I think I’ve worked out why conservatives think progressives are hypocrites for supporting the rights of Muslims… and why progressives cannot see it.
Conservatives: We want to use our government to make moral choices for others. If people with a different morality to our own gain control of our government they will force everybody to have their morals. Therefore, we must make sure that people with different values to ours are never given a voice otherwise they will take away our way of controlling people and use it to control us. Give more power to the good guys so they can protect us from the bad guys.
The best way to stop other people from controlling what we do is to control what they do.
Progressives: We want to use our government to ensure that everybody has their basic needs met and is able to participate in society. There are people in our society who want to dictate to other people what their morality should be. Some of them are closer to our moral code than others, but all of them need to be prevented from gaining the power to control all of us. Give more power to the people so that we don’t have people forced into a situation of having to be good guys or bad guys.
The best way to stop other people from controlling what we do is to remove a social mechanisms for control and create a society where people are empowered toward self expression to the extent that they don’t use that to control others.
To the progressive, the conservative approach to human rights is heavy handed, short sighted and counterproductive. It is giving excessive power to the government to control people without consideration of the consequences when the government cannot be controlled by the people.
To the conservative, the progressive approach to human rights is naive and inconsistent. How can you support protecting the rights of somebody who doesn’t respect your rights? How can you be on the side of women’s rights while also being on the side of a religion which marginalises women?
I don’t have the answers yet, but I think I may be slightly closer now to understanding the question.
I’ve heard that said many times but I’ve just recently grasped what that actually means. Humans aren’t an external invader like a virus or pathogen. Rather we are, like cancer, a part of a delicately balanced and constantly evolving ecosystem which has adapted in a way that gives it a survival advantage within its limited ecosystem but at the expense of altering the ecosystem it relies on for survival.
The standard response to this is that you can’t really use a conclusion as proof of itself. I agree, yet it happens. Rather than address the logical fallacy, I’d like to look at whether the Bible actually makes the claim of infallibly or inerrenacy at all.
Firstly, the obvious. The Bible is not a book so much as a collection of books. As such, it is insufficient for a single book to claim divine status of itself to make the claim that the whole collection makes such a claim. There would need to be a verse that makes the claim of the entire collection of works within the collection of works in order to claim that the Bible claims divine status of the whole Bible.
Let’s look at some verses which are frequently cited in this discussion:
“the words of the LORD are flawless” (Psalm 12:6)
This verse is part of a song about God making a promise to save some people because they were groaning with sufficient volume. There is nothing in this verse that even remotely suggests that it is talking about a written text.
“Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89)
Again, this is referring to a direct word from God and mentions nothing about a text. This psalm does at least link the word of God with the Law of Moses. We now have a tenuous link of one song within Psalms supporting elements of Exodus and Deuteronomy… or at least supporting the texts referenced in those books.
“Every word of God is flawless” (Proverbs 30:5)
Agur is addressing Ithiel with words of advice to listen to God’s voice. Given the choice of name (Ithiel meaning: God is with me) it seems that the advice is for those in relationship with God to trust his words when they hear them. It also states not to add to them. Again, this is talking about direct communication from God and makes no mention of existing texts.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)
This is probably the most commonly cited verse on the topic of Biblical infallibly/inerrancy Translators sometimes use the term “inspired” instead of “God-breathed”. It really depends on whether they want to encourage a figurative or literal interpretation in their English readers. This is probably the strongest verse to state the case but it is important to remember that the reference to “scripture” is not talking about the collection of books we now call “The Bible” but most likely what we now refer to as the Old Testament. Possibly just the first five books.
So we do have a book in the Bible which claims divine inspiration (not inerrancy) for a part of the Bible which does not include itself. This is important to identify we don’t yet have any internal reason to grant the label of divinely inspired to the speaker, so his testimony of divine inspiration for the older books is, at this stage, merely a human opinion.
“If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.” (1 Corinthians 14:37)
This seems to be the strongest claim in any of Paul’s writings that could be interpreted as him believing his own words to be the words of God. This demonstrates Paul’s gift of manipulative writing. He is essentially making it a test of a true prophet that the prophet endorses Paul’s teachings as divine commands.
