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It even appears in so simple a case as the popular belief that after Christians die they "go to heaven," which is not at all Biblical.

Please expound upon what you said here just so I can be sure to understand what you are saying.

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Ah The Onion

 

I think there is very much the attitude of wanting to pick and choose from the religious buffet these days by many people. It part of the self-fulfillment/I want it now generation that is currently driving a lot of things, and because they've been pandered to at home, they're feeling like they need to be catered to at all levels.

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The "spiritual but not religious" thing can be approached from several different angles. I don't believe that you can consider yourself "spiritual" without any movement towards growth. Even if you reject some conventional ways of practicing religion, or perhaps some formats for church bodies, it's extremely important that you grow in community with others of your same faith and, through dialogue, advance your understanding.

 

However, my church also says that we are not religious. Our take is that the conventional definition of "religion" involves sect-based sets of beliefs, lists of requirements, and a determinate, unified interpretation of some source of religion. It is our belief that Christianity isn't really meant to be that way. It's not a bunch of arbitrary rules and procedures. Christianity is about your personal faith, about what the Bible says. If there are multiple interpretations of things, our Pastor will present all of them and then share what he believes based on all the studying he has done. We have no rituals or requirements, and fundamentally Christianity only requires the belief that Jesus Christ is our savior and no one gets to the Father except through him.

 

So, while the phrase "spiritual but not religious" can be abused and can come to mean something that is very unhealthy, it can also represent a stance on a faith that is free of "organized religion" characterized by rituals and rules and instead focus on a more pure faith as free of historical precedent and human interpretation as possible, which is in my opinion good.

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The "spiritual but not religious" thing can be approached from several different angles. I don't believe that you can consider yourself "spiritual" without any movement towards growth. Even if you reject some conventional ways of practicing religion, or perhaps some formats for church bodies, it's extremely important that you grow in community with others of your same faith and, through dialogue, advance your understanding.

 

However, my church also says that we are not religious. Our take is that the conventional definition of "religion" involves sect-based sets of beliefs, lists of requirements, and a determinate, unified interpretation of some source of religion. It is our belief that Christianity isn't really meant to be that way. It's not a bunch of arbitrary rules and procedures. Christianity is about your personal faith, about what the Bible says. If there are multiple interpretations of things, our Pastor will present all of them and then share what he believes based on all the studying he has done. We have no rituals or requirements, and fundamentally Christianity only requires the belief that Jesus Christ is our savior and no one gets to the Father except through him.

 

So, while the phrase "spiritual but not religious" can be abused and can come to mean something that is very unhealthy, it can also represent a stance on a faith that is free of "organized religion" characterized by rituals and rules and instead focus on a more pure faith as free of historical precedent and human interpretation as possible, which is in my opinion good.

 

Sounds like a really good way to do things.

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Random observation and thought today:

 

The Bible really screwed up historical accounts. The Old Testament really screwed up the history of Persia, Babylon, etc. They got the names of Persian kings wrong, and even when they ruled. It was clearly written by somebody who had no idea. To be fair, it's not like he had Wikipedia or anything at his disposal. However, we know for a fact that Persian kings existed, and we know when they ruled and we have multiple accounts from Persian, Greek, et al. sources to validate kings and dates to a very specific degree. So, the Bible screwed it up, but it happened.

 

The Bible screws up a lot in both the Old and New Testament. We discount these screw-ups to people making stuff up. As a scientist, I try to consider things beyond my initial response. It has steered me wrong before. I was in the field and made an observation about a bird, and I thought, "Well clearly, this is going to cause that." I was very, very wrong. It was something I hadn't considered, so now I am very, very hesitant to jump to conclusions based on my predilections. My predilection for the Bible is that they screwed up so much, how on earth could any of it be real. What if the guys writing it were just very uneducated? If we asked a layman to record history, he is probably going to mess up.

 

What do you all think? Possible? Too convenient?

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We also have to remember that we know dates according to our conventions. Back then it was, as far as I can recall, related to how long the relevant ruler had been in power, which meant that there were going to be messed up dates all over the place.

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The Bible really screwed up historical accounts. The Old Testament really screwed up the history of Persia, Babylon, etc. They got the names of Persian kings wrong, and even when they ruled. It was clearly written by somebody who had no idea. To be fair, it's not like he had Wikipedia or anything at his disposal. However, we know for a fact that Persian kings existed, and we know when they ruled and we have multiple accounts from Persian, Greek, et al. sources to validate kings and dates to a very specific degree. So, the Bible screwed it up, but it happened.

