Wisdom from the past

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James McGrath writes in his blog entry titled "Thank God For Blessing Us With A Fallible Bible",

Perhaps, rather than assuming that the difficulties are in the Bible to test our willingness to switch off the minds God gave us, and take a leap of faith (or of gullibility), it could be assumed instead that the difficulties are there to be taken seriously, to teach us.
Isn't there great value in learning not just from those before us who got thing right, but also from those who got things wrong?

A progressive faith is not about constantly re-inventing the wheel. This is a false charge that sometimes gets leveled at progressives by theological conservatives. On the contrary, progressive religion at its best does not simply reject the past, but in fact sees the past dogmas, for right or wrong, as examples of how those who preceded us wrestled with the great questions. They gives us material to work with. Maybe the process is just as important as the final result, especially since the final result may not always have been right. We wrestle with many of the same questions today that others did before us; by seeing how others addressed these questions, we don't have to start at square one. This doesn't mean slavishly adopting everything that came before us, but it does mean that we are not alone. Instead, we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.

If you imagine progressive faith as a creative endeavor, then perhaps it is something like the difference between painting a complete portrait strictly from the imagination versus making changes to one that was already started; or writing a novel completely from the imagination versus improving on an earlier draft. It is just easier to engage in a creative endeavor when the work has already been started; and, just as importantly, you can avoid making the same mistakes if you have studied the mistakes that those before you have made.

There is, then, value in the Bible precisely because it is flawed.

22 comments:

D said...

What a great post, especially that last line.

I do think some progressives want to try and recast everything that seems wrong in the Bible in some better, albeit it liberal light. But I agree so much that maybe sometimes there is value in saying, "Well, they missed the boat on that one."

Excellent.

Luke said...

i really enjoyed this post! progressives do view the bible much differently! it's more of a snapshot of a groups theology when that particular book was written vs. the more literal "God's rule book." i see the bible as leaving us with more question than answers anyway.

great post, i'll check out that book!

Matthew said...

>>Isn't there great value in learning not just from those before us who got thing right, but also from those who got things wrong?<<

I assume you're implying how NOT TO DO things, not to learn 'blindness from the blind'!? How not to do them is easy...look around; you don't need to concern yourself with how multitudes of people got it wrong over thousands of years!!

>>On the contrary, progressive religion at its best does not simply reject the past, but in fact sees the past dogmas, for right or wrong, as examples of how those who preceded us wrestled with the great questions. They gives us material to work with...We wrestle with many of the same questions today that others did before us; by seeing how others addressed these questions, we don't have to start at square one.<<

>>... you can avoid making the same mistakes if you have studied the mistakes that those before you have made.<<

Unfortunately it doesn't work the way you hope it will. No one can tell you the truth, but anyone can discover it. Each person must die and be reborn in the spirit, which means each person has to 'start from square one'.

The 'group' (those who preceded us, AND those around us) represents the 'old wine skins' in Jesus comment about new and old wine. You can't put new wine in old wine skins. No matter how much you'd like to find usefulness for old wine skins, you have to discard them for the new ones when it comes to containing the 'new wine'; otherwise they'll ruin everything!!

It's the 'AHA', not a plethora of facts, figures and speculative reasoning, that's important in this process. The path to 'AHA' doesn't happen because of anything handed down to us. It happens because you are available to 'see' it.

Peace,
Matthew

Frank said...

Yes, Matthew, but some of those "old wineskins" passed down the tradition of the Bible and other great writings to us to help us in our journey. You wouldn't know about the Bible or any of Jesus' sayings without them!

Starting from scratch is anti-intellectual, and the result can be religious fundamentalism--when the opinions of one preacher (or the self) are seen as supreme and don't need to be help in dialogue with a larger tradition or community.

Matthew said...

frank- >>Yes, Matthew, but some of those "old wineskins" passed down the tradition of the Bible and other great writings to us to help us in our journey. You wouldn't know about the Bible or any of Jesus' sayings without them!<<

You're correct! I do appreciate having documented versions of the 'Good News'. There's a certain appeal to studying them in your youth, but once sighted you realize you can look everywhere and find the same message! What an amazing gulf, perhaps chasm would better describe it, between what a person knows from studying religious sacred writings and having the 'awakening' experience! They are like night and day.

