Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Bible has voices in its head.

I find it much easier to read the Bible when realizing that not all of it is going to agree. If I have to read it with the belief that it's inerrant, then it ends up looking incredibly schizophrenic to me.

For example, forms of Christianity teach that we are all depraved, cannot please God without Jesus, have no righteousness of our own, God hates us (unless Jesus intercedes), the Law is only meant to show how sinful one is, following the Law leads to death and self-righteousness and so forth.

Then I read a few Psalms:

Thou hast tested my heart and watched me all night long; thou hast assayed me and found in me no mind to evil. I will not speak of the deeds of men; I have taken good note of all thy sayings. I have not strayed thy path and never stumbled.

Psalms 17: 3-5

The Lord rewarded me as my righteousness deserved; my hands were clean, and he requited me. For I have followed the ways of the Lord and have not turned wickedly from my God; all his laws are before my eyes, I have not failed to follow his decrees. In his sight I was blameless and kept myself from willful sin; the Lord requited me as my righteousness deserved and the purity of my life in his eyes

Psalms 18: 20-24

The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul. The Lord's instruction never fails, and makes the simple wise. The precepts of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart. The commandment of the Lord shines clear and gives light to the eyes.

Psalms 19: 7-9

These are just a few examples. In other Psalms, we have the writer pleading with God to establish justice, for the writer's cause is innocent. Or stating that God will help the poor, the oppressed, the widows, and the orphans. And it's stated in such a way as though they deserve to be rescued by God -- aka, they don't deserve their current state of poverty or oppression.

And, yes, there are many Psalms where the writer is lamenting on his state of sin, and praying that God have mercy on him. But my question would then be if those Psalms are taken at literal face-value, to support a claim in man's sin-state, that has no goodness ... why can't the other Psalms also be taken at face-value, in terms of the writer stating that he's innocent, or he follows the law completely? What methods are there that would cause someone to take one literally, and the other figuratively?

Can we truly say that the Psalmist would agree that all people are wholly depraved, deserve nothing but eternal torment, lack any element that would please God, completely fail to follow a Law?

17 comments:

Reuben said...

Much agreed.

Having long ago abandoned an inerrant Bible, I now recognize that obvious and massive theoretical apparatus by which I once read said book, whose existence was subtle unto invisibility. But I find that I no longer have hardly any desire left in me to even turn to the book anew as literature, so morbid and thorough was my previous obsession. I suspect that many, having seen through the inerrant lie, experience a similar Bible burnout.

And I too find it strange that many Christians will reinforce or even base such doctrines as total depravity or original sin with or upon snippets from the Psalms. Besides clearly being poems whose emotional and imaginative expressions are not fit for systematic instruction, there are these outstanding examples of contradiction. Of course, no contradiction exists for one who can appreciate them as the naturally inspired musings of mundane ancients.

What vaguely annoys me is how many Christians will rebound from such observations by demonstrating through some ad hoc process of reasoning that any contradictions are merely apparent, and by means of the correct apparatus, one will again see the great biblical unity. Such a unity of course exists only in the head of someone from a different mental universe, and all the books designed to harmonize the diversity of biblical voices convince only those who already live in said universe.

Temaskian said...

"But I find that I no longer have hardly any desire left in me to even turn to the book anew as literature, so morbid and thorough was my previous obsession. I suspect that many, having seen through the inerrant lie, experience a similar Bible burnout."

I think I feel much the same way. I kept telling myself that one day I would read the bible anew as an atheist, but I never got around to doing it. It just disgusts me somehow now, knowing that I once treated the words from this book as sacred.

K. Paris said...

What methods are there that would cause someone to take one literally, and the other figuratively?

That, imo, is one of the most important questions that a Christian should ask. Many don't do so, though.

It's certainly left me in a spiritual pickle. :-D

Bruce the Agnostic said...

Virtually every Christian sect follows the Calvinistic form of depravity to some form or another. Some wash it away in baptism, while others require some profession of faith.

Yet, it seems depravity never really goes away. According to some, before being saved we "had" to sin. After being saved we "choose" to sin.

Personally, I reject all of it. All people should be judged on what they do and don't do. If I want to be known as a good person then I must do good things.

