Sunday, April 18, 2010

Questioning the Bible

By the Rev. Howard Bess
April 18, 2010

I have always been a religious person, but not just religious. I was a Christian with a life commitment to Jesus. I have never considered any other life path.

Read on.


Dean Taylor said...

The Bible may, as you say be an "argument." However, to conflate the Bible to Christianity--a reductivism which errs on the magnitude of obviating good works as an essential reality of Christian life--is parlous "theology."

Christianity is not argument. To believe otherwise is to lapse into Weberian rationalization, whereby the overwhelmingly needful thing for the Christian is, in fact, love--i.e., caritas--as praxis. Yes, friend, you may find it stimulating to "argue" over the relative merits of this or that verse--as opposed to a verse or verses in another book--and call that "Christianity." The Bible, though, taken in that manner, is codified law, which law may eclipse the greater moment--the more essential reality--of love, i.e., caritas as praxis. This is what the Christ railed against when he encountered the other group of Biblical "experts," the Pharisees.

Christianity is NOT Judaism--that was the whole point

The Pharisees were well acquainted with the Tanakh, to the point of "arguing" away their lives--to one degree or another--instead of the examination of conscience called for, i.e., the lifelong necessity of conversion of the heart--from one moment to the next, in the service of love as praxis. They did, indeed, spend their lives straining the gnat and swallowing the camel. But, camel, if prepared well, may, indeed, offer some substitute "satisfaction"--albeit a gravely inferior one.

Christianity, then, is not the rationalization of codified law, i.e., Biblical analysis as THE essential reality of the Christian life. What, then, is the essential reality? The essential reality, i.e., love as praxis, is the spirit of the thing, not the law as Bible calculation, where the game may go to the best "arguer" or rhetorician. Christianity as argument is spiritual onanism, i.e., it feels good for a while but there is no issue to speak of, no "love" outcome. To spend one's lifetime turning back to Biblical exegesis--i.e., reading a book (or even 66 books), as the essential fact of one's Christian life--is a useful diversion when there is much to do.

What is praxis? Praxis, for the Christian, is the immediate recognition and committment TO ACT. Praxis is love in action, which is, in fact, what Christ was. Christianity is an ideology which mandates action. That is what praxis means.

"Ah," you say, "but action is dangerous, whereas reading (i.e., arguing over) the Bible is less so."


Dean Taylor said...


The law (i.e., Pharisaical/fundamentalist calculation) killeth, but the spirit (i.e., Christ and Christians as lovers) giveth life

Martin Luther had his points to make, i.e., the selling of indulgences--a good thing, in principle--had lapsed into calculation (Weberian rationalization), which made of it now a deficit to the Christian life. However, to then conclude, as he, Calvin, Zwingli, etc., had done, that good works--i.e., Christianity as love praxis--were now obviated was a fatal, fatal lapse. It turned the entire problematic around into one of relativistic calculation redux, which issued in a kind of spiritual solipsism, with (among other stupidities) exegesis/rationalization becoming the core of Christian life and--worse--Sally's reading of the Bible being just as good as Bob's, which is just as good as Frank's, which is just as good as Karl's, which is just as good as...

The alternative, at the time, was that of Erasmus, who did, indeed, acknowledge the failing of the Church, but cautioned--rightly so--against jettisoning the entire program. He counciled a revision, not the highly reactive--and wrongheaded--politically-charged volteface. And, this is why, in fact, fundamentalist "Christianity"--i.e., "Christianity-as-arguing"--has such great utility to, inter alia, our own, dear corporate-loving, American-labor hating GOP. Surprise, surprise! You do see the connection, don't you? Not yet? A prior comment here at this website:

And, finally--and, once again--the parade of arguing fails shamefully when it insists that Paul was antagonistic of Christ's preferential option for the poor. Again, noted here:

Again: Christianity is NOT Judaism--that was the whole point. And, just as crucially: fundamentalist "Christianity" is NOT Judaism

Let us all stop being confused, shall we? Finally.

Dean Taylor said...



