Re-examining Fundamentalism


2013-10-09-literally

Okay so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I am not a religious fundamentalist.  There’s just too much ambiguity, contradiction and confusion in the pages of the Bible for me to read it literally.  That and the fact that I have spent far too much time with really smart people who have spent far too much of their lives studying this stuff from both a historical and anthropological perspective to take any literal reading of certain parts of scripture seriously.  Both my father and sister hold masters degrees in the stuff and among my closest friends are other MAs and PHDs in such varied disciplines as Archeology, Anthropology, Hebrew Studies, and my personal favorite, Comparative Near-Eastern Religion, (that’s Judaism, Islam and Eastern Orthodoxy for those who don’t know).

In short I hang around with Bible nerds.

Now to be clear, too much education in these matters can inhibit faith. I get that.  Sometimes and shoe is just a shoe, don’t over analyse it.  But don’t become a fundamentalist without at least understanding the context of things either.  That’s why this article from the Huffington Post caught my eye on the weekend, check it out –

Five Cool Things Fundies Should Know About Christianity

While I find the tone of the article to be sarcastic in a way that will turn most fundamentalists off and cause them to dismiss the entire thing as too “liberal”, the overall message is quite accurate from an academic perspective.  My favorite is point number four and I apologize for copying the picture that goes with it but it’s a free image from Google so I haven’t violated any copyright laws that I know of. I’ve studied quite a bit on the over Hellenization of Christianity myself, it’s one of my favorite bugaboos about the Christian church.  God is not perfect, if you don’t believe me read Genesis Chapter One.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good […not perfect]. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. [Genesis 1:31]

I also write extensively on this concept of goodness and perfection in my book;  Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality, here’s an excerpt from Chapter One.

At the end of Genesis Chapter Two we are left with an image if idylic utopia that has never since been matched.  At the zenith of God’s Perfect Economy we read this;

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.  [Genesis 2:25]

That one sentence sums up the nature of God’s Perfect Economy completely.  But not necessary in the way church history has taught us to think.

Brian D. McLaren in his book “A New Kind of Christianity” argues that ever since the Romans sanctioned Christianity in the third century the meaning of the stories in the bible have been distorted and hijacked by a Greco-Roman philosophy that is incompatible with the Hebrew philosophy that authored them.  Contrary to the way it has been interpreted by everyone from Saint Augustine to Calvin, Luther, Wesley and even present day theologians like John Piper and R.C. Sprole, the bible is not a Greco-Roman story.  It is a Judeo-Hebrew story.  Unless and until we understand the difference we will never understand the overarching narrative story of scripture.

Naked and Unashmed then, must not be read with a Greco-Roman understanding of perfection and utopia.  To return to what I said at the start of this chapter; both the ruler mentality and the caretaker mentality are incomplete.  They are in fact artifacts of Greco-Roman philosophy that have no place in a Judeo-Hebrew story.

Greco-Roman philosophy can be traced to the classic argument between Plato and Aristotle over the existence of ultimate, nonmaterial and unchanging reality, as Plato taught or Aristotle’s idea that the only constant is change.  Those who held with Plato could only conclude that ultimate reality was perfect and unchanging and anything else was by definition broken and inferior.  When this idea is superimposed upon the biblical narrative Plato’s view of unchanging reality can be made to fit neatly within the story of creation as how life was supposed to unfold in the Garden of Eden.  After the fall we now live in a broken and inferior world waiting for the day in which God will return to restore perfection and condemn all those who do not fit within his definition of perfection to eternal damnation.

Judeo-Hebrew philosophy tells a very different story.  First of all, nowhere in the first two chapters of Genesis is creation called “perfect” as Plato would have it.  Creation is declared “good” and “very good” but never perfect.  Good leaves room for improvement while perfection does not.  Good allows for change, not just change from the point of view of mankind but also allows God room to maneuver through love and grace.

If you like that, you can buy the book on CreateSpace – here….

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