‘Making the text say things that it never meant’

One of my pet-peeve misconceptions is the notion that an illiterately literal reading of Genesis 1-11 is somehow an expression of “conservative” theology.

It isn’t.

Of course this “literal” belief in the six-day creation of a young earth isn’t liberal theology either. It’s just bad theology. Not orthodox, not conservative or liberal, just wrong — just a weirdly misleading way to read this text.

Bad theology and wrong theology shouldn’t be blithely equated with conservative theology. Yes, Al Mohler is a young-earth creationist and he’s right-wing politically. But just because he’s a political conservative doesn’t mean that his disrespectful abuse of Genesis is also “conservative.” His disrespectful abuse of this scripture is only just that — the disrespectful abuse of scripture.

That’s partly why I like this engaging short video on “Science and Genesis” (via here)– because it refuses to play this game of calling modern, illiterate literalism “conservative.” The video features a bunch of fairly conservative Protestant theologians treating the text with respect. This ain’t liberal theology, and it’s not some kind of radical new cutting-edge approach to the text.

YouTube Preview Image

This is how Christians read the Bible. The actual Bible — not the make-believe one of the make-believe “conservatives.”

* * * * * * * * *

Maggie Koerth-Baker writes about “Crackpots, geniuses, and how to tell the difference.”

She offers five smart “suggestions” for sorting the crackpots from the geniuses, but I want to highlight the third:

If believing the idea will make you smarter than the official experts, be suspicious. Experts aren’t always right. But they do know their fields and experience does matter. Chances are, you’re an expert in something. Say you knew how to bake pies really well. You’d be pretty suspicious if somebody who didn’t bake (or didn’t even really cook much) told you that you were making pies all wrong — and that they had a secret pie recipe that was better than yours. They might be right. It’s worth taking a look at their evidence. But it also worth being skeptical.

This is good advice that applies to every field of study — including those fields of study that fall under the category of religion.

You can find plenty of ignorant books and blogs written by crackpot Christians “explaining” what’s wrong with Mormonism or Judaism or “secular humanism.” They’re all written by people who don’t know anything about Mormonism, Judaism or secular humanism, but who imagine they have some special insight that makes them more knowledgeable about those subjects than any of the people who actually study such things.

Likewise, you can find plenty of ignorant things written by people “explaining” what’s wrong with what they imagine Christians believe about, say, Genesis 1-11. Sometimes these are written by crackpots who imagine they have some special insight that makes them more knowledgeable about that than any of those theologians in the video above. Sometimes these are written by people who encounter a crackpot like Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and mistake him for an actual, and typical, Christian biblical scholar.

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  • ako

    You can find plenty of ignorant books and blogs written by
    crackpot Christians “explaining” what’s wrong with Mormonism or Judaism
    or “secular humanism.” They’re all written by people who don’t know
    anything about Mormonism, Judaism or secular humanism, but who imagine
    they have some special insight that makes them more knowledgeable about
    those subjects than any of the people who actually study such things.

    I once saw a guy jump onto an atheist board asking everyone to list atheist beliefs. 
    The replay was along the lines of “Most of us believe there is no god, although some people on the board are agnostics.”
    He went “No, beliefs like panspermia and stuff”, and seemed absolutely convinced that all atheists believed that, despite many people on the board never having heard of the idea before he mentioned it, and most of the ones who did know about it explicitly rejecting it. 
    I suspect he got the idea from some sort of “How to convert atheists” website or tract or something.  (Sadly, step one of “How to convert” often is “I know your beliefs better than you because I spent half an hour reading about people like you, and I will use my knowledge to show you how very stupid they are!”

  • GDwarf

     Aye, it’s like the people you see every so often who claim they can disprove Catholicism because the existence of saints is polytheism, or something.

    The idea that you can spend 15 minutes reading AiG or Chick Tracts or whatever and then be able to conclusively “disprove” a belief system is oddly prevalent and incredibly annoying.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Back in the alt.religion.catholic days we’d get the circular argument that we shouldn’t listen to priests, we should read the Bible for ourselves – something about “word of God vs word of Man” came in about that point – then we’d obviously jump to the same position as the anti-Catholic. It was impossible we might ever read it and agree with the priests, of course.

    Pointing out that essentially they wanted us to listen to their interpretation of the Bible and by their arguments that was exactly what we weren’t supposed to do never got through to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    What’s just as sad is that this game can work both ways, atheists can play it too: “You know as well as I do that this ‘God’ idea is just a delusion, just a power play cooked up by the high-and-mighty to keep us in our place. The sooner you admit the truth, that we’re only going through the motions in order to get some nonexistent pie in the sky, the happier you’ll be!” 
    Nobody wins at this. You can get some pretty good arguments at least.

