Truth and errata


(system) #1

By Alexander Carpenter

I've been caught up in moving my life-in-books deeper into the bowels (a new apt) of Berkeley; thus somewhat delayed, I hope that you'll excuse my Johnny-come-lately status while I tackle some ideas from the comment section.

There are many reasons that fair-minded folks disagree. Sometimes it's over different life experiences -- from books read to influential mentors. Most of the time, I believe, we disagree because our interpretative frameworks prioritize different aspects of our shared experience of authoritative evidence. But sometimes people are just flat wrong.

As a service to my good readers, I did some actual research and found a commenter to be fundamentally incorrect. On July 2, following Jim Coffin's post, "If Women Had Written the Bible," a certain John wrote: Nobody seems to have had a problem with a "male" God until the post-modern "revolution". However, what is worse is that many of these replies assume that the Bible is a creation of man as opposed to an inspiration of God. Lastly--with the prevalence of women in religion, this "male" thing seems to have worked out quite well after all. Adventism is the only Christian sect/denomination with more men than women.

As is common with this mindset, there are not sources, just apparently a synapse flash left on the screen for all to absorb. But John is wrong. I emailed three people, waited weeks, and finally got an answer. Yes, truth sometimes takes more than abstract deductions.

From [email, August 7, 2007] Heather-Dawn Small, Women's Ministries Director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Based on the information we have from the divisions we have concluded that women are 70% of the world church. In a few countries it is less, very few however. In most our divisions, Africa, Inter America, South America, India, Philippines, areas where the church is the largest women are at least 70% of the membership and in many of those places the number is higher. So we have averaged based on this information that women make up 70% of the church.John, wherever you are, feel free to bring your own evidence, or apologize for making information up. Maybe these numbers are too "postmodern" for some -- I love how this term is increasingly bandied around as a slur by people who clearly don't know their Deleuze from their Guattari. In fact, I derive no small bit of pleasure from providing a fact to someone who attempted what some might recognize as an redescription of reality peddled to provide greater epistemic certainty.

But this development leads me to dive farther into revolutionary pomo musings: how exactly does it advantage a community or organization to legislate that 70% of its participating, even paying members, should get less than 1% of the say in what happens?_____________

Recently I wrote a Bloggin' the 28 post on the "God the Father" doctrine. Although most of the comments were supportive and engaged the strange idea that our doctrine not only genders the divine, but also gives God a specific role, not of husband, or mother, or Grand Father, but as father. I'd like to briefly address one critique and in so-doing, get at a larger problem that this critique is indicative of. To wit: good Bill Cork and good Wondering point out that Christians, but apparently not Jews before Jesus appeared, must use paternal language when referring to God, since Jesus did teach us to pray, Our Abba. And so that claim is that since Jesus used the VERY WORD we translate as Father that this describes God's relationship to us all: As our father.

Fundamentally, this is another example of when literalists don't go literal enough. Let us read Matt. 23:9. "Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven." So, do you, Bill and Wondering, also advocate against children recognizing their earthly dads? (Because I for one, stand up against this attempt to displace fathers from their named place in the American family.) In fact, perhaps Jesus is getting at something deeper here than gendered language.

The Jews had a practice of not even speaking the name of God and now Jesus comes along and uses a familiar, familial (familia! -- you get my point) term to describe the divine. Tell believers that they could give God a name and address God as they would their person who fathered them was pretty radically open stuff. In fact, that claim of familiarity with the divine (this man claims God as his father) contributed to his eventual death -- I am the Son of God. Sometimes terms are just too hard for people to change. Now let's think about the larger literal meaning of what Jesus was doing with the grammar of God. Was he only saying that God is actually a father, or was Jesus teaching a bigger idea, that we can approach God as we would our own fathers. Consider Matthew 7: 9-12Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.Here in the context of explaining the main point of the Law, the golden rule, Jesus uses the model of the loving father to help people who mostly knew God as the requirer of sacrifices and cursor of the Jewish nation to see God in a broader light. In that context, that was a pretty big deal. And so is thinking about God as a Mother, a Sister, a Brother.

To see those terms as acceptable continues the same Christ-like goal of broadening our idea of a relationship with God. It may seem too different, but think how people reacted to Jesus calling God his Father. Isn't it time that we recognize through our language that a relationship with God is more than masculine. One should no longer have to choose between Heavenly Father or Mother, God is both and so much more.

But this gets to the deeper issue which lies behind a lot of rhetoric for not re-applying theological understandings. Obedience! Wondering articulates it: "Again, to me, all the debate is not necessary. . . . All the wiggling and weaseling in the world...never mind. Obedience is really hard." Or more recently here: Very few adults realize this--too few. Feelings follow actions and not the other way around. All throughout the Bible, transformation (and great blessing) followed total obedience: Abraham, The Exodus, The Crucifixion. Our willingness to obey is the sign of loyalty that allows God to imbue us with His transforming power.

I love that: TOTAL OBEDIENCE. To some, it all boils down to an obedience problem. If everyone would just control themselves, then. . .really amazing double blessings would pour out. We need more discipline, more theological spankings, less fuzzy, accepting love. Because what does love really get you, just lots of gay people hanging around not disciplining anyone.

Ah yes, the tough-headed approach. Not like all the wondering Spectrum losers, asking questions, reinterpreting, trying to apply the principles of God's Word thousands of years later, negotiating time and space, trying to reduce conceptual contradictions between God first and second books. I see this in their confusion over sexuality. Just erect the barriers. Keep out a maternal conception of the divine. I ask you, if it could be shown that the verses that are used to excluded homosexuals from Christian communion don't apply, would you feel less secure in your faith?

Sometimes it seems that some care less about hermeneutical consistency than keeping a pure church, the old Donatist heresy. To set up a club-like test, saying: "if you are willing to stick with the group, even at the expense of your knowledge or reasoning ability than, and only than, can we really trust you and let you stick around. Don't try to expand on the idea that Love is the most pure definition of God, the distillation of the commandments, the reason Jesus died. Love for all. No, obey they say. This cinema, bicycle, necklace, card game, women's sub-ordination, discriminating against blacks, I mean gays is a test of fellowship." Oh wait, that's exactly what it's called. . .

Do we need standards? Absolutely! That's part of what this whole Bloggin' the 28 project is about -- actually turning these now mostly mental tests into contemporary moral action. Thus Jesus' truth about God roughly 1977 years ago, remains the same today, that God transcends our earthly attempts to box Her into our religio-cultural understanding. What might that be? Well, look at the power structure in our denomination -- the body of Christ divided most starkly by gender. What kind of witness is that?________________

And now good Bob had referred to the infamous O'Hanlon/Pollack Times Op-Ed on how the Iraq surge is doing. If you care about this at all, I encourage you to go read Glenn Greenwald's investigative interview with O'Hanlon in which he reveals who set his agenda and what he left out of the 1400 word essay.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4163