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 21)
This is speaking specifically of The Prophets, a series of writings in what we currently refer to as the Old Testament, though the statement itself could be applied to prophets in general. This verse is explaining that the prophets themselves did not know that the prophecies they were making were actually about Jesus and that nobody would be able to make the connection until after the events had occurred. I’ve spoken about the problems with that kind of prophecy in other posts. For now, let’s simply observe that this text is referring to a specific group of texts of which it is not itself included as even in the most liberal interpretation of the text, it does not claim itself to be prophetic.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
A great threat to end your compilation with. This verse is frequently taken to refer to the entire Bible. Keep in mind again that the Bible was not even an idea at the time that this prophecy was written. It is possible to interpret the 2 Peter verse as supporting this book because it is “prophecy”, but only in the sense that the writer of Revelations doesn’t really know what he is talking about.
Old Testament verses refer to the direct spoken word of God and possibly to the Law of Moses as perfect, infallible and without error.
New Testament verses refer to The Torah and The Prophets (but not psalms or proverbs) as divinely inspired. Paul invites prophets to endorse his writings as commands from God as a test of their powers, and Revelations endorses itself.
There are numerous books within both testaments which have no text claiming divine authorship or inspiration for that text, including all four Gospels. As such, any claim that the entire Bible is the Word of God, infallible, without error, or any other divine features must be supported by evidence external to the Bible. That external source would have to be infallible and without error to do so.
While individual authors make several claims about their own and others’ writings, The Bible does not say that the Bible as a whole is infallible and without error.
The Gospel of John tells a story not found in the other gospels which describes Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples. He strips off his clothing and puts on a servants towel, he washes the disciples feet despite Peter’s objection and then has them wash each other’s feet (13:3-14). At first glance, the meaning of the story seems pretty clear. Jesus is taking the humble role of a servant and treating the young men to a relaxing foot bath and massage with some kind of vague allusion to servant leadership, right? That is certainly one way of reading it but it doesn’t explain Peter’s reluctance or his later suggestion of washing his whole body rather than just the feet. There is something else going on here which I intend to reveal.
In a humble, single room hut in the village of Capernaum, a small boy quietly tends to the animals in the lower, hay covered floor that was carved out for the animals, while in the raised family area of the hut a group of young men, guests of his father and disciples of the Rabbi Jesus, argue over which of them will hold the higher position when they’ve overthrown the Roman oppressors. The rabbi returns. His disciples run to him, demanding that he tell them the positions they will hold in his kingdom. The rabbi’s eyes scan the hut quickly as the little boy crouches low behind his goat. The rabbi smiles; he has found his answer. Pushing through the demanding young men, he reaches down and lifts the boy up to the higher level of the hut, placing him in the midst of the men, and tells them that the one of them who is most like the little boy will be the greatest; that those who cannot be like him are not fit for his kingdom. (Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48, Mark 10:14-15).
The Synoptic Gospels each contain an account of Jesus declaring that being like a child is a requirement for entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Given that over half the world’s population consider Jesus an authority on the topic of Heaven, and a third say he is God (1), and also given the implications of being left out of the kingdom for failing to be like a child are disastrous by dominant modern interpretations, it would appear that having a correct understanding of this verse would be of critical importance. Unfortunately, those seeking to understand the meaning of this statement have left large bodies of information unused in forming their conclusions, with the result that the dominant understanding of Jesus’ statement may be incomplete. In this essay, I plan to bring together the major sources of information on the reality of what it meant to be a small child within the Roman Empire during the early part of the first century from both primary documents and archaeological evidence, in order to present four alternative readings of the phrase, and their theological applications.
These are as follows:
1) Being like a child means being vulnerable and dependant on others.
2) Being like a child means learning by asking challenging questions.
3) Being like a child means having a low status.
4) Being like a child means existing outside of the Mosaic Law.