It seems Christianity promotes a lifestyle of "I am still a bad person but in Jesus's eyes I am ok" It should come as no surprise that some Christians are mentally tormented over the sin issue. Jesus saved them.........and yet they still sin.

Some of this mental torment comes from trying to literally apply the Bible to daily living. (along with what PREACHERS say the Bible says) Christianity then becomes a religion of rule keeping. This seems antithetical to the grace they say they believe in.

Bruce

OneSmallStep said...

Reuban,

**But I find that I no longer have hardly any desire left in me to even turn to the book anew as literature, so morbid and thorough was my previous obsession.**

I never found the book inerrant, so I haven't come across this difficulty. What I do find difficult, though, is matching up the rhetoric with the actual book. I see how Christians often praise the Bible as having all the answers, providing the best moral groundwork, giving you a great path through live, describing this awesome, wonderful, loving, just God ... and then when I read the book, it comes across exactly as I would expect for a book written in the time it was. A lot of times, God just seems to be throwing a temper tantrum.

**And I too find it strange that many Christians will reinforce or even base such doctrines as total depravity or original sin with or upon snippets from the Psalms.**
It's almost like they're cafeteria Christians! ;)

**Such a unity of course exists only in the head of someone from a different mental universe, and all the books designed to harmonize the diversity of biblical voices convince only those who already live in said universe.**

Yes. And maybe this even works against the Christian argument -- if people who weren't Christians decided so based on hating God, or wanting to do whatever s/he wants, then shouldn't we find lots of non-Christians agreeing that the Bible is perfectly harmonized, and yet still don't want to follow it? Rather than people who say that there are contradictions?

OneSmallStep said...

Temaskian,

I don't know if this helps, but I find the Bible a fascinating read, when not treated as inerrant. On the other hand, I never treated it as a sacred book, either, so I don't have as much baggage associated with it.

OneSmallStep said...

K. Paris,

I always thought it would be a fascinating experiment if we took a group of people, had them grow up without ever knowing about Christianity, hand them the Bible, and then see how close their conclusions would be to orthodox doctrine.

I feel that the group wouldn't come anywhere close, just because of how much the doctrine is learned from a church or Christian family member. If you are raised with the belief that atonement theory A is why Jesus died, then it's no surprise when you read that in the Bible. If you are raised that we're all wretched sinners, then it's no surprise when you take this part of Psalms literally, but the other part figuratively.

OneSmallStep said...

Bruce,

**After being saved we "choose" to sin.**

And this just baffles me -- if I'm born imperfect, if I lack the ability to be a perfect person, how on Earth can I "choose" to do something imperfect, aka, sin? I was born unable to sin.

**All people should be judged on what they do and don't do. **
DagoodS made an excellent point on one of my earlier blog posts -- this idea of being judged on one's sinful state almost makes it impossible to have moral growth in Christianity. We often applaud people for rising above their instincts -- they want to steal that shirt, but they decide against it because theft is wrong, or they want to be a good person, or so forth. That shows moral growth.

Yet in Christianity, wanting to steal that shirt is the same as stealing it in the first place. Both are sins in God's eyes, and God treats all sins equally -- they all get the same punishment. Where's the moral growth there?

Sarge said...

I have a difficult time with some people who are determined to "Win Me For Christ".

They always have their bible and try to "Convict" me "Of Sin". Psalms, The Fall. The Gospels.

Strange how they get so pickie-choosie over some things. If the Genesis accounts were anything remotely like reality, you'd have to conclude that "The Fall" was a set up and a frame-up from the start. They don't like to hear that. It's SIN.

But I heard a person fulminate once about the inerrencey of his 'holy' book, in that the bible meant what he meant. He quickly tried to cover, but the Freudian slip had been made.

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

Only some? ;)

Sarge said...

OSS, with me it has to do with manners and acculturation. I don't smoke or drink for my own reasons, couldn't care less if the next guy has a beer or glass of wine or smokes. At least at one time it was the cultural norm to offer to share with someone if you were indulging your vice (I did, in fact, smoke)and a "Thanks, I don't" was all that was needed to decline participation.

From my upbringing, I know that there is a cultural imperative to share "The Good News" among the twice-born, so I decline with a polite "no thanks". If it goes no further than that, hey, no problem.
They're just doing what they've been taught, in some cases being courteous.

