An Eye For An Eye Makes the Bible Blind

2016-05-15_11-08-13.pngHaving dipped into theology for a ten year period I learned that some have been studying the Bible for centuries and have a name for almost every concept that it might contain. The ‘flat Bible’ is a new one for me but the concept is one I most adamantly disagree with.  Putting every word in the Bible as being of equal importance make absolutely no sense to me. Here is a little about that from my friend at Red Letter Christians.

Only a ‘flat Bible’ perspective can justify living in such a blind way. Instead we must recognize that the ‘red letters’ of Jesus—especially in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’—call us to another path. A path our fear-mongering politicians hope we’ll ignore. A path that calls us to embrace radical grace and love and forgiveness. A path that remains much harder to follow than merely swinging for someone’s eye.

SOURCE:  An Eye For An Eye Makes the Bible Blind – Red Letter Christians

I know my Baptist friends for the most part view their Bibles as flat. I’m sure there are many others.  To me the Bible refutes itself in so many instances to make the idea of all the words have equal important simply ridiculous.

It is easy to realize that the  “an eye for an eye” concept on the Old Testament bible is responsible for much, if not almost all, violence in the world today.  The Israelis and the Palestinians are killing each other everyday based on that belief. Religious extremism, at least the ISIS version follows the same logic.

I have studied enough theology to understand that the Bible is a very difficult document to get a high level view of.  Too many latch on to one or two sentences in it and then ignorantly go on to treat the rest of it as if it totally condoned their tunnel vision.

In The Beginning…. And Then…

2016-03-20_11-22-18.pngIn the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created the birds of the air and the fish of the sea and the beasts of the land.  And then he created man,  and it was down hill from there on out….

Forgive me that this is not an exact quote from any bible but for the purpose of this post you get the idea where I am going.

The very first family that God made ended up with a murderer. One brother killing another. That wasn’t a very good start to humanity. It seems that the seven deadly sins were created at the very beginning.

A few generations down the line God threw up his hands and decided to start over again. Not with everything, just with people. He was determined to get it right this time but it is obvious he didn’t make much of an improvement the second time around either. I know all the theologians can give thousands of reasons for it that don’t challenge the idea of God’s perfection. They have honed that skill through a couple of millennia. If you work on something long enough you will eventually cam come up with enough excuses to rationalize almost anything you want.  I’m talking about the theologians here not God.

It kind of make me wander, if things were so perfect  before man came along and he is made in the image of God just what kind of shape is God himself in? Now before any of you start flaming me I am saying this in 90% jest. And then there is the other 10%..  😉

To keep things in perspective I take the bible as a collection of stories about man’s relationship with God. The absolute truth thing came much later by human theologians. That keeps me from having to make up excuses for God and how his creation turned out.  I kind of think that God did get all this started in some fashion but then he left it up to us to carry on from there.

Another aspect of the bible being stories is that it is kind of like “Downton Abbey” which was such a hit on  PBS recently.  It was about British Aristocracy and the distinct divide between the ruling class and everyone else.  The story line was fascinating but anyone who know much about it realizes that it showed almost exclusively the fairy tale side of British life in those years.   The bible is kind of like that, it tells the good side for the most part but eventually some of the bad stuff shows up to confuse things.

The Bible is certainly an interesting book to try to read…

 

Evolving Faith…

I think for too long we’ve made Jesus just one character or episode in the Bible. If we want to see God, we look to Jesus. In Hebrews 1:3, the writer says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. So I think that if we could recapture that centrality of Christ in our churches through our teaching, our worship, our way of life, well then, what would change? …  We aren’t bringing Jesus into our lives: he’s welcoming us into his life. Years later, I still feel like the only place that makes sense is in his presence, the only place I want to be is in the dust of his feet….

Rather, I was more telling stories of the places where I have evolved and changed because I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to do that. I do have areas where I can’t imagine changing but I hold even those loosely now. My catalogue of Right Answers has grown smaller over the years, for sure, and I see God as much more wild and wonderful and generous than I could have ever imagined years ago.

Source:  Evolving Faith: An Interview with Sarah Bessey – Red Letter Christians.

I very much mirror almost everything mentioned in the above quote from my friends over at Red Letter Christians.  For me it is all about Jesus and his words. Everything else in the Christian Bible is very secondary if even that important. I evolved into this attitude over time to where it has become the cornerstone of my spiritual life.

