Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Disagree civilly

I recently removed some comments on my blog posts because they seemed personally rude
rather than merely disagreeing with what was said. Perhaps I should have left them for others to judge for themselves, but it seems to me that anyone who visits my site should respect others who do so. It's the same as house rules for guests: show proper respect for the other guests who have a right to feel properly respected in my house. And don't mind if I prefer to be respected too, please.
One point I will reply to, though. The commentator used the argument that our understanding of God has evolved and thus changed. That approach can be dangerous. It
may be true that as the world changes we see new applications of God's Word, but that's not the same as changing the way we read it. It does not change what the Word says.
Okay, so when Jesus and His disciples were on Earth, democratic government did not exist as it does today. A huge amount of the technology we possess now did not exist then. But does that mean that the way we read God's word changes? To use the analogy: road rules need to exist whether on a modern motor freeway or a dirt track used by donkey carts. Basically, there is a need to keep to one side so that others can pass and avoid causing danger or obstruction. In principle it doesn't change just because the technology does. Also, it can be dangerous to think that we are cleverer than people in the past just because we know more. It's the case of inherited wealth as distinct from earned wealth. We possess what we did not have to get the hard way. That does not make us better. And it can be rash to think that we know better than to believe what the Bible says because 'our understanding has evolved'. That can be a way to excuse revising the Word, which means compromising it and setting aside parts of it.
The attitude of some people who argue the point seems to be that you have to agree with them. That is unreasonable. They can believe what they do without attacking those who disagree with them. I can't personally stop someone from practicing polygamy or being promiscuous, but I do not have to say that polygamy or 'multiple partnering' are good just because those who do those things demand my approval. The same goes for homosexuality. I will not engage in 'gay-bashing'. Neither will I be told that I have to approve of homosexuality.
One of God's Commandments was "I am the Lord your God... You shall have no other gods before me." That was given to those who were called God's people. If you don't want to comply with it, don't pretend to be a follower of God. You don't have to be a Christian. If you are, it is dishonest to try re-inventing Christianity to suit yourself and fit in with your preference for modern social or political ideas.


Democracy Lover said...

If by saying that we do not, or should not change "the way we read God's word", then I have to disagree. To retain a primitive view of the biblical text (by which I mean avoiding modern scholarship, assuming a literal, internally consistent "word of God" view) would be like explaining cancer using only the terminology and knowledge of ancient Greece. We know a great deal more about the texts in the Bible, the literary culture in which they were written, the timeframe and historical context, than we once did and that knowledge must be applied to our reading of those texts if we are to be intellectually honest.

Also, I'm sorry if something I posted seemed personally rude. I certainly did not intend that.

ELAshley said...

I think it's also fair to say that ancient peoples [even people from just one hundred years ago] know things that WE do not.... how to make a bow and arrow. How to find clean water in a swamp. How to steer by the stars. None of these skills are generally needed today; other skills have superseded them in importance.

By the same token, how many among us know how to make a lightbulb? fix a radio? smelt ore or produce metals? build an electric turbine?

Wisdom, however, is different. What is wise in one age, in terms of human proclivity and God's demand for righteousness, is wise in any age. One doesn't need to know the historical context of scripture to be able to accurately apply its tenets to modern times. The bible doesn't specifically mention abortion, but it does say, "thou shalt not kill."

Democracy Lover said...

Elashley, you refer to human proclivity and God's demand for righteousness remaining unchanged - always wise. I'm not sure what you mean. Proclivity refers to our predisposition or natural inclinations. While some of those are of ancient (even pre-human) origin, others are a result of our culture and environment. To speak of "God's demand" presupposes that we have the same understanding of God, which is hardly the case.

God is, by definition, unknowable and all we as humans can say about God is indefinite, inconclusive, and inadequate. If we assume the classic definition of God, then that has always been the case. It was the case for the biblical writers as well. They were no better able to describe God, or more accurately, their ideas about God than are we.

I will avoid a discussion of abortion here since it is off the point.

Andrew Clarke said...

elashley makes an important point saying people in the past know things we've lost sight of - the survival skills and understanding of the natural world that you have to have when you can't escape it in air-conditioned buildings and you can't buy everything you need in a store. I'd like to say more about that, it's important.
Democracy lover, I can see what you mean about keeping a 'primitive' view of things. God allows knowledge to come to us and we should use it for good purposes. But I really think it can be dangerous to 'deconstruct' parts of the Bible, saying that because they were written in a different era that their meaning can now be seen differently. Can I put it to you this way? Selfishness
is wrong whether it's pushing someone else away from the camp fire among nomadic herders or being dishonest in dealing with the modern share market. The principle, not the setting, is what matters. If self-indulgent sexual behaviour is condemned by Biblical writers the principle remains the same wherever and whenever you live. 'Deconstruction'
can simply be a way of evading what something says rather than discrediting what it says. It can be an intellectually dishonest way of arguing.

ELAshley said...

While our understanding of God-- in His eternal entirety and purpose --is severely limited, scripture nonetheless tells us more than we need to know to choose whether or not to believe in Him and follow His commandments. And every human IS born with a proclivity for sin... we all have a natural inclination, if you will, toward sin.

And what was The Law [all 613 of them], if not a demand for men to deal amongst themselves and toward God with righteousness? True, Christians are not subject to the penalty of the Law thanks to Christ, but the Law is not made entirely void. Murder is just as wrong today, for the Christian, as it was prior to the resurrection of Christ for the Jew. Were it not so, there would not be so many verses in the New Testament detailing the kinds of sin, and those who perform them, which will be excluded from entry into Heaven.

God DOES demand righteousness of us. The Law is made void in terms of Salvation [animal sacrifice is no longer a requirement], but not in terms of righteous conduct. Grace simply means we don't have to continually sacrifice animals to cover our sins. The blood of God covers us now [Acts 20:28]. But sin still exists; it must still be dealt with, and it will still be punished. For the unsaved, that means Hell. For the Christian, loss of reward.

As an aside, while Peter's vision in Acts 10 is NOT a rescinding of dietary law [it speaks of Gentiles being made clean], failure to follow the dietary laws WILL result in poor health. Abstaining from swine won't make anyone righteous, nor will eating bacon make anyone unclean, but eating swine will add an unnecessary health burden to the Temple of God [1 Corinthians 6:19].

There's a lot we can know about our infinite God by simply reading His word.

arauzjames said...

Interesting, good stuff. thanks for recommending that book. I'll check it out. Have you read anything by Francine Rivers? She writes "fiction" of Bible characters. Excellent writer in my opinion.

Democracy Lover said...

Is it possible to argue for the primacy, infallibility, or inerrancy of scripture without quoting scripture? Can one successfully argue to the doctrinal positions expounded here without first assuming a literal interpretation of the Bible?

The idea that a modern understanding of the Bible is "deconstruction" or "selfish" or simply wrong, rests on the assumption that the fundamentalist understanding is correct. The defense of that biblical understanding usually seems to depend on having accepted it already. I see the challenge of Christianity as making Jesus relevant to modern life without depending on pre-modern ideas about the Bible. I believe that is not only possible, but necessary.