Sunday, January 26, 2020

What's Eve got? (Conversation continued)

Thank you for all the comments and insightful thoughts on the previous post. I'm trying to figure out the best way to move the conversation forward. So I'll take a few things that I think are great starting points, in the order in which the comments came in:

Joe: You are sort of approaching it like a public relations issue. I am not concerned with convincing YEC's. I guess feel like they are hopelessly committed to not thinking ... Apologists are opinion leads.
You see apologists as thought leaders or opinion leaders ... that's a good place to start. In my experience, apologists are an interesting mix but some of them are thinkers and even a few may be thought-leaders or opinion leaders. The difference between being a thinker and being a thought-leader is the "leader" part. "Leader" means doing the work of leading other people, call it "public relations" if you will. For my own part, I see much of it as an "intellectual integrity" issue: for a view to claim to be the best it needs to have honest, straightforward answers for honest, straightforward questions. A view won't gain ground by belittling the questioner especially if the question deserves an answer on its own merits. Some apologists will learn to present their views in ways that are more readily understood; that rarely happens on the first try. Those who actually do the work there will emerge as the leaders. Btw in my experience YEC's are also an interesting mix, and many of them have not earned such a low opinion. Side note: in that context, my view of communication is building a bridge between where someone else is and where I am; if I don't start where they are then I can't possibly reach them.
Joe: YECs are still going by the antiquated notion of myth. myth = lie. 
Joe again: ... the theological issues apart from the false history
I'm really hoping that, when those two things are next to each other, it becomes apparent why someone might think there's not a clear consistent view being articulated there. How that's likely to be heard on the other side is, "Not a lie, just false history."
Joe (on why the Hebrew myth cycle is preferable to the Norse ones for developing a worldview, despite the lack of a hammer or lightning or Cate Blanchett in spandex for those whose interest goes that direction): It's based upon theological views about the true God.
Now there's a kernel that could be developed and articulated into an answer that matters in the ways that are important to those who are ... potential late adopters. I'd love to see that view more developed, and see someone on the front lines of apologetics doing the work there.
Kevin: What does Eve have that Pandora doesn't? I'll play!
Game on. Thank you! 
Kevin: Pandora is false; she never lived and her jar never spilled evil into the world. Her story teaches us to treat each other in a destructive way, and more so the more fully it's believed. That makes sense, because it's a lie. On the other hand, if we know what truly happened to bring evil into the world, it will guide us to doing things in a constructive way. Truth does that. But it can't be merely supposed truth. Us believing falsehood with all our hearts won't help us. Eve brings truth..
Devil's advocate here: looks like the working theory is "destructive things are lies and constructive things are true," or something to that effect. But what if that's not the case? How much of that is betting that truth can be gauged by whether it's constructive? Which dovetails with your next point:
Kevin: The question before the house is whether God told a true story that gives accurate history or true literature that gives accurate lessons. That is a new question that only came before the house a couple hundred years ago.
There are some different flavors of that question. Here's one: "What if God wasn't the one telling the story?"; that is, "What if people told a story about how they see God?" And some of the doors further down that road are "pretty stories but no real view of God", or "God was involved through how people experience God." There are probably other options too. Or another starting point might see "Archetypal stories -- profound ones that touch the bedrock of the human conscience and experience" (which the best stories will do, and archetypes do tend to populate myths). I'm still puzzling out the "archetypal" view's relationship to objectivity.
Kevin: The higher criticism movement grabbed these new facts and with them tried to destroy faith. In the Fundamentalists' fight-back, we threw out the facts with the lies. 
Go, Kevin! Yes. We'll get back to the fundamentalists' fight-back in a moment. Before that: to me, the place where the "reconstructed Christianity" movement lost the most street-cred is this: they didn't really join the fight back. For a time, it looked like they swallowed the premise that every claim against Christianity was true; or at least that any argument against Christianity did not need to meet a burden of proof. It looked as though mentioning Genesis could substitute for building an argument about any other topic where someone wished to claim that the Bible was in the wrong. I've seen implausible arguments against Christianity simply asserted as fact, and reconstruction-minded Christians giving that a pass. This capitulation (as it looked from the streets) gained so many more converts to the fundie camp than the "reconstructed" camp has imagined. The perceived firesale by the "reconstructed Christianity" camp has certain other Christians wondering, "Why should we take you seriously on Genesis when so many of you caved on the resurrection, and the virgin birth, and the reality of miracles?" I'm not saying that line of argument is right; I'm saying the trust is gone. That hasn't helped that conversation.
Kevin: We needed to fight back, but we needed to keep the facts. If the Fundamentalists can convince me they accept facts, and don't just go all-in on just so stories, I'll show an interest again. For now, I see them saying faith means believing any fact that doesn't align with their faith is not a fact. That doesn't work for me.
Definitely. Integrity first, or the whole thing is pointless. 
Kevin: The creation account makes the most sense as a carefully crafted rebuttal of all known, local creation myths. They believed chaos gave birth to the gods. God said he calmed the chaos and tickled the worst monsters. They believed the gods themselves were limited and limited each other. God said he was God alone. They believed the gods were abusive masters of unwilling slaves. God said he created humans for love and wished to enrich people for their own sake. There's no question, the account does counter-balance all the existing myths. We know this. It's not a blank history. It's a slanted history absorbing all the local beliefs and overturning them with prejudice.
I'll give you this: that's one heck of an ante for the conversation. And Genesis does make an interesting contrast to the other worldviews. Before I ante up myself, I'd like to throw out one question: where does that view leave you with respect to history or truth or objectivity and all that? And I know I haven't interacted with all of the interesting things you've said; pardon the selectiveness here, and let me know if you wanted interaction on anything particular.
Ok, my own ante into the conversation. I come to Christianity as a convert, and am fairly ambivalent about the Old Testament. On the one hand, there's a part of me that wishes I could just walk away from the account of Adam and Eve; it would save me a certain amount of headache. I'd have no problem with a Christianity that invested mainly in Jesus and viewed the Old Testament as a legacy. On the other hand, the reasons I don't just walk -- it's not about fundamentalism or some prior commitment to inerrancy, but about the depth and value of the worldview that it puts forward. For something that's classified in the same genre as Pandora and Hercules, it sure seems a lot more related to this world. Adam doesn't have superpowers. God has oddly benevolent aims and humble demands for a Deity from that genre; "Hey guys -- see the garden? Go make more of the world like this." Then there are the layers of meaning that are latent in the story -- insights that have been brought out without inserting things to the text -- that are not small or trivial things. So I'm left with a thought that here's something worth keeping, and something that is not actually wholly like the myth of Pandora. I have this nagging sense that we don't do justice to the material to say there's nothing but myth there.

