A chapter in my book “A Sensible Theology for Thinking People” is devoted to “Holy” books because it is very important that those people who call themselves Christians be worshipers of God–not worshipers of the Bible!
“Holy” means to be distinguished by transcendence, mandating absolute devotion and veneration. Unquestionably the Bible qualifies regarding respect, possibly even devotion, but it must never be considered an object of perfection.
People of various religious persuasions consider their special books to be every bit as holy or holier than the Bible. The Muslims revere the Qu’ran.
Buddhists have The Dhammapada and The Sayings of Buddha. The Mormons believe The Book of Mormon is a holy book. Its introduction states that “[Joseph Smith] sought the Lord in fervent prayer, having previously received a Divine manifestation of transcendent import.”
Many, perhaps most, Christians believe the Bible is the revealed Word of God written by saintly men of old as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. (II Peter 1:21) Some Christians believe every word in the Bible was actually written by God. Just as the Bible never refers to God as a “trinity,” the Bible never refers to itself as inerrant, sacred, or holy.
THE “HOLY BIBLE”
The Bible is a magnificent library which consists of history, biography, drama, poetry, instruction and many other forms of literature. It is a magnificent collection of wisdom from the Near East. The Hebrews, or Jews, were a God-centered people, and their religious system has had a greater impact on history than that of any other civilization.
Interestingly, the word “Bible” comes from the Greek biblia, the plural form of biblion or book. But the earliest etymology of the word traces to the Phoenician port city of Bublos; then later to biblos, the Greek word for papyrus, and the word from which we ultimately get our English word “paper.” It has been duly noted that the Phoenicians gave us an alphabet, but the Jews gave us a library, a religion and a faith.
Some people foolishly claim the Bible is authoritative in all areas of knowledge, but the Bible itself claims only to be authoritative in spiritual matters. (II Timothy 3:16-17) Unfortunately, preachers and Bible students often omit the last portion of these important verses from the writings of St. Paul. We must remember that the Bible as we know it did not exist during the lifetime either of Jesus or St. Paul!
STUDYING THE BIBLE
One scripture (Psalm 19:7) refers to the law of the Lord as “perfect,” but only in that context, never relative to all sixty-six books of the Bible. The central focus of the Bible is the righteousness of a just and good God.
If anyone wishes to start a new religion, they must remember that their instruction manual must be considered “Holy.” Frankly, I say “Beware of Holy Books!” The greatest disservice to the search for truth today is deifying the Bible. The greatest sin of the church is failing to worship their God while idolizing an ancient library of books!
L. MILTON HANKINS
[This essay on the dangers of worshiping a “Holy Book,” first appeared in the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch. It is an adaptation of material from “A Sensible Theology for Thinking People.”]
Upset by a column of mine concerning religion, a woman threatened to cancel her subscription to the newspaper for which I contribute a weekly column. She wrote: “I think he [me] is a person who likes to shock people or who likes to get a rise…by writing things about God and Christian values that insult us.”
Though I rarely respond in print to personal criticism, which, by the way, does not upset me, I felt this reaction deserved attention.
I’ve been a columnist for many years. I never write “to shock people” or “get a rise out of others.” I write about subjects which come to mind from current events, religious topics that capture my imagination, and everyday topics about interesting or curious things, i.e. a recent Yellowstone Park piece about how some scientists believe the volcano beneath the park may soon erupt, creating a disaster of enormous proportions over most of the continential United States. I like to believe I encourage readers to think. Writing a weekly column and publishing/editing a webzine requires too much time and effort to waste for insensitive or tactless purposes.
Naturally, since I have a history/political science/social studies/theology background and loads of experience in the fields of ministry, teaching and theology, I incline toward those subjects. I do love a good discussion on religion, history and/or politics, and I enjoy researching and writing. A lifetime interest in the American presidency also fuels me.
For purposes of this column (to illustrate), I’m going to bring up an unsettling issue for some folks who interpret the Bible literally.
My former pastor frequently says, “I don’t take the Bible literally, but I take it seriously.” I agree, for the most part, with him. However, there are substantial sections of the Bible with which we disagree. Here’s my example. I do not take the story of Noah’s Ark literally, but I take it seriously. Here’s why:
First, there are two different versions of the story (Gen 6:19-22; Gen 7:1-5). Second, since the flood supposedly covered the entire earth (6:17), Noah needed to gather flora and fauna from around the world!
MODEL OF NOAH’S ARK IN NORTHERN KENTUCKY
Noah had access only to animals native to his environment. No animals indigenous to North or South America, for example, would have been on the ark. No kangaroos, no penguins, no polar bears. Many species would have completely vanished from the earth! Third, common sense informs me in that prehistoric time (true of today, as well) of the impossibility of building a boat capable of provisioning earth’s animals, birds, and insects, Noah’s family, and “food which is edible for you and for them” for a period of 40 days and nights (actually, nearly a year!).
The story of Noah’s Ark is a parable which teaches us that God punishes the disobedient, while the righteous are saved by grace, or God’s “ark of safety.” On the other hand, we need only look at today’s natural disasters which take the lives of hundreds, even thousands, of innocent people, to wonder whether God provides much of an “ark of safety” today.
