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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Father Elijah on Liberalism and Fundamentalism

It’s easy to show that neither of the extreme contrary positions, the fundamentalist nor the ‘spongy’ [ie. Bishop Spong's position] one, holds. It’s a lot harder to formulate the golden middle.

The fundamentalists say the literal meaning is absolute. But as the Bible often contradicts itself, you end up believing how they interpret. Unfortunately, this is contradictory in itself, because nowhere it’s written in the Bible that I have to interpret it literally or that I have to believe what fundamentalists say.

The whole concept of ‘only the Scripture’ (in Latin ‘sola scriptura’) leads to absurdity. It just can not be true, because nowhere you will find these words in the Scripture. By saying that you must not add anything to the Scripture, you are adding something to the Scripture.

Stephan says: "I always lie' is a paradox because if it is true it must be false"

But it’s not a paradox but an absurdity. The simple fact of saying ‘the Scripture is the Word of God’ implies adding ‘through living man being inspired’. So when we read the Bible we have to choose some authority for its interpretation and also trust that we ourselves can really find its meaning.

Yes, Gods Word is given to us – full of paradoxes of real life that provoke us to scrutinize the mystery. While reading the Scripture in faith I implicitly found my meditations on two kinds of 'infallibilities' that help to overcome the paradoxes and touch the mystery: the one of the authority I recognize at that moment and the on ... my own search of truth!

Fundamentalist are like stuffing their grandfather and saying: “he’s such a nice man”. But a stuffed grandfather is a dead grandfather. There won’t be much communication. The spongy modernists want to adapt the Scripture to naïve bourgeois idealism,

Dave says: "who are looking for a satisfactory philosophy of life ."

They analyse the Scripture to death by reading it as a breakfast tabloid, and completely neglect the fact that it’s written for their personal commitment in life. Thus the Scripture has no meaning at all, neither historic nor spiritual, and they end up not believing anything at all.

The modernist are like dissecting their grandfather and saying: we know him so well. But before you dissect someone, you first have to kill him. And you’ll never know a dead person very well. Not much communication either…

Stephan said: "the meaning frequently changes. WOW"

But I’d say to be more precise: it gives us new meanings; its personal meaning for us develops.

About Stephan’s ‘unconventional Christian thinking’, I’m a bit wary of hypnosis and the subconscious. I wouldn’t like to prove anything about what’s 'up there' from what goes on deep 'down under' in me (though in Australia that might be the other way round? ), although it might be a sign. We progress towards the Absolute on the level where we are more than just conscious or not, that is, where our spirit full aware of its choices and searches the truth.
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dave Spits his Dummy at Bishop Spong

Stephen wrote:

Bp Spong in his book "Resciung the bible from fundamentalism" talks of the inerrancy of the Bible being developed because the Reformation could hardly accept the papal infallibility against which they were so busy rebelling. So they (prodestants) elevated the scriptures to the status of the "revealed word of God". One wonders first which version of the Bible was the inerrant one since they differ widely.

Dave responded:

This is a good reminder of why I don't like Bishop Spong. His scholarship is often as simplistic as the positions he is attacking! I remember when I first read his 'Living in Sin' - what a disappointment! Sorry, I digress.

Spong's reading of history is simplistic. It is simply not true that the concept of Biblical innerancy only developed through the Reformation. The oft-quoted verse from 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is "inspired by God" may not carry the load of meaning often attributed to it by fundamentalists, but neither can it be dismissed as readily as it is by Spong.

The ancient Hebrews had a very high view of their sacred texts. You'll find that many of the earliest Hebrew manuscripts still in existence include constant marginal notes along the lines of 'this is the 4000th occurence of the letter 'H'', designed to make sure that all copies of the text are identical to their predecessors.

Likewise, there was a rigid code for dealing with mistakes among copyists - destroying whole scrolls and whole Bibles when variations where discovered. The process itself is unimportant, except for the way it reflects the reverence these people held for the text.

Similarly, the reason we have no sure knowledge of what the original 'name of God' is, as revealed to the Patriarchs, is because the copyists didn't write the vowel markers on the Hebrew letters when they wrote YHWH. The word was so sacred that they weren't even game to write it down in full! View this as superstitious by all means, but recognise that it is an attitude that predates the reformation by a long way.

Stephen wrote:

Second, Spong explains that people are generally unaware that the original texts of the gospels had no punctuation, no paragraphs, no capital letters and no space between words. All of those things were imposed on the gospels by interpreters hundreds of years after they were written. Were these grammarians also inerrant? It next needs to be stated that we have no complete manuscript of any single gospel that dates any earlier than the 6th Century of the Christian era. We have only handwritten copies of handwritten copies of handwritten copies. Were all of the copiers inerrant? Finally we recall that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, but the gospels were written in Greek. Thus before the first word attributed to Jesus was recorded, it had to be translated. Were the translators also inerrant? How many layers of inerrancy claims can rationality absorb before collapsing?