I don’t particularly like the phrase “What would Jesus do?” Instead I live by the idea of what would Jesus have ME do? I can’t possibly imitate Jesus in most matters in life but I can take what he teaches me in both my heart and my actions.

I remember in 2008 when I started my now archive blog at RedLetterLiving I got a comment from a fairly high authority in the Lutheran church organization I belonged to at the time that totally confused me.  I admit that I didn’t really read much of my church’s writing so I didn’t realize the extent of my differences with them.

Getting back to the 2008 comment, the person asked me why I was concentrating on the words of Jesus!  He said all the words of the Bible are equally important! So, to him the words about not eating meat from animals with cloven hooves was just as important as Jesus’ messages of loving each other!  I was shocked by his comments but eventually discovered  that is pretty much the attitude of the clergy in the Lutheran church I belonged. To me they just seem to be  more of a “club” type association (they call it fellowship)  who focus on adoration of their Bible rather than focusing like a laser beam on the person of Jesus.

Needless to say these revelations started me down the road asking too many questions and  correspondingly being expelled from my congregation; in the end that was probably a good thing…. it allowed my faith to evolve to the next level.

2015-12-30_10-09-20.pngIf anyone is interesting in going deeper with this topic of evolving faith I would highly recommend the book shown here by Philip Gulley. Despite what some say, it is a normal process for our beliefs in God evolve as we mature. If they don’t then we are not growing in Christ as we should. Don’t get stuck in one static place just because someone tells you they have all the answers.  Question everything even your spirituality. I think God expects us to do just that…. and He is certainly up to the questions.

 

 

How Well Do You Know Religion?

2016-01-01_10-21-27.pngIn fact, religion is invariably a tangle of contradictory teachings — in the Bible, the difference between the harshness of Deuteronomy and the warmth of Isaiah or Luke is striking — and it’s always easy to perceive something threatening in another tradition. Yet analysts who have tallied the number of violent or cruel passages in the Quran and the Bible count more than twice as many in the Bible.

There’s a profound human tendency, rooted in evolutionary biology, to “otherize” people who don’t belong to our race, our ethnic group, our religion. That’s particularly true when we’re scared. It’s difficult to conceive now that a 1944 poll found that 13 percent of Americans favored “killing all Japanese,” and that the head of a United States government commission in 1945 urged “the extermination of the Japanese in toto.”

It’s true that terrorism in the 21st century is disproportionately rooted in the Islamic world. And it’s legitimate to criticize the violence, mistreatment of women or oppression of religious minorities that some Muslims justify by citing passages in the Quran. But let’s not stereotype 1.6 billion Muslims because of their faith. What counts most is not the content of holy books, but the content of our hearts.

Source:   How Well Do You Know Religion? – The New York Times.

The main reason I am posting about this article is the quiz that you can take to see just how much you know about religious documents. It was personally very enlightening to see the answers. Click on the source above to take the quiz.

I got 11 of the 14 questions correct because I have spent quite a bit of time studying this topic. Some of the ones I got wrong were mainly because I didn’t know the particular chapter or verse relating to the question. I admittedly am not a “bible thumper”.

The point of all of this is to say that most of our holy documents are strewn with violence no matter your religion. Taking these writings literally is where the major fault lies. If we view them for the history lessons they contain they are very informative. If we treat them as literal truth they can be very damaging…

The History Of Christianity???

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This is the last of a six-part series from about a year ago about the importance of the Bible in my spiritual life. After a ten-year study I finally understand what millions of other have discovered before me…. It’s about Jesus, not the Bible…

What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 6)

This is the final post on my series about the Bible. It has been an enlightening time for me. This final post is about the history of Christianity and how it seems to stop with the establishment of the biblical text. But before I get into that I must mention that I have found that to really understand the Gospel text you must also understand the basic history of that region of the world during that period of time. To do that means seeking out historical records  of the Roman Empire particularly in the Middle East.

There is virtually nothing about the person of Jesus found outside the gospel accounts. He just didn’t show up on the Roman radar screen.  Historical text shows that there were many different people who took on the mantel of “son of God” during those years. Several names were found in Roman text with that claim but Jesus of Nazareth was not one of them.

To understand the part the Roman authorities played in the Crucifixion  you must realize that Pontius Pilate routinely condemned Jews to death for a myriad of reasons.  He had little regard for that population. You must also understand that the religious leaders of the times were very much in bed with Roman authorities. These sort of historical accounts help us to understand the gospel stories.

