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The Violent Unjust God


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Guest wayfarer2k

As a progressive Christian, how do you understand the bible's portrayal of God as violent and unjust?

 

A few examples:

1. Punishing all of mankind for two people's sin

2. Killing all of mankind and animals in the flood

3. Commanding Israel to kill off all her enemies, including women, children, and sometimes livestock (while still keeping all the loot)

4. Punishing subsequent generations for "sins of the fathers"

5. Death being the consequence of breaking the Law

6. Jesus' threats of "everlasting torment" for those who don't believe in him

7. The support of slavery

8. The general denigration of women as property

 

When the bible and the bible-God are portrayed as loving and just, how do you reconcile these other aspects of that God?

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As a progressive Christian, how do you understand the bible's portrayal of God as violent and unjust?

 

A few examples:

1. Punishing all of mankind for two people's sin

2. Killing all of mankind and animals in the flood

3. Commanding Israel to kill off all her enemies, including women, children, and sometimes livestock (while still keeping all the loot)

4. Punishing subsequent generations for "sins of the fathers"

5. Death being the consequence of breaking the Law

6. Jesus' threats of "everlasting torment" for those who don't believe in him

7. The support of slavery

8. The general denigration of women as property

 

When the bible and the bible-God are portrayed as loving and just, how do you reconcile these other aspects of that God?

 

I think it is highly likely that people's views of God (and therefore what they wrote in the Bible) were influenced by their own personal interests. This is the explanation, in my view, for #s 3 and 5-8 (#3 the personal interest would be that "God is on our side"; #5 and 6, forcing conformity in religious beliefs; #7 and 8, being able to hold dominion over slaves/women). #s 1 and 2 I believe can be explained simply from ignorance - myths created out of a lack of understanding about the world around us. #4 I don't know the reason behind, I'd have to brush up on the context I guess.

 

My experiences of God tell me that God is loving and just. I put my experiences before Scripture, as I view Scripture as simply the recording of other peoples' experiences. Therefore I look for places in Scripture that match up with my experiences and what makes sense to me.

 

I think these are pretty standard replies from Progressive Christians. It's not generally an issue seeing as how few, if any, Progressive Christians take the Bible as the literal Word of God.

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Guest wayfarer2k
My experiences of God tell me that God is loving and just. I put my experiences before Scripture, as I view Scripture as simply the recording of other peoples' experiences. Therefore I look for places in Scripture that match up with my experiences and what makes sense to me.

 

Thanks for your input, McKenna. I guess that's the way I'm leaning also. But if I were to mention this aloud in church, I would be accused of being a "smorgasbord" Christian (those who pick the parts of Christianity or the bible that they like and discard the rest).

 

I'm kinda working through these issues right now because I often wonder if my concept of God (who I would hope is loving and just) is anywhere near the concept of God as he is portrayed in the bible (for reasons above).

 

It's hard to sing "Jesus loves all the little children of the world" when you consider how many children died during the OT flood and the conquest of Canaan.

 

Sometimes I hope my children never read the entire bible. It would destroy their faith. Just read the "good parts". :rolleyes:

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As a progressive Christian, how do you understand the bible's portrayal of God as violent and unjust?

 

A few examples:

1. Punishing all of mankind for two people's sin

2. Killing all of mankind and animals in the flood

3. Commanding Israel to kill off all her enemies, including women, children, and sometimes livestock (while still keeping all the loot)

4. Punishing subsequent generations for "sins of the fathers"

5. Death being the consequence of breaking the Law

6. Jesus' threats of "everlasting torment" for those who don't believe in him

7. The support of slavery

8. The general denigration of women as property

 

When the bible and the bible-God are portrayed as loving and just, how do you reconcile these other aspects of that God?

 

I suppose there are many answers. One would be that some of your statements paint the bible with a broad brush and are matters of interpretation (i.e. your statements are loaded with your assertions (generalities) in some cases).

 

Spong would say that you have to look at some Old Testament passages in terms of those passages being an explanation of events from a people’s perspective. They had a tribal concept of God and interpreted the events of wars and so on through this perspective.

 

Spong would also note that the use of some hyperbole and story telling is quite in line with the concept of Midrash that explains some principal through a fantastic tale (e.g. Garden of Eden).

 

Boyd might say that we know through statements in the New Testament that when we have experienced and heard Christ we have heard and experienced God. Therefore, whatever does not look like Christ or in line with Christ’s actions, words and so on is not likely of God. Personally, I cannot picture Christ wiping out innocent men women and children. Also, Christ treated women with a great deal of dignity.