I'm still pondering for more clarity, working to gain more insight on the clearest answer to my own questions. And I see that when different views interact with each other respectfully, it generally causes the wisdom to accumulate; that's my hope here.

Take care & God bless


Kevin Knox said...

I love how you parsed this argument. :-)

> Why the Old Testament?

I'll tell you, I've spent the last 3 years or so almost exclusively in the OT. Here's why.

If you put all your time into the life of Jesus, there's no doubt you're examining the height of God's plan. He is the pinnacle of revelation. No one can predict the next point on a curve, though, when given only one point. If I give you x,y=3,3, you don't know whether the next point will be 4,4 or 0,-5. You have no inertia, no trend from which to work.

In the OT, we get solid points at Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Ezra (and don't undersell Ezra! He's the biggest and best by far!). Of course, we see their lives and they're good examples, but that's not what I mean. I'm looking to understand what God's next move might look like, so I want to track from what God's last 7 moves looked like (Jesus being number 7).

Sometimes he added laws and sometimes he took them away. To almost everyone, he made a promise of immense salvation that turned out to be somewhat less in reality than in presentation. He often widened the scope of his covenant to include someone new.

And then there's the way people interact with God's work. We get only one book of that in the New Testament, Acts. The rest give us a look at some side effects of God's work in lives, but in the OT we see direct action. We see fear and hate and lust all as reactions within God's promise. We see how large and small triumph can be. We see Solomon commended for choosing well for God's people's sake, and see him undo it all for religious curiosity.

