The ancient writers of the bible knew nothing about how we use information today. I’m not saying that they deliberately deceived us. They just didn’t have our modern understanding of history, empirical science, and objective truth. These concepts didn’t arrive until the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Until then facts in the bible were fluid and served a greater purpose: to inspire faith in a God greater than all other gods.
Most modern scripture scholars agree that what ancient peoples attributed to their gods was for the purpose of visibility. Their oral tradition and written scriptures were a form of public relations. They needed to demonstrate how their national God was the most powerful of all other gods.
The same was true for ancient Hebrews who announced that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the best of all gods. For many religious people today, the same view persists. In fact the bible, and other religious scriptures, continue to be misused to bind consciences rather than to free them.
On a national or tribal level, people within the exact same religion have used their scriptures out of context to buttress vastly different political, social, or ethnic points of view. Even in the U.S. many are still using God to support the concept of American exceptionalism, that God favors the United States above all other nations in the world. Some still think America is supposed to be ‘Christian’ nation, even though the Constitution and Founders directly contradict this notion.
By thinking that God favors one group above another has led to lots of blaming, anger, and even retribution. Where do you think racists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, dictatorships, and militant militias get their motivation? Mostly from a misreading of the bible and a mistaken notion of God.
Misusing the bible and God causes many to blame themselves for not having more control over “the enemy.” And so they react, sometime violently. When tragedy or difficulty strikes, many believe God is taking “revenge” on the nation because of the imagined transgressions of a few. They blame others for sabotaging their narrow notion of “biblical” morality. And so they rail against social and legal changes that benefit human rights, health programs, and even freedom of thought.
Yet, what if God were infinitely greater than any words can describe? What if the bible describes God in the most anemic of ways, searching for stories and metaphors to explain the unexplainable?
Many theologians have written about this. My favorite is C. H. Dodd. What if the true purpose of the bible were not to beat people over the head with moral or ethical pronouncements from a task-master god, or as a way of testing ‘true versus false faith?’ What if the bible and its stories are meant to make the world a better place for everyone?
One thing the bible does say is: We humans are like God. We are the presence of God in material bodies. We are able to transcend ourselves, to “think about ourselves, thinking about ourselves.” This does not come from pure animal instinct; it is the gift of rationality and heart-centered, spiritual consciousness.
Unlike all other living beings we humans exercise an awesome power to choose between good and evil, to foster all life or destroy our world, to experience unconditional love or to be cruelly indifferent and transactional to others.
It is our ability to self-transcend that led the first humans to surmise that there must be a higher power governing the natural universe. As humans evolved they shed the notion of a multiplicity of celestial gods. They began to see their God as a reflection of themselves. It is from this perspective that the bible came to be.
This Spiritual Source not only can love but is Love. Unconditional self-love, then, is our first step. We cannot love God unless we love ourselves and our neighbors (so says Jesus). Our spirits breath in the same air and the one Spirit. We are One in and of the same Spiritual Source (so says Jesus). The challenge is for each of us to live it.
How great is your God? Let’s discuss it. firstname.lastname@example.org or text me at 813-449-3904 My book can help: Life Interrupted: Taking Charge After Everything Has Changed©2020 Michael Parise
Wonderful message, Michael. Thanks for sharing. Helps put what’s happening now into perspective.