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Javelin
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2 Timothy 3:16-17 (New International Version)

 

16 ALL Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 

Fundamentalist point to II Timothy as proof that everything written in our present day bible was put there directly by God. It is believed that God “inspired” designated writers to record His words and instruction.

 

In reality, that particular scripture is open to a number of legitimate interpretations. One of the questions that must be asked is what does “all” mean. The New Testament had not been written yet, so how does the NT fit into the picture. If God breathed it then it would certainly qualify as scripture, but II Timothy doesn’t identify what writing is, and is not, God breathed. Since God didn’t identify exactly which words He breathed we are left to figured that out on our own.

 

Those that believe the bible is completely inerrant and inspired generally view the bible as a Devine instruction manual. I had a long affiliation with a group that held this view. Legalism is the predictable result when the bible becomes an object of worship rather than a source of information.

 

Once these questions entered my mind I was motivated to find some answers. I began to research how the bible came into existence. That convinced me that there was no possible way our present day bible could possibly be either fully inerrant or inspired. I still believe the bible contains the words of God, but I’m also convinced that it also contains allegories, parables, myths, folklore, cultural bias, as well as the opinions of the various authors. We are left today to determine what is and is not inspired, which is a rather daunting task.

 

Once I discarded the idea that every word in the bible was put there directly by God I had to admit that I saw a lot of inconsistency, contradictions, and conflicting teaching in scripture which isn’t reassuring.

 

If God is God, and He is Holy and perfect, how can he exhibit human traits of anger, jealously, and vindictiveness? How can he tell His creation not to be jealous if He admits to being a jealous God? How can He burn up poor old Nadab and Abihu and then tell His creation that it’s wrong to murder?

 

I’ve come to the personal conclusion that He didn’t. I think ancient cultures did a lot of bad things and then justified their actions by saying God told them to do it. Like Flip Wilson said, “The Devil made me do it.”

 

In some ways my revised view of the bible is comforting and in some ways it’s down right terrifying. How can I ever be certain which words in the bible were put there by God and which ones are nothing more than the views and opinions of the writer?

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This is obviously a very big and hot button issue. But I would approach it this way, whatever it may be worth. With the old view of the bible you mention, the bible is more or less simply talking at you. With the new view, the bible becomes interactive. You can wrestle with its teachings, dialogue with the text to find what it might mean for your faith - in other words, talk back, like Jacob wrestling with God.

 

If all scripture is given for doctrine, reproof, etc., then that is what it ought to do, either through positive examples or negative. Now Paul also says that whatsoever things are beautiful, good, true, think on these. Perhaps whichever texts prove to be edifying, and/or whichever interpretations prove true, that is faithful in leading people to what is good, true, lovely, that is the/a valid interpretation. This of course does not view the bible only as a historical document but assumes, along with the ancient interpreters of the bible, that the bible is timeless or, perhaps more accurately, ever-immediate in its application.

 

James Kugel, a Jewish bible scholar, argues that the essential character of the bible has not merely been the black and white text, but the way that text has functioned. Without the latter, the bible ceases to be the bible and becomes simply another object of textual and historical criticism. If all this seems rather arbitrary, or places too much authority on the individual or the church rather than the bible, I would argue that ultimately it is no different than within fundamentalist circles, which tend to have their own standardized interpretations that exist quite independently of the text itself. And, of course, a person can say this text or that person is the authority all they desire - but who is it that is giving that text or person the authority? It all goes back to the individual, for ultimately he is the authority in that he chooses who or what is the proper authority.

 

All this won't address many of the specifics, and the devil is always in the details, but for me it seems a workable generalization - though admittedly existing independently of the black and white text. And in general, I find that this approach, with its emphasis on interaction, does not lead in the direction of definite propositional affirmations about this or that, but is more conductive to leading the whole person, and not just the intellect, into the inner life of the Psalms. For truth is not to be realized by drawing it out only from words and text, but by drawing it out of the person too, by opening the person up to God. And being open to God is communion with him. To me that is the greatest function of scripture.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Mike, you have a gift for unraveling complex issues combined with the ability to repackage them in palatable, plausible, common sense formats. I find much wisdom in your thoughts. Joseph has this gift too.

