Friday, 13 September 2013

So What I Think About This Is...

This relates to the previous entry, which should be read first. I have submitted this reply to the Fulcrum Forum under How We View the Bible.

You are correct, Bowman, about my view of symbols: that their meaning is to be found in the finder, in some collective dialogue however. So why would I be concerned about selectivity of texts? Because I think it is too easy to use a text out of context: like having what are called, in worship, say, 'Buddhist beatitudes' from I don't know where, that are said to be 'like the Christian ones' and often put within a context of theistic worship. I suspect that these texts, whatever they are from, are distorted and used beyond their intentions and put into a changed context. I am here recalling experience of some Unitarian worship in the past.

Whilst the Bible and New Testament has several narratives and in conflict too, and we are entitled to use them, all I am saying is to give proper place to their origins (as far as we know) and not to twist them out of original context for resuse. I want to be a bit of a careful historian and social anthropologist through time in this matter.

There is nothing I find particularly sacred. I regard Paul as something as an equalitarian radical, with much that is more authoritarian put on to him in his name by others (e.g. the later pastoral texts). He was that radical in his cultural ambivalence across from the Jewish to the Gentile, in creating a salvation faith for the Gentile and part of the escalation of Jesus's titles and status. But I am still wary of dragging out the more popular and palatable texts like 'the greatest of these is love' because it gives a warped view of Paul as a whole (I suggest) as some sort of philosopher of the good rather than a rather complicated and mixed-up person doing a task.

My view is something like this: that all documents are primary documents of something. A current schoolbook (sections) on the history of the Civil War are primary documents not of history but how we do education: facing pages, bullet points, pictures, simple statements, all reflecting lesson plans and assessments that can be quantified. In the same way, the New Testament is a primary document (somewhere buried) of the condition and beliefs of early Churches - their leadership, legitimacy, expectations, cosmos and so on, many beliefs of which are utterly strange to us today, such as say the expected (and begun) rising of dead bodies. So there is nothing particularly sacred about any of them but rather a need to act with care and to be clear when a text is being used for a consumption purpose that breaks its context. But then, well, people (not least evangelicals) do this all the time.

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