Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fundamentalism and the Bible-- part 4

In this post, we return to the discussion of the way that fundamentalists view and use the Bible. I have pointed out that the Bible is a quite mythic book. By that, I do not mean to imply untrue. It is not "a pack of lies." It is a collection of ancient literature, some quite literal and didactic, other parts stories passed down repeatedly and interpreted with a unique "twist" (that's nature of theologized history), some borrowed from Israel's neighbors and reshaped for use in the continuing saga of salvation history-- which is the main purpose of the Biblical documents. Many of the stories may well have a basis in fact. Some may be parables or legends. No matter what the case, the Bible writers were informed by myths (ancient stories and legendary sagas, etc) in arriving at and conveying points they found important.

The myths of the Bible usually embody a novel twist-- targeted to the writer's point. How can the sea part? How can the "sun stand still?" How do the angels "hold down the four corners of the earth?" In the mythic stories, the curtain draws back and we see that God did it all. Where is the evidence that these are more that a stories with a point (as if that wasn't enough)? Where is the evidence of the literal truth of these events? For the absolutists the evidence is right there: God said it! I believe it! That settles it! End of story. Never mind that this is circular thinking (It's true because it says it's true!). No questions are allowed. This Bible, the all sufficient, self contained truth system, is the Bible to which they cling-- and I would argue, the one that gets them into trouble when it comes to facing the realities of life.

Along with, and incorporated into, the fundamentalists view of inerrancy, is the notion that all of the Bible is equally true (and for many of equal value). I call this view absolutists hold "The Flat Bible." I want to explore that notion a bit, the idea that it all hangs together. Forget the miracle stories and differing Biblical accounts (contradictions). Right now, I want to suggest that there is a more basic way it all fails to hang together: ethically. So, let's take a bit of time and explore the ethics in the Bible. Is it all ethically perfect and of equal value?

In Leviticus 20, the killing of children who "curse" their father or mother is enjoined upon the reader. Now, I don't know about you, but I can remember when my sons were adolescents. Teenagers can get pretty mouthy. They can get pretty disrespectful. Is it good and moral to kill them for that type of behavior? I can tell you this: I was blessed with pretty darn good kids. They were not "holy terrors" like some are. So... maybe we can let mine off the hook. But, I'm concerned about yours! Maybe if we just made an example of a few kids...

Then, there's Numbers 15. In this chapter, a guy was collecting sticks on the Sabbath. likely to make a fire. He was brought to Moses. Moses wasn't quite sure what to do, but God came through with an answer-- kill him. Let all the people get together and stone him to death. Maybe this might be a good plan in our day. After all, God commanded it, so it must be moral, right? It might increase church attendance. You know, if your neighbor, Bob, is fixing his car as you leave for church, well, then stop and shoot him! That'll teach him! (Of course, he won't profit much from the lesson!) You might say, it doesn't count, Bob isn't a believer. Maybe the guy in Numbers wasn't much of a believer either.

There's a good one in Numbers 31 as well. Here, a Canaanite town is put under the ban. The Israelites are told to go into the town and kill ever last inhabitant, even the the baby boys. However, the instructions say "keep alive all of the girls, who haven't slept with a man."

There is a name for this, is there not? Isn't it "rape and pillage?" Wouldn't this be sound moral advise in the current fight against terror? What better way to deal with the enemy then to kill them and then kill their kids so that they won't grow-up and become enemies soldiers? Wouldn't it be good advice for a "godly nation," such as touted by the religious right, to fight a holy war in God's own way?

"Foolishness!" you say. Nothing but foolishness. There's plenty more. The Bible is filled with all kinds of little goodies. It ranges from a man not touching a woman during her period (not even touch, mind you) to a man not wearing anything pertaining to a woman (and vice versa). What about all the pants wearing women and earring adorned men? Where do we stop? Is it okay to marry your sister (Abraham)? Did God really tell Joshua to go into "the land" and kill absolutely everybody? Moreover, try getting into the sexual ethics of the Old Testament, where a woman is a man's property. (Or check out the New Testament. In many passages the situation isn't much better.) No thanks! I think I'll pass!

Yet more to come...

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