"That which does no earthly good cannot be heavenly minded." R. Rivera

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Bible According To Whatever

By Ruben Rivera
Heavenly Minded & Earthly Good Blog©
26 Oct 2011

 Well it had to happen: the open political polarization of the interpretation of the Bible. After all, if you believe all the nonstop banana oil your hear in this country, there are absolutely no other worlds in the universe possible other than the cosmic dualism of the extreme wings of the Republican and Democratic parties.

After countless denials from Fox News that it presented unvarnished "news", anchor Chris Wallace admitted in an interview with comedian Jon Stewart (June 2011) that Fox in fact was presenting a so-called counterbalance to news outlets that they felt were dominated by liberals. Important as this is, tv "news" only deals with mundane temporal events.

But what about the eternal news?

Now, The Conservative Bible Project has set up a Wikipedia type web site "utilizing the 'the best of public' to render God's word into modern English without liberal translation distortions." http://conservapedia.com/Conservative_Bible_Project

Don't get me wrong, Bible translation has always been a mine field and the Conservative Bible Project is correct in pointing out that influences like gender, modern liberalism, socialism, evolution and more can work their way into the translation work done by scholars, either deliberately or simply because a person's social location, politics, intellectual convictions and other "leanings" filter into the things they do even if they are not aware of it.

The importance of the matter is impossible to overstate, since when one reads the Bible assuming it is God's word, he/she may not be aware of the extent to which it may not be. Yet all of life (here and hereafter) is said to hang on the Bible.

Page from The Jefferson Bible. Notice what it was
about Jesus that Jefferson felt mattered most.

Thomas Jefferson (whom many modern evangelicals mistakenly claim was evangelical too) compiled what has since become known as the Jefferson Bible in which he cut out miracles. Why? Because as a true son of the Age of Reason, Jefferson no longer believed in them. 

The modern "quests" for the "historical Jesus" have always revealed at least as much about the era and worldview of the person on that quest as the Jesus they claim to have "rediscovered".

A "Feminist translation" is declared to be a corrective to the male domination of the Scriptures (both in the "original" and in translation) so that women's subordination to men becomes as universal and non-negotiable as belief in the resurrection of Jesus is essential for someone to be Christian at all. All this, the feminist argument continues, courtesy of the illogical, prejudicial and heretical making of God in the image of the patriarchal culture from which said God emerged in the first place, and which continues to be perpetuated in translations by men. But then among some correctives is to start referring to God in feminine pronouns and characteristics, raising the charge of feminist bias, and pushing off the table any discussion about the possibility of any sound points made in the previous scholarly argument.

So, as I said, The Conservative Bible Project (CBP) is correct in pointing out how cultural, social, political, intellectual and other kinds of bias influence Bible translation, let alone Bible interpretation. I just wish they would focus the same critical lens inward. Are liberals, socialists and feminists the only ones who have "tampered" (as the more kind among them put it) with the Bible? Has there been no Bible tampering by conservatives and lassiez-faire capitalists? 

The answer is, overwhelming, yes they have. Can we not admit that the Bible is frequently whatever people need it to be? Biblical justifications for slavery and segregation were once common. Yet what evangelical today would support either?

 Image of Jesus most people under Western
influence grew up with.

Image of the likely features of Jesus 
(i.e., a 1st century Aramaic Jew) based on 
forensic anthropology and biblical texts.

To prove this everyday abuse of Scripture by those who claim most to revere it as God's inerrant word (remember, those who don't believe that, don't even bother to have this kind of discussion), I often ask Christian groups the following questions after reading several verses from the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. I quote from the New International Version or NIV. (Yes, I'm aware of the irony in picking one translation over another for the purposes of this discussion. But that doesn't matter here. It is the responses to the readings that is important.)

I've seen lots of Jesus toys. But it's the
"Glow-in-the-Dark" hands that got me. 

1. "I tell you the truth...not the smallest letter or stroke of the pen shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Mt 5:18)
Question: Raise your hand if you believe this teaching (i.e., that Jesus should be taken literally here).
Everyone raises their hand. This is no surprise coming from people who believe that the Bible is God's Word and can therefore have no error and must be obeyed.

2. "You have heard it said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oaths, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.' But I say to you, do not swear at all....All you need to say is simply yes or no. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Mt 5:33-37).
Question: Raise your hand if you believe this teaching (i.e., that Jesus should be taken literally here).
Fewer people are now raising their hand.

3. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven." (Mt 5:43-45a)
Question: Raise your hand if you believe this teaching (i.e., that Jesus should be taken literally here).
Even fewer people are raising their hand.

 Like a lot of pictures on the web, this one was hard to
trace to the original source and intent. If it's a joke, it 
worked on me. I roared laughing. If it's a real
advertisement, there's something a little sick about it.

4. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also. And if anyone wants to sue and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles." (Mt 5:38-41)
Question: Raise your hand if you believe this teaching (i.e., that Jesus should be taken literally here).
Very few people are left raising their hand. One time I did this and only one person in a room of well over a hundred people raised their hand for all four questions.

Oh, and by the way, you can pretty much predict how people will answer those questions depending on what is happening in the larger culture around us. If we are in a time of peace and prosperity (both personally and nationally), more people will raise their hands on questions about loving your enemy and turning the other cheek. During economic hard times and conflict, very few if any will raise their hands: The Bible according to whatever is happening or needed.

A Jewish author who asks: "What Jewish
sources agree with my Christian friends?"
I include this here to illustrate that Christians
aren't the only ones politicizing God and the Bible.

