Friday, October 9, 2009

Is the Bible Too Liberal?

SKEPTIC: Conservative Christians can rest easy. Their interests are being looked out for by one Andrew Schlafly who has come to the obvious conclusion that the Bible is way too liberal, and needs to be changed. As a result of his "revelation," he has come up with something called The Conservative Bible Project, and it's about time. Who needs all that talk about "social justice" and all that other liberal nonsense? Just get rid of it. And since we all know that liberals used way too many words in the Bible, the CBP will set about combatting "liberal wordiness," apparently by using fewer, shorter words that most conservatives can understand. The Biblical saboteurs do note that "liberals will oppose this effort, but they will have to read the Bible to criticize this, and that will open their minds." So there you go - the secret is out. The real purpose of this project is to get those godless liberals to read their Bibles. I just hope they ran this by God before embarking on their little project. I'm not sure he'd approve.

PREACHER: Pardon me, but I think you are setting up a "straw man" here, at least to an extent. Bible scholars would agree that our best translations are not perfect. I would welcome this project to get another translation with yet another slant. I find comparing translations very helpful in understanding the text, even the ones that I know are not very good. And, aren't all translations from whatever political or theological slant they are from, prepared with the hope that they will be read? The secret is already out, so there is no deception here.

I find it very amusing that one who doesn't believe that the Almighty even exists would think He would approve or disappove of any project men may do. Assuming that you think what they are doing is wrong, then you have placed yourself as a moral authority over them. What are your qualifications?

SKEPTIC: I don't think what they're doing is wrong - it's just stupid. How can Christians believe that it's okay to desecrate their sacred book by deleting and changing the text to fit a conservative ideological viewpoint? But you bring up an interesting point when you talk about translations not being perfect and even slanted. Since the Bible is considered by Christians to be the inspired word of God, doesn't that mean that all the translations of that inspired text need to be inspired, too? And if the translations are inspired by God, how can they be imperfect or slanted? If I'm a Christian, why would I even want to read translated versions that aren't inspired by God - that are, essentially, just someone's imperfect opinion of what the text means. Does this mean that the only way to understand God's true meaning is to read the original Greek and Hebrew texts? Are they the only texts truly inspired by God?

Of course, once you realize that the Bible was written by men with political agendas who didn't actually have any God looking over their shoulders to make sure they got it all right, your brain won't have to hurt so much trying to figure everything out.

By the way, I'm glad you found my reference to God not approving this project amusing, because that's what I intended - or did you think I momentarily forgot that I didn't believe in God? But my point is valid, I think. If you believe in God, do you think he would approve of this drastic alteration of his sacred book?

PREACHER: You might be interested to know that good translators use very scientific methods to translate the Hebrew and Greek into our vernacular. (This is why I don't go along with the King James version only crowd.) As one who trusts in science (almost makes a religion out of it), shouldn't you appreciate that? Wouldn't you agree that the more scientifically the translation is done the better it is. Still the translations are done by men so no scholar would consider any translation without defect. They would all agree that only the original Hebrew and Greek texts were inspired. (Yes we have to take that by faith, just as you take by faith that God doesn't exist and the text is only the accounts of men back when it was written.) When the translators take too much liberty in expressing their bias, their translation is usually not accepted very well. One example in the past was the gender neutral bible. The Lord's prayer started out with, "Our Parent which art in Heaven." Before I can make a good judgment on the new conservative bible, I would like to get reviews from those who know their Hebrew and Greek better than I do.

SKEPTIC: So do you consider this conservative Bible to be a "good" translation? This guy wants to completely edit out the story of Jesus and the Adulteress because he thinks it's too liberal! (Funny, I always thought compassion, forgiveness and redemption were good Christian values. Apparently, they're just good liberal values. Go figure.) And by the way, this new conservative Bible is not being translated from the original texts, but rather from the English King James Version.

It's fascinating to me that you admit that only the original Greek and Hebrew texts were inspired by God, and that all the translations have "defects" in them. So I guess that Christians who rely on the various translations of the Bible to guide them are reading the uninspired and defective word of God. Maybe the Bible should be more accurately known as The Approximate Word of God.

To me, this project seems like a bastardization of the Bible, more than anything else. It's one man's attempt to force the Bible to conform to his political and cultural prejudices. I would think most Christians would be appalled at the nerve of this guy.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Letting Women Vote: Good Idea or Not?

SKEPTIC: Okay, this falls into the category of "crazy things conservatives say that even The Preacher couldn't possibly agree with."

