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Source: (consider it) Thread: rejecting the OT
mr cheesy
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Someone I know well says to me that she has rejected Christianity because she finds the OT baffling, brutal and unusable as any kind of moral guidance on any level. She says that if this is what God is like or even if this is what religious people hold is some kind of accurate reflection of what God is like, then she's not interested.

I tried to suggest various ways to approach the texts in philosophical ways which didn't require acceptance of the stories on any level (such as using the David and Goliath story as one of an encouragement to perseverance against the odds) but she just shrugs and says there are better ways to learn and teach those lessons.

More than that, she says that these bible stories (particularly Abraham/Isaac, Samson, Goliath etc) are not appropriate things to be using to teach small children.

Which made be wonder about philosophical and theological movements which sprang from Christianity but which either vastly downplayed or ignored the OT text.

There are the Macinionites. I wonder how their ideas worked in practice. I wonder how they understood the reflections and allusions in the NT texts to things in the OT.

There are the Mandaeans, who revere John the Baptist. I wonder how that works.

There are forms of Unitarianism, which I understand reject any kind of revering of the OT.

Anyone have thoughts on this? Isn't a rejection of the OT in total a perfectly reasonable reaction to the stories therein?

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Ian Climacus

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Good questions. I have no idea, but look forward to reading.

[ 18. September 2017, 07:57: Message edited by: Ian Climacus ]

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I think it's perfectly reasonable.

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Martin60
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Agreed. Especially protecting young children from them, as one would from Greek or Indian Hindu myths. The same goes for the New Testament of course. The protection afforded by a liberal postmodern deconstructive approach, especially to the NT, is essential for adults too, but sadly lacking throughout Christianity.

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Enoch
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I don't agree, but for what she (and probably some of you) would undoubtedly regard as an unacceptable reason.

Yes, there is much that is puzzling about the Old Testament. There's actually more than we sometimes like that is puzzling about the New Testament. God, whether unincarnate as in the OT or incarnate in Jesus Christ is puzzling. He isn't the nice, accept everything, you're all lovely, impassive supernatural entity, take what you please and reject the bits that you don't like, sort of being that a lot of people would prefer him to be.
quote:
"She says that if this is what God is like or even if this is what religious people hold is some kind of accurate reflection of what God is like, then she's not interested."
won't actually do. God is the creator. He introduced himself to Moses as "I am who I am", and even the grammar of that is a puzzling statement. The 'Being' in the term 'Supreme Being' turns out to be something quite different and a lot more disconcerting than those who use that term conveniently to consign God into the primordial stratosphere think it means. If God is real, we have to accept him as he is, on his terms, not ours.

Perhaps some of the revelation in the OT is primitive or imperfect. But it's a relatively small part of the OT that people home in on when they want an excuse not to believe at all. The Binding of Isaac looks to us like child cruelty, but did God tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, or did Abraham think that was what God was telling him to do because that was what people did then to other gods? Some people may disapprove of me for even asking that question. However, wrestling with those sort of questions, rather than just using them as an excuse to reject God, and with him, if he exists, the whole of ultimate reality, is fundamental to the journey to understand and appreciate more of who God is and what he is like. He reveals himself supremely in Jesus Christ, but that revelation is in the context of all that it came out of.

And what about Isaiah, Job or the Psalms. Does she reject those also?

We do not find God by speculating about the sort of God we'd like him to be or would rather he is.

What I've said is a bit wordy. Undoubtedly there are others on this boards who could express this better. But, no, I think she is wrong.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
God is the creator. He introduced himself to Moses as "I am who I am", and even the grammar of that is a puzzling statement. ... If God is real, we have to accept him as he is, on his terms, not ours.
I quite agree, in fact I preached on this yesterday. The very desire to name God is, in my view, an attempt to "tie him down" or domesticate him. But he is absolutely independent and accountable to no-one. Much as we would like to,we cannot pin God down to modern rationality - indeed, we need to recognise that such a construct is the product of a particular time and culture rather than being, as we tend to think, universal.

quote:
The Binding of Isaac looks to us like child cruelty, but did God tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, or did Abraham think that was what God was telling him to do because that was what people did then to other gods? Some people may disapprove of me for even asking that question.
I wouldn't be one of them, I've often thought along those lines. It's still rather a gruesome story - although it was considered perfectly suitable for Sunday School when I was a child (which fact says as much about ourselves as about God).

[ 18. September 2017, 11:10: Message edited by: Baptist Trainfan ]

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Adeodatus
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
Isn't a rejection of the OT in total a perfectly reasonable reaction to the stories therein?

Absolutely not. If you're a Christian, the OT is part of the deal. Always has been, always will be. And if you want your "still small voice" or your "Lord's my shepherd", or whatever your favourite "cute" bits are, you have to be prepared to defend every single murderous, incestuous, genocidal jot and tittle of it too.

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I think rejecting the OT per se is not the answer. Rejecting it as a guide to who God is or as an example to follow - largely yes.

I think it should be taken as the search of a people to understand their God - or to understand the nature of divinity. There are many times throughout the books that they see clearly. There are also many times when they don't. If you reject it completely, you lose and example of how not to interpret the divine.