  • JustoneK

    I got my expert accreditation from the university of Wikipedia.  I majored in cultures I’m not a part of and have never lived in.

  • Andrew_EC

    I have to confess that I just don’t understand the argument being made in the video.  I get the endpoint, obviously:  that you can read Genesis 1-11 consistent with modern science.  But I’m still at a loss for how one gets there.  Repeatedly in the video, NT Wright and John Polkinghorne and others exhort us to “read the text as the original audience would have read it.”  

    Answers in Genesis (and others) respond to this exhortation by arguing that the original readers would have understood Genesis 1 as a narrative describing actual events unfolding in real time.  Now, I get that Answers in Genesis is full of morons who also (not coincidentally) are conservative political activists, but their argument is pretty straightforward as I understand it:  that, linguistically, the Hebrew word “yom” used in the manner deployed in Genesis 1 — that is, with (a) “in the morning… in the evening” and (b) numerical modifiers (“the third day… the fourth day”, etc.) always meant a literal day TO THAT AUDIENCE.I don’t hear a response to that specific argument in this video.  Is there an answer from the allegorical-Beethoven’s-Fifth-Symphony view of Genesis?  I’m genuinely curious.

  • Go_4_tli

    In a way.  Zechariah 14:7 uses “echad yom” (often translated “unique day”), which literally means “one day”, the same phrase used in Genesis 1 to describe the first day (Genesis 1:5); the context makes it clear that this “day” is at least a year long.  (To those who believe that this passage foretells a literal millennial reign of Jesus Christ, it refers to 1000 years.)  And Hosea (6:2) uses “day” with ordinals to refer to periods of time much longer than a day.

    Not to mention that agrarians like the ancient Hebrews would have known that it takes longer than 24 hours for plants to grow, and the verb used to describe the appearance of plants is closer to “sprout” (“dasha dasha”) than “poof suddenly into existence in mature form”.

    These aren’t proofs, of course, but there are subtle things in the account (and other places where creation is addressed in Scripture) that gave even ancient scholars reason to believe that the “days” in Genesis 1 were not 24 hours in length.

  • Andrew_EC

    Thanks — I appreciate the info.

    I still have a hard time figuring out exactly *what* the Genesis-1-as-Beethoven’s-Fifth crowd is actually saying.  I get what they’re arguing Genesis 1 is *not* (although I think they’re not doing a very good job of even that), but I can’t figure out what they’re saying it actually is.

  • ReverendRef

     but I can’t figure out what they’re saying it actually is.

    It seems to me that what they’re trying to get across is that Genesis is not a scientific textbook but that it’s more complicated than that.  I thought the question, “What are we reading?  A divinely inspired textbook or something more profound,” was really the crux of it.

    What we are reading is a story that shows the world wasn’t born out of violence and that it was created to be a place where creator and created could live together in union.

    They may not have said this as clearly as they could have, but Genesis 1-2 wasn’t written to explain HOW we got here, but WHY we are here.  And probably not only why we are here but how we respond to why we are here.

    Which sort of gets back to the Beethoven thing.  How his symphony was created isn’t all that important (stringing notes together in a certain pattern), but why it was created and how we respond to that particular creation are very important.  To answer the why, I have no other idea than that he was simply driven to create music (similar to the idea of God being driven to create out of his great love).  As to how we respond, here’s a review of Beethoven’s 5th by E.T.A. Hoffman:

    Radiant beams shoot through this region’s deep night, and we become
    aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us
    and destroy everything within us except the pain of endless longing—a
    longing in which every pleasure that rose up in jubilant tones sinks and
    succumbs, and only through this pain, which, while consuming but not
    destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with
    full-voiced harmonies of all the passions, we live on and are captivated
    beholders of the spirits.

    Genesis 1-2 should, I think, inspire us to react the same way to creation.  It’s big.  It’s mysterious.  It’s beautiful.  And if we read it like just another science textbook, we miss the beauty and mystery of the creation that we are part of.  We miss its theological significance in favor of a cold, passion-less and simplistic answer that we use to make us feel better about knowing the mind of God.

    How we live into the mystery of creation is a much more important question than how we were made.  Using Genesis 1-2 as a backdrop, the first invites exploration whereas the second shuts down exploration.  And, really, isn’t that what wrong-headed conservative Christians really want — to shut down any exploration of the divine?

