Tag Archives: ethics

Defending Genre in the Bible

Does [the Bible] match up with scientific evidence? Who cares? … I do not believe science, history or archaeology of any kind establishes the truthfulness of the scripture in any way. Scripture is true by virtue of God speaking it. If God spoke poetry, or parable, or fiction or a prescientific description of creation, it is true without any verification by any human measurement whatsoever. The freedom of God in inspiration is not restricted to texts that can be interpreted “literally” by historical or scientific judges of other ages and cultures beyond the time the scriptures were written.

In my view, both the scientific establishment’s claims to debunk Genesis and the creationists claims to have established Genesis by way of relating the text to science are worthless.

…Does the Bible need to be authorized by scientists or current events to be true? What view of inspiration is it that puts the Bible on trial before the current scientific and historical models? Has anyone noticed what this obsession with literality does to the Bible itself? – iMonk

iMonk’s idea might make some of us uncomfortable.  And, to be sure, archeological and historical research at the very least provides some affirmation of the Bible.

However, I think iMonk’s point is very important: we tend to argue for the authority of the Bible based on imported categories–categories set in a field which fundamentally has no place for such a thing as “inspired” scripture or anything supernatural in the first place–or by meeting some kind of external standard of acceptance.  But when we do that we are essentially handing the Church’s text to those who already reject it as anything but an ordinary book and saying, “Here: you decide.” This is a mistake.  The Bible is the Church’s text and need not be handed to those outside the church to be vetted by their external categories.

And this is true of other issues as well.  From what I’ve read of Stanley Hauerwas, for example, his MO is to refuse to debate ethical issues based on non-theological categories.  So in Abortion Theologically Understood, he suggests that for Christians the question of the rights of the mother or the rights of the fetus are the wrong basis on which to look at this subject.

It’s an interesting and refreshing way of looking at things: we are not required to think about ethics or theology or the Bible on someone else’s terms.  For most things these days those terms are what you might call “Enlightenment terms”, in which reason is, essentially, God. While I would never suggest that we should not use our reasonable faculties, I am beginning to wonder if sometimes the term “irrational”, a term with negative connotations, should be embraced a little more.

“Faith seeking understanding” (was that Augustine or Aquinas?) or “I believe so that I may understand” seem like irrational statements in our society.  But somehow those phrases carry a lot of weight and power.

Abraham

I caught a bit of Ideas on CBC Radio One.  I see now that it’s an interview with Susan Neimann, author of Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists (sounds like just the book for me).  I’ll have to listen to the podcast of the full program later, but she talked about some interesting things in those 5 minutes or so in which I was listening.

She was talking about two stories about Abraham: Abraham’s pleading with with God for Sodom and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac.

She noted in the Sodom story that Abraham pleads with God on a moral basis even though the Law as Jews and Christians would know it did not exist.  On what did Abraham base his ethics?  On something other than the written (Mosaic) law.

While Abraham pleads for Sodom on ethical grounds, Abraham says nothing to God later on when God tells him to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Clearly, Abraham could have taken issue with this on an ethical basis as well.

In the first story, she says, Abraham was acting on reason and in the second he was acting on faith.

(I didn’t hear if she thought one was better than the other, but I suspect she will not give either one priority.  I also don’t know if she pointed out that God still destroys Sodom, because it didn’t meet even Abraham’s minimal requirements.  However, in the story of Isaac, in which Abraham says nothing, God spares Isaac in the end.  Not sure if any of those things have anything to do with her topic either.  I must listen to the podcast later.)

I always enjoy seeing scripture through fresh or different eyes.  Growing up with the Bible and its stories it’s easy to take them (or the way you have always read them) for granted.  And I rarely take the time to sit down and really contemplate a passage of scripture, but this sort of interesthing tends to be the result.