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Catechism this week - Bibles

I haven’t finished writing about last week's class! This week was about reading the Bible. I already mentioned my prior experience with the Baptist church. Of course, I was aged 4 to 13, so we didn’t do the intensive Bible study the grown-ups probably did, but I do remember memorizing a lot of verses and doing worksheets. I have read the New Testament twice, but never made it through the entire Old Testament despite several attempts. Even with the passages I have read, I never read them critically enough on my own – I was amazed once when the pastor at my Charismatic church, in talking about the passage concerning God being a pillar of fire in the night and a cloud in the day while the Israelites were wandering the dessert, made the connection between the desert is hot during the day so the cloud provided protection from the sun, the desert is very cold at night so the pillar provided heat and protection from the cold and probably from dangerous animals. Why didn’t I see that on my own? What else am I missing? Then again, I’ve never been to a desert so I’m going to try to convince myself that played a small part in that. Regardless, I would like to do a real Bible study or take a Bible history class (secular or religious) because I don’t trust myself to take the time to make those connections.

Concepts and statements that impacted me from this week’s lesson:

The reminder that the Bible is more like a library than a single book. There were three library comparisons. 1) Libraries contain books written at different times in history and by different authors, 2) Libraries contain books of various literary forms, and 3) Libraries are not meant to be read in order from first book on the first shelf to last book on the last shelf. All things I knew, but never really thought about in connection with the Bible before.

1. The various books were written at different times in history. Over a long span of years, actually. Sometimes that’s easy to forget when they are bound up so nicely together in gold-leaf edged paper. Different times in history resulted in different views and instructions, which means there are a lot of contradictions within the Bible and contradictions with current thought (for example, on slavery). One book allows divorce, another book condemns it. How women are viewed and treated changes dramatically. There are a lot of contradictions in the Bible, which is why I had such difficulties with Fundamentalism and strict interpretation of the Bible. Also, this section presented an idea that resonated with me – instructions change as our maturity level changes, so what He says in earlier books and what He says in later books was impacted by our maturity level as a species, as a society, and as His children. (Kind of like the instructions you would give a five year old versus the instructions you would give a 25 year old, etc.). It is not that God changes his mind, but that his people are gradually growing to maturity and what was suitable at one period of their growth is not suitable later. …in the library of the Bible some parts of the book are simply dated. They are valuable because they trace the process of Good’s growing relationship with his people, but they should not be followed literally today. … So, in this library of the Bible it is helpful to know the date of publication of any particular book. That enables us to understand it in its context and avoid expecting final answers from the books that were written during the earlier phases of God’s revelation. This helped me with handling contradictions both within the Bible and with my internal fears over how can I trust this Book with its instructions to not change a jot or tittle when I know full well lots of jots and tittles have been tittled and jotted by mankind both in writing and translating it over the years. I think this also opens a door to newer books being as legitimate as the Bible in furthering our relationship with God.

2. Just like a library "contains history textbooks, historical novels, scientific studies, science fiction, and works of philosophy, theology and fantasy"Catholic Update, so too does the Bible. If you don’t know or understand the type of literary form used, you can misunderstand the message. They divided the Bible into myth, family reminiscences, histories, poetry, and didactic fiction (parables). So if the creation story is more mythical and Jonah/whale is fictional to make a point, it doesn’t mean *every other passage* in the Bible is fictional. (Or vice versa, just because the historical books are literal, it doesn’t mean everything in the book is to be taken literally.) I was thrilled to read in the Catholic Update and hear our instructor use “myth” regarding creationism: “In reality, the first 11 chapters of Genesis contain no scientific statements; the author lived at a period when the very concept of modern scientific investigation had not entered the human mind. Genesis is a theological work, and the literary form in which the theological insights are expressed is the ancient form sometimes called myth, which presents profound realities in the form of symbolic stories.” Catholic Update In the 2008 Republican political debates eight of the Republican candidates for president raised their hand to believing in creationism. I think to many people that implied “literal belief” as I don’t recall anyone trying to elaborate and it was being related to teaching Creationism in schools as being on equal footing as Evolution. That scared me. Even if they didn’t believe it and they were just pandering to the Religious Right, it means that the stereotype for being Christian is thinking those verses are literal and evolution is false. I was afraid to ask scientific questions of religious leaders or deeply religious people because I was afraid of their reactions. I’m sure a few of my fundamentalist friends would question my faith (again). In Catechism I was a bit afraid I’d be kicked out or told what not to believe. If they said “no, you cannot believe in evolution” then what would I do? I am not going to suddenly switch because someone told me to think one way without giving me good cause or reason to justify the change, but I don’t want to give up my search for God. (For the record, I don’t see creationism as the same kind of myth as Zeus makes the lightening crash, but I do believe it is the author’s attempt to explain how everything was made, using the best of his ability to explain it within the known concepts of the time. I believe with all my heart God made us and the universe, so I believe in creationism, too. But I don’t think it happened exactly as spelled out in Genesis. I think that was just the best way they could describe it at the time. It’s beautifully described, and I love reading it, but I can hold it and evolution in the same hand.) I was very relieved to hear that would be okay to do within the Catholic religion. With seeing and hearing so much intolerance from many religious organizations, I’m thrilled to find some Christian faiths are able to think both spiritually and rationally.

