Thursday, May 20, 2010

Atheists Cope; Separate Truths; Heresy Bible; Messy Reality; Contextual?; Is Inerrancy Necessary?; Sue Heck

1. William P. Young, The Shack, page 66:

But in spite of his anger and depression, Mack knew that he needed some answers. He realized he was stuck, and Sunday prayers and hymns weren’t cutting it anymore, if they ever really had. Cloistered spirituality seemed to change nothing in the lives of the people he knew, except maybe Nan. But she was special. God might really love her. She wasn’t a crew-up like him. He was sick of God and God’s religion, sick of all the little religious social clubs that didn’t seem to make any real difference or affect any real changes. Yes, Mack wanted more, and he was about to get much more than he bargained for.

This calls to mind a recent post by ex-fundamentalist Ken Pulliam, Evangelical Pastors are Discouraged and Depressed. Ken cites a study that concludes that many evangelical pastors are depressed, as well as Jonathan Falwell’s observation that there is something wrong in the current state of ministry. Ken states the following:

While I would not criticize anyone for having clinical depression, depression due to discouragement is another matter when it comes to an evangelical Christian pastor. He (there aren’t very many shes in evangelical pastorates) is supposed to be a child of God, have direct access to the throne of God to ask for help and provision, be certain of going to heaven when he dies, have all of his sins and guilt removed, what in the world does he have to be depressed about–if what he believes is really the truth?

Personally, I approach this issue as I do the problem of evil: Sure, ministers are depressed, by what are atheists’ solutions to depression? Many of them say that they don’t buy into an afterlife and thus try to live this life to the fullest. But that can be a pretty depressing thought in itself. There are things in this life that are enjoyable, but there is also a lot of pain and sorrow—from me not getting what I want, and also from genuine tragedies, such as sickess, evil people, and natural disaster. Plus, this life goes by so fast, leaving in its wake many regrets and unresolved issues.

If this is all there is, and there is no loving God looking out for me, I’d be depressed. As Ken pointed out in a post, Is Religion Cognitive-Emotional Cheesecake?: Matt Bradshaw and Chris Ellison have shown that religion can reduce the stress caused by financial hardship. Andrew Clark found that European Protestants and Catholics are less fearful of unemployment than the non religious.

But atheists do get through life. I once asked one of them when I was in college, “How do you get through your day?” His response was that sometimes he doesn’t! He just goes through life and tries his best.

When I was at Harvard, doing my applications for the next level of my study, I was trying to find peace in the notion that God had a plan for my life. I overheard an atheist talking with a friend, and he was discussing his own experiences in the application process. He just talked about tasks he was performing—sending in an essay, etc. He didn’t believe that God had a plan. On the opposite extreme, he didn’t strike me as an arrogant person who believed he was the master of his fate and the captain of his soul, for he realized that some colleges might not take him. But he tried his best, and what happened, happened. Plus, he’d continually identify his options and weigh them accordingly.

2. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, page 181:

“…each religion claims to be truth, claims to speak rightly. Yet their answers to the same question are as different as two hands and seven hands. The Fosterites say one thing, the Buddhists say another, the Moslems say still another—many answers, all different.”

That reminds me of an article that I read recently, Separate truths – The Boston Globe, which challenged the notion that all religions are saying basically the same thing. Actually, the article argued, they’re saying quite different things, and we need to grasp that fact if we are to interact with the world as it is.

I think it’s a little of both: many religions have similar systems of morality—such as love for neighbor. But there are also clear differences. Pluralist John Hick acknowledges this, which is why I’d like to read more of him in the future.

3. Raphael Loewe, “The Medieval History of the Latin Vulgate”, Cambridge History of the Bible, volume 2, page 107:

As regards ecclesiastical leadership, although we may suppose that the theological climate in which scriptural innovation was received would be conditioned by sensitivity towards any attempt to saddle heretical notions on to the wording of Holy Writ, such hesitancy may be here discounted on account of Jerome’s own staunch orthodoxy and attitude towards Arianism.

Do we have a lot of heretical biblical texts? Early Christians produced new translations of the Hebrew Bible by the truck-load, and, as Emet would probably point out, they sought to conform the Bible to Christian doctrine. But were there heretics who did this? I remember Bart Ehrman referring to texts of the Gospels that were adoptionistic, in that they held that Jesus became divine and Christ at his baptism, an idea that became a heresy. But were heretical versions of the Bible stamped out?

