Biblical literalism — and religion without God

Two dramatically opposed approaches to faith:

1) Dale McGowan confronts the Biblical literalism of a Jehovah’s Witness and engages in the brilliant conversation I’ve always wanted to have:

“Your friend is making a very common mistake,” she said. “He is interpreting the word of Jehovah God. You have to read the Bible exactly as it is, NOT interpret it. Otherwise there’s your interpretation, there’s my interpretation, and somebody else’s.”

“Right, we can’t have that,” I said. My porch was suddenly a barrel stocked with two fish, both of them dressed for a funeral for some reason. “So I went back to my Bible after I talked to this friend…and it fell right open to Matthew 5:17!”

I waited, nodding expectantly.

She smiled uncomfortably. “I’m not…too familiar with that passage.” […]

I closed my eyes and began: “Do not think I have come to abolish the Old Law or the Prophets…this is Jesus speaking…I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not the least stroke of a pen shall by any means disappear from the Old Law until everything is accomplished. Now I looked up ‘Old Law,’” I said, “and it means the first five books of the Old Testament.” I gestured around. “I don’t know about heaven, but Earth hasn’t passed away yet. So Jesus said the Old Testament is still relevant today.”

“That’s exactly right,” she said. “Every word is of Jehovah God.”

“And Jesus said, Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. I don’t want to be the least in heaven, and I’m sure you wouldn’t teach me anything that would make you the least in heaven, right?”

“Certainly not.”

“I’m relieved to hear you say that. You brought the answer to our problem right to our door, and I’m so grateful. It’s in Deuteronomy, chapter 21, verse 18.”

You can guess what happens, I’m sure. But it’s a great story anyway, and McGowan is an engaging storyteller. Go here for the rest.

2) With the strident religious crazies of the Republican Party in full-throated roar, it’s easy to forget that not all faiths refuse to leave room for interpretation, doubt, and even criticism of the foundations of belief. But as an article in the Washington Post points out, Judaism embraces difference and debate — to the point where fully half of all American Jews doubt the existence of God:

“Atheism and Judaism are not contradictory, so to have an atheist in a Jewish congregation isn’t an issue or a challenge or a problem,” [Maxim] Shrogin said. “It is par for the course. That is what Judaism is. It is our tradition to question God from top to bottom.” […]

Unlike other religions, Judaism has often embraced its atheist strain. The 18th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated from his Jewish community for equating God with nature. Today, his writings are studied by many Jews.

In the 1920s, American Conservative Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan developed the theology of what would become Reconstructionist Judaism, founded on the idea that God is not personal, but a summation of all natural processes. Four decades later, Reform Rabbi Sherwin Wine came out as an atheist and founded “Humanistic Judaism,” which emphasizes secular Jewish culture and history over belief in God.

And because Judaism is not dogmatic — unlike Christianity and Islam, there is no creed to adhere to — atheists can be open about their lack of belief and still belong to a synagogue.

Which reminds me of my first post on humanism, in which I quoted Fred Edwords describing the position of “religious humanists”: “[T]he true substance of religion is the role it plays in the lives of individuals and the life of the community. Doctrines may differ from denomination to denomination, and new doctrines may replace old ones, but the purpose religion serves for people remains the same. If we define the substance of a thing as that which is most lasting and universal, then the function of religion is the core of it.”

Read the rest of the WP article here.

(Photo via Wikipedia)

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