>>Starting from scratch is anti-intellectual, and the result can be religious fundamentalism--when the opinions of one preacher (or the self) are seen as supreme and don't need to be help in dialogue with a larger tradition or community.<<

Are you concerned that God is anti-intellectual, because in the end he is! Entering God's kingdom isn't an intellectual proposition, it doesn't even require the ability to think rationally. Fundamentalism fails for the same reason Intellectualism does...it's a product of man's fallen state.

The opinions of preachers are worthless, so too are those of communities and traditions. Jesus knew better not fall into believing he was the source of 'valuable opinion'. The only real truth comes from God, and that is found more clearly in nature than in man's writings. Why does everyone struggle against this truth?!!

There IS only one way (sounds familiar, huh?) and it wasn't originated by Jesus. It's not limited to any tradition, culture or set of beliefs, AND it's available to anyone who's willing to look, and finally 'see'.

Peace,
Matthew

Frank said...

Matthew... you say the opinions of preachers are worthless, but you are preaching. You are also engaging in an intellectual theological discussion, which you claim has no value, as well.

As for the rest, I believe an essential component of the human experience is relationship. There is nothing worse that someone who says "I'm an adult now, I don't need to learn anything new because I already have the truth." That is what I hear you say, and that is dangerous. We all need to be in constant dialogue with others, with faith traditions, with reason and science and nature and God and continually get closer and closer.

Harry said...

Matthew:

Are you a perennialist?

Ever read Guenon?

Matthew said...

frank- (harry, see below)

>>Matthew... you say the opinions of preachers are worthless, but you are preaching. You are also engaging in an intellectual theological discussion, which you claim has no value, as well.<<

Ha, ha! Quit looking at the finger, Frank! Look at the moon!

>>As for the rest, I believe an essential component of the human experience is relationship.<<

Relationship can be great, but when 'the dead' relate to each other look at the result!!

>>There is nothing worse that someone who says "I'm an adult now, I don't need to learn anything new because I already have the truth." That is what I hear you say, and that is dangerous.<<

Man keeps creating 'better', or more 'accurate' ways to describe what he experiences. Why should anyone who is sighted concern themselves with attending to so much business?! The truth sets you free. I know you've heard this one. Guess what, it sets you free from EVERYTHING. You're probably cringing at that. Ha! But there's something really amazing about this freedom, because through it you connect with Reality. Not some mental concept of it, but the real thing. Pause and take some deep breathes...these words are crap. 'The eternal Tao cannot be spoken'. They're not the thing, they are pointing away, towards 'something other'. (Actually, they're not even doing this; but I think the meaning will transmit.) Find the meaning to which they point. Freedom doesn't come from collecting words, or phrases. Meaning isn't 'seeing'. See, Frank, SEE!!

>>We all need to be in constant dialogue with others, with faith traditions, with reason and science and nature and God and continually get closer and closer.<<

Wow, you've really absorbed your tradition. Those words sound like a slogan. Why should we need any of those things? Do you believe that God abandons those who live in caves? How about someone alone on the proverbial 'deserted' island? Dialog- optional; Tradition- optional; Science, learning- optional. God's truth is all around us. 'We don't need any of those 'stinking' badges!'

harry- What's perennialism? Who's Guenon?

Peace,
Matthew

Frank said...

Ha, ha! Quit looking at the finger, Frank! Look at the moon!

I don't see how your discussions of theology and preaching are necessarily any different than anyone else discussing theology and religion. All religious dialogue is an attempt to 'point to the moon', but you seem to deride the practice of intellecutal discussion all the while participating in it.

Wow, you've really absorbed your tradition. Those words sound like a slogan. Why should we need any of those things?

I'm not sure where you are going with this, either. We all participate in tradition--we all come from somewhere and are headed somewhere. We have a past. We are speaking English right now, because over hundreds of years the English language evolved from earlier northern european dialects and we belong to a culture of people in which this evolution of language happened, so we are participating in that tradition. Our religious dialogue and understandings are also passed down and evolved from previous generations. We don't exist outside of that. No person is an island.