And, just as crucially: the fundamentalist-Right "Christianity" seemingly has pretentions of being Pharisaical Judaism, redivivus. From Wiki:

"The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, or a school of thought among Jews that flourished during the Second Temple Era (536 BCE–70 CE).

"After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE the Pharisaic sect was re-established as Rabbinic Judaism — which ultimately produced the normative traditional Judaism which is the basis for all contemporary forms of Judaism except for the Karaites."

Dean Taylor said...

Coda (some conclusions):

As Bible study ought not to be conflated with Christianity, so, too, ought Christianity--as a model and ideal for praxis--not be conflated with being Christ-like, i.e., replicating Christ's behavior as champion of the poor, disenfranchised, enslaved, abused, etc., as model for our own behavior.

To clarify, Daniel Ellsberg and Dave Dellinger--one, Jewish, and the other, an atheist--did more to challenge corruption and oppression in this country than most who have spent a lifetime in pietistic study of Holy Writ could ever hope to accomplish, including this writer. In this they are Christ-like in the best sense of the term. This website's own Ray McGovern--who refers to himself as a Catholic "small 'c'"--has followed Christ's own example of putting himself out for others (at no small risk to himself) to expose corruption at the highest levels of US administration. These are examples of Christianity-as-praxis writ large. They, like Christ, are champions of the marginalized, fighting the good fight--versus thinking about the good fight.

Noam Chomsky, too, is more Christ-like in the sense of giving of himself for the good of others at considerable risk to himself for fifty-five years than most of us might accomplish in several lifetimes.

This would be a good (partial) survey of Christians, i.e., those who have given of themselves--the caritas Paul spoke about in I Corinthians 13--irrespective of any formal religious affiliation:

John Brown, Albert Parsons and the Haymarket martyrs, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Joe Hill, Dr. King and the Freedom Riders, César Chávez, Dorothy Day, the Berrigan brothers, Abbie Hoffman.

And what was the common denominator for all of these blessed souls? Acting via a combination of conscience and self-respect they all disobeyed the laws codified to maintain the status quo--which status quo established by the investor/landholding class for their own aggrandizement--in order to effect necessary change in a system set up to resist altering the class stratification. They acted--they didn't think, or pray about acting--and the world is a better place for all of that. In a word: they put themselves out for others, in the same way that Christ put Himself out for others. That's Christianity.

This is what the Kingdom of God means: equity--not exclusion--for all brought about by caring--i.e., Paul's caritas-- enough to act.

Develop a conscience plus cultivate one's own self-respect: it must then follow, of necessity, as day follows night, that thou can not be false to any man. John Brown: a great sense of self respect conjoined to a conscience profoundly aware of right and wrong. The result was his praxis. the same with Eugene Debs, Joe Hill, Dorothy Day. Self respect plus conscience.

Milhous lacked both. Forwardlooking as well lacks both. Blankfein too. And McChrystal. The Clintons, husband and wife, both. No conscience, no self respect. Just their careers, and the useful distraction of money/Power as objects to be pursued over the course of a lifetime.

What a rude awakening Eternity has in store for the new mandarins!

strefanash said...

I will question the Bible. I have in fact done so, but only with the firm understanding that if I cannot understand it the problem is with me.

If the author means the statement "the Bible is argument" in opposition to the fact that it is the inspired and infallible Word of God, well, I have argued with it enough to know that I will not believe a retired Baptist pastor who is also a heretic and who therefore has nothing to offer me or a fallen world

Dean Taylor said...


It is now abundantly clear that you are quite comfortable with proffering quick, ill-considered--and, therefore unsubstantiated--barbs at those with whom you disagree, both here and here:

Bess has had the integrity to offer a considered argument of some length to support his views. You, however, are content--childishly so, in fact--to slip in a couple of what amount to schoolyard taunts (are you, in fact, twelve-years old?) in the hope that those will pass muster as intelligent argument.

Return when you have something to offer by way of substantial commentary--versus the catty silliness you seem to feel more comfortable with (are, you, then, a twelve-year old girl?).

By the way, I will charitably bind any wounds to your ego I have opened once I have finished admonishing you and your insistence upon intruding, i.e., "intruding" when you have no intention of adding any material ideas or enlightenment.

