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To: NRugg who wrote (475)12/12/2008 12:17:38 PM
From: LLCF
   of 520
<Vatican on aliens
The Pope's chief astronomer says that life on Mars cannot be ruled out. >

The Vatican is doing some sort of astronomy project here in Arizona:

"Ten Jesuit astronomers split their time between Italy and Tucson, Arizona, where the Vatican Observatory Research Group has offices at the University of Arizonas Steward Observatory. In collaboration with Steward, the Jesuits built the 70-inch (1.8-meter) Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) on Mount Graham, 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Tucson."


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From: Sun Tzu11/17/2009 1:17:34 PM
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Religion and Corruption

Transparency International has just released its corruption ranking of the countries around the world (see ). An interesting observation is that there is a very high correlation between how conservative and religious a country is and how corrupt it is. The correlation seems to hold across cultural and developmental boundaries. So for example, the most liberal and secular Western countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland) rank well ahead of the most religious Western countries (Italy, USA, and Greece). Italy in fact, being somewhat as Christian and Saudi Arabia is Muslim shares the same corruption index as Saudi. Likewise, the most liberal mid-eastern countries (Qatar and UAE) rank less corrupt than the most religious countries of the Middle East (Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran). Looking at Asia, Singapore and Hong Kong rank well ahead of Buddhist Thailand. The most Catholic country in Africa, Rwanda, is far more corrupt than Botswana or Namibia.

I have often pondered why it seems that religiousness and corruption so often go hand in hand. I suppose part of it can be attributed to group-think that organized religion forces upon people. But I think a bigger chunk of it has to do with the combination these two facts: religion and “values” provide the perfect cover for the scoundrels and conmen who’d otherwise would have a hard time looking respectable. At the same time, conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, are far more willing relinquish their free will and independent thought at the altar a greater being or the greater good than liberal, making them the preferred victims of the conmen and scoundrels.

Somewhat ironic that religion seems to have the exact opposite effect of what it intends to foster.


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From: Sun Tzu2/11/2011 1:59:26 PM
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What the Bible Really Says About Sex
New scholarship on the Good Book’s naughty bits and how it deals with adultery, divorce, and same-sex love.

by Lisa MillerFebruary 06, 2011

The poem describes two young lovers aching with desire. The obsession is mutual, carnal, complete. The man lingers over his lover’s eyes and hair, on her teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts, until he arrives at “the mount of myrrh.” He rhapsodizes. “All of you is beautiful, my love,” he says. “There is no flaw in you.”

The girl returns his lust with lust. “My lover thrust his hand through the hole,” she says, “and my insides groaned because of him.”

This ode to sexual consummation can be found in—of all places—the Bible. It is the Song of Solomon, a poem whose origins likely reach back to the pagan love songs of Egypt more than 1,200 years before the birth of Jesus. Biblical interpreters have endeavored through the millennia to temper its heat by arguing that it means more than it appears to mean. It’s about God’s love for Israel, they have said; or, it’s about Jesus’ love for the church. But whatever other layers it may contain, the Song is on its face an ancient piece of erotica, a celebration of the fulfillment of sexual desire.

What does the Bible really say about sex? Two new books written by university scholars for a popular audience try to answer this question. Infuriated by the dominance in the public sphere of conservative Christians who insist that the Bible incontrovertibly supports sex within the constraints of “traditional marriage,” these authors attempt to prove otherwise. Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan mine the Bible for its earthiest and most inexplicable tales about sex—Jephthah, who sacrifices his virgin daughter to God; Naomi and Ruth, who vow to love one another until death—to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe. In Knust’s reading, the Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex, outside the conventions of family and community. “I’m tired,” writes Knust in Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, “of watching those who are supposed to care about the Bible reduce its stories and teachings to slogans.” Her book comes out this month. Coogan’s book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says was released last fall.

Conservative critics say that coherence is precisely what the Bible offers on sex. Reading it in the context of the Christian tradition, and with an awareness that the text is “divinely inspired”—that is, given to people directly by God—a believer can come to only one conclusion on questions of sex and marriage. “Sexual intimacy outside of a public, lifelong commitment between a man and woman is not in accordance with God’s creating or redeeming purposes,” explains Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Liberals may wish the Bible were more permissive on sex, conservative religious scholars say, but it’s not.