 

My thoughts are inclined to be expressed as little more than disconnected confused babblings. I tend to speak in an unknown tongue that strongly resist coherent interpretation which is clearly not one of the spiritual gifts Paul referred to.

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In some ways my revised view of the bible is comforting and in some ways it’s down right terrifying. How can I ever be certain which words in the bible were put there by God and which ones are nothing more than the views and opinions of the writer?

As a former fundamentalist Christian myself, I can understand how this belief in certainty can provide some comfort, but I think that certainty can be a double-edged sword. While it can provide comfort, it can also lead to a lot of dogmatism, judgmentalism, and self-guilt. Many church schisms start because one group of people think their way of worshiping God is the right way and you're either for them or against them. I personally find the bible to be a much more powerful and inspiring book because it's not the literal word of God. When I was a fundamentalist, although I tried to be a serious believer, I feel like I took the bible for granted. I didn't read the bible daily or bother to do any actual investigation of the scriptures for myself because I thought I already had all the answers. But now that I see the bible as a human creation, I find it much more inspiring and thought-provoking. I love the idea that the bible is not just the words of a perfect god but it's like a collection of all the emotions of humanity in one collection. I like the way Bishop Spong describes the bible as not being the word of God but about humanity searching for God but their humanity kept getting in the way. I also take comfort knowing that since the bible is not the literal word of God, I'm not going to hell because if the fundamentalist interpretation was correct, I would be going to hell for being gay and a god who would send people to hell for being gay or what they believe is not a god I can let my moral conscious worship. Edited by Neon Genesis
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"How can I ever be certain which words in the bible were put there by God and which ones are nothing more than the views and opinions of the writer?"

 

I'd put them to the LOVE test. Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself -- even love your enemies -- everything else follows. I'm glad God is not just a leather bound book :-)

 

Incidentally, my evangelical friend has put that question to me many, many times. Some of the most spiritual growth comes from finding Bible texts I consider the most abhorable, figuring out why I'm so sensitized to them, and figure out what people were really trying to learn about the nature of God when the Bible stories were written.

 

It's extremely freeing to know that scripture isn't inerrant. Otherwise, we couldn't progress past many archaic views: slavery, women being second-class, my way or the highway...

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Mike, you have a gift for unraveling complex issues combined with the ability to repackage them in palatable, plausible, common sense formats. I find much wisdom in your thoughts. Joseph has this gift too.

 

My thoughts are inclined to be expressed as little more than disconnected confused babblings. I tend to speak in an unknown tongue that strongly resist coherent interpretation which is clearly not one of the spiritual gifts Paul referred to.

 

I appreciate the compliment my friend, though if there is any wisdom in my post I cannot lay claim to it, for it is simply bits and pieces I have read and heard from others, like Borg, NT Wright, Kugel, and others who do not comes to mind presently. My own original thoughts would be whatever is left over after the 'wisdom' is removed. :D

 

Reading Janet's post joggled my mind a bit more. She says...

 

Some of the most spiritual growth comes from finding Bible texts I consider the most abhorable, figuring out why I'm so sensitized to them, and figure out what people were really trying to learn about the nature of God when the Bible stories were written.

 

...which is a very good point. If we view the bible as a history of Israel's and the early Christian communities' relationship with God, then we are allowed examples of contradictions and failures. The bible itself is, in this sense, a crystallized record of their interaction or relationship with God, and therefore may be thought of as having something of both the divine and the human.

 

But the bible is also a living force as we ourselves begin to interact with it as we strive for a more perfect relationship with God. I would say that the function of the bible is already sealed, and say what you will about the text as it exists from a textual-critical perspective - this is the text that has shaped (and indeed was produced by) the Church and Israel for thousands of years.