So Joshua is a case where the concept is right - God is holy and the only divinity - but the action of killing everyone who disagreed is wrong. If we lose this, we cannot then tell people today who think god want everyone else to die are wrong nad immature in their thinking.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:
I don't agree, but for what she (and probably some of you) would undoubtedly regard as an unacceptable reason.

Ooookay..

quote:
Yes, there is much that is puzzling about the Old Testament. There's actually more than we sometimes like that is puzzling about the New Testament. God, whether unincarnate as in the OT or incarnate in Jesus Christ is puzzling. He isn't the nice, accept everything, you're all lovely, impassive supernatural entity, take what you please and reject the bits that you don't like, sort of being that a lot of people would prefer him to be.
Well. Yes, to the extent that the deity is the way he is and whatever people think about him doesn't change that.

On the other hand, the OT version of the deity is not the only one available, and therefore if one is going to believe in a deity then one is not therefore required to believe in this one.

So I don't think this argument is really very persuasive.


quote:
quote:
"She says that if this is what God is like or even if this is what religious people hold is some kind of accurate reflection of what God is like, then she's not interested."
won't actually do. God is the creator. He introduced himself to Moses as "I am who I am", and even the grammar of that is a puzzling statement. The 'Being' in the term 'Supreme Being' turns out to be something quite different and a lot more disconcerting than those who use that term conveniently to consign God into the primordial stratosphere think it means. If God is real, we have to accept him as he is, on his terms, not ours.
Again, this seems to be a variation on a theme of "this is the way that the deity is because the bible says so," which isn't all that helpful.

quote:
Perhaps some of the revelation in the OT is primitive or imperfect.
I don't understand how this sentence can logically follow your previous sentence I quoted above. You were arguing previously that the deity is the way he is depicted in the OT, take it or leave it. But now you're also saying that the version in the OT might not be a advanced or perfect. I don't understand how that's so different from saying that the OT is so far from being an accurate impression of the deity as to be wrong - other than scale.

quote:
But it's a relatively small part of the OT that people home in on when they want an excuse not to believe at all. The Binding of Isaac looks to us like child cruelty, but did God tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, or did Abraham think that was what God was telling him to do because that was what people did then to other gods? Some people may disapprove of me for even asking that question.
Well the text said that God told A to sacrifice I. If you're saying that this is a problem, then you have a problem with accepting the text. Which, incidentally, isn't much different to my friend's position.

quote:
However, wrestling with those sort of questions, rather than just using them as an excuse to reject God, and with him, if he exists, the whole of ultimate reality, is fundamental to the journey to understand and appreciate more of who God is and what he is like. He reveals himself supremely in Jesus Christ, but that revelation is in the context of all that it came out of.
With respect, you don't know my friend. So I'll ask you to please not make assumptions about her, or how she has wrestled and struggled with the text before reaching her current position.

quote:
And what about Isaiah, Job or the Psalms. Does she reject those also?
She doesn't like Job - but I think this is due to poor church teaching she has been exposed to (ie she thinks the message of Job is to suffer manfully in silence and that God plays dice with humans). I haven't asked about Isaiah, I suspect she's not too keen on Psalms as she takes a pretty dim view of any kind of poetry that calls for destruction of others.

quote:
We do not find God by speculating about the sort of God we'd like him to be or would rather he is.
Which sort-of sounds like it might have some meaning, but on a deeper level probably doesn't. We all have a choice about the kind of deity we want to believe in, which we think makes all things make sense. The fact that someone is saying they have sincere problems accepting that the deity might sometimes ask a father to murder his own child does not therefore mean that she doesn't believe in the God we see in Christ.

quote:
What I've said is a bit wordy. Undoubtedly there are others on this boards who could express this better. But, no, I think she is wrong.
OK.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Adeodatus:
Absolutely not. If you're a Christian, the OT is part of the deal. Always has been, always will be. And if you want your "still small voice" or your "Lord's my shepherd", or whatever your favourite "cute" bits are, you have to be prepared to defend every single murderous, incestuous, genocidal jot and tittle of it too.

Mmm. That's interesting.

I'm not sure I accept this, but do agree that there is a tendency to pick out favourite bits.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:


So Joshua is a case where the concept is right - God is holy and the only divinity - but the action of killing everyone who disagreed is wrong. If we lose this, we cannot then tell people today who think god want everyone else to die are wrong nad immature in their thinking.

I suppose the problem with this is that if one has an archtype which "everyone" accepts is a result of a direct command from the deity, then it becomes much more difficult to tell someone who thinks that they've also heard a similar command from the deity that they're wrong.

I'm not sure that "mature" vs "immature" understandings really help here, otherwise what's the point of orthodoxy (however one defines it)?

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Eliab
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quote:
Originally posted by Adeodatus:
Absolutely not. If you're a Christian, the OT is part of the deal. Always has been, always will be. And if you want your "still small voice" or your "Lord's my shepherd", or whatever your favourite "cute" bits are, you have to be prepared to defend every single murderous, incestuous, genocidal jot and tittle of it too.

I don't think you're obliged to defend it, exactly, but you do at least have to engage with it. I agree absolutely that it's part of the deal.