3. Just like a library, you don’t start at the top of the first shelf and read every book in order until you get to the last shelf. They actually gave some neat advice on different ways to read the Bible, recognizing people as individuals and that there is no one right way to do something, and I’m looking forward to trying a few of them out.

EDIT: Addition from ellidee: Libraries have many books but not all books. She mentioned the apocrypha and mcamason added the gnostic book of Judas, which I heard about on NPR, and I agree to it being fascinating. I meant to get a copy of the book, but I have a bad habit of hearing it on the radio, thinking "I want that" while driving, but then seeing something shiny once I pull into my driveway and forgetting completely that I have a car radio let alone what I've heard on it. /EDIT

The reminder that the Bible is both divine and human. It is the Word of God, but it’s transmitted via human minds and hands.

One concept that helped me by affirming my own beliefs is that the authors of the books did the best they could do with their limited understanding of the world. (I’m certainly doing the best I can do with my limited understanding, and I’ve got a big advantage over them. How on earth did the Greeks come up with all those mathematical formulas without the interwebs and a TI83?) The author(s) of Genesis didn’t know about heliocentric solar systems, so he used domes and firmaments. The Bible, too, is at the same time divine and human. It is truly God’s Word, and when we read it prayerfully we experience its power to bring us into contact with the Lord. Yet it is embarrassingly human. The human authors show a woeful ignorance of science, history, and even theology, because God uses as authors human beings with all their limitations. … God did not free the inspired author from the scientific ignorance shared with the people at the time; God simply used those inaccurate ideas to get across his own message: that he had created everything that exists. So Genesis tells us that God created the firmament, and the Psalms tell us that He opens the windows when he chooses to send rain. The person of faith, as he or she reads, must sort out the human from the divine in the Bible. This does so much to reaffirm beliefs I had been working my way towards on my own, to reassure me in my thoughts on joining the Catholic church, to repair damage my faith had taken from some of the negative things put out by self-proclaimed Christians I know, and to reinstate my trust in the value of reading the Bible. Lately I had a lot of questions about how much could I trust the Bible. I still think the translators and even writers worked in their own personal intentions and motives as the Bible took its present form(s), but I think I am better armed at reading it prayerfully and critically now.

OH – and our priest was in class part of the night, so I got to talk to him before class officially started. Turns out he graduated two years ahead of me. I didn’t know him, but he knew several of my good friends older siblings, so we got to reminisce a bit about high school. That was cool.



( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2008 03:29 am (UTC)
4. Libraries have many books but not all books. There is much apocrypha worth reading.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
(As but a single example)I was particularly fascinated by the fairly recent discovery of the gnostic book of Judas. Puts a whole new spin on the man viewed as the villian by so much of the Christian churches.