    Well, that got longer than I anticipated; hope it helps.

  • The_L1985

    A myth. In the “bits of truth mixed with allegory” sense, not the “lol, totally not true!!” sense.

  • Joshua


    Is there an answer from the allegorical-Beethoven’s-Fifth-Symphony view of Genesis?  I’m genuinely curious.

    Aargh. I made a detailed and specific comment on exactly this, specifically just gen 1, a few years ago. My Google-fu is too weak to find it again. So, that sucks.

    And I’m afraid I can’t try to rewrite it now, as I have actual work to do. Hope you enjoyed ReverendRef’s reply, which I second.

    Short answer: The ancients knew a poem when they saw one. The arts of poetry and rhetoric have fallen on hard times.

  • Andy Funk

    The point made in the video is that so much of what we read in Genesis must be understood within the context of the interplay between the Hebrew understanding of who God is and the practices of the surrounding cultures. The point is that the Hebrew bible speaks in terms of days and nights first, so as to very intentionally steer away from the prevalent custom of seeing multiple gods warring against one another in order to create the universe. You seem to have missed this crucial element of what NT Wright and others have clearly put forth. They also are not arguing for us to be able to read Genesis consistently with modern science, as that is not at ALL the point of the biblical narrative. It does not offer proof of material origins, which is precisely what many Christians are attempting to do. This is a 21st Century imposition upon biblical texts…something called “eisegesis”, which leads to very bad theology. I hope this clarifies some of what’s going on anyway.

    Peace,
    Andy

  • aunursa

    You can find plenty of ignorant books and blogs written by crackpot Christians “explaining” what’s wrong with Mormonism or Judaism or “secular humanism.” They’re all written by people who don’t know anything about Mormonism, Judaism or secular humanism

    My favorite are the Christian evangelical groups that teach other Christians what we Jews believe so that they can better evangelize us.

    I wrote an article responding to J4J and “Messianic Jewish” groups that tried to answer the question, “Why don’t Jews accept Jesus as Messiah?”  The answers they told to their Christian students included…

    * we Jews know that if we convert, we’ll face ostracism by family and friends
    * we are ignorant of our own scriptures
    * we offer blind allegiance to our rabbi’s teachings
    * historical Christian persecution, which has conditioned us to reject any Christian argument
    * plain ol’ stubbornness
    * spiritual blindness
    * pride in refusing to admit that we are sinners in need of a savior

  • Wingedwyrm

    My favorite of that list has to be “historical Christian persecutuion,”.  What they seem to be saying is that a couple centuries at the beginning of Christianity as a religion, appearantly, trumps the past 3 millenia of persecution of Jews.

    It makes this atheist wish that God was there, just so he could speak unto those classes with the booming, echoing voice that would shake the walls, words being “HISTORY FAIL!”

  • Ross Thompson

     

    My favorite of that list has to be “historical Christian
    persecutuion,”.  What they seem to be saying is that a couple centuries
    at the beginning of Christianity as a religion, appearantly, trumps the
    past 3 millenia of persecution of Jews.

    I assumed that mean “historical persecution of Jews by Christians”. That makes more sense to me as a reason why Jews don’t want to become Christians.

  • Wingedwyrm

    I don’t know.  That seems like it would involve quite a bit of self-awareness for someone who would present that list as something worth studying.

  • aunursa

    You are correct. I have edited that point in order to clarify.

    Oh, and I can provide links to examples of any of the stated reasons.  If anyone is interested.

  • Dan Audy

    I just wanted to say aunursa, that over the last couple weeks I’ve noticed you’ve been making some really nice contributions around here.  While I don’t doubt that we will disagree (vigourously) again in the future I’m going to try to keep this in mind and keep my criticism and dismissal to your arguments that I disagree with rather than you as a person.

    Sorry for my past behaviour.

  • aunursa

    Thank you.  I appreciate your kindness.

    Alas, my computer got a nasty virus and is in the shop.  So my contributions will be minimal for the next week or so.

  • aunursa

    Also, I read your goodbye post on the other site before it was taken down.  It was polite.  The fact that they cannot accept your contribution, and constructive criticism in general, is their loss.

  • The_L1985

    Well, not JUST by Christians, but yes, about half that time the Christians were the ones doing the persecuting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ann-Unemori/100001112760232 Ann Unemori

    My favorite of that list has to be “historical Christian persecutuion,”.  What they seem to be saying is that a couple centuries at the beginning of Christianity as a religion, appearantly, trumps the past 3 millenia of persecution of Jews.