I'm not sure why you translate that into a "badge" unless you are thinking of some kind of denominational identy--which is fine as well, but not entirely what I'm talking about.

I really think using our intellectual ability and awareness of history is a uniquely human phenomenon. To try to deny those things is to hate our own humanity, which I do not support. I think we can all get "stuck in our heads" and we need to grow through that, but not by abandoning our innate human nature to think abstractly. Telling humans not to intellectualize is like telling a kangaroo not to jump. Its a false human vs. animal ecology you are setting up, where the key to happiness for people is to be like the rest of the animals--carefree and frolicking in nature, living in the present (which may not even be how animals experience nature, but its a commonly held view). And there is a time and a place for some of that, but not to abandon our own humanity.

Harry said...

Matthew:

Perennialism is "is [the idea] that there is a single body of truth known as the perennial wisdom which human beings have known from a very early point in history and which gets restated over and over again in the world's major religious traditions. So, for example, Muhammad (saaws), Jesus (as), Krishna, Zoroaster etc. were all basically teaching the same eternal principles, except in a language appropriate to the needs of their audience."

Rene Guenon was a French Perennialist who basically founded Traditionalism:

"which asserts that this perennial wisdom is best expressed in the traditional, authentically-transmitted, orthodox versions of the various religions. So even if at a very deep level, the various religions agree, it still isn't appropriate to mix and match. Each path should be taken seriously, and followed on its own terms."

Traditionalism is very popular with intellectual Western converts to Islam.

(Quotes from http://planetgrenada.blogspot.com/2005/04/perennialism-and-traditionalism.html)

Matthew said...

frank- (harry see below) >> All religious dialogue is an attempt to 'point to the moon', but you seem to deride the practice of intellecutal discussion all the while participating in it. <<

I'd appreciate your recommended substitute for intellectual discussion on this forum.

Why have you skipped over the statement, "The eternal Tao cannot be spoken." ?

Christianity gets to the same truth, with different wording-

Mt.11.25 ..., "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children."

Doesn't what you say place you squarely in the 'wise and learned' category from the passage?

>> Wow, you've really absorbed your tradition. Those words sound like a slogan. Why should we need any of those things?

I'm not sure where you are going with this, either. <<

You're trapped in a tradition.

Jesus' response to strict adherence to a tradition (at the expense of the loving person)-

Mk 2.27 ..., "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."


harry-

>> So even if at a very deep level, the various religions agree, it still isn't appropriate to mix and match. Each path should be taken seriously, and followed on its own terms." Guenon <<

My personal experience conflicts with his statement (assuming it is an accurate quote) of segregating traditions. In my case it took two traditions, working together, to effect the transformation. "God works in mysterious ways." I don't think it matters what tradition you follow, so long as the journey leads you to truth. The problem I see for most people is that they are so confused and distracted they never stay on the path.

Anthony DeMello and I see things very similarly. I was amazed when I read some of his books, especially 'Awareness', which I highly recommend.

Peace,
Matthew

Harry said...

Matthew:

The quote is accurate.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the Traditionalist position, although I believe the Christian tradition to be superior to all the others.

Matthew said...

harry-

>> ...I believe the Christian tradition to be superior to all the others. <<

That's great! It's wonderful to find a tradition that 'speaks' to you. Most people probably don't make the choice of tradition, rather they adopt whatever tradition is the status quo, or one that lets them rebel from the status quo. A person needs passion to seek, and a willingness to let go of what they want in order for any tradition to have transformative power.

After decades of study and pondering, reading and re-reading sacred writings and volumes about them, it was something extremely simple and commonplace that 'came to light'. I didn't do anything, just made myself available to it's transforming power!

Peace,
Matthew

Frank said...

Why have you skipped over the statement, "The eternal Tao cannot be spoken." ?

That sure seems spoken to me. You can't tell me the eternal Tao cannot be spoken without... well... speaking that to me.