These battles over the “right” interpretation are, of course, as old as the Bible itself. In today’s culture wars, the Bible—specifically a “one man, one woman” argument from the Book of Genesis—is employed by the Christian right to oppose gay marriage. This fight, as well as those over the efficacy of abstinence-education schools and intra-denominational squabbles over the proper role of women in church-leadership roles, have led many Americans (two thirds of whom rarely read the Bible) to believe that the Good Book doesn’t speak for them. Knust, a religion professor at Boston University, is also an ordained minister in the American Baptist denomination. Coogan, director of publications at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, once trained as a Jesuit priest. With their books, they hope to steal the conversation about sex and the Bible back from the religious right. “The Bible doesn’t have to be an invader, conquering bodies and wills with its pronouncements and demands,” Knust writes. “It can also be a partner in the complicated dance of figuring out what it means to live in bodies that are filled with longing.” Here, in summary, are the arguments:

The Bible is an ancient text, inapplicable in its particulars to the modern world.

In the Bible, “traditional marriage” doesn’t exist. Abraham fathers children with Sarah and his servant Hagar. Jacob marries Rachel and her sister Leah, as well as their servants Bilhah and Zilpah. Jesus was celibate, as was Paul.

Husbands, in essence, owned their wives, and fathers owned their daughters, too. A girl’s virginity was her father’s to protect—and to relinquish at any whim. Thus Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the angry mob that surrounds his house in Sodom. Deuteronomy proposes death for female adulterers, and Paul suggests “women should be silent in churches” (a rationale among some conservative denominations for barring women from the pulpit).

The Bible contains a “pervasive patriarchal bias,” Coogan writes. Better to elide the specifics and read the Bible for its teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness. Taken as a whole, “the Bible can be understood as the record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and equality for all persons.”

Sex in the Bible is sometimes hidden.

Those who follow the gay-marriage debate are likely familiar with certain bits of Scripture. Two verses, from Leviticus, describe sex between men as “an abomination” (in the King James translation). Another, from Romans, condemns men who are “inflamed with lust for one another.” But as Coogan quips, “there is sex in the Bible on every page, if you just know where to look.” A full understanding of biblical teachings on sex requires a trained eye.

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

From this, Coogan makes a rather sensationalistic exegetical move. When he is teaching to college students, he writes, someone inevitably asks about the scene in Luke, in which a woman kisses and washes Jesus’ feet—and then dries them with her hair. Is that author speaking about “feet”? Or feet? “As both modern and ancient elaborations suggest,” Coogan writes, “sexual innuendo may be present.” Scholars agree that in this case, a foot was probably just a foot.

That which is forbidden is also allowed.

The Bible is stern and judgmental on sex. It forbids prostitution, adultery, premarital sex for women, and homosexuality. But exceptions exist in every case, Knust points out. Tamar, a widow without children, poses as a whore and solicits her own father-in-law—so that he could “come into” her. Her desire to ameliorate her childlessness trumps the prohibition against prostitution. Knust also argues—provocatively—that King David “enjoyed sexual satisfaction” with his soulmate, Jonathan. “Your love to me was wonderful,” laments David at Jonathan’s death, “passing the love of women.”

Divorce is permitted in the Old Testament—but it’s forbidden in the Gospels. Jesus didn’t like it: that much is clear. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery,” he says in the Gospel of Mark. But in Matthew’s telling, Jesus softens his position slightly and leaves a loophole for the husbands of unfaithful wives. “When it comes to sex, the Bible is often divided against itself,” writes Knust.

Accepted interpretations are sometimes wrong.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is, as everyone knows, a story of God’s judgment against homosexuality, promiscuity, and other kinds of illicit sex. Except, Knust argues, it’s not. It’s a story about the danger of having sex with angels. In the biblical world, people believed in angels, and they feared them, for sex with angels led inevitably to death and destruction. In the Noah story, God sends the flood to exterminate the offspring of “the daughters of man” (human women) and “the sons of God” (angels, in some interpretations). Non-canonical Jewish texts tell of angels, called Watchers, who descend to earth and impregnate human women, who produce monstrous children—thus inciting God’s terrible vengeance. God razes Sodom not because its male inhabitants are having sex with each other, as so many contemporary ministers preach, Knust argues, but in part because the men of the town intended to rape angels of God who were sheltered in Lot’s house. And when the Apostle Paul tells women to keep their heads covered in church, he’s issuing a warning against inciting angelic lust: “The angels might be watching,” Knust writes.

Coogan and Knust are hardly the first scholars to offer alternative readings of the Bible’s teachings on sex. What sets them apart is their populism. With provocative titles and mainstream publishing houses, they obviously hope to sell books. But their greater cause is a fight against “official” interpretations. Knust, who was raised in a conservative Christian home, recalls with intensity reading the Bible on the couch with her mother, and—with a mixture of faith and skepticism—talking aloud about what it might mean. With her book, she encourages readers to do the same.