    Here’s a link to what often ends up as “persecution” http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2011/10/ministry-report-persecution/

    Somehow it’s not enough to have faith, you have to suffer for it or it doesn’t count.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > “Why don’t Jews accept Jesus as Messiah?”

    One of my brothers-in-law once asked me that over dinner, apparently unironically. I was sort of astonished.

    My response, muddled somewhat by the need to phrase it in my pidgin Portuguese, was “For the same reason we don’t accept the thousands of other people considered by some to be prophets as Messiah.” Which he politely accepted as an answer.

    I considered but discarded “Many Jews did… we call them ‘Christians.’ ” Ironic snark doesn’t often survive inadequate translation.
     

  • The_L1985

    Whats really fun is if you’re Neopagan, or you like Dungeons&Dragons. According to the research experts at Chick Publications (none of whom have ever spoken to any Neopagans, nor played or looked at any game materials for D&D), you are part of a cabal of Satanists who cast Real Live Curses on Good Christian Children before committing ritual cannibalism in a drug-induced haze.

    Instead of being, you know, people who follow a different religion and/or play what is essentially a cross between Lord of the Rings and a Choose Your Own Adventure book, in board game form.

  • Gotchaye

    This seems to me to get more complicated when the crackpot/genius isn’t trying to participate in a  field of study, but is instead trying to dismiss the whole field as nonsense.  “The earth is expanding” dude is basically trying to do geology (I actually met him, or someone like him, handing out very long self-published papers at a planetary science conference).  And it’s easy to decide that he’s a crackpot because he’s not really challenging the notion of expertise in the field and doesn’t have a very compelling explanation of how right-minded folk like him are excluded.

    But the better crackpots make sure to muddy the waters about what expertise actually is.  Central to climate change denial are claims about politics and groupthink and, for more sophisticated deniers, about the scientific value of the sort of modeling climate scientists do a lot of.  There’s a lot of on-face plausibility to something like PZ Myers’ Courtier’s Reply objection* applied to almost any complicated field without a great deal of obvious practical value.  Attacking the foundations of a field of study is very different from attempting to participate in it and coming to wildly different conclusions than everyone else, and it can be a lot harder to sort out who’s in the right.  This is especially true when it’s hard to even put a finger on who the “official experts” are, which can happen if enough money on one side or the other is dedicated to building up alternative institutions of supposed expertise.

    *Myers was replying to criticisms of criticisms of theology that went something like “you don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re insufficiently familiar with theology”.  He claimed that familiarity with theology was unnecessary for that sort of criticism.  The idea is that one does not need to be familiar with much that’s been said about the Emperor’s clothes when claiming that the Emperor is actually naked.

  • LMM22

    Attacking the foundations of a field of study is very different from attempting to participate in it and coming to wildly different conclusions than everyone else, and it can be a lot harder to sort out who’s in the right.

    This is the issue in some cases. “I think you’re wrong [here]” is very different from “wait a minute, *none* of this matches up with reality.”

    (I have similar criticisms of the field of economics — Vioxx is *still* being criticized, yet that sort of thing is *nothing* compared to collapsing the entire economy under a mess of incomprehendible trading scams. Had that sort of thing happened to *any* field of hard science — oh, whoops! as it turns out, the Large Hadron Collider *does* slowly destroy the Earth! — there would be tenured professors out of work within a month. The double irony is, the fields which are held to more rigorous standards are those which no one pays attention to. See also: global warming.)

  • LMM22

    Attacking the foundations of a field of study is very different from attempting to participate in it and coming to wildly different conclusions than everyone else, and it can be a lot harder to sort out who’s in the right.

    This is the issue in some cases. “I think you’re wrong [here]” is very different from “wait a minute, *none* of this matches up with reality.”

    (I have similar criticisms of the field of economics — Vioxx is *still* being criticized, yet that sort of thing is *nothing* compared to collapsing the entire economy under a mess of incomprehendible trading scams. Had that sort of thing happened to *any* field of hard science — oh, whoops! as it turns out, the Large Hadron Collider *does* slowly destroy the Earth! — there would be tenured professors out of work within a month. The double irony is, the fields which are held to more rigorous standards are those which no one pays attention to. See also: global warming.)

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

     Myers was replying to criticisms of criticisms of theology that went
    something like “you don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re
    insufficiently familiar with theology”.  He claimed that familiarity
    with theology was unnecessary for that sort of criticism.  The idea is
    that one does not need to be familiar with much that’s been said about
    the Emperor’s clothes when claiming that the Emperor is actually naked.

