Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Canon

This has raised its head in our blogging community, like most things do sooner or later. Reflecting on that it comes to me that the question of the canon is part of a much larger question.

If 'conservatives' and 'liberals' can learn to be civil to one another and enter a conversation, there is hope for our country; otherwise the future is dim.

50 years ago, speaking not of politics but of religion, a wise man predicted for our country that the future will bring a chasm of faith, not between Catholic and Protestant (the traditional gap), but between traditionalists and modernists (I don't recall exactly what terms he used). The opening paragraph here addresses that chasm.

For example some 30 years ago a friend and I were in a cab in downtown D.C., of necessity shared with strangers. One of them said something like, "well it really seems like a sorry day".

Bursting with the enthusiasm generated by my recent introduction to a vibrant church, I burst out, "Don't you know that the whole earth is full of the glory of God?" Oh my! Talk about a chasm. The stranger said something like, "Yes, yes, of course". No further conversation.

A simple little incident, but it reflects the chasm. Today people of faith often live close to, sometimes surrounded by, completely secular neighbors. How do you deal with that? IMO most of us just keep our mouths shut. Never talk about religion or politics.

But that won't get it. We have to! If we have witnessed the glory of God, we must witness it. But there are two ways to witness: "brother, are you saved?" (not likely to be very effectual; more likely to antagonize). Another way is to suggest that all the things reported in the Bible didn't really happen. We can't believe them historically; we can appreciate them mythologically (or poetically). Actually considering them only as history robs them of their real value. In this vein Joseph Campbell, in Thou Art That, page 77, spoke of the dramatic scene of the Garden of Eden:

"Clearly, the historical reading of the emblem has here become anomalous, not to say bizarre, what with the talking serpent, a devil, and an incarnate god entering into the action. Such are not the characters of a readily credible history."

If you or I were to say such a thing to a secular neighbor, it's likely she would nod her head in agreement. There! you have a point of contact. If you understand the mythopoeic dimension of the Bible as a whole, you have an interested listener, and even someone (using the language of Canaan here) capable of rebirth. You have become a valued witness and servant of Our Lord.

If you're not capable of such thought forms, your faith is severely restricted in what it can do for the 'unsaved'.

Well, I set out to write about the canon, but .... let's just say I went astray. Now I'll have to post Canon II.


Twyla said...

I really like this thought. I've found it to be so very true in my life. When I was enmeshed in a conservative fundamentalist mindset I worried over the lack of impact I seemed to have with folks around me. Now that I'm in a different place and approach all things "spiritual" from an expanded and less certain viewpoint, I seem to connect all over the place. It's really a joy to me. Thank you for putting it in words.

Paul said...

I'm thinking about your burst of enthusiasm using the word "God." Language can be a real problem.

A lot of people who reject the idea of God I think are rejecting the notion they were raised with as children: basically a guy with a white beard living in the sky. So it can be tough for Christians who have "put away childish things" to convey their perspective to those who have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, to mix metaphors...

Larry said...

That's certainly the right idea, Paul, but let's face it: my faith is 'God-centered', and to deny it would be of no value to myself or to anybody else.

I understand that God, like love, liberal, and a great many other lovely words has been used, abused, misused, degraded, and everything else imaginable to it. These words don't need to be abandoned, they need to be redeemed. We communicate with other people (to a large degree) with words.

My theory of evangelism is to be as admirable (loving) a person as possible and reveal who I am (theologically and other ways). As an old friend used to say, "love the hell out of them".

Thanks for attending to my blog.

david said...

Reading the bible only mythologically or poetically can also be a problem. That was what was so wonderful about the medievals, they would read it literally first, then they would go on to typology and anagogy and allegory. They had a wonderfully rich notion about hwo to craete meaning with scripture.

Interpretation is a technology for reading. Whenever we say -- read this way and only this way -- we are also saying -- there's something scary here I need to be protected from it. Or, as in the case of established churches -- there's something scary here we need to protect ourselves from others getting in contact with it.

Larry said...

Thanks, David. No one needs to be protected from the Bible in any way, but there is a crying need for liberation from a purely literal approach to the Bible. It's pretty hard to read the Psalms literally, but some folks claim they do.

We do need not to protect, but to liberate the millions of people who are turned off religion completely because of the obscurantist flavor of the religion that they know.

crystal said...

Perhaps there's a middle approach to the Bible, between seeing it as only mythology and seeing it as literally true in every instance .... a kind of scholarly, historical approach that recognises the possibility of ax grinding by the authors but which also recognises the reality/profundity of Jesus' life and teachings.

david said...

Nobody needs to be protected form the bible? Then it is not a dangerous book. And do not need to take it seriously.

Taht you are willing villify those whose reading agendas differ from yours is ample evidence the bible is something you take very seriously.

You are not alone. The politics behind literal interpretation scares me sometimes too.

Larry said...

David, I wasn't aware that I had "willing(ly) villif(ied) those whose reading agendas differ from yours (mine). Could you be specific?

Paul said...

Hi Larry. My faith is God-centered too. I think religious/spiritual terminology is in flux in a way that maybe it wasn't earlier in my lifetime, and that's what can make discussion confusing, especially in a brief exchange where terminology isn't elaborated.

Larry said...

You're certainly right Paul: discussing it in blogs can be tremendously confusing, but I'm still determined to try to work through the confusion and eventually achieve some meeting of minds. IMO it's awfully instructive to many of us.

Larry said...