Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Polling for Faith

God doesn't have to run for election

According to a recent Gallup Poll, cited in Time magazine:
28% of Americans believe that the Bible is literally true, down from 38% in 1976.
19% of Americans view the Bible as an ancient book of fables, up from 13% in 1976.

Now, before this becomes a trend, "come let us reason together" on what it really means to be a Christian (or to believe in one God, or to trust the authority of the Torah, the Bible, the Qu'ran) in the United States of America.

I know, that sounds like "human reasoning." But God said it to Isaiah, so perhaps it is good enough for us too.

The questions in that poll were, of course, weighted. Most polling questions are. Most questions that superficial Christian political activists ask are equally weighted.

What does it mean "the Bible is literally true"? Let's try to break that down into some more meaningful questions.

Were the first five books of the Bible really revealed to Moses by Adonai Elohim, JHWH, the creator of all that is, seen and unseen?

I would answer yes.

Did that one and only God literally take a rib out of a man's body and use it as the foundation to create a woman?

I would answer no.

How can I answer the first question yes, and the second no?

I have plagued an Orthodox Jewish rabbi with questions about the original Hebrew meanings – the language in which Moses first wrote down what God told him. I could spend a thousand lifetimes asking such questions, and still not understand it all. I am informed that the word commonly translated "rib" is tzela, which means "side." According to the Talmud, the original adam was androgynous, being made in the image of God, and when the woman (isha) was removed from one side of the adam, the man (ish) is what was left, the other side. (She shall be called Isha, because she came from Ish). Thus, marriage reunites the complete image of God, if it is done right by both the man and woman entering wisely into a solemn covenant.

Just one example. I believe, as Galileo Galilei said, that the Holy Bible cannot err, when its proper meaning is understood. Ah, but understanding its proper meaning... a mere mortal human being should be very cautious about proclaiming that "I know what the proper meaning is." I pray that the Holy Spirit (for Jewish readers, think of it as a malach, or a sar, responsible to give some measure of enlightenment and understanding to Christians) will guide me to some understanding of the true meaning... but I do not proclaim to my brother or sister that I have achieved a perfect state of grace to know it all. We all fall short of the glory of God, do we not?

Is the Bible an ancient book of fables? Hmmm... nobody is at all certain that a man named Job actually lived, or experienced the horrible trials described in the book named after him. But, can there by any doubt that the book is in the Bible for good reason, intended by God? Whole chapters of that book are erroneous. How do I know? God said so (Job 42:7). Even very conservative ordained Christian ministers note that the story of the woman Jesus saved from stoning, when she was taken in adultery, may not have actually occured... but I am quite reassured that my pastor keeps a stone behind his desk inscribed "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone."

So let us not fall into the silly trap of measuring our faith, or the strength of religious faith in our society, our nation, our culture, according to the adjectives selected by polling companies. What "literally true" means for one person may mean something very different to another. The word "fables" also could have a very different weight to different listeners. A slight change of wording could produce very different percentages, without the slightest change in belief or unbelief.

I have no doubt that every word in the Bible is there for a divine purpose, or, if some scribe stuck in a few extra words here and there, that they are incidental. I would never write the book off as a mere collection of fables. But remember, fables is not a synonym for lies. Fables are stories which convey moral instruction. In this sense, there are many fables in the Bible.

The value, or the success, of Christian faith cannot be weighed either on the scales of polling organizations, or on the scales of polling done by secret ballot. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America was written by Christians. They were perfectly confident that the truth of their own beliefs could light up the world, without depending on endorsement by a mere human government. That is why the Constitution makes no mention of God. James Madison calmly asserted that the better part of respect for the holy name of Jesus would be NOT to insert it into a legislative enactment. In fact, they knew from bitter experience that endorsement by the profane hand of the civil magistrate degraded religion.

Fewer Americans answer "yes" to the question "Do you believe that the Bible is literally true?" More Americans answer "yes" to "Do you believe the Bible is an ancient book of fables?" Those are questions shaped by decades of shallow propaganda out of the mouths of televangelist anti-Christs. Pious propaganda has led us astray. Let us throw away those questions. While we are at it, let us throw the money-lenders out of the Temple – along with the pollsters. Let the question be, "Do the truths found only in the Bible speak to you, your spirituality, your life, and your hope for salvation?" I would guess that the answer from 85% of those asked would be a resounding "Yes." Of course not all those who say yes would be sincere. How do I know that? I accept the authority of Matthew 25:41-45.

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