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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Honest Advent: Am I Above the Bible?

Image text: "Why we believe the Bible." Yeah, acting as if "believe the bible" is a well-defined statement is a HUGE red flag. Image source.

Today's Honest Advent reading is Mark 13:33-37:
"Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back— whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
All right. Well the context here is Jesus is talking about the end of the world or the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (take your pick). SO MUCH SIDE-EYE from me for whoever decided to include this in a list of "Advent readings." Like we're supposed to read it and think it's about how Jesus is coming, as in, Christmas will be soon, but it's not about that at all.

Unless- wait. Are there some Christians who draw some kind of connection between Advent and "the second coming"? Like, both are about "waiting for Jesus to come." Wow I have never thought of that before.

And this bit about "keeping watch"- yeah, I don't buy that. I don't expect "the second coming" to happen in my lifetime, so I'm not going to modify my behavior based on it. If we should be kind to people, well there are way better reasons to be kind to people besides "what if Jesus suddenly appears when you are being mean?" Really not a fan of fear-based obedience.

(And I don't necessarily believe in "the second coming" anyway. I believe in resurrection- someday the whole world will be resurrected, but I don't really have any specific beliefs about the details. ["Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."] But no, it won't be like the Left Behind books.)

All right. So overall I feel kind of "meh" about this Mark 13 passage. But here's what I really want to talk about today: For Honest Advent I'm reading the bible and just saying what I think. I'm not forcing myself to feel certain things ("close to God", inspired, spiritually deep) or feeling like I'm a failure as a Christian when I don't feel them. Because- I mean for real, why on earth would anyone expect they can spend 10 minutes reading a few sentences from a 2000-year-old book translated from an ancient language and come away with some cute little positive life lesson for the day? Like why do I feel like I'm a bad Christian because I can't manufacture those feelings? I'm not the one who's weird- the weird ones are those who expect each bible verse to be a sentimental little Hallmark card. (But that's really how I read the bible when I was an evangelical. Read a chapter, certain that I can understand it and find some way that God is speaking to me and it totally applies to my life now. What a bizarre thing to expect.)

So I'm just reading it and telling you what I honestly think. Some parts I like, some parts I don't. Some parts I agree with, some parts I don't.

It's like the bible is a thing which I judge and criticize. Like I'm the one who's in control, and I get to decide which parts are good and which are bad. That feels so weird and heretical. Back when I was an evangelical, I very strongly believed that the bible was an authority that I had to submit to. Everything in the bible is right and good, and if there's something I don't like, well that's my problem, I need to learn to accept it and believe that yes, it is right and good.

I thought the bible was an authority over my life- as if the bible was able to say things on its own. I now believe that no, the bible doesn't just say anything "clearly"; it's always people interpreting it. And before, when I believed I was submitting to God because I forced myself to accept what the bible said even when I didn't like it, I wasn't submitting to God or the bible- I was submitting to one particular version of God and one particular interpretation of the bible, the one created by 21st-century white American evangelical culture. Created by people.

And since it's created by people, it's not above questioning. They created a way to interpret the bible and told me it wasn't an interpretation, that it was just what the bible plainly said. That was a lie. And then I found Christian feminists who have a different interpretation, and that interpretation makes way more sense. (But here's the key: I say it "makes way more sense" because it fits with the worldview I already have, and my intuitive sense of what words like "morality", "justice", and "love" mean. For someone with a different worldview, maybe a different interpretation of the bible would "feel" more "obviously true." Everyone can create their own version of Christianity- not the other way around.)

Anyway, so about the bible. All Christians choose which parts are the most important and which parts we don't need to worry about. All Christians do this. Even the evangelicals/fundamentalists who boast "I believe the bible"- do they wear clothes with different kinds of material? Do they only own one shirt? Now you're going to say "well of course we don't have to follow those commands- they don't apply to us today." And I'm saying, yes, that's my point exactly, you've decided that these particular verses can pretty much be ignored, but the Romans road is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN ALL OF CHRISTIANITY, so yeah, just like I said, all Christians pick which parts of the bible are more important than others. And that picking is done solely based on people's opinions. There's nothing in the bible that says "HEY this verse is the most important verse in the bible, and then these ones here are only for the people in this culture." No. People decide that.

It's not actually possible to let the bible be an authority over your life. It's certainly possible to let an evangelical interpretation of the bible be an authority over your life- I used to live that way. But the bible itself doesn't really say anything about my life in an obvious way- no, it's people who determine how we should connect the bible to our modern lives. I feel like such a heretic for saying "I like this verse, I don't agree with that verse", but isn't that exactly what the evangelical church does, except they use more spiritual-sounding language? "Oh this one is a ceremonial law, so it's only for ancient Israel. Oh this one is about same-sex relationships, which we all know are disgusting, so obviously it's true for all of time." And even though the bible has A LOT TO SAY about foreskins, I don't think I've heard one single sermon on them.

The bible can't direct my life. I can either submit to someone else's interpretation of the bible, or make my own. Those are the only options. Submitting to the bible itself is not possible.

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