From a Freshman Course in the New Testament

When reading the Bible, one thing is undeniable.  Its writing was always aimed at a specific audience of that time with a specific goal in mind.  It was not written for you and me.

This is not my own individual notion.  I got it from an American Baptist minister friend.  Now, I see almost the exact description used by a Professor of Religion who happens to be an American Baptist as well.

The American Baptist denomination, as I understand it, is among the oldest denominations in the U. S. and is more like Methodists and Presbyterians than like Southern Baptists.  It gives much responsibility to individuals to interpret the Bible.

I’ve been trying to grasp how those who both teach academic religion and also believe in the faith handle the history in the Bible.  Specifically, I’ve wondered how they treat stories too over the top to have actually happened but remain the basis of the faith.

Judging from material I read in the Catholic Encylopedia and from the American Baptist’s course material, it goes something like this.  The Bible is not a historical document.  It cannot be treated in the same way a history text is treated.  The reader needs to employ critical thinking and recognize the standards of history were different back then.

By explaining away the history problems in this way, such people can avoid saying, “Much of the Bible was just made up.”  Apparently, avoiding the blunt truth prevents one from being called a flat-out nonbeliever.

Republicans, Keep Praying. Democrats, Stay Secular.

I like the constant drumbeat of religion that comes from the Republican party.  Its platform includes powerful negative judgements on gay voters and on women who want abortions.

While the Democratic Party Convention will have some “prayin”, my hope it will come off looking secular.  That way, voters will have a choice, a party promoting its version of religion and a party focused on secular governing.

Republican Party leaders have painted themselves into a corner the past several years.  They have done it by trying to be the party of both less government and more government.

The Republican Party’s basic theme is, “Let’s regulate who marries who, what happens between a patient and her doctor and make sure no teacher refers to a family as two daddies and a child.  And, let’s get government out of people’s lives.”

The long term political consequences of this will come about because, in my view, people want the kind of regulations Republicans don’t believe in.  People want quality food, water,  air and banks that don’t bring us all down.    And, where they don’t want government is exactly where Republicans want to expand it, into private lives.

Religion selects the areas of Republican government expansion, abortion and gay  rights.  But, religion also drives the selection of candidates.  When primary voters choose candidates based on their religious views rather than their general attractiveness to voters, things get off to a bad start.

While Republicans might win this election, I think the long term trend favors Democrats.

Christians Who Believe They are Put Upon.

We skeptics have our grievances.  If we ran for office few would vote for us, polls indicate.  We are viewed as being untrustworthy and without moral standards.

In truth, we have it pretty good.  Most of us in the Western World live in countries where we can reveal our lack of belief and not be jailed or killed.

Lately, it has become the style for some Christians to say it is they, not atheists, who live in a hostile environment.  Recently, the Family Research Council released with much fanfare a 135 page report alleging 600 examples over the last ten years of hostility toward religion.

Among the 600 were a few cases where religious people were wrongfully denied their rights in some way.  These mistakes were often corrected by a court or by public pressure.  They should not, of course, have happened in the first place.

However, a large number of the 600 examples were where officials, citizens or students wanted to display Christian messages or recite Christian prayers in government places or at government events.  To be criticized for this does not, in my view, rise to what should be called “hostility”.

Real hostility would be hate crimes against Christians.  Something like 2/3rds of religious hate crimes are committed against Jews, not Christians.  Gay and transgendered people are hate crime victims more often than all religious people combined.

Christian groups like the Family Research Council are now claiming to be victims.  So is the Catholic hierarchy with its Liberty Restoration Amendments.

Both atheists and Christians have it pretty good in the U. S.


On Faith and Hallucinogenic Substances.

I happened to read two articles this weekend that had an unintended relationship.  One in the New Yorker was by a doctor who experimented with drugs for a few years, then quit.  He wrote in detail about what appeared in front of him while under the influence.  Images and people appeared having detailed conversations.  It required considerable effort to admit the images were not real.

