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The Bible as Myth and History
Posted: 18 November 2009 08:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Then what exactly is the Bible, and what is its value?

As you so unceremoniously said to me in a different thread, “read the previous posts!” or something pretty close to that. Gary T. H. already answered that question in his original post, and I added some specifics from the NT. My questions were not directly addressed, and gary’s assertions weren’t really refuted so much as generally panned.  That’s fine if you and others just want to count votes for or against the Bible, but that’s not what I am here for.

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Posted: 18 November 2009 08:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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I was trying to get your take on what purpose the Bible serves if it is not the word of god, as it claims to be. You obviously do not care to discuss this with anyone who does not share your viewpoint.

My moral teach good, your moral teach bad, ugh! Me sarcastic, very bad! Sorry, this is not much of a discussion, and I won’t be engaging in it.

I guess you find childishness charming. Instead of answering questions or rebutting arguments you resort to saying the argument is not interesting. Nice. I was sincerely looking for your opinion on what value the Bible has outside of religion. Yes, we’ll butt heads if you try to hold up the Bible as an example of morality, but given our culture that is a very important discussion. Many people in the United States simply cannot imagine morality without a god threatening to punish us for our misdeeds. They believe that without the god of the Bible there can be no morals. Do you not think that is worthy of discussion?

As for me telling you to read the previous posts in another thread that was in response to you telling me not not make fun of someone who had demonstrated willful idiocy during 14 pages of trying to get him to think for himself. I meant no offense, but the OP in that thread was being obtuse to the point of mental illness.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Let’s try to dial down the rhetoric here a couple of notches, fotobits. I don’t know precisely what Lausten sees as the value of the Bible, but I can see some value in it myself. E.g.:

(1) There are parts of it that make good mythic literature. That is, they are fun to read. I’d include Genesis, Exodus, some of the history of the Israelite kingdoms.

(2) There are parts of it that seem to me genuinely wise. I’d include only Ecclesiastes in that, but it’s something.

(3) There are parts of it that are historically relevant. I’d include the material on the latter Israelite/Judaic history, some elements of history in roman Judaea and the early church.

(4) Also, obviously, the book is crucial in religious history. One should familiarize oneself with it, know what it says, for that reason alone.

My question, however, is rather different. I can understand why one ought to familiarize oneself with the Bible. But I don’t really understand why one should consider oneself a Christian (perhaps you don’t, Lausten) unless one believes Jesus to have been the son of God and to have died for our sins, etc.

I suppose there is some gain to be made simply through the social interactions at church, and there is, I believe, a biological urge simply to belong to groups. Some people find comfort in liturgy, even if they don’t necessarily believe every jot of it. But I think if I were to go to church for social and psychological reasons, without any belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, I’d have a hard time calling myself a Christian.

And of course if one does believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, then one is going well beyond the evidence.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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dougsmith - 19 November 2009 05:21 AM

There are parts of it that seem to me genuinely wise. I’d include only Ecclesiastes in that, but it’s something.

OK, this is the second time you’ve mentioned this and I am going to have to check it out now. I can’t believe I am adding the Bible to my reading list.  smirk But hey, Christmas is upon us, so maybe now it’s the time to do it.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Doug, thanks for trying, I hope your moderating accomplishes something.

I have seen other interactions with fotobits and it seems pretty obvious that he is just itching for fights. Simply the title of the thread addresses his question, but he wants to re-ask the question and make belief statements and try to get them from me and then what, say how each other is wrong?  I haven’t heard anything from him that stays on the topic or passes as intelligent discussion on the issue of the Bible as Myth and History. So, yes, I am offering only childish responses at this time.

This was in the first post:

Read as recorded oral history it can give us many glimpses of the founding of our civilization.

Maybe we could talk about that. Note this does not say it is the best glimpse, or the only glimpse, or the glimpse that will save your soul.

If I may elaborate on gary’s allusion to the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac. Many preachers will attempt to gloss over it and say it is an allegory for how we should listen to the voice of God, or something. Of course they rarely if ever address exactly how you know it is God talking, or just your hormones. They have to do this if their message is that God knows the future and that the God told in stories 4,000 years ago is the same God written of on paper that we still have.  If, like me, you see the Bible as a collection of stories recounting the changing relationship of a culture had with its god, you can see it differently.

As gary pointed out, there was human sacrifice going on back then. Some people were getting the idea that might not be a good idea, but if you came out and just said that, you would be a heretic.  So put it in a story. Keep your God in the story, because that is what defines your tribe, keep obedience in because that is what keeps your tribe together, but show the part where the father is troubled by what he is being asked to do. This is probably what a lot of people were feeling, but most people are followers, they don’t want to, or don’t know how to rock the boat. This story shows that it is okay to feel that way because Abraham, the founder of the tribe felt that way. And then introduce the new ritual, sacrifice the lamb. This is now the symbol for the ultimate sacrifice that you would make for the tribe, such as giving your life or your son’s life in defense of the tribe.

