This week I found myself swamped with homework. I also have a midterm coming up in my Corporations class so I’ve been very busy studying for that. Because of school, I haven’t had time to write a proper post. But a small thought did come up. See, I’ve been researching marriage and the regulation of marriage for my family law class; I will be writing a research paper for class based on what I find out. Anyway, I began to think about marriage in the United States, especially with the same-sex marriage controversy that continues to rage on. I have a question for you to think about. What is the basis or foundation for marriage? Is is a having a committed relationship? Is it sex? The ability to have kids? What is marriage? Why do we allow people to get married? And why SHOULD we allow people to get married? If you have any idea, comment below and maybe we can get a discussion going. Let me know what you think.
Monthly Archives: February 2014
Yesterday, I talked about the unconscious arrogance of many American Christians. We tend to think that the way we interpret the Bible in American is the only plausible interpretation without ever realizing how much of an influence our culture plays in this. Today I want to talk more about this. As I study the Bible in an attempt to better understand how I should act as a Christian, I’ve begun to realize how much our values are influenced by our culture. Here are two examples.
A big one is the issue of gun control. A vast majority of Christians that I know fiercely oppose gun control. I know some who have gone so far to claim that gun ownership is our “God-given” right. Most Facebook posts opposing gun control come from people claiming to be Christian as far as I can see. I even read a story the other day about a Kentucky pastor encouraging his congregation to bring guns to church as a show of support for the “right to bear arms.” Seriously? It’s almost gotten to the point where opposing gun control is a prerequisite to being a Christian. In fact, I can count the number of Christians who are in favor of tighter gun control on one hand. Now, I have no intention of arguing for or against gun control. That isn’t what I want to do. All I want is my readers to realize that the issue of gun control is not a Christian issue. It’s a political issue. We’ve been immersed in a culture that, for better or worse, values gun ownership. As a result, we suppose that this value is also a Christian value. It isn’t. Nowhere in the Bible is gun or any kind of weapon ownership equated with Christianity. Now I don’t have a problem with Christians arguing gun control one way or the other. I have a big problem with Christians defending the “right to bear arms” as if it were something Jesus himself defended.
Here’s another subtler example: the right to privacy. Our culture very heavily values privacy more so than the right to own guns. Both liberals and conservatives defend this right. In fact, we value it so much that our Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to imply a right to privacy. In our culture, it is rude, if not unethical to get involved in someone else’s private life. Private space is valued above many other things, so much so that we can sue for invasions of privacy. I don’t believe there is anything wrong or right about valuing privacy. However, we don’t realize that this is value is strictly an American (maybe “Western”) value. It isn’t a Christian value. In fact, the Bible never even mentions privacy. Yet, many Christians hold on to this right of privacy as if it’s what Jesus died for.
In some cultures, the concept of privacy is unheard of. In the book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, the authors describe their interactions with native Indonesian population. In that culture, they have no word for privacy. Privacy doesn’t even exist as a concept. The closest word the Indonesians had to privacy translates to loneliness and this was considered a negative thing as nobody wanted to be lonely. The authors tell a story of two men who each owned miles of beachfront property. Their houses were built on the very edge of their properties, so close that you could touch one house when reaching through the window of the other. These two men were asked why they built their houses so close to one other when they each had miles of property. Both replied that they would have been lonely otherwise. I don’t need to explain just how different this is from American culture.
So why do I bring this up? Well, I want to show you just how much we can be influenced by our culture without even realizing it. Whether it is the right own guns or to privacy, these cultural values can and very often do affect how we read and interpret the Bible without us even realizing it. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I plan on giving some examples of this in future posts. Right now, I just want to point out that, as American Christians, we tend to arrogantly believe that American values are also Christian values far too often. We also have a hard time accepting the fact that other cultures have values that might be more in sync with Christian/Biblical values than ours. Think about it and let me know what you think.
I have been asked before whether I read the Bible literally. Honestly, I think that’s a very stupid question. Nobody takes the Bible literally and I would be terrified of anyone who tried. It would make no sense to take the entire Bible literally. However, many Christians, especially American Christians, step around this and tell me that they take the Bible literally unless it’s obvious that the passage/verse in question should be taken metaphorically or allegorically. I have a huge problem with this reasoning. Who should it be obvious to? An ancient Babylonian peasant? A 17th century Japanese samurai? A medieval monk? A modern American lawyer? What is obvious to the ancient Babylonian peasant will NOT be obvious to the modern American lawyer and vice versa.
