Pub Theology Recap May 12

So… a good night at the pub last Thursday.  So intense it took me a week to attempt to relive it.  A nice group – some friends from in town, some friends from out of town, some other friends…

The topics, shorthand, were setup as follows:  man vs. wild, soul vs. body, and interpretation vs. facts.

First topic:  Like animals – we eat, sleep, defecate, and have sex.  How are we different?

Interesting question.  Everyone at the table finally admitted to participating in all the above activities.  Wait, was I not supposed to share that?

“We are animals.  Does anyone here think we’re not animals?”  Steve had to know.

Silence.  Crickets.

The non-animals among us refused to speak up.  Guilty as charged.  Apparently our initial dichotomy – ‘man vs. wild’ should be rephrased to: ‘man is wild’?

Brian noted the law recently passed in Florida which forbade sex with animals.

“Apparently it’s now illegal to have sex in Florida,” he quipped.

Clever.

Yet.

There are differences, aren’t there?  You wouldn’t imagine a group of hyenas gathered around a table having existential ponderings.  You don’t see chimpanzees inventing smartphones.  You don’t see parakeets writing novels.  So there are some differences.  What are they?

Rational thought?  The ability to step outside ourselves?  The awareness of our own mortality?  The ability to have empathy?  The presence of a soul?  The need to dispose of our defecation?

Well, we couldn’t let that one alone.  Somehow we stumbled on the topic of privacy when it comes to going to the bathroom.

Courtesy flush?

“I can’t stand it when stalls don’t have doors.”

“Don’t you hate it when that guy just has to keep talking to you at the urinal?   You know that guy.”

“One time, I was in a stall in a large bathroom near the beach, and I just started making loud painful groaning sounds.  It was hilarious.”

Wait, what?

Speaking of, what do you make of the following:

“[T]he immediate appearance of the Inner is formless $h*t. The small child who gives his sh-t as a present is in a way giving the immediate equivalent of his Inner Self. Freud’s well-known identification of excrement as the primordial form of gift, of an innermost object that the small child gives to its parents, is thus not as naive as it may appear: the often-overlooked point is that this piece of myself offered to the Other radically oscillates between the Sublime and – not the Ridiculous, but, precisely – the excremental. This is the reason why, for Lacan, one of the features which distinguishes man from animals is that, with humans, the disposal of sh-t becomes a problem: not because it has a bad smell, but because it came out from our innermost selves. We are ashamed of sh-t because, in it, we expose/externalize our innermost intimacy. Animals do not have a problem with it because they do not have an “interior” like humans.”

Leave to Zizek to get all psychoanalytic about poop.

Yet perhaps he’s on to something.

In any case, isn’t there a Game 7 tonight?  Spoiler:  the Wings came up just short.  Oh that’s right, that was a week ago.

We did spend some time on the idea of the soul.  Is that a differentiating factor?  Do all dogs go to heaven?

We started talking about the idea of the Christian hope in a new heavens and a new earth.  I wondered, “So, what about dogs?  I mean, I assume on the new earth there will be animals.  Will they be the ‘same’ animals?  I mean, will my dog Oscar that we had when I was a kid be there?  Or will there just be some ‘stock’ golden labs who are like Oscar but aren’t actually Oscar?”

Compelling question.  Unfortunately no one had a definitive answer.

“Much of the afterlife is simply speculation,” noted Kristen (not to be confused with Kirsten).

Agreed.

Somehow we stumbled on to the idea of biblical inspiration, and how to deal with some of the difficult texts in the Old Testament.

“When the Bible has God say, ‘Kill every man, woman, and child,’ is that really God saying that, or just the people saying God said that?  Maybe they just slaughtered a group of people, and now they are attributing their actions to God’s commands to them, which sort of takes the responsibility off of them for what they’ve just done.  History is written by the winners, so perhaps they’re just putting their spin on it.  Or God did actually say it, and if so, what does that mean about God?”

