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Don Pflaster

A New Pair of Shoes
for the Slippery
Slope of Christianity

Christ was not executed by lethal injection. Well, why not?

Despite the lack of research into the human body to determine a "humane" way to kill another human being, it was a first-century custom to execute enemies of the state by crucifixion. In these quasi-enlightened times, crucifixion is cruel and unusual punishment, and will never be administered by any nation lest the United Nations intervene and impose sanctions against the offending regime responsible.

Beowulf did not fight Grendel with a B-2 Stealth Bomber. Well, why not?

Admittedly, it would have been a much more efficient way of dispatching Grendel. It was simply that the seventh-century mind lacked the understanding of the world necessary to design such powerful weapons of destruction which allow one to set his or her enemies on fire from the air.

The pilgrims did not set sail to colonize Plymouth Rock on the QE2. Well, why not?

The QE2 is a phat ride. Unfortunately, human advancement in areas of shipbuilding and means of propulsion at the time had not allowed passage on any ship greater than the dingy Mayflower.

We no longer draw our solar system using fanciful "epicycles" to explain the apparent circular movement of the planets in the sky. Well, why not?

Here's why not: This phenomenon has been explained by our own planet's revolution around the sun relative to others, us no longer being the center of the universe.

We don't do things the way we did in past centuries. We can't. Obsolescence is a bitch. Advancements in the way we believe and understand the world have made our previous notions about micro and macrocosms a memory. Any assumptions made about universal mechanics in previous eras must be scrutinized and challenged always, for otherwise we remain stagnant; the world remains flat, the stars remain fixed.

Nonetheless, it is somewhat of a prerequisite for admission into the exclusive club of most denominations of Christianity to accept all the first-century perspectives and assertions contained within the Bible as incontrovertible truth, despite the vast array of conflicting views and agendas in its pages.

Now the obvious reason for the Bible's longstanding resilience to the decay of time and science is the broad array of universal truths contained within. Expression of divine, universal, unconditional love is appealing to anyone in any age, and such beauty cannot be destroyed any more than the human capacity to love can be. But along with the gracious, wise passages of Ecclesiastes and Psalms come the confusing, contradictory books of Exodus and Leviticus, books whose relevance to the universe we know and the loving God Christians profess to worship today are simply dwindling.

Don't misunderstand this article as an attempt to excise portions of the Bible which are unfit for the almighty intellect of Pflaster. I'm certainly no revisionist, and I think these books should remain a part of scripture as a marker. It should solidly remind us of what those who came before us endured in their quest to fathom the ethereal. But never, two thousand years later, should we accept these limited first-century views of how God imposes his will upon the poor souls of the earth.

I have a new favorite person in religious circles. He is John Shelby Spong, Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and author of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. In his books he tackles these egregiously unbelievable passages in the Bible and calls for a new reformation of Christianity which sees beyond them. Following are just a few absurdities, contradictions, and atrocities which he brings to light.

God orders the sun to stand still in the sky so that the Israelites could finish killing the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-13.) Despite the nationalistic view of God in this bible story, we now know that the sun does not travel around the earth, rather the earth rotates on its axis. If the earth were to suddenly stop spinning, if only for an hour, the force of gravity would destroy the ecology of the earth irreparably.

The Torah said "do not steal," but Moses commands the Israelites by the word of Yahweh to rob the Egyptians of all their valuables in order to finance the Exodus from Egypt. (Exodus 12:35-36) Does a god who authorizes this sort of thing and chooses one group of people over another deserve our respect, worship, and reverence? Or was it perhaps the delusions of first-century minds, the historical victors who believed themselves to be "God's chosen" simply because they won?

No one was allowed to be a priest who had a physical deformity, or who was a dwarf, or blind, or lame, or a hunchback, or had a disease, crushed testicles, or scabs. (Leviticus 22:16-22) We now know scientific reasons for these abnormalities, and no longer believe such persons to be Satan's agents. Nor do we believe, as Jesus is professed to have believed, that deaf muteness is caused by a tying of the tongue by Satan. (Matthew 9:32)

Jesus rose into the sky after the resurrection. This makes sense in a time when the sky is a giant canopy over a long, vast, flat ground, where stars in the sky are holes behind which lies the eternal day of heaven. The ascension story is told by Luke in the book of Acts, and in his time, Luke could never have comprehended the sheer size of space. Even if Jesus had risen into the sky at the speed of light, he still today wouldn't have left our own galaxy.

We are just beginning to understand scientifically that homosexuality is not an act of evil, but is, in fact, an ingrained trait in humans and animals alike. There are, of course, many passages in the bible which explicitly forbid homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13, for example). But, placed in context, the commandment which states that you shouldn't covet your neighbor's wife says nothing about coveting your neighbor's husband. In that time and culture, it was acceptable for men to possess many wives, and "coveting" refers not so much to emotional involvement or sexual gratification, but more to the theft of property - which is pretty much what women were.

Moses was angry that the Israelites allowed the Midianite women to live after killing every Midianite male, so he ordered all the non-virgin women to be killed, and allowed Israelite men to take all the virgins for themselves. (Numbers 31:15)

Our concepts of lifestyles, sex, science, government, human rights and nature have taken enormous leaps and bounds since the days of servitude and angry Gods watching us. It is obvious that a grand re-evaluation is definitely in order.

When the claims of first-century prophets are applied to the world today, they fall extremely short of satiating the most basic and honest of questions. They cause anger and hostility in the minds of Christians who subscribe to these truths, as we've seen in past Impact articles, as such fundamentalists grapple desperately onto the crumbling cliffs of ancient belief. In addition, grasping antiquated truths prevent such persons from discovering new and beautiful things about the universe, creating a mental block against science and learning, and drowning them in seas of tired rhetoric.

Quoth Spong:

"Unless theological truth can be separated from pre-scientific understandings and rethought in ways consistent with our understanding of reality, the Christian faith will be reduced to one more ancient mythology that will take its place alongside the religions of Mount Olympus. Those who insist on biblical literalism thus become unwitting accomplices in bringing about the death of the Christianity they so deeply love."

Spong is not a publicity whore or saber-rattler, demanding attention and swift destruction of his opponents. He is a peaceful, passionate observer, uncovering the truly objectionable passages of the Bible, and attempting to promote the idea that God is perhaps far more subtle and non-denominational than first-century minds could fathom in their time of pre-scientific magic. God isn't a supreme commander who needs to be satiated and worshipped lest he cast someone into the lake of fire. Perhaps He isn't a He at all, but was labeled "He" by the patriarchal filters of the minds of the prophets.

I've always said that I won't worship any God under duress, and Spong appears to be on the same level. His vision of Christianity doesn't dole out punishments and rewards a la Santa Claus. It's fuzzy thinking to believe that God is keeping a list of wrongdoings and golden accomplishments for every human being which He will one day use for or against us in the big court case in the sky.

Spong has been a strong proponent of ordaining women and homosexuals as priests, and has included them in the full life of his church, excluding no one.

If there were ever a strong enough movement like this in the Christian church which could abandon fear, which could build a foundation on intellectual progression instead of blind faith, and could embrace true love and light for all people, perhaps I would elect to give it a try. Because as it stands, it isn't the notions of divine love that bug me about religion. It's the two-thousand-year-old residual hate, the rhetoric, the absolute right and wrong, the explaining away of every scientific discovery as God "testing our faith."

I encourage any curious souls who are struggling with religion to dive into these books, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile and Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, for they are truly necessary works in our time if Christianity is ever to be saved from itself.

Until then, try not to slaughter any entire races of people, okay?

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