So big deal, a few thousand years later we don’t sacrifice anything, other than our time, why should we still bother with this? How about something more recent? Like slavery? That was entrenched in our culture and easily supported by our scripture. Ending it was done by heretics, some of them using scripture to show why God himself didn’t support it. Slavery exists in other cultures, some of them not so religious, so I don’t see Christianity as the sole cause or sole cure for it. I’m saying the story of Isaac and the story of European slave trading both should be retold, so A) we don’t slip back into those practices and B) we see how others have dealt with these situations in the past.  What stories are being told now that could help heal our divide between the East and the West? Are we even thinking of it that way, or are we just looking for fights?

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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A few issues here:

(1) I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that the Bible is the founding of our civilization; I don’t even really know what that means. “Glimpses”, perhaps yes; but insofar as I can understand what “our civilization” is and what founding it would amount to, I think I’d put that in ancient Greece and Rome rather than in the Israelite kingdoms and Judaea.

Further, the american government was founded on principles that came from Greece and Rome, not the Bible. (Sure, “american government” may not be quite the same as “our civilization”, but I don’t think they can be so easily separated, either. Much of what passes for modern civilization stems from the same democratic ideals we find in secular Rome and Greece).

(2) I like the gloss on Abraham and Isaac. FWIW my reading of it also would suggest that the story originally ended with the sacrifice of Isaac, but this later was changed to the sacrifice of the lamb, as near eastern civilizations changed from promoting child sacrifice to rejecting it. (Clearly, it did continue within the history of the Bible itself, since there is much ongoing censure of it).

I think it’s very telling how important burnt meat offerings are in the OT.

(3) I’m not sure what you mean by “the divide between East and West”, nor what it would mean to “heal” this divide, as though it were some sort of temporary rupture.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Lausten - 19 November 2009 08:03 AM

I’m saying the story of Isaac and the story of European slave trading both should be retold, so A) we don’t slip back into those practices and B) we see how others have dealt with these situations in the past.

...or a C) it should be retold so that we can see how irrelevant to our present time and how primitive the Bible stories actually are. (I believe this what Dan Dennett is after.)

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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But I don’t really understand why one should consider oneself a Christian (perhaps you don’t, Lausten) unless one believes Jesus to have been the son of God and to have died for our sins, etc.

That’s a valid question, and one that I avoid, even at church. Part of the reason I go to a United Methodist Church are the ones you mentioned, and there is no Buddhists Temple or Center for Inquiry in my little town, maybe someday I will have to start one. I can’t directly answer the question, “do you believe in God” because I would first need to talk a while about belief and then about God and god, etc. And the answer changes for me over time. That is why I was compelled to start my blog. On the question of “do I accept Christ as my savior?” I can give a flat “no”. There was a brief time when I did, but only because I hadn’t thought it through. For those of you who are wondering, my first church was very liberal and did not ask me to profess that in front of everyone when I joined, my current church only did a transfer ceremony, which also did not require it, so I’m lying by omission, because officially that is a membership requirement.

So I’m a heretic, but then so was Luther and Wesley. My theology is along the lines of Spinoza or Thomas Jefferson, or more recently John Shelby Spong who suggests that many if not all of the Christian church structures might need to be torn down to make room for rebuilding. A long time ago I decided that it was better for me to be part of this society, and work for change from within, rather than heading out somewhere off the grid.

So I consider myself a Christian, but I am keenly aware that many others would not, at least not for now.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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So, basically, it’s a form of Deism, along the lines of Einstein, (arguably) Sagan? I think of them as basically accepting forms of Spinozistic Deism.

I don’t really have any particular arguments against that. But since a Deistic God isn’t a person and doesn’t demand or require worship, the question remains about why involve it in religion at all? As I’ve suggested, perhaps that’s for social or psychological reasons (to feel comforted in a group, maybe to enjoy the music of the choir). But otherwise, there’s really no religious point to it.

It’s at this point that forms of Zen, your form of attenuated Christianity and the secular atheism of an organization like the Society for Ethical Culture (which is virtually a form of CFI) get close to indistinguishable in my mind.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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I should also say, one of our members, Paul LaClair, is a fan of the sort of secularized religion you seem to favor. (And Mriana is a big fan of Spong; I don’t know his stuff very well).

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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dougsmith - 19 November 2009 08:24 AM

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that the Bible is the founding of our civilization; I don’t even really know what that means. “Glimpses”, perhaps yes; but insofar as I can understand what “our civilization” is and what founding it would amount to, I think I’d put that in ancient Greece and Rome rather than in the Israelite kingdoms and Judaea.

