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Monday, July 12, 2004

Christianity, Fundamentalism and the Bible

Christianity, Fundamentalism and the Bible

I have been moved recently by the question of who was the historical Jesus Christ and also by the question which asks whether the Bible as written is accurate as history. My recent questioning was inspired by two discussions on the NPR show Fresh Air hosted by Terry Gross. Both parties interviewed on her show had recently published books challenging the Fundamentalist Christian dogma that states in part that the Bible is the literal word of God having no errors, contradictions or mistakes. Fundamentalists go on to argue that all of the books of the New Testament were written by Jesus’ Apostles.

This view, which to me seems incredibly naive and implausible, is widely held. My own family follows this view with no one even entertaining the thought of questioning this viewpoint. I do not understand how otherwise intelligent people can so miserably fail to apply their intellect and reason to their religious belief system which is such an important part of their lives. I cannot fathom such a self imposed and willful, self inflicted ignorance. One family member, a wonderfully gifted student, blindly accepts religious dogma stubbornly refusing to apply even the most rudimentary form of scholastic inquiry to his rigidly held religious beliefs. I simply do not understand this mindset.

I seek to understand all truth with an open, questioning mind, letting the chips fall where they may. Let the evidence speak for itself. I cannot throw away my rational mind in order to perceive spiritual truth.

I do believe that there is one God of the entire universe. The complexity and organized nature of the natural world speaks to me loudly of the manifest presence of a rational personal God who is the creator of the universe. In nature, matter left alone tends to decay. There is simply to much complexity and order in the universe for me to believe that there is no rational, conscious ordering force.

In my own life I have seen God answer my personal prayers in wonderful, glorious ways. I have seen, in my life, more examples of God's love, mercy and forgiveness than I can ever count. I have even in times of crises felt the direct, palpable presence of God in my life. Skeptics may rightfully question my perception of the presence of God which I have felt in times of crises but I hold no such doubts. I cannot explain my perceptions at those times due both to the other worldliness of those feelings and because my perception of these occurrences has faded with time. I do hold however hold great faith in the validity of both my personal, subjective perceptions and experiences.

I really have difficulty accepting as fact the doctrinal statements of the various world religions. I cannot rationally believe that they are or could be written by the hand of God through man. On the other hand however I truly believe that God's wisdom has inspired the writings of the Judeo-Christian tradition in a unique way.

I know the aforementioned statement seems at first blush to be contradictory but I do not believe that there is any inherent contradiction in my statement. What I am saying is simply that even if the events described in the Bible are not literally true there are spiritually discernable meanings which can be derived from the events and stories contained in the Bible.

The whole Bible may be read as a collection of parables which can be used to help us understand God and ourselves as well as set out a set of moral principle for our every day lives. It, for me, really does not matter whether Jesus was born of a virgin or whether he arose from the dead on the third day. What matters are the principles he or the writers of the Gospels wrote down and are directly applicable for our lives today. I know that for some what I am saying is hearesy, but this I what I truly believe. I am not definitively saying that Jesus did not exist or that he did not have a miraculous birth or resurrection. I honestly do not know the answers to these questions. I do know that I do not require an answer to these questions to know that God exists, life is eternal, and that there is inspired truth found in the pages of the Bible.

1 comment:

  1. I think the real question is not whether or not the Bible is an accurate source of history, but whether or not any source of history can be considered objectively 100% accurate.

    If one person says X happened and then Y happened, and another said Y happened and then X happened, and another person says X happened, but neglects to mention Y, does it make the points of X and Y invalid? Of course not.

    Any historian will tell you that the best way to find out what happened is to go to original sources; yet most of our knowledge on history comes from textbooks and "common knowledge" rather than from the documents of the actual events. In that sense, the Bible as a historical source is one of the more accurate ways of learning what part of history it covers, because it is an original source.

    But really, it seems to me that if we focus so much on historical accuracy, we are missing the more important theological and doctrinal lessons of the Bible. It's far more important to know God than to have a perfect, error-free history, IMHO.