Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bears! Why did it have to be bears!?

Remember this post?

Well, I was violently reminded of it while enjoying this little treasure: the "Nine Most Badass Bible Verses".

I know my friend Al has a soft spot for the good parts of Christianity, but...

When it comes to pure-D, hands-off, gut-slam, freaky-deaky, whattheFUCKyoutalkin'about, why-do-people-believe-in-this-stuff wierdness, religious texts are pure gold. We're talking some you-couldn't-make-a-horror-movie stuff. And don't EVEN get me started about the freakin' Book of Mormon!

Jesus was a stand-up guy, and the religion he preached was a thing of great depth and beauty. And Muhammad, too, and Gautama, and a whole bunch of truly spiritual folks all the way down to the Dalai Lamas and Mohandas Gandhis of our own day.

But a lot of the stuff that made it into the Bible (and the Torah, and the Koran, and the Vedas) just makes you say hmmm...and, sadly enough, it seems like many people prefer the she-bears and the Gospel of Prosperity and the Rule of the Fearful Sky Daddy to the hard, lonely, self-sacrificing faith of folks like Jesus and Buddha.So generally I treat all religious enthusiasts as my maternal grandfar would have dealt with a Jacobite and an armed one, at that.

(h/t to Balls and Walnuts, for the awesomely freaky Bible verse link. Dude!)


sheerahkahn said...

Context, Chief, context.

You have to remember how, and why the bible was written the way it was.
One as a historical document outlining the combined experiences of people who had an encounter with a deity, and their very biased perspective on what exactly that encounter put them through. And two, on a individual book basis, as a historical document filtered through the lens of the author who was looking at it through a religious lens.

Therefore, the Old Testament comes to us raw, emotional, highly biased, and reveals the unique perspective of the writer. This does not absolve the writer of our modern day prejudices (come on, seriously, a lot of that stuff is just pure barbarity on an inhuman scale!), but if we allow the author to explain himself we see how he viewed the world around him.

It's all in how you read it, Chief, if you read it with your own bias then you've missed the point of the authors bias/perspective and you get nothing out of it.

Kinda like reading Seneca, and thinking the whole time, "what a pile of steaming bullshit."
Rather than letting the author explain his perspective to you, you dismissed him out of hand.

A little unfair, me thinks.

FDChief said...

Sheerah: WTF? How the hell do you get bias out of the bears? I don't see a perspective issue here. Kids mock prophet, bears eat kids. I mean, it's horrible, but it's not exactly parsing Scripture here.

All I'm saying is that there's a hell of a lot of stuff in Scripture - pretty much everyone's scriptures - that, looking at it as a 20th Century human who thinks that cutting the foreskins off two hundred people is just freaking sick, is beyond whack.

I'm perfectly willing to let the author explain, say, the Sermon on the Mount.

But the bears? and the jawbone of the ass?


sheerahkahn said...

If you can read the volsungs without converting to Odin worship, or read any of the Greek histories without becoming a follower of Apollos or Zeus, and pretty much read any of the Roman authors while resisting the urge to worship Caesar as a incarnate deity, then I think you can read the bible without being converted to Judaism, or Christianity.
Just saying Chief, history is history, whether we think it's bogus or not is irrelevant. To the guy writing it...it's how he saw the world.

FDChief said...

Sheerah: No, no, it's not that I'm fretting about MY conversion one way or the other - I've read everything from zen koans to the Book of Mormon (gah!) without the slightest impulse to jump on the religion bandwagon.

It's that you read stuff like the bears and you're pretty much stuck with two choices:

1. Believe that it's "history", and that the people who wrote the book and the people who read and believe it accept it as true and a genuine aspect of their God. Which, in my opinion, makes their God a pretty horrifying sort of monster-movie slasher. Great to be BFF with, but like an ephant i musth - you make one wrong move and a bear eats your ass. Or,

2. It's a bizarre fable and in he same category as Aesop and the Bros. Grimm. But if THAT's the case, then the people who tell you that the Bible (or the Koran or the Vedas) are "God's Word" are telling you that they believe that this freakish fable is a true thing, spoken by God.

Either way, it seems like a very odd belief in the 21st Century. Frankly, if you can believe the bears is "history" like the Franco-Prussian War and the kingdoms of the Mayans I personally suspect that I can make you believe damn near anything. And, as the saying goes, those who can make you believe impossibilities can convince you to commit atrocities.

THAT's why don't trust "religion". Individual faith is only as dangerous as the individual and his or her level of aggression-related beliefs. But you get a couple of million people together and convince them that God sends bears to kill little kids, or Jews drink the blood of infants, or that Muslims are all "terrorists"...well, we all ave a problem.

sheerahkahn said...

"that God sends bears to kill little kids, or Jews drink the blood of infants, or that Muslims are all "terrorists"...well, we all ave a problem."

