Friday, February 08, 2013

The 'Bad' in the Good Book . . .

Eric A. Seibert
Ah, the Good Book . . .
"When she was good, she was very good indeed,
but when she was bad she was horrid."
- H. W. Longfellow

Professor Eric Seibert may soon be getting into hot water with fellow evangelicals for his views on scripture, but he raises some issues in his book The Violence of Scripture that press for resolution, as we see in this statement, "When the 'Good Book' is Bad: Challenging the Bible's Violent Portrayals of God" posted on the blog Patheos - Peter Enns: Rethinking Biblical Christianity:
The basic premise of my recent book, The Violence of Scripture, is quite simple: the Bible should never be used to harm others. One might imagine such a "profound" truth to be self-evident and hardly worthy of a book length treatment. But the sad reality is that the "good book" has been bad news for far too many people . . . . Most Christians would attribute this misuse of the Bible to faulty interpretations and misguided interpreters . . . . [U]nfortunately, the problem runs deeper than this . . . . right through the pages of Scripture itself . . . . [N]ot everything in the "good book" is either good, or good for us. I realize this may sound blasphemous to some people . . . . When the Church grandly proclaims the Bible to be the Word of God, it gives the impression that the words of Scripture are above critique and beyond reproach . . . . But this way of reading the Bible is problematic . . . . At times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept . . . . Unfortunately, the Church does not often help us know what to do when we encounter problems in Scripture . . . . If we feel compelled to accept what we read at face value, and are forbidden from asking honest questions about the troublesome texts we encounter, we run the risk of using the Bible in ways that may harm others . . . . [I]f we embrace the many positive portrayals of violence in the text . . . , we may find ourselves approving of certain acts of violence and war . . . [I]f we are going to keep the Bible from harming others, we need to learn to have problems with it. We need to protest what is objectionable and condemn what is immoral. Otherwise, we run the risk of perpetuating the violent legacy of Scripture by making the "good book" behave in very bad ways.
Any readers who regularly visit this blog will quickly grasp why I've posted this excerpt on biblically sanctioned violence. I often post on Islamist violence, and I read posts by other bloggers on such violence, but I've also occasionally posted on violence in the Bible, and in reading some blogs by other bloggers who've dealt with the same issue, I've seen a distinction made between Islam and Christianity on violence, namely, that the Muslim scripture explicitly prescribes violence, whereas the Christian scripture merely describes it.

Such a resolution, however, is not quite so easy as that, for some biblical passages specifically command violence, even sacred violence, against enemies. Many Christians argue that these commands were limited to specific circumstances in the distant past and offer no model for the Church, which is commanded to be a peacemaker. Fair enough . . . but what do such commands tell us about the Christian God? That He ordered men to commit immoral acts of genocide, or at least of murder? Can such commands be justified? Are they consistent with a proper conception of God?

Professor Seibert has raised such questions -- not only in the post summarized, but also in two more, here and here -- and our critical, questioning era demands an answer, if only to suggest some way for Muslims to deal with violence in their scripture.

But not only for that . . .

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