John Derbyshire is a conservative writer over at National Review. He was interviewed recently on the Alan Colmes radio show and took the courageous position that this would be a better country if the right to vote for women was repealed. He claims that "women lean hard to the left" and reasons that we "got along like that (women not voting) for 130 years." So apparently he doesn't really mind if women vote, as long as they don't vote for Democrats. But at least he draws the line at bringing back slavery. I guess that's something.

PREACHER: You said it! I thnk the guy is totally out to lunch.There are plenty of women who are very conservative on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. You would think that he never heard of Sarah Palin.

SKEPTIC: I don't think he's talking about women candidates (although I'm sure he's against that, too). He's just saying that women shouldn't vote because they tend to vote Democratic (a contention which doesn't prove to be true historically, by the way). The still-crazyAnn Coulter said basically the same thing a couple of years ago. Conservative Gary D. Naler recently wrote a book called The Curse of 1920 (a reference to the year when women were given the right to vote),in which he explains how the women's rights movement (along with rock music) has completely destroyed the fabric of American life. The truth is, the Republican party is not all that woman-friendly. There are plenty of misogynists who, given their druthers, would insist that all women stay barefoot and pregnant at all times - and who wouldn't be marching in the streets if women somehow lost the right to vote.

PREACHER: If you look hard enough I suppose you can find both liberals and conservatives that are so busy countering their rivals that they begin saying and doing things that seem almost psychotic to the rest of us. The other day I saw clip of a religious service of people praying to President Obama, saying "Obama help us" instead of "Lord help us". Then we can make a "straw man" of our opponent and criticize him for what he isn't in the first place. If you listen to those speaking on both sides of an issue long enough, you discover a lot of "straw men" out there.

SKEPTIC: Truthfully, it's not all that hard to find conservatives who appear to be psychotic these days - from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to the teabaggers insisting that Obama is worse than Hitler and hey, he wasn't even born in America. And when the right claims to spot signs of psychosis on the left, more often than not, it turns out to be nothing like what it was represented to be.

Take your "Oh my God, they're praying to Obama" video as a perfect example. First of all, they are not saying "Obama," they are saying "O God." (I'll admit - even I was fooled the first time I watched the tape.) The only reason you hear "Obama" is because you want to hear "Obama" and "Obama" is printed on the screen. It's the power of suggestion. It's no different than how people hear messages when a tape is played backwards, but only after being told what to listen for. Also, the only reason it's not crystal clear is because people are not speaking in perfect synch, which allows people to imagine they're hearing something different. (By the way, even the website that originally posted this video has backed off their claim.)
Try this experiment. Close your eyes and tell yourself that you're going to hear "Obama." No doubt you'll hear "Obama." Now listen again, but this time tell yourself you're going to hear "O God." Guess what? You'll hear "O God," because that's what they were saying!

Here's the thing - liberals do NOT worship Obama. That is a meme that the right has been pushing incessantly in an attempt to denigrate the enthusiasm of those of us who support Obama. If you're wondering what actual presidential worship looks like, however, check out this clip from the documentary "Jesus Camp."

("Jesus Camp" can now be viewed online, in its entirety.)

The Evolution of God

(In the video above, Robert Wright is interviewed by Bill Moyers about his new book, The Evolution of God.)

PREACHER: I would like to commend Robert Wright on his definition of religion. It fits well with what I have always thought, that no one is really non-religious, because we all value something. I see religion simply as a way of valuing. And, since that way of valuing inevitably includes presuppositions about reality that can't be proven true or false for the time being, it also includes faith or believing something without conclusive evidence. The word non-religious can only be ascribed in the sense that one is not an adherent to a particular religious organization or tradition. Even Richard Dawkins materialistic belief system is compellingly religious and he is deluding himself to say it is not.

I also appreciate Robert's air of humility in admitting the inability of the human mind to really comprehend ultimate reality. It is too bad though that he has exchanged the One who communicates quite clearly about Himself for the meditation techniques of some Buddhist monks and a vague recognition that there might be something out there. He is a textbook case of a person who went through the motions of becoming a Christian at an early age and then rejected that tradition after he was exposed to "education". If when he was struggling with the creation vs. evolution issue, some real scientists with PhDs instead of a preacher with a Bible school education had come to talk with him about the issue he might have remained a Christian.

When we use such phrases as "the evolution of God", it assumes that God really doesn't exist, or if He does he has no connection with us. All our thoughts about Him start with us. And, those thoughts have evolved over the years to what they are today and they will continue to develop through a process of natural selection. This is a religious statement in the faith of a god that only exists in the minds of men. I choose to have faith in the One who has revealed Himself apart from the limitations of our minds, and He has progressivily revealed Himself to mankind at certain times in history, and will continue to do so in the future.