A person alone on her couch with Scripture can also come to some dangerous conclusions: the Bible has, at certain times in history, been read to support slavery, wife-beating, kidnapping, child abuse, racism, and polygamy. That’s why Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that citadel of Christian conservatism, concludes that one’s Bible reading must be overseen by the proper authorities. Just because everyone should read the Bible “doesn’t mean that everyone’s equally qualified to read it, and it doesn’t mean that the text is just to be used as a mirror for ourselves,” he says. “All kinds of heresies come from people who read the Bible and recklessly believe that they’ve understood it correctly.” As the word of God, he adds, the Bible isn’t open to the same level of interpretation as The Odyssey or The Iliad.

Yet in a democracy, even those who speak “heresies” are allowed a voice. And whether readers accept Coogan’s and Knust’s interpretations, the authors are justified in their insistence that a population so divided over questions of sex and sexual morality cannot—should not—cede the field without exploring first what the Bible actually says. The eminent Bible historian Elaine Pagels agrees. To read the Bible and reflect on it “is to realize that we have not a series of answers, but a lot of questions.”

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To: Sun Tzu who wrote (478)2/12/2011 6:50:38 PM
From: Brumar89
   of 520
The Bible and Sex

The secular press is buzzing with the release of two books dedicated to discussing a revisionist view of sex in the Bible. These books are: Michael Coogan, God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says (New York: The Hachette Book Group, 2010) and Jennifer Wright Knust, Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011).

These two books have been featured in Newsweek, “What the Bible Really Says About Sex,” an article written by Lisa Miller. Knust was interviewed by Stephen Prothero in an article that appeared on the Huffington Post. Knust has also been writing a series of articles that are appearing On Faith, a blog published in The Washington Post.

Knust, who is an ordained American Baptist minister and Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University has written the most radical, revisionist book on what the Bible says and teaches about sex.

Her premise is that the story of creation of the first human person in Genesis 1 was a case of androgyny, that is, that the first person was both male and female and had the genitals of both sexes. Then, in the creation story of Genesis 2, the sexes were separated and this separation created sexual desire in human beings. This desire drives man and woman to have sex so that they can become one again.

This view that God’s original plan for his creation was that a human person would have two sexes in one body is the creation of a fertile mind that finds no support in the Bible. Knust bases her view on ancient Jewish interpreters who were trying to explain why there are two creation stories in Genesis.

Knust’s interpretation is so radical that she reinterprets what the Bible says in order to present a modern view of sex and sexuality that is a complete departure from what the Bible has to say and teach.

In her interview with Prothero, Knust says that the Bible presents premarital sex as “a source of God’s blessings.” She finds justification for this view in the story of Ruth’s encounter with Boaz. She believes that the Bible presents the sexual relationship between men as positive because David and Jonathan were involved in a gay relationship. She also says Tamar’s desire to have children by dressing like a prostitute to have sex with Judah “trumps the prohibition against prostitution.”

Time and space will not allow me to give a detailed response to the issues Knust raises in her book. What follows is just a brief evaluation of the four issues Knust raises in these articles:

1. The Case of Ruth

Ruth 3:7, 14 says: “And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. . . . So she lay at his feet until the morning.”

It is true that the word “feet” can mean “genitals” in a few passages of the Old Testament. To say, however, that Ruth exposed Boaz’s genitals, is to read a sexual meaning into the text that may or may not be there. Even if Ruth exposed Boaz’s genitals, it does not mean that they had sexual intercourse. It is possible that Ruth was tricking Boaz into thinking they had sex.

Deception does not mean approval. Even if Boaz and Ruth had sex on the threshing-floor, it does not mean that premarital sex is recognized in the Bible as a source of blessing.

2. Premarital Sex

The case of Ruth cannot be used to give approval to premarital sex. If Boaz was tricked, then the Bible is not giving approval to premarital sex, as Knust suggests. Compared to sexual practices in our society today, Israelite society was not permissive. The lack of a moral code to guide people today prevents them from making the right choices when it comes to sex and sexuality. People’s choice are culturally conditioned and do not reflect a biblical understanding of human sexuality.

Premarital sex in Israel was so uncommon that the Bible does not give any law or regulation about it. The case of Amnon and Tamar could be considered an example of premarital sex. When Amnon tried to have sex with Tamar she said: “Do not force me! This is no way to behave in Israel. Do not do anything so disgraceful!” (2 Samuel 13:12). So, premarital sex was considered a disgraceful act in Israel.