 

The Bible wasn't written to be a historical document, first off. But the dates and names are accurate, they're just (like Brendo said) using a different chronology, or another name of the king, etc. Keep in mind that these accounts were written during the time or soon after the time that said kings reigned. Things were a lot different back then. They knew more about the kings than we ever will, because they were actually alive during the time the king ruled. It's the difference between a first-hand eyewitness account and something we imply from looking at one very damaged piece of pottery with a name scratched on it. The pottery might be set in stone, and the eyewitness might tell things from a specific point of view, but we generally believe the eyewitness account as more reliable despite that.

 

If you're actually interested in this, I recommend a good book on this subject. I've read several, all of which say that among scientific circles, it's well understood that historically, the Bible is as accurate or more accurate than a lot of our other ancient documents.

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I can't speak much to the particular examples in dispute, as that falls largely outside my knowledge and reading, but I'll just note a few considerations that are important to keep in mind whether or not a particular historical detail is true or false. One is that the Bible for the ancients was not "The Bible" as we think of it now -- that one ultimate book that God wrote -- but rather "the Scriptures," a collection of writings diverse in style, genre, and authorship. We today are so removed from a culture that swam deep in the Christian tradition and in which this would have been apparent that we have now grown accustomed to thinking of the Bible as a uniform text. Certainly there is an important, overarching unity to it, but in terms of structure and content it is more like a library. There are eyewitness accounts, epistles, historical chronicles, theological poetry, cosmogonic myth, apocalyptic literature -- and just as you would read any other work with a discerning eye toward its genre, that being an indispensible key to how you should interpret its content, so the same holds true of the scriptures.

 

Ami is correct that the Bible as a single whole is not intended to be a transparent historical record (it has much loftier purposes). And this only poses a problem if you're committed to a strict literalist interpretation of all parts of the Bible. But, although you wouldn't know it by the science vs. religion debates in our present culture, and the revisionist historical narrative that is so often spun (FAITH --> 5000 years of darkness, ignorance --> SCIENCE --> 500 years of enlightnment, reason), biblical literalism was actually a late 19th-century invention, seized upon by overzealous Christians as a pietistic response to the doctrinal laxity of protestant liberalism. Unfortunately it answered one error with another and the pendulum has merely swung to the other side. The stripping of nuance and sophistication from scriptural interpretation down to a flat reductionistic literalism has been so influential in American culture that it is now hard for many people to imagine another way of viewing the matter: it is all or nothing, and you make any concessions against literalism it seems you are trying to wiggle out of the corner you've been trapped in by modern science. And once you admit that some things are not literal, how to you decide what is and what isn't? Why can't it all be figurative? Where does it stop?

 

Well, that is exactly why reading the Bible within the long, rich Christian tradition is indispensible. People who read up on the history will learn that figurative readings of some parts of the Bible are not a desperate ad hoc response to modern scientific findings but that the idea of reading the Bible in different senses has been woven into the tradition for centuries, going back pretty much to the beginning. Augustine (AD 5th century) famously espoused a "spiritual" reading of Genesis 1 and I believe it was Origen (AD 3rd century) who argued that the scriptures contain deliberately fantastic things that can't literally be true in order to carry our minds past the surface reading toward the more profound spiritual truths behind them. That is not to say that many of the Church Fathers and the lay faithful did not believe many of the stories in a literal way too. They did! But from very early in the tradition a way of reading scripture was developed that admitted of reading in more than one sense (Google the medieval "Four Senses of Scripture") and absorbed, promoted, shaped, and was shaped by philosophy and early scientific learning enough that it was carefully attuned and responsive to adjusting our understanding in the light of new and convincing facts (of nature or otherwise). Hell, there's even a passage in Aquinas that hints to the possibility of the generation of new species.

 

More to say but I gotta run . . . I'll finish up when I get home tonight.

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Sorry for the double post, but just to conclude—

 

When I speak of the crucial need to read the Bible within the context of the long Christian tradition, I am not saying that the Bible is *only* understandable with a guidebook and a firm understanding of Christian history. One of the amazing things about the scriptures is that they are both direct and simple AND complex and profound at the same time. Think of the parables of Jesus, the proverbs, the psalms. Christ preached to peasants, fishermen, prostitutes -- yet still stumped the learned Pharisees. One with very little prior knowledge of the Christianity can pick up the Bible and learn many essential, life-changing truths of the faith. And it goes without saying that there are many, many simple-minded people who better understand the heart of the Gospel and live out a life of Christian love than the most erudite church historians and biblical scholars.