Do I mean to shock you? No. I am sharing an important lesson about how we can read and better understand scripture. My columns and articles only reflect my well-researched and thought-out opinions. Actually, that’s what opinion-editorial pieces are. I am a liberal; I write from a liberal perspective. I would never deliberately hurt someone’s feelings, try to undermine their faith or cause them undue concern or anxiety.
I’m NOT the anti-Christ, as I have been accused. I hope readers won’t be upset, but if you are, please don’t judge me or the venues I write for. Simply skip over my columns and my articles. I certainly wouldn’t give my time to mere “pieces of opinion-writing” that cause me considerable anguish.
In times past, Christians were seen as catalysts for change. The Book of Acts traces the impact of Christians on a preponderantly pagan society. When St. Paul encountered the worship of idols, he called the people out, challenging them to turn to the “one true God.”
According to church history, wherever the apostles, who were scattered by the Great Diaspora, wound up, they preached the gospel (“good news” of God’s love), a new way, and consequently thousands of people adopted a new ethic and a new lifestyle.
Ostensibly, twelve men (the Bible leads us to believe) were ultimately responsible for altering the way of thinking and believing int he first and second centuries.
The least we can say is that after the fall of Jerusalem and the spreading of this new-born faith throughout Eastern Europe, the world was never again the same. Yes, there was change, but the central question is: Was it for the better or for the worse?
A study of religious movements, disputes, outrages and wars provoked by Christianity (the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation and Puritanism, to name a few) raise valid questions.
Today, Christianity has a tremendous worldwide presence. The twelve have become 2.18 billion! A substantial majority of Americans claim they are Christians. Christian missionaries are proclaiming the gospel in all parts of the modern world.
And a new question raised: Has Christianity lost its power to signficantly affect society? As I see it, that appears to be the case. And largely, I suspect, because modern Christians have perverted the message of Christ. What the modern church, in general, espouses is neither attractive nor effective! If it were attractive, hundred of thousands of new converts would flock to the churches annually. Sanctuaries would be overflowing–not half full. Churches, not the government, would be the most visible, successful protectors of the impoverished.
If it were effective–that is, if it had the power and the authority to change society–most of the prominent issues the church occupies itself with would be moot. It is unlikely that terrorism would be a major concern, and crime blotters might take up a column inch in our local newspapers…instead of full pages!
Something is radically wrong with modern Christianity! It ought to be making an impact in and on our daily lives, but it isn’t. It should be changing our society, but it isn’t. It should be a proactive force for what is just, right and good, but it isn’t.
Is the church no longer a major, positive force for change in our society?
IS THE CHURCH LOSING INFLUENCE IN OUR SOCIETY?
I’m afraid so.
If you have doubts about this, consider the number of social issues where the church establishment is on one side and the majority of its congregants are on the other. The church needs either 1) to reinvigorate its message or 2) stop slighting its relevant, major message by making “mountains out of molehills” with minor irrelevancies.
It might also practice what it preaches!
Columnist With a View
The horror unleashed in the morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, in an Orlando gay nightclub presents a real conundrum for some fundamentalist/conservative Christians.
How is that, you say? Here are my questions: Will these Christians be incensed by the actions of this radical Muslim, homophobic killer? Or will they be secretly pleased that the country is “rid” of 49 gays and gay sympathizers?
From what I read and understand, there would be a certain delight within some religious groups to learn about such a reign of mayhem in a gay nightclub. That is, that “those sinners might be suddenly thrown before a holy and righteous God (or, into judgment, if you please) for their abominations.”
You think not? That, perhaps, I have slipped beyond the boundaries of propriety? That it might somehow please me to point out the depths to which some of thse so-called Christians (with whom I consistently disagree) will sink in their abhorrence of LGBTs?
Think again. According to an article by Jan Hayden titled, “Sacramento Baptist Preacher Praises Orlano Shooter,” published by the Daily Kos on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, “Sacramento Baptist preacher Roger Jimenez is ducking cameras and news crews in California after he shared his Sunday sermon on YouTube. In the vile, hate-riddled sermon, the Verity Baptist Church preacher said, ‘Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? Um no, I think that’s great! I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight.'”
According to the YouTube video, Jimenez went on to say, “I wish the government would sound them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them and blow their brains out!”
Ordinarily, I would not have believed this report. But, I watched the video and read the article, Jimenez convinced me that, indeed, the massacre at The Pulse presented a sticky situation to many “believers” who are, first of all, wrongly convinced that all homosexuals are pedophiles; and secondly, a “supposed” clergyman who believes that here in America it would be acceptable for the government to round up any group of people anathema to him and his followers, “put them up against a firing wall…and blow their brains out!”
I suspect that all of us are aware of the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. This group of so-called “Christians” has picketed the funerals of gays, Jews, famous people and, especially, military personnel, holding signs which read “God Hates Fags!” As a matter of fact their website is godhatesfags.com.
Unfortunately, there is a strong tendency to lump people who are not like “us” into malignant, oppositional categories. They are not us; they are “them” people. Assuredly, bigotry is not new to the church, but it seems more vociferous and venomous nowadays.
If you want to be “real” Christian, I’d say you might begin by getting out of churches like those I have mentioned above, and if your pastor wants to know why you are leaving, tell him!