 

This is the text that has informed our spirituality, our own dialogues with God, and outlined our hopes, fears, failures, triumphs, and prayers. It is this status, this history, this oneness and identification with the very community or Church, both collectively and individually, that makes the bible what it is. It is through this role that the Spirit has worked through scripture. Therefore the scripture itself need not be literally written by God.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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"How can I ever be certain which words in the bible were put there by God and which ones are nothing more than the views and opinions of the writer?"

 

I'd put them to the LOVE test. Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself -- even love your enemies -- everything else follows. I'm glad God is not just a leather bound book :-)

 

I also believe that the golden rule is the standard to interpret the bible through. Even many biblical literalists follow this standard to an extent. How many literalists do we know literally cut off their hand if they sin? Even most literalists recongize there's an extreme to how literal you can read the scriptures that doesn't reflect the will of a loving god. St. Augustine said once that if a scripture doesn't produce charity then there must be something wrong with the manuscript or we aren't interpreting it right and the interpretation should be discarded. Edited by Neon Genesis
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As a former fundamentalist Christian myself, I can understand how this belief in certainty can provide some comfort, but I think that certainty can be a double-edged sword. While it can provide comfort, it can also lead to a lot of dogmatism, judgmentalism, and self-guilt. Many church schisms start because one group of people think their way of worshiping God is the right way and you're either for them or against them. I personally find the bible to be a much more powerful and inspiring book because it's not the literal word of God. When I was a fundamentalist, although I tried to be a serious believer, I feel like I took the bible for granted. I didn't read the bible daily or bother to do any actual investigation of the scriptures for myself because I thought I already had all the answers. But now that I see the bible as a human creation, I find it much more inspiring and thought-provoking. I love the idea that the bible is not just the words of a perfect god but it's like a collection of all the emotions of humanity in one collection. I like the way Bishop Spong describes the bible as not being the word of God but about humanity searching for God but their humanity kept getting in the way. I also take comfort knowing that since the bible is not the literal word of God, I'm not going to hell because if the fundamentalist interpretation was correct, I would be going to hell for being gay and a god who would send people to hell for being gay or what they believe is not a god I can let my moral conscious worship.

 

The group I affiliated with actually worshipped the bible. They, of course, would disagree with that statement but their actions and beliefs validate that is exactly what they were doing. They believed every word found in scripture was personally placed there by God and must be precisely adhered to. The bible, as least as far as they were concerned, was viewed as a Devine instruction manual.

 

They were literal extremist. They would debate the interpretation and meaning of words relentlessly. It was commonplace for them to dissect a single word and scrutinize the original language to validate their unique interpretation.

 

The bible was viewed as a collection of commands that requires perfect obedience. Any failure to be fully obedient to God’s commands would certainly condemn the offender to everlasting torment in the fires of hell. If scripture failed to address a particular issue that silence was interpreted as prohibitive. Instrumental music, for example, was prohibited because God did not specifically authorize the use of instruments in worship. God would surely condemn groups using instruments in their worship to hell. Since these groups were not obedient to God commands they were sinners and therefore could not be fellowshipped. This group was so legalistic that they will often not fellowship each other. It is not uncommon for one congregation in their group to refuse to fellowship another congregation within the group because of some doctrinal disagreement. This also applies to individual members. If a members views were interpreted as “unscriptural” they could be “dis-fellowshipped” which is a form of shunning.

 

Failure to immediately repent of a sin would condemn the offender to hell. If a believer sinned they must immediately ask God for forgiveness or they would lose their souls. They would remain condemned until they repented. If they failed to repent they would suffer eternal damnation. Safety required packaged repentance. The sinner would ask God to forgive them of ALL their sins so as not to miss one and be accidentally lost forever.

