For people determined to get Divine approval for their beliefs and actions, it’s not hard to get the Bible to say whatever you want it to say. You can find justification for just about anything you’d like to do and rationale for hating just about anyone you want to hate. And it’s just those kinds of manipulative shenanigans that have turned a lot of people off to any kind of serious practice of the Christian faith — and much of it is the fault of those who have ceded the serious reading of the Bible to people who have a reactionary agenda. Professor Mark George makes an earnest appeal to those who have neglected their responsibility to engage with a text that is too important to ignore:
I’m almost to the point of begging everyone I see who wants to listen to me talk about Bible, “Read the Bible. READ the Bible.” I did some teaching on the ten commandments and ten commandments monuments recently with some folks who were working in their churches and they’re active and they have long history of this. One or two people said, “Y’know I’ve never actually read the ten commandments.” I see the plaques on the walls and I know about them and hear about them all the time, but I’ve never actually sat down and read them.” And I said, “Yeah, and you probably didn’t know there’s one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. And they’re MOSTLY the same. But even to say they’re mostly the same raises some questions. Did you know that Jews have a different ordering than Christians have?
It made me remember that we’ve GOT to read these texts. There’s lots in the texts that I don’t like. They challenge my modern sensibilities. But if I don’t read them, if I don’t study them, if I don’t talk about them, if I don’t OWN the texts in my tradition, someone else will. And they’re going to talk about them in ways that I disagree with. But since I don’t know them, I won’t know what to do with them.
If you do actually start reading it, you might see the Bible for what it really is. You might start thinking critically, entertaining dangerous ideas, and the next thing you know you might find yourself having to rethink your faith in light of science, the modern world, and the needs of people in the 21st century.
Mark K. George teaches Hebrew Bible at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. His publications include Israel’s Tabernacle as Social Space (SBL, 2009) along with entries and chapters in edited books and articles in academic journals. He is an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature.
Dr. George is a featured contributor in Living the Questions‘ upcoming series on the origins of the Bible.
Stephen Patterson thinks that Progressive Christianity is about “being willing to think critically about one’s faith and about the traditions of one’s faith and the resources like the Bible — to think critically about these things and not simply assume that it all has to make sense. Progressive Christianity means you’re free to explore and to question and to develop new expressions of faith that are more appropriate or true to what you think you’re discovering about Christianity. So, Progressive Christianity, I guess you could say, is Christianity that’s not stuck in some present stasis — let alone stuck in the past. We have to move forward.”
thinks critically about faith, traditions, and resources
doesn’t assume it all has to make sense
frees one to explore and question
develops new expressions of faith more appropriate to contemporary understandings
isn’t stuck in the past
Stephen J. Patterson specializes in the study of the historical Jesus, Christian origins, and the Gospel of Thomas (an early Christian gospel not found in the New Testament). He is currently the George H. Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University. He is the author of numerous books including Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus and The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for God. He is featured in the DVD series Living the Questions 2.0 and Saving Jesus Redux.
“Thinking Critically with Stephen Patterson” is an excerpt from a DVD series on the origin of the Bible currently in development by Living the Questions.
Systemic justice is a result-oriented justice
Marcus Borg contends that Jesus has something to say about the way we organize ourselves in community — that when a society is structured to serve the self-interests of the wealthy and powerful it is not a just society. “If you have a society in which 1% of the population own 43% of the wealth, it is pretty clear that the 1% has structured that society so it kind of worked out that way — and they have a tremendous amount of power to sustain it.”
— Marcus Borg in Living the Questions 2.0
Internationally known in both academic and church circles as a biblical and Jesus scholar, Marcus Borg was Hundere Chair of Religion and Culture in the Philosophy Department at Oregon State University until his retirement in 2007. Borg has been described by The New York Times as “a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars” and is the author of over twenty books, including the popular “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” & “The Heart of Christianity.”
“LtQ Clips” offer thought-provoking observations and comments on spirituality and religion from prominent authors, scholars, and thinkers. These excerpts from“Living the Questions” curriculum are designed to spark conversation in questioning the dominant pop theology of American Christianity.
American Muslim Identity
Mosques in America are being set on fire. Sikhs, mistaken for Muslims, are cut down in their own Temple. Muslim graves desecrated in Chicago. Violence against Muslim-Americans is getting worse and religious leaders remain silent — especially on 9/11. Aysha Hidayatullah says, “One wonders how Muslims could actually flourish and come into their own if they weren’t constantly worried about the scrutiny of people who seem to be watching for any sign that confirms the dominant narrative about Muslims being violent, un-assimilable foreigners.”
Ever since 1660, when Mary Dyer was executed by the Puritans for being a Quaker, the persecution of religious minorities has quietly been tolerated in America. Never mind the irony that the Puritans came to America to escape religious persecution. Evidently, the American ideal of religious freedom only applies if you’re a Christian.
Dr. Aysha Hidayatullah is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Theology & Religious Studies at the Jesuit University of San Francisco
She teaches undergraduate courses on Islam, gender, race, and ethics. Her research interests include Muslim feminist theology; modern and contemporary exegesis of the Qur’an; representations of women in early Islamic history; Islamic sexual ethics; constructions of femininity and masculinity in various aspects of the Islamic tradition; feminist methodologies in the study of Islam; and the pedagogy of Islamic studies.
“LtQ Clips” offer thought-provoking observations and comments on spirituality and religion from prominent authors, scholars, and thinkers. These excerpts from “Living the Questions” curriculum are designed to spark conversation in questioning the dominant pop theology of American Christianity.