Thursday, August 19, 2004

Borg on the Bible

I have the nagging feeling that I was not very clear in a previous post regarding my approach to the bible, and my objections to the fundamentalists/literalists use of it. Consequently, I want to offer some thoughts from someone who is much more articulate on this topic than I will ever be; Marcus Borg. The following short quote (in an attempt to repent from the tendency to post such long ones previously) is from an excellent address he gave entitled Spirituality and Contemporary Culture;

...I see religion, in general, and the Bible, in particular, as human cultural responses to the experience of the Sacred. I see each of the enduring religions as emerging as a human response to the experience of God. The immediate implication of this, which is really my second statement in shorthand form, is that the Bible is thus a human product, namely, the response of two ancient communities to their experience of the Sacred. Now when I say it’s a human product, of course I have a contrast in mind, and to make that contrast explicit, I mean, not a divine product. Rather, the Bible is a product of two ancient communities – the Hebrew Bible being the product of ancient Israel, the Christian Testament the product of the early Christian movement. As a human product, the Bible tells us about their experiences of the Sacred, about how these two communities saw things. It tells us about how they told their stories, and what they thought life with God was about. When we are not completely clear and candid about the Bible being a human product, we create the possibility of enormous confusion...

... Now if we think of the Bible as a divine product, then the laws of the Bible are God’s laws. This is certainly the way I was taught the ten commandments. These are the laws of God. Let me illustrate the difference it makes with one of the hot-button issues in the contemporary church, this is the single law, and there is only one, in the Hebrew Bible prohibiting homosexual behavior amongst men. The law is found in Leviticus 18:22. I think most of you know it pretty well: "If a man lies with another man as with a woman, it is an abomination." Then two chapters later in Leviticus 20:13, the penalty is specified, and of course the penalty is death. Now, if we think of the Bible as a divine product, then the ethical question becomes: "How can one justify setting aside one of the laws of God?" Of course, this is exactly how our conservative brothers and sisters see it. Some of them will even say, "I’m not against homosexuality, but its one of the laws of God." Bullshit – that they’re not against homosexuality! Now, I think there are some who can genuinely be in that place. I can grant that. But if we think of the Bible as a human product, then this is not one of the laws of God, but one of the laws of ancient Israel. And it tells us that within ancient Israel, homosexual behavior was considered unacceptable.

Then the ethical question becomes: "What would be the justification for continuing to see things as ancient Israel saw things?" – especially when, as most of you would know, the law prohibiting homosexual behavior is imbedded in a context in Leviticus in the holiness code, the purity code, as it’s sometimes called, which also prohibits the planting of two kinds of seed in the same field, or the wearing of garments made of two kinds of cloth. Now how many of you have blends on this morning? I mean, why aren’t we bent out of shape about that? So, anyway, the Bible is a human product. We need to be utterly candid about that, and not out of a misplaced sense of reverence or respect say, "Well, I really think it comes from God somehow." We just make it enormously confusing when we say that. The Bible is the response to the experience of God, but as the response to the experience of God, it is a human product.
I'm not going to muddy things up by making any further comments. After you've read his entire lecture, and have seen this quote in context, I'd be interested in hearing your response to Borg's approach to the bible.


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