I've committed myself to a 4 year theology course, and I am in my first year now. This year's theme is 'Theosis' and this particular segment is 'Justice'.
I won't bore you by going into the details of it, but as a first year student, my focus is the Old Testament. I do my study and bring it into the same discussion as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year students whose focus is altogether different. Our discussions are interesting, coming as they do from all directions. I think in the end, these differences are supposed to flow coherently into the discussion of current situations.
Initially, I felt that I would have nothing to add to the discussion, being that I am a first year (and unfortunately, the ONLY first year) but I have found the group welcoming, More than once, they've been pleased with something that I've brought up, saying that fresh eyes alert them to things that they had missed, so, as the weeks pass, I've gotten more comfortable with speaking up.
One of the things that I've grown increasingly more uncomfortable with is the old testament. I've come to believe that all those rules, all those laws, the stories that were told, the destruction, the inhumanity, all of was designed to control a people.
The Pentatuch was written by people in a position of power. A surprising number of stories have their roots in epic poems about Gilgamesh and Enkidu, stories that would have been familiar to the people hearing them all those thousands of years ago. The old stories were incorporated in the new framework. In my mind, there were people claiming that God spoke to them, and they were wielding those words like a holy club to maintain their hold on their power and position. For someone who has spent her life not looking really closely at this, my thinking actually scares me sometimes. I am entering into some personally uncharted territory here.
I don't want to get into it because I know that it is controversial. There are people who believe the Bible is to be taken literally. I don't believe you can. The more of the old testament I study, the more questions that I have. Some people see this as a dangerous direction, and tell me so. They want to argue about it, and some of them feel as if they have to save my soul, which is tedious, because I know they are doing it out of genuine concern. I certainly don't want to be rude to people who, at the root of it, love me. I have learned to not talk about it. In the end, I will either find my faith strengthened, or I will find it dashed on the rocks. I don't know, but I do believe that the truth is always worth looking for.
In any case, the discussion at our last class was lively as usual, and I listened. We were examining 'justice' from a Biblical perspective, and we applied those thoughts to what is unfolding in the world around us.
Finally, the facilitator got to me and my old testament readings. My thoughts did not fit with the direction of the discussion (they never do, it seems) because my readings had been about Ezra and Nehemiah, two scribes sent out by the two different Persian rulers to collect the laws of Judah, a conquered country. The long and the short of it is that these two scribes seemed to wield a lot of power.
One of the things that they determined to be ungodly was that the men of Judah had married foreign women and had children with them. These women were divorced and sent off with their children to the lands that they came from, a shocking thing to me. In a patriarchal time, these women (and by extension, their now 'bastard' children) would have had no power, no rights, no protection, no home, nothing.
The ramifications of these decrees made me sick to ponder, and after days of this, once again, I reached the conclusion that I always seem to reach. Ezra and Nehemiah both claimed to be instructed by God, and once again, I found myself doubting it. Where ever you see horror and inhumanity and cruelty, I believe that this is not the work of God. It is the work of men. Godless ones at that.
There it was. My turn to speak on the reading that I had done, on the conclusions that I had reached in a week when the discussion was justice. I explained my thinking, which really wasn't anything that I hadn't already said. A fourth year student said, "So you don't believe this was God speaking?"
"No," I answered calmly, and explained my thinking.
And there was silence as people listened in a considering way, but my questioner was obviously affronted, which is out of place for the group. We are supposed to listen. Disagree if we feel we have something to bring to the table that would cast the thing in a new light, but it is supposed to be a thoughtful and respectful process. We never say that anyone is wrong.
But this woman felt strongly I was wrong. She began to cite the reasons that God would have given such a commandment. I expounded a bit more on why I felt sure that He did not.
She snapped, "Why do you keep talking about the men? Maybe the women were the ones that wanted the foreigners driven out! Who's to say that the women didn't put that bug in their husbands' ears?"
And getting irritated myself, I snapped right back, "Because it was a patriarchal society! They were the ones that made the rules, and judged the rules, and enforced the rules! And just what does this have to do with the topic being discussed?"
There in the middle of a discussion about justice, she snapped angrily, "God wanted a pure race!"
I was dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. My brain was filled with outraged words. I never thought that I would hear Adolf Hitler's words ascribed to God. As the words tumbled from my brain, my mouth was trying to stop me from uttering them. I knew that in the end, my mouth would lose that battle. I knew that I was about to speak some very unfortunate words that were inappropriate to the setting, and could never, ever be taken back, once spoken.
I left the meeting.
I clicked off the computer, gathered my books and put them away. I stormed to my kitchen in a fine temper and cleaned it to within an inch of its life. Tim was no doubt startled by the shouting from the office, but after 23 years, he has seen this temper at times and he knows to let me be, that I will talk when I'm ready.
It is now two days later.
Once I got that temper under control, I see several things plainly. The first is that the woman is a very stubborn woman, given to think that she has all the answers. I am a very stubborn woman who believes that if anyone thinks they have all the answers, they don't.
She has some very obvious biases and they have shown up in other conversations with other members too. It's not personal.
