who believe the Bible is literally true. For those who do not, I do wonder how you decide which parts to depend upon. Can you trust the part where if you call upon Jesus and believe with your heart you will be saved? Are you sure? How about the part where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? Or when Moses raised his staff and the Red Sea parted? The part where David slew Goliath with one well-slung stone? Where do you quit believing and start winking and nodding?

I believe the Bible is literally true. I believe God created the Universe and all within it. I believe Jesus came to earth to provide the answer to sin and suffering and the way to life with God in eternity. I believe the Bible. I find it to be incredibly rich in wisdom, historical information and especially a wonderful way to hear from God.

If you don't believe in a Creator God and that the Bible is true, well, I would say that you have "mythed the boat"!

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dan S. said:

Who had 'stronger' faith, Thomas, or the other apostles who weren't demanding such proof?

This is the issue - if that's what it is - that creationism (not necessarily other kinds of literalism) faces. Thomas' demands mark him as a skeptic, with the kind of mindset one needs for good science (along with many other things). But by creationism playing science, and insisting that it has real, concrete evidence that its most foundational stories are literal truth - well, what does that do to faith?

Some might say that there are simply different roads to faith, but the phrasing in John 20:29 might seem to suggest priority to faith without proof, while Hebrews 11:1 calls faith "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and many would support this view of faith instead, one that is something akin to trust.

Plus, by tying religious faith to a literal interpretation of worldly matters biological, geological, etc., it raises the prospect of seeing such things convincingly overturned, and then what? You've said that in that case, you'd have to re-address your understanding of what in the Bible is literal vs. allegorical, etc. - but I suspect many might, in the end, toss out the baby with the bathwater. (Whether there actually is a baby in the first place, or whether it's a different kind of baby - say, a kitten - is a different question, one that science can't address. And if you can bathe a kitten, I salute you!)

" a literal interpretation of the scriptures . . . has been the basis for most of the great men of the Christian faith down through the ages. "

But in terms of scientific questions, are these valid authorities? Many things have been believed or asserted by great men down through the ages, but does that makes them automatically right?

"Is the following a contradiction? (Proverbs 23:4 & 5):"

If it's not an example of the sort of useful contradiction so comon proverbs and folk wisdom, than I would guess that it hinges on differing meanings of "according to his folly." But I don't really know. Help me out?

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,"

But in and of itself, this is an assertion that the text, and the whole of the text, is correct because it itself says so. (Nor does "given by inspiration" necessarily and unambigously = 'scientifically correct, but that's a different matter.

"Using the Bible, which you claim is unreliable, in order to make your point?"

Well, besides using one's opponent's sources as a debate tactic, there's another issue here. Being an literally true source of scientific and historical events is one thing, and this is a claim that can be evaluated certain ways, these days. Being a source of moral/ ethical teaching is another thing, and has to be evaluated differently. I would think they are, to an extent, independent of each other, unless, say, Aesop's fable's are completely worthless, because animals don't really talk!

". No more than you will from reading Robinson Crusoe. "

Well, that certainly gives one a sense of how important it is to proofread very closely before publishing, lest your character strip naked, swim out to the sinking shipwreck, and stuff their pockets full of stuff . . .

"My "weak and uninspiring" faith has caused me to abandon a self-centered hedonistic lifestyle and devote a great deal of time and effort to help others."

Which is certainly all for the good. But does this fundamentally depend on God (since for you a given) making everything 'kid with clay rolling out little snakes and people' (or mad scientist in lab/ engineer in workshop)-style, or could he have used some other method?

" But you will not get much benefit from the Bible unless you take it for what it claims to be, the Word of God. "

Why? If I point, a dog would just look at my finger. But people can look where I'm pointing. Does a thing have to be the thing in and of itself, or can it represent or indicate it?

"In fact, my experience has been that there are millions of Christians who believe the Bible is literally true."
Yep.

"For those who do not, I do wonder how you decide which parts to depend upon."
I'd have to leave that for others who believe so, but yeah, life is hard and confusing. Yep. One way would be through, well, reason and evidence. For example, if archaeology and history could find no evidence for the Exodus as depicted in the Bible, given reasonable expectations on what could be found, and a reasonably through search, it would make sense to have some doubt as to whether this event was depicted in a historically accurate fashion (which doesn't alter other meanings it might have).

