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Destination Truth: The Road Goes Ever On

Yes, I borrowed the title of this post from a television show and my favorite author (J.R.R. Tolkien). The topic of this post has been on m...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

God, Adam & Eve and Science

Dr. James McGrath has posted an interesting graphic depicting the degree to which the various denominations of Christianity accept evolutionary science. (View at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/07/science-and-christianity-in-the-u-s.html) As part of the same post, he provided a link to an article that I found to be extremely interesting and thought provoking. The article by Karl Giberson of Stonehill College is entitled "Why Losing Adam & Eve is so hard." (View at: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/06/gib398002.shtml)

In his article, Giberson looks at the profound impact that the Biblical story about Adam and Eve has had on Western thought, especially within the United States. In fact, he makes a compelling case for this story being "The Central Myth of Western Culture." Giberson sees this story as the basis for the opposition to science that exists within Evangelical Christianity. He points out that this myth has colored Western notions about such things as man's relationship with the natural environment, the proper role of males and females in society, the institution of marriage, race relations, free will and the nature of sin and temptation. Of particular interest to this blogger, Giberson underscores how this mythology has been used in the fight against gay marriage ("God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!") He also points out that the study of genetics has demonstrated that we (humans) are closely related to chimps and bonobos, and that mankind existed for many millennia prior to the events described in the second and third chapters of Genesis.

Nevertheless, after reading the article, I found myself once again asking the question: Why must we accept the understanding/perspective of the literalists in interpreting this story? Is acceptance of the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the events described in these two chapters of Genesis, really essential to understanding this story and incorporating it into our theology? In the article, Giberson wonders aloud whether or not the original human author(s) of these passages even believed that they were recording a story about real individuals and events. When one considers the highly symbolic nature of the language employed in the telling of this story, I think that we would have to admit that this is at the very least a possibility (e.g. a paradise like garden, a tree of life, a tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a talking snake). Moreover, Christ's and Paul's use of the story does not necessarily entail an endorsement of the historicity of the characters or their story. Isn't it possible that they recognized some profound spiritual truths had been communicated in this story, and that they used it to illustrate/communicate some spiritual truths of their own?

Why can't we see this story as an affirmation of God's interest in and involvement with mankind? Why can't we see this story as an affirmation that humanity shares a common origin - that we are all related to each other? Why can't we see this story as illustrative of the truth that mankind has rejected a moral code of Divine origin and has pursued one of its own devising? After all, isn't it possible to say that various passages throughout the Bible are illustrative of what happens when man pursues his own understanding of what is right and what is wrong? Does this story mandate the acceptance of the concept of original sin, or is it possible to interpret it as illustrative of how each of us as individuals pursues our own definition of right and wrong and lose our innocence along the way? Does this story mandate the notion that our collective and individual ability to reason has been corrupted (Giberson points out in his article that Aquinas didn't think so)? Does this story negate the notion that each and every one of us are born with a tabula rasa and ultimately bear at least some responsibility for what gets written on its surface? In short, does the whole theological house of cards have to collapse if Adam and Eve never really existed?

In the final analysis, we each have to answer these questions for ourselves. This blogger is comfortable with the story of Adam and Eve and accepts evolutionary science. What about you?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Some thoughts on choosing a church to attend

Gavin R. just posted an article on the "Functions of Religion" on his Otagosh blog. You can read it here: http://otagosh.blogspot.com/2015/07/functions-of-religion.html This post was based on a post by Sabio Lantz entitled "Religion as Moral Signalling" on the Triangulations blog. I found both pieces to be interesting and insightful.

Like many of my readers, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that religion is much more than a set of doctrines and beliefs. In fact, my readers may have picked up on the fact that I do not have a very high opinion of man-made religion or the organizations and denominations that it has given birth to. As a student of history, I see the harm and destructive impulses that many of these groups have perpetrated and unleashed in the world; but I also understand that they have some value to the religiously inclined person. As indicated in the posts cited above, these groups can be a source of fellowship, support, security, reinforcement and comfort.

Moreover, if we appeal to Scripture, it is apparent that the author of Hebrews felt that it was very important for Christians to meet together and interact with each other. We read: "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another; especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25) In fact, the New Testament is full of encouragement for Christians to meet together and spur each other on to love and spiritual growth. As we have noted in previous posts on this blog, the Greek word that has been translated into English as "Church" indicates an assembly of people.

So what should a sincere Christian be looking for in a church? Here are a few questions (based on Scriptural standards) which anyone seeking a church to attend may wish to consider:
1) Is a spirit of love, support and peace evident in the congregation/group?
2) Is the focus of the congregation/group outward? That is, are they focused on helping others?
3) Is the group tolerant of differences? Do they embrace everyone within their midst? Or are there elites and cliques present?
4) Do the individual members appear to be happy and well-balanced personalities?
5) Does the atmosphere feel spiritual? Can you feel the "magic/electricity" when you attend there?
6) How do you feel when you walk out of that church? Uplifted? Rejuvenated?
7) Is doctrine, authority and judgment placed above the other values just mentioned?

