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Immoral, Nonsensical Scriptures


BillM
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Note: This is sort of a moved subject from Burl's Lectionary thread in Progressive Christianity.

 

Burl mentioned 2 Tim 3:16 and how, to him, it means, as it says, that all scripture is useful in training in righteous, even scriptures that we might consider to be negative.

 

I would certainly agree that we would do well to consider the text, context, culture, original languages, and different interpretations of scriptures that might be, to our modern morality and sensibilities, either immoral or nonsensical. But I would also hasten to add that some scriptures, no matter how much you try to consider them in their original context and culture, are going to be offensive to some Progressive Christians. For instance, I don't think it is moral in any culture to kill homosexuals, or to stone children, or to kill women and children of one's enemies. For me, no scripture gets a "free pass" just because Christianity has claimed it to be the Word of God.

 

Burl mentioned that it would be better to deal with these scriptures individually instead of in sweeping generalizations. I don't intend to go over EVERY scripture that I think is immoral or nonsensical (too much time involved and probably wouldn't be of benefit to many people), but it might be interesting to touch on a few of them.

 

So my first one is the subject of circumcision. Let's say that God really is the all-powerful source of life and love that many (most?) Christians say that he is. If so, why would he command people to mutilate their sexual organs? Since when is self-mutilation a good thing, except in superstitious worldviews? Do we admire modern societies that encourage or enforce genital mutilation? If it seems wrong to us now, how could it have been right 4000 years ago, especially if, as evangelicals claim, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever? If God was so adamant about circumcision in the OT, why is it of so little importance in the NT? Did God change his mind? Did he have another plan? If so, why would he be so dualistic? (All of these questions assume there is a Deity above the earth who issues commands to humans so that they will be obedient to him and, thereby, gain his favor, escaping his wrath.)

 

PS - To put this in a modern context, what if I claimed that God spoke to me and told me that all women who desired to be God's women and who wanted to be in covenant with him needed to have their nipples cut off. Should my claim be given any merit or given heed? Why or why not?

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Scripture is the words of men as they try to say something about the Divinity they believe is experienced in their lives. And, human language is conditioned by where men and women are in particular periods of time, as an example we no longer believe in a three tiered universe. So, It might be good to use even negative scripture to drive home this reality. And, all I can say of all these examples is, ouch!

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Genesis 17:9-10. God made a covenant with Abraham, and circumcision was the sign of that covenant. This way lineage could be established for generations. Certainly it was painful enough to discourage counterfeit Abrahamites, and the symbolism is straightforward (even curving slightly upward :) ). Abraham was an Arab who would become the patriarch of a large tribe.

 

Makes sense to me.

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Burl, I understand what circumcision is supposed to mean. But, honestly, I think you miss my point. Why, as a sign of a covenant, would God choose for the Israelites to mutilate their penises? One would think that a "sign" is something that everyone can see. So did all of the Israelite men walk around with their penises hanging out so that they could show that they were in covenant with God?

 

I made a covenant with my wife when I married her 27 years ago. As a "sign" of that covenant, we exchanged rings. I didn't require her to harm herself or to mutilate anything. And this "sign" of our mutual covenant is on both of our hands so that all can see. My covenant of love with her in no way required her to harm herself or cut anything. I'd never ask her to harm any part of her body in order to demonstrate that she is in loving covenant with me. True love does not harm the other.

 

But in the Bible account, Yahweh wants the males (females had no value) to show that they are in covenant with him by cutting on their penises. That is love? If God truly loved them, why not simply ask them to wear a certain ring as a sign of the covenant? Or have a certain hairdo? Or wear certain shoes? Why would Yahweh want them to mutilate the most sensitive part of their bodies? And it wasn't even a sign that you could see outwardly. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be a door-greeter at the local synagogue to make sure only Hebrews are entering. Yuck!

 

Makes no sense to me. And it seems immoral. Love does no needless harm.

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Tribal rituals are common. Circumcision occurs in several societies, Ubangi women stretch out their lips with wooden plates, SP Islanders tattoo, scarification is common.

 

In Abraham we have God beginning to build a tribe for His purpose, and he chooses a particularly weak bunch so it is clear their success is due to divine guidance.

 

I see nothing peculiar except your insistence on holding an ancient people up to 21C standards.