Dave responded:

Again this is simplistic. To say that 'the original texts had no punctuation' is to imply that we have copies of the original texts. We don't. They would be long disintegrated, along with all other paper texts from the first century. What we can say is that amongst the 1000's of early texts, some of the earliest don't have punctuation, which I don't think was a practice unique to the New Testament manuscirpts.

This doesn't in itself imply that the punctuation was imposed by later scholars. In many cases, it might be as simple as leaving the dot off an 'i'. There is no ambiguity about the punctuation. And there's no evidence that the earliest texts (now disintegrated) didn't have punctuation.

Finally, it may be true that we have no complete New Testament manuscripts more than 1500 years old, but there are bucket loads of fragments and entire books that go back to the earliest centuries.

Now, I am not a fundamentalist/literalist by any stretch of the imagination, but neither would I pretend that the position is as stupid as Spong makes out. Biblical fundamentalists hold to the infallibility of the original documents which, they openly admit, are no longer in existence. I believe this creates problems for the fundamentalist position, but this is a long way removed from where Spong is directing his fire.

In short, I am sympathetic with Spong's motivation - to make Biblical religion more accessible to the modern mind - and I likewise take a stand against fundamentalism, but I will not do so by over-simplifying my opponent's position and then rubbishing it.

Here endeth the rave ...
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Jeremy writes on Social Darwinism

Charles Darwin described the native people of Patagonia as being ‘barbarian’, but what if Darwin himself had been born into or raised by those native tribes, could he have lived any different from the way that he was brought up?

How much of an influence has Social Darwinism had on the way that people viewed and lived life in the last 100 years and does it have any influence in today’s world? If natural selection plays any significant role within the human race, who or what is it that determines that what nature has favoured as being the ‘fittest’ is for the betterment of the race? And are those views simply concurrent with the thinking and ‘values’ of the day?

Science tells us that human tastes evolved so that we would favour food that tasted sweet and had an agreeable flavour, in turn our ancestors when the opportunity arose would eat basic, high energy food stuffs that could be found in the environment such as animal fats, honey and sugar etc thereby storing the energy reserves in the form of body fat that these food types helped supply for times of drought and famine etc.

The problem with this of course is that humans today have taken control of their environment and these foods are plentiful but our bodies to some degree have not matched the same level of superiority as our cognitive development and inventiveness thereby when we eat these high energy foods our bodies efficiently work in order to store fat reserves but due to the convenience of modern day life we never get the chance to burn it off through normal daily activities, so basically yesterdays survivor or ‘fittest’ is today’s obese.

20th century ideals and industry tended to favour those with brute strength hence the rise of popular sport and the ubiquity of employment that required hard labour and physical strength. Today the world seems to have changed to favour those with advanced intellectual abilities and business acumen, no surprise really when you consider that both these qualities are virtual cash cows in today’s world and given that and according to ‘Social Darwinism’ the sole objective of a race is its physical, psychological, economic and political development.

Having the intellectual ability to program a computer would have been useless for the majority of the last 100 years. Being able to fall a tree with a girth of 30 feet using no more than an axe and ones physical ability and strength is in today’s world a talent that is not needed due to the markets elimination for woods products which is in part, a direct result of the advancement of technology. One question that arises is; will intellect rein supreme sempiternal?

I seriously doubt it will have a monopoly for that long, emotional intelligence, street smarts, and common sense are still lacking in my opinion. Being able pull mathematical formulas out of your head or having the academic ability to quote James Joyce word for word from memory doesn't mean that you have an ounce of common sense or even that you hold and live by basic moral values.In my view we are still coming to terms with this global societal structure, there’s much room for improvement.

Given that we don't wipe ourselves out with nukes and if history is any accurate indicator of changing trends the current skewed thinking will develop for the better eventually. It could be overly auspicious but I think into the future no one single human characteristic will have supremacy over the others, instead a combination of unique abilities and also the development or dare I say the evolution of the world ‘villages’ collective values might create an environment that nurtures, facilitates and accommodates complementary skill sets and abilities. This would be superior over any world model that is bias toward one human quality over another.

In my view the current capitalist system heavily relies upon and calls for a very selective, narrow skills-set and mind-set. It’s largely transformed itself into a one eyed, single minded, money hungry entity that will get blindsided by either reality, God or both into the future if it doesn’t become more adaptable and accommodating.

The hazards of using Social Darwinism as a sole religion have been clearly played out in human history. The Nazis lent themselves to the ideologies of Social Darwinism and it manifested itself with the rise and so called superiority of the Aryan race and the death of around 40 million people during WW2.

In the end Social Darwinism probably serves as a good example of how a little bit of information can be dangerous thing. And perhaps having the ability to do things that many others can’t is not so much about ‘survival of the fittest’ but more a matter of God's will, being born into the right era or at least one that matches your talents and abilities and of course good luck.