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A couple of weeks ago, a loony pastor by the name of Steven Anderson preached a sermon on why he hates Barack Obama. He made it clear that he doesn't just dislike Barack Obama or disagree with his policies. He said, unequivocally that he hates the man, wants him to die and leave his wife a widow and his children orphans and he wants Barack Obama to burn in hell. What would cause a man to say such a thing, not with shame but with pride? According to the pastor himself, it's this thing we call The Bible. I listened to the pastor's sermon. All one hour and six minutes of hate-filled ranting and raving. I've also heard clips of other sermons of his sermons in which he declares his hatred for gays (faggots as he calls them). (listen to the clip below beginning at :40 seconds in). This guy reads the same Bible I read. Mine tells me to love my enemies and pray for them that persecute me. And, he uses it to justify praying for the death and damnation of a man who is serving our country. What disturbed me most about his sermon was not his hatred for Obama. What disturbs me is he claims to be a Bible scholar and backed up every single point he made with scripture. He's got a willing flock of followers who listen to him based solely on the fact that he preaches from the Bible. If the Bible offends your sensibilities, your sensibilities must be wrong, according to Pastor Anderson. He's not preaching hate, it's the Bible. He's just preaching the Bible. And the Bible has to be right. Right?
Then, a couple of days ago in church we were talking about Christianity versus all of the other 9,999 religions out there and how we should be able to be committed to our faith without having a feeling of superiority. After the sermon, during talk back time someone brought up that it was great to finally be able to back up with scripture what she felt must be right. That there is nothing wrong with people having faiths other than Christianity. But, for many of us, for most of our lives, the Bible has been used to tell us there is only one (narrow) way to the Father and if you don't find Jesus in this lifetime, you're damned to hell eternally. Many of us have been held in bondage to totally disgusting and perverse ideas for decades because "the Bible says so". No matter how wrong an idea may seem, if it's in the Bible, it must be true. I heard Louis Charles, author of Jesus Religion, speaking the other day and he said something that I could relate to. It was something like "What was used to bind me, had to be used to unbind me." He could not escape a narrow, legalistic, way of thinking no matter how bad it seemed to him, until he could prove in the Bible that it was OK to do so.
Last night I was watching a National Geographic program on the Koran. Fascinating program, BTW. One thing one of the scholars said really struck me. He described the Koran as a supermarket of ideas. You can go there and find pretty much anything you wanted. If you want to be religiously intolerant, you can find justification for it. If you want to be religiously tolerant you can find justification for it. If you want to punish people, you can find verses that say Allah punishes and that you should cut off their arms and hands in His name. If you want to forgive, the very next verse gives give you justification for forgiveness saying you should forgive anyone who seriously repents. The Koran condemns suicide; but, the very same Koran says that he who dies in a war for Allah will go immediately to heaven and have 72 virgins waiting for him. We may criticize the Koran. But, the Bible is no different. The Bible is full of beautiful, amazing wisdom. But, it's also laced with xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, contradictory ideas and can be used to teach that people are merely evil worms that G-d can barely tolerate. Many Westerners think the Koran is a dangerous book. And, it is. But, so is the Bible.
If the Bible told me to kill, I'd say "No". If the Bible told me that women were inferior to men, I would hope that I would realize that is simply wrong. If the Bible told me that G-d created mankind with the full knowledge that He'd eventually torture most of them eternally, I hope I would be able to break free from that. If the Bible told me to pray for the death and damnation of another human being, I'd call it a vile book. Thank G-d, the Bible does not tell me those things. But, for many people it does. And because the Bible says so not only are these things OK, they're "righteous".
