For some reason this is the age of fundamentalism. There are groups in Christian, Muslim and Jewish (and some other) circles, who interpret their scriptures very literally. What they say in essence, is that the Bible/Qur’an/Younameit is literally true word for word. That it’s been received from God just as it is today. My irreverent question would be, “which version of them?” and I beg your pardon, and no disrespect meant for your Scripture. I believe in the Bible. I just don’t think it’s wise for us to start thinking of it as being a literal expression of reality.
There are several versions of extant documents in the Bible, and although they’re not very much different from each other, they aren’t from the period when Christian doctrines were bubbling in a cauldron called Roman Empire. There was no “Bible” as the Christian world knows now, but just the Hebrew Bible, and some epistles and “Gospels”. We know examples about documents that were “doctored” to match the Scribes’ personal views, so it’s quite difficult to say that the Bible is 100% from God. In the very least, human hands have written it down, nobody disputes that. And it absolutely must use a human language, which makes it less than perfect.
Well, aside from that little squabble, there is the “counterforce” for that. That is called New Atheism. This New Atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris) uses very fundamentalist demagoguery that probably appeals to those, who already hate religious people for some reason–and who are furthest into a state of agitation and violence such that they’re willing to inflict real physical damage to people, who profess religion. They say that religion is the root of all evil in this world, and that Science could solve all the problems without extremist polemics. They make it sound as if there really were one version of Science that all scientists underwrite, and that answers all of our questions. Really? Well, not remotely so. Anyway, some of those people, who oppose religion as fostering violence, are ready and willing to swing their fists when you disagree with them, and only walking away from some situations has saved me from fisticuffs.
Anyway, then there’s Steven Jay Gould, who says that science and religion are “Non-overlapping Magisteria” and don’t have anything to say about each other. Perhaps that isn’t what I’d say, but I would not take Genesis, for example, as a reliable source for secular history (although a stone tablet was found in 2009 [?] containing a reference to a king named Schlm or something (which might well be what we call king Salomon) biology or geography. For example, when the Genesis talks about “the whole earth” it does in the end seem like it covers just the eastern Mediterranean coastal regions, not other continents (check out how the “whole Earth” was repopulated after the Flood, as Genesis actually tells it–use whatever Bible version you like).
Again I want to say that I see no reason, why what we call Evolution these days could not be the “how” of the creation process. “Creatio Ex Nihilo” was never scriptural, anyway. There’s one oblique reference in Paul about God “creating something that wasn’t there before” or something. That is what the whole structure of Creatio Ex Nihilo was based on, in essence.
The Israelites didn’t cross the Red Sea, most likely, but another, smaller and shallower body of water. Not that it diminishes the fact that without the Lord they would have remained in slavery, both physically and spiritually. And why would God, whose idea was to put us here for a probation to see, if we are willing to do what we sincerely believe to be from God, leave clear, irrefutable signs of his work in his creation. How’s that for jumping all over the place for me?
There is naturally a cost to everything. The cost of the peace that the Spirit can give you is your willingness to do what you sincerely believe/know to be from God, even it isn’t always easy. It means sacrifice. For some, that means they are willing to pay their tithing as long as their finances are okay and so forth. For some that means that they’ll blow themselves up for a “higher purpose” if needed. For myself, it means, that I trust God. I am willing to do what I firmly believe to be from God, without conditions. But don’t worry; my God isn’t going to ask me to blow myself up–what he wants me to do is to express genuine love towards my neighbors, not to condemn them. But I would like to have the “but if not” kind of faith. I’m not sure if I qualify yet. It’s not that I idealize extreme sacrifice, but we all tend to respect those things more, which we must work harder to get.
Actually, I would say that the problem is with un- or undereducated populace, who can be manipulated by cheap demagoguery. This same thing happened in Germany and much of the rest of Europe, when the Nazi ideology painted the European Jews with a dark color (and if you check the Wikipedia link, it’ll be interesting to note all those “National Socialist” parties around the “civilized” world). Although “Christ-killers” was an epithet occasionally thrown, it was mostly about the powerful (in real life: downtrodden) Jews exploiting the German working and middle class to enrich themselves. That’s what the rhetoric mostly was about, so it wasn’t about their religion. As far as I know, nobody was offered a choice to renounce Judaism, after they were arrested by Gestapo, to get away from the death camps. Some did get away by completely hiding their Jewish heritage early enough to escape the yellow star. (Nazis also admired a kind of a Pagan Hedonism, which sounds like asceticism at first blush, but then you see it’s true nature–another way to promise people lots of fun without paying the price.
Or take Soviet Union. They were the other side of any armed conflict between 1945 and 1985, and their ideology was nominally scientific, just like “natural theology” was during its heyday. So, if we were to have a “panel of scientists” solving all the big problems in the world, with some unknown to force everyone to obey (as likely as that is), who and how would decide how we should evaluate different theoretical schemes. We are perhaps not all qualified for that, so who’s going to be the “benevolent dictator” to decide our lives for us? (But this is not another “anti-elitist” rant!)
I still think that although Democracy is not a very good system, it’s still better than anything we’ve come up with so far. And that means that we must learn to somehow live with people, who want different things and trust (have faith in) different things. We are, in the end, much better off that way, although that includes some suffering.
Please don’t think me an anti-Scientist, either. I’m not. I’m just expressing my ideas strongly, but I try to do it without rancor. I think our Science education in the Western world is going downhill, while our youth just want to be celebrities, and seek the easiest way to that. The more real scientists we have, the better off we’ll be in the long run. BTW, while in most religions, a secular education correlates strongly with non-observance, among LDS members, it’s considerably less so.
So, if there are some descriptions in the Bible that are allegoric rather than literal, does it mean that nothing that we read in the Bible can be trusted to mean it? No, of course not. For example, the different ways that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is attested to, is an example of something that very likely is more than just an allegory, what with a whole epistle from Paul testifying of our own resurrection. For further material, we could read Alma 11 from the Book of Mormon. But for us to tell the difference, we must pay the price. The price is first following some base rules (study, prayer, observance), then being honest in our seeking for an answer. If our attitude is that we’ll follow the Lord if it’s convenient for us to do so, he may not go through the trouble of trying to make us understand.
So here I stand, on both sides of the war of words. But, with a Peace in my heart: