Sunday, June 30, 2019

Why historicity is important

Why Historicity is Important.

Glenn R. Morton June 9, 2020

What I want to talk about concerns why historicity in Scripture is important. Unlike almost any other religion, Christianity is a historically based religion. It’s fundamental tenet is that Jesus rose from the grave. If that didn’t happen, then Christianity is utterly false. But that was a historical event, and unfortunately, too many theologians and Christians have yielded to science the ability to judge if something is true or false. Too many theologians and Christians have reserved to themselves only things that can’t be proven–values. It is best expressed by Stephen Jay Gould’s famous nonoverlapping magisteria.

The text of Humani Generis focuses on the magisterium (or teaching authority) of the Church—a word derived not from any concept of majesty or awe but from the different notion of teaching, for magister is Latin for “teacher.” We may, I think, adopt this word and concept to express the central point of this essay and the principled resolution of supposed “conflict” or “warfare” between science and religion. No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority—and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or “nonoverlapping magisteria”).”

“The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.” Gould, S. J. (1997).
“Nonoverlapping Magisteria.” Natural History 106 (March): 16–22 and 60-62.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a ‘value’ issue. It is a question of historical truth or falsehood. Science would deny the resurrection and say it was impossible, so going along with the Pope and Gould, relegating to science judgments of historical fact, means Christianity’s most fundamental tenet is deemed false, but most importantly, we Christians stupidly place those who oppose us as judges over this! . Once we are in that position, nothing else in the Bible matters. If the bodily resurrection didn’t happen, then we have nothing. A spiritual resurrection, as some have suggested, means nothing–it leaves no evidence at all, not even for the 12 disciples.

If Christians believe that the bodily resurrection of Jesus actually happened, then it seems absurd to me, for us to think that God couldn’t or wouldn’t do other miracles reported in the Bible, like the resurrection of Lazarus, the water to wine, the floating ax head, the lack of rain brought upon Israel by Elijah. Eventually we have to look at the miracles which were the reason Jesus’ resurrection was necessary. The need for Jesus’ death and bodily resurrection was because of sin. Sin is explained in the Bible in a story deemed false by most Christians. If that story is false, one could ask if there is any reason to believe Christian theology? Logically, H. G. Wells explains what happens to Christianity if the story is false. Wells says.

If all the animals and man have been evolved in this ascendant manner, then there would have been no first parents, no Eden, and no Fall. And if there had been no Fall, the entire historical fabric of Christianity, the story of the first sin and the reason for an atonement, upon which current teaching bases Christian emotion and morality, collapses like a house of cards.” H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, (Garden City: Doubleday, 1961), p. 776-777

For him the issue was evolution. I have offered a way for God to control evolution, so to me, the issue is, "Did we have a primal pair’. Again a historical question, not a value question, and again, by Christians acceding to the non-overlapping magisteria, are ceding to others the ultimate judgment about the truth or falsity of our religion. Science judges that we have had no primal pair back to 200,000 years ago. And unfortunately, Christians don’t want to push Adam further back in time to a time we could have had a primal pair. Christians have grown comfortable with a religion lacking reality.

Furthermore, by succumbing to this idea of non-overlapping magisteria, we make Christian values equivalent to the values of every other religion in the world. I always wonder why one should believe in a religion that we believe starts with falsehoods. If an adherent to a religion doesn’t believe it’s tenets, why should anyone else believe it?

A few years ago, my church asked a rabbi in to explain Judaism to us. I attended and I asked the rabbi, “What was the biggest reason to be a Jew?” I was thinking I would get an answer like, “Because I believe it is metaphysically true!” I would have respected that answer. If she believes her religion, she should believe she is right and I am wrong. But what she answered was that the biggest reason to be a Jew was because her parents were Jewish. I certainly am not a Christian because my parents were Christian. My dad was an atheist and my mother a bible spouting, murderous sociopath. I thought that joining a religion because your parents joined was an insufficient reason to be in any religion. I then asked if all we have in religion is Saturday or Sunday fellowship clubs? The answer was basically we do. It is community that matters. I can find community in the local pool hall!

From my perspective, what matters is if the religion is true or not. If Buddhism is actually true, then my behavior needs to reflect that belief.The Dhammapada says:

" 411 Him I call indeed a Brahmana who has no interests , and when he has understood (the truth), does not say How , how? and who has reached the depth of the Immortal.
412 Him I call indeed a Brahmana who in this world has risen above both ties, good and evil, who is free from grief, from sin, and from impurity.
413 Him I call indeed a Brahmana who is bright like the moon, pure, serene, undisturbed, and in whom all gaiety is extinct.
414 Him I call indeed a Brahmana who has traversed this miry road, the impassable world, difficult to pass, and its vanity, who has gone through, and reached the other shore, is thoughtful, steadfast, free from doubts, free from attachment, and content.
415 Him I call indeed a Brahmana who in this world, having abandoned all desires, travels about without a home, and in whom all concupiscence is extinct.
" The Dhammapada: The Essential Teachings of the Buddha, Transl by Dr. Friedrich Max Muller, (London: Watkins Publishing, 2006), p. 93

So, if they are correct, I am not to have any interests, . not ask ‘how’, i.e. for deeper understanding, free from grief , not to have sin and impurity, have no gaiety , abandoned all desires, having no home and no desire for riches.

While there is some overlap with Christian values, the differences are interesting. I am not to have fun, desires interests or curiosity in Buddhism. One or the other or both of these religions are untrue. Saying that ‘values’ belongs to religion leaves us with a great uncertainty of which values? Whose values? If these values are different but all equally valid, they are also all equally false.
Some forms of Bhuddism require Mo divination whereby one rolls the dice to determine what to eat at a restaurant. That too is a value. Are Christian values better than those? If not, then all we have are various community clubs none of which have metaphysical value.

