Archive for January, 2010

deconstructing daniel

According to Wikipedia, cognitive dissonance is “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.” The more rigid a religion is in its creeds, the more cognitive dissonance can result from clashes with the real world. It is very hard for me to point to just one thing that created enough cognitive dissonance for me to start the questioning process. But perhaps the final straw came from a sermon on the book of Daniel, which for me called the doctrine of inerrancy into question.

The sermon itself was an exposition on the prophesies contained in the book of Daniel, the point being that if God was faithful to answer prophesies then, we ourselves should be able to trust him now. The pastor had waded through a lot of complex material in an attempt to explain what the the prophesies in Daniel were really about and how they had played out in history. While I admired his attempt to grapple with the material, as a history buff the solutions he presented seemed contrived, like they were trying to force the evidence to meet preconceived conclusions. Enough for me to venture onto the Internet in search for more information. A dangerous precedent!

Bonus points if you can identify this lion

In a nutshell, the book of Daniel is held up as including prophesies of the coming of the Messiah, along with predictions of various kings and kingdoms coming and going. According to this website, “the book itself claims to be the work of an exiled Jew in Babylon, during the period of about 586 to 536 BCE.” Since a number of the prophesies appear to deal with events which transpired around 165 BCE, an early dating of 586 BCE could indeed constitute fulfilled prophesies.

The general consensus of modern biblical scholars however places the writings to around the time period of 165 BCE. One reason for this, as fundamentalists are glad to point out, is that a later dating, after the events “foretold” already transpired, does not depend on a belief in supernaturally fulfilled prophesies . Unfortunately for the fundamentalists, there are other solid literary and historic clues which support this later dating.

Viewed as a later writing, the purposes of the book can be understood a different way:

Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God’s plan for his people.

It didn’t take much reading to realize this view of the book just made more sense to me. I was actually asked about a year later by this same pastor “what was in your heart that made you think this view of Daniel was true?” I replied that I did not think it was anything in my heart making me think that way, it is just where the evidence seemed to lead. I really think it is only a “heart issue” that causes someone to believe in the earlier dating of Daniel, because of a desire to maintain a certain view of the bible rather than more dispassionately considering what is really going on in the book. Of course this is all based on my own limited understanding of the textual issues and historical details at hand, but that is the best I can do. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

For me faith pretty much fell apart at that point. I felt the advice I received to deal with those doubts and to try to hold on to faith all pointed to returning to a blind trust of the bible. Much of what I read seemed to exhort people to reject their own reason (as human, corrupt, and fallible) and accept the sweet and pure truth of God’s word the bible. Which to me still sounds like a clarion call to shut off your mind and just believe.

Maybe if I had been in a more progressive tradition I would have dealt with those doubts differently. Maybe if I had been surrounded by voices calling me to more flexible view of scripture I would have been able to see a different way. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t, and faith made more sense discarded than clung to at that point. On one hand it hurt and I responded with a lot of anger. On the other hand it has helped me to think for myself, to form my own opinions, and to read, read, read. And to be honest that has been a pretty good deal for me. I am grateful for a deconstructed faith.

January 31, 2010 at 11:28 pm 24 comments

irreducible complexity

Here is a link to a really good new blog, Irreducible Complexity.

The author of the blog, Ian, says about himself and his writing:

I study the bible, with bits of Christian origins and early Christianity thrown in. I’m also an atheist, both in the sense of not-believing-there-is-a-God, and believing-there-is-no-God. I’m fascinated by all kinds of things, from typography to chess, from conlangs to competitive swimming, from creative cartography to the mathematics of music.

This is my bible and religion blog. I have been studying the bible for 20 years now. I’m particularly interested in New Testament criticism, although I have a soft spot for non-canonical Christian literature and try to dabble and keep up with the broad movements in Hebrew Bible scholarship and early church history.

Ian is a very intelligent, sympathetic, and well-informed writer. If you are interested in the Bible and Christianity you will definitely learn something by visiting his site. Enjoy!

January 27, 2010 at 10:58 pm 5 comments

“yoked marriages” page

I have added a short page to the top of this site to gather links about the role of religious belief in marriage. Please take a moment to check it out. Any feedback positive or negative would be much appreciated. Thanks!

