Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Assembly Required: Part 2- The Best (and Worst) Intentions

James F. McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, Indianapolis, over at Exploring Our Matrix has posted a few thought-proving pictures a couple months ago. Click on the previous link to check them out for yourself. What do you think? Did God put the Bible together himself or did God use people to do the work for him? What does this tell us about the Bible itself? Can the Bible escape man's fallible nature or does it contain fingerprints of man's highest hopes and dreams to our deepest fears and darkest issues?

As I've stated many times before, if I believe in anything with every ounce of my being it is that man is capable of making mistakes. With this humble approach to our fallibility how then do we reconcile the view that the "infallible and inerrant" Bible was penned, edited, arranged, and transmitted by the hand of Man? Should we even try to reconcile these two points or simply look at our freshly assembled Bible with new eyes?

In my previous post, I mentioned two views on the nature of the Bible and questions surrounding it's fallibility. Both of these are rooted in Divine Inspiration, but as Dr. Jay from Yoga for Cynics reminded me (which I had forgotten) there is a third view when it comes to the nature of the Bible. This will once again be represented in crude graph form. (This graph leaves A LOT out of the history of the Bible but this is just to illustrate my point on divine inspiration.)

It is only on Faith that we believe that the Bible originates from divine inspiration. We have no physical proof, although Christian apologists can come up with some pretty clever arguments that the Bible has been divinely inspired. There are also some really intriguing arguments that Muslim apologist have given on the Qu'ran, but that's a post for another day. If the authors of the Bible lacked angels whispering in their ears what does this tell us about the text itself? What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about man?

I define divine inspiration a bit differently than God whispering in a human ear, guiding their quill. I believe divine inspiration is the interaction, connection, and communion with the Divine/Spirit that allows humanity to tap into divine knowledge for the benefit of mankind. Divine inspiration is not secluded to one branch of faith because the realm of the Spirit is not exclusive. We may use different symbols, methods, and practices to reach out to the Divine but it is the reaching out that is the important factor. The "reaching out" also does not have to be to a monotheistic Divine Being out there somewhere looking out for our well being (that is if you acknowledge his existence). The Divine can also be found by reaching within ourselves and discovering the good, the beautiful, the loving found within our inner being. Wherever the Divine may resides, I believe it is found by the yearning to reach out for something better than what we currently are.

Although I believe that all scripture could have been divinely inspired the only historically accessible method to reading scripture would be the third option: scripture was written entirely by man with the best (and worst) intentions containing their views of the divine. More on that in a minute. We must also keep the context in mind, those living during the era of the early church believed that there was divine inspiration. Regardless of how we may read, interpret, and study scripture (or what eventually became scripture) we must remember that it was written for a target audience with a specific message at a specific time. It was not written for us in the 21st century because the early church (Paul and even Jesus himself) believed that they were living in the end times. The issue is not rereading scripture coldly by removing the divine from it, but to keep in mind while we read that a select group of people decided what was to be considered canonical.
The word "canon" is derived from the Greek noun κανών "kanon" meaning "reed" or "cane," or also "rule" or "measure," which itself is derived from the Hebrew word קנה "kaneh" and is often used as a standard of measurement. Thus, a canonical text is a single authoritative edition for a given work. (Wikipedia)
The books that were selected for canonization were to be the authoritative texts for the emerging Christian church. This was at a time when different forms of Christianity were battling each other for control. The proto-orthodox movement did come out victorious in the end but the significant point is that there WERE other forms of Christianity with different gospels and different views on the nature of Christ which lost and eventually died out. The losers never get to write their version of history.

So how do we know that the Biblical canon was not affected by religious politics? I'm not a Biblical scholar but as far as I've read it was affected, just take a look at the Nicene Creed and it's revisions. Outside of mere clarification, the revisions seem more like patch jobs to fix any holes in the creed to keep the heretics out of the loop. This is a major issue that most Christians dare not even question. Instead of acknowledging the fallibility of the bishops presiding over the canonization process they give them a free pass because IF there were any doubt to the authenticity and authority of the Biblical canon then their faith may be in jeopardy. When I first began reading into early church history I felt my faith slipping away, and most of my fellow Christians have disowned me because of my curiosity into the history of the same church they praise. Ironic? A bit, but I felt it necessary to learn more about my own faith if I am to continue claiming it. I don't believe I ever lost my faith but it was challenged and transformed.

But this does not get to the core of Dr. Jay's helpful reminder of the third view which he summarized in the comment section of the last post: "the Bible was written and put together by men without any divine intervention, based on their best and worst ideas about God, as well as quite a bit of self-interest (need to justify subjugation of women, slavery, atrocities committed against neighboring tribes, etc.)." The view that the Bible was written by fallible men is heresy to many but a realistic view for others. All the beauty, atrocities, wisdom, fear, and hope found within the Bible originates from the hand of men. I'm sure there are some out there who may say this line of thinking directly leads to Atheism, and I disagree. Oh, it may lead someone there but saying that scripture was not divinely inspired by God is more of a testament to our fallibility and humanity than an argument against God. There are horrific tales found within the Bible that I believe are remnants of mankind's hatred and darkest fears which we collectively have to come to terms with, and hopefully learn from their follies. But the gems of wisdom, beauty, and love speak of our progress as a species yearning to become better, to outgrow our demons and evolve into a more beautiful and harmonious creature. Atheist and secular humanists may say that the wrathful and jealous God of the Bible is no longer needed, and I agree. The vision of the b.c.e. God no longer speaks to my 21st century heart. It is the yearning, which divinely inspires me, to become more loving to our fellow man that I understand, interact, and connect with in our modern world.

Blog Series: Some Assembly Required

Part 1: Some Assembly Required
Part 2: The Best and Worst Intentions


Don said...

Great post! You know where I stand on these issues. I am glad you led me to Dr. McGrath's blog. He always has interesting topics and links to share.
I, like you, wish that more Christians would be willing to explore early Christianity without the fear that is obiviously there for them. I, too, experienced what I took to be a loss of faith as more and more was revealed about the Bible and its sources. But, in the end I greatly benefited and still benefit from my studies. My belief in a spirit that many call God is even stronger now, without the distractions in inerrancy, and such.

Don said...

A friend of mine, whom I consider one of my spiritual leaders, wrote on his blog today:

"If we can admit that the Bible is a product of the reader, the interpreter, it gives us not only HOPE that we can grow and be transformed, but it also means we don’t have to rail on everyone who SEES something that we don’t. It’s just where they are- currently."


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