Thursday 27 January 2011

Stark choices (5)

[Continuing a review of The Human Faces of God by Thom Stark]

The next section, Just Deserts or Just Desserts, contrasts varying understandings of the meaning of suffering. Do the bad guys get their cosmic comeuppance in the end, and good folk receive a belated reward? Or is it a case of enjoying life in the here and now, as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes maintains. The final part of chapter one briefly touches on the history of Old Testament canonisation with some plain talking.
... the process by which these disparate books were collected together into a single curriculum was undertaken in large part in order to contribute to the consolidation of political power - as a way to safeguard religious identity and group cohesion ... it  was only after the texts had been brought together for these purposes that it even began to make sense to think about them as a singular "Word" from God. (p.14)

Chapter 2, Inerrantists Do Not Exist, calls the bluff of those who claim they believe everything in the Bible.
If you were to ask an inerrantist if she agrees with Ezek. 18:20, she would certainly answer in the affirmative. Of course she concurs that children should not be made to suffer for the sins of their parents! But ask her if she agrees with Isa. 13:16, where Yahweh's idea of justice is to punish parents by dashing their infants' heads against large rocks. Ask her if she concurs with Lev. 26:29, or Ezek. 5:9, or Jer. 19:9 ... Is the inerrantist still an inerrantist? (p.16)
From here the discussion moves on to hermeneutics and the many "inspired revisionist readings" of the Bible that occur in the Bible itself, followed by methods Christian leaders have used in both the early church and modern fundamentalist communities. In broad terms Stark is cogent and convincing, though I have a few quibbles on details when he touches on the figure of Marcion (but more on that later.) Along the way he swats at the expected throw-away lines that inerrantists toss out, the caricatures of 'hostile liberals,' and the idea that 'scripture interprets scripture.'

The discussion is to the point without the usual pussy-footing around that one invariably encounters from cautious ecclesiastical functionaries, and that is a breath (or maybe a blast) of fresh air.

To be continued.

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