Christianity must reclaim its stake in history or universalism, which leads to silly consequences and moral equivalency will be the future, all morals are equal and equally worthless. I fear it is already too late. In some sense, the world is already in the great falling away.

Many Christians don’t believe anything in early Genesis is true, but they believe we are still to believe the ‘spiritual lessons’ in it, they should consider this. We don’t talk like this about any other area of knowledge. We don’t wax eloquent about the deep life meaning in the Ptolemaic theory. Nor do we proclaim that phlogiston is deeply meaningful and instructive of how we should live our lives. We proclaim those theories false and worth forgetting. If the early part of Genesis is false, why not just proclaim it as such and then forget the religion?

When interpreting Scripture, we have several steps.

1.the Hebrew word

2.the list of possible English equivalents for that Hebrew word.

3.the choice, from that list, once made, should make sense, and not lead to obvious falsehood. If there is no way to avoid obvious falsehood from the list of possible translational choices, then we should conclude the Bible is false, not conclude that it is true(poetry excepted–to head off the usual and boring ‘trees clap their hands’ question rote critics throw at me).

4.The interpretation of the final English version of the passage.

I don’t think it is good policy for a Christian to read a passage and not try to rework the possible translations list, to see if the passage could say something that made more sense–i.e. Tubalcain and his ‘metal work’. Unfortunately though this is the approach taken by too many Christians. If they can’t find a solution in 30 min, they give up, proclaim the passage false and move on. I find little difference between this and what Xi Ji Ping is wanting to do. He too is picking and choosing what passages of the Bible we should believe.

Beijing no longer wants simply to repress religion but to transform it. I Lian, a. professor at Duke University Divinity School, tells me that the Communist Party wants to ‘create a new version of Christianity shorn of its transcendent visions and values.’

“The centerpiece of this campaign is a major new undertaking to rewrite holy scripture. China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said late last year that Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Yang had presided over a meeting of so-called scholars and ‘religious people from grassroots level’ to discuss ‘ making accurate and authoritative interpretations of classical doctrines to keep pace with the times.’ ”

“It would take years to create official state translations of the Bible, Quran and other religious texts. Purging passages deemed incompatible with the ‘core socialist values’ while retaining a measure of the original poetry—this would require literary achievement and deep religious knowledge, both of which are lacking in the party’s hand-picked experts. Even entertaining such an idea reveals Beijing’s staggering ‘arrogance of power,’ Mr Lian says, noting that Chinese emperors never attempted such a feat…

“Why does Beijing seek, as Mr. Lian puts it, ‘to drain Christianity of its spirit’? One explanation is generalized hostility to religion.”
Matthew Taylor King, “The Gospel According To Xi” The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2020, p. A15

Isn’t deciding what passages are ‘deemed incompatible’ with modern science the same as what Xi is doing, at least in style. This has bothered me for a long time about the more liberal branches of Christianity, where instead of putting the Bible at risk of being declared wrong, they drain the power from it by declaring that God didn’t do any of those silly things like, have a garden of Eden, a talking snake, a flood, etc. They say, without evidence, that none of that was meant to be true! Yet, we are still told to believe that God raised 2 men from the dead in the first century, Lazarus after 4 days and Jesus after 3. If God could do that, why on earth do we choose to disbelieve he could do all the other miracles? We chose that by ‘purging’ passages we deem incompatible with modern times. That is always the claim isn’t it–that we must make God more modern. I think it would be more honest to simply say God is not there and forget the religion than to modify it so much that it no longer has any spirit in it.

The poor in China can not afford the hospitals–hospitals are cash only operations. Indeed when I was in China a Conoco couple were saving $10,000 cash up for the wife’s operation. The maid’s boyfriend found out about the cash, came in when they expected everyone to be gone and found the wife home sick. He murdered her and took the cash. I say this because in the situation below, the Christian’s only hope is healing from Jesus. They can’t afford the doctors, and the party doesn’t pay for healthcare for peasants.

Communist Party of China (CPC) officials visited believers- homes in Yugan county of Jiangxi province-where about 10 percent of the population is Christian. They urged residents to replace personal religious displays with posters of President Xi Jinping; more than 600 removed Christian symbols from their living rooms, and 453 hung portraits of the Communist leader, according to SCMP.
"The efforts were part of a government campaign to alleviate poverty in the region, since some CPC members believe families- faith is to blame for their financial woes, according to SCMP. The poster swaps in villagers homes represent the party’s desire to have residents look to their leaders, rather than their Savior, for assistance.”
Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses," the head of the government campaign told SCMP. "But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing, and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi.

China Tells Christians to Replace Images of Jesus with Communist President

Propaganda effort in poor province latest sign of Xi Jinping consolidating control.

For scientifically minded Christians, who believe miracles don’t happen, is it then the right thing for the Communist party to do to those Christians–remove religious symbols, replacing them with pictures of Xi? Some may say that the peasants have misplaced faith in God, which is exactly what the party is saying. Do they? Does God not perform miracles? This is an important question because if miracles can happen, even today, why couldn’t the miracle of a talking snake take place? Why do we reject what the Bible says happened in light of the fact that the greatest miracle of all was the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Such a big miracle means all others are small potatoes Why do we think God is impotent to have had a Garden of Eden?

In my mind, the Communist party is doing the same thing as many of us do every day–picking and choosing what miracles we will allow God to do! Getting rid of that limit on God’s power, means that the early stories of Genesis just might well be true, and we like the Communists, don’t believe in the power of God.

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