    I have no problem with that sort of criticism of religion. For example, “Why believe in God in the first place?” or “Too often, organized religion amounts to an abuse of power justified by citing God’s will, when it’s neither provable that God exists nor that this is His will,” strike me as perfectly valid “Emperor has no clothes” arguments.

    What I have a problem with is the sort of criticism that does seem to base itself on being misinformed about the theology (or the theists) in question, like, “The only reason anyone believes in God is because they’re afraid of death or don’t know sufficient science; education and maturity therefore defeat theism, always” (misunderstanding the many reasons why theists might be theists) or “Catholics are lying when they say they’re not polytheists; look at all those saints!” (misunderstanding adherents’ relationships with the saints) or even the very common “Catholics are stupid because they believe every word out of the Pope’s mouth at all times is infallible” (misunderstanding what the actual doctrine is)

    The latter examples are less like “why don’t you admit the Emperor has no clothes” and more like “why don’t you admit the Emperor has no dress sense; his invisible pinstriped suit doesn’t match his invisible polkadotted slacks, and furthermore, he’s got his invisible boxers on his head.”

  • Gotchaye

     Nicole:
    That’s an important clarification, and I agree entirely.  If one is going to assume that others have certain theological commitments, it’s important that they actually have those commitments.

    Ross:
    But there’s a distinction to be made between the two kinds of things Myers and others are doing, as Nicole points out.  I’m not all that familiar with him, but I doubt he understands the Courtier’s Reply as a defense of attacks on particular doctrines where the speaker is actually wrong about the content of the doctrines, though my feeling is that he might not care much about getting the doctrines right before mocking those who (he thinks) believe them.  When it comes to specific doctrines, mocking religious people in general is likely the point, and so accuracy in this area isn’t terribly important to his project (he might say that people either believe X or something equally silly, so who cares?).  For the record, I’m not a fan; I think the mockery is just mean-spirited and that he’s way too dismissive of philosophy of religion.

    Regardless, I was just borrowing his term because it strikes me as a very nice way of putting a general principle, and hints at a real problem that we have in figuring out who the experts are.  Some creationists argue on purely scientific grounds, and that’s where geologists and biologists and others are very qualified to put them down, often to hilarious effect because the creationists are quite bad at it.  But the more sophisticated ones attack some fundamental feature of the scientific project (they claim that science has no clothes, basically), and biologists qua biologists aren’t actually very qualified to respond to this.  That’s more the sort of thing that philosophers are experts in, not least because they tend to be very good at teasing out the bizarre real-world implications of particular anti-science claims.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Myers was replying to criticisms of criticisms of theology that went something like “you don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re insufficiently familiar with theology”.  He claimed that familiarity with theology was unnecessary for that sort of criticism.  The idea is that one does not need to be familiar with much that’s been said about the Emperor’s clothes when claiming that the Emperor is actually naked.

    Personally, I think that Meyers *doesn’t* know what he’s talking about, and I will be very disappointed if he continues to think that he is fit to criticize religion without knowing anything about theology. At least, I’ll be disappointed if he continues to do that after people who don’t know anything about biology stop thinking they’re qualified to criticize evolution.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The Earth-expanding theory is an old one, which is sort of maybeish true in the sense that Earth coalesced out of the solar nebula, but I think it is now accepted that the Earth’s diameter, once the Earth “solidified” as it were, has not really changed much.

    But I do know that a very nice Rand McNally atlas I used to have (dated to probably the late 1960s)  talked of this slow-and-steady expansion of the primordial Earth as it cooled down from the volcanoes and such that were supposed to have marked its early history some 4 billion years ago.

  • PJ Evans

     I thought the idea was that Earth shrank as it cooled.

  • The_L1985

    Well, darn, why couldn’t we have coalesced a pre-shrunk Earth? Look, now it’s all wrinkled! :P

  • ReverendRef

    I had to smile at 9:18 in the video when the guy speaking says, “If this is an inspired text ….” while the screen shot was of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

    As someone once said, “Episcopalians like the Bible; there’s so much of the Prayer Book in there.”

    *Will come back later with something more substantial.

  • Don Gisselbeck

    Lately we have bloviators who think owning a handgun and taking 20 shots a month at a paper target would have equipped them to stop a heavily armed and armored shooter in a theater. Dunning-Krueger at its finest.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    My amazement at that is not one of them considers how they would identify friend or foe if a half dozen or so guys happened to be packing. 