Either take the time or don't bother--please spare all of us your token "gestures," i.e., your sound and fury, signifying nothing...

Dean Taylor said...

"I will not believe a retired Baptist pastor who is also a heretic..."

Name calling AND ad hominem!

Brilliant! Nothing on TV tonight strefanash?

"who...has nothing to offer me or a fallen world" [!]

Je répète: Nothing on TV tonight strefanash?

One more time strefanash: are you or are you not a twelve-year old girl? An eighteen-year old girl? A girl, then?

nothing to offer you or a fallen world, eh? Were you weeping when you wrote that trenchant remark? Or just masturbating? Or about to?

Dean Taylor said...

"are you a girl?"

I do beg pardon for my own ad hominem failing.

Other than that, if you wish to respond to Bess's or my own lengthy commentaries upon the topic under discussion, "Questioning the Bible," then do make an effort to add similar substantive commentary, i.e., have the integrity to respond in kind.

Your insolent remarks, however, do NOT qualify as "effort." That is why you were scolded--as one would scold a recalcitrant child who seems to insist upon misbehaving among adults.

Morton Kurzweil said...

The 'bible' is political commentary intended to assert a cultural identity the people living at the time it was written. Subsequent interpretations and additions were meant to overcome questionable beliefs which developed as political conditions changed.
What peoples believe is the result of herd mentality and the need for the safety and security of group behavior in a world without rational answers for the uncertainties of life.
The choice of an unreal substitute promising eternal life and pleasure for the submission and obedience of a political hierarchy is a small price to pay when life is short, diseased, and enslaved one way or another.

John L.Opperman said...

Typically, clouds of gassious hot air spewed out over the most non-sensical load of fouled-up rubish ever printed for the sole purpose of control and power, and main cause of more violence and destruction thruout the ages than anything else imagined by mankind, with emphasis on the gender MAN.

Between a thunderous, jealous "god" and sweet jesus, BOTH advocated murderous and suffering unsurpassed in history.

Perhaps you experts shoud READ your BLOODY
~John L.

strefanash said...

I will hazard a reply to Dean Taylor.

you ignored my word IF. IF he, Mr Bess was denying such, he would be a heretic.

The Bible says so

Sound scholarship would read carefully before launching diatribe responses.

IF (spelled in caps that it not be missed) IF, I repeat, the author was denying the sacrifice of Christ by positing it as a false dichotomy against His moral teaching then he is a heretic, in biblical and traditional terms. Also it is a fair and quick step to assume that if he was denying the atonement (has he not read John chapt 14 and the passages around it) he was denying the divinity of christ also.

and THAT changes everything. For if HE were not God then he was merely another dreamy mother's boy. And why?

He said, bascially, we should love one anorther. that is well and good, until we look at history and human nature. Was Jesus of Nazareth such a naive dreamer to suggest something so totally out of realm of human possibility that it could never be realized if there was not a living God who could make it so?

For, IF he were not God he could never produce it in those who seek him, cheifly as he would be dead, if there was no ressurection. So he was a naive dreamer, and a fool who got himself crucified.

You, Mr Taylor, presumably esteem Christ's teachings, about disagreeing with your opponents with gentless and respect (for it is the meek who shall inherit the earth.

And your savagery in reply to me, well, to one who actually does know the scripturees and who has been meditating on them since i was converted aged 19, 31 years ago (do the math), your foul rudeness speaks for itself.

"the mouth speaks the fullness of the heart, and out of the heart comes evil thoughts" and "you know them by their fruits."

Jesus said these things

if you would teach men with your tracts you know the import of this passage.

But if you dont i will appeal to the letters of John, "if you say you love Jesus you would be a liar".

out of the heart of man comes evil thoughts . . . . .

strefanash said...

You do not do well, Sir, if you think that a brief summary of 30 years thought that I here present shows paucity of thought or rational consideration

By all means act, Mr Taylor, if you must. But if I Corinthians 13 is indeed true your actions will be worthless without the right motive. And you will, as we all wil, stand before God Almighty the Holy and Terrible, in some cases with absolutely nothing as we preferred to be a busy Martha of Bethany rather than her sister Mary who sat at Jesus feet.