Also fits in well with the fact that I'm a Jorge Luis Borges fan, and he'd written a short story that sort of anticipated that whole thing... ;)

Nov. 2nd, 2008 04:07 am (UTC)
I heard about the gnostic book of Judas on NPR! I wanted to get a copy of it, actually. I thought I could give it to my dad for Christmas and "borrow" it. I was especially interested in the idea of personal feelings/relationships between the disciples affecting how they wrote about each other in the gospels.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
I love Thomas but hadn't heard about the book of Judas. Will look up. Thanks.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC)
Okay, my mistake. I think it was the book of Thomas that I heard about on NPR. I believe they said the story of Doubting Thomas might have been written more as a slight or insult stemming from a rivalry with Thomas? (My "relationships between the disciples affecting how they wrote about each other" comment from earlier.) Now I want both books. :)

I'm just going to have to keep a notebook in my car to quickly jot down titles and authors.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)
Okay, I swear I left a comment thanking you for the addition and saying I was going to add it to my notes and my post and mentioning that I wish I had thought of that myself as I have read a few of the gnostic gospels. I don't see the comment, so I don't know if it's just a delaying posting or my antitechnology-field messing things up somewhere. Apologies if you get two of these comments!
Nov. 2nd, 2008 03:31 am (UTC)
Your contemplations on this fascinate me: Particularly point two. I've always held an opinion that factuality and truth are not necessarily the same thing. Interesting to find that there is a branch of the Christian church that isn't filled with total whack-a-loons, people that realize that there's a discprency between the myths of the earliest days and what God (or, you know, whoever) hath revealed to us later with skience.

Personally, I put the Hebraic myths of the earliest days as being in the same as the Greek myths and the Egyptian myths and the Japanese myths and the Indian (both (major) types) myths: the best explanation at the time.

An interesting note about Greek myths: I've done a lot of reading of Greek source material in relation to the Iliad and the Odyssey and other early works: Zeus is often, VERY often referred to in those works. But the name most often used is "theos" not "Zeus": it translates out as "God" not as a proper name.

Not very important, just something that's amused me and fascinated me for a while.

Also: a very very readable version of the bible for your edification: lacks the poetry of the King Jimmy version, but makes up for it in clearly-readable yet pleasant-to-read prose: The Message.

Introductory page with index: http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/index.php?action=getVersionInfo&vid=65

First chapter of Genesis with navigation bars at the top:



And thank you again for sharing your thoughts on this: I enjoy reading it. Please, feel free to ask/argue/discuss any of this with me, if you so desire. I'm fascinated by the whole subject, and while I approach it from the agnostic viewpoint, and you from the positive theist standpoint, I think we get along well enough to discuss it without worrrying about causing too much of an aglethorpe over things.

It indeed looks as if you are finding your fit in this church, my friend, and I am happy for you!


Nov. 2nd, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
Cool about the Zeus/Theos comments!!!

I think it was my inability to completely express myself. The Greek myths, Norse myths, Hebriac myths are all the same in that they were attempts by people to explain the whats and whys in the best way they could within their skientific understandings. So I do think they are the same in that regard. Honestly, part of the difference I was alluding to might be that I grew up with Genesis as a part of my religious upbringing and Greek myths as interesting stories, so Genesis is more internalized. I don't actually know that I have a logical reason for identifying with it more! I think a lot of it is personal choice on my part. I'm sure Xena Warrior Princess doesn't help me.

I am really happy with this Church because I don't want to be around whack-a-loons, either! I have to give credit to the Methodist church I was attending in FWB, as they didn't seem overtly WaL. I was thinking of looking in Deism, but sadly I haven't actually taken any real steps to reading about it. I think of two things. 1) Jefferson/Franklin were Deists and were smart guys. So in my head, if someone I respect a great deal thinks a certain way, I'm more open to an interested in what they think unless I have strong reasons to disagree with them. 2) It's the idea that there is a master creator of the universe, but he doesn't really mess around with us much. I have no idea why I even think that's what it is about, possibly from a biography or something somewhere.

If nothing else I ought to at least read a wiki about it. I'm so lazy sometimes. There's just so much out there to read. And also, Facebook has addictive and pointless "send plant" applications that take up hours of your time.

Edited at 2008-11-02 04:32 am (UTC)
Nov. 2nd, 2008 04:40 am (UTC)
Another EDIT (my first was rethinking "strictly" - I'm rarely strict on anything)

I should say that I don't like being around intolerant, inflexible, or arrogant whack-a-loons. I love being around goofy whack-a-loons who enjoying hiding on people's porches, borrowing clothes from their mom regardless of their gender, or dressing up as zombies and insisting they are ten years old so they can go trick or treating. Those kinds of whack-a-loons are awesome.