I think that our facilitator is perhaps inexperienced. Maybe just too nice. She not only overlooks the abrasiveness, but she also defers to the woman frequently, because, in short, she knows her Bible. I'd hate to play against her in a game of Bible Trivia.
Three of the other group members have reached out to me in these days. They've been dealing with this behavior for years, and they've been awfully concerned that I would simply leave the group in a huff. Last night, one of them called after a long day with her dying father. I knew that she was exhausted and I felt terrible that this tempest in a teapot was even a blip on her radar. She wanted to know what I was going to do.
"I'm still reaching a decision on it, really. I mean, if I leave it won't be because I'm pissed though," I assured her. She was a little surprised at that. "Well, it's true. I have blurted some incredibly stupid stuff in my life. I would hate to think that people held it against me forever." Knowing that little factoid about myself makes it easier to be generous to others likewise afflicted.
I also explained some background: that her words were such a powerful trigger to me because I was raised in a very racist home and had lost a lot of time and relationship with my parents. There were words and thoughts that I did not want my children exposed to, and my parents felt strongly that they were in their own house and if my father chose to speak about niggers and Jews, he had every right to do so. Furthermore, if I didn't like it, I was welcome to take my ass and my kids home. Really, it got to the point where my father would say his ugly things with a sidelong glance at me to see how I was going to react. He was enjoying himself.
The simple fact of it is that the words that were spoken in that theology course were guaranteed to raise my hackles. It would not have mattered where I was or who said the words. It was engrained in me to speak up and to walk out.
I have no idea why I feel so strongly about this, but I do. I can't NOT speak up.
My friend considered this, but was curious about why I would consider leaving the group if I weren't angry and disgusted.
I don't know, really. Sometimes, maybe I think that I'm not a good fit for something. It happens a lot in my life. I'm not sure why that is, but I know that this is an important group, and I do not want to be a stumbling block to it. The thing that keeps me undecided though is simple. The study is very good very challenging, and I'm curious what I will be when I am done with it.
"I don't want to get into it because I know that it is controversial"ReplyDelete
My take is even more controversial. I don't believe God had anything at all to do with this book or any of the books. :)
I actually believe exactly what you wrote here -
"I've come to believe that all those rules, all those laws, the stories that were told, the destruction, the inhumanity, all of was designed to control a people. "
I also like to clean when I am angry. :)
It is ok to leave if you feel like it isn't for you. But I would never leave because of someone else. That is something I would take up with the facilitator.
It does not sound like you are the stumbling block here at all.
The fact that other people have reached out to you tells me a lot - it sounds like you are not the only one who *that person* is a stumbling block for.
I'll be interested to hear what you decide. For me it would be talk to the facilitator and stay in the group, but the next time that person said something so inappropriate I would want the facilitator to call them out on it and if they did not I would have to.
Debby not knowing things is the road to ignorance, I think nearly everyone would support your need to learn and get to the heart of the old testament.ReplyDelete
As a female I fully understand the fury that explodes as you come across the patriarchal nature in the bible. Once visiting a church way out in the country, I went up to the lectern, looked down at the page the bible was open at. One word sprang out 'harlot' littered all over the page, for whatever reason it was open on that page I saw red, much to Paul's amusement, that women were always seen as second class citizens.
Entering the world of discussion is a brave thing to do, having to accept counter arguments infuriating!
Good for you. No one has all the answers. Other than at an Arthur Mee Children's Encyclopedia level, I'm not familiar with the details of Ezra and Nehemiah or those parts of the Old Testament around Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar, but these stories are from a part of the world where most women are still restricted to subservient roles. It helps keep those in power in power.ReplyDelete
I prefer the New Testament and Jesus. Leviticus is very hard to read.ReplyDelete
I've been struggling with a great deal of it, Northsider. Most of it, actually.ReplyDelete
I am with you entirely. I attend two churches, the Methodist church and a Southern Baptist Church. I could tell the Methodist pastor that I don't believe the Bible literally and he would agree with me. I know if I told the Baptist preacher the same thing and he and his wife would assume I'm going to hell and start preaching to me, as though that could convince anybody. I believe in science.ReplyDelete
The reason conservative Christians will never admit the Bible isn't literal is because if it isn't, you can't be sure that Jesus existed.
But I go to the Baptist Church and keep my mouth shut because I was raised in a similar denomination. I pray, yes I do. I believe in God and Jesus. But I'm old, and it takes me back to my childhood. I don't write about this any more on m own blog because there are people who would be hurt to know what I really believe.