SKEPTIC: I think your definition of religion is interesting, but seems overly broad. I think the more common definition would be something like "a set of beliefs that are accompanied by certain dogma and usually has some sort of sacred text." So if that's the definition, it's clear that there are lots of non-religious people in the world. Beyond that, I'm not sure exactly what purpose is served in trying to delineate the matter further.

I'm confused when you talk about the Christian God as "the One who communicates quite clearly," when it's pretty obvious that the meaning of God's message is seen differently even within the Christian community, from denomination to denomination - a point Wright was eager to make in the video. If God has given us such a clear message, it's a mystery to me why there is such an abundance of different understandings of it.

I'm confounded by your third paragraph. First, you seem to denigrate "education," implying that it's fatally flawed or something, then you claim Wright might have remained a Christian if only some real scientists had explained evolution to him, instead of a preacher. Am I to understand that by "real" scientists, you mean scientists who have twisted themselves in knots in an attempt to reconcile scientific evolution with biblical creationism?

I think Wright's book sounds intriguing, and I plan to pick up a copy. I think it's clear that his bottom line is that he believes that Man created God and not vice versa. His explanation that religion first appeared on the scene as an attempt by Man to try to "explain to people why good things happen and why bad things happen, and how you increase the number of good things and the number of bad things" sounds pretty reasonable to me. More generally, I think it's a fair statement to say that religion came out of man's desire to understand those things that seemed incomprehensible to him. These days, when we have a much higher level of understanding, our need for religion is decreasing. Wright's purpose appears to be to explain how man's perception of God has changed as our understanding of the world and the culture has changed.

PREACHER: I would contend that your atheism does fit your definition of religion. It is a set of beliefs and dogma that claim that God doesn't exist. One of many sacred texts would be Darwin's Origin of Species. Since it attempts to explain the origin of life forms apart from a creator, it is your account that replaces the first chapter of Genesis.

I would agree that there are parts of the Bible that are hard to understand and Christians differ on the what they mean. However, my point is that there are doctrines in the Bible that are very clear and Christians who still accept the Bible as their rule of faith and don't twist what it says agree on them. I suppose though, for someone who chooses to be blind, even that which is clear seems unclear.

I would consider any education that leaves out the Creator is fatally flawed from the start. I have listened to scientists who are from all sorts of persuasions within those who accept evolution (atheist to progressive creationism). They don't speak so confidently about evolution as you do. You are expressing a faith factor there, so that is what I call your religion. To say, "These days, when we have a much higher level of understanding, our need for religion is decreasing," assumes that the ancients were all ignorant superstitious people. I don't believe that. Man's need for religion hasn't decreased, but its content (including what G(g)od is supposed to be like) has changed. Isn't that what Wright is writing about?

SKEPTIC: I'm not sure exactly why it's so important for you to believe that atheism is a "religion." How does that bolster your position? To me, calling atheism a "religion" is a bit like calling baldness a hairstyle. And it seems rather Orwellian on your part to call me "blind" because I choose not to believe in fairy tales and then label my belief in evolution "faith." My dictionary says that "faith" is believing something to be true without evidence. I've got plenty of evidence to back up my belief. You have none. In fact, what you demonstrate is "blind faith."

As to your belief that ancient people were not ignorant and superstitious, I think it's pretty clear that they were. Not ignorant in the sense of being stupid, but ignorant in that they lacked a very large body of knowledge that we are fortunate enough to possess in the times we live in. And they certainly were superstitious in the way that they created the different religious myths, although perhaps not that much more than many people today.

PREACHER: I call atheism a religion because that is what it really is by the definition that I use. It is the definition that I have used ever since I took college level courses in comparative religions. It is a definition that fits all, so I like it and will continue to use it. My faith is not blind. Blind faith twists reality. True faith should and will be in alignment with reality. As for evidence, I use the same evidence that you use. The difference in our conclusions is based on the interpretation of that evidence. We both look at this visible world: I see an invisible Cause and you see nothing. We both look at science: I see a difference between scientific fact and scientific speculation, you lump them both together (not very scientific). We both look at history: I accept what it says unless proven wrong, you rewrite anything that doesn't fit neatly into your limited world view. Another aspect that we would consider to be more subjective would be personal experience. I can honestly say that I have experienced God. You can claim that I am deceived, but all you have is your inexperience.