(So why is intolerant, inflexible and arrogant Sheldon my favorite? Because I am rarely strict on anything, even my views on whack-a-loons...)
Nov. 2nd, 2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
(Kind of like the instructions you would give a five year old versus the instructions you would give a 25 year old, etc.). It is not that God changes his mind, but that his people are gradually growing to maturity and what was suitable at one period of their growth is not suitable later.

The Exodus journey in the desert was a big problem area for me, until I had children, and realized that the Israelites at that time were very like two year olds, in how they'd keep on going back and doing the same thing they'd just been punished for. I do not know if all the smiting and wholesale death are literally true, of course.

Madeleine L'Engle is very good on the Bible, and Truth vs. fact. Her fiction is wonderful, but try to find her non-fiction writings.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
I love Madeleine L'Engle's Austin's and Murry's Families!
There were acting a lot like two-year olds, weren't the?. I agree about the smiting and wholesale death, but if things got a big "exaggerated" like passed down family stories, if they are anything like our family things got quite a bit exaggerated, so maybe it wasn't nearly as wholesale as it reads. One of my big problems is reminding myself that societal roles and expectations and behaviors were different from now, so I have to kind of put on different glasses when viewing the stories. I forget that sometimes during the smitey and sexist bits. Well, maybe I still remember it, but I don't work within that mindset to take out what I need from it w/o getting shocked or miffed.

I have never read any of Madeleine L'Engle's non-fiction works! I knew she was someone able to unite science and Christianity, and admired her greatly for that, but yet again I was too lazy to actually read biographies on her beyond the "authors note" in the books. Wow, I just found http://www.madeleinelengle.com/. I thought I had read a bunch of her books, but I had no idea she's written 63.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
I just read her Newbery acceptance speech and it made me cry. :)

All of it was beautiful and inspirational, but a portion of it applied very well to my catechism notes this week: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… The extraordinary, the marvelous thing about Genesis is not how unscientific it is, but how amazingly accurate it is. How could the ancient Israelites have known the exact order of an evolution that wasn’t to be formulated for thousands of years? Here is a truth that cuts across barriers of time and space.

Also, she references Fred Hoyle, and I actually was talking about Hoyle to my husband this morning because he had pulled out Hoyle's The Black Cloud to read.

So there were two "hey!" moments while reading her speech which amuses me to think this was probably the best time for me to read it. :)
Nov. 2nd, 2008 08:24 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I just went and read it, too. I haven't read every one of her books, but I have read most of certain categories.

She said in one of her non-fiction books, that when she wanted to read theology, she either read the medieval philosophers or modern physicists. (Not a direct quote). I know that chaos theory was incredibly illuminating for me about prayer.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 06:05 pm (UTC)
Interesting journey you're on here. I'm sure you've posted this elsewhere, but I was rather wondering what set you on this journey if you're of a mind to expound.
Nov. 2nd, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
expounding and expounding - sorry this is so long :)

Why RCIA classes? - When I got married I moved about 40 minutes from my church (United Methodist). My husband didn't want to go to church, so my choices became 1) go by myself, 2) drive 40 miles to go with my parents, or 3) find someone else to go with. I'm capable of going to church by myself, but I prefer going with someone. (For many reasons, part of it is shyness, part of it is the joy of sharing an experience with someone, and part of it is motivational - like with exercising, if someone else is counting on you to be there it's a lot harder to say "I have the sniffles, I don't think I'll go today...".) When Toaster invited me to go with her, I started attending the local Catholic church. I've been to Catholic masses, apologist groups, rosary gatherings, etc. for years because my best friend growing up and my best friend in high school were Catholic, so I have a high comfort level with the church and knew a bit about it. Catholicism has closed communion, so to participate in the Eucharist I have to join. Attending RCIA came from thinking that I ought to know more about this church I've been attending off and on for so long and a desire to participate in communion. I'm also completely happy with United Methodist, so I'm not rejecting them. In my mind, I'm just adding on. I've been up front about that at Catechism because I didn't want to come into this under false pretenses.