I hadn't remembered the part about sending the foreign women home. I do remember when they conquered one group and were told to kill everything and everyone EXCEPT for the young women who they could take home, which was rather convenient for the boys, don't you think?ReplyDelete
The blogpost title, "YP, you probably want to skip this one" was like a red rag to a bull. I read every word and thought about the matters raised. However, my survival instinct is strong so my lips are now sealed with Gorilla glue.ReplyDelete
Sometimes, YP, your roadmap does not apply to another's journey. Have your lips ever been sealed before, or is this a first? :)ReplyDelete
One thing I have always pondered about those that take the Bible literally is the fact that they do not take into account that these texts have been translated and re-translated from language to language for millennia. Languages often don't have words with exact meaning so a similar word must be chosen, which can change the original meaning of the entire paragraph. Translators may take hours or days coming up with the correct word, that will portray the meaning THEY want to get across.ReplyDelete
I also whole heartedly agree that these texts were used to control people. Basically it's an ancient adult version of eat your veggies if you want dessert. Behave the way we tell you now, and you will live in paradise for eternity.
There are only two things I won't talk about unless in a very specific group, religion and politics. With politics, it is because things can get heated quickly and burn bridges even quicker, but with religion, it is mostly of my ignorance. I have read the bible a few times cover to cover and attend church every Sunday but I've never been a scripture quoter or even someone who can remember a passage more than about ten minutes after it is read. I guess if I had to put the bible in a spot at the library, I would probably choose historical fiction. Not because I think God or a lot of things mentioned in the bible are fiction, but because much of it was written second and third hand many years after the fact and so writers took liberties to get their message across.ReplyDelete
An interesting topic, Debby. The title of the post drew me right in! Haha.ReplyDelete
The Old Testament sure seems full of blood, violence, destruction, misogyny, and gives license for humans to be treated as property (I include women in that last category). I'm not sure why so many Christians are enthralled with it, considering that they profess to follow Jesus which is the New Testiment, not the Old. And to take any of it literally seems ridiculous to me, anyway.
I'm surrounded by Southern Baptists in this part of the world so to see Christians who are actively racist and smug about it is nothing new to me.
I never had a "road map" for my journey through life Debby so I could hardly expect anybody else to take my exact route. As for your flippant question, "Have your lips ever been sealed before, or is this a first?" the answer is an overwhelming "Yes!" for on thousands of occasions I have found that discretion is the better part of valour. Please do not address me as if I were a cartoon.ReplyDelete
Oh YP, I was not being flippant. I was teasing you. I am truly sorry. Sometimes I think that after a few exchanges on a blog, I perhaps assume that I 'know' people better than I do. I give you my word on this. I am a big joker, but I am not rude. Again, my sincerest apology. As to the first part of the comment, it was meant as an observation, not a criticism.Delete
A fascinating post for a Biblical non-believer like me. It's hard for me to fathom that any thinking person could take the Bible (especially the old testament) literally. I echo what Ed says about how it was written, and would add that it was also translated (and mistranslated!) many times. It depends on how you feel of course but I think that the group needs your perspective as a point-counterpoint. However, if it's too stressful or angering for you, it's probably not worth it to put yourself through it.ReplyDelete
It is actually not stressful. I never have felt that my opinions are considered far out. I worry about it but i guess that all 1st years feel this way as they plod through the OT. One even called it bible bootcamp, which was funny stuff.ReplyDelete
I was worried about this, YP. I posted a comment using my phone and it did not appear to 'take'. Here I am 4 hours later trying again on my home computer.ReplyDelete
First of all, let me offer my sincerest apologies. I was not trying to be flippant. I was trying to make a joke. In thinking about things, I think that my mistake is assuming that I 'know' a person after a few blog exchanges. You know what they say about people who assume, I am sure. You don't know me. You don't know that I like to tease. I can assure you that I am not rude, although there are people who would disagree with that, I'm sure.
As for the first part of the comment, it was merely an observation that we all have our own journeys. Your map would be different from mine. That was not meant in any way to criticize YOUR journey.
Again, I apologize from the bottom of my heart.
I think the Bible is a historic cultural and literary work produced by fallible humans. And yes, it WAS designed to keep people in line -- to help produce a cohesive society. I think you're undoubtedly correct that it perpetuated the patriarchy.ReplyDelete
It sounds to me like it's probably good for everyone else that you're there. You're bringing some valuable, thought-provoking perspective to those conversations!
Maybe - just maybe - the way forward is to speak up about the process and not the issue under debate. Getting drawn into rights and wrongs and interpretations of the bible is not really the issue is it - it is about respecting and listening to each other views; about the benefit of diversity in thought; and the grace to accept that others may not follow or be convinced by your train of thought. Surely the point of the sessions is not for someone to 'win'! Ultimately this is about ground rules for discussion and learning - that is what I would raise with the facilitator and direct to the person too.ReplyDelete
On a secular note, I read hundreds of blog posts about which I don't agree but that doesn't mean I feel the need to 'correct' the author.
And on another note, there is a huge debate in philosophy circles as to who is the second most important philosopher on justice in the 20th century - but all are agreed that the most important is John Rawles. For a secular perspective on justice, it is worth reading a summary of his ideas on the 'veil of ignorance. I studied his seminal Theory of Justice, forty years ago at University.
Enough - I was interested this post even if not everyone will be.
I am perfectly willing to accept that not everyone thinks like me. The trigger was that 'God wanted a pure race'.ReplyDelete
There is no such thing as 'pure race' - it's an astonishingly outmoded concept - you were right to be mad.ReplyDelete