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So, Burl, if I understand you correctly, you seem to think that might makes right. If God had hypothetically told the Israelites that in order for them to be in covenant with him, they had to sacrifice (kill) their first newborns, this would have been "nothing peculiar". God, because he is God, can command anything he wants and our part is to obey, not to question.

 

BTW, I'm holding the Bible's claims of God up to 21c standards. They fail. Pitifully. Try killing a homosexual today, claim that God told you to do so (as scriptures say), and see how innocent our courts find you to be.

Edited by BillM
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Next topic: Genocide

 

There are a number of instances in the Hebrew scriptures where Yahweh commands that the Israelites, when taking a city in battle, are to leave nothing alive. Yahweh commands the Israelites to kill everything that lives including women, children, and animals. These commands would in no way line up with our modern notions of "just war theory." Yet Yahweh commands genocide.

 

Furthermore, in the story of the Exodus, God himself is said to have killed ALL Eqyptian first born sons under the age of two because of Pharoah's hard-heartedness in not letting the Israelites go. God kills babies? Yep, according to the book of Exodus.

 

And then there is the killing of almost all of humanity in the account of the flood.

 

And then there is wiping out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah due to their sins of inhospitality except for "righteous Lot" (according to the book of Hebrews) who offered his daughters as sex-toys.

 

Now, I in no way believe that these accounts of "God" are really true accounts of God. I think they are the wishes of the Israelites writ large upon their notions of deity in order to justify whatever actions they wanted to take. Nevertheless, many people who have not been raised with the "might makes right" indoctrination of the church read the Bible and say, "If this is what God is like, I want nothing to do with God."

 

God, IMO, doesn't need me to defend him. But I refuse to call any book "holy" that portrays its deity with such violent and sadistic concepts.

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To me, even claims that standards concerning God from past centuries cannot be held to 21C standards falls short of the reported NT writing that equate Jesus with God and then state "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." Heb 13:8 or even James 1:17 " Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning."

 

What little reasoning power that has been given me can only, at least for the present, attribute these horrific concepts Bill mentions to the minds of men. Propagated verbally and by written letters by those of authority and presently believed by men by a concept that i call blind faith in a book portrayed and believed to be "the Word of God". This to me, is one of the greatest false premises levied upon mankind and upon which many other false premises are built and sustained. This is my own personal shared view (opinion) and not meant to say that it is a more or less valid opinion than those who may choose to believe differently.

 

Joseph (as member)

Edited by JosephM
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I can allow that a group or tribe of people, believing that there was a God and that this God was 'theirs" and they his, decided to make circumcision a sign of membership. Seems a bit extreme as do some of the other rituals that Burl mentions and I might have gone to the tribe down the road but I do not accept that God had anything to do about it. This was a human decision, a human ritual based on their notion of god and membership.

 

It would seem that if someone believes these membership directions or the genocide directives came directly or indirectly from God their idea of God would mirror that of an earlier, 'primitive' man.

 

I have not use the word Holy to describe the Bible in forever but I actually have no problem with it if it means man's stumbling understanding of the Holy, i.e. Divinity (in which he was wrong at times) and his own humanity in that image.

 

Also, I don't see the Bible as a 'false premise levied upon man,' again it was a stumbling, growing human understanding and as we know for century upon century people believed it just as they believe the sun rises every day.

Edited by thormas
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Next topic: Genocide

 

There are a number of instances in the Hebrew scriptures where Yahweh commands that the Israelites, when taking a city in battle, are to leave nothing alive. Yahweh commands the Israelites to kill everything that lives including women, children, and animals. These commands would in no way line up with our modern notions of "just war theory." Yet Yahweh commands genocide.

 

Furthermore, in the story of the Exodus, God himself is said to have killed ALL Eqyptian first born sons under the age of two because of Pharoah's hard-heartedness in not letting the Israelites go. God kills babies? Yep, according to the book of Exodus.

 

And then there is the killing of almost all of humanity in the account of the flood.

 

And then there is wiping out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah due to their sins of inhospitality except for "righteous Lot" (according to the book of Hebrews) who offered his daughters as sex-toys.

