Does the Scripture Favor Israel Unconditionally?

Do you have strong feelings about which side is right in the controversy between Israel and those with whom it is fighting?

Most of us come to know it as a lifelong war among factions we do not understand mostly.  At least that is how I see it.

I have a friend I correspond with who is part of the Jewish “settlement”. He is a Jew originally from Milwaukee and moved there to experience and participate in the cause.  He sees Israel’s enemies as the most evil of all peoples on earth.

We all understand the thinking after WWII and the feeling that something must be set things right after the murder of Jews by Hitler.  No one could have anticipated the unforeseen consequences of what has come to pass.

I’ve noticed recent Presidents have not referred to something called, “God’s promise to the people of Israel.”  To justify continued support for Israel, they refer to the long term friendship between Israel and the U. S.  The notion that current Israel can by justified by some promise from “God” certainly is far fetched.

I have never read a critique of Israel’s claim of a promise until I came across the link.  I found it interesting that someone else takes the scripture in a different way.

Of course, we all know this is done all the time by an unending parade of Christians, all who claim to know what scripture means.

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Summary of the Argument Between Secular and Faith Scholars.

In debates about what the Bible says or means, there is always an elephant in the room.  The elephant is whether the person making judgments believes there is a god, whether or not the Bible is the word of the god and whether sources outside of the Bible may be more reliable.

It is possible for one to believe there was a Jesus and that the human Jesus taught valuable lessons but still not believe the tenets of sin, the cross and all the rest.  But, it is not common to think in that way.

My friend, Howard Bess, a Baptist minister and believer, does an excellent job of explaining the different approaches. As he explains, critics make the assumption scholar Bart Ehrman rejects all the Bible when he treats it miracles as religious ideas instead of facts.  Ehrman says the miracles do not meet the standard for historical events.

Bess says about Ehrman and his critics it all reminds him of the Scopes trial which was about teaching evolution in schools.  The trail ended with the anti evolution side losing in court.  But, the power of the case for teaching it was so great it is taught everywhere today.

Ehrman argues that Jesus became a god when people began to believe he came back from the dead.  That his body was removed from a cross and moved to a tomb is contrary to the known historical practices.  That he was seen alive is a religious concept.

It is not possible to have a debate between these two kinds of scholars when they are not talking about the same thing.


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Church Planting in the Suburbs is Too Late.

Because my field is local politics and economics, I tend to see things through such eyes.

When I first became interested in local government, there was a concern few were discussing.  It went against all conventional wisdom.

The problem was suburbs and urban sprawl.  To complain about it was to be a liberal snob.

To me it was about economics.  By stretching the distance between single family homes the cost of to home owners and to cities could not help but rise exponentially. This would be caused by too few people supporting to many miles of infrastructure, police calls and fire runs.

Now many cities are in their third cycle of replacing the water, sewer and streets.  Many times the costs have risen faster than inflation.  On top of that, the demographics of suburbs have changed so those who tend to live there are less able to pay for these escalating costs.

The link discusses new thinking about cities.  I have seen this discussed at local planning meetings.  The idea that a city prospers by galloping across the fields is an idea that has not panned out.

When I read about church planting, it is invariably about building churches in suburbs. Land is cheaper so the building and the little used parking areas can by purchased.

Actual population growth has, however, turned to the city core.  Building higher with more people per square mile to help share the costs is an economic model that has more hope.

Where the church will fit into this new reality seems unknown.







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Other Advanced Societies Paralleled the Jews.

This month’s National Geographic has it usual stunning pictures, but also an article about an ancient and prosperous society around 2,500 BCE.  It was not in the Middle East, but on Scotland’s remote Orkney Islands.

The artifacts pictured are of buildings produced by advanced architecture from what was obviously a complex society.  It is not known who they were or what became of them.  But, because they used stones, some history of the group remains.  Wooden buildings would not have left us with as much.

Two parts of the Scotland story struck me.  One was that the layout of the buildings point to some religious meaning.  Commerce and religion were mixed, perhaps like the Mexican catholic churches surrounded by the market plaza.

The other is that the society and its religion came to a dramatic end.  There was some kind of huge final festival followed by destruction and burial of the complex buildings that had served for some 1000 years.

A couple of events are speculated to have played a role in the society’s demise.  One was weather which seemed to have changed and crop yields may have suffered. The other was the bronze age which changed societies in many ways.

In any case, the society whose buildings and religion must have amazed and intimidated other groups of the time is lost to the sands of time.  Like thousands of other religions, outside forces swept one religion out and another in.

It makes one see our religions and our time as insignificant.

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Is Doubt About the Bible Growing?

According to a recent poll, only 16% of young adults in the U. S. consider the Bible to be the authoritative word of God.  That number has been steadily declining.

Large chunks of the evangelical community are now reassessing the Bible and coming to see it as something less than the ultimate authority in their faith.  I never hear of liberal groups working backwards into the Bible as the word of God.

What will become of the faith if the Bible comes to be viewed mostly as ancient literature instead of the authoritative voice of the faith?  At this time we don’t know.

Even now, few people read the Bible outside of worship.  For whatever reason, there is not the interest their once was.

In my opinion, society has outlasted the Bible.  The larger society is now less able and less interested in the fanciful stories and judgemental  text.

We know, of course, doubt began from day one in Christianity.  Jesus preached the end would come momentarily.  When it didn’t happy, the faith began to drop this prediction from it message.  Some Jews did not believe Jesus was the one.  Believers have never come up with enough evidence to seal the deal.

Treating the Bible as an authoritative tome is helpful for lots of people and, certainly, that will continue.  The question is about its influence in the country’s politics and culture.

My guess is belief lite will become more popular as time goes on.

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The Jewish Faith Needs Numbers Too.