I can understand your point, and to be honest I'm at a distinct disadvantage...I'm a Christian, but also a Biologist/pharmaceutical scientist/historian which means the following: I think evolution is viable, and after reading hte bible I see nothing contradictory between what the bible speaks about, and evolution. One's written in poetry, the other in quantifiable/peer reviewed rags. The other sticking point is historian...which means I have been able of disassociating myself from my preconceptions about what I want a source to say and what the source has to say about itself.
That doesn't sit well with a lot of people I know.
Which, given all that, plus some, puts me in a very interesting pickle with my fellow believers.

So, here is what I say when I'm allowed to explain myself:
"the bible is written by people who have a particular viewpoint, and lets be honest, to us, today, that viewpoint is pretty inhumane at best, and un-fucking-believably barbaric at worst."
yada, yada, yada.
Historically Chief, that region's history is pretty dam twisted and sick, but surprisingly and amazingly interesting...which is one of the reasons why I'm studying ancient and medieval history...well, I'd like to focus more on ancient, but it seems medieval has a lot more information around it.
Oh G-d, I could bore you to tears with explanations...let me see if I can put something together for you that will make much more sense than my limited ramblings.
At least then you can see why I take the bible seriously, but not throwing-my-brain-out-the-door-literally serious.

Publius said...

My two cents, Chief and Sheer:

I've read the Bible and other religious tracts. I've lived longer than either of you and I've: been to war, been shot, seen young men die, been married to a good woman, fathered a child, buried a mother and father and numerous other relatives, made money, lost money, had several careers, traveled to about 50 different countries, been a lifeguard, been a salutatorian, turned down a minor league baseball contract, been to the first two Super Bowls, and have enjoyed the fruits of technology advances to the point where I can post inanities on this blog for anyone in the whole world to see.

At no time during all of this has the Bible or any other religious tract been relevant in any respect.

I don't expect that to change.

FDChief said...

Publius: Well said, venerable Master!

Kidding aside, I find there nothing more irking to me than the commonly heard assumption that religion is crucial to moral behavior. I've been there, done that, and with no more religious guidance than the Golden Rule I've managed to avoid being an ethical monster.

Likewise - I just don't "need" religion for anything (other than the occasional amusement item such as the bears).

Some of the music is pretty, tho...

Publius said...

Chief: recall what our Founders said about organized religion. I always cite Messrs Washington and Jefferson and what they said about religion. I'm always amazed at the number of people who venerate our Founders, love our country, wave the flag, and who somehow think a love of "God" as interpreted by whatever religion they like is what drove the Founders.

Our Founders were great men. We are blessed all of these years later by what they did. But they were not particularly religious men. Their true beliefs are obscure, but what's clear is that they did not want us, their children, to be bedeviled by the curse of organized religion. We've failed them in this, as in so many other things.

BTW, Chief, why didn't you answer that email I sent you a couple of months ago? Just wondering.

sheerahkahn said...

I think part of the problem that the founders had with organized religion as it was then practiced in the colonies was that it was patterning itself after the Anglican Church set up in England.
In the colonies, government structure was comparable to the church structure. Elders in the church were considered elders in the community, and as such those positions translated to community authority.
Hence, what transpired in the community was brought into the church, and what transpired in the church was reinforced in the community.
What our founding fathers did not want was the Church, and this gentlemen is something we need to intellectually honest about, this is not whatever religion, rather this thinking was directed at the Christian Church, regardless of denomination...dam...right, okay, back on track, so what the founding fathers wanted was a government that made no laws regarding the church, either favoring or disallowing, and that the church was to remain a social institution distinct from the government, and not an extension of political will which is what the English Anglican and the European churches had become.

Aviator47 said...

OK, since Chief mentioned me by name in the original post, here's my reply.

Christianity is about each person's quest for a desirable afterlife, to use simplistic terms. As I have always understood things, it has nothing to do with imposing any beliefs upon, or control over others. It does have to do with expressing certain beliefs, exercising self control and by example and good works, encouraging others to do the same. As I have read the basic reference text, as well as the writings of the mind of the Church in which I worship, following the Christian faith is a purely voluntary thing.

One need not be a Christian to exhibit truly moral behavior. Nor does moral behavior automatically make one a Christian. And, obviously, not all who profess to be Christian lead morally exemplary lives. Some of the most morally upright folks I have known were not followers of any religious faith. Any society blessed with these folks would be a better place.

I have always found it paradoxical that the mantra of a "Christian Nation" is chanted by those who also see Scripture as inerrant and literal. Nowhere in Scripture is such a notion mentioned. Nor is "Christian company" or "Christian army". As far as I can tell, the "render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar's and render unto God what is God's" renounces such a concept.