Another example of premarital sex is found in Deuteronomy 22:28-29: “Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married. If they are discovered, he must pay her father fifty pieces of silver. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he may never divorce her as long as he lives.” So, if a man had sex with a woman outside marriage, he had to marry her.

In Israel, the sex act consummated a marriage: “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This is the reason the Apostle Paul says that Christians should not have sex with a prostitute, because when they have sex, they become one flesh: “Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh’” (1 Corinthians 6:16).

The meaning of human sexuality taught in Genesis 2:24 and the mutual relationship established between a man and a woman when they come together emphasizes the reason premarital sex was not allowed in Israelite society.

In the Bible, when married people have sex with people other than the marriage partner, it is called adultery. Sex between people who are not married is called fornication: “But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2).

3. Tamar’s Prostitution

The case of Tamar is a unique case because it involves the issue of Levirate marriage. In Levirate marriage, the brother of a deceased man would marry his brother’s widow in order to provide an heir for the dead man. In the case of Tamar, her husband had died, so Judah, Tamar’s father-in-law, gave her his oldest son so she could have a child. Because the man refused to give her a child, he was struck dead because of his iniquity.

Judah then refused to give Tamar his other son, so Tamar dressed as a sacred prostitute and had sex with her father-in-law. Judah did not know that the woman was his daughter-in-law. When he discovered that Tamar was pregnant, he believed she should be killed because she was pregnant with the child of another man.

The Bible does not approve prostitution, but like in our society today, prostitution was very common in Israel and in the Ancient Near East. The reason Tamar dressed like a prostitute was because Judah violated a societal rule and refused to provide an heir for his dead son. So, she was forcing him to fulfill his obligation.

4. The Case of David and Jonathan

There is no evidence that David and Jonathan were gay partners. Both of them were married and had children. They were just friends who had the kind of friendship that was common in the Ancient Near East. This type of friendship is unknown today. This is the reason people mistake this kind of friendship with a gay relationship.

Jennifer Knust offers a radical revisionist interpretation of the biblical texts dealing with the matters of sex and sexuality. Her interpretation departs, not only from the traditional ways those texts are interpreted, but also from the true meaning of what the texts actually say.

In her interview with Prothero, Knust concluded: “Some biblical passages can support my point of view. Others do not. So, as firmly as I believe that ‘love your neighbor’ can capture God’s point of view, I cannot be certain that I am right.”

Ms. Knust, I can help you: you are not right.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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To: Brumar89 who wrote (479)2/12/2011 6:53:26 PM
From: Brumar89
   of 520
What the Bible Doesn't Say About Sex

By Katherine T. Phan|Christian Post Reporter

Reputable Christian scholars are outright rejecting one author's message that the Bible gives mixed and contradictory teachings on sex and sexuality.

Earlier this week, a Newsweek article entitled, "What the Bible Really Says About Sex," brought attention to the work of Jennifer Wright Knust, author of Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire.

Knust, a religion professor at Boston University, argues that there are cases in the Bible where premarital sex, homosexuality and prostitution is permissible, according to her book and the Newsweek piece.

Evangelical scholars say she fails to demonstrate authentic scholarship and correct biblical interpretation despite teaching religion and being an ordained American Baptist pastor.

"Jennifer Knuts offers a revisionist interpretation of the biblical texts. Her interpretation departs, not only from the traditional ways those texts are interpreted, but also from the true meaning of what the texts actually say," Dr. Claude Mariottini, professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary, told The Christian Post.

In his blog post responding to the Newsweek piece, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Bible already presents a "clear and consistent sexual ethic" and that the issue at hand is not lack of clarity.

"The real problem here is not that the Bible is misunderstood and in need of revision," he wrote Wednesday. "To the contrary, the real problem is that the ethic revealed in the Bible is both rejected and reviled."

In an interview posted Thursday on the Huffington Post, Knust contended to Stephen Prothero, author of Religious Literacy, that the story of Ruth is an example of how premarital sex is "a source of God's blessing" in the Bible. She claimed that the Bible's record of Ruth "uncovering the feet" of Boaz and lying down at his feet is actually a scene of the great grandparents of King David having sex. "Feet" can be a euphemism for male genitals, according to Knust.

Dr. Paul Copan, a philosophy professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla., told The Christian Post that he believes Ruth's uncovering of Boaz's feet was just that and that nothing sexual took place.

"The Bible doesn't shy away from recording sexual encounters and would have recorded it if one took place," he said.