 

Now, I in no way believe that these accounts of "God" are really true accounts of God. I think they are the wishes of the Israelites writ large upon their notions of deity in order to justify whatever actions they wanted to take. Nevertheless, many people who have not been raised with the "might makes right" indoctrination of the church read the Bible and say, "If this is what God is like, I want nothing to do with God."

 

God, IMO, doesn't need me to defend him. But I refuse to call any book "holy" that portrays its deity with such violent and sadistic concepts.

So you insist one must take the Bible literally so that you can ignore it and substitute your own notions? Google 'Amalek' and at least get a rough idea of what you so readily discard out of ignorance and laziness. There are entire books written on this subject.

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Burl, I insist on nothing.

 

All I'm saying is that if the Old Testament is read at face value, Yahweh does not come across as a just, I-love-the-whole-world kinda guy. :) The reason "entire books" have to be written is because there needs to be "apologetics" to try to defend him and his actions. If he did nothing that needed apologizing for (justifying), apologetics wouldn't exist.

 

At the same time, I also realize that there are many passages, even in the OT, that speak of Yahweh's faithfulness, of his enduring love, of his patience, of his loving-kindness, even of his desire to bless all nations. These passages are right there, at face value, with the other more negative images.

 

So, at best, what we have is a schizophrenic portrait of God - a God who could forgive your sin or a God who could strike you dead for trying to steady the Ark of the Covenant. Therefore, I would never tell a seeker, "Want to know what God is like? Just read the Bible!" Many Christians claim that the Bible is God's self-revelation to the world, God's very words. I just think God is better than the Bible portrays God to be.

Edited by BillM
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There are several important themes you miss entirely. Do more bible study and less bible assumption. You will find a lot of PC themes are truly biblical, and the American Darbyist themes quite often are not.

 

Honestly, even the Ancient Aliens guys do a better job with this than you do.

 

And on the off chance that you are really interested in learning something about this the Progressive Christianity site sells John Crossen's book on precisely this subject.

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Putting the subject of Yahweh's morality aside, we might want to consider how sensible the world of the Bible is, the things that it claims to be real or true.

 

We could start with the Genesis claim that Yahweh created everything in 6 days.

 

We could then quickly move to the notion of a talking snake. I don't generally go looking for snakes, but I've never met one that talked. Of course, what is my experience compared to the authority of God's Word, right?

 

We could consider that the Bible says that donkeys can also talk.

 

Or that the earth is immovable (does not rotate or orbit).

 

Or that the sun rises and sets (a term that still persists because the Bible has such a stronghold on our culture and language).

 

Or that sin is transmitted through the blood.

 

Or that virgins can give birth.

 

Or that people can walk on water or change water into wine.

 

Or that God can somehow keep people alive forevermore in order to torture them.

 

Or that praying will heal the sick or raise the dead.

 

Or that those that believe in Jesus will never die.

 

Or...well...that's enough for now. None of this makes much sense to me. These things make me wonder why God whose logos (reason) created all things would want me to believe in things which make no sense?

Edited by BillM
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I do realize, of course, that not everyone was raised in the kind of Christianity I was raised and indoctrinate in. There are probably many members here who have been in liberal or progressive Christianity for most of their lives and for whom these things have never been a problem.

 

But I was taught that what God most desired from me was faith, and I was taught that what faith was, was believing what the Bible had to say on any subject to be real, factual, and historical truth. To doubt any of it was to sin, which, according to that Christian paradigm, separated me from God.

 

Perhaps, as been suggested, I have been too ignorant or lazy to be able to resolve these problems of immorality and non-sensibility (IMO) on my own. But even that raises the question of why, if God authored the Bible (or oversaw its formation), he didn't do it in such a way that it didn't violate our human consciences and sensibilities? If he is willing that none should perish, why make the Bible a text that requires an MDiv to truly understand. And even with all of the tools for understanding scripture available to us, why are there over 40,000 different denominations now. God sure does seem to be the author of a lot of confusion.

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Burl - ancient aliens?

 

Bill, I was raised a Catholic so neither liberal or progressive (in the 50s and 60s) and I agree that the Bible was considered the inerrant word of god and the pope infallible. And we were discouraged from questioning not only the Bible but for Catholics, the priest and especially the nuns.

 

Some like Bart Ehrman and Dale Allison and others are still 'resolving these problem' so you seem to be in good company.