Then, I read a critique of the Bible’s “Paul” in an atheist magazine.  Saul of Tarus saw magical phantasms and spectacular lights shining from heaven.  Paul later was overwhelmed by a conversion from the group he was kicked out of to his only other option,  a new church.

Those who study such things say rains and climate conditions in that part of the world during the first century were good  for hallucinogenic fungi.  It was written about at the time.

Apollonius, a contemporary of both Jesus and Paul wrote that the men of Tarus, Paul’s hometown, were getting drunk from water of River Cydnus.  Paul, himself, preached abandonment of drinking water and drinking wine.  Later writers changed the original message to advise against drinking only water.

We would all agree when someone today claims to have had a vision like those of Paul, we write them off as either under the influence or not quite right.  But, when it is an ancient person in the Bible with no corroborating witness, many treat it as historical fact.

There are those of us who doubt the visions reported in the Bible.

Let’s Go Over These Rules on Sin.

We all know some things are prohibited by the Bible.

You shalt not lie, kill or steal and must keep the Sabbath holy.  Yet, violating these rules is not always sin.

We would say it was not a sin to kill someone if the greater good was served by doing so.  What if you told a lie in order to save someone’s life?  Probably no sin.

If a person was on the verge of starving to death and came upon a farm that had food but no one was home,  would it be considered a sin to steal something.  I think not.

When I was growing up, it was a serious sin to do field work with a tractor on Sunday.    Taking care of the animals was not a sin, even if one used the tractor.

All of these “thou shalt not” sins, then, have a context in which they are not sins.   As times change new contexts come along.

Many say homosexuality is considered a sin in the Bible.  But, are there any contexts in which it is not a sin?  For example, what if we find gay couples serve the greater good and do not harm anyone?

What if it serves the greater good to have people in relationships because they care for one another and don’t require government services?  If marriage serves the greater good so much we give it tax breaks, why would it be sin to include gay couples?

I don’t understand these sin rules.

Reversal of Positions, Catholics and Prostestants.

Can you imagine a time when Protestants were united in lock step against contraception and abortion?  Martin Luther’s position was just that.

When Martin Luther broke ranks with the Catholic leadership, one of his beefs was  Christians were not having enough children.  According to the attached article, what we now would call the Catholic Church thought the celebate life was an ideal.  That so took the minds of Europeans a third of adult Christians lived in orders.

Luther took seriously “go forth and multiple” and was very against birth control/abortion.  But the 1940’s, several U. S.Protestant denominations had abandoned Luther’s position.  The Catholic Church had become the champion of big families.

How did this reversal come about?  When I read explanations steeped in theology and influence of leaders at that time, I don’t see much about who paid the bills and its influence on why things happened.

In economics, children are referred to as “producer goods” when they contribute more to the family’s revenue than they consume.  They are “consumer goods” when they consume more than they contribute.

Perhaps mideveil church orders did not need children because the standard of living was so spartan. Children would have been a drag, consumer goods.   Martin Luther’s church needed donations from the peasant public, children in peasant families were producer goods.

By the 1940’s, mechanized agriculture in the U. S. made children into consumer goods.  Most Protestant denominsations adjusted.  The Catholic leadership did not.

Looking at Catholic family size, it appears children are seen as consumer goods.

Explain What This Means.

Our local paper, The Forum, had a couple of articles today about abortions for women who have been raped.  There was a quote from Christopher Dodson, Executive Director of the N. D. Catholic Conference.  He said

…all Catholic hospitals  follow a policy to help the woman prevent conception from occurring in cases of rape….if adequate tests are done to determine if fertilization hasn’t occurred, she has the right to prevent conception.”

That statement leaves one wondering exactly what the Church’s position is on pregnancy after rape.  It seems to say if pregnancy has occurred, the woman is out of luck.  Or, it could mean that in cases of rape, the hospital is allowed to say conception did not occur even if it did.

The latter interpretation would be similar to the Church’s approach to divorce.  As I understand it, “divorce” does not happen.  Instead, the Church pretends the marriage never really happened and the people can separate without “suffering” the religious consequences of divorce.