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    taking 20 shots a month at a paper target

    My amazement at that is not one of them considers how they would identify friend or foe if a half dozen or so guys happened to be packing

    Back when I lived in Texas, some friends had an old barn where we’d set up friend or foe targets and do runthroughs (with airguns because we were shooting in all directions; we weren’t idiots). One of us was a competitive speed shooter, used to shooting at metal plates without stopping to process them. So one time when we set up the house we stuck a plate up on a blind corner; sure enough, he shot it.

    So yeah. Target shooters are good at shooting targets. Wouldn’t trust them in an actual emergency.

  • http://wp.wiccanweb.ca/ Makarios

    It’s just bad theology. Not orthodox, not conservative or liberal, just wrong. . . .”

    Actually, it’s not even wrong.

  • ako

     I’m not a big fan of using “not even wrong” outside of technical discourse, especially when referring to subjects such as Creationist distortions of science.  It’s extremely easy to misinterpret unless you know the exact background, and when addressing people who already treat distorted “literal” readings of texts and cherry-picked quotes as hard evidence, it could easily be made to sound really bad.  It’s one of those bits of jargon where the actual meaning is pretty much the opposite of the meaning most outsiders would assume it has, and that can negatively impact communication. 

    (Obviously, given that you included a link, it’d take willful ignorance or deliberate bad faith to misread you as saying it was correct.  The phrase just generally bothers me.)

  • http://jewelfox.dreamwidth.org/ Taryn Fox

    It’s worth pointing out, as an ex-mormon, that Mormons tend to be very poorly informed about their own church’s teachings and history, even after a lifetime of indoctrination. Especially about how its teachings and practices have changed over the years.

    Things just disappear down the memory hole, 1984-style, and resurface as embarrassments brought up by non-mormons on the Internet.

  • MaryKaye

    When my department had a training course on responding to workplace violence (after Virginia) the presenter said something that has really stuck with me.  He said, “You hear gunfire outside your office.  You draw your gun, take it off the safety, and poke your head out.  You see a person you don’t know, gun in hand, standing down the hall, and another person you don’t know lying on the floor.  What do you do?”

    So, look, a bad guy with a gun–shoot him!  And then your next door neighbor comes out of her door, makes the exact same calculation, and shoots *you*.  Because you are standing there gun in hand with a victim lying on the floor, so obviously….

    Or you don’t shoot him.  And your next door neighbor comes out, and…still may shoot you, because you are standing there with a gun, and there is a victim, and how is she to know?

    The only sane thing is not to shoot until you know for sure, but the odds are, it’s over by then. If you didn’t have the gun maybe you would have been smart enough not to open the door and stand in the hall.’

  • Another Matt

    Like Andrew_EC, I’m just as confused about this as I was before I watched the video.

    I think part of it is the fact that most of the speakers in the video could be atheists who say the bible is just literature and should be read as such. It’s not the purpose of the video, but it would be useful to know how they can tell that this is divinely inspired but not Gilgamesh, or Hindu literature, say. Also, it would be great to know how they can tell that Genesis is an allegory that isn’t supposed to say what really happened, but that the gospels are in some sense to be taken as an accurate history of a real event.

    What makes it more than “just literature,” and what makes some of it more than “just allegory?”

  • swbarnes2

    This is how Christians read the Bible.

     
    So people who read the Bible the wrong way aren’t Christians.  Well, that should make it simple.

    If someone says “Exodus 12:29 is an accurate description of how God works in the world”, for instance, how do I determine if that’s the Christian way to read that text?

    If one self-labeled-Christian says that the text of the Fall in Genesis affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man, and another self-labeled Christian says “No, that’s not how a Christian reads the text”, how do I determine who is correct?

    Short answer: The ancients knew a poem when they saw one. The arts of poetry and rhetoric have fallen on hard times.

    But why can’t a person write a text to be both poetic and meant to be accurate?  The Animaniacs had a song of the 50 states and their capitals, so the whole thing is in meter, and rhymes, but the song is still meant to be accurate, and it is. 

  • Joshua


    But why can’t a person write a text to be both poetic and meant to be accurate? 

    One answer I think is true: The text under discussion is Gen 1-11, and the authors are a number of people from the Bronze and Iron Ages, and accuracy, for you and I, would involve knowledge they simple didn’t have.

    God, I’m sure, could have told them a bunch of stuff that would have been unavailable to them otherwise. In fact, this is what I believe happened and therefore the unique value of the Bible. However, it appears that God had other things on his mind, such as describing his nature and how we should behave.

    This seems to have been a big enough infodump already, considering how lousy their implementation of this knowledge was, and for that matter, how mine at least is far from perfect too.