It seems to me that anyone who took the time to ask themselves these questions in evaluating whether or not to attend with a specific group would have a better chance of having a good religious experience. Contrary to what the group taught that I was formerly affiliated with, it's not what you know (or think you know) - it's what you do with what you know! Good rule of thumb: Any man/woman/group that interferes with or supersedes our relationship with the Divine is not a healthy or spiritually productive association.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Is God a racist?

The Church of God International has posted a new "web chat" entitled "Revisiting the Biblical Origins of USA and Britain" with Pastors Bill Watson and Wayne Hendrix (this blogger's father). For those interested, you may see the video at this address: http://cgi.org/armor-of-god-web-chat/2015/7/8/revisiting-the-biblical-origins-of-usa-and-britain

This production seeks to rebut the argument that the church's teachings with regard to the physical ancestry of the English speaking peoples are inherently racist. In their attempt to make the doctrine of British Israelism more palatable, they seek to distance themselves from the teachings/writings of Herbert W. Armstrong and the various proponents of it over the last almost four hundred years. Mr. Watson and Mr. Hendrix insist that God only segregated the Israelites because "He" is a jealous God and didn't want "His" people to be worshipping other gods. They point out the fact that Ephraim and Manasseh were themselves the product of an interracial marriage (between a Hebrew and an Egyptian) as proof that God didn't really care about the physical ethnicity/ancestry of the folks in question. Of course, the entire discussion is based on the premise that the Bible is an infallible account of God and "His" purposes and plans for mankind.

However, for those of us who do not share this view of Scripture, several objections immediately come to mind regarding their defense of this obnoxious doctrine. There are numerous statements within the Bible that make plain that the Israelites were regarded as God's special people - above all of the other nations on the face of the earth. The Israelites were instructed in numerous places not to intermarry with other folks (pagan, heathen, uncircumcised Gentiles). In fact, they are instructed in several places to annihilate non-Israelites - to completely destroy the people and their culture. In numerous places, God is portrayed as fighting on behalf of "His" people and against other people. Interestingly, the Israelites often enslaved the people they conquered, and there are numerous provisions within the Torah which outline the proper treatment of those slaves.

One could argue that the whole Bible is a book about Israel. Moreover, even in the New Testament, we find much evidence that the Jews looked down on the Samaritans, Greeks and Romans. In fact, the context makes quite clear that the Jews regarded themselves as being superior to those other folks - not even worthy for a Jew to associate with them. The Israelites themselves are often described collectively as being a "stiff-necked" and sinful people.

Google defines racism as "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior." Clearly, based on the evidence of the scriptures themselves, we would have to conclude that the human authors of Scripture were mostly racists.

There is, however, another view of race expressed within the pages of the Bible. It is a view that American Abolitionists found to be more compelling and believable than those noted above. This view is presented in numerous places where God's care and concern for all of the peoples of the earth is made clear. This view is found in the places where it is made clear that God chose the Israelites for a special mission - to be an example to the other nations - to tell the other folks about "Him." John the Baptist told the Jews of his day not to rely on their physical descent from Abraham. He went on to tell them that God could raise up offspring to Abraham from the stones at their feet. This view is found in Christ's parable about the Good Samaritan, and in his instructions to his followers to make disciples of all nations. It is made clear in the vision that was given to Peter about what (who) should be regarded as clean or unclean. Finally, it is also made plain in the ministry/writings of the Apostle Paul that God does not regard one people over another - that Christians lose their Jewish or Greek designation when they are baptized into the Church. Paul went on to say that God considers Christians to be Abraham's descendants, and the proper heirs of the promises made to him.

And if all of that is not enough to convince us, we would still have the very plain statements of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians and the author of the epistle to the Hebrews to completely discredit this teaching. Paul wrote: "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ." (Galatians 3:16, NIV) Likewise, after recounting the stories of many of God's faithful people down through the ages (including Abraham), the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us: "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:39-40, NIV) In other words, there doesn't have to be any fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham in this life! And, when those promises are finally fulfilled, they will be fulfilled through those who belong to Jesus Christ (from all nations)! Likewise, Christ is the fulfillment of the promises made to King David. Christ is the one who will sit on his throne forever and ever. It is ridiculous to suggest that the British royal family has any role to play in fulfilling that promise!

Hence, there is legitimate reason for Christians of good will to say that God is not a racist. Nevertheless, for those who cling to this pernicious doctrine, you are stuck with defending a teaching that is racist at its core. It is unfortunate, but the Church of God International (along with all of the other descendants of the Worldwide Church of God) cannot escape the baggage that this doctrine carries with it, no matter how hard they may try to do just that.