Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Different Way to View the Bible

Many Christians view the Bible as the inspired word of God. Some take it even further. They believe that it is the inerrant word of their creator. Either way, both viewpoints are a real turnoff to most agnostics and atheists. It defies rational belief that a collection of documents so rife with error and contradiction could come from an all-knowing being!

If only more Christians would view the Bible like philosophical Taoists view the Tao Te Ching and the Chuang Tzu, maybe more skeptics would be willing to give Christianity a second look or at least not ridicule it so much.

Most Taoist scholars accept the notion that Lao Tzu most likely did not write the book ascribed to him. For one thing, Lao Tzu means "old boy" or "old master". Consequently, this title doesn't really provide much clue as to who Lao Tzu actually was. In fact, it is commonly accepted that Lao Tzu was most likely a fictional character anyway.

While there is some confirmation that Chuang Tzu was an actual person, most scholars believe that he only wrote a small portion (the "inner chapters") of the book named after him. The rest of the text most likely was written by later disciples and/or students.

How does this impact both books? For one thing, there is no claim to divine inspiration. These works simply were attributed to two sages, men of wisdom. There are many references to people or places that have been lost to antiquity. No one feels the need to try to fix errors or perform mental gymnastics in order to smooth over mixed messages or contradictions.

We acknowledge that much of the text from these works that exist today did not come from the pen or the imagination of the two individuals it was ascribed to. These texts were developed and brought together over hundreds (or thousands) of years and the messages contained therein represent diverse schools of thought. (Confucian and Mohist influences can be readily seen in places.) In time, these different perspectives coalesced into the philosophy we refer to today as Taoism.

Imagine if we applied this same perspective to the Christian Bible. It would remove the need for endless debates as to the authentic authors of particular books. People would come to understand that different sections of both the Old and New Testaments represent differing political, historical and philosophical schools of thought.

Such a viewpoint would provide an understanding as to why so many contradictions are present. An historical event, parable or principle told by one set of authors simply was viewed differently by those of a different school. It would no longer cause readers to feel the need to reconcile elements that don't add up into a whole.

Of course, this approach would change the nature of the Bible altogether. No longer would it be viewed as a direct communique between the deity and humankind; it would become a document by which people could read to gain insight and to spur reflection of their experiences in the here and now.

7 comments:

  1. Christianity without The Bible being divinely inspired would not be Christianity at all. The fundamental message of Christianity is that of the divine taking human form and redeeming humans from their sins through his self-sacrifice.

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  2. Well, it certainly wouldn't be the belief system it is now, but that does not mean it would necessarily disintegrate either. All religions evolve with time. I mean, the Christianity of today is an altogether different Christianity than, say, in 1600 or 100 CE.

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  3. Just because something isn't the word of God doesn't mean you can't take it as the truth. The Bible says that Jesus was both God and man and took away the sins of the world. Even if the Bible weren't the word of God its contents could still be true.
    This sounds a bit like Christian Mysticism. Yes?

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  4. "Well, it certainly wouldn't be the belief system it is now, but that does not mean it would necessarily disintegrate either. All religions evolve with time. I mean, the Christianity of today is an altogether different Christianity than, say, in 1600 or 100 CE."

    I disagree. The basic doctrines of Christianity have remained the same for Orthodox (Eastern European) Christians, and other conservative churches, for over 1500 years. Catholic doctrine, though it went through some ritual changes last century, is also largely unchanged. The majority of Protestant churches (there are thousands of them)are relatively young and often seem unfocused, so you may be right about them.

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  5. Poet,
    Agreed. I think the TTC contains a lot of truth and it was written solely by humankind.

    Mysticism ain't such a bad idea in my book.

    Gerard,
    While I do not pretend to be an authority on "orthodox" Christianity, I would still argue that it too has changed. The world of today is far different than the world in which Jesus lived.

    We have greater knowledge, technology and understanding. Issues that didn't exist then, exist now. Our understanding of the cosmos and ourselves has changed greatly over these past two centuries.

    This is NOT to suggest that we have it all figured out. Far from it. But everything evolves -- it's the way of the universe. When things or beings stop evolving, they die.

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  6. Trey, while i agree that the secular world has changed much over time, your comment was that Christianity was "altogether different" than it was centuries ago. I have some familiarity with Orthodox Christianity, its doctrines and rituals, and it has changed very little, if any,for over 1000 years. I also think other old, conservative churches are largely the same.

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  7. i agree with this post... i think christians would be much more pleasant people if they took the bible within its cultural context. many issues, such as homosexuality, slavery, and women's roles, have changed so much over time that the ideas presented in the bible are actually referring to different issues entirely! for example, in jesus' time, homosexuality was often connected with pedophilia, orgies, and rape! it's no wonder that the bible warned against such practices. however, why apply the same fire and brimstone approach to same-sex couples in a loving, consentual relationship?

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