 

Tolerance, in that environment, simply does not exist. Even attending a church that did not have a “scriptural” name was sufficient to condemn the offender to hell forever, and of course the only “scriptural” name was the one they used. They become quite defensive, however, if they are referred to as a cult.

 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a real life example of fundamental religious extremism taken to the max and it’s pretty damn scary. They lock up your mind and convince you that if you reject their brand of “religion” God will condemn you to hell for all eternity. They are convinced they are the only true church because they are doctrinally pure and therefore the only ones going to heaven. When you finally decide that you’ve had enough and walk away from them you have to endure that nagging question, “what if they are right?” Eventually you figure that it doesn’t really matter because you couldn’t possibly be obedient enough to please God anyway and neither will anyone else.

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The Bible says that we were made "in the image of God." An image is never the real thing, only a partial abstraction of something that was real (to us) at some point in time. If we believe that God created the universe whole and complete "In the beginning ...", we appear to be contradicting the notion of an Eternal God, that is a God outside of time. Later in the Bible we are told tha we should make no images of God. That would be an attempt on our part to situate God in time, which is not possible.

 

On the other hand, if Creation is on-gpoing, we have a very different story. Not only is Creation on-going, but so is revelation. Does it make sense for a God outside of time to pick a point in time of Creation to reveal "it all"? At any point in time any one of us can be "inspired". Although an inspiration (read human) may occur at a point in time, reading the same Scripture at some later time often produces a different (and sometimes contradictory) inspiration. This mirrors the model of an on-going Creation with on-going revelation.

 

There is also the point that God need not "inspire" from the outside-in or, if you prefer, from the top-down. It is equally plausible that God inspires us from the inside-out. Again, we have a very different Creation story. Many old creation stories hold that the material world was created "whole, perfect, and complete" after which something went "wrong". The polytheistic solution is to blame one or more of the gods (the devil) for evil in the world. Monotheism demands a different solution (no devil, no angels, etc.). If Creation (inside of time) is not yet complete, then our own will comes into play. We must be willing to be co-creators with God (and not against God). In addition, if there is one God and many created individuals, then there is some sense to the notion of "in the image of God" if we see ourselves as part of the image and not the whole. In this sense, we are all "elected".

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Yes, what other group has those "unique" credentials?

I have to admit that even though I'm no longer a member of the COC and I feel some of their teachings are frankly immoral, I still feel uncomfortable about calling the COC a cult. When I think of cults I tend to think of groups like Heaven's Gate or Jim Jones' group or the even more extreme Boston off-shoot of the COC. One could make the case that most though not all of fundamentalist Christianity has cult-like characteristics but I still feel uncomfortable calling it a cult although I've read some COCs are more extreme than others. Edited by Neon Genesis
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I have to admit that even though I'm no longer a member of the COC and I feel some of their teachings are frankly immoral, I still feel uncomfortable about calling the COC a cult. When I think of cults I tend to think of groups like Heaven's Gate or Jim Jones' group or the even more extreme Boston off-shoot of the COC. One could make the case that most though not all of fundamentalist Christianity has cult-like characteristics but I still feel uncomfortable calling it a cult although I've read some COCs are more extreme than others.

 

What characteristics constitute a religious cult might be an interesting topic to pursue in another thread dedicated to that subject. I assume there are a number of religious groups that display some cult like traits.

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.....On the other hand, if Creation is on-going, we have a very different story. Not only is Creation on-going, but so is revelation. Does it make sense for a God outside of time to pick a point in time of Creation to reveal "it all"? At any point in time any one of us can be "inspired". Although an inspiration (read human) may occur at a point in time, reading the same Scripture at some later time often produces a different (and sometimes contradictory) inspiration. This mirrors the model of an on-going Creation with on-going revelation.

 

The possibility of an ongoing creation, as well as ongoing inspiration, strikes me as a reasonable hypothesis. I don’t personally believe that evolution and Devine Creation are incompatible theories or mutually exclusive concepts.