It's when the bible gets trotted out and selected verses telling me that I'm a sinner and MUST suffer for the high crime of having been born a human that the hostility index starts to rise and my hackles go up.

Have you ever noticed that the people who seem to believe and quote it most are the most ignorant about it?

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

I'm at the point right now where my hackles go up even if they are polite about it -- because as soon as someone starts sharing the Good News with me, it says a lot about their perception and judgement of me. They believe they understand how I've experienced God, they're seeing me as deserving a certain fate, and it's like fire ants on my skin.

**Have you ever noticed that the people who seem to believe and quote it most are the most ignorant about it?**

Not only of the Bible, but of Christian theology and Christian history.

Sarge said...

Damn! Fire ants, yet! You REALLY don't like it!

From my experience their judgement comes from a certain mind set, not knowledge, and I find that indifference fries their posterior parts worse than any confrontational contact. (Also, from the 'fire ants' reference, I'd say you were in the south. I remember them well from my days in Alabama)

I am quite lucky in my acquaintances and circle of friends. I hated and dispised school, and execrated and loathed church and all religion from my younger days. One of the reenactment groups I am a memeber of has six teachers and three clergypersons, two with churches. That I would willingly associate with such people, let alone have them as friends and that we would enjoy each other's company is surprising, but it's to do with respect, I'm guessing.

Plus, I know as much about the bible and probably more about religion than do the religious.

You've probably heard the "Yes, but..." as often, maybe more so than me, and when they use it to respond to a challenge or rejection of a religios "point" they've really conceeded, haven't they?

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

I'm from the Midwest, actually. I just have a really healthy respect for fire ants. Those things can *move.*

I also have close friends who are evangelicals. The only way I'm able to handle it is to not talk about religion, and make sure it's not brought up. The times it has been have simply been frustrating for me. I usually get blank looks in response to my points, and often feel as though I'm not debating with faith itself, but almost historical conditioning.

atimetorend said...

I suspect that many, having seen through the inerrant lie, experience a similar Bible burnout.

I've gotten there too, didn't think I would. I am enjoying reading about the bible more then ever, but drifting away from reading the bible itself so much. Needing to find myself more and more space away from the dogma, as much as I can, and am more and more at a loss to deal with people who refuse to consider the bible for what it is.

the chaplain said...

I no longer have hardly any desire left in me to even turn to the book anew as literature...

I've experienced that too. I never believed the Bible was inerrant, but I did believe it was infallible - there may have been minor copy errors, etc., but the basic message was intact (yeah, call me gullible). That belief eventually faded to inspired but imperfect. Now, having spent so much of my life having the Bible pounded into me, and then pounding it into others, I could care less about reading it again.

The only time I refer to it now is to check out something a blogger has said. This is entertaining if one is reading a Christian blog. They seem to be fond of picking translations and paraphrases that reinforce their points, using only the part of a verse or sentence that seems to reinforce their points, etc. Talk about cafeteria usage!

Anders said...

I want to comment reg. “inerrant Bible”

 

First some important information: A analysis (found here: www.netzarim.co.il (that is the only legitimate Netzarim)) of all extant source documents and archaeology using a rational and logical methodology analyzing the “gospel of Matthew” proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

Regarding “NT”:

“Even according to the most authoritative Christian scholars, e.g., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, acknowledges:

"A study of 150 Greek MSS of the Gospel of Luke has revealed more than 30,000 different readings… It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform… But there are many thousands which have a definite effect upon the meaning of the text. It is true that not one of these variant readings affects the substance of Christian dogma" ("Text, NT," 2nd edition (Abingdon, 1962).

Of course Christians redacting the Jewish texts made Christian redactions to make the Jewish texts compatible with "the substance of Christian dogma." Duh.” [Quote from the previous mentioned Netzarim-website.]

Clearly the “NT” is not inerrant.

The Nәtzâr•im′ never changed their mind about it, maintaining that only the Jewish Ta•na"kh′ is Scripture and only their own TheNәtzâr•im′ Hebrew Ma•tit•yâh′u (NHM) was a legitimate account of the life and teachings of Rib′i Yәho•shu′a.

The Nәtzâr•im′ haven't changed from this position, and won't change from this position.

Anders Branderud