Christianity is neither the Bible nor a model for praxis. It is a personal relationship with a supernatural being who created the world and rose on the third day. For this the Bible is an imprtant aid, not an alternative to it; and praxis that is worth anything flows freely and spontaneously in those who have been set free by christ. " from your belly will flow rivers of living water" Jesus said, and "Who the Son of man has set free is Free indeed" . Any good works found to be hard are works self coerced and are dead works of law, not living works of faith

IF you and Mr Bess deny these things leaving nothing but a moral imperative then you speak empty platitudes, devoid of power, whereby I and those few others who have found the living God in the Riosen christ, will not listen to you. For it is also written "My sheep know My voice, the voice of another they will not follow"

strefanash said...

"I do beg pardon for my own ad hominem failing."

Mr Taylor,
Go to the Bible, see what it, your outburst, signifies. See if it does not invalidate any sense of ministry you have or think you have. Then cry out to the Holy and Terrible for mercy.

My pardon you may eventually get, when I am spiritual enough to mean it, ( I am no longer the typical religious hypocrite who acts only on an imperative and therefore only produces hypocrisy).

But what you desperately need is GOD's pardon, for the sermon on the mount is most clear, "he who calls his brother any term of contempt [lit raca] is guilty of Hell fire."

This the loving Jesus also said.

I am done here

Dean Taylor said...

"[the] main cause of more violence and destruction thruout the ages..."

"What peoples believe is the result of herd mentality and the need for the safety and security of group behavior in a world without rational answers for the uncertainties of life."

Right--it is considered the height of "sophistication" (in certain circles) to trash religion per se as being one of the main agencies--if not the sole one--of all (or mostly all) of the atrocious aspects of civilization in the West.

However, after our reactive, ill-considered rage for deliverance from religion subsides ask, e.g., Martin Luther King--a Baptist cleric--how he feels about the "relevance" of Christanity as a personal and collective source of inspiration and moral support for the massive undertaking of effecting positive social change for Blacks in America.

"Dr. King, do you feel that Christ--and, in fact, Christianity--has any relevance to you---and to the cause of bringing about social justice in America?"

What do you feel that his response would be?

Or, less famously, ask those members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference--whose names do not enjoy the sort of celebrity King's does--but who were, nonetheless, on the very bloody and brutal front lines of the Civil Rights movement throughout the Southland in the fifties and sixties if they feel that, e.g., Christianity is a deleterious, oppressive force in the universe and that we would all be better had it not come to the fore.

What do you feel that their responses would be?

Or ask another socially relevant figure of the 20th C., i.e., Mohandas Gandhi--an adherent of the Hindu faith--if he feels that religion has any purpose for good in the universe, vis-à-vis effecting positive change for all peoples in the wrold.

What do you think Gandhi's response would be?

Or ask Schweitzer. Or Anne Hutchinson. Or ask the Berrigan brothers. Or Dorothy Day. Or Tom Merton. Or the Dalai Lama.

Have their been abuses by religious authority towards those seeking to make their way through this world via faith.

You bet. An abundance of abuses. No doubt about it.

However, let us not, in a fit of righteous pique, decide that religion in toto, is, always and everywhere, a malign presence on the planet and, therefore, ought to be eradicated, root and branch, for the "betterment of mankind." That is to say, it would be an unfounded conclusion to think that, in view of all of the evil in the world that we may safely lay blame for said evil at the feet of insitutional religion, versus, e.g., the more likely culprit: man's own inclination to seflishness, stupidity, fear, hatred--both of self and others--passions of every stripe, etc.

Mark Twain famously commented that, "religion is a very dangerous thing unless you get it right."

Quite so. However, it is not sound argumentation to then conclude that it is the fault of religion, per se--versus the said litany of faults that man himself is heir to. Let's improve upon Mark Twain. How about this:

Religion can be a very dangerous thing in the hands of certain personality types--i.e., misused--whereas studied and employed by others it can be exceedingly beneficial, to both the individual and to the collective around him.

How about that? Is that better?