Edited by North
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Thanks for your input, McKenna. I guess that's the way I'm leaning also. But if I were to mention this aloud in church, I would be accused of being a "smorgasbord" Christian (those who pick the parts of Christianity or the bible that they like and discard the rest).

 

I understand, and it's a legitimate concern/criticism. I would argue, however, that everyone picks the parts of Christianity/the Bible that they like and either discards or ignores the rest - whether they admit it or not. (One example, perhaps, can be seen here:

)

 

I think that it is fine as long as you can back up your reasons for disbelieving certain parts of the Bible. For example, I choose not to believe in the creation story in Genesis (literally - I love it as a myth). This is because there is overwhelming scientific evidence against the Creation happening that particular way. I do not think this makes me somehow a dishonest Christian - I am upfront about the fact that I don't take all of the Bible literally, and can explain my reasons for this. Still, there will always be people who are unhappy with you and me for our view on this...I think that's just the way it is, unfortunately.

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Guest wayfarer2k
I understand, and it's a legitimate concern/criticism. I would argue, however, that everyone picks the parts of Christianity/the Bible that they like and either discards or ignores the rest - whether they admit it or not. (One example, perhaps, can be seen here:
)

 

I think that it is fine as long as you can back up your reasons for disbelieving certain parts of the Bible. For example, I choose not to believe in the creation story in Genesis (literally - I love it as a myth). This is because there is overwhelming scientific evidence against the Creation happening that particular way. I do not think this makes me somehow a dishonest Christian - I am upfront about the fact that I don't take all of the Bible literally, and can explain my reasons for this. Still, there will always be people who are unhappy with you and me for our view on this...I think that's just the way it is, unfortunately.

 

Thanks for sharing the video. That was great! Funny how fundies who claim that the bible must be taken literally are sometimes the worst for ignoring the more important passages.

 

One of the big things that moved me to a more progressive stance was all of the contradictions found in the bible. It forced me to realize that the biblical writers, just like us, had their own opinions about things and, therefore, sometimes disagreed. Thankfully, most of us don't claim to speak for God. I think that was their primary mistake.

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The Bible is problematic for many people of Faith because it is presented to us as being 'what to believe' by our various denominational communities. At sometime during the course of our Faith Journey, we experience a credibility gap open between what we are told to believe, we we think we should believe, we we think we can believe, and what we simply cannot believe. This crisis of credibility has nothing to do with a lack of Faith, but everything to do with the Bible not being what it is presented as being. The Bible simply is not The Word of God nor is it historical fact. The Bible is a collection of stories that make up the history of ancient Israel and the Hebrew people in the Old Testament and a collection of stories that evolved around the person known to us as Jesus. It is easier to understand these stories as part of a great oral tradition passed down through history from one generation to the next. In the case of the New Testament, the Gospels and Epistles were read to people of the Christian community because the greatest number of Christians were illiterate at the time. There is much variation in the Gospels and Epistles because of time lag between the execution of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels, the copying and re-copying of Epistles, translations and re-translations, forgeries, and books purposely banished from the orthodox canon. What of the Gospel of Mary? Or Philip? What we have in fact is a collection of writings of uncertain human authorship with definite historical and cultural roots, being presented and read as a God-inspired communication. The result is a disconnect between our modern sense of reality and an attempt to turn myth and legend into fact. The Bible is just stories...nothing more. God is not transmitted to us via written words but through a Living Fact. We do not need to open our eyes to read, but close them to see. God is with us all and within us all. This fact is truer than any words ever written by any human hand.

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As a progressive Christian, how do you understand the bible's portrayal of God as violent and unjust?

 

A few examples:

1. Punishing all of mankind for two people's sin

2. Killing all of mankind and animals in the flood

3. Commanding Israel to kill off all her enemies, including women, children, and sometimes livestock (while still keeping all the loot)

4. Punishing subsequent generations for "sins of the fathers"

5. Death being the consequence of breaking the Law

6. Jesus' threats of "everlasting torment" for those who don't believe in him

7. The support of slavery

8. The general denigration of women as property

 

When the bible and the bible-God are portrayed as loving and just, how do you reconcile these other aspects of that God?

 

Jesus here, speaking through Jen.