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The Bible says that we were made "in the image of God." An image is never the real thing, only a partial abstraction of something that was real (to us) at some point in time. If we believe that God created the universe whole and complete "In the beginning ...", we appear to be contradicting the notion of an Eternal God, that is a God outside of time. Later in the Bible we are told tha we should make no images of God. That would be an attempt on our part to situate God in time, which is not possible.

 

 

I've also heard of one alternative English translation of Genesis, that the Hebrew word for created actually means "filled" or something like that, implying that God didn't create the universe out of nothing but had instead formed it out of already existing material.
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I've also heard of one alternative English translation of Genesis, that the Hebrew word for created actually means "filled" or something like that, implying that God didn't create the universe out of nothing but had instead formed it out of already existing material.

 

Genesis 1: 1-2

 

"1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." [“veharetz hayta tohu vavohu vekhoshekh al-pnei tehom veruach elohim merakhefet al-pnei hamayyim”]

 

The following was extracted some time ago from a discussion thread at: http://www.reclaimingjudaism.org/

 

Conceptual Meaning: Zohar: In the “TEHOM” there are rocks out of which emerges water. HaEmek HaDavar (commentator); - deep underground out of which the elemental fire emerges. Seems to resemble the primordial soup pot. Hirsch relates TEHOM to:

 

- toheh, (Tav, Heh, Heh)

- astonishment , and

- hamam, (HEH, MEM, MEM) - stunningly tumultous / noisy.

 

“Tehom: does not (only) mean the abyss, the deep, but (also) the surging bellowing of the waves, turmoil. The earth, which as the end of the verse shows, comprised water too, solid and liquid in this indiscriminate ‘tohu ve’vohu’ condition was a confused seething mass. And the darkness lay on the turmoil, there was no light to penetrate the mass to awaken the germs slumbering in this mass to individual separate development.” (Hirsch, p. 8)

 

"Tehom: The unfathomable , undifferentiated womb out of which existence or HAVAYA (rabbinic name for existence that contains within it the same letters as YHVH) as we experience it, emerged. In this primordial energy all potential exists; no ’thing’ has yet emerged out of it."

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The author who taught me the most was Marcus Borg, e.g. Reading the bible again for the first time. I probably mention him too often but to me he is, more than any other single writer, the voice of progressive Christianity. Spong is also helpful for people who grew up with Southern fundamentalism.

 

We can try to separate fact from myth in the bible, but the ancients saw it all as raw material, a source book, a language for interpreting experience there was no right or wrong way to read it. From the two Genesis creation stories that conflict with each other, to the varying accounts in the four gospels, and the epistles with inconsistent statements - were given choices, different lenses.

 

For me the bible is an anthology of historical memories and metaphorical narratives, showing the relationship between humanity and God through the eyes of the ancient Hebrews and the early Christian community. Scripture is not meant to be read as Gods will (like the violence, bondage, genocide, misogyny, child abuse, etc in the OT) but a record of the heights and depths of human nature, and an evolving perception of the nature of God.

 

Rather than trying to figure out which parts are inspired by God and which arent Id say the bible is entirely a human product but divinely inspired in the sense that all sacred literature is generated in response to God - the experience of the holy. The Word of God, but not the words of God. Hope that makes sense.

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I very much liked Rivanna's post. And regarding Borg's writings, I also agree that he has been such a gifted communicator of progressive theological ideas. Even if one doesn't agree with his approach entirely (I happen to have no major disagreements with him), I think one still stands to benefit from his thoughts.

 

Another book you may be interested in, Javelin, is 'The Last Word' by N.T. Wright. It's a small volume and Wright approaches the issue from the standpoint of a theological moderate.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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As much as I respect Crossan, Borg and Spong (CBS), I still hear a male voice and long for more. I make no claim as to whether female theologians have a different voice, I want to know IF they do and what I could learn from them.