If multiple fields of study provide a vast and ever-growing body of evidence making it a reasonable assertion that the events described in Genesis do not seem to be an accurate scientific depiction of earth's history, then it makes sense to look for other explanations of these depictions.

No?

"I would say that you have "mythed the boat"!"

: X
oh, that's bad.
What pun-ishment . . .

-Dan S.

xiangtao said...

"And of course God has to be either lying or mistaken in that He inspired such words..."

So which was it when God inspired Joseph Smith to translate the inscriptions etched into the golden plates that were given to him by the angel Moroni?

Same for the teachings of the Doctrine and Covenants? How about polygamy? That was "inspired" by God too. Did he just OOPS that day?

Anyone can claim that their writings are inspired by a higher power but just saying it doesn't make it so.

Amy Proctor said...

I've always found the kind of faith you are expressing here on your blog to be the weakest, least inspiring kind."

The faith is deeper and more complex than anyone without childlike faith can comprehend. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it isn't. Mystery shouldn't be confused with rationalism. What mystery is there in being able to explain spiritual truth in historical context in the 21st Century? The mystery remains that thousands of years later, the same truth of God is preserved because truth is timeless. If you look at Islam, the obvious observation is that it is relatively base and primitive and hasn't risen out of the time in which it was conceived. The mystery of Christianity is that it has fully continued to adhere to truth and practice from its birth and transitioned without compromise or failure into modern culture. This is because the Law of God is not written in stone, but in the hearts of men who embrace Christ.

It's actually quite mysterious! While it appears elementary to believe in Holy Scripture literally, there isn't reason for the Christian not to, unless he succumbs to modern rationalism which has succeeded in watering down the faith and making it like salt trampled under foot (good for nothing, no power OR mystery). Then his only objective is to appear relevant. The problem is that many modern Christians are claiming that Jesus is simply a man of his time, so when he spoke of Moses, Jonah, Noah, Adam and Eve and the prophets, he was limited by his knowledge. This is NOT Christianity; the divinity of Christ cannot be separated from the man of Christ, and he knew full well everything scientific and historical. Modern theologians, for example, who diss the Bible and downplay its literalness, put Christ in this category. Follow their slug slime and you'll see a useless Gospel that sets no one free. Oh, they're great friends with the world, but in my experience it is those who BELIEVE WHAT JESUS BELIEVED who affect the world positively and have the most influence for good. Babes? Boobs? Weak and uninspiring? Only to the blind.

The Church is being infiltrated by "relativism". Pope Benedict authored a wonderful work based on his homilies and letters about relativism, modernism in the Church (I'll get the title and post a link to it). He also wrote "In the Beginning.." a Catholic understanding of the story of Creation and the fall" in which he SLAMS this modern relativism that forsakes God and scripture and embraces THOUGHT over truth.

It is an epidemic in the Church that rejects historical and literal interpretation of Scripture. Of course some is poetic and with other literary style, but what other faith rejects and scrutinizes it's own Holy Books? This is a plot, in my opinion, from Satan himself to make the Church impotent. If a few people outside the Church and even more within think being fairly literal is infantile, check their fruit: it is by far the "literalists" who have the most productive lives in Christ.

A Hermit said...

Ah, I think I touched a nerve here; let's go slowly...

I want to address this first:

"My "weak and uninspiring" faith has caused me to abandon a self-centered hedonistic lifestyle and devote a great deal of time and effort to help others..."

I want you to look carefully at what I said; I am not attacking you personally, and certainly not any member of your family. I am addressing the opinions you have expressed on this blog, in light of my own past experiences and spiritual growth.

Now, you can choose to take this all personally and get offended, but you'll be missing the point if you do that. I've no doubt that you and your family are fine people, and that you attribute that to your faith. But I don't know you, I'm not about to try to pass judgements on your personal life or your family (and I'll trust you to extend the same courtesy to me and mine.)

I can only deal with the opinions you express here on this blog; and what I am saying here is that in my own experience these opinions are representative of a faith that seeks the comfort of certainty where the possiblity of mystery (or the unkown, if you prefer) is too unsettling.

