Authors, intent and interpretation

Religion Stencil

Religion Stencil (Photo credit: murdelta)

An interesting summary of current biblical scholarship. Not from atheist scientists intent on destroying Christianity, but from the historical theologians within the religious traditions who are experts in these matters.

“The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, to confirm the faith of their communities.”

That’s the mainstream religious scholarly view, mind: not the secular unbeliever scholarly view.

By all means: take the moral lessons, parables and teachings of the Bible and extract the ones that are good and make sense to you, and use them in your life. There are some good ones in there. But there are some pretty terrible ones too, and every reader parses them through their own worldview, cherry-picking what your morality already agrees with and discarding what it does not. It’s why the Bible was used for centuries to justify slavery, and at the same time was eventually one of the texts use to justify emancipation.

Just don’t take it as gospel (pun definitely intended). Since we lack the original texts (we only have copies of copies of copies, with each subsequent copier changing the text, introducing errors, adding clarifications so that their personal religious opinion issued forth from the mouths of the apostles in order to give them historical weight they didn’t deserve), we aren’t even really certain what they first said.

Is this a call for everyone to be non-religious? No. I’ve obviously made my choice on that matter, and this is only one of the many factors in my worldview. But what I do hope to get from posting this type of information is a counterpoint to those who center their perspective on major issues (same-sex marriage, bullying, abortion, contraception, the role of women in the church and in society, our role as men in society, what morality is and what it means, how we determine what is right and what is wrong, what is ethical or unethical, or what role ANY religious text should have in determining the laws that govern all of us) on what they believe are firsthand witness accounts of real events that are accepted as historical fact. They are, unfortunately, nothing of the sort: it’s up to you to bring morality to the table and make a case for your position on these issues, independently of what these texts say. They are not, in any sense of the word, definitive; regardless of what religious tradition you belong to, your focus should be on humanity and morality today, not what it was thousands of years ago.

The world and the things we know about it today are orders of magnitude different from what people knew back then. We know that common practices and beliefs from back in those days are today considered completely unacceptable, in some cases even immoral; we also know that no matter which particular one of the thousands of sub-sects of religion you belong to, your practice and beliefs today would be unrecognizable (perhaps even heretical) to people back then. Heck, there wasn’t even a common set of books recognized as part of the New Testament until hundreds of years CE. I’d love to hear someone debate a 3rd century religious believer and explain to them why the gnostic traditions in the Book of Thomas or the Book of Judas no longer apply, especially considering that authorship and provenance of those gospels is no less murky as those of Luke, Matthew or John.

Live a good life. Let others live theirs. Love thy neighbor, treat him/her the way you would like to be treated. Let him who has never sinned cast the first stone, all that good stuff. And accept that your interpretation of your religious texts is very likely quite different from those of members of your religion from a century ago, and completely different from those that were alive two or three or four millennia before that, so don’t get too attached to them as the only possible interpretation of how to live a good life. They are your interpretation, one out of thousands, and just that: nothing more. The odds that they are wrong are far from zero, a fact that we should all accept with vast helpings of humility regarding any perception of unquestioned and unquestionable veracity.

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