 

You know, it's funny you should zero in on these points from the Hebrew Bible (excepting #6) and state them so clearly, Wayfarer. I hope I may say, if I do not sound too immodest, that during my time as a teacher and healer in Palestine, I was targeting these very points, and trying to teach others to see God in a more loving light. I was not the faithful Jewish peasant that some scholars, such as John Dominic Crossan and J.P. Meier, have made me out to be. I saw the hypocrisy in the teachings of the Jewish faith, and alongside that hypocrisy I saw "the good stuff," such as the Shema from Deuteronomy. Would that have made me a "Progressive Jew?" I don't know. All I know is that I was trying to get closer to God, and in order to do that, I had to jettison the traditional Jewish teachings about slavery, denigration of women and the disabled, and especially the entrenched belief that the rich and the privileged were the chosen favourites of God (which supposedly explained why they were rich and privileged, and others were not -- yeah, riiiiiight).

 

If I may, I would also like to add to your list the Passover celebration. You know, biblical scholars and faithful Christians don't really like to think too closely about the original Passover feast and what it celebrated. I mean, do you really think that a guy who pins all his theology on love and forgiveness is going to piggyback the culmination of his teachings onto a feast that celebrates the slaughter of innocent children by God's avenging angels? Does this make sense to you? If you look through the calendar of traditional Jewish holidays, you'll find another holiday, one little known to Christians, that celebrates gratitude to God for the harvest, and 2,000 years ago this festival featured an elevation offering in the temple of leavened bread (see Leviticus 23:15-21). That religious holiday was/is Shavuot, known also as Weeks, referred to by Christians as Pentecost. I was not foolish enough to think that I could ask my fellow Jews to give up all their cherished traditions. But I was hoping to shift the emphasis away from Passover and towards Shavuot. It turns out I underestimated my friends' attachment to the idea of "sticking it to the Egyptians of old." They reacted very badly when I proposed that we focus less on ideals of revenge, and more on humble gratitude to God for our daily blessings.

 

I guess you could say that those who are willing to jettison the parts of the Bible you've listed above are following in my footsteps. And those who want to hang onto these grossly unloving teachings are not following the path to God that I hoped to share with others.

 

Love Jesus

August 15, 2008

Edited by canajan, eh?
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Thanks for sharing the video. That was great! Funny how fundies who claim that the bible must be taken literally are sometimes the worst for ignoring the more important passages.

 

One of the big things that moved me to a more progressive stance was all of the contradictions found in the bible. It forced me to realize that the biblical writers, just like us, had their own opinions about things and, therefore, sometimes disagreed. Thankfully, most of us don't claim to speak for God. I think that was their primary mistake.

 

You're welcome :)

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Thanks for your input, McKenna. I guess that's the way I'm leaning also. But if I were to mention this aloud in church, I would be accused of being a "smorgasbord" Christian (those who pick the parts of Christianity or the bible that they like and discard the rest).

 

 

All people do that. Some just admit to it -- others are just lying to themselves. Do the women wear head coverings in church? No? Really? Then they are choosing which parts of the bible to follow! OMG! :rolleyes: The list goes on and on about what people follow and what they do not. Here are a few more:

 

Women aren't to braid their hair.

Women are to keep silent.

Women are to wear a covering when speaking in church (Try and get those two to fit together!)

Gluttony (overeating/over indulging) is forbidden -- so fat people are unrepentant sinners and not allowed to go to Heaven. Same goes for people who gossip.

 

Go through Romans and Corinthians and see what other silly things are listed that people ignore. (And some not so silly!) Oh, like giving away everything you have to the poor!

 

I think they may find they are actually more smorgasboard than you are!

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All people do that. Some just admit to it -- others are just lying to themselves. Do the women wear head coverings in church? No? Really? Then they are choosing which parts of the bible to follow! OMG! :rolleyes: The list goes on and on about what people follow and what they do not. Here are a few more:

 

Women aren't to braid their hair.

Women are to keep silent.

Women are to wear a covering when speaking in church (Try and get those two to fit together!)

Gluttony (overeating/over indulging) is forbidden -- so fat people are unrepentant sinners and not allowed to go to Heaven. Same goes for people who gossip.

 

Go through Romans and Corinthians and see what other silly things are listed that people ignore. (And some not so silly!) Oh, like giving away everything you have to the poor!

 

I think they may find they are actually more smorgasboard than you are!

 

Funny...but good point. People can be quite adept at selectivity no matter what spectrum they come from.

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  • 4 weeks later...
The Bible simply is not The Word of God nor is it historical fact.

