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Monday, August 7, 2017

History or Meaning?

As we watch the churches drain of members, we older folks often look in wonder and confusion. Why for heaven's sake, do the people leave? I have a couple of thoughts to ponder.

I think the "church" is often looked at as full of myth mistaken as fact, full of hypocrites who do not live as preached, irrelevant as to finding one's way in life and taught from an often hysterical tone.

I lay this partially to the lack of genuine Bible scholarship shared with the general population, and therefore to the adherence of the old notion that the Bible is literally the Word of God dictated to various people over time. So it refuses to note the contradictions, the horrible violence tried to be sold as God's directive, the recent addition of the Bible to the human scene (writing starting less than 3,000 years and ending 2,000 years ago), not to mention ignoring much of the science of today, or even common sense.

For over 200 years, Bible scholarship has shown a different view of the Bible, a not literal historic library of books but rather a collection of writings about people over many generations trying to make sense of God and life. The writings were written centuries after the stories, in the case of the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures, and tens of decades in the case of the New Testament. The awareness has expanded and become more and more solid. In good seminaries, this scholarship is taught, but it is seldom passed on in the pulpit from the clergy who know better but simply pass on old ignorance, maybe to not rock the boat. Well, for whatever reason I really am not sure. I have personally heard clergy say, for example: "My congregation gets on me if I haven't given them hell and damnation for awhile. Even though I know there is no hell, I give it to them once in awhile."

To take words written by pre-science people as literal is absurd. For example they believed: the earth was the center of a 3 level universe; God lived above in the heavens so "he" could look down in order to watch the goings on; he kept a record book and would use it as evidence against you; there was no idea among these people of galaxies and what stars were or anything scientific; if anything bad happened to you or your tribe, it was retribution from a very angry God; illness and physical afflictions came from demons sent to punish people who deserved it; women were not quite human and had no rights to speak of; weather showed God's pleasure or wrath, etc. etc. etc.

On the other hand, to take the words as a glimmer of how people experienced God over those centuries can lead to deep meaning for us today. How people experienced God in Isaiah or Jesus, for example, tells us a lot. How we can experience God in this day can be informed by these writings.

As Marcus Borg shared, we can set aside whether or not this or that happened, and we can explore - what does it mean.

If you do want to go on a more scholarly search, I recommend books and Youtube sharings by John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossen, Marcus Borg, Matthew Fox, to name a few. My quest began when I was just out of high school and I came upon "Man and His Gods," by Homer Smith. It blew my mind apart and led me away from any church, and eventually into my spiritual journey that is the core of my being and back to church.

I am sure that the Way of Christ, the lessons of Jesus, can play a powerful role in healing the broken people and nations and usher in Peace both inner and outer. I am also sure this will not happen if we do not shift from ignorance to full meaning, letting go of our juvenile understanding and maturing in spiritual wisdom.

God be with us. Lead us on.

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