My own experience has been very different from yours, you see. In shedding my faith I feel I have grown as a man; I have become more compassionate, more forgiving, more tolerant, more patient, more confident in myself and therefore more of a help to others; I have certainly become happier and more content.

And all of this growth has been, for me, in direct proportion to the degree to which I have rejected literalism, and I have observed in my friends and relatives a similar phenomenon, for example, in the ability of my Grandfather, a Mennonite preacher, to not only tolerate (in the hypocritical "love the sinner, hate the sin" fashion) but to truly love and accept his homosexual son. His was not a literalist faith; it was a faith informed by a much wider experience; by an acceptance of the fact that he did not have all the answers, that Christ's esential message of compassion and forgiveness was more important than a literal, factual acceptance of every detail of the Bible story.

So please don't take this as an attack on your character, or on you personally; it is strictly an intellectual response to the ideas you have expressed here in writing, nothing more.

--------

Incidentally; I'm curious about something; on your blog you describe yourself as "an ex-humanist become Christian." But in this comment you say you practiced "a self-centered hedonistic lifestyle". To me this is a contradictory statement. In my humanist philosophy there is no room for hedonism or self centredness. Which Humanist thinkers did you consider as informing your ethical choices? Or do you just use "humanist" as a sort of catch-all pejorative for anyone not attached to a religious philosophy?

Sincerely

An Unapolgetic Hermit

A Hermit said...

"This is a plot, in my opinion, from Satan himself to make the Church impotent."

There's a plot alright, but it's not Satan, it's well funded right wing political activists seeking to turn houses of worship into agents of a political party.

Don't you think it's awfully insulting (and a little dangerous) to people whose faith is different from yours to describe them as slimy slugs and agents of Satan? It's one thing have a disagreement about scripture, but it's quite another to accuse others of being in league with the devil.

A good example, I think, of how a literalist approach leads one to an unnecessarily narrow point of view.

Slimily

A Sluggish Hermit

A Hermit said...

"So you want your truths to have mystery or they are of no value?"

No, but I'm willin to accept that mysteries exist, rather than inventing answers or forcing a literalist reading of a multiply translated ancient text into the gaps.

"Perhaps you should seek out a restaurant that has been closed down for unclean conditions a few times previously, since the possibility of ingesting e-coli would add to your dining experience."

This is a very odd thing to say. Not sure what your point is. Is this your way of telling me to f*** off and die? Or is it some wierd misunderstanding of my use of the term "mystery? Not sure how the clear evidence of unsanitary conditions in a restarurant applies to the fact that there is much in the universe we do not understand.

"I doubt if any faith has undergone more thorough examination, nor any book taken more intense scrutiny, than Christianity and the Bible, respectively."

Well, it's certainly been the centre of much discussion, debate, conflict and even opression and violence. Not all of it has been exactly objective, however.

In fact, even the idea of literalism and Biblical inerrancy itself is not uniform, but appears in a variety of forms. And many of the world's Christians reject strict literalism.

"Logical contortions are the friend of modern liberal bible criticism, trying to find ways to make the Bible less that what it is."

Actually, many theologians maintain that it is literalism that diminishes the Bible (See Tom Harpur [whom I think goes too far in some of his ideas abou tthe origins of Biblical tradition] or Bishop Spong for examples).

As for contradictions, here's a pertinent one for you:

Did God create the animals first , and then Man:


Genesis 1:25-27 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image.... So God created man in his own image.

Or vice versa?

Genesis 2:18-19 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Here's a good one; Does God ever lie?

1 Kings 22:23
Now, therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.

2 Chronicles 18:22
Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets.

Jeremiah 4:10
Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people.

Jeremiah 20:7
O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.

Ezekiel 14:9
And if a prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.

2 Thessalonians 2:11
For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.

Or not?

Numbers 23:19
God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent.

1 Samuel 15:29
The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent.

Titus 1:2
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.

Hebrews 6:18
It was impossible for God to lie.

That's just two examples...

--------

"I wonder how you determine which parts to believe and which parts to throw out."

Let's see if you can answer the same question; for example, I'm assuming that as a conservative Republican Christian you believe that homosexuality is a sin, based at least in part on Leviticus 18:22 "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

But do you eat shellfish? "11:10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you"

Why is the former still an abomination, but the latter is not? How do you decide?