I'm personally quite glad that parts of the OT are as nasty, cynical, and horrific as they are, because it shows that neither life being shitty, nor people being shits, are incompatible with a genuine experience of God. Your friend is quite right to think that much of the OT is unsuitable for children, but is quite wrong to reject the God that it portrays on those grounds. A religion that was entirely suitable for children would be inadequate to the task of saving adults.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Eliab:
Your friend is quite right to think that much of the OT is unsuitable for children, but is quite wrong to reject the God that it portrays on those grounds. A religion that was entirely suitable for children would be inadequate to the task of saving adults.

To be clear, that's my friend we're talking about not Adeodatus'

(just in case someone is coming late and wondering what the hell this is all about)

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Martin60
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Carry on mr c.

And I agree S's c: 'it should be taken as the search of a people ... to understand the nature of divinity'. Reaching up from Bronze Age mud of blood and ash of fire. There's some truly, timelessly beautiful transcendent stuff glinting in there, Old and New. But it should be processed by grown ups first.

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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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quote:
Originally posted by Eliab:
quote:
Originally posted by Adeodatus:
Absolutely not. If you're a Christian, the OT is part of the deal. Always has been, always will be. And if you want your "still small voice" or your "Lord's my shepherd", or whatever your favourite "cute" bits are, you have to be prepared to defend every single murderous, incestuous, genocidal jot and tittle of it too.

I don't think you're obliged to defend it, exactly, but you do at least have to engage with it. I agree absolutely that it's part of the deal.

I'm personally quite glad that parts of the OT are as nasty, cynical, and horrific as they are, because it shows that neither life being shitty, nor people being shits, are incompatible with a genuine experience of God. Your friend is quite right to think that much of the OT is unsuitable for children, but is quite wrong to reject the God that it portrays on those grounds. A religion that was entirely suitable for children would be inadequate to the task of saving adults.

The problem for me, and I suspect Cheesey's friend, is not that bits of the OT are nasty. It's that God is often the one doing or commanding other people to do the shitty things.

I personally wonder how anyone can not have a major problem with all this stuff. Some of it makes IS seem positively fluffy-bunny.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
The problem for me, and I suspect Cheesey's friend, is not that bits of the OT are nasty. It's that God is often the one doing or commanding other people to do the shitty things.

I personally wonder how anyone can not have a major problem with all this stuff. Some of it makes IS seem positively fluffy-bunny.

I think my friend's position is fairly simple: if Christianity accepts (on some level) that loyalty to the deity is more important than loyalty to the law, and if we have evidence that people who were spoken to by the deity were told to murder their own children - then how can you be sure that the deity isn't going to tell you to murder your own child?

And if we say that Jesus is the perfect image of God and we can't imagine him murdering a child in order to please the deity (never mind being the deity that demands that kind of loyalty), why the blazes do we do theological gymnastics to try to say that when the bible says "God says kill.. blahdiblah" that's the same deity that we see in the incarnation..?

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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Why would anyone think that the OT in all its parts displays God as God truly is? God didn't tell Joshua to kill everyone in a genocidal war of conquest. Generations after Joshua, as they sat around their campfires, telling stories, they inflated and altered their stories to build up their tribal god image: my god is better than your's and look how he terrifies and allows us to be really strong. Self-justification is another motivation, that it is okay to murder unarmed people because we are the chosen people and everyone else is less than human. Indeed most tribal peoples are xenophobic in history.

So I'd tell this person that the OT is a human collection of stories, with good and bad examples of a developing story of belief, and some of it is certainly very human, not about God, wishful thinking about a tribe's specialness. And that rejecting some bad examples is the OT is required of decent people. I might also start with the friend about whether they accept God exists at all.

[ 18. September 2017, 13:28: Message edited by: no prophet's flag is set so... ]

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Barnabas62
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I think the issue is how do you read it. There is a story involving Winston Churchill's son Randolph, a self-proclaimed atheist, who was challenged by a believing friend to take time out to read the Bible. After a couple of weeks in the Old Testament, he exclaimed to his friend "God is such a shit!".

I've said elsewhere recently that it is perfectly possible to spot both moral and theological trajectories in scripture, provided you do not try to view the material through unity and consistency spectacles. The OT is probably best understood as diverse accounts of a particular people group wrestling with God and good, and sometimes being way off base.

Wrestling with God and good, and sometimes being way off base, seems a pretty good summary of Christian discipleship.

Of course some folks think these ideas about imperfect, blind-spotted, human authors takes away from the authority and inspiration of scripture. IMO, not nearly as much as "plain meaning" reading does.

People in theological colleges have been looking critically at faith and morals in scripture for years, and you don't need a brain the size of a planet to follow the thinking. But I'm not sure there is that much encouragement to do so at congregational level. "Stick to the nice bits, draw a veil over the nasty bits"; that seems more common. And not very helpful to questioning minds.

[ 18. September 2017, 13:32: Message edited by: Barnabas62 ]

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Martin60
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quote:
Originally posted by Eliab:
quote:
Originally posted by Adeodatus:
Absolutely not. If you're a Christian, the OT is part of the deal. Always has been, always will be. And if you want your "still small voice" or your "Lord's my shepherd", or whatever your favourite "cute" bits are, you have to be prepared to defend every single murderous, incestuous, genocidal jot and tittle of it too.