President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Copan also pointed out that the grammar in the Bible doesn’t support a sexual act. The word "lie" can be used in a sexual way, such as Potiphar's wife telling Joseph "lie with me," he noted. But in the story of Ruth, "the word is used here without sexual connotations," said Copan.

Mariottini acknowledged that "feet" can refer to "genitals" in a few passages of the Old Testament, but to say that "Ruth exposed Boaz’s genitals, is to read a sexual meaning into the text that may or may not be there," he said.

"Even if Ruth exposed Boaz’s genitals, it does not mean that they had sexual intercourse. It is possible that Ruth was tricking Boaz into thinking they had sex," offered the Old Testament professor.

Bottom line: "The case of Ruth cannot be used to give approval to premarital sex," said Mariottini.

Both Copan and Mariottini referred to Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to explain that the Bible is against premarital sex. According to the passage, sex consummates the marriage so if a man has violated a virgin woman, he must pay her father 50 pieces of silver and also take her as his wife, the scholars said.

They also cited the passage in Genesis 2:24, which states, "This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh."

Scripture affirms God's creation order of marriage between a man and a woman and sexual pleasure as taking place in the context of marriage, they said.

In another controversial claim, Knust also argues that the Bible justifies prostitution, pointing to the story of Tamar.

Tamar was left a widow after the Lord punished Er, Judah's eldest son, with death for his wickedness. Judah then asks his second eldest son, Onan, to marry Tamar and give her an offspring but he, too, is slain by the Lord after he intentionally withheld his seed from Tamar. When the third son Shelah was grown but was given to wed Tamar, she posed as a prostitute and had sex with her father-in-law.

"The Bible does not approve prostitution, but like in our society today, prostitution was very common," said Mariottini.

"The reason Tamar dressed like a prostitute was because Judah violated a societal rule and refused to provide an heir for his dead son. So, she was forcing him to fulfill his obligation," he said.

In a commentary to CNN this week, Knust takes another stab at the Bible's claims on sexuality by arguing that Scripture supports homosexuality. Again using Old Testament characters to make her point, she sets her sights on David and Jonathan, alleging that the two were same-sex partners.

"There is no evidence that David and Jonathan were gay partners," stated Mariottini. "Both of them were married and had children. They were just friends who had the kind of friendship that was common in the Ancient Near East. This type of friendship is unknown today. This is the reason people mistake this kind of friendship with a gay relationship."

Mohler had this to say about Knust's claim on homosexuality, "No Jewish or Christian interpreter of the Bible had ever suggested that the relationship between David and Jonathan was homosexual – at least not until recent decades."

"The revisionist case is equally ludicrous across the board. We are only now able to understand what Paul was talking about in Romans 1? The church was wrong for two millennia?" he asked rhetorically.

Knust acknowledged in her CNN commentary that same-sex intimacy is condemned in a "few" biblical passages, but claims that "these passages, which I can count on one hand, are addressed to specific sex acts and specific persons, not to all humanity forever, and they can be interpreted in any number of ways."

Not so, according to Copan.

Copan, who addresses the topics of homosexuality and gay marriage in his book When God Goes to Starbucks, said that homosexuality is strictly prohibited by the Bible in Leviticus 18:22 and again by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6.

Homosexuality "goes against the very design that God intended: marriage is between husband and wife," said Copan, reaffirming the passage in Genesis.

"Paul speaks very strongly against homosexuality," he said. "He says that these sorts of things are not to be approved in the Kingdom of God. He is also saying that people can be redeemed from this."

In his book, Copan cited the work of Richard Hays, dean of Duke Divinity School, who calls such attempts to label Ruth and Naomi as lesbians or David and Jonathan as gays "exegetical curiosities” that just aren’t taken seriously by biblical scholars.

"The Scriptures offer no indications – no stories, no metaphors – that homosexual relationships are acceptable before God," concluded Copan in When God Goes to Starbucks.

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To: Brumar89 who wrote (479)2/13/2011 7:40:24 PM
From: Sun Tzu
1 Recommendation   of 520
Not having read the books myself, I cannot comment on the article you have posted. I do however have something to say about both the article I posted and yours: They are highly speculative.

Language is a highly context dependent medium. When we discuss an issue, say 911, or women's rights, or whatever, we do not restate whatever that is obvious to us. What is obvious to us is a function of our social norms, common knowledge, and culture. The further a reader is in either time or space, the greater the chances of misinterpretation. Eventually, the text may become meaningless. There are for example very ancient religious texts and hymns that just cannot be understood, even when "translated."