The Bible contains almost all of the accounted history of the early Christian church. As such it is a very powerful document.  Shamefully any counter views of being a Christian  were systematically destroyed when the Biblical version was adopted. As a result we don’t have the pieces necessary to see any different views or to maybe fill in some of the holes in the gospel accounts.

One of my biggest disappointments is that we haven’t put as much enthusiasm in to documenting Christian history since 300AD. Why haven’t we documented how well we are doing in living the messages of Jesus? Progress means monitoring where we are and focusing on where we are going. If as much enthusiasm were put into this task as is it in our reverence to the Bible  think how much better the world would be today.

To know where the church stands today is to know how we got here. I think part of the problem with this is that Christianity has a very messy history since the Bible’s invention.  We started out as a small group of followers of Jesus’ words and commands to being a State mandated religion that gain immense power in the world.  We regularly killed those who might disagree with the established dogma of the times. The Inquisition was a sorry time in church history but it was not the only time.

In order to know where we are we must know where we came from. If the theologians of the church had spent as much energy helping us know how we are doing as they did trying to parse out a  particular text in the Gospel to show us their version of God we would be a stronger and more diligent followers of Jesus. Sadly that has simply not been the case.

Most versions of the church today have a very pre-defined dogma and particularly beliefs that they demand  compliance if you want to be part of their group. The trouble is much of that dogma simply has never been justified by the words of Jesus.

How Did The Bible Get So Filled….

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This is the third of a six-part series from about a year ago about the importance of the Bible in my spiritual life. After a ten-year study I finally understand what millions of other have discovered before me…. It’s about Jesus, not the Bible…

How Did The Bible Get So Filled…

How did the Bible get so filled with things that have nothing to do with the messages of Jesus? That is one of many questions I have pondered over the last decade.  I want to study more about King Constantine and how the Bible was put together under his watchful eye.2014-02-13_11-37-06 Here is the crux of what I know now.

Constantine was a king during the age where the Roman empire’s power was dwindling. He was losing his grip over his kingdom. Some say that is why he grabbed on to the idea of making Christianity a mandated state religion. I know he was not baptized until soon before his death so that puts his sincerity at question. Was he just covering his bases? There is very little historical text now available that pre-dates the first compiled Bible so we really can’t be sure just what is not in Constantine’s Bible or what was added. These types of questions need to be understood in order to put the Bible in its proper sphere of influence. Was it written by God or redacted to meet the needs of the most powerful world government of the time?

2014-02-13_11-39-37I personally take the Jeffersonian stand of Christianity to at least one degree or another. That is Thomas Jefferson’s belief that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and made it complicated. I’m sure he was well-meaning but given his background it was inevitable that he would add rule after rule on being a Christian.  After all he was educated and trained by the Pharisees of his time and if nothing else they were absolutely about rules. Upon serious reading of Paul’s many letter it is surprising how little his teaching overlap with any of Jesus’ word or messages.  In fact he seemed to know very little about Jesus other than his brief personal experience on the road to Damascus.

We know that the documents, particularly the gospel accounts, that eventually made up the first Bible were generally not written until at least forty years after the events took place.  Before that all the biblical stories were likely passed down as was very typical of the time via an oral tradition.  We also know that except for Paul, who was not one of those who sat at Jesus’ feet,  most of the other leaders of the early church were very likely illiterate.  This necessitated that someone else would take their stories and put them into literary form.  For the most part we still don’t know who those scribes or the authors actually were. Under these types of conditions it is very likely that myths and fables were included in the written text.  Thomas Jefferson believed that is how most of the miracles of Jesus were established. It was just overzealous people adding a little bit to enhance a point. Those who study other historical sources know this is a very common thing of human nature.  George Washington was almost a god in early America and many myths were generated  and recorded about him. The most familiar is probably about chopping down a cherry tree.

In closing I am not saying that the Bible is without value simply because human foibles are contained in its text but it is important to understand that possibility when trying to put this document into the proper perspective in today’s church.  The messages of Jesus that are contained within these various writings, even though they were very likely tarnished by human actions,  are what is paramount to our following Jesus.  The Bible itself is just a means to convey those inherent messages.

I Read The Bible And Everything Became….