 

The Bible is just stories...nothing more. God is not transmitted to us via written words but through a Living Fact. We do not need to open our eyes to read, but close them to see. God is with us all and within us all. This fact is truer than any words ever written by any human hand.

 

 

Being new here, I am coming late to this conversation but I have decided to make some comments.

 

First of all, thank you, Russ. Your thoughts above are fully in-line with my current beliefs. Words, whether they be spoken tradition or else written down, are exclusively symbols created by the human mind to rationalize and explain our observations to others.

 

I cannot explain to you in words how a rose smells. Unless you have smelled a rose, my verbal description would not do it justice. You must experience the rose for yourself and develop your own mental interpretation of that rose's characteristic aroma. The next time I refer to a rose, you would then have a pleasing mental imprint (as long as you like the smell of roses) of what I was talking about and would likely have a similar idea of what my words are trying to convey.

 

Like the smell of a rose, none of us can put our definition of God into words. Unlike the rose, however, each of us has a completely different mental imprint of God. What matters in the long run is that each of us finds our internal connection to God in a way that is most comfortable for each of us.

 

I like to think about Jesus' saying that God is love. To me, he is not saying that God is a loving God, which would imply that God also has lesser attributes such as apathy or worse, vengeance. Rather, I interpret Jesus' statement that God acts through our lives by the Love that we spread. The unjust God of the Bible is an idol created by the authors of the Bible stories and texts to give those authors a comfort zone to explain their actions and the actions of others around them.

 

Furthermore, I believe that these attributes were given to God by the story tellers in order to captivate and keep the interest of the story-tellers audience. Everyone listening to these stories can easily relate to a vengeful and unjust God figure because each of us is more in tune with these emotions in ourselves.

 

I don't know about you, but I have a very difficult time spreading love. My mind has an easier time justifying anger than it does love. I think that is why the Bible authors have created the unjust God idol. It is easier to describe a God that meshes with our own emotional attributes. Humanity has proven itself to be very good at promoting a variety of emotions except love. I think the true challenge that Jesus' has given us as his followers is to promote love exclusively, which is the most difficult challenge of all.

 

Alan

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(snip)

I don't know about you, but I have a very difficult time spreading love. My mind has an easier time justifying anger than it does love. I think that is why the Bible authors have created the unjust God idol. It is easier to describe a God that meshes with our own emotional attributes. Humanity has proven itself to be very good at promoting a variety of emotions except love. I think the true challenge that Jesus' has given us as his followers is to promote love exclusively, which is the most difficult challenge of all.

 

Alan

 

Hi Alan,

 

For brevity I have sniped the first part of your response which I thought was extremely well written and wanted to comment on your last paragraph.

 

It seems to me that the Love that Jesus spoke of was as you say not an emotion. Emotions make be invoked as a result of experiencing God's love yet perhaps one might say that Love is more a nature that is experienced and flows with a connection to God. It seems to me it is not generated or created by an act or action but rather is a reality of the presence or nature of God that can be subjectively felt or experienced but is not the feeling and has no opposite. Something very difficult to put in words as you have said but unmistakeable by experience. At best in words, it can be described as what it is not rather than what it is.

 

Joseph

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Joseph:

 

Thank you for your kind comments. It took me several re-writes to limit my thoughts and finalize my post.

 

I enjoy your idea of the non-emotional God of Love. This concept blends well with my belief that we cannot fully comprehend God with the limits imposed upon us in this present reality. Emotions, like words, are just symbolic ways for us to interact with our surroundings. Because you and I both agree that Love has no opposite, I think it is wrong to categorize it as a human emotion. We live in a world of opposites and our minds need this balance in order to maintain a healthy equilibrium. We use the word Love to convey our thoughts of caring and special feelings towards each other, but the concept of a God of Love is much deeper than this.

 

Jesus was also limited to trying to express his thoughts and ideas by the words and emotions known to his listeners. I think he used the word Love because it was the best choice available to convey a concept that cannot be put into words.

 

I feel I have strayed from the original intent of the this thread. So, to bring it back around, I think the idea of a violent and unjust God is a completely human created idol. It worked well for the tribal society of the time and allowed the religious leaders to have an artificial control over their followers. I see this same line of reasoning when I hear the exclusionary words of the fundamentalists and evangelicals. I think if Jesus were living with us here today, he would be battling this accepted idol on a daily basis much as he did 2000 years ago.

 

Alan

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