    Another true answer: The values and priorities with which they approach the text of a creation myth, by which they would judge its accuracy, are very different from those of a modern, post-enlightenment person with strong cultural values of the utility of science, engineering and literal truth.

    An opinion as to whose values and priorities are better, or more useful, is one thing; but the fact is they had different ones and wrote the narrative accordingly.

    What I think those values and priorities were is beyond the scope of what I have time to write, which is probably for the best, I tend to write enough walls of text as it is.

  • swbarnes2

    The text under discussion is Gen 1-11, and the authors are a number of people from the Bronze and Iron Ages, and accuracy, for you and I, would involve knowledge they simple didn’t have.

    If what you are trying to say is that the text under discussion shows absolutely no evidence of being inspired by an entity who did have all kinds of knowledge about how the universe really works, I agree, but I don’t know why you would make this argument.

    God, I’m sure, could have told them a bunch of stuff that would have been unavailable to them otherwise. In fact, this is what I believe happened and therefore the unique value of the Bible. However, it appears that God had other things on his mind, such as describing his nature and how we should behave.

    Exodus 12:29 being one example of God’s nature that we humans should never, ever ignore?  That whole Flood thing being another, right?

    How we should behave?  Like how we should treat our slaves?  How we should not suffer witch to live?  Right, very important moral lessons, where would we be if God had not spelled all that out for us?

    Really, what you are saying is that God thought it was much, much more important for humans to know exactly how to build the tabernacle than it was for humans to know that tiny organisms can cause disease.  I know if I was trying to communicate to people, and I (for some reason) had a limited amount of text to do it in, I’d skip all the parts about the building that isn’t even going to last very long, and get across the germ theory of disease, becaue that would save lives.  And I bet if you thought about it, that’s what you’d do to.  But that’s not what the text of the Bible looks like, does it?  That’s not what you believe God chose.

  • Joshua


    the text under discussion shows absolutely no evidence of being inspired by an entity who did have all kinds of knowledge about how the universe really works, I agree, but I don’t know why you would make this argument. 

    No, the text has no evidence of being written by someone with advanced knowledge. Being inspired by God doesn’t give you God’s knowledge any more than being inspired by a beautiful rainbow gives you bands of colours.

    Really, what you are saying is that God thought it was much, much more important for humans to know exactly how to build the tabernacle than it was for humans to know that tiny organisms can cause disease.  I know if I was trying to communicate to people, and I (for some reason) had a limited amount of text to do it in

    You seem to be arguing under the misapprehension that I believe the Bible is the content of God’s revelation to us. Human people wrote it, subject to all sorts of limitations in their knowledge, morals and priorities.

    In fact, I believe that God revealed himself to biblical figures, to a greater or lesser extent, but definitively in the person of Jesus. But they wrote down what they wrote down in response themselves. Hence, mythologised legends like your Ex 12:29.

    Personally, I find Ex 4:24 a more impactful example of God being weird in the First Testament. The NRSV translation brings it out the best. Pharoah and his crew are, at least, enemies so getting all stabby makes tactical sense. But what is stranger, that God would try to kill Moses for no particular reason, or that having tried, God would fail?

    Anyway, short version: I’m not your fundamentalist cousin from Kansas.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Anyway, short version: I’m not your fundamentalist cousin from Kansas.

    Apropos of the other thread, my life is significant now that I’ve invented a meme transmitted to at least one other person :)

  • Joshua

    Hooray!

  • swbarnes2

    You seem to be arguing under the misapprehension that I believe the Bible is the content of God’s revelation to us. Human people wrote it, subject to all sorts of limitations in their knowledge, morals and priorities.

     
    You were talking about the writers of Genesis, and you said you believed that God told them a bunch of stuff that would have been unavailable to them otherwise, that this was the virtue of the Bible.  And now you say, no, they were in fact limited?  What happens to the virtue of the Bible?

    In fact, I believe that God revealed himself to biblical figures, to a greater or lesser extent, but definitively in the person of Jesus.

    The same Jesus who talked about a global flood as if he sincerely believed it had actually happened? 
    And God didn’t reveal himself to anyone else figured in any other religious texts composed anywhere else in the world, ever?

    But they wrote down what they wrote down in response themselves. Hence, mythologised legends like your Ex 12:29.

    So the resurrection, that’s just as likely to be mythologized legend too?  The gospel writers were surely subject to all sorts of limitations in their knowledge, morals and priorities, right?
    If the Fall is a mythologized legend, then no one really needs redemption from it, do they?  So how do you figure out which fantastic stories are talking about real deeds, and which ones are mythologized legends? 