January 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm 2 comments

unequally yoked or a marriage made in heaven

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”
2 Corinthians 6:14-15, King James Version

In reading about fundamentalism I have been better able to understand my own experiences in Christianity. But it can be upsetting when I see fundamentalist assumptions I didn’t really think about before or which did not affect me much. Fundamentalists assert their principles are universally Christian and their doctrines comprehensive, but that does not mean they really are. Like the Christian concern of being “unequally yoked” in marriage to an unbeliever.

Google the phrase “unequally yoked” and you will find web site after web site discussing the mortal danger a Christian faces if they marry an unbeliever, and web site after web site offering support for Christians who find themselves for whatever reason in this undesirable condition. Now while the verse quoted above does not speak specifically to marriage, I would agree it supports the principal that Christians are supposed to be uniquely separated and different from those around them, with obvious implications for marriage. But are there other ways of looking at this verse?

First, I will say that the verse contains a healthy dose of common sense, completely apart from any issue of biblical authority. Who would tell another person to be unequally matched in marriage? Sure, we celebrate diversity between married partners, but most marriages are built on sharing things in common.

Are shared religious beliefs alone enough for two people to be considered “equally yoked?” Consider two Christians from radically different cultures or socio-economic backgrounds. Maybe shared religious belief will provide adequate compatibility in marriage, but maybe not. What about their approaches to raising children, to politics, to women working outside the home, to caring for the poor, to watching TV, to which way the toilet paper roll goes? Perhaps being equally yoked entails more than just a faith commitment. Maybe there is more complexity and nuance to marital relationships.

Or what if beliefs change over time even if both partners remain Christian? As a recent commenter here noted: “. . . my husband and I are so far apart in our beliefs (even though we are both believers) that we might as well be atheist/Christian. His God is not the God I worship for sure. I am very progressive. He is . . . ahhhh . . . he is not.” I do not know their situation, but I would think it is likely they did not enter marriage that far apart. Or if they did, things have changed in some way since they were married.

I think the Christian emphasis on being unequally yoked in marriage exacerbates situations which are already difficult to navigate. All marriages are hard at times, and a measure of biblical condemnation does not help. Fundamentalists assert there is only one way to interpret the bible – their literalistic way, with their own sets of rules and a black and white view of the world. If one accepts the fundamentalist false dichotomy they are left either embracing that entire vision of Christianity or rejecting it all, without much middle ground. And perhaps one is then left with embracing everything about their spouse or rejecting them entirely, emotionally and intellectually if not physically.

I have rejected conservative Evangelicalism, and in doing so have rejected its fundamentalist underpinnings. I reject fundamentalist thinking regardless of what direction it comes from, conservative or liberal, theist or atheist. And I reject any assertion that my marriage is going to fail because we are unequally yoked. In fact, I think my wife and I are quite equally yoked and compatible, and I am not going to have fundamentalists define my marriage otherwise.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever, is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8).

January 16, 2010 at 3:05 am 36 comments

budgies and elephants

I never read blogs until about eighteen months ago, just never got into them, now I follow a bunch. Most of them I read because I learn new things in one way or another, all but a couple are related to religion in some shape or form. The ones I tend to benefit from the most are by people who have come from a similar conservative Evangelicalism and either left or reworked their beliefs in order to stay. It can be a lonely experience, for me not because I was alienated by friends but just because they did not share a similar experience. Yes, blogs have their limitations, and “just anyone can write anything out there,” but really all forms of communication have limitations and particular uses. The Internet is pretty interesting that way, bringing together people who have very specific interests or backgrounds.

I have especially appreciated blogs where people share something of how their changing beliefs affected their friendships with others, particularly in marriage. It is helpful to know there are others finding their way through similar struggles; that usually isn’t something found in the public library. Regarding writing about marriage, The Woeful Budgie wrote a particularly poignant and heartfelt post, you can read it here. She expresses so well how hard it can be to talk about these things in a marriage.

If you can relate in some way or know of other blogs like that, please take a moment to leave a comment. And if you think it sounds strange, atimetorend recommending a post by The Woeful Budgie, don’t worry, I do too!

January 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm 12 comments

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