The is the main problem with all "interpretations" of religious texts, be it by the orthodox and conservatives, or by revisionists and liberals. I put "interpretations" in quotes because all readings today are interpretations. We are simply too far apart in time and space to naturally "get it."

We have little problem seeing this for "outside" religions. Islam for example is frequently interpreted as both peaceful and compassionate, and as violent and oppressive. The difference is in the eye of the beholder; one projects into it one's own biases. But this is equally true of any ancient text. There is no such thing as a plain and straight forward reading. And on the rare occasions that such a reading can be done, the ancient texts prove to be very out of step with modern life and needs.


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To: Sun Tzu who wrote (481)2/14/2011 5:21:06 AM
From: Sun Tzu
   of 520
Follow up - some people claim that the true value of their religious text is in its "interpretablity". That is their faith is able to keep up with times because every generation can interpret the text as necessary.

There is a certain truth to this, but it is very constrained and those constraints are often not acknowledged by the proponents.

The most important constraint is that for something to be open to interpretation and valid through out the ages, it must be (1) concise (2) extremely clearly stated (3) imprecise. "Honor thy father and thy mother." is such a statement. It is short and to the point, and it does not get into the details of *how* one should honor one's parents. It can move with times because every generation is free to interpret what "honoring" means within the context of their times and personal beliefs.

As simple and clear as the above commandment is, we can see its limitations when faced with complex or changing times. For example, it does not elaborate as to "who" is considered to be one's mother. Yes, I am sure at the time it was written your mother was well understood to be the woman who gave birth to you, but today you may have to distinguish between your biological parents and the ones who actually stayed up all night and raised you. Nor does it really tell you how to honor them, or under what circumstances.

And therein lies the rub. You can have very general principles that can be interpreted in each age according to the circumstances. This lends itself to a more "liberal" view of religion because the same faith will have very different case-dependent concrete answers. Or you can have precise and mostly complete instructions, but they will apply to a very limited number of circumstances.

Problems occur whenever people consider their interpretation of the texts as the only valid interpretation, rather than acknowledging that all interpretations are valid only for the interpreter. Or when people try to apply instructions meant for one era or circumstances to the here and now.


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From: Sun Tzu3/3/2011 11:07:41 AM
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New American Bible changes some words such as "holocaust"

By Andrew Stern Andrew Stern – Wed Mar 2, 4:32 pm ET

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A new edition of one the most popular English-language Bibles will offer substitutes for words such as "booty" and "holocaust" to better reflect modern understanding, a Catholic group said on Wednesday.

Nearly 50 scholars from all faiths and a committee of Roman Catholic bishops have labored since 1994 over the first fresh edition of the New American Bible since 1970, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

The annual best-seller to be issued by a dozen publishers beginning next week on Ash Wednesday "is a beautiful translation -- it's a new way to look at an old love," said Mary Sperry, who oversees Bible licensing for the bishops.

The changes go beyond a few words being altered, and include freshly-written notes that should help readers better understand the Catholic church's interpretation of biblical concepts, Sperry said. The Book of Psalms contains over 70,000 words, both text and notes, she said.

The revisions more accurately reflect translations of ancient Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament and the constant evolution of modern-day language, Sperry said.

For example, the word "holocaust," which for most people refers to the World War Two genocide of Jews, was changed to "burnt offerings," which clarifies the original, positive idea of making offerings to God.

"Booty," which has come to have a sexual connotation, was changed to "spoils of war;" and "cereal," which many think of as breakfast food, became "grain" to reference loads of wheat.

In a change in a passage in Isaiah 7:14 that foretells the coming of Jesus and his birth to a virgin mother, the 1970 edition's reference to "the virgin" will become "the young woman," to better translate the Hebrew word "almah."

"The bishops and the Bible are not signaling any sort of change in the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus. None whatsoever," Sperry added.

The new edition will revert to more poetic versions of Psalm 23 to have it read, "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," instead of "dark valley." And "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come" was changed to "for endless days," which Sperry said carried a more profound and hopeful meaning.

The current edition of the New American Bible sold more than one million copies last year, mostly in the United States, the Philippines, India, and Africa. The new version could spark a pickup in sales, Sperry predicted.

The edition will be available in many formats: as a family hardback, a basic paperback, as an "e-book," as an "app" for cell phones, and in a Braille version.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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From: Sun Tzu5/18/2011 4:16:33 PM
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Half of New Testament forged, Bible scholar says

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - A frail man sits in chains inside a dank, cold prison cell. He has escaped death before but now realizes that his execution is drawing near.