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This is the second of a six-part series from a year ago about the importance of the Bible in my spiritual life. After a ten-year study I finally understand what millions of other have discovered before me…. It’s all about Jesus, not the Bible…

Red Letter Living

FuzzyWhat About The Bible… ? (Chapter 2)

I know that from all the rhetoric about this topic you are expecting the next word in the title to be “Clear” but actually for me it is “Fuzzy”. I don’t know how many times in my life I have heard the phrase “just study the bible for the answer to your problems. When a child dies from a fall in the bathtub the Christian answer to our total devastation is to “read the Bible”. It is as if we can just randomly open a page and then the tragedy in our life becomes clear.

Lets face it the Bible is simply not the homogeneous document that many want you to believe. When we realize that it is a collection of documents by for the most part unknown authors, who were recording events as they saw them or a story told to them. …

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The Thing Is…..

I am bringing over a series of posts for my Sunday entries from my now inactive blog over at RedLetterLiving. This six-part series from about a year ago was what I discovered about the Bible after ten strenuous years of study. I want to say up front so there is no misunderstanding that no, I did not get any personal revelations from God on this topic other than his possible guidance through my study. After ten years I finally understand what millions of other have realized before me…. It’s about Jesus, not the Bible…

Red Letter Living

CB064037What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 1)

I have been spending quite a bit of time lately thinking about the Bible and my experiences with it over the last decade or so. Around 2003 I decided to take up a serious study of theology and in particularly those around the words of Jesus. I naively thought I could get some clear directions for my spiritual life if I just understood why the Bible seems to mean so many different things to so many people. What I have discovered over this period of time awakened me. I did not get the concrete answers I was looking for but I did glean some surprising discoveries.

So, for the next several  weeks I will be spending Mondays {Sundays on the re-blog} on posts about that journey into the Bible. I have always been a little hesitant to voice my discoveries because if they…

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The Decrees of Constantine…

I am pulling up another past post form Red Letter Living that I wrote almost three years ago. At that time in my spiritual journey I was trying to decide where church doctrine and its creeds belonged in my faith. Needless to say this book by Harvey Cox did a lot to show me a different path on this topic and many others. When I came to realize just how much man had a hand in formalizing current Christian doctrine it convinced me that Christianity is an ever evolving process and is not to be paralyzed by some of the now outdated fourth and fifth century man-made worldviews.

I am going to start this post with an alarming story of Constantine’s involvement in the Council of Nicaea. It is from a book by Harvey Cox entitle The Future of Faith.   If this doesn’t cast out any doubt of man’s involvement in the change from faith to rigid belief nothing will:

2015-02-22_10-55-08Constantine, not Jesus, was the dominant figure at Nicaea, and it is hardly surprising that almost all the bishops, to the emperor’s satisfaction, arrived at a nearly unanimous decision in his favor. Only Arius himself and three other stubbornly independent bishops withheld their approval. Constantine promptly exiled Arius to the remote province of Illyricum. Then, in a statement that suggests he had forgotten his previous view both that this was all a matter of small significance and that all the parties should show forbearance to one another, he decreed: If any treatise composed by Arius be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames…and if anyone shall be caught concealing a book by Arius, and does not instantly bring it out and burn it, the penalty shall be death; the criminal shall suffer punishment immediately after conviction.

But the emperor’s draconian measures did not succeed. The historic Council of Nicaea, as an effort to unify the church and the empire by imposing a creed, proved a dismal failure. Within months arguments flared up again. One of the bishops who had attended the Nicaea council and had not supported the final decision, Hilary of Poitiers (d. ca. 367), found himself banished to Asia. No doubt his experience tinctured his opinion of councils and creeds, but a letter he wrote from his place of exile at the time pinpoints how little the Council of Nicaea had accomplished and what a debacle it had been. Hilary says: It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous that there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines because we make creeds arbitrarily and explain their inclinations…arbitrarily…every year, nay every moon we make a new creed and describe invisible mysteries. We repent what we have done. We defend those who repent. We anathematize those whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we have been the cause of each other’s ruin.

Arius definitely caught the ire of Constantine and his brutality. Not only did he banish this noble bishop who dared to disagree with him on church matters he made even having anything written by Arius a penalty of death!! Sadly these types of stories are somewhat frequent in the years following Constantine’s mandating Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

We will be studying some more about this period in future posts but for now it is important that you realize that Christianity’s history is messy indeed. I am not saying that there are no good parts to what became the Church of Jesus Christ but only that we must be aware that much of the simple teachings of Jesus were later polluted by men seeking to consolidate personal power in earthly focused empires. Power corrupts, even inside the Christian church!