We get a road map of how people respond to God's interaction, and we're nothing but people reacting to God's interaction in Christ. Do we have the Holy Spirit? They had the prophets, and in many ways they were easier to hear. They weren't heard and we get to see what that looked like. If you look around, it's all a very familiar road we're on now, and you can take a little bit of a guess where we're going.

Go back in your mind to a time when there was no law at all, and see yourself in Egypt. What does it look like to worship God, when you know nothing about him except a promise to your great granddad. Or picture yourself holding tightly to every promise God ever made and hear Jeremiah say God was doing a new thing that involved him breaking every promise he'd ever made. How does that play? Now picture being 2,000 years out from Jesus saying he'd be back to set everything to rights. How do we look different?

We need the NT to make sure we're worshiping within the best revelation we have, but we need the OT to know where to go next.

I'll come back to look at your more direct thoughts.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hey Kevin

Good to see you

Actually I think Ezra's pretty interesting but he's not involved in this particular picture from how I see it.

About the "trendline" analogy ... can we back up one? What I'm hearing is "plot a line starting from Abraham and taking selected points through Jesus and then look for the next thing"; I don't know if I'm reading that right. But if we take the premise that God "often widened the scope of his covenant to include someone new" then I'm not sure how we'd get a wider scope than "everyone" which is the reach of the new covenant with Jesus. So I don't find myself looking for another intermediate point before the end of history. Am I following you right?

There's more in your post but I'd rather be sure I'm tracking with you than get ahead of myself.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Kevin Knox said...

(Written earlier this evening)
(Part 1)
Okay. I'm back for a minute. Let's see how far I get

> the working theory is "destructive things are lies and constructive things are true,"

Not really. The working theory is that it's all false, except what God says is true.

> "What if people told a story about how they see God?"

That's the argument of higher criticism, and I'm not really giving them any air here. That's not an oversight, but a decision. It's worth talking about whether people just made the Bible up, but before I can do so I need to talk about what the Bible is.

I don't know any Fundamentalists who share my beliefs about the Bible. They may be out there, but I don't know any of them. One of the 5 fundaments is inerrancy, so every Fundamentalist I know believes Moses wrote the books of Moses, himself, by divine inspiration, and that they've been faithfully copied ever since. The telling of the creation account, per that belief, is itself a miracle.

My problem with that belief is that Moses couldn't write Hebrew.

It kind of throws a cog in the whole fundament thing, so everyone starts trying to prove Moses had to have written them, but I can't help but go back further. Hebrew didn't exist when Moses lived. No one could have written anything in Hebrew, not even Moses.

It's just logical. Abraham could not have spoken Hebrew, because he was the first Hebrew. He spoke Caananite. And he didn't invent a language along with getting circumcised. Nor did his kids. The rabbis believe Jacob was studying the Torah when Esau came along. It's not even reasonable. Nor did going to Egypt cause there to be a Hebrew language. There simply could not have been any such thing. So, when Moses takes the people from Egypt, either God gives them all the gift of tongues or they're speaking Caananite, but they've been separate from other Caananites a couple hundred years so their language evolved a bit. It's some kind of Caananite+.

Along come the Phoenicians with their alphabet toward the end of the time of the judges, and some priest decides to write down the oral stories of Moses. Because Phoenician is letters, it can represent the sounds of the evolved Caananite language they're speaking. Now you have Hebrew writing, at least a couple hundred years after Moses. I figure the 10 Commandments have to have been written in the same cuneiform as the Amarna letters. Moses would have known that language, and the Hebrews would have considered it "their" tongue.

Kevin Knox said...

(Part 2)

Anyway, now you have the five books of Moses, as written by some judge late in the time of the judges (doing what seemed right in his own eyes) or a priest early in the time of the kings. Might there have been other priests with an opinion on his work? Could there possibly not have been? I'm sure there was discussion and editing. And then, along comes Ezra and his crew. They not only edit the five books, but they add to them. Just like they wrote Chronicles, they seem to have injected lots of stuff into those first five books, hence we have two accounts of the creation in the same book.