4. Alberdina Houtmann, Mishnah and Tosefta, page 19:

Goldberg went the other way in accepting the existing arrangement of Tosefta as intentional. He explained the differences in arrangement of the material on didactic grounds.

We encounter here the question: Does the Tosefta depend on the Mishnah? By and large, one can make a case that it does, for it often follows the order and the subject matter of the Mishnah. But, apparently, there are times when such is not the case. And so messy reality leads to messy scholarly attempts to account for that reality!

5. Ehud Ben Zvi, “Introduction: Writings, speeches, and the Prophetic Books—Setting an Agenda”, in Writings and Speech in Israelites and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, page 26:

The oral prophecies from Mesopotamia suggest that oracles dealt with the relatively close future, not with an ideal future set far away from present reality. The same holds true for the written collection of Assyrian oracles. As mentioned above, one of the prominent messages of the prophetic books is to advance an image of an ideal future, and to reassure society that the future will become reality, by the will of YHWH, at some indefinite point in the future.

I thought that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible were speaking to their own times. First Isaiah believed that the Assyrians would ransack Judah, and God would build a Messianic sort of kingdom on a remnant. Jeremiah thought that, after seventy years, the Israelites would return from exile in Babylon, and that would lead to a time of peace, along with a new covenant, in which God would internalize his law in the hearts and minds of the Israelites. Ezekiel believed something similar.

Yet, the fact that these prophecies were redacted and reinterpreted indicates that those who read these prophecies and added their two-cents to the biblical books did not limit them to their original historical contexts. They applied them to new contexts. The heroes and villains changed, but God’s plan remained the same.

6. In Toward a Grammar of Biblical Poetics, Herbert Brichto states the following:

When Scripture ceases to be relevant to our experience of life, it is as artistically trivial as it has been declared metaphysically and ethically pointless. The Bible has proven that it can survive a failure of aesthetic appreciation, but it is doubtful that it could survive as an artistic creation shorn of a capability for compelling assent to its moral affirmations and its mordant yet never morbid assessment of the human condition.

Does the Bible have to be religious Scripture for us to get moral lessons from it? When I do my weekly quiet time, I don’t really focus on whether or not the text I’m reading is inerrant. Rather, I just read and study it, and edifying things emerge that I feel can help me to have a better attitude and approach towards life. But that’s where I am right now.

7. I watched the season finale of The Middle, and I found Sue’s story to be moving. Sue is a high school student who is usually forgotten by her fellow students, her teachers, and the school staff. It’s like she’s invisible! She can be in a class, and the teacher doesn’t even know her. Sometimes, the teacher marks her absent even though she’s right there in the classroom.

Sue also tries out for every school activity, only to fail. She tries to be on the swim team, and she fails. Cheerleader—fails. Drama club—fails.

One day, Sue’s mom, Franky, marches to the school and asks why it can’t try to make her daughter feel like she’s a part of it. In response to Franky’s plea, the school enacts a policy: the cross-country team will make no cuts! Everyone who tries out for it will be on it!

Sue is eagerly getting ready to try out for the cross-country team, but, alas, she’s hit by a deer! (No, she didn’t hit the deer—the deer hit her!) And so she’s on crutches. She goes to the coach and asks to be on the cross-country team, and he replies that she can’t, because all applicants must complete five laps to be on it. He then casually dismisses Sue, and tells her he was glad to meet her. She replies that she was in his math class, so he didn’t ”just meet” her!

Sue then goes out to the track, and she hobbles on her crutches, trying to make all five of the laps. Her fellow students don’t know her name, but they cheer her on, even if they call out “Norma” instead of “Sue”! Sue’s dad wonders if he should stop her, and Franky tells him to let her finish what she started. Rain comes. Hail comes. The lawnmower spews mud on Sue. But she keeps on going. Finally, after five laps, she crosses the finish line. Her classmates and her family (even her jock brother, Axl, who thinks she’s a geek) cheer for her, and the coach throws her a jersey for the team. At long last, Sue Heck is part of a school activity!

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