Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


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Katie Makkai – Pretty

I had a good cry the other day.  Bruce over at Fallen From Grace replied to a comment I made and we traded stories about missing our mothers.  My mother did such a good job raising me. She was special in so very many ways. I never thought I was pretty. I was a tomboy to the core. Had freckles all over my face where I’d played in the sun all summer long. I hated them because the other kids picked on me at school, calling me “freckle face”. When I said that she always, always retorted, “A girl without freckles is like a night without stars”. She always thought all of her children were beautiful, even when we had jiffy store feet and mud on our faces. She made me feel pretty creative, pretty amazing, pretty intelligent. It took me 30 some-odd years and some help from the Tour Guide to finally get that message. That I am all these things just the way I am.  I still get a face full of freckles when I spend the summer in the sun.  Now when I see them in the mirror I see the beauty in them no matter what others see.  I loved her and I miss her.  I hope when I have children I make them feel pretty spectacular. 

 
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Piers Morgan Interviews Benjamin Netanyahu: Winds of Change

After my first post “Conversations with an Atheist Jew”  Zoe mentioned in her comment that she’d seen an interview that Piers Morgan did with Benjamin Netanyahu.  So I decided I’d look it up and sure enough I found it on youtube.com.  For some reason I couldn’t link the video to this post, so if you want to watch it here’s the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McYj0Em3QPg&feature=feedwll&list=WL

Zoe’s comment: On March 17/11 I watched Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Piers Morgan live show. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with your series or that I’m asking any questions. Just a comment about something Netanyahu said about Moses. He said, (not a direct quote but perhaps it could be found on Piers Morgan’s site) – that Moses was a great leader but he wasn’t good at finding a good peace of land. I remember at the time thinking, ‘Why blame Moses? Isn’t it God who directed his path to the “promised land?”‘

It seems to me Harvey that Netanyahu appears to believe some of the “O.T.” is literal. Any thoughts on this?

I did find the interview in written form at CNN.com:

MORGAN: Are you saying that you might actually stop any kind of nuclear
program in Israel?

NETANYAHU: We didn’t have any civilian nuclear energy. We have some
research plants, but not anything on a significant scale. And I don’t
think we’re going to pursue civil nuclear energy in the coming years.
I think, you know, we always blame Moses, that he was our greatest
leader and one of the most gifted people in the world. He brought us
the moral code and so on, belief in one God, but then he was a bad
navigator. He brought us to the only part of the Middle East without
any gas, without any oil.
Turns out he wasn’t such a bad navigator,
because we found some gas offshore. So, I think we’ll go for the gas.
I think we’ll skip the nuclear.

Harvey offered a suggestion that, once again, this is may be an example of the Torah being used to meet political needs. As you’ll recall he stated in yesterday’s post that the book of Genesis was largely politically motivated.  But Zoe’s question stuck in my mind.  She observed that Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, might take some portions of Genesis as literal.  

The allegorical interpretation of Genesis opens up more questions than the theology of Christianity.  If Genesis is allegory and not literal did God lead Moses to the land of Israel?  Did God promise them that this was their dirt?  I’ve always thought that He did and as such have been in support of Israel and our government supporting Israel on that fact alone.  “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:3  Is this allegory, too?  What do you think?


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Conversations with an Atheist Jew

I’ve asked Harvey to assist me in creating a few posts. He is a Jew by birth and is familiar with Jewish tradition.  Having asked him to guest post he asked that I add a disclaimer:

Please note that although I was and remain a Jew, I have been a total non-believer in the Abrahamic or any other God since my early twenties. I am a Jew only by accident of birth and ethnic tradition. I believe that I understand traditional Jewish attitudes towards their God and ethical issues, but only in the academic sense. I can still read Biblical Hebrew and some Aramaic, but I am by no means a Rabbi. I have read the new testament perhaps 4 or 5 times over the years (since my wife of 30 years is Lutheran) and the Koran twice (in English, of course).

The reason I’ve asked Harvey to do this is because I’m extremely interested in the traditional Jewish perspective and interpretation of the Bible. Christianity was born out of the Jewish tradition so having that perspective would be quite beneficial, I think, to understanding Christianity and/or the rejection thereof. This will be a series of posts as I have quite a few questions. Harvey suggested a Q&A format for these posts and I readily agreed. Harvey has graciously agreed to field additional questions in the comments section.  If you have questions that are off-topic you can email them to me and we’ll make a separate post to address them.  Just click on my profile where you’ll find an email link.