Now, I really don't hate the Bible or the Koran or even the Constitution of the United States (as I've been accused of). What I hate is the worship of a book or a collection of books or a piece of paper over common sense and listening for the Voice of G-d within ourselves. What I hate is idol worship. Worship of the Bible- Biblioatry is idolatry. Many people have made an idol out of the Bible (a collection of books written by dozens of men over thousands of years). For them, the Bible is the Great Big Book of Everything. Pastor Anderson advocates checking both your brain and your heart at the door. In his sermon he speaks of an argument he had years ago where he was proved wrong with a verse from the Bible. For him, that was it. Case closed. I loved my visit with the Muslims a couple of days ago. But, their obedience to a book scares me. The Bible was written at least 2,000 years ago, the Koran 1,500 years ago, the Constitution of the United States over 200 years ago. As brilliant and/or inspired as the authors were, they were only human. They saw (as Paul said) through a glass darkly. They brought their own prejudices and world view to their writings. They could not possibly foresee circumstances that we face millenia or centuries later. Why do we place so much faith in something that supposedly G-d whispered to their hearts then over what G-d is whispering to our hearts now?
I can relate to a literalistic and legalistic approach to the bible.. I had one for most of my 33 years of Christian life. Fortunately I have lived long enough to see how that approach is wrong.
As we have discussed before the issue in part is literalism.. especially in the application of OT stories. The OT, the Gospels and Acts are great places to find stories of good and bad behaviors.. but calling bad behavior good is not helpful in determining the purpose of the scriptures.. it is actually harmful.. especially when it gives one license to hate the way that OT Israelites hated their neighbors.
I love something that you wrote me a few weeks ago:
"the Bible is a progressive revelation of G-d, moving from a tribal god to a global G-d."
Sad that many see His revelation as a static one.
I agree that literalism is a big part of the problem. I love the way you read the Bible. You seem to be able to redeem some passages I might find irredeemable.
But, I don't understand the expectation that a collection of writings from thousands of years ago will be without error. Especially since the book (collection of books really) doesn't itself make that claim.
I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again. One of the things like about the UCC (United Church of Christ) is the tag line "God is still speaking" If the Bible is a progressive revelation (and I believe it is), there's no reason to believe the revelation stopped when the NT was canonized.
"I don't understand the expectation that a collection of writings from thousands of years ago will be without error."
I think that it is an issue of Bibliolatry.
I couldn't agree with you more, Bob (on the Biblioatry) point. Fourth member of the Trinity, indeed.
Religiolotry is my pet peeve. Bibliolotry is a close second. ;-)
This is a very important post, Brian. We are so "on the same page" with this issue. How many more so-called preachers are there like the one you mention here. It is a scary prospect. Bibliolatry is certainly is the issue. Any sacred text that people see as absolute truth can be a problem. So, the problem is the people, not the text necessarily. Great post!
Great post, Brian.
Great post, Brian. I agree with my understanding of what you said. I am frequently unsure about what a Christian means by what they say or the scripture that they quote.
I don't believe in the literal translation of the Bible. I'm not sure that God is evolving but I am convinced that Man's interpretation of God has evolved as Man's understanding of the physical world has increased.
I think that all religions are worshipping the same, one God. I think God expects the same from all men but Man's interpretation of God and His demands on mankind are as many and as varied as the world's cultures.
there are idiots everywhere. People can use the Bible to justify their hatred, people can use the constitution to destroy our freedoms, people can use corporate lawyers to embezzle. If a person generalizes a whole group because of one or two idiots, that person is an idiot as well. Steven Anderson is a hatemonger, just like Fred Phelps, Hugo Chavez, Hitler, etc. Are all Germans evil? No. Are all Christians haters? No. Those who REALLY believe the Bible will shine the light and love of Christ to a lost and dying world.
Not sure if you've ever heard John Shelby Spong's sermon called "The Terrible Texts of the Bible..." but it will be well worth your time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZM3FXlLMug
I share your sentiments, brother. :)
Thanks for sharing that lecture by Spong. I only wish it weren't so long so more people would listen to it. It is excellent!
I bookmarked it for later viewing, figured if it was in sections it would be longer.
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