Tag Archives: biblical literalism

Baptism by a Fire Hose!!!

Congregants sing and dance during a fire hose baptism hosted by the United House of Prayer in Newport News, Virginia on September 1, 2013.A friend just sent me this image, knowing my Southern roots, and I just loved it!!  But it provoked a facetious vein in my heart as I grew up in a Southern culture where baptism was a big issue—is only baptism by immersion acceptable or is baptism by sprinkling adequate.  Well, let me assure you that in my little fundamentalist Christian corner of the world it was immersion as there was no biblical mention of any “lame-ass” (my embellishment) thing like sprinkling.  If you didn’t get dunked, it didn’t count!  For, “where in the Bible was there any mention of ‘sprinkling’?”  To make matters worse, “fire hose” baptism????”  Now Jesus never heard of a hose, much less a fire hose.  Back then, the damn house just burned down…unless a lot of men could catch it early and just piss the flame out.  So the notion of a fire hose baptism just rankles me on so many levels!!!

One other facetious note.  When in my teens, my pastor told me of one older member of the church who didn’t like the idea of a baptistry in the church.  The “baptistry” is a tank of sorts in which the baptism takes place, as opposed to the local river.  This gentleman, and I remember him well and he was such a good old soul, told the pastor, “Well, if the water ain’t running, it don’t count” to which my pastor responded, “Well, I’ll just pull plug and let it be draining.”  See entire photographic essay below.

http://lenscratch.com/2019/03/southbound-photographs-of-and-about-the-new-south-day-3/

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Jacques Ellul and the Sin of Bibliolatry

Jacques Ellul is one of the most important figures in my Christian life.  A friend of mine gave me a copy of his book, “The Judgment of Jonah” in 1983 and I was immediately gripped by his passionate faith, filtered through a keenly analytical mind and heart.  He introduced me to the subject of bibliolatry, which is taking the bible as an end in itself rather than a means to an end, worshipping the Bible in some sense rather than the One about whom the Bible is speaking.

Ellul was a French philosopher, sociologist, and lay theologian who was described as a Christian “anarchist.”  This was because he was very much the iconoclast, approaching his faith with an intense analytical mind.  He looked beneath the surface and then put things on the table which were very challenging.  A primary focus of his was the “technological tyranny over humanity” that he witnessed during his life time in the mid to late 20th century.  This “technological tyranny” contributed to what I have described as the “thingification” of mankind in which even God has become a “thing among other things.”I have here a quote from Ellul from The Ethics of Freedom on the subject of bibliolatry which reflects the impact of this thingification of the heart in which even Holy Writ is interpreted in a self-serving fashion, it being only a “thing” which one can employ to suit my purposes:

…Thus obedience to the letter of scripture can be obedience to Satan if the text serves to bring about isolation and independence in relation to the one who has inspired it.  It can be a means of self-affirmation over against God in in repression of his truth and his will.  The biblical text, and obedience to it, do not guarantee anything.  They may be the best means of not hearing God speak.  (Ellul here points out that the Pharisees were) authentic believers, faithful adherents of scripture, and rich in good works and piety.  In reality everything depends on our attitude to the text of the scripture.  If I seize it, use it, and exploit it to my own ends...then I am obeying Satan under the cover of what the Bible says.

Ellul had profound understanding of how culture influences our faith and how that it presents the temptation of letting our faith become merely a product of our culture, regardless of intense passions that we might have about it.  The Christian faith, and faith of any spiritual tradition always face the temptation of taking themselves too seriously and then missing the point of their spiritual teachers.  Faith then becomes a mere bauble in our life, a note on our “resume,” and not a grounding in the Wholly Other which is the only place that offers firm footing in this mystery we call life.

If this seems impossible, it is!  But, there is hope and I will explain next time.

The following are three blogs that I offer.  Please check the other two out sometime!

 

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Myth of Hermes and Language

When fresh out of high school, I attended a very conservative Baptist seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas for one year.  There I learned of the term “hermeneutics” for the first time, having it presented to me as interpreting the Bible with the right frame of reference.  I now see that the problem I had with this seminary, and my brief effort at the ministry, was this notion of a “right frame of reference” as I now see it meant merely to “use the Bible to impose your world-view on others,” because you, and only you, knew what “right” was.