Thinking Moses didn't write Genesis puts me in the camp of the deceived in the eyes my Fundamentalist friends. I've given up on all truth. But I believe I can hold onto believing God is God and the books were written the only factual way they could have been. Moses didn't know Hebrew. He could not have written them. And once I know Moses didn't write them, none of the other authors have his credibility, so it only makes sense it's a largely edited book...given by inspiration of God through a more historical means than anyone thought possible 200 years ago.

I'm starting the discussion from a raw belief in God as revealed in the death and resurrection of his only Son. The events of the Gospels factually happened, and I will have that discussion with anyone interested, but that's not where my questions lie. God is real and revealed, but not completely. In these later days we've gotten facts they didn't have in 1800. Those facts don't tell me God isn't real. They tell me God did something no one has understood before and no one understands yet.

I don't know how the 5 books were written, but I'm not much interested in trying to unsee the birth of the Hebrew language. I have to start understanding this stuff all over from ground zero, from this new place. "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Kevin Knox said...

Okay, I'll try to leave a quick answer on the fly to your quick questions.

Of course, now you see how Ezra fits. His crew probably wrote Eve's creation story. I have to read Eve's story knowing the author had come to believe God was mobile, and had met them in Babylon, and there is some kind of resurrection to look forward to in a way the author of the 7 days story probably didn't. That's a long way from my Fundamentalist heritage, but it's the only thing that makes all the facts line up in my head.

As for trajectory and what's bigger than everyone...

I hear Ezra asking the same question. He reads Isaiah, and sees Israel is the suffering servant and the promise fulfilled, and knows he's at the end of time. What can be bigger than the Messiah? The kingdom is everything God has ever wanted, and he's just delivered Israel from slavery again. This is the big one. This is the new temple Ezekiel foresaw, the new and better one. There's just enough time for God to bring that kingdom to earth, and for all goodness to begin.

Here we are 2,000 years from Jesus proving the Pharisees wrong about that. Of course, the Pharisees were not directly descendants of Ezra, but of the Jews who stayed in Babylon, so we can't really trust them. But are we directly descendants of Christ's message? Could we have drifted?

So, I'm looking harder to see whether the narrative God has been working to make America the answer to all earth's woes is really founded in fact.

Still looking.

Kevin Knox said...

Sorry I'm so verbose. Some things can't be figured out.

Kevin Knox said...

(Part 1 again) In the labyrinth of my own mind I've destroyed the innerrancy of scripture and done bizarre things to inspiration. What's left? What is it but cunning folk tales for me now? Some unknown priest wrote a thing and a committee came along and edited it, then some other group just came along and threw their own bunch of thoughts on top of it all. What's left of holy writ?

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."


There's a cost to losing all this, but the benefits outweigh it.

First, I still very much cling to scripture as holy. Read Gilgamesh someday, and you'll see what I mean. It's a brilliant story, and very human. The struggle against death is as human as it gets, and Gilgamesh goes all in on it. He feels what we feel, and reaches the same sad peace we all must reach someday. But along the way, he's not like any man I'll ever know. Being one third god will do that to you, of course, and he fights things I could never imagine. It's written not to be believed, but to be shared and to be changed by. And the lesson is despair.

The stories of God were spoken into that same mindset, and started breaking it. God wanted to reach into the lives of all people and it wasn't working, so he narrowed his focus to Abraham and his family. In Genesis we see a few dozen real people reached by God, people who could be you and me, finding a concrete hope given by a caring God in concrete ways. The story could not have been born of a mind raised in the negative stew that was Caanan.

Take the Exodus story. A strong Moses becomes weak and saves God's people without ever becoming strong. That's not a narrative from Caanan. God leaves his land of Caanan to go into Egypt and rescue a people he's decided to bless, though they've never blessed him. Abraham laughed at God between sacrifices. Isaac seems to have been fat, dumb, and happy his whole life. Jacob fought God hand to hand. None of them made provision for this God. None of them built him a temple. None of them gave him anywhere to rest his feet or take a meal in the typically understood Caananite way. God reached out to them and pursued them to rescue them, and it all culminated in Moses. This story could not have been brewed in the mind of any priest or poet of Caanan.