I don't think you're obliged to defend it, exactly, but you do at least have to engage with it. I agree absolutely that it's part of the deal.

I'm personally quite glad that parts of the OT are as nasty, cynical, and horrific as they are, because it shows that neither life being shitty, nor people being shits, are incompatible with a genuine experience of God. Your friend is quite right to think that much of the OT is unsuitable for children, but is quite wrong to reject the God that it portrays on those grounds. A religion that was entirely suitable for children would be inadequate to the task of saving adults.

The friend is quite right to reject the God portrayed. And religion saves no one.

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Stejjie
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I found this (short & SFW) video quite interesting about this.

I don't want to deny the problems and I think it raises important questions about a) whether we should teach children these stories and b) whether teaching children (or adults for that matter) stories is the best way to go about engaging with the Bible.

But personally, I don't think you can ignore the OT, for at least 2 reasons:
1) As others have said, for consistency's sake if nothing else, you have to ignore the whole lot. Not just the "God told us to murder a whole nation of people" stuff, but Amos' fierce calls to justice, the words of hope in Isaiah, God's calls in the Pentateuch to look out for the widow and the orphan, Micah(?)'s call to do justice and walk humbly before your God... it's all got to go.

2) As the video I linked to above says, you cannot separate the Gospel - I would say you cannot separate Jesus - from the Old Testament. Jesus himself says he comes to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (ie what we'd call the OT - including the genocidal bits) and it seems clear to me that those writing the NT, those trying to make sense of who Jesus is and what he did, saw him as utterly grounded in the OT.
Now, Jesus' relationship to the OT seems complicated and the ways in which the NT writers and those they write about come to those conclusions would, if they were used by us, probably make a biblical studies lecturer wince and fail us. But ISTM that if you chuck out the OT, you have no real grounds for understanding who Jesus is, what he came to do, why people followed him and why people rejected him. It's utterly grounded in the OT and it had to be.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:
I think rejecting the OT per se is not the answer. Rejecting it as a guide to who God is or as an example to follow - largely yes.

I think it should be taken as the search of a people to understand their God - or to understand the nature of divinity. There are many times throughout the books that they see clearly. There are also many times when they don't. If you reject it completely, you lose and example of how not to interpret the divine.

So Joshua is a case where the concept is right - God is holy and the only divinity - but the action of killing everyone who disagreed is wrong. If we lose this, we cannot then tell people today who think god want everyone else to die are wrong nad immature in their thinking.

This. None of us, including the most ardent fundamentalists, accepts all of the OT at face value, and those who come close t doing so often come up with some pretty darn scary theology as a result

But we need sone sort out of reasonable rubric to sort it out with some consistency. There is mystery in the mix, of course, but I'm wary of too much appeal to mystery-- it seems like a cheap trick to get out of the hard conversations and suggests that God is essentially unknowable, when the whole point of revelation would seem to be that God desires to be known

I'm more and more drawn to a Jesus-centric rubric. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God-- the clearest picture we have of God. So the closer a text is (chronologically, etc) to the Christ-event the clearer the picture is. Imho, ymmv

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Ricardus
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The proof of whether or not the Old Testament is nasty is whether or not the Jews are nasty.

If they're not, then I think we have to accept that the Old Testament can be read in a way that isn't nasty, and that doesn't depend on 'Well people used to think God was like this, but then Jesus showed us he wasn't'.

(Basically I think Marcionism ends up as quite an anti-Semitic position even though it generally isn't intended that way.)

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:


(Basically I think Marcionism ends up as quite an anti-Semitic position even though it generally isn't intended that way.)

This is absolutely true. The whole "Positive Christianity" thing was a direct effort in Nazi Germany to deny away the Jewishness of the gospel.

But I'm not sure the first part of your post really stands up. People seem quite able to hold as holy scriptures that by most standards look pretty horrible whilst remaining at worst the same as everyone else and at best a lot better than most.

The fact that there are some lovely Jews doesn't, I think, say a lot about how lovely the OT text is.

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Eliab
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quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
The problem for me, and I suspect Cheesey's friend, is not that bits of the OT are nasty. It's that God is often the one doing or commanding other people to do the shitty things.

That's certainly a problem, but it's not an insurmountable one (unless you're a strict literalist, which I'm not, and I'm fairly confident you aren't either). It seems to me that it's as possible that the ancient Israelites invented, imagined and misconstrued words from God as it is that modern Christians do. It's also possible that God, with his vastly superior knowledge, might command something that looks wrong but which is at least justifiable for reasons not fully recorded. It's also possible that there's some explanation that we don't know.

From my point of view as a more-or-less-liberal-but-still-small-o-orthodox Christian my responsibility is:

a) not to accept as true anything which represents God as evil.

I'm more sure than God is good than that the Bible is inspired (because the doctrine of inspiration depends on God being trustworthy, which derives from God's goodness).

b) try to answer the question of what the problem passages are doing in Scripture.

