I find myself compelled to write some more theology, partly because I'm in the mood to do so and partly because I wish to tie up some loose threads from my previous entry. I certainly don't claim to have found any substantial answers yet, but I feel at least that I am beginning to find my way and understand some more powerful and deeper truths. It's funny, I feel as if I am too "liberal" (whatever the hell that means, as its proper definition seems so divorced from the way most people use it) and "atheistic" (yeah, because affirming a deity certainly makes me atheistic!) for much of the Christian crowd (even though I affirm most of the tenets of orthodoxy), while I'm too religious for the atheist crowd (evidently, my credibility evaporates in a puff of fantasy for believing in a deity). Ah well.
I feel as if I must emphasise one important point, due to the tone and cynicism contained within my previous entry. I am by no means converting to atheism or taking on the title of agnostic. I find myself compelled to accept the existence of God, and at least within a roughly Christian context, though perhaps outside the bounds of strict orthodoxy. My reasons are my own and I do not wish to discuss them publicly at this point in time. I feel that they are very strong, rationally sustainable, and in a few cases, intensely personal. I also find myself increasingly dissatisfied with atheistic arguments. Too often, I find they rely excessively upon scientific inquiry and knowledge. Now, I fear that may sound anti-intellectual, which is not at all what I intend as I tend to be the first flabbergasted by the rejection or bastardisation of science by fundies. What I am trying to say is that science is the study of natural, physical existence - it is our most powerful tool for understanding the universe and its processes, and the scientific method has great academic merit and its findings must be given due consideration - and it is, by definition, not the study of the supernatural. I am by no means surprised when I am told "scientists have found absolutely no evidence for the existence of God" because I do not expect them to find it. While it is possible that science could conceivably uncover evidence irrefutably either for or against God, this is not its intended purpose. It has value in disproving literal interpretations of some religious stories as these take place within the natural world, but by itself, I do not believe it is a tool to be used in the service of (dis)proving God. It has its uses, but these must be joined to theology, philosophy, historical analysis, sociology, and other disciplines. To summarise this somewhat long-winded explanation: science is important, but we must keep in mind that it has a specific place and context within which it operates.
Anyway, the point I wanted to get to before I sidetracked myself is this: I find myself presented with a significant obstacle in that some of the Bible's contents that are attributed to God repulse me. I find some Biblical passages to be discriminatory, sexist, exclusionary, and an affront to my pacific values. For example, we see the massacres and genocide of the Heshbon (Deuteronomy 2:24-37), Bashan (Deut. 3:1-7), Jericho (Joshua 6), Syrians (I Kings 20:28-30); the genocide of the Amalekites to blot them out of history (Exodus 17:8-16, I Samuel 15:2-3), the systematic destruction of the Canaanites and their civilisation (Numbers 21:1-3), and taking away 32,000 virgins - have a wild guess why! - after slaughtering the rest of the Midianites and stealing their property (Numbers 31). These are not presented simply as historical accounts; if they were, I could accept them without qualms as there is no problem with a historical account of what has actually happened. They are presented as ordained by God; he is depicted as ordaining, commanding, and blessing these massacres, hardening the hearts of those to be exterminated, and handing over the victims to the Israelites.
This is reprehensible. It is sickening, outrageous, immoral, and despicable. We see a bloodthirsty, aggressive, psychopathic deity ordaining the barbaric systematic slaughter of his own creation for the most piddling reasons. We do not see grace, mercy, justice, or tolerance. However, what I consider to be one of the worst aspects is that generations of Christians have not stood up against this - indeed, they do not even seem to give this much attention. This matter is avoided, ignored, or forgotten; it is given a back seat and not deemed worthy of serious contemplation. And when it is addressed, it is sometimes sickeningly twisted into a positive context: I vividly remember a Christian Education lesson when I was ten that depicted the siege of Jericho as this fantastic, glorious event that shows God's power and blessing! I consider this to be heinous. Today, we condemn genocides such as those in Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Bangladesh in no uncertain terms. When someone commits a murder and claims they were told to do so by God, they are mocked and considered insane and psychopathic. And yet the Bible is given a free pass: genocides are not condemned, and although today's psychopaths acting in the name of God are decried, the Old Testament's psychopaths are praised! I find this double standard to be incomprehensible. Why do Christians so outwardly place an emphasis on morals and ignore the scruples within their own camp?
Here is where I feel it becomes important to consider the historical context, and this is what makes me feel more at ease with accepting Christianity while still condemning some of the Bible's contents as absolutely heinous. We must remember that the Old Testament is a collection of writings from many different eras that commit to word a much older oral tradition. This oral tradition was naturally used to support the Israelities - to create a sense of unity and pride, to assert themselves, and to define themselves as a privileged "us" against an unprivileged "other". We must continually bear this in mind. The text may be full of truths about God, truths passed down since humanity's first awareness of the supernatural, but it must be read with a vigorously critical eye to recognise what is myth or legend, what is political propaganda, and what is exaggeration or the simple distortion of the ages. We cannot read the Old Testament like a modern book, clearly defined and well justified, footnoted and referenced for our ease of confirmation. We have to continually remember its historical origins.
It is partly for this reason that I place much heavier emphasis on the New Testament and allow it to interpret the Old Testament. What the New Testament depicts is an account far closer to the source: a depiction of a direct interaction between God and man (I leave the arguments in favour of Jesus for another time; I take them for granted in the following for the sake of brevity). From Jesus's teachings, we learn the truth of God, and the writings have little to no chance to be distorted by centuries of oral tradition. We may have reason to question the selection of books within the canon, but the books outside the canon are readily accessible and can be assessed on their merits. As I believe the New Testament provides a sufficiently direct encounter with God, I feel we can draw much understanding of God's nature from it - and we see beautiful messages of peace, harmony, grace, mercy, acceptance, and above all, love. It is through this angle that I find my moral concerns with Christianity are reconciled and the Old Testament becomes comprehensible.
Let's hope that makes sense. I'm not normally awake at such a late hour! Oh, and I would just like to say that Transatlantic's Stranger In Your Soul is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever made by anyone.