 

But at the same time, there is a depth and complexity in the scriptures that makes many things in them not exactly transparent to a simple reading, and that have drawn some of history's greatest minds to meditate on them, commentate on them, and harmonize disparate passages to draw out the less obvious meanings. Think about an English class where you're reading a classic novel. You may (or may not) see on your own some of the things that supposedly make it great, but think of what a difference it makes to have a professor who has spent a lifetime in study of the text and in interaction with other commentators to illuminate things for you that you would never have put together -- how many layers, allusions, and symbols are there lying beneath the surface. That kind of richness in the text and obvious care in its construction would only increase your admiration for the talents and designs of the author. How much more, then, should this be the case with the inspired word of God! If he is the original and consummate artist, the supreme and masterful intellect, it shouldn't really surprise us that there are meanings and treasures in the Bible that can only be grasped after careful study.

 

That's why over the last couple of year's I've become much more wary of sola scriptura and the individualistic mindset of "Jesus, the Bible, and me" that marks a lot of contemporary American evangelicalism. Mael's question about how to sort out the facts and the problem of interpretation it opens up is a very good one. I don't think there's a satisfactory answer to it unless you revert to the Church's long and communal interpretative tradition that has reasoned through many of these very questions, clarified doctrine, and put our understanding of the Christian story on surer footing. The kind of evangelicalism I'm thinking about has a tendency toward "private judgment" of scripture (as John Henry Newman would say) that can have perilous results and lead many decent, well-intentioned people astray. To which I say: consulting the wisdom of your teachers and forebears is not a bad thing!

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Since you mentioned Biblical literism, I'd like to note how I have noticed that it is an extremely big subject today in many circles. The question is: is the Bible meant to be taken literally, and if only parts of it are, where can we draw the line? Are we even qualified to draw the line?

 

There are a lot of Christians these days who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but turn their nose at the smell of creationism. They don't believe in a young earth or that God created everything in six days, due to evidence that seems to point to the contrary. I mean, a very basic example I thought about recently is the stars we can observe. Some of them are billions of light-years away. That means that the stars have to be billions of years old in order for their light to have reached Earth by now and thus be visible.

 

I personally put no limit on the power of God, so I'm more willing to believe that 6 day creation is possible. Maybe God created the heavens and the earth billions of years before the 6 days of creation, or maybe he created everything on day 1 and without a thought made the light permeate the heavens. But then he creates man and the animals and all that stuff, and a serpent comes up to tempt Adam with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam's reaction is definitely not, "Whoa! A talking snake!" Then... is the story not literal, was it normal for snakes to talk back then, or did he understand that this was not just an ordinary snake? It's not really my call, but a lot of people would take that to mean it's not literal. But if that's not literal, where do the stories and parables stop and the retelling of actual events begin? Do we really have the wisdom to throw out some parts of scripture but not others?

 

This relates neatly back to the historical accuracy of the Bible. We really don't know what events are stories and which ones are literal. Some people take the entire Old Testament as a collection of stories while continuing to call themselves Christians. I don't think that at all, but there are definitely some accounts in those books that sound more like parables than recounts of actual events (and what is the purpose of Elijah performing a myriad sort of parlor-trick miracles like making an axe head float?). Could they all be true? I think so--God is omnipotent, after all--but I don't know how to draw a line and it seems safest to err on the side that the Bible is accurate. But many, many people would disagree with me, and many of those still call themselves Christians. They might even call me a "fundamentalist", which is a growing insult on the Internet. But on matters of faith, no evidence exists to convince anyone that one way or another is correct.

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That's always something I struggled with. I generally took it as being that lists of names were literal, but stuff like Genesis and revelations were figurative. I always struggled to accept 'creationism' because I've always loved dinosaurs and I understand the dates involved there, plus with the distant stars, but I don't see why it had to be actual 24hr period days, maybe days was just a metaphor to make it somethign we can relate to.

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I understand that the Bible is not to be taken literally, but falsifying a timeline seems like such an elementary error. If they don't know, that's one thing, and would really be understandable considering the era it was written. It seems like they wrote some of the dates as a best guess. I don't think that kind of error is enough to dismiss something entirely, but it sure makes it easier.

 

As an aside, deep down I want to believe in a higher power, but I just can't. I still want to cling to the hope that I will go to Heaven if I die. The fear of Hell is deeply implanted. That is the worst part of being raised as a Christian (or any other Abrahamic religion). Those ideals are injected into the very core of a person, and it takes years to slowly get rid of them. At the tail end of my "religious career", I said I was a Christian when deep down I knew I wasn't. I held on to it all out of fear and tradition, and it had negative effects on my life. When it came to decisions to circumcise and baptize my son, I really balked. The former I viewed as acceptable only because it decreases the chances of getting an already rare cancer, and the latter I consider relatively harmless. I can see becoming more concerned as he gets older. I am unsure of where I will draw the line. I want my child to use reason and steer clear of logical fallacies and superstition.

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