Tuesday 8 February 2011

Stark choices: the final instalment

The last chapter in Thom Stark's book is called Through the Looking Glass. After a pitiless exposé of the problematic nature of scripture, and the dark passages that appall people of goodwill, the time has come for the author to show his hand on "these damnable texts."
...they must be retained as scripture, precisely as condemned texts. Their status as condemned is exactly their scriptural value... The texts themselves depict God as a genocidal dictator, as a craver of blood. But we must condemn them in our engagement with them... That they stand as condemned is what they mean for us as scripture.
So, what does that actually mean?
Rather than ask whether a text is revealed... it is better to ask whether a text is revelatory, whether we learn something from it about human nature or about the way the world works.
Still unsure where this is going?
Our scriptures have trained us to reason like war criminals.
Now that's quotable. Damnable texts force us, in Stark's view, into moral choices. We have to make a stand, not just utter platitudes. And we already do this on a limited scale.
The church has long used flawed biblical characters in this way... [David's adultery and Abraham's lying are cited]... This is not a new way to make problematic texts useful as scripture.
[W]e need these texts to remind us of the kind of monstrous people we always have the potential to become in the name of some land, some ideology, or some god.
Here's a salient point that is well made:
The truth is we do not depend upon the Bible for our knowledge of what is moral. If we did, we would be paralyzed in a world vastly different from the biblical worlds. Moreover, if we did depend upon the Bible for our morality, we would not be able to mount moral arguments against the institution of slavery, or against patriarchal polygamy, among other things. Everything the Bible tells us about these institutions is that they are morally permissible...
That should be self-evident, but the reality is otherwise. For every sane, considered voice there are a thousand others, fueled by biblicism of every stripe, armored with apologetic illogic, exhorting us to do otherwise. Therein lies the problem.

A tremendous book full of straight talking. I can't recommend it highly enough.

1 comment:

  1. Its not just the texts, its the binary logic embedded in them.

    Aristotelian logic can lead one very quickly from "this is the word of God" and "I worship God the way he wants" therefore "those that don't are of the devil". Aristotelian logic (binary)favors the extremes (and extremist zealot) rather than the middle ground. This is the law of the excluded middle at work.

    Its why we have Windows 7 instead of HAL 9000 in 2010.

    Its why criminals get sent free from crimes in court.

    Its why 3 religions who rose up out of the middle east often want to kill each other. They cannot see the common ground they all share.

    All systems that use binary logic will eventually make logically correct decisions that are WRONG, sometimes disastrously WRONG because the logic system itself is incomplete for describing reality.