So while I laud the attempt by Conservatives to point out how non-Conservatives may tamper and pick and choose from the Bible, may I make a suggestion?
Physician heal thyself.


Fete et Fleur said...

WOW! An amazing reconstruction of what they think Jesus might have truly looked like. It doesn't matter to me brown, black, white, purple, plaid, He is my lord in any color of the rainbow.

Amen to Physician heal thyself.


Anonymous said...

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.

You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.

Billy Collins

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

WOW. Your piece is like always, beautifully and poignantly written. THEN, this Billy Collins poem is wonderful!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment Rubedude.

This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder's head. Luckily I'm adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.

Anonymous said...

Ruben informs me you have not seen THE film The Big Lebowski....
Anita you will not be allowed in my house in Provence until you can quote at least two of the Dudes quotes...
Look, let me explain something to you. I'm the Dude. So that's what you call me. That, or His Dudeness … Duder … or El Duderino, if, you know, you're not into the whole brevity thing.

Palomasea said...

Dear Ruben,

Thank you so much for visiting my blog, it is always so great to see your comments!

You have written yet another powerful post, Ruben. One of my favorite subjects. Love how some will say that their answer is the right answer. Ummm, okay. ;)
By the way, Jesus looks like my dad. hee..

Take care, you and dear Anita, please stay well!
- Irina

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on Donny,[Anita] they were threatening castration! Are we gonna split hairs here? Am I wrong?
I have to ask Walter also...it maybe OVER THE LINE!

Anonymous said...

Rube PhD... Particularly High Dudeness.
I look forward to meeting you both one day.The Coen Bros..Ethan was a Philosophy Grad at Princeton as you are probably aware AND from Massachusetts [love misspelling that]...so Philosophy has humour;which I am truly grateful for.
Coffee Shop Waitress: Excuse me, sir. Could you please keep your voices down? This is a family restaurant.
Walter Sobchak: Oh please, dear? For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint.

Ruben Rivera said...

That line about the Supreme Court ruling on prior restraint is one of those throw way Coen brothers lines that, even if you don't know what it refers to, is funny precisely because it is a throw-away, but with enough context to indicate the meaning: Free speech, honey. The law's on my side.

Besides the Supreme Court upholding the constitutional "meaning" rejecting prior restraint, a bit trivia here: the case reached the Supreme Court out of a censorship brouhaha that began in Minnesota, a state with which, let's just say, I am quite familiar.

However, there are ways around the constitution. For example, corporations can place injunctions on whistle blowers who have important information that impacts the welfare of citizens, under the claim that this not free speech but a violation of previously made confidentiality agreements. Big Tobacco used these kinds of tactics. Also the claim of national security over freedom of speech has also been the rug under which many an abuse has been swept. Heck, the courts have even ruled that as a consumer I can't know everything that is in my food or its production because I might like it, which would prejudice my buying choice, unfairly favoring another company whose ingredients include just, well, food. The Disney corp has long fought to maintain a monopoly on its image. A book came out some years ago titled, The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence. The author said that some publishers were terrified to publish a book that might incur the wrath of Disney and their shark-eating lawyers.

I sincerely hope also that we can meet in the near future.


Anonymous said...

Interesting:legislation is like not watching Walter ever again...impossible.Europe and the UK are digging large holes of it precisely as I write.
Just posted a tribute to Wilfred.Hope you like.
Best Wishes to The Dudess and I hope she is practicing her lines.

The Big Lebowski: Are you employed, sir?
The Dude: Employed?
The Big Lebowski: You don't go out looking for a job dressed like that? On a weekday?
The Dude: Is this a... what day is this?
The Big Lebowski: Well, I do work sir, so if you don't mind...
The Dude: I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.

Nezzy said...

This was a most powerful read Man. As usual so very well written too.

It's truly not important what Jesus looked like...red, yellow, black or white...He is precious in my sight.

God bless and have an awesome weekend!!!

Pamper that lovely wife of yours!!!

Debbie said...

Thank you for this post. I am speechless. You somehow always manage to be in tune with whatever it is that I am struggling with. Recently I had been feeling a little afraid that I'd gone too far (e.g., my Ancient Aliens post) and was afraid that I'd searched myself right out of Christianity ... which really did scare me. Thank you thank you thank you for this post. It helped me tremendously.

Will email you late ... have been wanting to tell you about our trip to Boston and the East Coast ... *sigh* All of New England is so beautiful. I think I should have been born on the east coast ...

My love to Anita ...

p.s. ME IS A TRIP! I have to check out his blog. I LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI ... FUNNIEST MOVIE EVER!

Ruben Rivera said...

Thank you Debbie. So glad that anything I say or write brings something helpful to the table of discussion. Can't wait to hear about your trip. Anita and I loved our years in New England.

Yes, do check out Penseé, "Me's" blog. It's positively fantastic. But please refer to him as the Dude, or the Duder,or Duderino. For he is the Dude.


Anonymous said...

The Soldier photograph is where we live in England.Just around the corner....That is for ever England.

Anonymous said...

I find this metaphorically religious.
Or am i just an old Philosopher?

Stranger: D'ya have a good sarsaparilla?
Bartender: Sioux City Sarsaparilla.
Stranger: That's a good one.

Prophecy ???
I like it though.
Have a good week.

Jeri Landers said...

I consider myself a conservative, But I think I will stick with the King James version, I like it.
As for Thomas Jefferson, he did say the following:'
"I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others. ... I am a real Christian -- that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.