Fairy tales for adults

Steve Bougerolle steveb at creek-and-cowley.com
Sat Feb 15 00:03:07 PST 2003

On Sat, 2003-02-15 at 04:28, Richard Lightman wrote:

> The impression I get is that you think the existance of a supreme
> being is certain without any need to question such an assumption.
> Is that correct?

Yes, fair enough.  I would put it differently; I see myself as a part of
a whole that is beyond my comprehension, and I consider that is the most
honest possible statement I can make about supernature and the nature of
God.  Questions about a "supreme being" involve a phrasing and way of
thinking that are somewhat foreign to me even though I can see that many
other people do phrase their spiritual notions in such personal terms.

> It looks like you are starting with a moral code that is approximately
> modern christian, then interpreting the bible to match.

Yes, of course.  I am a Christian; that means, at its most fundamental
level, that I follow what Christ said, so I interpret the rest of the
bible according to his expressed principles.  I don't think this is
particularly "modern"; for two thousand years that has been the way a
Christian should understand the bible.

It is similarly natural to interpret the bible according to Christian
rules because it was compiled by Christians to help us understand
Christ's word better.  The "Christian" bible is not the same collection
of writings that the Jews use (and of course even different Christians
do not agree on which parts of the OT are canonical, although pretty
much all of us agree on what Christ said, as one would expect).

> Do you think you could start with a really destructive moral code
> with for example slavery, violence and revenge, and interpret the bible
> to match?

> Do you think you could start with a really destructive moral code
> with for example slavery, violence and revenge, and extract something
> like your current moral code from the bible?

You can read anything you want into the bible, and derive any
interpretation you want IF you start from the right assumptions.  That
does not make those assumptions correct, though, and the result is
likewise not correct.  One does need some sort of guide to read such a
massive and varied collection of writings.  I guess we are agreed on
that point.

The bible as a whole is not the centre of my spiritual beliefs.  The
centre of my beliefs IS what Christ said, and mostly that is in the
Bible because, as I pointed out above, early Christians have collected
what they know of his teachings together with some of the Jewish
religious writings that he referred to and was familiar with (not all of
them, by the way, just some).  That is not the same as seeing the Bible
in its entirety as a moral code, and that is a vital distinction.

One might fairly wonder how the Jews manage to derive a reasonable moral
code from the Bible, which must involve a process something like what
you are getting at above.  I am not a Jew so I don't know the answer,
nor do I feel any particular need to speak for them.  However, I will
guess anyway because it's an interesting question.  From what I know
they do not actually read the Old Testament as we know it, they read the
Torah and Talmud, which together and in some form or other comprise all
the material in the OT plus a few extra books AND collected traditional
commentary from over the centuries on how it should be interpreted; that
is, they have an alternative guide to reading it that Christians have
replaced with Christ's words.  I'm sure SOMEBODY on the list knows more
about the Jewish view and can explain it better than I.  Let's hope they
want to :).

> I have been asked to 'read the bible with an open mind'. I have tried
> this, and I am sure I see something very different from what someone
> interpreting the bible with a set of vaguely christian preconceived
> ideas would see. Perhaps this explains why I have difficulty with a
> statement like 'what the bible has to say is clearly true'.

Well, as I hinted above I consider if one is to read the bible
reasonably (which I believe I said >as well as< stipulating with an open
mind), one must start from a Christian perspective.  The bible as you
see it is compiled by Christians with the goal of helping us to
understand Christ's words better.  I am sure you will agree that to read
a document reasonably you must bear in mind its purpose.

Likewise, if you simply wanted to understand how one could derive a good
moral code from the barbaric-seeming Old Testament, you should ask a
Jewish scholar, since they are the people who concern themselves with
such details and you will not find a commentary in The Bible which does
not begin by looking at things from Christ's (presumed) perspective. 
Also in that case you should look at what the Jews' own canon, which is
somewhat different from ours.

> This "good fruit" test has advantages over the "know in my heart" test.
> You mentioned that predicting the results of an action is difficult.
> I think judging the results of a previous action can also be
> contraversial. I would like to avoid some terrible flame wars by not
> giving examples. Do you consider the point made?


> 'golden rule' ?

"Do unto uthers as you would have them do unto you".  This rule is found
in practically ever major system of faith around the world.

> Your test for truth looks a bit like 'consistency with your own
> (roughly christian) moral code'. Does that sound right?

Almost.  My code is not roughly Christian, it is Christian.  If I find
Christ's teaching disagrees with my natural tendencies or what seems
sensible, I do my best anyway to do what he said.  This very frequently
does make trouble for me personally.  

For example, I am neither stupid nor naive enough to miss that many
people who read our exchange have probably now dismissed me as some sort
of fundamentalist lunatic, and I am sure that will cost me personally in
some small way in future.  Nevertheless Christ said to spread the word
so I do it, according to my best understanding and in the way I think is
most likely to succeed with the people I think I can reach.  I am
satisfied that we will all be better for that in the long run.

Likewise, following Christ does not obligate me to agree with other
Christians in every way, but it does obligate me to respect them so even
though you will hear me state beliefs by Christians that I disagree
with, I try not to dump on them personally.  That often hampers my
effectiveness at presenting what I think Christ said, but that cannot be
helped.  Again, I am sure this is for the best (and if you have any
doubt that I am resisting my natural tendencies, you should see stuff I
wrote when I was, say, Rob's age and had an awesome savage tongue).

By the way, I think you will find most Christians agree with my last
point; however much we disagree with each other we try not to dump on
one another (although we don't always succeed), and that often makes it
hard to present our views; there are things we simply will not say or
answer out of respect for those around us.

Steve Bougerolle
Creek & Cowley Consulting


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