The Abraham/Isaac story, for example, is about Abraham loving God himself more than he loves what God can give him, and (from a Christian perspective) looks forward to God's own sacrifice of his son for Abraham and Isaac's children. The nastiness of the (attempted) sacrifice isn't the thing that we are meant to copy - the story clearly was not recorded as a encouragement to us to go and do likewise by killing our own children, or as a suggestion that child sacrifice is something that God generally finds pleasing. I can be (should be) uncomfortable with the ease with which God gave and Abraham accepted the command, and yet not (I think) miss what the story was intended to teach. I can wish the story had been told differently, but still see the value in the story as we have it.

What I can't do is wish the Bible was all sweetness and light, when life isn't. Discipleship requires us to try to keep trusting God when we don't have the answers, and life is miserable, stupid and cruel. A Bible free of misery, stupidity and cruelty, or which portrayed misery, stupidity and cruelty only for the purpose of presenting a banal "crime doesn't pay" message, would be less use than the one we've got.

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"Perhaps there is poetic beauty in the abstract ideas of justice or fairness, but I doubt if many lawyers are moved by it"

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lilBuddha
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God is unknowable.
Religion = definition.
∴ Religion is effing the ineffable.

I think it comes down to what sort of god you believe in.
If you believe that your God is an arbitrary, contradictory, narcissistic bastard and/or incompetent; then believe the OT unreservedly.
If you believe he is loving, powerful and competent, then you must sort the wheat from the chaff.

"Oh we cannot know God" is bullshit, because you have a whole set of books, arguments, wars and genocide saying you do.

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If it's not here soon, I might be done
No it won't be too soon 'til I say goodnight moon

- A. N. Parsley, D. Mcvinni

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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quote:
Originally posted by Barnabas62:
I think the issue is how do you read it. There is a story involving Winston Churchill's son Randolph, a self-proclaimed atheist, who was challenged by a believing friend to take time out to read the Bible. After a couple of weeks in the Old Testament, he exclaimed to his friend "God is such a shit!".

The friend was Evelyn Waugh (the author of Brideshead Revisited among others). Churchill wasn't horrified by the OT, rather excited and amused to skewer it and needle his friends, and to point out the bad parts by annoyingly reading bible quotes aloud. Waugh and a friend had bet Churchill that he couldn't read the entire bible in 2 weeks for £20. Waugh described it in a letter. (I have the book of letters somewhere, but found this link online. The letters are great fun to read.)

It is probably too simple to describe Waugh as a "believing friend", not nuanced nearly enough. He saw following Christianity as a choice between it and chaos. Which led me to general sense that rejecting faith out of hand because of one thing strikes me as immature or superficial. Christianity hardly stands on the merits of the OT (or ridiculous ideas expressed in some of Paul's letters, which may or may not have been actually Paul's ideas).

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(formerly was just "no prophet") \_(ツ)_/

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Ricardus
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:


But I'm not sure the first part of your post really stands up. People seem quite able to hold as holy scriptures that by most standards look pretty horrible whilst remaining at worst the same as everyone else and at best a lot better than most.

My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

If a text doesn't have a 'true meaning' then one person's 'nice' reading is no less authentic than another person's 'nasty' reading.

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

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lilBuddha
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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

And how's that been working out so far?

There still has to be an internal logic or it's just bullshit.

--------------------
So goodnight moon, I want the sun
If it's not here soon, I might be done
No it won't be too soon 'til I say goodnight moon

- A. N. Parsley, D. Mcvinni

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

If a text doesn't have a 'true meaning' then one person's 'nice' reading is no less authentic than another person's 'nasty' reading.

I don't understand what you mean. If one is reading the text as a Christian, one is by necessity rejecting the Jewish reading of it.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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TomM
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

If a text doesn't have a 'true meaning' then one person's 'nice' reading is no less authentic than another person's 'nasty' reading.

I don't understand what you mean. If one is reading the text as a Christian, one is by necessity rejecting the Jewish reading of it.
Surely only if it is univocal? If there are a number of layers to the meaning, then to take one does not reject another, in a different layer?

To use the terms used in patristic exegesis, and as recovered by (e.g.) de Lubac, perhaps one literal sense excludes another, but that is far harder to require of allegory, typology and anagogy.

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
Agreed. Especially protecting young children from them, as one would from Greek or Indian Hindu myths.

I didn't know children were specifically protected from Greek or Hindu myths. I learnt about Greek mythology at primary school. Our teacher came in specifically to teach that subject.

And don't children normally relish rather horrible stories? I got a copy of Grimms' fairy tales from my parents when I was a girl. They obviously didn't read it first, because it has some pretty weird stuff in it. But I found it interesting. It probably aided my imagination.

Today's kids get early access to the internet and can see all sorts of things, and play all sorts of violent games. I find it hard to believe that a children's book of Bible stories is what makes the difference....

But I suspect that the real fear here is of fundamentalist religious indoctrination. To prevent that you'd have to ban parents, not just books of 'myths'.

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Leorning Cniht
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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

This can't possibly be true. If a text has a "true meaning" then that meaning is objective fact. It exists - nobody gets to "decide" what it is. What the users of the text get to do is try to determine what the true meaning is.