Its all fingers pointing at the moon. My statements are also fingers pointing toward the moon. Do you see where I am pointing? Or is it more comfortable to just paint me as someone trapped in a tradition so that you can feel superior and thus inflate your "self" ?

Doesn't what you say place you squarely in the 'wise and learned' category from the passage?

You seem to be comfortable asking the questions and shaking your head over other people who don't get it, but if you step back and look from a different vantage point, you might see that you are the one claiming to have ultimate wisdom and refusing to see the value in what others are saying. Perhaps Jesus is describing YOU in that passage. Can you entertain that thought, or do you know best already? I think Jesus is on to something, but I also think we need to continually "check" ourselves to see if we've strayed from that path. It is easy for all of us to fall off that path. It is eady to day "I had a revelation, now I don't need to think anymore or submit myself to an honest evaluation".

I am glad you had a mystical experience that showed you a lot. I also find insight in what you say, and appreciate your contributions. But many people get stuck in the trap of being so overwhelmed by their personal revelation that they can superimpose too much of that onto others--they have Truth and its a done deal for them. In this, you sound very much like a fundamentalist. I think you are half right, that "letting go" of the self, the ego, of outcome-oriented thinking is critical. But reason and critical analysis is a crucial part of helping us get to that path. Just floating around like a feather and making an idol of our personal revelation isn't going to get you there.

You deride tradition, yet you quote the Bible and quote the Tao and others. Those came to you via tradition.

Luke said...

we are caught in our context... that means times, traditions, race, gender, socio-economic, family history, and a myriad of other factors. no getting around it.

while God might be above all of these things, God is also with us in our context. God understands as that's how God made us. as for God being anti-intellectual or anti-fundamental, there's a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground.. those most favored would be those that involve the love of self, neighbor and God i'd suspect.

Jan said...

I agree with D--especially the last line! I just want to say, "Yes, yes, yes!"

Matthew said...

frank-

>>Why have you skipped over the statement, "The eternal Tao cannot be spoken." ? That sure seems spoken to me. You can't tell me the eternal Tao cannot be spoken without... well... speaking that to me.<<

These words are NOT the eternal Tao. They are the finger. Words participate in thought and people get 'trapped' in both. This is why I'm warning against reason and critical thinking.

Here's an insightful Nasrudin story that may be helpful to you-

It's night, and Nasrudin is under a street lamp, searching for something on the ground. A man sees him, comes over and asks what he's doing. "I'm looking for keys I lost", says Nasrudin. "Where did you lose them?", the man asks. "In my house", replies Nasrudin. "In your house! If you lost them inside, why are you looking out here under this lamp!" the consternated man asks. "Because the light is better here." Nasrudin replies.

This is the problem with using reason and thinking in general...the light seems better, so people get stuck looking where truth isn't to be found. A Fundamentalist gets stuck in belief in authority, that's where they think the 'light is better'. Do you understand?



>>Its all fingers pointing at the moon. My statements are also fingers pointing toward the moon. Do you see where I am pointing?<<

You don't seem to be pointing at the moon. You seem to be pointing towards reason and critical thinking. Reason and thinking are TOOLS, they are the finger, NOT the moon.

I've been quoting Jesus because I understand you are Christian and trust in what Jesus said. You don't believe what I tell you. What I'm saying doesn't fit into your way of seeing things and you take offense at my words. This medium requires that I use words, so I use them. I'm not teaching any ultimate wisdom, nor have I claimed to do so. I'm saying look at the moon, beware of getting stuck staring at the finger. Where's the 'ultimate wisdom' in that? Each person finds the truth for themselves and will comment about it in different ways, depending on their abilities.



>>The blind lead the blind into the pit. Perhaps Jesus is describing YOU in that passage.<<

Are you absolutely sure it's true? Why?


>>...we need to continually "check" ourselves to see if we've strayed from that path. It is easy for all of us to fall off that path.<<

Following the 'narrow path' is useful, and it's important to 'check' ourselves, so we don't veer off this path, but reason and critical thinking aren't as important to following the path as you may think. 'Becoming as little children' isn't about using reason or critical thinking. What you've been saying isn't about the narrow path (which is the way of self denial and surrender), rather you're talking about using reason to 'figure something out'.



