Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Dangerous Buffet

I'm sitting in a packed restaurant waiting for a flight out of Los Angeles. I ate dinner with a few colleagues, and during desert, the conversation turned to the age old controversy-creationism vs. evolution.

I tuned out.

Not that I don't have strongly held beliefs; I do. But, as a respected colleague says: if you have faith, no evidence is needed; if you don't have faith, no amount of evidence is sufficient. I've found that if a person is not searching, you're likely not going to help them find anything.

Something, though, caught my attention, and I tuned back in. One of my colleagues indicated that, in his mind, the Bible is subject to interpretation in that there are glaring inconsistencies with respect to the implied timeline in the Bible, that conflicts with "proven scientific fact." Perhaps, he said, much of the Bible was written simply as a "story" that represented the beliefs of the writers at the time-to some degree, based on reality, but nowhere near factually accurate.

I found this curious. I asked him if, in his mind, the Bible, as a whole, was subject to interpretation. He said of course not.

"The important stuff, like the New Testament, is pretty literal, I think."

He had to leave soon after, as his connecting flight departs a bit earlier than mine. But as he left, a gentleman at an adjoining table chimed in. He mentioned that he couldn't help overhearing our conversation, and that something I said resonated with him.

I asked him what it was.

"You made a comment," he said, "about taking the Bible literally. You said that if one takes a portion of the Bible literally, don't they have to then accept that the entire Bible is literal.

"Modern religion," he said, "tends to treat religion as 'take the parts you like, and ignore the parts you don't' smorgasbord. I've always had a problem with that."

And therein lies the problem with most religion. Once you accept that some portion of the Bible is subject to human judgment, then you're left with the quandary of deciding which portions are applicable, and which are just "a story." And then you have to ask yourself, "who is the authority." That is, who is qualified to determine what portions of the Bible are meant to be accepted "as gospel," and which portions are just "fluff." Invariably, we turn to our own judgment-which is likely clouded by our fleshly desires and normal human inclinations.

Which makes for a "buffet" type salvation-religion that, as my new friend here in the restaurant put it, is "feel-good." A salvation that suits your lifestyle, that's not uncomfortable at all-is, in fact, convenient.

Which is a huge departure from my perception of salvation.

Not that it must always be a burden to bear. But if it were easy, if it didn't require stifling our nature, conquering our fleshly tendencies, then why is it necessary?

I don't claim to understand the Bible; I certainly don't claim to understand salvation. But I do know that, the moment I start "building my own salvation" I've defeated the purpose.

Which is the danger you face when you conclude that portions of the Bible don't apply.

1 comment:

Lawrence said...

This is an interesting blog comment - for several reasons. The unanswered question is how we do square the creation story in the Bible with the scientific reality of an earth that is millions of years old?

Was Jonah swallowed by a "big fish"? The Red Sea parted? And so on.

Is it necessary to square them up?

Stated another way, if you accept the accounts in the Bible and, therefore, do interpret the entire Bible literally, do you then accept only those parts of science that do not conflict with the Bible - applying judgment in the scientific realm while denying the ability to apply it in reading the Bible.

For me, at least, the answer is that I do not need to decide. I believe that God speaks to us through the Bible - and sets examples for us to follow each day. If every human tried to live his life as Jesus did, would we be better off? Would fewer people die at the hands of others? Would fewer people suffer at the hands of others?

I can believe the science and still try every day to conform to the teaching of Jesus Christ and believe that he died for each one of us to atone for our sins.

When asked how one can attain eternal life, Jesus replied: "Believe in me".

When asked about the commandments, he was able to summarize years of the Jewish law in two short sentences: one relating to man's relationship with God and the other in man's relationship with one another.

He never quotes the Adam and Eve event, nor references anything from the old Testament except for certain laws and the prophecies from days gone by that related to his ministery.

Have I picked and chosen what to believe?

Well, maybe. But, in terms of my relationship with God and my relationship with my fellow humans, I think what I have picked is what makes humans the most special of all God's creations - our ability to rise above ourselves in service to Him and to our fellow humankind.

And, by the way, if one takes a look at the marvelous complexity of the human body with its thousands of enzymes which are perfectly balanced in a healthy person, one cannot help but marvel at the greatness of God -

Just my thoughts.