“I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come,” the man –the Apostle Paul - says in the Bible's 2 Timothy. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

The passage is one of the most dramatic scenes in the New Testament. Paul, the most prolific New Testament author, is saying goodbye from a Roman prison cell before being beheaded. His goodbye veers from loneliness to defiance and, finally, to joy.

There’s one just one problem - Paul didn’t write those words. In fact, virtually half the New Testament was written by impostors taking on the names of apostles like Paul. At least according to Bart D. Ehrman, a renowned biblical scholar, who makes the charges in his new book Forged.”

“There were a lot of people in the ancient world who thought that lying could serve a greater good,” says Ehrman, an expert on ancient biblical manuscripts.In “Forged,” Ehrman claims that:

* At least 11 of the 27 New Testament books are forgeries.

* The New Testament books attributed to Jesus’ disciples could not have been written by them because they were illiterate.

* Many of the New Testament’s forgeries were manufactured by early Christian leaders trying to settle theological feuds.

Were Jesus’ disciples ‘illiterate peasants?'

Ehrman’s book, like many of his previous ones, is already generating backlash. Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar, has written a lengthy online critique of “Forged.”

Witherington calls Ehrman’s book “Gullible Travels, for it reveals over and over again the willingness of people to believe even outrageous things.”

All of the New Testament books, with the exception of 2 Peter, can be traced back to a very small group of literate Christians, some of whom were eyewitnesses to the lives of Jesus and Paul, Witherington says.

“Forged” also underestimates the considerable role scribes played in transcribing documents during the earliest days of Christianity, Witherington says.

Even if Paul didn’t write the second book of Timothy, he would have dictated it to a scribe for posterity, he says.

“When you have a trusted colleague or co-worker who knows the mind of Paul, there was no problem in antiquity with that trusted co-worker hearing Paul’s last testimony in prison,” he says. “This is not forgery. This is the last will and testament of someone who is dying.”

Ehrman doesn’t confine his critique to Paul’s letters. He challenges the authenticity of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. He says that none were written by Jesus' disciplies, citing two reasons.

He says none of the earliest gospels revealed the names of its authors, and that their current names were later added by scribes.

Ehrman also says that two of Jesus’ original disciples, John and Peter, could not have written the books attributed to them in the New Testament because they were illiterate.

“According to Acts 4:13, both Peter and his companion John, also a fisherman, were agrammatoi, a Greek word that literally means ‘unlettered,’ that is, ‘illiterate,’ ’’ he writes.

Will the real Paul stand up?

Ehrman reserves most of his scrutiny for the writings of Paul, which make up the bulk of the New Testament. He says that only about half of the New Testament letters attributed to Paul – 7 of 13 - were actually written by him.

Paul's remaining books are forgeries, Ehrman says. His proof: inconsistencies in the language, choice of words and blatant contradiction in doctrine.

For example, Ehrman says the book of Ephesians doesn’t conform to Paul’s distinctive Greek writing style. He says Paul wrote in short, pointed sentences while Ephesians is full of long Greek sentences (the opening sentence of thanksgiving in Ephesians unfurls a sentence that winds through 12 verses, he says).

“There’s nothing wrong with extremely long sentences in Greek; it just isn’t the way Paul wrote. It’s like Mark Twain and William Faulkner; they both wrote correctly, but you would never mistake the one for the other,” Ehrman writes.

The scholar also points to a famous passage in 1 Corinthians in which Paul is recorded as saying that women should be “silent” in churches and that “if they wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.”

Only three chapters earlier, in the same book, Paul is urging women who pray and prophesy in church to cover their heads with veils, Ehrman says: “If they were allowed to speak in chapter 11, how could they be told not to speak in chapter 14?”

Why people forged

Forgers often did their work because they were trying to settle early church disputes, Ehrman says. The early church was embroiled in conflict - people argued over the treatment of women, leadership and relations between masters and slaves, he says.

“There was competition among different groups of Christians about what to believe and each of these groups wanted to have authority to back up their views,” he says. “If you were a nobody, you wouldn’t sign your own name to your treatise. You would sign Peter or John.”

So people claiming to be Peter and John - and all sorts of people who claimed to know Jesus - went into publishing overdrive. Ehrman estimates that there were about 100 forgeries created in the name of Jesus’ inner-circle during the first four centuries of the church.

Witherington concedes that fabrications and forgeries floated around the earliest Christian communities.

But he doesn’t accept the notion that Peter, for example, could not have been literate because he was a fisherman.

“Fisherman had to do business. Guess what? That involves writing, contracts and signed documents,” he said in an interview.

Witherington says people will gravitate toward Ehrman’s work because the media loves sensationalism.