The Orthodox are kind of different in our view of those who are not of our faith. We believe that at the Judgment Seat, we (the Orthodox) will be called to account for our lives as they are expected to be led by the tenets of our faith. We do not claim to know exactly how others will be judged, as that is God's alone to do. Many Orthodox have suggested that by embracing the Orthodox Faith, we may very well be subjecting ourselves, in effect, to more stringent standards. Doesn't make us better, however, just subject to those standards. We do pray at most of our services that God will judge everyone mercifully and according to the goodness of their lives. BTW, There is a huge difference between "worrying" about someone's salvation and simply damning them. So, Publius and Chief, if there is an afterlife, millions of us regularly pray that you two get the better option, no matter what you believe. Hope you don't find that intrusive!

As to the content of Scripture, one must view the writings in their totality and full context, as well historically, as as Sheer has noted. Taking any snippet out of context, as in the grizzlier ones, is as inaccurate a picture of the overall message as quoting snippets that were once used to claim that slavery was God ordained.

Hope that makes sense to all.

Best to all


FDChief said...

Publius: I did! The only thing I can think of is that my e-mail server didn't send it - but I should have gotten a bounce message and I don't remember seeing one. I apologize for letting you think I was ignoring you - I wasn't.

You might try me again at dlgellar@msn.com. This time I promise I follow up with the hotmail server and make sure my e-mail can talk to yours.

Sheerah, Al: When I still had a vestige of personal faith I came at it pretty much as you describe - as a personal issue. My religion or faith or whatever you want to call it was a personal matter between my God and I. It didn't need either public pronouncement or official sanction, and I felt no overwhelming need to interfere with the beliefs of those others who felt differently, or those who had no faith at all.

ISTM that the biggest problem here is the tradition of interference of church in state that dates back to the Roman Catholic church. I've heard it said that the Christian Church collided with the Roman State and the state overwhelmed and absorbed the church. So the Roman church went from being primarily concerned about individual and congregational faith to being primarily an instrument of state control.

The Protestant churches that emerged from catholicism in the late Middle Ages inherited this value system to some extent, and we still see the effects today. My concern is that religion, as it has an impact on governance, is not amenable to debate or reason, any more than the bear story makes the remotest kind of sense. When God says it and I believe it, that settles it. There's no appeal to God's Law beyond the words of the prophets and preachers.

Which is where the oddball stuff in the Bible and the Koran, etc., comes in. I have no problem with people who see these writings as guidelines, a sort of Clif's Notes of faith, who acknowledge them (as you are doing, Sheerah) as a wierd melange of inspired testimony and freakishly garbled tradition and oral history and generations of bad translations and transcriptions.

My problem is with the people who say, flat out, THIS IS GOD'S WORD. Period. Every jot and tittle is true and holy.

As I've said - if you can believe that, you can believe damn near anything. And people who will believe anything can be used to do damn near anything, too. It's a scary prospect...

FDChief said...

Or let's look at it this way:

(you didn't think I was done with this, did you?)

If you say to me "Homosexuals should not be allowed to marry or adopt.", or "Israel should be what it is where it is." and I disagree, we have ourselves a debate. You can introduce child-rearing studies and I can reference the Balfour Declaration and we can go around and around about facts and research and history and have an actual discussion to the degree that we're willing to stick to verifiable things.

When you think about it, the IDEAL of democracy is based on that, and the principle that there are guarentees built into the system to ensure that the minority (or the losers of the debate/discussion) have reasons for staying inside and working the system.

But the moment you say: "God says homosexuals are evil and wrong." or "God has given Israel to His Chosen People." then you effectively stop the discussion cold. Debate ends there. Because who can debate God's word? That in itself pretty much forces a Wall of Jericho between Church - all churches, any church - and the democratic state. Because if it can't be debated or discussed, it will eventually force the two parties to fight. Slavery was a religious divide between 1789 and 1860 - there was no middle ground. You either accepted slavery or you didn't. The only possible result, short of the retreat of one party or the other, was war.

My other issues are, first, what IS God's Word? Is it the bears, and the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David's foreskins, and the sons of Gods going unto the daughters of men (check your Genesis), or is it the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount? And, second, who decides? You? Me? The Pope? Billy Sunday?

It just seems like once you take religion (or faith) out of your heart and put it up for public display you open some potentially ugly doors.

So, to return to Sheerahkhan's original reply, I don't think it MATTERS the context of the Bible or the Koran or the Vedas, or who interprets them and how. What matters is that 1) the latitude for interpretation, and the bizarrely confused and confounding nature of these texts make them extremely susceptible to abuse, and 2) the fundamental incompatibility between accepting faith (needed for religion) and skeptical inquiry (needed for democracy) require that the two look upon each other as - at best - fellow travelers content to be distinct and unassociated with each other.