Many American Christians fail to realize that a huge majority of people past and present do not think the way we do. In fact, probably more than 90% of people that have ever lived do not share our values, our mores, or our perspectives about the world. Here’s an example. I was reading about a missionary in Indonesia who was confronted with a problem. A few leaders of a local Indonesian Christian church came up to the missionary to ask for him advice. Apparently there was a couple who had eloped against the wishes of the parents. Now they wanted to be back in the church. The local leaders were hesitant to welcome them back. The missionary asked what they did wrong. The leaders immediately turned to Ephesians 6:1 which commands children to obey their parents; the couple disobeyed to their parents. The missionary thought about this and then asked the leaders how old the couple was; both were in their thirties. At this point, the missionary did not know how to respond*.
Here, it was obvious to these people living in Indonesia that children are supposed to obey their parents no matter their age. For Christians living in the US, it’s “obvious” that this verse only applies to children under 18 or children living with their parents. So who has the correct interpretation? Most Americans automatically assume that they have the correct interpretation. In fact, I know many people who would read this in shock and automatically condemn those Indonesian leaders as backwards. Why? Because here in America, when you turn 18, you no longer have to listen to your parents. You shouldn’t have to listen to your parents when you are old. We automatically take a verse like Ephesians 6:1 and only apply it to little children because in our culture children don’t have to listen to their parents once past a certain age. We assume children means those under 18. We don’t imagine anyone could possibly think anything different and when they do, we automatically think we’re right. I should not have to say how arrogant this is. What makes us think that only we Americans have the correct interpretation of the Bible?
I don’t think many of us realize just how much our own culture influences the way we read and interpret the Bible. Even when confronted with a simple verse like Ephesians 6:1, we can see how our culture influences our interpretation. We need to understand that what is obvious for people immersed in one culture won’t be so obvious to people living in another culture.
So then, do we read the Bible literally or metaphorically? Well, neither. We should read the Bible in the manner the author intended. That might mean doing a little research into the context of the passage in order to figure out what the author intended the passage/verse to mean. It might mean learning what kind of world the author lived in. It might mean doing a lot more research and learning in order to figure out how we should interpret the Bible and what the author meant to say. Sadly, I fear too many Christians might be too lazy to do this. What do you think?
*this story is taken from the fantastic book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien.
My wife and I were talking about porn the other day. We were convinced that “doing porn” is a sin. However, when I asked my wife why porn is a sin. She got silent and had to think about it for a second. So now I ask you. Why is “doing porn” a sin? I know most Christians will say the Bible says porn is a sin. Really? That’s news to me. I can’t think of a single passage in the Bible that says “Don’t look at porn because it’s a sin”. Most will immediately turn to Matthew 5:28 and tell me that the this is where the Bible condemns porn. Does it really? Let’s have a look.
“Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This is a good verse, but I want you to step back for a bit and follow my thinking for a bit. This verse doesn’t “clearly condemn” pornography. In fact, this verse says nothing about porn. What is condemned here is looking at someone with lust. This verse teaches that if you look at someone with lust, then you have committed adultery in your heart. That is what is condemned here. However we extend this verse (and I believe we are right to do so) to apply to porn. Our logic runs something like this. Porn causes the viewer to lust after the woman/man portrayed, therefore, pornography causes a person to commit adultery in his/her heart and that is a sin. It is important that we go through this process and think this through.
So now we’ve come to the reason; Porn is sinful because it causes the viewer to lust after the people portrayed. Now I want to draw this out further. Now I’m sure most of us imagine a guy looking at porn when we hear of pornography so let’s change the scenario. Let’s imagine a teenage girl reading a saucy romance novel. While reading this novel, this teenage girl begins to lust after the male character who is described to be ruggedly-handsome, extremely fit, charming, seductive and full of mystery. Has this girl sinned? If we want to be consistent, we have to apply what we did with porn. This romance novel is causing this girl to lust; therefore, it is sinful for this girl to be reading this novel. However, I’m wondering how many people reading this are hesitant to say this.
In fact, I want to ask this question. Is there a real difference between a guy who uses pornography to fuel his lust and a girl who uses romance novels to fuel hers? I don’t see any real difference. What about the fact that porn depicts real people and romance novels do not? Well, what about it? I knew guys in high school who only looked at animated porn. By that logic, there is nothing wrong with guys looking at animated porn. How about the fact that porn paints an unrealistic picture of women? So? Romance novels do the same thing for women; they paint very unrealistic pictures of men. But porn can be addictive? Romance novels can be addictive as well, what’s your point?
It seems to me that there really isn’t a real difference between a guy who looks at porn and a girl who reads romance novels. If anyone reading can think of a legitimate difference between the two, go ahead and comment below because I am really curious to hear what that difference is. Now if there is a legitimate difference, then this next question doesn’t apply. But if there is no legitimate distinction between the two then why is the guy looked upon as a pervert and in need of serious counseling but the girl is looked at as just dreaming of her prince charming? Is it fair? Especially if there is no legitimate difference between the two. Think about it and tell me what you think?