It's like measuring some physical constant - the speed of light, say. You can measure the speed of light, by various different means, and depending on what you do, you'll get a number which is closer or further away from the true value.

But nobody gets to "decide" what the true speed of light is - not the users of light, not the BIPM, nor anyone else. It exists, and we get to try to measure it.

(Just in case anyone wants to try and say that the speed of light is defines as 299,792,458 metres per second, so we do "decide" what it is, take note that this definition is how we define the length of a metre. If we measure the speed of light a bit better, the metre changes length.)

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
I tried to suggest various ways to approach the texts in philosophical ways which didn't require acceptance of the stories on any level (such as using the David and Goliath story as one of an encouragement to perseverance against the odds) but she just shrugs and says there are better ways to learn and teach those lessons.

I would agree that if that's all there is to the lesson David and Goliath then there are better ways of teaching that point. I think though that with mythology the point is not always as limited or definable as that. It is a poor myth or legend or story that can be reduced to a single moral.
The myth or legend doesn't have a literal meaning. It is a symbol for something, but that something cannot be said directly. Often I think the something is the recognition of evil in the world and yet the hope that behind the evil there is still something good. But the stories tell that having to represent God as a character in time when God is in fact the ground of being and creator who cannot be represented directly.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Enoch
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:....
quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:
....
Perhaps some of the revelation in the OT is primitive or imperfect.

I don't understand how this sentence can logically follow your previous sentence I quoted above. You were arguing previously that the deity is the way he is depicted in the OT, take it or leave it. But now you're also saying that the version in the OT might not be a advanced or perfect. I don't understand how that's so different from saying that the OT is so far from being an accurate impression of the deity as to be wrong - other than scale
Mr Cheesy, I really don't quite know how to respond to that, because you seem completely not to have grasped what I was trying to say, so much so that I can't even tell whether that is because I have expressed myself badly, or because you have assumed I was saying something different anyway.
quote:

..... We all have a choice about the kind of deity we want to believe in, which we think makes all things make sense.

Now, there, I can say we are approaching this from hugely different directions. Yes, we do have that choice, but if God really exists, it follows that 'choosing' what sort of a deity we want to believe in, is both foolhardy, and doesn't make sense.

I can choose what I think Mr Cheesy is like, what sort of a personality he has. But what matters isn't what I think you are like, but what you actually are like.

Even if I have known you all my life, I still may not know everything there is to know about you, but even if I think I know you quite well, that doesn't stop me from being more right or more wrong.

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mr cheesy
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# 3330

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quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

If a text doesn't have a 'true meaning' then one person's 'nice' reading is no less authentic than another person's 'nasty' reading.

I still don't really understand what you are saying. It seems to me that, by necessity, Christians understand the Jewish texts differently to Jews because the former is a different religion and views it in the light of the NT.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Leorning Cniht:
quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

This can't possibly be true. If a text has a "true meaning" then that meaning is objective fact. It exists - nobody gets to "decide" what it is. What the users of the text get to do is try to determine what the true meaning is.
I think the point here is that the people who use the text are the ones who are most dedicated to discovering the true meaning of the text. Sceptics from outside have perhaps less access or involvement.
There are some types of understanding that are available from the outside by taking a disengaged stance, bracketing out what the significance is for you personally. (Some kinds of biology for instance.) Other types require you to get involved. You won't get far in understanding a novel if you don't let yourself be pulled along by the writing. You don't get far in understanding a person's life and the problems they face if you insist in viewing the person from the outside in the abstract.

Add in that the question of what is or isn't objective is a bit harder to define when it comes to cultural products like texts and their meanings than it is when it comes to say astronomical bodies or the mechanics of falling objects. The meaning of a text lies in its encounter with a reader. That means that while you can speak of the reader interpreting badly or well it's difficult to speak of a meaning that is objectively there even when nobody is interpreting.
It's been said that a classic is a text (literary, philosophical, theological) that can never be finally exhausted. Speaking of such a text having a single definable meaning is difficult.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by TomM:
Surely only if it is univocal? If there are a number of layers to the meaning, then to take one does not reject another, in a different layer?

To use the terms used in patristic exegesis, and as recovered by (e.g.) de Lubac, perhaps one literal sense excludes another, but that is far harder to require of allegory, typology and anagogy.

Possibly, but this needs unpacking. The one who has extra layers is almost inevitably going to be using different tools to the one who lacks those layers.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
I would agree that if that's all there is to the lesson David and Goliath then there are better ways of teaching that point. I think though that with mythology the point is not always as limited or definable as that. It is a poor myth or legend or story that can be reduced to a single moral.

True, I guess I was trying to offer a way to see value in these myths outside of the surface disgusting layer.

quote:
The myth or legend doesn't have a literal meaning. It is a symboutside ofol for something, but that something cannot be said directly. Often I think the something is the recognition of evil in the world and yet the hope that behind the evil there is still something good. But the stories tell that having to represent God as a character in time when God is in fact the ground of being and creator who cannot be represented directly.
I wouldn't disagree. But I guess my friend might wonder why we should persevere with these legends which appear to have to little going for them when there are other, better, legends and stories and myths available.