And look at the law itself. Hammurabi wrote a lovely little worship of himself in the form of a record of his legal successes. We call it the Code of Hammurabi, but it's just a record of his more interesting cases, upon which all his people latched to guide them in future decisions. God's law smells so much better. There's a world of difference. Hammurabi's code is good, but no one rose above it. It was the height of equanimity at the time and for times, time, and half a time after it. That was peak decency in Babylon, and it was rife with overly harsh justice and class prejudice. The upgrade from Hammurabi to Moses is astounding, without even mentioning the upgrade in worship that defines the first table of the law.

No Jewish priest invented this stuff, and especially while remaining anonymous. It's just impossible. The people who wrote this book were telling the story of real a God who really and aggressively reached out in love to people who had not even bothered create a priest class for him.

Kevin Knox said...

(Part 2 again)

And then there's the uniqueness of the revelation that made Judaism. Stoicism shows up all over the world. It's in Greece, in China, and on the American plains. Ancestor worship is everywhere. Morality is everywhere. Judaism? That's a one time thing. People talk about how monotheism evolves from polytheism, but it doesn't. From the many little gods rises a single head god above them all. That evolution happens and has happened all over the world, but when it happens that head god is too busy for anyone, so everyone has to work through the little gods to get to the big god. Gnosticism evolves naturally all the time, over and over again. Judaism? Never.

YHWH shows up on the scene telling a random people they're his people, and they should deal with him and him alone. That's not any part of the thought of that time, those people, any time, or any people except this one group of people related to Abraham. The story sprang into being ex nihilo. There's a genetic thought line for every religious culture on earth, except this one.

I guess I believe in young religion creationism.

The events of the OT happened. The law was given. These people recorded the breaking in of God into time with a purpose, a purpose of his own.

When we try to fit all this into the Fundamentalist shoe box, we obscure that purpose. When we try to make it look like it happened by one divine method, when it happened in another, we're muddying the troubleshooting process. We can only go forward from here by looking honestly at how we got to here. It's an amazing story, without fudging it.

Kevin Knox said...

You are free to let me know if it's rude to throw so many words in your comments section. Thank you for your graceful reception.

Weekend Fisher said...

(reply part A, not to be confused with part 1)
Hey Kevin

It's up to you whether you use your blog or the comment-space here.

So first, my favorite line: "I guess I believe in young religion creationism".

Next, my vote for most insightful take-away: holiness as criterion for why bother to try to preserve it, and what makes it different than Pandora and the crew.

I find myself wondering, for all that you seem more into the OT than I am, whether we aren't very far apart on wondering 'What exactly can we honestly take away from the OT?' Fwiw, my starting point is also Jesus and the records of his life. That's the ground that hasn't moved, and seems worth keeping.

Re: your thoughts that some of the writing was done by someone late in the era of judges or early in the era of kings; I've put together (next post) some comments from the Talmud, which also preserved this cultural memory from about the era you're focusing on: "Samuel wrote the book which bears his name and the Book of Judges and Ruth." (Fwiw; meant as reporting what they thought, without commenting for or against whether it stands up.)

Moses has some overlap with Hammurabi. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." But the Ten Commandments are something else. The idea that the kind of worship God wants is holiness, blessing, and decency to other people -- not something we find just hanging around everywhere in various epic-myth cycles.

Looking forward to your thoughts as always.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

(part b: inspiration)
You were saying "In the labyrinth of my own mind I've destroyed the innerrancy of scripture and done bizarre things to inspiration. What's left? What is it but cunning folk tales for me now? Some unknown priest wrote a thing and a committee came along and edited it, then some other group just came along and threw their own bunch of thoughts on top of it all. What's left of holy writ?"

My own idea of inspiration is roughly "What God says and does, that's got the spirit of God in it." That is, I start with Jesus' own words and actions. Could we have drifted from the original, as you asked? Well, let's say we drifted slowly and with good intentions, and yet the people who are currently loudest about pointing that out -- I don't see them as any friends of the original. For instance, it's possible to build a theology from just the red-letter parts of Matthew -- the gospel most focused on Jesus' teachings and most invested in presenting those sayings in their original Jewish context. But there's some daylight between that and what is typically presented as Christian theology. I don't know what my part in the conversation will ultimately be, but at any rate let it be an honest and kind and truthful part.