Shuck and Jive

Saturday, August 04, 2007

What is the Bible Really About?

It's another round of Conversations with Bob! Come on in and set a spell!

Hey Bob!

You asked a lot of thoughtful questions. It will take some time to hash it all out. Before I start with that I want to follow up on my last comment regarding global warming. I think scientists have pointed to a fact that the planet is warming. Also, CO2 levels are rising. That increase in CO2 is in part due to human contribution (ie. fossil fuels). I am not sure all scientists are convinced that the connection between CO2 and the current warming has been clearly established. In graphs of CO2 and warming in history, the warming appears to have started before the CO2 increased.

My point: What happens if Earth begins to cool after 2012 as some scientists suggest? If we put all of our eggs in the global warming nest, we may lose our commitment to dealing with the wider variety of issues, including other ways we are polluting Earth, and violence between nations over resources. I am excited and hopeful about the increasing concern for our planetary home. Environmental concerns should be one of our primary concerns, as a human race and as a church (more important to me than substitutionary atonement for instance). It is all a package, a biblical package, I would say of God's justice and love for creation.

This is my point about reinterpretation. The Bible is not a book about everything even God. It is to me a story of what it means to be human. Crossan points out that the Bible dates Creation around 4000 BCE. Why that date? It is about that time that humanity moved from the Old Stone Age into the Neololithic Revolution characterized by agriculture, the domestication of animals and the control of other people. It is the beginning of civilization. The Cain and Abel account is the beginning of the Bible's story of that movement. The biblical writers knew that civilization was problematic as it contained within it the unjust control by the few over the many and the violence needed to retain that disparity. The ideological means of retaining that system of injustice was theology set up by literate priests.

In other words theology or ideology (a system of ritual and meaning) sometimes served (more often than not) to legitimize the power of those who are advantaged. Sometimes the theology served to critique this injustice and to point to a new way of being and the hope of God's justice on Earth (ie. the Song of Mary) ...

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

The Biblical story is a radical story of God's justice edited by human injustice. Reinterpretation involves the recovery of the message of God's peace through justice vs. empire's (the normalcy of civilization) peace through victory (Crossan).

The church today and throughout its history has largely served Empire. It does so by not talking about it. That is, it makes up all kinds of other theories and says that they are more important (ie. getting to heaven as opposed to hell), and all of the theories that go with that. This includes elevating the whole of the Bible as God's Word, which levels the radical message of God's justice with human injustice not only in who gets to control theological interpretation of texts but even within the texts themselves. The pastoral epistles are an example of editing the radical message of Paul. An easy illustration is the silencing of women in Church or the requirement that slaves obey masters with fear and trembling, etc.

The clincher in history was when the Roman Empire became the "Holy" Roman Empire. It was still the violence of Empire but now blessed by Christianity. Christianity did not change Empire, but Empire changed the radical message of Jesus. In short, church theology has largely served to keep the people happy with Empire, rather than being empowered to move against it.

That is a start! Flycandler said that at some point you will need to be asked the $60,000 question regarding Jack Rogers. Here it is:

Did he always have this much hair?



  1. John and flycandler:

    If you want to and have the guts go ahead and send Jack an email asking him for a picture of him from the '70's. Jack has a good sense of humor. But I'm not gonna do it!

  2. Fascinating thoughts, John. A lot of anthropologists view the beginnings of civilization (specifically, agriculture) as the turning point in a lot of human behavior. The matriarchy of the hunter-gatherers to the patriarchy of the planters, the egalitarianism of the tribe to the hierarchy of the haves and have-nots, the "free range" nature of the nomad to the proprietary land owner, etc.

    Ergo, it puts Genesis in a fascinating light. Human life was idyllic when Adam & Eve wandered around gathering food; it got nasty after they ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil (and apparently, Gardening). The Tower of Babel story is often seen as an allegory for the reaction of the nomadic Israelites to the urbanized Mesopotamians (technology as sin).

    BTW, I think you have the CO2 thing backwards, as it's usually a rise in CO2 followed by a gradual temperature rise. The skeptics have confused the issue somewhat (and Al Gore probably didn't help by not explaining this in his movie) that NOT ALL warming periods follow increases in atmospheric CO2. Sometimes it can be caused by orbital shifts (which cause warming or cooling), changes in solar activity, etc. However, there does appear to be a positive feedback loop in play with an artificially heightened CO2 level. And yes, the artificial bit is entirely due to human beings burning coal and oil that up until the Industrial Revolution had largely been sequestered underground.

    Yes, the Earth goes through natural, gradual periods of warming and cooling. CO2 increases, the planet heats up, slowly carbon gets sequestered again in the oceans or in the ground and cools back down again. By tinkering with the thermostat, we risk not only getting into a runaway heating cycle, there is also the possibility of (and we're talking centuries here, not over the period of 90 minutes as postulated by that cheezy "Day After Tomorrow") the planet's natural recovery processes going into overdrive as well, triggering a premature ice age (though we might not be around to see it). The cooling won't start in 2012, but I have a feeling the warming will start to slacken starting the afternoon of January 20, 2009. ;-)

    At the end of the day, while I have some doubts about the efficacy of carbon credits, it is definitely true that reducing the use of fossil fuels, encouraging energy conservation, and learning to consume less in general are broadly positive environmental activities. The argument is simple: if we do nothing, massive flooding in some places and desertification in other places, with resource wars the likes of which we've never seen. If we do something and it slows down or halts global warming, congrats, we've saved the Earth entrusted to our care and begun to atone for the abuse we committed upon it. If we do something and it turns out it wasn't necessary in the first place, we will have rid ourselves of the need to burn oil (which is running out, no dispute bout that), created thousands of high-tech jobs and probably discovered a lot of cool technologies that will help us deal with other ecological (and possibly medical) problems.

  3. Bob,
    Nah, I have never met the man, so it would be most inappropriate!


    Thanks for that and for the comment about CO2. I am with you 100%!

  4. I have an official answer from the source about Jack Rogers' hair. He said in an email to me today:

    As to the more important (!) issue. I had a lot more hair when I was at Fuller. I'm getting pretty bald now. I don't have any picture on my computer for comparison.

    I hope this settles the qustion.