Originally Posted by Harry Boy
I didn't mean to be rude, but the bible is a very confusing book and it is so screwed up that it makes one believe that there just might be something to this "God Stuff"
When you sit by yourself in a field on a bright starlit night and look up you have to realize that all that
***** up there just didn't happen with a big bang and if it did, where did the "big bang" come from--
Harry, I like you so much better when you're asking questions than stating answers
Of course, we must still recognize that the idea "where did THAT come from" applies to God as well. So there you are. An unmoved mover... but all you've done is removed the question by saying "Here's the rules of God: God was always there and can do anything. NOW... doesn't it make sense that all those stars were caused by something?"
So we've put the bit that our rational minds can't get around in a God-shaped box, and I think for many people, that is what God is,
the ultimate answer to questions with no answers -- something we can point to at the end of reason. Not such a scandalous statement, since reason is by no means the only faculty at our disposal -- it is just the one we can best check for truth.
But back to the OP - Disco, I think your questions are fantastic, and all believing Jews and Christians should be answering them. Muslims have different versions of Hebrew bible stories, not the Hebrew bible itself, but they should be asking similar questions.
I can give you my
One must look at the bible as a book written by men.
The thinking believer must look at that book as encapsulating the times in which each story was written.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants, so this is no knock against ancient men. But their minds were full of what I shall have to call sludge.
Our minds are less full of sludge. It is more like murky gutter water.
Now: As an individual, your favorite prophet, psalmist, messiah, etc., could have been worthy of having his insights preserved. The sludge of his mind, as it were, was ambient sludge, born of the times in which he wrote.
But his writing turned sludge into, let's say, watery mud, for the people of his times.
Similarly, a modern man can be born into a time when nice brown gutter water is the order of the day -- much clearer than sludge. His own mind can be completely sludgy by comparison to his contemporaries. Yet very few people say that once you get to the clouds in an airplane, you should start looking for the throne of God, or that there are four corners to the earth. We all know better. The ambient sludge is greatly reduced.
For the thinking believer, we have to look at biblical stories as products of their times. With apologies to the fundamentalists, we also must therefore understand that a good deal of what we read is flat out wrong and quite bad. I am not sure I count the passages recounted here as among the unsalvageable. For example, if you have a law that says you can kidnap a neighbor, be he of your people or not, and sell him into slavery, you are up yet a worse creek than to say, during the biblical era, that slavery is condoned under some circumstances
(By the way, the "peculiar institution" as practiced in the ancient Jewish theocracy was different from "slavery" as you know it. "Servant" might be more accurate, in practice. But that's a bit nitpicky. In the modern state we wouldn't allow it in the open, and certainly would not say it has God's imprimateur.)
But why are you better off to follow this biblical notion to buy a slave from the aliens among you, or from the nations.... than to just say you may buy a slave?
Well, first of all, you didn't make a slave of one of your own people, but you are willing to take advantage of another people which will do so.
Ergo, you are defining yourself as unwilling to enslave your own.
And in the 12th century BCE, "your own" was a pretty damn important concept.
Now, in the 21st century CE, "your own" has grown to include, hopefully, all peoples. Your ambient level of morality has grown, and can therefore be enhanced all the more -- but only for the thinking believer.
The thinking believer has to look at underlying principles: why
were things forbidden? Why
were other things permitted?
In the case of slavery, why it was forbidden among one's own people is obvious. Why it was explicitly allowed vis a vis aliens among one's people is another matter entirely. It means only that the Hebrews can not make
slaves, but, given that others are making slaves all the time, they could buy
Hardly a defensible position, in a vacuum; but at the time, other peoples could make and
buy slaves. Now ask yourself one question: If every people followed the passage in Leviticus, from whom would you buy a slave?
In any event, it is a rationalization. It is the rationalization of an ancient people among other ancient people, with a dawning moral imagination. But the implication is clear: It is wrong to make a man a slave. It is perhaps wrong to buy or use a slave as well, but, as you note in the translation, it is permitted.
Several things become apparent from such an analysis:
1) The analysis is fragile. Texts contradict one another. Exodus 21:2-6 lay down the rules for freeing servants every seventh year -- but specify "When you buy a Hebrew servant." We must understand the passage from Leviticus, therefore, to be an "improvement" on the Exodus law, which had hitherto pertained. Taken as a "blueprint" for modern living this seems like the purest hypocrisy.
2) However, when one considers a development over time, the Hebrews went from a slave people, to a slaveholding and slavemaking people, to simply a slaveholding people. What is the next step in the progression? The realization that slavery itself is the underlying evil. What are you most likely to see celebrated in the modern Jewish Passover? A festival of liberation for "all
who are hungry," and "for all
who are in bondage."
3) Such analyses are the crux, no pun intended, of the modern discussion of whether the bible is blueprint or inspiration. If it is to be inspiration, we must interpret. So anybody who says "I go by the word of GOD, not man's interpretations," is full of bere****,
as we might say in Hebrew (that's just the Hebrew name for Genesis, literally meaning "in the beginning.")
4) Such analyses offer the possibility of squaring biblical monotheism with modern sensibilities by way of a developing morality. They also point to ancient scripture as similar to other competing ancient scriptures. The thinking believer, therefore, has to say he is studying his
religion, not "the best" religion, since we have established that the value of these scriptures is in the motion of morality over time, both within the scriptures, and through the community's development even after the canon is established. The same, I am sure, could be said for believers in other scriptures. They may be holy to somebody. They are just not holy to me.
5) whoever said that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism define 90% of the world's religions is a big dum dum head (that's a technical term.) Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism alone make up wayyyyy more than 10%. Include communism (as some do,) and it's an even sillier statement. Worse yet, if you are talking about the number of religions,
rather than the number of adherents,
these three faiths, taken together, are but a drop in the bucket (even if you include every schismatic variation.)
So to summarize: For the believer, the bible must be something extraordinary. But for the thinking man, it can not be the literal word and will of God, particularly in cases where it contradicts itself.
For the thinking believer, it is a document - or more accurately, a collection of documents - that show a journey from the most primitive concept of relation to the Other, toward a oneness with