Generally speaking she seems bored of the OT stories and tired of trying to find meaning within them when almost everything about them is repellent to her.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Enoch:
Mr Cheesy, I really don't quite know how to respond to that, because you seem completely not to have grasped what I was trying to say, so much so that I can't even tell whether that is because I have expressed myself badly, or because you have assumed I was saying something different anyway.

OK, it is entirely possible I've misunderstood what you were saying and/or am projecting onto you things you don't believe.

I suppose in general I was reacting against the duality of believing that the bible stories have value because we have them in the bible whilst at the same time trying to undermine particular instances as being accurate representations of the deity.

I'm not sure that really works. If I've still not explained that well, I apologise.

quote:
quote:
..... We all have a choice about the kind of deity we want to believe in, which we think makes all things make sense.
Now, there, I can say we are approaching this from hugely different directions. Yes, we do have that choice, but if God really exists, it follows that 'choosing' what sort of a deity we want to believe in, is both foolhardy, and doesn't make sense.
I don't know that it is "foolhardy". I think the only deity that is worth believing in is the one we see in the incarnation; the one who loved mankind - and individuals - so much that he came and got involved. If the deity exists and isn't like that, then he isn't worth believing in. If the OT text suggests that the God-of-love isn't actually like the God we see in the incarnation, then the texts are wrong.

quote:
I can choose what I think Mr Cheesy is like, what sort of a personality he has. But what matters isn't what I think you are like, but what you actually are like.
OK, but you can't know what I'm actually like without at least meeting me. How much less can you actually know the unknowable deity?

And I don't think this changes anything anyway; a particular kind of deity is worth believing in. If the deity is actually less like that and more like a god from Olympus and is only playing with people from a cloud for his own entertainment, then he isn't worth it.

quote:
Even if I have known you all my life, I still may not know everything there is to know about you, but even if I think I know you quite well, that doesn't stop me from being more right or more wrong.
But I'm not a deity.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
I think the point here is that the people who use the text are the ones who are most dedicated to discovering the true meaning of the text. Sceptics from outside have perhaps less access or involvement.
There are some types of understanding that are available from the outside by taking a disengaged stance, bracketing out what the significance is for you personally. (Some kinds of biology for instance.) Other types require you to get involved. You won't get far in understanding a novel if you don't let yourself be pulled along by the writing. You don't get far in understanding a person's life and the problems they face if you insist in viewing the person from the outside in the abstract.

This is true, but the particular case we're talking about is whether one can ascertain something about an ancient religious text based on the way that (unidentified) members of that religion interact with it.

It seems that we've actually got a fairly unique situation here in that we have various religious groups who look at the same texts and interpret them in fundamentally different ways. It therefore seems to me to be a category error to claim that one can make judgments about the ancient text based on behaviours of one of the groups who interact with it.

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SvitlanaV2
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I suspect that your friend's main problem with Christianity isn't exactly what she's admitting to you. Which isn't to say that she doesn't (or shouldn't) have problems with the OT.
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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
I suspect that your friend's main problem with Christianity isn't exactly what she's admitting to you. Which isn't to say that she doesn't (or shouldn't) have problems with the OT.

Why on earth would you suspect that?

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lilBuddha
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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
I think the point here is that the people who use the text are the ones who are most dedicated to discovering the true meaning of the text.

They also have the most to gain with having the text agree with them. Consciously or unconsciously.

--------------------
So goodnight moon, I want the sun
If it's not here soon, I might be done
No it won't be too soon 'til I say goodnight moon

- A. N. Parsley, D. Mcvinni

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Ricardus
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
quote:
Originally posted by Ricardus:
My point is that if a text has a 'true meaning', then the people who get to decide what that 'true meaning' is are the people who actually use it.

If a text doesn't have a 'true meaning' then one person's 'nice' reading is no less authentic than another person's 'nasty' reading.

I don't understand what you mean. If one is reading the text as a Christian, one is by necessity rejecting the Jewish reading of it.
Well, there are a few aspects to this:

1. On the view described, Christians and Jews are both users of the Old Testament. So where our interpretation differs, neither interpretation is in itself more authentic than the other.

We disagree on the nature of the Messiah. Some Christians also like to say that some of the OT passages are really prefigurements of distinctively Christian doctrine (e.g. Melchizedek's bread and wine = the Eucharist) but that's not universal even among Christians. But we don't generally disagree on the nature of God - or if we do, the disagreement is within Christianity as much as it is between Christians and Jews. So a Christian interpretation of the character of God does not on the face of it seem to entail a rejection of the Jewish concept.

2. I accept this may be attacked as sophistry or hairsplitting, but I'm not convinced that the Tenakh on its own is the same text as the Old Testament as part of the Christian Bible. I will expand on this if you wish.

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Then the dog ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. -- Tobit 11:9 (Douai-Rheims)

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
I suspect that your friend's main problem with Christianity isn't exactly what she's admitting to you. Which isn't to say that she doesn't (or shouldn't) have problems with the OT.