Before I get started on this, I think I should make it clear that what follows is neither a literal interpretation nor a historical contextual interpretation. Rather, it is a possible modern spiritual interpretation. In other words, I am more concerned with expressing a known truth through a familiar story rather than extracting truth from an ancient document. This is, in a sense, the pouring of a matured understanding of the nature of the natural world and the mind into scriptures of an earlier time and filling it full of new meaning to make it relevant to a new era. This is a style of interpretation that first centenary Jews called the fulfilment of scripture. This writing style can be observed in abundance within the Book of Matthew, where the author uses the term “as it is written” to denote that he is about to fulfil a scripture from what we call the Old Testament with an aspect of the story of Jesus’ life. It is important to note that this fulfilment in no way implies that the original scripture writer had somehow predicted these future events like some carnival fortune teller; rather it is an expression of how these sacred texts continue to be relevant to the modern reader.
The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of lifewasalso in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. … And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat;but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”(Genesis 2:8-9 & 16-17 KJV)
There are two important trees in this garden. They are called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and “the tree of life”. The name of the first is sometimes abbreviated but I think it is important to consider its name in full in order to know what it truly represents. Quite simply, it is a tree. Trees do not contain knowledge so it is also a metaphor. A tree is a living organism which grows, thus we can see that the knowledge of good and evil is a living and growing thing within us as individuals as a microcosm and within humanity as a whole.
Knowledge of Good and Evil
Now, in regard to a discussion about the knowledge of good and evil it is important to define what exactly we mean by good and evil. Most people would agree that a dingo that eats a human baby is not evil, though its actions may cause a great deal of suffering. Conversely, if the baby was eaten by a human adult we might then call the action evil. This suggests that evil (and therefore good also) must be performed by beings who are conscious of a degree of right and wrong in order to make a moral choice in order to be considered good or evil. The family dog that has an idea of how its human pack operates who eats a human baby may be judged more harshly than the dingo, for while the two are genetically the same species, the dog has a limited understanding that eating its master’s offspring would be a bad thing. We may hold the dog as perpetrating some level of evil, though not as much as the baby eating human.
So a wild animal (while probably holding some understanding of proper pack behaviour) can be considered essentially amoral in all of its dealings with humans. A domestic animal with limited capacity for understanding the rules of human society can be considered to be a good dog when it brings you your slippers and a bad dog when it eats them. A primate could be held morally accountable to some degree if its shrewdness has taught it the basic value of ape life, as it should have the cognitive ability to recognise a human child as similar to itself, non-threatening and non-food. Even amongst humans the level of moral cognisance is taken into consideration for moral judgement. A baby is not judged harshly for being utterly egotistical and inconsiderate of the needs of others. An adult human who cries and screams to get what they want isn’t treated with the same sympathy.
Thus, we can conclude that our capacity for good and evil acts is directly proportional to our level of knowledge of good and evil as concepts. The size of the tree dictates the size of the fruit.
Do Not Eat It
This brings me to my next point. The tree itself is fully good because God made no bad things. There is nothing inherently evil about knowledge, even the knowledge of good and evil. The thing that causes death is eating the fruit.
In Matthew 7:16, Jesus says “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?” (see fig vi in previous article)
He’s a clever man that Jesus. Of course, he is speaking of fruit metaphorically here. Fruit is the natural product that comes naturally from a thing. In the case of a grape vine the fruit is grapes. In the case of working in the field, the fruit of your labour is the harvest. In the case of knowledge of good and evil, the fruit is a judgement of things as either good or evil.
When you eat something, it becomes a part of you. When you eat grapes for example, your digestive system breaks down the flesh of the grape and extracts nutrients which it then feeds into your bloodstream to either fuel or build into your body. It becomes a part of you. When you eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, judgement of things as either good or evil becomes a part of you.
Let me reiterate, eating the fruit does not produce the ability to do wrong. Eve was perfectly capable of telling a lie while talking to the serpent before eating the fruit.
God says: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”
Eve says: “God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
The consequence of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is dualism.
Or You Will Die
So what is death? Well that’s quite simple isn’t it? It is the absence of life where once there was life right? Of course, you first need a basis of dualism to come up with that definition.