>> But many people get stuck in the trap of being so overwhelmed by their personal revelation that they can superimpose too much of that onto others--they have Truth and its a done deal for them. In this, you sound very much like a fundamentalist.<<

Some people can fall into this trap. Denying oneself helps keep the person from falling into it. If a Fundamentalist and I claim the same thing is true, are we identical? Perhaps we're both claiming the same truth, but seeing it from different 'angles'. I recommend finding the truth wherever you can (even from Fundamentalists, who do speak truths) and consider that a blessing. It's hard to 'find' when you're filled with 'criticism' and 'reason'. This is why Jesus spoke out against judging.

>>...reason and critical analysis is a crucial part of helping us get to that path. Just floating around like a feather and making an idol of our personal revelation isn't going to get you there.<<

Do you see how you're speaking from anger? The phrase- 'floating around like a feather making an idol of personal revelation' comes from an angry interpretation of the words and phrases I've written. Why the anger? Perhaps you've been hurt by people who hold fundamentalist views, or believe that way of thinking causes problems for people and should avoid by using reason and critical thinking. Is this correct?


>>You deride tradition, yet you quote the Bible and quote the Tao and others. Those came to you via tradition.<<

The tradition is the finger, not the moon. The finger isn't as important as the moon (unless you can see that the finger and the moon are one, but this seen further down the path). I mention tradition because I hoped you might accept it; not reject it out of anger. I could speak entirely from my understanding, but I don't think you'd listen.

Peace,
Matthew

Harry said...

Early in the twentieth century the smartest physicists in the world debated on whether or not the moon existed if there wasn't a finger pointing to it.

Matthew said...

harry-

;)

Matthew

Frank said...

Matthew,

God bless you. I don't know what else to tell you, for some reason it seems like it is important for you to believe you are 'up there' with ultimate wisdom and I must be 'down there' and angry. I realize it is hard to challenge preconceived notions and exit one's comfort zone.

By the way, a friend noticed that you always write peoples' names in lower case but always capitalize your own name.

Frank

Matthew said...

Frank- (You typed your name...and with a capital letter! I don't recall you ever doing that before :)

>> for some reason it seems like it is important for you to believe you are 'up there' with ultimate wisdom and I must be 'down there' and angry. I realize it is hard to challenge preconceived notions and exit one's comfort zone.<<

Ideas are a tremendous challenge! Many people get trapped in them, which is why I continue to warn people about the dangers.

I'm very curious to know why you've interpreted what I've said as 'preconceived ideas' that are coming from a person stuck in a 'comfort zone'?! (I assume you were implying those phrases about me, but please let me know if I misunderstood what you intended.)

Have you looked into the warnings? Did you try them and find them valueless?

Notice how poorly ideas and thoughts communicate! This interaction reminds me of a recent experience I had while trying to warn others about a broken washing machine. Once I discovered it wasn't working properly, I dutifully taped a 'BROKEN' sign to it as a warning to others, then went to call the company for repairs. Not recalling the machine number I walked back to the laundry room and was amazed to see someone had removed the sign and was using that machine!! Astonishing!! Some person had decided the warning wasn't valid or valuable to them, removed the sign and put their laundry, detergent and money in that machine...what a waste! That person never took the time to ascertain if the warning was valid! Why would someone do that? The machine WAS BROKEN, and the repair men told me what the problem had been and showed me it had been fixed. Strange how warnings can be completely ignored!

Perhaps I should stop trying to warn people of dangers along 'the path'; since I spend a lot of time trying to make these warnings clear for them. It would certainly be easier for me to live my life without the extra effort, and try to convince myself that I should avoid warning others of dangers along the way. What would you recommend?

>>By the way, a friend noticed that you always write peoples' names in lower case but always capitalize your own name.<<

That's an odd compliment ;) I write people's names the way they appear in their comments. Also, I was trained at an early age in school to write my name with a capital letter. It's not my way, rather convention.

Peace,
Matthew

Leonid said...

http://onhotitems.blogspot.com/
I found this link to be extremely informative on the subject of trinity and church transformation into an idolatrous institution.