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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Exclusive Salvation

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:6-7.

Let me paper over the distinctions between the various notions Salvation, and allow me to take for granted that coming to the Father equals Salvation. Conceding that, what does this scripture mean in a multicultural world? Does it mean that non-Christians are denied Salvation? I think so. But I'm not sure if I have a problem with that interpretation.

Can one achieve enlightenment through studying Jesus? I can't imagine that they could. Can one live a Kosher or Halal life by meditating on a koan? Can reading the Quran lead to Hindu detachment?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Project Complete - Final Thoughts

Just some random musings before I leave this.

I think the One Year Bible is a good tool. NIV is a conservative translation, and I did have issues with choices the editors made, which means I probably would have had issues with other choices if I had noticed them. But most editorial choices are not ideologically driven, and it is readable. The format is the big advantage. It is good to be able to keep track of your progress. More importantly, there is variety particularly when you are slogging through tedious portions.

Four months was too fast. It is not that the volume of reading was so bad. The problem is that there would often been four or five things I wanted to think about more deeply but didn't have time to do that in one day. Also, it would have been good to explore context a bit more.

Taking time to reflect on what I had just read was invaluable. I am really glad I decided to blog about it. I would recommend others to either do the same, or to keep a personal journal or whatever.

Okay, so I am 40 years old. I completed my little mini-reading program. I am ready to tackle the ten year reading program for the Great Books and hopefully take some serious steps this to get healthier. It is like a new decade's resolution.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Project Complete - Why It Matters

It helps no one, including oneself, to ignore inconvenient facts. That's true whether one is analyzing a client's case or evaluating a New Year's resolution's chance of success. Accordingly, I started with the last two posts. Despite these concerns, the Bible remains important, even precious to me.

It is a great work of Western Civilization. In January, I'm going to start reading the Great Books of Western Civilization. There are reasons to read these books, even if modern works or non-western works are "better," and those reasons apply to the Bible. They provide reference points for other works. Themes developed there have found their way into the fabric of our culture. See, e.g., I'm not my brothers keeper, I wash my hands of it, the writing is on the wall.

It is a source of authority to for roughly two billion people. A part of what I want to do as a Christian is to motivate others and to advocate for justice. The Bible provides a common language that might otherwise be unavailable to me. It also provides certain starting points. For example, even Bill O'Reilly recently conceded that no reasonable person could deny the need to help those who can't help themselves.

It provides a connection to my spiritual predecessors. To be sure, the religion I practice is distinct from that practiced by the semitic people inhabiting a region just north of Egypt on the Mediterranean 3000 years ago. Nonetheless, my faith has evolved from theirs. And, while reading a scholarly work can provide intellectual context, the Bible provides a more human context. It is one thing to know that spiritual purity was important to the Hebrews, it is another to read hundreds of rules dealing with the topic. It is the difference between reading someone's obituary and reading someone's journal.

Parts of it are intellectually stimulating. I have had marvelous discussions focused on good and evil as presented in the story of Deborah. My dad has several books devoted to issues raised in Job. And there is plenty of other grist for the mental mill.

Parts of it are moving. This is where I get back some of the stuff that I have had to admit is not squarely located within the text. Reading of Jesus' treatment of the outcast speaks to me in a way that motivates me to strive for equality. It inspires me to fight for justice for those society condemns. Another reader will find within the Scripture a celebration of life as the ultimate gift from God and be moved to fight for maintaining it always and particularly at the extremes. And that's okay with me. It is okay that the Bible inspires us both, but differently. It is still a source of inspiration for me.

Project Complete - What's There I Wish Wasn't

The title of this post is a problem for many, and I recognize that. For good or ill, it is how I feel. There are some things in the Bible that I wish were not. Elsewhere I have discussed ways to handle these difficult passages. But here, I just want to come clean about some troubling themes.

Do not tolerate other religions. With the major exception of the ministry of Jesus, the Bible is full of hatred for other religions. Embracing other religions is the reason for the exile. True Christians are not only to reject other religions, but other version of the faith. And, violence is authorized. To be fair, it is usually violence that comes from YHWH.

Women and men are not equal. There are more exceptions here. Not just the ministry of Jesus, e.g., Deborah, Priscilla & Aquilla. Nonetheless, women are treated very poorly by the Bible. Mistreatment of women may be the single greatest injustice our world faces today and it sucks the Bible has so much that supports it.