Me: What would be the traditional Jewish understanding of the book of Genesis?

Harvey:  Apropos my previous comments, traditional Judaism sees Genesis as an understanding that 1) God created everything 2) He is responsible for the existence of Man and intended him to “have dominion over” (have use of and, to some extent control) the rest of creation. 3) That Woman was, to some extent, an afterthought and, as a result, was to be under the domination of Man. and 3) That Man is, by nature, imperfect, and has only himself to blame for his shortcomings (i.e. transgressions against God). As such, he deserves the difficulties and and apparent unfairness that may come his way in this life. It is clearly allegorical and, in my experience, very few Orthodox Jews would contend that it should be taken literally.

Me:  What is your understanding of the intent of the book of Genesis.  Is it literal or allegory?

Harvey:If we presume that whoever actually wrote down the tribal myths/oral traditions that we now know as the Torah/Five Books of Moses were directly inspired by God, the question of intent becomes moot.  It seems much more likely, given our present understanding that there were clearly several distinct authors and probably at different times in history, that those who actually applied ink to parchment wanted to accomplish several things:

1) Every culture in history that we know about has seen fit to create a Deity. This was done because the world, particularly in ancient times, was a frightening, dangerous place, fraught with mysteries and, finally. with death. One can imagine that primitive Man needed some comfort from imagining that the weather, change of seasons, birth and death, etc. were at least “controlled” by some higher power than their puny abilities to do so. It follows that if there exists such  “God(s)”, that it would be wise to find ways to propitiate/worship such a powerful Deity. Hence, religion came into being. Genesis seems to be the agglomeration of many of the pre-existing tribal creation myths, rewritten and modified to the particular cultural needs of what had recently become a “nation”, Biblical Israel.
2) The tribes of Israel had, in Moses’ time, only recently banded together as a primitive nation. Most of them were illiterate. Priests needed to “standardize” the accounts of how and why Israel had become and needed to continue as a “nation”. In this regard, the “intent” of the writers of Genesis was largely political, to convince their congregants to remain together as a unit and to continue to submit to the sometimes painful commands of their rulers, such as needing to go to war, sharing their limited food supplies, becoming indentured “slaves”, etc.
3) If a leader/priest wants to convince people that one has the “right” to command obedience from a large group, one can do no better than to be “ordained” by a powerful Deity to do so. Already widely understood creation myths from cultures that preceded the nation that became Israel in the times following the Exodus from Egypt could be rewritten nicely to support this idea.
It follows that Genesis is largely intended to establish that Yahweh (the God of the Hebrews) was not only our Creator who could command our obedience, but that we had somehow transgressed badly enough to deserve His wrath. This idea could be used by Priests to explain how, even if the Nation of Israel followed all of God’s commandments, He might still allow bad things (like defeat in war, pestilence, slavery, etc) to happen. Obviously, we had transgressed in the Garden of Eden or more recently (probably both), and it followed that we not only deserved these bad outcomes, but should be even more thankful that God had not visited even worse upon us. These observations, it seems to me, support the view that Genesis is mainly allegorical. Taking it to be literal truth that somehow describes actual events (most of which are said to have occurred before any men existed) requires complete suspension of all the logical, analytical intellectual methods we have learned to apply in every other facet of life’s experiences. It further forces those who do claim it to be literally and unalterably the “Word of God” to engage in extraordinary mental gymnastics to try to reconcile that belief with everything we have learned about how the Universe actually works.

 


This is actually pretty close to what I’ve come to think of the book of Genesis myself.  It was a means to galvanize a tiny nation.  Their leaders used a deity to give them the right to authority over the people.  What do you think?  Do you have questions for Harvey?


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"Gospels as Histories" iTunes U discussion

Upcoming Discussion on “Gospels as Histories”

DagoodS will be creating a post to provide a forum for discussion on the first lecture from the iTunes University class “Gospels as Histories.” While posting at LikeAChild’s blog, DagoodS, D’Ma, and I thought it would be interesting to listen to some of the same lectures regarding historical influences on Christianity and then discuss them together. I encourage anyone who’s interested to download the lecture and then stop by DagoodS blog. The post will likely be up on Monday. The lectures are FREE and quite well done.

