Monday, February 23, 2009

Literal Interpretation is Pretty Much Impossible, Guys

From a letter to the editor in The Observer:

Ms. Arseneault (letter to the editor, "Bible and science can actually co-exist," The Observer, Feb. 9, 2009) may believe in her Bible literally, but believing literally in the Bible, or any other religious text for that matter, is a poor foundation upon which to build an understanding of our world.

Any objective reading of the Bible reveals it to be a cobbled together mess of contradictions and inconsistencies. Literally interpreted, we start out with only Adam, Eve and two sons. But shortly, we're into a long and detailed episode of begatting, without any explanation of how all those generations of begatters and beattees could result from a mother, father and two sons.

All we can say with historical certainty about the Bible is that it selectively reflects only those writings and beliefs in accordance with the prevailing orthodoxy at the time, when Christian power was being consolidated in Rome in the fourth and fifth centuries AD, ignoring or suppressing other threads of early Christian thought or belief.

And we can somewhat excuse the confusing nature of the Bible as it is the "template" for a religion whose god, like the god of the other two main monotheistic religions, revealed himself or herself primarily to members of illiterate nomadic desert tribes in the Middle East, in an era when accurate record-keeping was problematical at best.
You can read the rest here.

And since we're on the subject, the question of whether or not to take the Bible literally is one of the great dividing forces among Christians. The irony, of course, being that nobody actually literally follows the Bible (except this guy), not even those who claim that literal interpretation is the only way to salvation. Thus the existence of this blog.

I do find it really offensive that fundamentalists have hijacked Christianity. With their behaviour and archaic rhetoric, they not only make the rest of us look bad, but they make Jesus Christ look bad, which really pisses me off. I know that the Bible is a flawed document; I know that it is not literally true; and I know that in order to have the Bible in your life, you really do HAVE to pick and choose which parts of it you're going to follow. But even with all that in mind, I really do believe that the underlying message of Jesus Christ was one of love. Two thousand years after this man lived (let's assume he actually did, even though I do think it's ultimately irrelevant), we still know that the message he spread around for the few short years he was preaching was "love your enemies, treat others as you'd like to be treated, and don't judge people." To me, that is the spirit of Christianity; that is what it means to strive to be Christ-like; and that is why people like Fred Phelps are douche-tards.

Rather than a quote from the Bible, I'm going to leave you with a conversation my grandma had with her sister when my grandpa's wife (on my other side) died.
Grandma: "I don't know what to say to him to make him feel better. Normally I'd say that she's in a better place now, but they're both atheists so he won't believe me."
Grandma's sister: "I don't know what you say to him either, but boy is she in for a surprise because God loves everybody."


Anonymous said...

The key is to interpret scripture the way Jesus interpreted scripture...and Peter and Paul would be a good read too. At the heart is the difference between interpreting naively and literally. Often it's not so much the text that's the problem, it's our narrow-minded
perspective about the context that distorts the meaning, which is why Christians must interpret scripture through the lens of the Holy Spirit.

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