One basic precept of a more mature hermeneutics is the realization that one brings a frame of reference to anything and all things in life and that if this is not understood one will do great injustice to everything, and certainly holy writ.  Understanding that one is putting a “frame of reference” on the table is recognizing that there is a subjective dimension to one’s experience of life and that this subjectivity does not permit one to be objective about anything.

Grasp of this wisdom is more than an intellectual endeavor.  Coming to recognize the subjective dimension of one’s life is to cognitively and emotionally experience being alive in human form, subject to all the delights and limitations of this “fallen” state.  And when one brings his attention to any literature, especially holy writ, one must approach it with more humility than I was capable of in the Little Rock seminary and more than was even permissible there.

Hermeneutics derives from the Greek mythical figure Hermes whose many responsibilities included boundaries and transitions.  One dimension of the story is that property boundaries were determined by the posting of an “herm” on one side of the property, the “herm” being a pole with a man’s head upon it.  This herm was very important and commanded great respect.  Anyone who failed to respect the herm, and cross the boundary represented by the herm, or anyone who defaced or even pushed the herm was guilty of a capital offense.  This myth recognized the establishment of boundaries, or definitions, in the birth of the Greek language and was a beautiful way of emphasizing the integrity of words, their ability to “capture” a subjective phenomena and give it verbal currency in the tribe.

BUT, Hermes was extraordinary in that he established the boundaries but, being also the god of transitions, could cross between them.  He could “break” the boundaries of words, teaching us that with proper hermeneutics words can offer value and meaning when we are willing to enter the fluidity of the verbal field that is our reality. The myth teaches us how the poets do their magic, “breaking” the words and allowing their hidden riches to be apprehended by a willing and open heart.

Another dimension of his boundary fluidity was that he was the only god that could ascend to heaven and descent into hell, conveying messages between the two kingdoms.  And he was the prankster god, creating mischief in his world much like talented poets can do.  Poets “play” with language and allow the resulting breakage to evoke hidden riches.

Hermes demonstrated the need of nuance in language.  Words must have integrity or they lose all meaning.  But if their “integrity” is sacrosanct and no “mischief” can be applied to them, then they will become sterile and moribund.  This myth conveys to us that words have value when they can be taken metaphorically, when “the word” is not “the thing,” which is the mistake that leads to biblical literalism.  For example, in the literal world of linear thinking, the term “God” is mistaken for the subjective experience of God, an experience that lies beyond the grasp of any word.

But without doing the work of hermeneutics with holy writ, the book will become a rule book, mere dogma, and thus amenable to enslaving people to the agenda of a mindset that favors the powerful.  To be more specific, “the way things are” in a tribe (aka “patriarchy”) will assert itself and the holy writ will cease to be deprived of the “Wholly Otherness,” (i.e. “God”} needed by all tribes to provide meaning to their life.

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Here is a list of the three blogs I have.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Fallacy of Believing in my Belief

When evangelical Christians first trotted out the notion that the Lord had “raised up” Donald Trump to lead our nation I was really upset.  And for good reason.  Their lame justification was that God sometime chooses flawed persons to accomplish His will and that we needed to remember to “judge not that ye be not judged” or that we should, “Be patient, he is only a baby Christian.”  I still think that was merely self-serving palaver but I do increasingly think that he brings to the table such profound spiritual darkness that God is giving all of us a chance to do some soul-searching and posit the question, “Now how did this ever happen?”

What these evangelical Christians did not realize was that they were facilitating a crisis for their faith, a crisis from which they will not emerge unscathed.  None of us ever emerge from any crisis “unscathed” and that is why crises are often times of redemption.  Now, brace yourself evangelicals, I think that “redemption” periodically is in the cards for you just as it is for all of us, regardless of our religious orientation or complete lack thereof.  But for many Christians, especially evangelicals, the need of anything like “redemption” is preposterous as, according to their addictive reliance on dogma, they have been redeemed already by Jesus and His Spirit now leads them into “all truth.”  Well, Jesus will do that.  But I’m reminded of a bromide from my last fundamentalist pastor, in a mega-church in Springdale, Arkansas, “The Truth will set you free.  But it will first make your miserable.”  I don’t think that dear soul knew just how correct he was.

