Friday, May 8, 2009

The Moral of the Story...

When I was a kid every church service had a children story time right before the adults started their boring sermon. We would trot up and down the aisles collecting offering in our wicker baskets while "Jesus Loves Me" played wistfully in the background. We gathered up front waiting to hear this week's tale. All of them contained a lesson on morality: the boy who cried wolf, the girl who ate too much cake got sick, and the naughty child who blamed the broken dish on the dog was found out. The stories were interesting, especially when they brought in live animals, but were all variations on the same themes of morality all little boys and girls should know. Most of the stories were just that: stories. We knew they weren't factually true but we didn't care as long as it delayed the boring sermon. A part of us also wanted to be reminded of those morals within the stories, regardless of the context.

["The Three Bears" From Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, by Various. Project Gutenberg. I wonder who this family of bears ate to obtain this house and their fancy clothes? Obviously Goldilocks assumed it belong to people or else she wouldn't have entered in at all.]
But then we grew up. We still held onto those stories, but we began to take them seriously/literally as we took everything else. To a child, Snow White and David and Goliath are taken in on the same level, they are stories to entertain, teach a lesson, and bring them closer to their parents. But at some point between childhood and adulthood we began to pick and choose which tales were literally true. But why does this matter, why can't we be satisfied with Truth found IN the story? Why does the story also have to be true?

"The validity of the story matters!"

Not to me, but to those who need truth to ring true. Because without an eyewitness saying “I was there and this is what I saw” or some other evidence (rational, archeological, etc.) then you have to take a much larger leap of faith to accept the truths that emanate from scripture. A common argument I hear is "if one part of the Bible is 'made up' and not literally/historically true how can I accept the rest of the Bible?"

That depends on where your faith lies. I don’t need to know that the Exodus out of Egypt actually happened to understand the Ten Commandments and how they have shaped Western civilization. My faith does not lie in the historicity of the story but in the moral of the story. This is what we understood and grasped in our childhood but have forgotten as we grew up. Some of us even throw out the baby with the bathwater by tossing out all childhood tales, Biblical and Fairy, with any truths it attempts to communicate to us. This is exactly why I've divorced spiritual truths found in the Bible from the concept of Biblical inerrancy. By tying the Bible as history/fact to spiritual truths anyone can throw out spiritual truths out by disproving the "Biblical facts". Anyone who looks at the texts critically will find errors of all sorts in the Bible. This does not erode the importance and significance of the spiritual truths found within scripture! If anything it strengthens them by revealing their universal and timeless nature. Do not kill, do not steal, and respect your neighbor are universal in any tale.

If we focus too much on elements of the tale we might miss the moral of the story. What would we gain in debating the historicity of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” if we fail to internalize the importance of respecting others and their property? I don’t want to fall asleep in a house belonging to a family of hungry bears, do you?


Don Rogers said...

Read any Spong? If not, I think you'll like him.

Unknown said...

I've got three or four of his books on my booklist that I have yet to purchase. Is there one you would recommend reading first?

Don Rogers said...

The best I've read so far is: "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism". I've heard, but not read, that: "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" is the best of his.

Anonymous said...

I liked "A New Christianity for a New World" best. It sums up his beliefs well.

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