Sincerely

A Hermeneutical Hermit

A Hermit said...

And on we go...


"Now, here is an interesting thing. Using the Bible, which you claim is unreliable, in order to make your point?"

Did you read my comment? You seem to have missed this part: "Myths can contain many truths, and are not to be sniffed at for being symbolically, rather than literally, true. I no longer believe in the literal magic of the Bible, but I still find inspiriation of much of what it has to say, especially the teachings of Jesus."

A rejection of literalism and magical thinking is not a rejection of all that the Bible teaches. I should of thought that was obvious.

"Do you really understand what this verse means?"

I know how I understand it; I know how my Grandfather understood it; I'm not sure I know how you understand it...

"It was not spoken by Jesus, but rather written by Paul as inspired by the Holy Spirit."

Here's a question: How do you know Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit? Because he says so? Why believe him and not, for example Sun Myung Moon? Does anyone who claims to speak for God have to be taken at face value?

Weren't you the one who was just berating me for being too willing to accept the opinions of "experts" instead of thinking for myself? How is your acceptance of Paul's claims of divine inspiration any better?

"Note that in the end when childish things are put away one is left with faith, hope and love. So faith is not a childish thing."

Never said it was; but a faith that relies on literalism and blind acceptance of authority looks rather childish to me, as does the kind of faith that dismisses other opinions or interpretations of scripture "slug slime" or the work of Satan. That kind of smug, self righteous faith is entirely at odds with the humble, loving, open minded faith that I admired so much in my Grandfather and in his daughter, my mother.

It's interesting that Paul concludes that the "greatest of these is love". I don't know that Paul was divinely inspired, but in this instance I think was certainly perceptive. Isn't it love that matters most? Shouldn't a compassionate attitude to one's neighbours be more important than whether or not Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead or Moses literally raised his staff and the Red Sea actually parted or David really slew Goliath with one well-slung stone?

I'll refer you again to Amy Proctor's comment above; where an attachment to literalism can lead her to view her fellow Christians as "slimy slugs" and agents of a Satanic plot.

Is that love, Radar? Is that a mature faith, or a childish faith?

Sincerely

A Hermit

A Hermit said...

"it is by far the "literalists" who have the most productive lives in Christ."

What makes you believe this is so, Amy? It has been my experience that the opposite is the case; that those who are less concerned with dogmatic
adherence to the literal verity of the BIble and more open to the allegorical message of compassion tend to be a lot more helpful to others. (Again, the examples of my parents and particularly my Grandfather loom large for me here.) I persoanlly feel I have become a much better person since I faced the fact that I no longer believed.

Do you have some evidence to back up your claim? Can you show me where literalists have been more "productive" than those who take an allegorical or literary approach?

radar said...

A Hermit,

Thanks for such a rich dialogue! I am by no means telling you to **** off, I am indeed loving a good two-sided conversation. Alas, my network provider is working on new access in the area and I cannot try to make a long post today. If I can get on again tonight I will do a short Uniformitarian post. But this post has begun a couple of terrific discussions I don't want to miss!

If anything, Hermit, what you wrote didn't hurt or offend me, it just got me "jacked up" to talk about it.

So to everyone, when Comcast quits messing around with my access I will say much more about all of this. If I can I will do a short Uniformitarian (point 4) this evening. I have just a few minutes of access when it comes on so I am taking advantage right now. Grins!

radar said...

A Hermit, I have not forgotten you. I intend to post on your comments on Thursday or Friday.

Mark K. Sprengel said...

It is a false dichotomy to insist that the entire Bible be either 100% literal or 100% figurative. Not even the most literalist view withing fundamentalism that I grew up in, thinks that there is no figurative use of language in the Bible.

The scriptures contain many literary devices, including hyperbole, metaphor compare/contrast motives, but also historical data and biography.

Regarding the Genesis creation account, Christians have different views. But we agree on what is essential to salvation, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose again.

Whichever side we fall on, regarding other issues, we should remain humble. I suspect, that when we finally see face to face and no longer through a glass darkly, we will all get a laugh out of where each one of us had something wrong :-)

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