*I lifted this from DoOrDoNot.  I thought maybe some of you might be interested as well. The first post is already up at Thoughts From a Sandwich.  HeIsSailing is also participating and has his own review up on his blog. The four of us have posted our reviews to the first lecture over at DagoodS on his post.


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A Moment of Clarity

Remember when you were a kid?  Remember when you had that 19″ television with UHF and VHF frequencies?  Remember when you were the remote?  Your favorite program was about to start.  You turned on the television and the picture was good. Yes!  You went back to the sofa, got all settled in, looked up and, GRRRRRRR, the picture was nothing but snow.

Everyone else has settled in by now.  You, the remote, have been sent back to the television to “tune it”.  The closer you get to the television the clearer the picture gets.  You turn the knobs, everybody else yelling, “there, there, just a bit more”.  You back away from the television only to find the farther away you get the fuzzier the picture.

Sent back for more tuning you begin fiddling with the rabbit ears.  When you touch the antenna it immediately becomes clearer, but not clear.  You twist them every which way, the picture becoming clearer and fuzzier, clearer and fuzzier.  You let go with your left hand.  Ah that’s a bit better.  Pick up your right foot.  Better still.  Now fold your left arm up behind your back.  Nah, that’s no good.  Stretch it out.  Now stretch your right leg in the opposite direction.  You’re not holding your mouth right.  Stick your tongue out.

Now, standing on your left foot, with your right leg stretched into the air and your left arm stretched in the opposite direction, your tongue sticking out, and standing so close to the television you’ll “go blind” the picture is finally clear.  There it is.  A moment of clarity.  By now your exhausted and don’t really even care what’s on the television.  It can’t be that good.  The rest of the family shouting, “stand right there, don’t move!”.  You lose your balance and it messes the whole picture up.  Now it’s all snowy again.  By this point nobody really cares anymore and they’ve all gone to find something else to do.

This is an awful lot like what seems to happen when I read scripture these days.  What once was crystal clear when I first tuned in became a snowy mess as soon as I backed away to get a panoramic view.  So with so many shouting from the sofa, “Turn it to the left. Hold one foot up.  Put your arm in this position. Stand on your head.  Don’t let go of the Bible.  Don’t hold the Bible so closely.  Hold the Bible closer.  Poke your tongue out.  Look at it through these special lenses.  No, those are the wrong ones, try these.”, I’m exhausted.  Makes me wonder if the programming is really that good.  Maybe I’d rather just go make mud pies and play army with the neighbor kids.   Except I can’t because it matters.


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Why Genesis Matters to Me

Some have rightly suggested that I not build an entire theology based on Genesis.  How well I know that.  I’m a former YEC (young earth creationist).  If you’ve been following since the beginning of this blog you know that.  But if you’re a recent reader you might not have read Evolution of Adam.  My previous belief about Genesis was that it was intended to be a literal reading.  There are a handful of verses in the New Testament that lend to that thinking.  But I do know all too well how detrimental building an entire theology based on that presupposition can be. 

As I began to question certain things about my faith I looked into evolution vs. creationism.  What I discovered astounded me.  I’m not certain if it was the beginning of the demise of my faith or the final straw.  What did happen is that I pretty much turned on a dime from a YEC to an evolutionist.  And having built my entire theology on creationism and the fall of man that created humongous problems for my faith.  Things which I am now trying to answer. 

I’m trying to determine if there is anything to Christianity or if it is just one religion among many – one no more true or valid than another.  I’m trying to see where Genesis now fits with any theology I might have.  There are so many opinions out there just as there are about the historicity of Christ and the resurrection.  Genesis can be viewed as allegory, literally, liturgy, partially mythological, purely mythological.  Each interpretation has it’s own set of problems. 

What I’d like to know, and there is absolutely no way to find out, is what did it’s writer intend?  Moses isn’t around to ask. So the best we can to is guess at what his intent was.  Is the allegorical view just a way to manipulate what the text says since science doesn’t fit that?  How did the Jewish people view Genesis from it’s first telling until science proved it wasn’t literally true?  I’m looking at it’s background and, yes, fixating on and picking it apart.  I appreciate the suggestions and ideas that have been presented through the comments.  They’ve been very helpful and given me a lot to think about. 