“We live in a Jesus-haunted culture that’s biblically illiterate,” he says. “Almost anything can pass for historical information… A book liked ‘Forged’ can unsettle people who have no third or fourth opinions to draw upon.”

Ehrman, of course, has another point of view.

“Forged” will help people accept something that it took him a long time to accept, says the author, a former fundamentalist who is now an agnostic.

The New Testament wasn’t written by the finger of God, he says – it has human fingerprints all over its pages.

“I’m not saying people should throw it out or it’s not theologically fruitful,” Ehrman says. “I’m saying that by realizing it contains so many forgeries, it shows that it’s a very human book, down to the fact that some authors lied about who they were.”


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From: Sun Tzu9/19/2011 11:51:17 AM
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Make-Your-Own Religion? More And More Americans Are Doing It, According To New Book 'Futurecast'
By Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA Today

(RNS) If World War II-era warbler Kate Smith sang today, her anthem could be "Gods Bless America."

That's one of the key findings in newly released research that reveals America's drift from clearly defined religious denominations to faiths cut to fit personal preferences.

The folks who make up God as they go are side by side with self-proclaimed believers who claim the Christian label but shed their ties to traditional beliefs and practices. Religion statistics expert George Barna says, with a wry hint of exaggeration, America is headed for "310 million people with 310 million religions."

"We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs -- our clothing, our food, our education," he said. Now it's our religion.

Barna's new book on U.S. Christians, " Futurecast," tracks changes from 1991 to 2011, in annual national surveys of 1,000 to 1,600 U.S. adults. All the major trend lines of religious belief and behavior he measured ran downward -- except two:

More people claim they have accepted Jesus as their savior and expect to go to heaven. And more say they haven't been to church in the past six months except for special occasions such as weddings or funerals. In 1991, 24 percent were "unchurched." Today, it's 37 percent. Barna blames pastors for those oddly contradictory findings. Everyone hears, "Jesus is the answer. Embrace him. Say this little Sinner's Prayer and keep coming back. It doesn't work. People end up bored, burned out and empty," he said. "They look at church and wonder, 'Jesus died for this?"'

The consequence, Barna said, is that, for every subgroup of religion, race, gender, age and region of the country, the important markers of religious connection are fracturing.

When he measures people by their belief in seven essential doctrines, defined by the National Association of Evangelicals' statement of faith, only 7 percent of those surveyed qualified.

"People say, 'I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want,"' he lamented.

Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research reinforces those findings: A new survey of 900 U.S. Protestant pastors finds 62 percent predict the importance of being identified with a denomination will diminish over the next 10 years.

Exactly, said Carol Christoffel of Zion, Ill. She drifted through a few mainline Protestant denominations in her youth, found a home in the peace and unity message of the Baha'i tradition for several years, and then was drawn deeply into Native American traditional healing practices.

Yet, she also still calls herself Christian.

"I'm a kind of bridge person between cultures. I agree with the teachings of Jesus and... I know many Christians like me who keep the Bible's social teachings and who care for the earth and for each other," Christoffel said. "I support people who do good wherever they are."

And it's not only Christians sampling hopscotch spirituality. The Jewish magazine Moment has an "Ask the Rabbis" feature that consults 14 variations of Judaism, "and there are many," said editor and publisher Nadine Epstein.

"The September edition of Moment asks 'Can there be Judaism without God?' And most say yes. It's incredibly exciting. We live in an era where you pick and choose the part of the religion that makes sense to you. And you can connect through culture and history in a meaningful way without necessarily religiously practicing," Epstein said.

Sociologist Robert Bellah first saw this phenomenon emerging in the 1980s.

He sees two sides to the one-person-one-religion trend. On the positive: It's harder to hold on to prejudices against groups -- by religion or race or gender or sexuality -- if everyone wants to be seen individually.

"The bad news is you lose the capacity to make connections. Everyone is pretty much on their own," he said. And all this rampant individualism also fosters "hostility toward organized groups -- government, industry, even organized religion."

Paul Morris, an Army medic at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and veteran of six tours in the Middle East, said he has seen Christianity, Judaism and Islam in action, for better and for worse, and, frankly, he'll pass.

Morris grew up "old-style Italian Catholic," but said he never felt like his spiritual questions were answered. So, "I just wiped the slate clean. I studied every major religion on the face of the planet. Every one had parts that made sense, but there was no one specific dogma or tenet I could really follow," Morris said.

"So now, I call myself an agnostic -- one who just doesn't know. What I believe is that if you can just do the right thing, it works

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