    Anyway, short version: I’m not your fundamentalist cousin from Kansas.

    If I had one, would your religious beliefs be on a better evidentiary or even logical foundation than hers?

    If I had one, would your religious beliefs be on a better evidentiary or even logical foundation than hers?

     

  • Joshua


    You were talking about the writers of Genesis, and you said you believed that God told them a bunch of stuff that would have been unavailable to them otherwise, that this was the virtue of the Bible.  And now you say, no, they were in fact limited?  What happens to the virtue of the Bible? 

    I think I have already explained this. I doubt anyone needs a rehash, or that I could be much clearer the second time around.

    And God didn’t reveal himself to anyone else figured in any other religious texts composed anywhere else in the world, ever?

     This sentence is pretty unclear to me. The grammar’s a bit wonko. However, it appears to be talking about other world religions, which is not a topic that has even been mentioned so far. I can’t really see why you have a  bone to pick with me about them, since you have no idea what my opinions of other world religions are.

    If I had one, would your religious beliefs be on a better evidentiary or even logical foundation than hers?

     I’m having real trouble with the idea that you’re engaging with me in good faith. I decline to continue this conversation. If by some strange chance you actually are interested in answers to these questions, not just attacking people, then I’ve commented previously on a bunch of good theological resources online that you can read in your spare time.

  • Dan Audy

    Thanks.  I was lucky enough to have that thread opened on another computer which hadn’t refreshed after it got deleted so I was able to save it from the memory hole.  I do rather regret describing their claims of openness as ‘crowing’ which was an unnecessary dig.  I added that after repeated editing and getting my wife to proofread it to ensure that it wasn’t combative and should have remembered the rule that you never make changes after proofing and editing without repeating the cycle.  The good that has come out of this mess (for me) is that it got me thinking a lot more about how I treat people I disagree with so that I can avoid the pitfalls they are tripping in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    Since my father was headmaster of a Church in Wales school, I have sat through (at a guess) about 400 sermons. I also frequently hear clergy of different denominations giving radio talks – mini-sermons, in effect. Not one suggested that the Bible has no narrative of material origins. Certainly none suggested that Genesis gives a false order of creation of the Sun and the Moon in order to demote them as Gods.  “This is how Christians read the Bible” is, I think, true only for certain values of “Christian”.

    It seems to me that the truth – that the Sun is much younger than the earliest stars – demotes it quite adequately, and could have been written into Genesis quite easily. If, that is, God had valued the truth.

  • John Morehead

    Thank you for addressing the issue of conservative theology and the Genesis creation narrative. Your readers should know that the video you present by way of an alternative comes from BioLogos, a collection of evangelical scholars committed to their faith and evolution. It is an organization worth considering and a position worth examining.

  • Random person

    The video you’ve posted reminds me of two other videos about the bible which I’ve seen recently. One is about the possible polytheism of people in the biblical region and how the bible was written in response to it, the second is about how Eden was a place on Earth.

    Both worth a watch, although I don’t know how accurate the scholarship is.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtEsQT5M2IQ&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fei91b_Uqk8

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Sure.  Historical people had FABLES.  They understand how stories work.  Genesis doesn’t have anything to do with science any more than The Lion King does.  Talking snakes & lions are part of how fiction works.  It is…it is frankly REALLY WEIRD that people want to act like it is factual.  IT HAS A TALKING SNAKE.

  • Another Matt

    Sure.  Historical people had FABLES.  They understand how stories work.  Genesis doesn’t have anything to do with science any more than The Lion King does.  Talking snakes & lions are part of how fiction works.  It is…it is frankly REALLY WEIRD that people want to act like it is factual.  IT HAS A TALKING SNAKE.

    Here’s what I don’t get when I hear this argument (I don’t know what Mordicai’s beliefs are, so maybe this isn’t appropriate):

    “Sure. Historical people had FABLES. They understand how stories work. The gospels don’t have anything to do with science/history any more than The Lion King does. Divine avatars performing miracles are part of how fiction works. It is…it is frankly REALLY WEIRD that people want to act like it is factual. IT HAS A DUDE WHO WALKS ON WATER.”How do we know which parts of it to take as though it were factual?

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    …well I mean, I would go right ahead & agree with you. Jesus as an economics & ethics figure is one thing, but the belief in miracles is quite another. Forget walking on water; cut straight to the “died & rose again” part, since that is actually core doctrine, right?


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