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Glorifying God: Illumination

Over the last few days I’ve been bouncing around questions about God’s purpose in creating us (mankind).  Various purposes have been proposed.  For me the most interesting of the ideas has been to glorify him.  When we talk about glorification what exactly do we mean?  Why would God need to be glorified?  If he is all that the Bible claims he is glorious already.  I put it out there that I thought that might be a bit narcissistic.  Make that a lot narcissistic.  In any case it developed into a rather pleasant exchange with David who said, “Interesting, I always thought our purpose was to glorify God (and no I don’t just mean singing hallelujah in the clouds – please).”

We went back and forth exploring what exactly this means – to glorify God.  So here are some definitions:

glorify –

1.a : to make glorious by bestowing honor, praise, or admiration b : to elevate to celestial glory
2: to light up brilliantly
3a : to represent as glorious : extol <a song glorifying romantic love> b : to cause to be or seem to be better than the actual condition <the new position is just a glorified version of the old stockroom job>
4: to give glory to (as in worship) 
David turned our attention to 2:) to light up brilliantly.  The nuance of illumination.

il·lu·mi·nate (-lm-nt)
v. il·lu·mi·nat·ed, il·lu·mi·nat·ing, il·lu·mi·nates
v.tr.
1. To provide or brighten with light.
2. To decorate or hang with lights.
3. To make understandable; clarify: “Cleverly made attacks can . . . serve to illuminate important differences between candidates” (New Republic).
4. To enlighten intellectually or spiritually; enable to understand.
5. To endow with fame or splendor; celebrate.
6. To adorn (a page of a book, for example) with ornamental designs, miniatures, or lettering in brilliant colors or precious metals.
7. To expose to or reveal by radiation.
v.intr.
1. To become lighted; glow.
2. To provide intellectual or spiritual enlightenment and understanding: “Once you decide to titillate instead of illuminate, you’re on a slippery slope” (Bill Moyers).
3. To be exposed to or revealed by radiation.
n. (-nt)
One who has or professes to have an unusual degree of enlightenment.
It helps to know if we’re all talking about the same thing.  Having asked David to elaborate, he kindly did so.
Pretty simple really…
God is light.
The plan is we become like Him.
We are light.
We illuminate (glorify) God.

I imagine a force and power in that light that makes the process richer than the description, but I’m daft.

You asked.

I did ask.  I actually really liked his reply and had a lengthy response all typed up in the comment section and then decided to make it an article to itself. You see I’m not hostile to the gospel.  It’s something I’ve believed for the better part of my life and mostly look back on with fondness (if you discount The Hard Stuff).   It’s principals and teachings have guided me through most of my life.  If I’m hostile toward anything it would be against those who think they have all the answers, who think they’ve arrived.  I’m not even really hostile toward hypocrites, at least not the ones who know that they are and admit it.  Self admission:  I’m a hypocrite.  Can I practice everything I preach inside or outside of religion?  Maybe, but if I’m honest I don’t.  I’ve shouted absolute truths from the roof tops but when it came right down to it, where the rubber meets the road, I realized truth is actually pretty relative.  When it comes down to the hard decisions in life, where reality meets ideal, absolute truth looks pretty much like a train wreck.

As for David’s answer.  That sounds really nice. And I hadn’t considered David daft at all. Sometimes we have thoughts that are awfully difficult to verbalize. But I do have questions about it.

1.)  I’ve always thought the goal was to become like him.  But that’s not the way he created us(assuming you believe the literal translation of Genesis). He created us innocent and naive and it really pissed him off when as Genesis 3:22 says, “And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  Was that the goal in creation?  For us to become like him?

2.)  We glorify God by becoming like him, which in turn illuminates him – shows him off so to speak.   Again, to whom?  For what purpose? Am I missing something here? 

See the picture I have in my head is this:  In the beginning there was God – outside of time and space, no beginning and no end.  He at some point created the angels and heavenly hosts.  Do they not illuminate him?  Maybe not enough.  So he creates earth and puts things in it, including us humans.  And apparently he’s still not satisfied. Does this all-powerful, all-knowing God keeps botching his own glorification process?

Click to enlarge

Why is that the more I read these accounts in Genesis it sounds like a human attempt to explain things that they just didn’t understand?  Kind of like when a 4 year old asks where babies come from?