Whatever the quote above really means, it illustrates the ridiculousness of what goes on in all the branches of religion.  It is absurd gazillions of dollars of paid staff time is spent drafting such obtuse policies.

All a hospital needs to know is that a woman was raped.  If she was raped, the policy should be she leaves the hospital not pregnant, period.

But, in right to life dogma, every policy is written with political ends in mind, not the woman’s welfare.

Is There a Pattern of Hostility to Christianity?

The Family Research Council and Liberty Institute issued a 140 page report alleging 600 incidents over the last 10 years against Christianity.

I could not find much hostility toward Christianity.  I did see a lot of incidents where Christians were trying to get their pitch into settings meant to be secular.

A more helpful approach by the Family Research Council would be to persuade Christians not to, for example, pray to Jesus when praying at public functions where people of many faiths or of no faith are present.  They may have the right to mention Jesus, but should not be surprised if they encounter one of the 600 hostile incidents.

I can understand people who have lived in circumstances where people wore  their religion on their sleeves are surprised when they encounter criticism.  Things have changed.

Several of the grievances mentioned by the Family Research Council had to do with government policies and court decisions.  I have not kept score, but it seems to me Christian interests continue to do well in court and in government policy.  Certainly, if you go to the website of the American Law and Justice Center, Pat Robertson’s legal operation, you will see a list of the victories.

In my view, it is not that there are too many acts of hostility toward pushing the faith in public, it’s that there are not enough.  There are still countless public meetings in the U. S. everyday as well as public schools who still pray to Jesus Christ.

It’s Called the “War on Women”.

Since the “war” metaphor is used so often in conservative Christian politics, it seems fair to use it against them.  That, even though I’d prefer the term war be limited to armies shooting at one another.

It would not be so easy to label conservative Republican politics as a war on women were it not for the clueless men who wage it.  Representative Akin of Missouri, and a supporting cast which included previously Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan, say things so absurd it is impossible to conclude otherwise.

Today a Christian physician disputed the Akin claim that rape seldom results in pregnancy.  He disputed, as well, the Akin claim there is something in the female mind or body that discourages or prevents pregnancy when she is raped.

There is no science-based evidence either of these is true.  Yet, these falsehoods are accepted in right-to-life political circles as legitimate information.

In my own family’s history is a case of a rape that caused a pregnancy.  The teenage girl died in child birth.

The world of white male conservative Christians seems to be one filled with concern about women’s issues.  I recall the first time I saw this personally.

I remember a chill going over me as I heard a rancher legislator in cowboy boots say, “I’m just sick about this, allowing an abortion because there was a rape. No moral person should have to accept this compromise.”

I think it would be good for white Christian men to let women decide this issue.

Republicans in Congress are Experts in Rape.

No, they do not rape women.  But they consider themselves experts on the topic.  They wanted to put into law a type of rape not covered by those the criminal justice system or existing laws on rape.

All of this entertainment provided us by the Republicans in Congress and those running for President came to light with the statement by Missouri Republican candidate for the Senate, Todd Akin.  He said “legitimate rape” victims rarely get pregnant.  Apparently, there are rapes where the pregnancy is OK.

A Republican Party bill to stop federal funding of more abortions illustrates what he meant.  That bill inserted the term “forcible rape” as the only kind of rape pregnancy allowable for federally funded abortions.

The term “forcible rape” is not defined in the criminal code.  The Republican legislators, like Senate Candidate Akin, seem to know what they mean by the term.

I’ve read various versions.  One theory is it would exclude funded abortions for women who are administered a “date rape” drug without their knowledge.  It might exclude circumstances such as when a young woman voluntarily enters an apartment where there are several men.  Or, when a woman is raped by someone she knows or even has had sexual relations with, such as a jealous ex boyfriend.

Republicans are suddenly more concerned about the Missouri Senate seat than they are about abortion.  They have removed the phrase, “forcible rape” and asked pro-life Akin to drop out of the race.