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Is the Bible Literally True? (Part III)

In two earlier posts I talked about myths & histories. Another big chunk of the Bible includes regulations, or admonitions, or conduct requirements, or something. We remember the big 10 (although there is much disagreement about how you count them–awesome wikipedia chart on the four different numbering schemes.)

I’m not sure how Joe Average does on keeping the Sabath holy or avoiding coveting or bearing false witness, but there is pretty close to universal agreement among Christians that these are all MUSTs. Then you have the Sermon on the Mount from Jesus. Pretty hard core. Don’t even think about bad stuff, and, don’t just love your brother but love your enemy. (That doesn’t mean you don’t criticize your enemy, btw.) I don’t spend a lot of time avoiding breaking the Ten Commandments, but the Sermon on the Mount is surely an important tool in shaping my behavior, as well as maturing my faith.

Then you’ve got Old First Testament crazy–what to eat and wear and so on–plus New Second Testament crazy (mostly from Paul)–how long to wear your hair and no women speaking in church.

This is all much more directive than the other two sections–or the praise and poetry bits, or the social commentaries. But, I do not lose sleep at night worrying that maybe I should eat Kosher. (Although, if I was raised Jewish, I surely would be eating Kosher.) I don’t think women should be silent in Church. I guess I think these are specific instructions given to specific people. But ultimately, I think there is something less intellectual involved in my cherry picking. I’m not moved by these passages. They don’t seem alive to me. Maybe that’s silliness. I’d be interested to know what others think–particularly Christians who like me feel free to ignore these sections of the Bible.

4 replies on “Is the Bible Literally True? (Part III)”

How many of these “rules” come out of the culture of the time, rather than being a true religious mandate?

The whole premarital sex thing is always an issue to me because I think about how in those days people got married at or around puberty and so there were not 10-20 years of being single and celibate while waiting for marriage as there could be now, in today’s culture of marriage in adulthood.

So – I don’t think I answered any of your questions – those are the thoughts that I had after reading what you wrote.

I agree that the rules are laced with cultural context. Your example is a good one. Some people suggest that dietary laws kept you away from dangerous food. Divorce is another one.

Of course, the problem is that religion is supposed to influence culture. At least I think it is. So, I’m not sure what it means to say that such dictates are not mandatory because our culture has changed. For example, many people are unfaithful in their marriages. Could culture evolve to the point that “Thou shalt not committ adultry” is not a truly religous mandate? Or, not lusting in your heart, that seems pretty quaint in our hypersexualized world.

Slippery slope arguments are obnoxious, of course. And the answer is probably related to the fact that we do have judgement and are capable of using it.

I don’t know if I’m the demographic you wanted a response from, but here it is.

Religion and culture co-evolve. No, I take that back. Even seeing religion as “influenced” by culture sets it apart from culture, which is the problem.

Religion is one of the more significant elements of culture. Culture changes. This is a problem for sets of rules that are supposed to be sacred and never change. If you take a set of very specific rules about behavior that is thousands of years old and has been compiled at specific contexts in history, and influenced by politics of the time, and allow yourself no flexibility, you are in a bind.

The strength of the 10 Commandments is that there are only 10. Even a few of those are context based and could probably go these days. No other gods before me not such an issue anymore, I think. Thou shalt not steal. That’s good stuff. It was fundamental to the functioning of society then, is now, and likely always will be.

The role of men and women in society, umm, that’s harder. I think there is some wisdom embodied in the traditional division of labor that is still relevant, for example, but its cloudy. Which partner should play which role, more cloudy.

Anyway, anything you are going to make sacred better be bare bones fundimental. A framework within which there is some room to move over time.

I guess I’d like to think of religion and culture as mutually influencing each other. But maybe that doesn’t make sense. I’d like to see religion alter the “normal” course of socials mores. So, if we are ordinarily inclined to take whatever we find, I would hope that religion would be one source of discouraging us from doing that, and only take stuff that belongs to us or to no one else.

I guess the big question is what does religion bring to the table other than the collective thoughts of a group of people. The big answer is God. (The other big answer would be nothing.)

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