 

Long story, short I don't believe that God authored or oversaw the creation of the bible. And again, this would have to be a theistic god (with a miraculous in-breaking into our natural world) that many have put aside as inadequate to our modern understanding of the universe, our sense of self and the resulting understanding of God. The bible is the story by men and their present and changing understanding of the Presence they experience in their life, the life of their people and the life of the man Jesus. We have grown up in many ways but many still hold to a, in my opinion, a child's version of God. That must develop also.

 

As you said, not only the different Christian denominations but the different religions and philosophies seems to suggest that it's not God's book but many books, many understanding about the one God. And I doubt God takes sides.

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Burl,

 

Your post #10 and #12 have received negative reputation from your peers here not because of your views but because you seem to me to be making it an attack on a person rather than debating the view. ( personal attack )

This is unacceptable on this site. Please be more careful. Ref: guidlines HERE

JosephM (as Moderator)

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>>Burl - ancient aliens?<<

 

Heck yeah! They have a narrative where God was demanding the genocide of the giant hybrid offspring of the nephilim and humans. They have considerable anthropological evidence of giant skeletons too. It is silly, but cohesive.

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Putting the subject of Yahweh's morality aside, we might want to consider how sensible the world of the Bible is, the things that it claims to be real or true.

 

We could start with the Genesis claim that Yahweh created everything in 6 days.

 

We could then quickly move to the notion of a talking snake. I don't generally go looking for snakes, but I've never met one that talked. Of course, what is my experience compared to the authority of God's Word, right?

 

We could consider that the Bible says that donkeys can also talk.

 

Or that the earth is immovable (does not rotate or orbit).

 

Or that the sun rises and sets (a term that still persists because the Bible has such a stronghold on our culture and language).

 

Or that sin is transmitted through the blood.

 

Or that virgins can give birth.

 

Or that people can walk on water or change water into wine.

 

Or that God can somehow keep people alive forevermore in order to torture them.

 

Or that praying will heal the sick or raise the dead.

 

Or that those that believe in Jesus will never die.

 

Or...well...that's enough for now. None of this makes much sense to me. These things make me wonder why God whose logos (reason) created all things would want me to believe in things which make no sense?

Ok, Six days. On which day were days created? ;). The lessons here are:

 

1. God created sequentially.

2. God stopped to evaluate each step before proceeding.

3. God eventually decided to stop creating, and became curious about what would happen next.

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Burl, FWIW I very much agree with you that, where the scriptures are concerned, often a great deal of study is involved or necessary. As a PC, I don't believe the scriptures were directly written for or to us. They were written for the ancient Israelites and for the early Church. This being the case, it very much behooves us to become familiar with ancient Hebrew culture, religion, and history, as well as the culture and times of first Palestine and the Roman Empire if we desire (though not all do) to keep the scriptures central to us. When/if we do this, we can come to see that though their experiences of the Divine (God) were real, their explanations of those experiences were time-bound, limited to their understandings (and often misunderstandings) of how the world and the cosmos work. We should not fault them for this. They were most likely doing the best they could with the tools and light available to them.

 

However, when Christians today take the approach to the scriptures that suggest that, rather than being the limited views of the ancients, they are the very words of God, this view invokes and attempts to place an authority upon the scriptures that they, IMO, simply cannot bear. We cannot expect the Bible to be a science book, or a medical reference library, or a book on cosmology, psychology, physiology, astronomy, physics, or quantum theory. IMO, neither can we expect the scriptures to be our sole source on what we call spiritual matters. God is not confined to the Bible. Many PC people recognize this and find, appreciate, and integrate into their own faith/journey the wisdom of other traditions, other religions, other worldviews. You seem to value the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. If so, you know that it holds that the scriptures are not the only way in which God speaks to us. In the denomination that I find the most resonance with, the UCC, they even believe that God is still speaking new truth to us today through the sciences, arts, various cultures, and our world struggles.

 

A Christian New Thought leader, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

 

And also:

 

"The god of the cannibals will be a cannibal, of the crusaders a crusader, and of the merchants a merchant."

