Sunday, August 31, 2008

Interesting discussion at Possummomma's blog

There is an blog I read which is written by an atheist mother. I first came to her blog to read a beautiful essay written by her eldest daughter. If you read the essay, be sure to read the comments too. That was 1.5 years ago, and I am still a reader.

Today she asked her theist readers how we could defend the Bible despite its flaws. It is certainly not the first time this question has been asked but it makes for interesting discussion nonetheless. The dialogue is here. I will update this post later based on comments there because I do not want to derail her thread.

Here is what I wrote:

I agree that there are certain passages of the Bible that are cruel, misogynistic and just plain weird. So I understand why some would find it difficult to believe in a 'flawed' book but to me, it does not mean that the entire message of the Bible is wrong.

Every Christian I know picks and chooses the passages they believe in, either consciously or subconsciously. Even the ones who say that they are literal believers.The Bible has been around more or less in its current form for about 2000 years. It has influenced our evolution as a society (especially western society) mostly for the better. I know that unspeakable atrocities have been committed in the name of the Bible but isn't that true of all religious books? When huge masses of people apply themselves to any book, be it the The Bible or Harry Potter or The Origin of Species, there will be some who simply don't *get it*.

I will not say that everyone should respect religion. What will happen if religious people have to prove that religion deserves respect? We would have examine our beliefs, we would have to think and study more and not be complacent. And that is a good thing.

One of the commenter's wrote this

'Scruples, ethics, and simple human courtesy are all attainable without referring to the bible, and no other religion/faith/superstition has any better track record.'

So I replied : I agree with this first part of this statement on principle. It can be argued that morals are mostly innate and the result of social conditioning. But are there any societies which have flourished without any sort of religion? I am not referring to individual people who are atheists in a mostly religious community. But a society as a whole which has never seen the need for religion.

ETA: Berlzebub says

Every society has had a religion. Even those with a secular government, including the U.S., has had a majority of the population that observed one religion or another. So attaining that data might be next to impossible.

The problem seems to be the neighbors. By neighbors I mean neighboring societies such as a neighboring family (or tribe), town, or government. Two groups can get along if neither feels the need to proselytize or convert, but if group A feels that group B has to be of group A's religion that's where problems arise.

I appreciate Berlzebub answering my question even though it digressed slightly from the topic at hand. I wonder if his alias is a take on Beelzebub, another name for Lucifer in the Bible. It is the name of a different God(Baal?) who was worshipped a couple of millenia ago.

Anyways, coming back to his answer, he confirmed that there were no societies that we know of who survived without any form of religion. I have often wondered why it was so. Is it because a need for God is hard-wired into peoples brains? Or is it the fear of the unknown which naturally progresses into religion.

To be fair, just because society needed religion in the past, it does not mean that purely atheist societies are not possible.

Milo Johnson said...

The society of science has flourished without religion.

Science is a discipline, not a society. Yes, scientists belong to a society but they are a part of a larger religious community. So I do not think that it is a valid example.

Every rule, practice, custom, and mandate in the bible is completely contradicted by another part of the bible.

That is an exaggeration. There are verses in the Old Testament that are contradicted by the New Testament. Some of them famously by Jesus himself.

calladus says

If parts of the bible are hurtful, or just wrong, then to me this is evidence of authorship by humans instead of an almighty deity.

I believe that the Bible was authored by humans who were in turn inspired by God. Humans are not about absolutes, we are influenced by our life experiences, our prejudices.

Saint Paul is known as the apostle who had the most misogynistic views in the early church. How much of his writing was his Sadducees and Pharisee upbringing? How much of it was his own reaction to the women in his life? Is it blasphemous to wonder if he hated his mother? Did he hate the woman who spurned his marriage advances? Is the High-Priest's daughter responsible for the whole women as submissive partner aspect of some Christian marriages?

I would love to hear feedback from fellow Christians.


A New Life said...

I found your blog through Annie. I hope you don't mind if I answer.

It's interesting to hear people label Paul as a misogynist. I've never felt that way at all. And Paul wasn't the only one who spoke of submission by wives. Peter also writes the same thing (1 Peter 3). So, could it be a product of their society?

I believe that God loves truth, and that when he inspired the authors to write the bible, that he wouldn't let them write something that is not in his plan. This includes the passage about women submitting to their husbands.

I believe that submission by wives, can be taken to two radical and different extremes. On the one hand, it seems anti-feminist, and full of misogyny. On the other hand
women are expected to be totally obedient, like pets to their owners. And then there's the position I take, along with other Christians.

I do believe in submission to husbands. But I also believe that when we read the passage about submission, especially in Ephesians, that we can't stop at the part about wives. If you look at how the passage is written, Paul's command to husbands is much deeper, and much longer than what he writes to the wives.

If Paul was a misogynist, why in the heck would he want to write that husbands should love their wives as their own bodies, to take care of her, and give up his life, like Christ did for the church. That passage seems contradictory to his "misogynist" ways.

Another passage, in Corinthians when he describes love, is another passage that I don't understand why a "misogynist" would write.

I think we need to look at submission in the broader picture. Everyone submits in one way or another. Children submit to their parent's authority. We all submit to authoritative figures, in our workplace, or our leaders in the state, and even the president of the country. Yet, it doesn't make us any less equal than another. Children are still equal to their parents, we're all still equal to our bosses, and citizens are still equal to their leaders. It's that we all have different roles in society. According to scripture, marriage is no different.

Wives are no less equal to their husband because they submit to them. And husbands are not better than their wives, because they are the head. A good leader, is one who serves his family in every way possible (Think "civil servant").

When there is any family matter, my husband always discuses everything with me, and takes in every point of view. He never does anything without consulting my opinion. That is what I believe a leader should always do. A leader should never make rash decisions, or ever abuse their role ("my way or the highway").

Now, I've heard many interpretations of Paul, that are just plain awful. There are churches that believe that women can't speak at all during a service. So, one must be very careful about interpreting scripture.

I've probably rambled, and I hope I made sense.

I do want to leave you with this; I was a part of the extreme right evangelical movement for quite awhile. But I got so sick of everyone interpreting scripture the way they wanted. I'm not sure what religious denomination you're a part of, but of all the denominations, Catholicism made the most sense to me. The Catholic church believes that it is the sole guardian and protector of scripture and its interpretation. After all the fighting between the meaning of scripture, and its context-- the Catholic Church was a breath of fresh air.


Deepa said...

Hi Aisha,
I am so glad you shared your views on this topic. I belong to the Marthoma Church, a Protestant church in India. We are conservative regarding gays, role of women in church but liberal regarding abortion, role of church in state.

I believe that God loves truth, and that when he inspired the authors to write the bible, that he wouldn't let them write something that is not in his plan.
The only reason I do not believe in this idea is because I believe God has given us free will. I do not think God controlled the writers of the Bible in order to get them to write perfect Truth.

Regarding submission, I still do not know which way is right. Full disclaimer: in my marriage, my husband and I make all the decisions together. I respect him and he respects me. On certain subjects, I have the decision making authority, and he on others. We play to our individual strengths and it works for us.
Our priest says that one way may not work for everyone. He is a wise man and I tend to agree with him.

You are righty that some people twist the scripture to justify anything and can make church a nightmare. I am glad that you got out of that situation and are now in a church that fulfills you.

Deepa said...

You are also right that there are many passages which do not reflect a misogynist attitude from Paul.

I only wish Jesus had more to say on the husbands-wives dynamic.