What is death to a dog? Easy! That is the process by which something else goes from being a moving thing to being a food thing. Death is great! What does a dog know of its own death? Absolutely nothing. It may briefly have the sensation of intense discomfort but by the time death is a reality, the dog is no longer able to experience anything. Hence, as far as the dog is concerned, its own death does not exist.
A young child has a similar perspective of death as a dog has. In order to come to a position of knowledge that they “will surely die”, the child requires the experience of encountering the concept, either through the death of another or through an explanation from somebody who already understands the concept. Coupled with a bit of imagination the child can quickly imagine the idea and uncertainty of death. Add a health does of egotism and dualism and they will quickly decide that their death would be a bad thing and something they would like to avoid.
Humans have been trying to find ways to escape their own personal death for as long as they’ve known about it. In the absence of longevity technologies and cryogenics, the most obvious solution has been the concept of an afterlife. This fear and avoidance of death is the basis for religion which will often associate desired behaviour with favourable afterlife outcomes.
Dualism also leads to tribalism. When to groups with conflicting religious beliefs meet, the initial innocent response is a gradual merging of the beliefs. This will then often result in a fear reaction from some members of a community out of a dualist thinking that the beliefs should be kept separate or untainted. Fear leads to fundamentalism and the enforcing of boundaries of what constitutes acceptable beliefs and behaviour for members of that group. Anything outside of that becomes evil and results in either punishment or ostracism.
As a consequence of humanity’s consumption of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we now live in a world of fear and hatred of the other and a glorification of the self and the similar. Even the so called liberal theologian suffers from the dualistic tendency to demonise the fundamentalist. Wars are fought in every nation, often most viciously between the beliefs that are most similar, by those defending the boundaries of the like against the invasion of the other. Christians accost grieving parents with “God hates Fags” placards outside children’s funerals. Suicide bombers detonate themselves in Israel’s cultural centres. Muslims battle Muslims across the Middle East and Africa. The Buddhist government persecutes Buddhist monks Burma. There is still massive fighting in the Congo between various Christian military groups. France is moving to ban face veils in a move to further alienate a people group. Australia is happy to have 200,000 predominantly white immigrants each year from developed nations but 800 Arabs begging refugee status from war torn countries are imprisoned with minimum sentences before processing can even begin.
One of the definitive attributes of God is holiness. The Hebrew word for holiness is qadosh which literally means “to be set apart”. God is therefore definitively Other. Hatred of the other is hatred of God. The “Golden Rule” found at the heart of every world religion of doing for others as you would want them to do for you has been rejected by the vast majority of humanity in favour of tribalism, forcing people to conform to our views or be rejected as infidels. Treating the other as the enemy, we have set ourselves in enmity with the Other.
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40 Message)
All is not lost fortunately. Remember that the garden contains two
metaphor trees. If the first one was growing inside of us then the second one must also be there. This tree is called the tree of life.
“…he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22b)
So just as eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil took our society from childish innocence and brought us into this current state of adolescent rebellion and egotism, there is a tree of life growing within us still. Within this is the hope that someday we will grow out of this immature bickering and will, collectively, grow up.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
Now the idea of spiritual maturity (which I will go into more detail on in a later post) is not something which can be forced upon a person. It is something that comes naturally when people have time to reflect and pray, the freedom to explore varied beliefs and alternative perspectives, and the security of having basic necessities of food and shelter.
Spiritual development cannot be forced, but it can be inspired. If, after reading this article, you feel that you can feel that tree of life deep within you and want to nourish it to grow you into a spiritual adult (thank you I see that hand), the process is something I cannot teach you. A can however give you advice. Learn about other faiths than your own from a perspective of trying to understand how other people think rather than to try to beat them or convert them to your worldview. Put yourself in their shoes and see what it is like to walk like they do. Question your own assumptions.
If you feel you would like to help bring spiritual maturity to the world as a whole, which is a commendable goal, I can offer some simple advice. While people are fearful, insecure and feeling marginalised they will dig themselves deeper into adolescent thinking. So where possible, support movements which aim to bring people out of poverty and counter oppression, particularly religious oppression. Meet people’s physical and emotional needs first, then give them the tools to develop their own spiritual identity within whatever system of beliefs they identify with. Practice agape, disinterested love; which gives of itself without expecting anything in return.