I have always found it very confusing when people try to look for the “beginning” of our civilization within a specific time. Why Greece or Rome? Or indeed why the Israelite kingdoms? Why not the Renaissance when Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Arabs brought the Greeks back from the dead? Why not the Sumerians with the invention of the wheel some six thousand years ago? Or the neolithic revolution two thousand years earlier?

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Posted: 19 November 2009 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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George - 19 November 2009 08:46 AM

I have always found it very confusing when people try to look for the “beginning” of our civilization within a specific time. Why Greece or Rome? Or indeed why the Israelite kingdoms? Why not the Renaissance when Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Arabs brought the Greeks back from the dead? Why not the Sumerians with the invention of the wheel some six thousand years ago? Or the neolithic revolution two thousand years earlier?

Agreed. It’s a mess.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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dougsmith - 19 November 2009 08:24 AM

A few issues here:

(1) I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that the Bible is the founding of our civilization; I don’t even really know what that means. “Glimpses”, perhaps yes; but insofar as I can understand what “our civilization” is and what founding it would amount to, I think I’d put that in ancient Greece and Rome rather than in the Israelite kingdoms and Judaea.

Further, the american government was founded on principles that came from Greece and Rome, not the Bible. (Sure, “american government” may not be quite the same as “our civilization”, but I don’t think they can be so easily separated, either. Much of what passes for modern civilization stems from the same democratic ideals we find in secular Rome and Greece).

(2) I like the gloss on Abraham and Isaac. FWIW my reading of it also would suggest that the story originally ended with the sacrifice of Isaac, but this later was changed to the sacrifice of the lamb, as near eastern civilizations changed from promoting child sacrifice to rejecting it. (Clearly, it did continue within the history of the Bible itself, since there is much ongoing censure of it).

I think it’s very telling how important burnt meat offerings are in the OT.

(3) I’m not sure what you mean by “the divide between East and West”, nor what it would mean to “heal” this divide, as though it were some sort of temporary rupture.

Its gets tricky to separate myth out when discussing it. The whole idea of myth is to apply it to now, or as George says, it is just an irrelevant story. In this case, I was still in the mind of the story teller 4,000 years ago when I said Abraham was the founder of the tribe. The intended audience of that story was those who considered themselves descendants of Isaac. To understand it, you have to have that in mind. I didn’t mean he was the founder of all Western civilization. It can still be relevant to now even if you don’t consider yourself in that lineage.

When listening to myth, the person you are supposed to relate to is usually the one that you are hearing the thoughts of.  So the audience of this story considers itself part of Abraham’s tribe, it hears Abraham’s thoughts and relates to them.  You, modern person, are part of some group, there is probably something the group does that makes you uncomfortable. To decide what the right thing to do is, what do you listen to? How do you decide?

2) Could very well be. By time the Bible was getting written down, the issue of human sacrifice was pretty well settled. Not completely as you point out.

3) I was trying to find something that we currently want to change or are in the midst of changing. I’m assuming people reading this want a world at peace and are looking for ways to create that.  I believe our ancient myths can help us with that, but we need to first learn how to use them, then evolve them to apply to modern thinking.

[ Edited: 19 November 2009 10:29 AM by Lausten ]
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Posted: 19 November 2009 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Doug, do you really think Einstein was a deist? I think a deist still believes in some form of a supernatural being, even though this being had sopped interfering with the universe after He created it. I have always imagined that Einstein’s god was nothing more than a metaphor for the unknown. To say that somebody had created the universe for a reason sounds to me very different from saying whatever happened in the beginning appears very mysterious.

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Posted: 19 November 2009 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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George - 19 November 2009 09:09 AM

Doug, do you really think Einstein was a deist? I think a deist still believes in some form of a supernatural being, even though this being had sopped interfering with the universe after He created it. I have always imagined that Einstein’s god was nothing more than a metaphor for the unknown. To say that somebody had created the universe for a reason sounds to me very different from saying whatever happened in the beginning appears very mysterious.

Well, now we get into semantic distinctions. It depends what one means by “Deist”. At the very least, a Deist does not believe in the efficacy of prayer or in any other “supernatural” violations of natural law, i.e., the laws of the universe. Now, on most understandings, Spinoza was a Deist. But really, Spinoza’s “God” was no different from the laws of nature themselves. And as I see it, that’s Einstein’s position, when he talks of God—he sees “God” as basically being identical to the architecture of the universe, as revealed in the laws of physics. That is, God is just physical or natural law. (That’s what he meant when he said, “God does not play dice”—that the natural laws are not statistical in character).

Also, Deistic God usually means a non-personal God, that is, a God who is not a person, who does not have a mind, does not have beliefs, desires, intentions, will, etc. Of course, a non personal God cannot be prayed to since it cannot listen, understand or respond. It is, again, like the laws of nature or mathematics. It’s an abstractum.

God as a metaphor for the unknown isn’t really how I think of Deism—that’s more like negative theology, which is quite different.

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