Well, I humbly invite them to, “guess again” the ability of their faith in Christ to keep them from all errors “of the flesh”, i.e. ego. Their whole-hearted, slavish devotion to Trump who is the antithesis to the teachings of Jesus belies the self-serving dimension of their faith, the role of “the flesh” in their approach to religion.  And, I say to them, “Welcome to the world” as I have certainly had to embrace similar disillusionment and now see faith as a path of occasional disillusionment as we discover just how much we have been “seeing through a glass darkly.”

The core issue on the table here is reason.  The Protestant Reformation gave rise to an inordinate, unseemly faith in rationality to the point that we came to believe that with reason alone we can rule this world, our own life, and even reduce the Ineffable to a series of rational constructs.  But Paul Tillich warned us last century, “A religion confined to reason is a mutilated religion” for he saw that reason is always subservient to hidden dimensions of the heart.   God has sent Trump to evangelical Christians to give them a glimpse into the baser dimensions of their spiritual impulse…and we all have those impulses!  The most sinister of all these impulses is that we are immune from them.

I now realize that I grew up trying desperately to “believe in my belief” and never being able to pull it off, leaving me in great anguish about my spiritual welfare.  I often took comfort in rational gymnastics only to eventually realize that the very effort of reasoning oneself to God was futile.  No less of an evangelical luminary as Oswald Chambers himself in the early 20th century warned about the lunacy of “believing in our belief.”

So, what can you believe in?  What, if anything, is real?  “I think, therefore I am” is the way it is, isn’t it?  Descartes surely said so.  I no longer think so.

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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

My “Atheism” Makes Faith Possible for Me!

Yes, I firmly believe there is a God.  But then, I have to immediately go “Bill Clinton” on you and make the observation, “But that depends on what ‘is’ is.” Though my favorite ex-President was “finessing” his way out of a tight spot…so to speak…he had a point.  “Is”, like all words, are ephemeral and warrant exploration from time to time.  Most people who fervently declare “there is a God” have in mind a God who is a “being among other beings” which means that he has an “is-ness” just as we do.  In other words, they see God in concrete terms and see him as an “object among other objects.”  Oh yes, he is a “really big and powerful object” and lives in glory “far, far away” but he still “exists” just as we do.  They believe in a “literal” God just as they believe in Biblical literalism.  Their God actually exists, revealing their disbelief in a Wholly Other dimension of reality in which God is, yes, “transcendent” but simultaneously “immanent.”  They fail to see that there is a “gulf fixed” between God and humankind, a discontinuity between Him and humankind which can never be breached by human ingenuity including “consciousness.” God is the “Ground of Being” as he is that which makes the whole of life even possible.  Without him I would not be able to discourse in a rational fashion nor would any “coherence” be found in this entire universe.  For, “By Him all things cohere.”

I used to be very much a concrete thinker myself and very literal.  Some part of me sees this present palaver as pure “non-sense” and, “straight from the pits of hell.”  And it is definitely “none” sense as it addresses the futility of reason as having final purchase on anything of ultimate value.  For reason, though infinitely important, is always a slave to our preconceptions and a need to formulate a picture of the Divine in such a way that our justifies our worldview.  Reason has true value when we can humbly allow reason to be applied to our reason, i.e. as in meta-cognition, and see that ultimately reason fails and requires faith.  Faith brings us to the limits of our “self” and allows us to brazenly hope and pray that there is something “out there” beyond this “small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken) And that is the point at which persons such as Jesus Christ and other spiritual teachers become relevant as they have assured us that they feel and know that there is an “Ultimate” who is “out there” and their behavior has backed-up their convictions.

But this “atheistic” spiel here appears to have damned the millions and even billions who cannot even begin to understand this metaphysical “palaver.”  But, according to Christian hymnology, “Jesus paid it all,” and all are forgiven and therefore “ok.”  Those “concrete thinkers” don’t have it right; but then, guess what, neither do I!  None of us have it “right” but the story of Jesus tells us that we don’t have to be “right” but that He was an embodiment of an ultimate “Right” and that he came to tell us, “Chill out!  Don’t sweat it.  I gotcha covered.”  It has required me, however, to take myself less seriously.

 

 

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