Why on earth would you suspect that?
Because from what I've read, most people's primary reasons tend to be more personal. Abstract theological problems bolster the personal ones, rather than vice versa. Of course, 'personal' can encompass a range of responses to Christianity - but theological problems with the OT don't strike me as particularly personal.

Conversely, people often convert to the faith for fairly personal reasons, not because they've been convinced of some theological or doctrinal details. Certainly not because the OT's difficult passages have all been explained away to their satisfaction!

More importantly, as you yourself have implied, your friend isn't interested in exploring how the OT might be understood or explained differently by other theologians or other denominations. This suggests that her personal investment in the faith had already waned before this issue impressed itself upon her. Otherwise, she'd be looking for something retrievable before giving up entirely.

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Adeodatus
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quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
I think the point here is that the people who use the text are the ones who are most dedicated to discovering the true meaning of the text.

They also have the most to gain with having the text agree with them. Consciously or unconsciously.
I never found a way of looking at the OT - or much of the NT for that matter - that didn't ultimately include an element of what I wanted it to say. I'm really not being judgemental when I say that I don't think I ever met anyone else for whom that wasn't true, either.

This is, of course, a problem that arises whenever you approach a text in which you have some sort of investment. I always wanted the gruesome or disturbing parts of the OT to be explicable or excusable. At the same time, I was aware that this is something Christians have always done - aren't there old sermons that sanitise the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea as an allegory for the "drowning" of our spiritual enemies in baptism? Okay, fine - but the text still says God killed a load of Egyptians, and ultimately there's no way round that.

And you're left with any number of instances like that, in which it seems apparent that most of us here, now, are the moral superiors of God. But I really believe you can't get rid of it, not one word, unless you're okay with reinventing Christianity in your own image. That's my two-penn'orth. YMMV.

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"What is broken, repair with gold."

Posts: 9754 | From: Manchester | Registered: Sep 2003  |  IP: Logged
Martin60
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# 368

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Generally I agree with the last post I read and this is certainly the case here with Ricardus. I can't accept any uniquely Christian interpretation of anything in the OT as being the editor's meaning. And Jesus himself played extremely fast and loose with His interpretation, followed by His apologists. They rejected the original meaning as well as any postmodern liberal.

[ 18. September 2017, 21:18: Message edited by: Martin60 ]

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Love wins

Posts: 16586 | From: Never Dobunni after all. Corieltauvi after all. Just moved to the capital. | Registered: Jun 2001  |  IP: Logged
Leorning Cniht
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# 17564

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quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
I think the point here is that the people who use the text are the ones who are most dedicated to discovering the true meaning of the text. Sceptics from outside have perhaps less access or involvement.

I wouldn't disagree with that, but that's a long way away from Ricardus's claim that the principal users of a text define what it means.

quote:

Add in that the question of what is or isn't objective is a bit harder to define when it comes to cultural products like texts and their meanings than it is when it comes to say astronomical bodies or the mechanics of falling objects.

Yes, of course. It's much easier to determine how accurately I have measured the speed of light than how accurately I have interpreted a particular aspect of the Bible. And it's certainly much easier for two people to agree on the former than the latter.

But ultimately, God exists (we believe). We can read the Bible to try and learn what God is like, and what he wants from us, but we don't get to define God. Even in the instances where the Church (for whatever value of Church) claims infallibility, it's not defining God. It's just saying that God won't let it misunderstand this bit.

Posts: 4745 | From: USA | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged
Karl: Liberal Backslider
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# 76

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quote:
Originally posted by Adeodatus:
quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
quote:
Originally posted by Dafyd:
I think the point here is that the people who use the text are the ones who are most dedicated to discovering the true meaning of the text.

They also have the most to gain with having the text agree with them. Consciously or unconsciously.
I never found a way of looking at the OT - or much of the NT for that matter - that didn't ultimately include an element of what I wanted it to say. I'm really not being judgemental when I say that I don't think I ever met anyone else for whom that wasn't true, either.

This is, of course, a problem that arises whenever you approach a text in which you have some sort of investment. I always wanted the gruesome or disturbing parts of the OT to be explicable or excusable. At the same time, I was aware that this is something Christians have always done - aren't there old sermons that sanitise the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea as an allegory for the "drowning" of our spiritual enemies in baptism? Okay, fine - but the text still says God killed a load of Egyptians, and ultimately there's no way round that.

And you're left with any number of instances like that, in which it seems apparent that most of us here, now, are the moral superiors of God. But I really believe you can't get rid of it, not one word, unless you're okay with reinventing Christianity in your own image. That's my two-penn'orth. YMMV.

I can't get rid of it, I can't embrace it, I can't bear the God it describes.

What the ever living FUCK am I MEANT TO DO with it?

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Might as well ask the bloody cat.

Posts: 17443 | From: Chesterfield | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Adeodatus
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# 4992

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quote:
Originally posted by Karl: Liberal Backslider:
I can't get rid of it, I can't embrace it, I can't bear the God it describes.

What the ever living FUCK am I MEANT TO DO with it?

Use it to prop up a wobbly table leg?

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"What is broken, repair with gold."

Posts: 9754 | From: Manchester | Registered: Sep 2003  |  IP: Logged



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