And as a wise Hindu once said: Be the change you wish to see in the world.
The Bible is claimed by many to be a message from the divine being to humanity. This is an extraordinary claim which has enormous ramifications for the world if it is true. It is also arguably the most influential collection of writings in the history of humanity. How it influences us relies on how it is read, so a correct understanding of how to read the Bible and assess its claims is critical to the individual and to humanity as a whole. This essay will explore two of the dominant readings: the literal approach and the theological approach, looking specifically at how they relate to the first creation story in Genesis.
There are numerous ways to interpret the Bible. These interpretations are called readings. Because of the nature of language; there are at least as many readings of the Bible as there are readers. Each individual who picks up the collection of writings comes with their own set of assumptions, prejudices and even their own ideas of what certain words mean. This issue is magnified by the fact that the majority of people reading the Bible are reading translations which carry the assumptions and prejudices of the translators, in a canon selected by people who were again using their prejudices and assumptions to determine which books would be included, and nobody has access to the original documents which were written thousands of years ago. Another issue is that (short of divine intervention) no modern reader is able to speak with the original authors of the texts. These barriers make it difficult to know what is the best way to read the Bible.
The literal approach, also known as the historical approach and Christian Science, begins with the premise that if God intended to communicate with humanity through the written word that writing would be perfect and factual in every way. Some literal readers take this to mean that God would also protect his message through human translation, so that modern language translations can also be considered perfect and inerrant. Others prefer the idea that the original documents which have been lost were perfect and without error, and since they have been lost some minor transcription and translation errors have occurred but the message as a whole remains largely intact.
A literal approach to Genesis will seek to determine the events which happened in Genesis One by viewing the text alone, and then take meaning from that as historical events. In the literal reading, the focus tends to be on what God creates and the order in which it is created. He creates the heavens and the Earth, light, Heaven, land, plants, stars, the sun and the moon, moving animals, birds, sea creatures, land animals, and finally man and woman who would dominate all the other living things and eat all the plants. All of this he creates in six literal twenty four hour days despite creating the sun and the moon, which are our measure for a twenty four hour day on the third day of creation.
The theological approach begins by asking the question “What does the text say about God and the world?”. The issue of empirical fact is considered secondary to the message being communicated through the story. This approach treats the creation story as allegorical and makes the claim that the question of whether the story is truth or fiction is irrelevant to the message being communicated, much as with the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. Finding the theological meaning of the text requires a little more work than the literal approach because the theologian must look into the context of who is writing the story, who it is being written to, and what were the dominating ideas of reality at the time of writing, both within Israel and amongst her neighbours.
Themes and meanings that may be uncovered through a theological approach may include some of the following. God creates order out of chaos, rather than out of nothing. The ancient Jews were scared of water and the sea because to them it was a symbol of chaos and represented the demonic, the spirit of God hovering above the water shows that God is order, and separate from the chaos, and he draws the dry land itself from the chaos. The whole seven days of creation involve God separating things. This is important because the Jews have a lot of cultural beliefs about keeping things separated. The positioning of the creation of the Sun and the Moon on the fourth day, directly in the middle and the use of the terms meaning “greater lamp and lesser lamp” rather than the proper names of the Sun and the Moon is a deliberate statement that these heavenly bodies are not gods to be worshiped or which can have an effect on our daily lives, but are merely objects in the sky which produce light. There is significance that on the seventh day, God creates rest, suggesting that we work so that we may rest, rather than resting so that we may work.
By removing the need to make scripture line up with observable reality by altering one’s perception of both the language in the scripture and of external reality as a whole, the theological approach allows the reader set aside the apparent conflicts and focus on the deeper meaning. The literal approach seems to require altering the interpretation of the text to fit with observed reality, and there seems to be a high risk of missing the original intended meaning when this is done. In my own personal reflection on the ideas above, I find the theological approach far more appealing than the literal approach.