Happy New Year. No single theme, in this post, but a few observations.
You may have figured out I’ve not presented a linear theme development from post to post lately. Just before Christmas I was working on a writing project and the topic of hell naturally came up. What a topic for the holidays. I didn’t have the heart to send it out with celebration of the Advent only a few days away (however appropriate it might actually have been) but you can read it at the post titled Hell.
The (tentative) End
A few days ago I typed “the end” on what ended up being a book on Christian apologetics, but I didn’t start out with a book as the goal. I had it in mind that there are basic philosophical principles that young people ought to know, so that they can better navigate competing worldviews. At church they may be taught basic orthodox Christianity, and that not at a very high level of abstraction, but on all the other days of the week the worldview presented, sometimes only implicitly, is naturalism: the operating assumption that physical reality is all there is.
So I sat down to address the evidence of their observations, reasoning, and intuition from the perspectives of each of the two principal worldviews of theism and naturalism. There are plenty of “apologetics” or “worldview” books or curricula out there, but none that do this, as far as I can see. I deliberately avoided intensely theological discussion, and I think I cite the Bible only a half-dozen times. It’s book-length because I gave rein to my thinking as I was organizing notes. Perhaps this book could serve as a curriculum guide for a senior-youth/young-adult course that takes seriously the need to prepare for the philosophy of the world, in the spirit of the injunction at 1 Peter 3:15 that we be ready to explain the hope that lies within us.
I say I “typed ‘the end’” because I’m in a cooling-off period, so to speak, during which I’ll continue to tinker, perhaps, but won’t engage in any front-to-back re-write for a month or so. In the meantime, if you have suggestions for how something like this might be used, or would like to read it for yourself perhaps with a view to giving me some feedback, please contact me.
I’ve been thinking lately about how one interprets the central paradigm-setting stories in Genesis, before getting to Abraham. For some time it has bothered me that there is an insistence on a scientific or empiricist reading of text that, to my mind, is obviously not intended to be read that way. I’m open to the possibility that, for example, the cosmos was created in 6, 24-hour days, but only because I don’t know the answer. That view is at best only a possibility.
It seems likely to me that unimaginative literalism is not what was intended and that oftentimes a hyper-literal interpretation is demanded only from fear that if we don’t insist upon it, weak faith will unravel. I think that approach back-fires, however. A more poetic or metaphorical reading of those parts of the Bible meant to be read that way might lead more persuasively to God, as it has for me. If you think I’ve fallen into the liberal theology trap, you’re welcome to contact me and save me from the path to perdition.
On this subject, though, I read an interesting summary of an interview of Christian astronomer Guy Consolmagno in the Wall Street Journal of December 22nd, when I was supposed to be cleaning up for our Christmas party. Here is an excerpt, Consolmagno speaking:
“The idea that you read the bible like it was the Chilton’s manual for how to repair your Volkswagen – that’s literalism. It’s a very modern idea. You don’t find that in the church fathers. You don’t find that in the rabbis of the time of Jesus. That’s not the way they interpreted it. All literature in ancient times started out as poetry.”
He goes on:
“Science is also poetry. When I describe the path of a falling rock using Newton’s law of gravity, I’m saying the path that the rock makes when it falls is like the solution to this equation. It’s simile. The rock is not the equation , and the equation is not the rock.”
As his interviewer Kyle Peterson points out, “the implication is that these two poetic ways of understanding the world perhaps flow toward a unified truth.” I think they’re onto something here. An overly literal reading, in my always humble opinion, might obscure truth, rather than reveal it. Consomalgno takes the same approach I do in my just-finished evaluation of the evidence:
“I exist. Why do I exist? Why does anything exist? Why does existence itself exist? . . . Let’s assume that there’s a God that’s outside nature, who is responsible for the existence of the universe. When I start with that axiom, does the universe make sense? Does the universe make more sense than if I assume it’s all done by random chance? Am I able to see things I couldn’t see before? Am I able to understand things I could understand before? Is it an axiom that works? And to me, yes – that’s the answer.”
I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but I decided on this New Year’s day to switch to another format of Bible-reading. I looked around on-line for workable Bible-reading plans and found one that ought to suit. It’s a one-year plan. I realized it’s been more than a decade since I deliberately set out to read the entire Bible, as opposed to reading this book and that chapter based on my whims at the moment.
I’ve found this a worthwhile thing to do, in the past, for a few reasons. One, you can be a very steady reader of the Bible, and yet not be entirely confident that you’ve read the whole thing. It’s lengthy – I once figured it’s roughly the equivalent of 10 medium-length books.
Two, with more of the bible “in my head” at any one time, I can more readily see links in ideas between one part of the Bible and another. This makes it come alive.
Three – and this may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true for me – if I read on a schedule, I read faster without getting bogged down in the more puzzling passages. The Bible has pithy verses you can mine for gold, but it also has sweeping themes that, at least for me, only emerge when I read fast. The plan I picked up is here, but there’s lots of good ones out there.
Here’s to a year of living abundantly.