Why post about it? - It's also a shyness thing. I'm so paranoid about expressing myself due to lack of confidence in my writing abilities and my clarity of thought AND due to fear of offending anyone. Politics and religion are the foremost "I'm scared to talk about these" topics, possibly because so many intolerant people have offended or hurt me in the past. People ought to be able to talk about either of these subjects without insulting others, darn it. So this journaling is an attempt to be braver and an attempt to practice writing. My big hope is that I will actual reflect deeper on the topics if I'm having to write about it. (That motivation thing again.) Also, this may be vain, but I'm kind of hoping to show that a Christian doesn't have to be offensive. I've had some fellow Christians hurt me and my friends in the past, and I think they've damaged the Christian image, so some part of me hopes that maybe this might improve that image at least with any of my friends who have been hurt. EDIT Can't believe I left this out, also posting because of the hope that other will add to my growth just as you did with your library comment!

Plus, I just love learning new things in general. Again, were I braver I would like to go to some Jewish, Buddhist, and other religious services. I only know of one synagogue in our area, and am too shy to invade on my own.

Edited at 2008-11-02 08:41 pm (UTC)
Nov. 3rd, 2008 04:14 am (UTC)
I like your posts too!
I've really been enjoying these classes as well. They help me to revisit and remember stuff that I've learned in the past but filed away in my brain somewhere. Plus, these classes are explaining things way better than I ever could. I wish we could go out to eat or something afterward so we could talk about what we've learned and stuff. Maybe later this year sometime.

Next week, I'm a-bringing my bible, and I'm gonna kick your butt in the "finding stuff first" arena! (Not that it's a competition or anything. *cough*)

Edited at 2008-11-03 04:16 am (UTC)
Nov. 3rd, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
Re: I like your posts too!
Whatever, Toast. ;) I get automatic bonus points for my readings for calmly saying intercourse (twice) in a room full of strangers, one of which was that young boy.

Not that it's a competition, of course... /grin

How late is Applebees open? They have a WW menu, so I wouldn't have to struggle as much as I would if we were to go to Sonic or to Krystals. (More traditional for us! Maybe if I can recover from this weekend and save up some points, we could increase our restaurant choices.) If you want to grab something for yourself then meet back at my place to talk about it instead of watching Fringe ;0 we could try that! I'm totally game.
Nov. 3rd, 2008 05:18 am (UTC)
Re: I like your posts too!
Tee-hee! That "intercourse" thing was funny. You get total props for that.

Notice how *I* kept stumbling over the word "blasphemous"?

Nov. 3rd, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
When you said Applebees had a WW menu, I thought "World of Warcraft?" for a second.

I do have a set of some of the gnostic books. Also a book on the various early Christian traditions that lost out to Paulline Christianity and so became retconned as "heresy!" So when you feel like borrowing ...
Nov. 4th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)
Which Gnostic books? And the other book sounds fascinating, too.

Speaking of borrowing... I have Full Moon (Wodehouse) to return to you (it's actually been sitting on the shelf waiting for you for some time now). I think you said to pass Roots of Desire on to Redd? I'm 1/3 of the way through the Krauss book and am LOVING it. :) Thank you very much.
Nov. 4th, 2008 01:56 pm (UTC)
I don't know which books, exactly--I was going to get to it when I finished going through the KJ Bible. The other book is excellent, Bart Ehrman is a terrific religious historian.

Yes, Roots of Desire to redheaded. Glad you liked the Krauss. Tell freemonkeys I'm loving Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse (and must read more Rankin--who can resist titles such as Apocalypso and Nostradamus Ate My Hamster?).
Nov. 4th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC)
There's a wonderful quote in the Ehrman book from one of the non Paulline traditions in early Christianity to the effect that "Yeah, Paul. One flash of light and he thinks he knows more about what Jesus really meant than those of us who knelt at the feet of the apostles and heard it from their lips!" Which drives home Ehrman's point that the traditions he's writing about aren't "heresy" because they formed before there was an agreed-on orthodoxy to deviate from.
Nov. 4th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Excuse, was mistaken
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