About half of the U. S. Jewish people marry outside the faith.  Marrying outside the faith has been a controversial issue among Jews and part of the decline in Jewish numbers is attributed to this practice.

The Jewish faith traditionally has not been interested in conversions.  There was suspicion of outsiders and their motives.  Converting because one’s spouse is a Jew has not been an adequate reason.  There had to be a desire to worship the God of Israel.

While a noble and high minded position, this idealism has not served the faith well.  A professor and head of a Jewish seminary is calling for more on-the-ground recruiting instead of heads in the sky idealism.  He wants Rabbis who know of couples with one non Jewish partner to put on conversion pressure.

When the Professor writes of why people would want to convert, however, he seems to have his head in the clouds as much as Christian marketers do.  He writes that the busy and tumultuous lives people lead leave a great desire for order and a desire to walk the well-trod path of the centuries.

It seems to me if there were such desires, neither the Christian nor Jewish faiths would be in decline or suspension.  Instead, they would be teaming with young people.

There is some state of mind or personality characteristic that causes religion to appeal to some and not to others.  Perhaps there will be more competition between Jewish and Christian faiths trying to find converts in this pool.

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Is the Anti Gay Branch of Christianity a Counterfit Faith?

It is refreshing to see a Protestant Pastor and academic come to his senses over the gay issue.  The link author formerly was opposed to equality for gays but has changed his mind.

In changing his mind, he did what endless Christians admonish others do here on our discussion board.  He put the Biblical comments about same gender sex in context.  He found that when one does this, there is no condemnation of homosexuality.

This confusion about what the Bible means when it refers to same sex relationships highlights the entire problem.  That problem is the Bible was not written for this year, last year or any year after it was written.  It was written over a span of many years and each part addressed issues from the limited perspective of that point in time.

On social issues, we can look at the role Christianity plays in justifying slavery.  Add to that the on going limits to women’s role in some branches.  Each of these is as bogus as the claim homosexuality is a sin or even a moral issue.

People are free to like or dislike homosexuality.  But, using the Bible as a crutch to justify this dislike is where one parts company with more high minded principles.

The link uses the term “error” for interpreting the Bible as condemning homosexuality.  In my own limited knowledge of the Bible, that seems like an appropriate term.

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Critical Review of Bart Ehrman.

The link is a review of Bart Ehrman’s most recent book, How Jesus Became God.  The reviewer, a New Testament scholar like Ehrman, correctly summarizes Ehrman’s case.  That is Jesus, a relatively unimportant itinerate Jewish preacher, became a god after his death.  It happened when two or three of his fans reported they saw him, possibly in visions or dreams.

The reviewer makes the accusation several times the Ehrman’s approach to this history of Jesus is polemic.  That is, it is not scholarly in the traditional sense but argumentative and challenging.

No one knows for certain the events around Jesus.  Take Erhman’s claim that Roman Jews knew of other gods.  That is reported in the Ten Commandments.  But, the reviewer’s “fact” is Roman Jews were not allowed to worship but one god.  He concludes Roman Jews could not consider the existence of any other god.

Then there is Ehrman’s historical evidence it is very unlikely the body of Jesus was turned over to his followers. This was based on non Biblical documents.  The reviewer brings up Jewish law to argue against Ehrman.  That, even though Jews were not in charge, Romans were.

To me, the reviewer is every bit as polemic as Ehrman–a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  In fact, everyone who studies the Bible or talks about it, believer or not, is polemic.

There is no way to talk about tiny bits of information dripping with emotion and political overtones without being at least a bit polemic.

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Countries That Require a Religion for Public Officeholders.

I had always thought the majority of countries in the world required office holders to be of some particular religion.  It turns out only 15%.

The majority of these are Muslim countries, seventeen of them.  There are two that require Christianity, Andorra and Lebanon.  England requires its Royalty to defend the faith, the Queen/King being head of the Church.  Interestingly, the country where the U. S. is embroiled in religious wars, Iraq, has no religious requirement for office holders.

To some politicians, religion is so much as part of their idealism the concepts of faith and religion are one and the same.  They do not understand the separation of church and state.  Rick Perry of Texas seems like one of these.

According to a commenter, the Republic of Texas Constitution says in Section 4, Religious Tests…No religious test shall ever be required of office holders  provided he acknowledges the existence of a Supreme Being.

I would wonder how there can be no religious test required when there, obviously, is a religious requirement.  That is especially curious when the term, Supreme Being, begins with capital letters meaning it has a name.

At this time, everyone would agree a candidate for President must be a declared Christian to be elected.  It seems to me Christianity is worn on the sleeve more by leaders when our country is in a war than when at peace.

I think we will have a woman President soon.  An atheist President is just too much for voters to swallow.

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The Computer Squeezes the Church in Two Ways.

The link reviews an article written many years ago, long before the web was carried around in a phone.  We all know what has happened, technology has taken away leisure time, not made more of it.

The priest who wrote the link was surprisingly accurate when he made the observation that organized religion is not something so important people make time for no matter what.  Instead, it is dependent on people having leisure time available.

He also makes the observation I have made here many times–that the computer is a competitive source of information to the Church.  He wrote the computer has become the Church itself in this sense.

I have to confess I, along with my economist colleages, was unimpressed in the early days of the “computer relvolution.”  It seemed to me to be just another tool, like the air hammer that breaks up concrete and the automatic trasmission on cars.  Both changed the way things were done, but not what was done.

I now see that it has had a far reaching effect on how people think.  It has changed how people spend their time both when working and when not working.  It has giving both the wealthy/powerful and the lowly bottom-of-the-rung certain weapons to use against each other.

For the “religious class”, the set of people who live off the time and donations of the public, all this is a lose-lose. There is less time for church and less reverence for what it is.

Please, the Priest asks, spend more time with me.

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