When I have a few free brain cells I like to stop by the Evolutionary Christianity blog and peruse their postings. Sometimes I can make it through a post and other days I get a brain cramp. I’m only partially joking.
Yesterday a post by Jeffery Small (author of “The Breath of God: A Novel of Suspense“) popped up in my Reader. Actually, it was a repost of the original from Huffington Post which makes this, third hand? In the article he explores the Bible through the concept of myth. There were a few sections that I thought expanded nicely on what I had mentioned a few months ago and wanted to share with you here.
The Biblical Literalists among you may want to skip right on past this post. I respect your perspective on the issue at hand, but would admit these days that my brief foray in to the historicity of the stories in the Bible was really only ever tenuous at best.
The entire article is absolutely worth a read on a day like today – or at least around here as we’re under an “excessive heat” advisory. But, if your weather is cooler or your time is short, there are a few notable highlights, including the similarities to archetypal stories from other faiths:
Some of the mythological stories in the Bible are not original, but were borrowed from other traditions. The Epic of Gilgamesh — a Sumerian poem detailing the creation of the universe that predates the writings of Genesis by many centuries — contains a flood story whose plot points are almost identical to the story of Noah.
As well as:
The other world religions also contain rich histories of mythology and fantastical sounding (to us) stories. On what basis can we Christians claim that our miracle stories are legitimate, yet theirs are flights of fancy? The mythology surrounding the Buddha, who lived 500 years before Jesus, includes tales of how he healed the sick, walked on water, and flew through the air. His birth was foretold by a spirit (a white elephant rather than the angel Gabriel) who then entered his mother’s womb! At his birth, wise men predicted that he would become a great religious leader.
He also emphasizes the limitations of the “Bible as history textbook” perspective. For, if the stories within the Bible are literally true, then their “interpretation limits the actions of God to certain events in history. God’s actions in the world become finite, confined to certain historical events.” We’re also then limited to a pre-modern understanding of the world around us. Taking this broader view of the Bible is not a new thing, even though the Biblical Literalists will vociferously insist otherwise. Many of the Fundamentalist beliefs today are rather recent developments and with all due respect, not necessarily in line with Church history.
It’s a bit like those who insist that the United States is the “Greatest Country in the WorldTM.” It’s far easier to believe this if you never leave the borders of your own country. Or, if you’re like so many of the people from the “This American Life” (Season 1) episode that I watched a few months ago on Netflix. In the episode, an Iraqi man who came to the United States for school, sets up an “Ask an Iraqi” booth. So many of those who came to speak with him spent more time talking and less time listening. The juxtaposition between the man from Iraq and the people from the United States is unfortunately, not all that uncommon. For without our own sense of superiority, the ideas of American exceptionalism and our status as a so-called “Christian nation” (past or present) would not exist.
Continuing to stick our fingers in our collective ears may flatten out the landscape and make everything this country does right and true, but it ignores our limitations (especially given the ample examples internationally otherwise), many of which seem so contrary to the greater themes within the pages of the Bible.
Moving away from the “Bible as history textbook” metanarrative is, I feel, a much-needed step in the right direction. Call me what you like (I can hear the heresy cries already), but with all due respect to the “family integrated church” people, the rise of youth groups has nothing to do with declining numbers of young folks remaining in churches. Rather, it’s the battle against cognitive dissonance that’s draining your ranks.
I refuse to remain unchanged in this world. I refuse to limit God to the understanding of ancient peoples. For, as our understanding of the complexity of the world around us grows, so too should our understanding of the Divine.