For many people living in the West, an assumption exists that religion is inherently violent. After all, they say, just look at the evidence: religion has caused wars, the Crusades, terrorism, religion has made people hate and kill others for nothing more than the ideas that were in their heads. According to this view, religions are not only necessarily violent, but they are responsible for much (if not all) of the violence in recorded human history. However, an explanation of the history of violence is not so simple, argues Karen Armstrong in her latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 512 pages). According to Armstrong, though violence is an unfortunate reality of human history, evil and warfare are not necessarily religious in nature nor does violence always arise from religion. In the impressive and exhaustive tome that is Fields of Blood, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and the history of violence, arguing that “We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in world.” Continue reading
The topic of “Creation versus Evolution,” at least in many circles, often elicits a good deal of debate, many times in rather a heated manner. The point of this post is not to provoke strong emotions in anyone, but only to offer a few thoughts about the Institute for Creation Research, an outspoken advocate of scientific “Creationism.” The integration of faith and reason in science has been an important consideration for many American Protestant Christians over the past 120 years. In the early 1900’s, intellectual change on a number of levels was sweeping across America, especially in relation to biological science. In 1925, the Scopes Trial in Dayton, TN made Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (first published in 1859) and brought a creation/evolution dichotomy to the forefront of American culture. Over the next few decades, the increasingly divided American Church responded to an increasingly secular scientific culture in a variety of ways. Many of the more “liberal” denominations acclimated to the changes in the philosophy of science, while many “conservative” denominations either fought against such changes or (more often) merely abandoned serious scientific inquiry altogether. By the 1970’s, the divide on creation and evolution was nearly complete, a divide that has directly impacted the nature of American Christianity on a variety of topics (scientific, theological, ethical, and political) since. Continue reading
Several weeks ago I was chatting with some friends about the topic of God (Yahweh) in the Christian Old Testament. And, as is often the case, we ventured into the topic of whether or not Yahweh commanded genocide during the Old Testament period. While I am by no means an expert on this topic, I proceeded to suggest that God did not actually command genocide in the Old Testament, or at least what we would consider to be genocide in today’s context . Thinking about this topic led me to think more about how we read and interpret the Bible.
Many Protestant Christians talk about reading the Bible “literally.” But I often don’t understand exactly what that means. Websters defines “literally” as “in a literal manner or sense; exactly.” When applied to the interpretation of a written text, this type of reading would seem to indicate that you take the text at its simple face value. But there are many portions of the Bible that even those advocating a “literal” reading of the Bible do not suggest should be interpreted woodenly. For example, the parables of Jesus. Is it possible that the Parable of the Sower or the Good Samaritan were actual events that Jesus was merely repeating for his followers? Possibly. But most people who have read or heard these stories have understood them as parables–stories that Jesus told to make a point and teach a truth–and not as historical narrative. But parables are not the only parts of scripture that should caution our desire to read the Bible “literally.” The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (the central portion of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and the Psalms are two additional chunks of Christian scripture that most people are hesitant to interpret “literally.” Continue reading