Thursday, February 22, 2007

postal scrotum: biblical contradictions

Kerry K. writes:

Hi, Big Hominid.

I'm responding to the post about Biblical contradiction, including these comments:

While I am not a literal theist, I like to think that the best scientific attitude is one that remains open to possibilities, including metaphysical ones. I seriously doubt that the Judeo-Christian God exists, and that He exists in the form described in the Christian Bible, but I am open to the idea that reality nevertheless has an ineffable numinous aspect. Influenced as I am by my readings in Buddhism and Taoism, I'd say that this Numinous is nothing more or less than the ordinary reality we see and experience every day. That nirvana is this samsara. But all religious scriptures and traditions-- not just the Christian ones-- contain contradictions. These are to be welcomed for the work they provide, and for me, spirituality is, at bottom, work. Like Jacob, the believer needs to wrestle with the angel. Like Jacob, he's going to lose. But if wrestling leads to a moment of, as Karl Rahner might put it, self-transcendence, then it's worthwhile.

Yes, yes: scriptural literalism leads to all sorts of human stupidity, which we see on TV and read in the papers. But literalism is not the fault of scripture: it's the fault of how we approach scripture. Imagine finding an eloquent poem about plumbing, then attempting to use that poem as a guide for fixing your leaking sink. The poem is blameless; the idiot who mistakes a poem for a handyman's fix-it manual is the problem. Human stupidity resides inside the skull, not on the page.

I also disagree with literalism, but for different reasons I think. First of all, I do NOT believe that self-transcendence is spirituality. As you can see from the word, it has to do with "spirit". If you think of things that involve movement, growth, development, change etc., they are traditionally the aspects of living that people crowd around in nervous and frightened anticipation of being able to put their own pagan (read, "we did it - the change didn't come from an unknown third party") touch on it. Therefore, we read in Isaiah 44:16-20 that the carpenter makes an idol to eat his dinner (rituals are a characteristic of eating disorders as people are nervous about introducing change into their life without having complete control over it). He also says: "Ah! I see the fire. I am warm." This reminds me of the ancient Greek idea that light comes out of our eyes, rather than into them. They apparently couldn't understand why our hands look further away when our arms are outstretched. Then you get into legalistic arguments such as "it wasn't my hand that hit that guy... my hand's definitely bigger than that. I was looking at it just the other day" etc.

The Bible is against mythology in all its forms. Mythology differs in its meaning depending on who's willing to up the ante quicker, like a street fighter. It is big on infrastructure in the outside world to perpetuate meaning. The Bible upholds infrastructure on the inside of us. If that means that different accounts read differently, that's just a celebration of lives individually lived. I object to the Bible being turned into a formula. It isn't intended to be "the answer" any more than anything we write is intended to be "the answer" for anyone other us when we wrote it. I think it's a set of heuristics. Heuristics are creative stimuli that are replicable. The Bible is written in such a way as that we can replicate how we think the Bible characters might have been approaching the problem of writing a narrative form of their spiritual insights.


Kerry, I'm not too clear on what exactly you're saying, so you might want to leave a comment to this post to help me out. Karl Rahner's notion of self-transcendence is a pretty important component of his theology, and I'm not sure why you think there's no connection between Rahner's point of view and spirituality (I assume that's what you're saying). While I'm no Rahner expert, I do know that Rahner, consistent with other Catholic theologians, would have seen matter and spirit as nondualistically related (Protestant Christians, on the other hand, are pretty big on dualism). The scriptures aren't too clear on the matter/spirit division,* which is probably what allows for such theology.

You and I do seem to agree, though, that scripture isn't there to provide easy answers. That's an important point of agreement; it keeps us from viewing scripture the way some folks might view a tech manual.

Thanks for writing in.

*Viz. a fuzzy Pauline concept like soma pneumatikon, a "spiritual body" whose ontological status is debated by scholars and theologians.


1 comment:

  1. Here's something fitting I found regarding Maimonides and "Scientific Creationism." Thought it fitting to share it in this thread.



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