 

Karen Armstrong comes to mind as a prominent voice in progressive faith. I have a few books by female theologians, one is 'The Quest for the Living God' by Elizabeth Johnson. If there are any substantial differences between the male and female theologians in liberal theology, I'm not aware of them, but then again I haven't been looking for differences either. But you are right the prominent voices are mostly males, whatever that fact might mean.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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I wish there were more books on progressive/liberal Christianity by women – have not seen Elizabeth Johnson’s. There are a number of books on feminist theology but they are mostly collections of articles.

 

It helps to remind ourselves that much of the work building the Christian faith was done by women who are lost to history, given no acknowledgment, or denigrated like Mary Magdalene--whose role in the gospels was crucial. On the other hand there were many women in the Middle Ages whose writings about God survived—like Juliana of Norwich using the feminine pronoun for God/Christ. Maybe women who write about God focus more on compassion, nurturing, inclusiveness; rather than guilt, suffering, death – I’m not sure. Maybe the female voice, feminist values, have been confined more to the oral tradition, and Gnosticism.

 

It’s hard to imagine how the kingdom of God idea would have developed if the patriarchal institution of the church hadn’t undone so much of what Jesus taught. Paul did give credit to women in an egalitarian way; but ironically the establishment of the bible as sacred text, along with monasticism and male church hierarchy, became almost as oppressive to women as the system Jesus came to change.

 

It would be nice if more women were posting on this board.

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It’s hard to imagine how the kingdom of God idea would have developed if the patriarchal institution of the church hadn’t undone so much of what Jesus taught. Paul did give credit to women in an egalitarian way; but ironically the establishment of the bible as sacred text, along with monasticism and male church hierarchy, became almost as oppressive to women as the system Jesus came to change.

 

If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend reading Marcus Borg's and John Dominic Crossan's book The First Paul. It may be by another male scholar, but they cover a lot on how the church not only tried to undo the teachings of Jesus but tried to undo the teachings of Paul to make him less radical than he actually was and gives you a different image of Paul than what conservative Christianity has given us.
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Thank you Mike, Neon and Rivanna for your responses,

 

I am somewhat familiar with the work of Elaine Pagels. A summary of her work is here. In her own words:

 

"I write about Adam and Eve and Satan because these are the kinds of images that speak to deeply held cultural values. What these images evoke—for example—about sexuality and evil—speaks not only to religious people, but may have powerful resonances even for many people who are not 'religious."

 

Of her books, I am most familiar with The Origin of Satan. Pagels contends that satan is a social construction, invented for the purpose of demonizing and silencing the discordant voice(s) of 'the other'. I tend to agree along with Maslow who is known for the maxim "To dichotomize is to pathologize". As for Gnosticism, I am divided. On the one hand, I agree with Jung that Gnosticism did (does) more to address the problem of evil than early Christianity. On the other hand, I disagree with Gnosticism where it holds that the material world is utterly corrupt (read 'total depravity'.)

 

As for my own views, I tend to agree with Jung in that much of what we find in Gnosticism and the Bible is a projection of our own psychology. I disagree with Jung on his views concerning the psychology of women, however.

 

At this point, I would like to comment on the origins of progressive thought. In this forum, and at my church, I self identify as a Progressive Christian. In political forums, I refer to myself a Christian Progressive. Jung developed many of his ideas out of Buddhist and Gnostic sources. One of Jung's teachers, Pierre Janet, coined the term "progressive thought" as the highest achievement of human cognition. A. N. Whitehead frequently quotes Bergson as a major source of the notion of an ongoing creation (expanded by Whitehead and Process Theology).

 

Like Jung and E. O. Wilson, I am interested in how the sciences and religion can cooperate to forge a new understanding of our relationship to ourselves, to each other, to the world in which we live and, to God. I have simply modified Whitehead and added the term "voice" to the contrast found in "the many voices in one and the one in many voices."

 

Myron

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