“Well, maybe it’s neither of those – maybe it’s something else.  History is often written by the winners – but the Bible seems an exception.  Israel was not a great nation or empire, even at its peak, compared to Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and so on.  Perhaps God is telling them these things, but he has a reason for it, and it’s reflective of the time, the culture, and how things worked then.  If God was easy to explain, would he still be God?”

“Wait, is this the topic?”

“Who cares – this stuff is interesting!”

Indeed.

So we decided that we are all animals, but animals who care, and that makes us special. We also decided that some things, like difficult texts in the Bible, are a bit of a mystery, and we can have some flexibility in our understanding of them, and should allow our ideas of inspiration to have room for different readings and approaches to the text. Actually there were no group decisions.

A must read?

But on the note about challenging texts in the Bible, I came across a book recently that I’m intrigued by: The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It).  It’s written by Thom Stark and published by Wipf and Stock.  (Hey – sounds like they publish quality books…)

Here are a few endorsements:

I learned so much from this book that I can strongly encourage anyone who is seeking to move from simplistic proof-texting to a comprehensive understanding of the Bible to read this book carefully.

–Tony Campolo

author of Red Letter Christians

 

Christians can ignore the facts that Stark brings into the light of day only if they want to be wrong.

–Dale C. Allison, Jr.

author of Constructing Jesus

 

This is must reading for Christians who have agonized over their own private doubts about Scripture and for others who have given up hope that evangelical Christians can practice intelligent, moral interpretation of the Bible.

–Neil Elliott

author of Liberating Paul

 

[W]ith the help of this book, we may discover that the Bible when we read it in all its diversity and vulnerability does bring healing words to those who keep listening.

–Ted Grimsrud

author of Embodying the Way of Jesus

 

Stark’s book effectively demonstrates how the Bible, in practice, is the most dangerous enemy of fundamentalists.

–James F. McGrath

author of The Only True God

 

The Human Faces of God is one of the most challenging and well-argued cases against the doctrine of biblical inerrancy I have ever read.

–Greg A. Boyd

author of The Myth of a Christian Nation

Stark provides a model for theology that is committed to hearing the voice of the victims of history, especially the victims of our own religious traditions.

–Michael J. Iafrate

PhD Candidate, Toronto School of Theology

This book is the most powerful antidote to fundamentalism that I’ve ever read.

–Frank Schaeffer

author of Crazy for God

Wow.  Maybe I’ll read it.  I downloaded the first chapter free on my Kindle.  I’ll check it out and let you know if it’s as good as everyone says.

Here’s a summary:
Does accepting the doctrine of biblical inspiration necessitate belief in biblical inerrancy? The Bible has always functioned authoritatively in the life of the church, but what exactly should that mean? Must it mean the Bible is without error in all historical details and ethical teachings? What should thoughtful Christians do with texts that propose God is pleased by human sacrifice or that God commanded Israel to commit acts of genocide? What about texts that contain historical errors or predictions that have gone unfulfilled long beyond their expiration dates?

In The Human Faces of God, Thom Stark moves beyond notions of inerrancy in order to confront such problematic texts and open up a conversation about new ways they can be used in service of the church and its moral witness today. Readers looking for an academically informed yet accessible discussion of the Bible’s thorniest texts will find a thought-provoking and indispensable resource in The Human Faces of God.

From a reader on Amazon.com:
This is the book I have been waiting for my whole adult life. Like Stark, I was raised to understand the Bible as the inerrant word of God, “dropped from heaven”. I have been a Christian my whole life, yet I have increasing become uncomfortable with some of the difficult texts in the Bible and their implications on my faith and personal understanding of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. This has been compounded by the fact that I now have young children and am reading the Bible with them, struggling with how to present stories such as the Passover, wishing I could somehow skip over them. Stark addresses the difficult issues with precision, intellect, and devotion, never turning his back on Christianity. For me, the chains are off. Ironically, I can now read the Bible with more commitment. I don’t wish to skip over the difficult texts, I can address them again. My faith has been rekindled. Thank you, Thom Stark.

Good stuff!  I think I’m getting a copy for Half the Sky, the Watershed Community Library.  But I’m not here to sell books… (at least not yet.)  🙂

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