1 Corinthians 15:14,17
“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins.”
How many of you watched the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham? Well for those who did not, Bill Nye (of “the Science Guy” fame) debated Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum, on whether Creationism works as a scientific theory. I’ll be honest and admit that I barely watched any of it; I was too busy studying for class. But the debate did make me think. These kinds of debates seem to be pretty popular both for non-Christians and Christians alike, especially Christians. In fact, I would like to say that many Christians seem, to me, to be almost obsessed with this question. It’s as if some of these Christians are worried about the idea of evolution as an explanation for the origins of life, humans, etc. Part of the worry seems to be that if evolution is true, then the book of Genesis (the creation story) is false and if Genesis is false, then the rest of the Bible is false too. It seems to me that many people almost put their trust in the Creation story as if that is the most important pillar of Christianity. Following this line of thinking is the idea that if Genesis were inaccurate or if evolution were true, then Christianity as a whole falls apart. This is where I think the problem lies.
So let me ask you a question. What is by far the most important pillar of Christianity. What is the one pillar upon which everything else in Christianity rests on? And no, you can’t scroll back to the top and look at the verse I quoted. Well whatever your answer is, I’d like to share with you what I think the answer to the question is.
I believe that the most important (I’d like to say the only important, but I fear that might be crossing the line) pillar of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. The reason I think that is because of the verses quoted above. Paul states that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, not only is his preaching be useless, but so would our faith. Paul did not say that if evolution was proven true, then our faith would be useless (well then again, Paul would probably not even know what evolution is). Paul also didn’t say that if the earth was proven to be billions of years old, then our faith would be useless. The one thing that Christianity depends on completely is the resurrection of Jesus.
Some readers may wonder, “Well, what if evolution was proven beyond any doubt tomorrow?” My response would be so what? If evolution is true, it does not suddenly also mean that Jesus did not rise from the dead. We might have to revise our understanding of Genesis a bit and even if we had to conclude that Genesis was inaccurate, so what? The accuracy of Genesis has nothing to do with the question of Jesus’ resurrection.
Verse quotations taken from the NET Bible.
Never do what Bible says. Wait, did I just say that? Yes, as a matter of fact I did. Did I really mean that? Well… yes and no. I admit it, my telling you to never do what the Bible says was a bit of an exaggeration. I did have to catch your attention somehow 😉 But, at the same time, I do mean that. Let me explain.
We Christians have a habit of arguing with each other over what the Bible says. In addition, we also encourage each other to do what the Bible says. However, I don’t think of us really mean it. I know, I know, I can hear some Christian readers thinking “Wait, but I do want to do what the Bible says”. No you don’t. Even if you think you do, you don’t. What’s that? You’re still not convinced. Then it’s time to get down to business. *rolls up sleeves*
Look up Matthew 5: 29-30. The verses state “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into hell”.
Did you read that verse carefully? According to this verse, the Bible is telling you to either gouge out your eyes or cut off your hand if you sin. How many of you actually engage in this kind of mutilation? Actually, I’m not so sure I want to know 😉 Anyway, if we Christians really did what the Bible says here, we’d have a lot less eyes and hands than we do now.
What about Matthew 19:21. Here Jesus says “If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Here the Bible clearly says to sell everything you have. Did you, as a Christian, do this? If we Christians are following what the Bible says, then why do most of you still have houses and possessions? You are not doing what the Bible says.
The point is you shouldn’t do what the Bible says. What matters is what the Bible TEACHES, not necessarily what the Bible says. If we are to follow what the Bible says, then why do Christians encourage one another to follow the TEACHINGS of Jesus, not the SAYINGS. The teachings of the Bible are the important part. Because of this, it is never enough to simply point to a passage in the Bible and say “This passage says X, so I have to do X”. Even though some might do this occasionally, no Christian actually does this with the whole Bible. Keep this in mind as you read the Bible. Just because the Bible says something or mentions something, doesn’t mean you should do it. You do what the Bible teaches, not what it says because there are a lot of times when what the Bible says is very different from what the Bible teaches (due to hyperbolic language, cultural and historical backgrounds, etc. This would be a good subject for future blog posts).
I do not mean to say that what Bible says (the actual words on the page) is unimportant; however, too many people seem to think that what the Bible says and what the Bible teaches are always the same thing. But more often than not, they are two totally different things. The danger is that we might cling too strongly to the actual words of the Bible and not think about the teachings. This can then lead to doing or believing something that isn’t necessarily taught by the Bible.
Verse quotations are taken from the NET Bible.