 

This is, IMO, what we find in the scriptures. The God of the OT is, to a large extent, a deified Hebrew with powers that the Hebrews could not claim for themselves. I suspect that Jesus tried to challenge and modify this view, though it was an uphill battle for him. But as I've grown older, though I yet have many, many flaws, I've come to value love, justice, and life as all we truly have at any given moment. This is why, for me, God is love, justice, and life. Yes, the Bible also speaks of this in many passages. But it is not a unilateral, monochromatic portrait. It is, or has been for me, sometimes like searching for a needle in a haystack.

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Agreed. We should not accept Scripture literally, nor should we discard it for the same reason. Both approaches are dismissive and disrespectful.

 

Even before Christ, Judaism considered the tales of the Amelekite genocide (and the Jewish refusal to fully carry out holy war) as a metaphor for the struggle against evil. This was in midrash before Jesus' arrival.

 

The bible is a foundational document for western civilization. We should work to understand it and not discard it.

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Ok, Six days. On which day were days created? ;). The lessons here are:

 

1. God created sequentially.

2. God stopped to evaluate each step before proceeding.

3. God eventually decided to stop creating, and became curious about what would happen next.

 

That is one interpretation Burl.

 

But if I work to understand the bible, what seems to me to be a much more likely interpretation goes something like this: "We are a desert people quite ignorant around the cosmos and planet Earth, so the only way we can explain our existence is to think our lump of land was put here by a God who sits up there behind the dome roof and opens windows to let in rain from time to time. This God favours us and wants us to mutilate our genitals to prove we have a deal with said God, whom allows us to massacre and rape tribes who we either consider a threat or who's land we would like".

.

So for me it's not about holding an ancient, ignorant, desert people to 21c standards, but rather questioning the idea often promoted that a God is somehow justified in requiring people to behave in such a barbaric manner when such a God could just as easily directed those people to behave in a 21c manner instead.

 

For instance, God could have chosen to outlaw slavery but instead he chose to outlaw shellfish. Either not such a sharp God or perhaps it was just man creating the rules and attributing them to a God.

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That is one interpretation Burl.

 

But if I work to understand the bible, what seems to me to be a much more likely interpretation goes something like this: "We are a desert people quite ignorant around the cosmos and planet Earth, so the only way we can explain our existence is to think our lump of land was put here by a God who sits up there behind the dome roof and opens windows to let in rain from time to time. This God favours us and wants us to mutilate our genitals to prove we have a deal with said God, whom allows us to massacre and rape tribes who we either consider a threat or who's land we would like".

.

So for me it's not about holding an ancient, ignorant, desert people to 21c standards, but rather questioning the idea often promoted that a God is somehow justified in requiring people to behave in such a barbaric manner when such a God could just as easily directed those people to behave in a 21c manner instead.

 

For instance, God could have chosen to outlaw slavery but instead he chose to outlaw shellfish. Either not such a sharp God or perhaps it was just man creating the rules and attributing them to a God.

What parts of Scripture do you respect? Maybe we can start there.
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What parts of Scripture do you respect? Maybe we can start there.

 

What do you mean by respect? In my language I would say I respect it all, but I am not sure what connotation you apply to 'respecting the bible'.

 

I acknowledge that the bible was written by various authors, over various ages, in various societal and cultural settings. It is a collection of writings pulled together over hundreds of years which eventually made it's way into a single, bound form. So I respect that each of these authors had views, felt inspired, wrote writings.

 

In some of those instances I think the authors were really in touch with the better parts of human nature: love, connected-ness, community. Yet in other parts I think authors have what we would today call a primitive mindset where they applied a different morality to their actions (e.g. it was okay to beat slaves, commit acts of genocide, rape enemies). But they were a product of their time so I don't neccessarily hold it against them.

 

I also respect that a number of authors were writing against other referencing documents which we have no record of today. Obviously it would be really handy to have those referencing documents so that we could better understand what the writer was getting at (i.e. it would be nice to have some of the books that are called up in the OT but which we know nothing of, such as the Acts of Uziah, the Book of Jehu, the Visions of Iddo the Seer, etc etc etc.

 

Respect is possibly a loaded word. If I don't believe something in the bible, is that not respecting it? If I think the author is wrong, I still respect they have a point of view but it's also possible that I might not think very much of their view too. Is that a lack of respect?

 

Your thoughts?

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