Support cultural norms. The writers of the Bible, naturally enough I suppose, have trouble distinguishing what is their response to God in their lives from what is just a cultural norm. The result is that loving your neighbor, obeying your master, and not wearing clothes with mixed fibers are all in there. This is troubling because some of the norms that come in, but also because it makes it difficult to avoid just throwing out everything you don't like.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Project Complete - What's Not There

Many people use the Bible to support rather than to shape their views. As a litigator and sometimes appellate attorney, using authority to support my view, or more precisely my client's view, is my occupation. But just as an overzealous attorney can stretch the meaning of a Supreme Court case to the breaking point, so can Christians stretch claims based on the Bible. Here are my thoughts, starting at home.

The message of the prophets was that Israel was falling into ruin because it failed to take care of the poor. Exaggeration. The prophets did say things like this, but those verses were buried under a pile of verses about worshipping idols or more often, generic accusations of taking on the ways of foreign nations.

The kingdom of God/Heaven is a way of life not a far away place. More debatable than I thought. I have not run a tally, but I believe a solid majority of the references attributed to Jesus support this view. Nonetheless, I came across many that support the castle in the sky version. And from reading Paul, it seems that there was a pretty hot debate over exactly what it meant.

The Bible forbids gay marriage. Extreme exaggeration. While the references to justice for the poor are dwarfed by other material that no longer seems relevant, references to gay sex are dwarfed by references to justice for the poor. Not only are there relatively few references to gay sex, those references typically fall in lists of cultural behaviors that Christians have long since abandoned. And of course, gay sex is not the same thing as gay marriage. To beef up the profile of gay sex prohibitions, some Christians try to include stories about a crowd of men raping a couple of angels and prohibitions on sexual immorality into the list. Rape is obviously wrong for its own reasons, and claiming sex with a committed partner is an example of sexual immorality is classic circular reasoning. Gay marriage wasn't an issue 2000 years ago, and, not surprisingly, the Bible has nothing directly to say about it.

The Bible forbids abortion. Untrue. I have heard this claim made before, and I had it in my mind as I was reading. Are there verses that suggest life begins before birth? Yes, but there are also verses that say that life begins with taking breath. Passages that attribute extraordinary power to God, for example, sufficient to know someone in the womb, hardly establish the idea that life begins at conception. (Is it beyond God's power to know someone before he or she is conceived?) Furthermore, there are laws that explicitly treat causing a miscarriage differently from murder. Finally, there is nothing about intentionally terminating a pregnancy. Unlike gay marriage, I find this perplexing. Surely the women of ancient Israel knew how to terminate pregnancies. But for whatever the reason, the Bible says nothing directly and very little indirectly about it.

The Bible supports separation of Church and State. Untrue. Let's end at home. Jesus' trickery with "give to Caesar" was dodging his detractor's question and replacing it with what he wanted to talk about. The Old Testament is all about how to have a Godly kingdom. The New Testament is about how to run a society, sometimes in secret, within an oppressive empire, but nonetheless in compliance with God's law. I did not see any foundation of the First Amendment in the Bible.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Project Complete - Overall Reflection

I finished my four-month read through of the Bible on Christmas Day. As a program note for the blog, it resulted in more material being published than I have published in any other four month period, and I suspect that casually interested readers of the blog had more JimII than they could use on a daily basis. Accordingly, I encourage those who are interested to read some of the old posts and share your thoughts. I am pretty good about responding, giving us at least three exchanges toward a conversation.

Taking a step back from the project, I see my faith as having three distinct sources. One of them is the Bible. This project obviously most helped me focus on that aspect. Another is the Church, which includes tradition and fellow Christians. As a free church Protestant, the role of tradition is probably less than it would be in a more liturgical denomination, or one that pre-dates the formation of the Bible. But, my faith has nonetheless been shaped by what the Church teaches, dramatically so if you include lessons from fellow Christians. The final influence is personal revelation. For me, that is overwhelmingly the result of rational analysis, although I have experienced moments that I seem profoundly different from intellectual excercise. Are these moments best described as emotional, spiritual, hormone induced? I don't know. But they shape my faith as well. I bring that up at this point because no matter what I say or think about the Bible, it is probably the least significant influence on my faith. And, I think that is true of most Christians, even though many will not admit it.

Which leads me where I want to begin in my specific global response to the project. I want to write one post on what I think people seem to get wrong about the Bible. In other words, what do people with an agenda say is in the Bible that really is not, or is in the Bible, but not very prominently. I also want to write a post about things in the Bible that are harmful, and ways that I believe it has been and can be used as a tool of evil. Finally, I want to write a post about what I get out of the Bible, and why I think it is a worthwhile source of faith.

That should keep me occupied this week.