Good Friday Questions

At the end of yesterday’s post, Bing in Birmingham posted a list of questions, which I will attempt to answer today in a VERY LONG post.

They’re biggies.  Are you ready?  The questions are in bold, if you want to skip any of them.  [And Bing, I, too, like Clare, have quoted from the Bible, because I’m explaining the evidence that Christians might use in a very brief argument such as this.]

Keep in mind these are answers (should I say questions?) that I’ve been struggling with for some time now, so they won’t be fully formed.  They’ll be in, let’s say, an embryonic state.  [I’m reading and learning as fast as I can, folks, and I’m trusting you’ll keep providing me with resources!]

Let’s start with the first question: Do I believe that belief in Jesus is the only way to God?

My first question would be, “Does that leave out all the people of faith in the Old Testament?”  I know Hebrews says (italics mine), “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the men of old gained approval.”  And later in the same chapter, after listing various Old Testament characters, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

So, it seems that faith in God alone saved the Old Testament people, not Jesus.  Where does that leave us?  Are we under a different law?

As you know, I’ve recently read Bart Ehrman’s books Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted (as Clare has done, too, reading the comments from yesterday), and much of what I’ve thought of the New Testament has been drawn into question—things I’ve not had time to fully answer for myself (because, honestly, I don’t know Greek or Hebrew).  Like, did Jesus really say all those words?  If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not written by whom they purport to be (because they’re written in scholarly Greek, not in Aramaic—the disciples’ language, had they known how to write), then who were they written by, and whose political and religious viewpoint do we have?  Only in the Gospel of John is Jesus divine.  Why?  Did the others think him only human?  Or were they emphasizing his humanness?

Bear with me.  I’m making a point.  The thing is: issues that we take for granted today were not taken for granted back then, in the years and centuries following Jesus’s death.  They were fought over.  What we call orthodoxy today is simply what survived after all those years.  Everything else was called heresy.  Isn’t that going about it backwards?  It seems so to me.  The issues I’m talking about are: the concept of the Trinity, whether or not Jesus was human or divine or both, whether or not Jesus was resurrected, whether or not Jesus died for our sins, or whether or not Jesus was a prophet-like figure trying to turn the Jews back to God.

They’re the crux of Christianity, don’t you think?  I do.  It’s what I learned growing up.  It’s what I’ve always known.  But what if one of those concepts was chosen, but it’s not correct?  I know what people in my past would have said.  “The Bible is the inspired word of God, Elissa.  There are no mistakes in it.”  But the problem is that it says that in the Bible.  An entity can’t claim something and have it be true.  It’s more likely to be true if various other sources say it’s true (or am I missing something?).  Also, it is a human-made book.  It will have human mistakes in it.  It will have political and religious agendas in it, just as my blog can’t help but have bits and pieces of me (some of which might be completely wrong).  How can we separate this all out for sure?

Now imagine with me.  I’ve heard this argument since I was a child.   Imagine a native somewhere in the jungles of South America who has never been exposed to Jesus.  I wanted to know, as a child, “What about him or her?”  It didn’t seem fair that a native would be responsible for something he or she was never exposed to.  Here’s what I was told.  “Elissa, it says in Romans 1:18-21: (and here I quote the whole thing because it’s important…italics are mine)…

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

So, in other words, a native who had never heard of Jesus would still go to hell (according to Christians), because he has rejected the God who has been imprinted on his heart and on the natural world around him.  That didn’t sit right with me and still doesn’t.  I would like to propose something else.  What if the “god” that the native is worshiping is our God?  What if people have different names for Him, because they know Him in a different way?

Hold onto your seats.  What if Jesus isn’t the only way to God but faith in God is…a God of many names…like in the Old Testament?

That’s where I stand today.  Who knows?  I may think differently tomorrow, but right now, this is what I can live with.  But I would never foist that view on someone else.  How could I?  We’re at different learning stages; everyone is.

Second question: Do I actually believe Jesus came back to life?

Hold onto your hats, people.

I don’t know.  And I can’t prove it either way.  If you’ve read my above explanation, you’ll know that I don’t think it’s necessary if faith in God is the only thing that counts.

Not a sentiment you want to hear on Good Friday, but there it is.  [Easter has always been a sacred spiritual experience to me in the past, and this is the first year I’ve thrown a wrench in it.  It’s quite painful, actually.]

Which brings me to another point, which wasn’t one of Bing’s questions.  Do I believe in God?  Yes, I do.  I’ve grown weary of the abuses and hypocrisies of organized religion.  Although I have a few Christian friends who are comfortable discussing these questions, I’ve grown skeptical that we’re not great in number, and this worries me.  These same friends, whom I can count on one hand, insist that there are others like them out there, but I’ve not been connected to groups of any such gems, so I’m trying to find my own way in the darkness.  I’m not sure I can call myself a Christian, in the same sense that many others call themselves Christians.  I’m also a biologist by training, and I can’t tell you how stunned I am—daily—at the beauty outside my window, and somehow, although I believe in evolution wholeheartedly, I can’t imagine that God wasn’t a part of it in the beginning.  Somehow I can’t strip that away…personally.

Third question: What did I think about Expelled?

Full disclosure: I came into the viewing of Expelled, assuming that Ben Stein would explain what exactly Intelligent Design really is—I had heard so many conflicting things about it.  Instead, it was a barrage of scientists either disagreeing or agreeing with the theory.  That didn’t help me much.

What Stein did clear up for me—if it’s true—is that Intelligent Design should not be linked to being Republican, right-wing, or Christian.  And here I quote from an article by Casey Luskin on the Discovery Institute’s website: “Proponents of neo-Darwinism contend that the information in life arose via purposeless, blind, and unguided processes.  ID proponents contend that the information in life arose via purposeful, intelligently guided processes.”  You can read the rest here.  The people at the Discovery Institute, who support ID, are not saying “the intelligently guided processes” is God.  [I wonder if that’s not just semantics, but I can’t say, having done no reading on ID.]

Stein starts and ends the movie with a talk on freedom of speech.  It’s what makes America great.  He then dives into several examples of biology professors who have been fired, for the simple mention of ID in their classes, or a reference to ID in their papers.  If this is the only reason (and it seems suspicious that it would be), I find it appalling.  Unless, of course, those professors in question signed some sort of contract with the universe, stating that they would only teach evolution, then I think they’re beholden to your contract.  Don’t sign if you don’t agree.

I think what science is trying to do is to say we need some good hypotheses and good hard data to support or disprove them.  If you don’t have those, then it’s not science.  One of the very first classes I taught during the year, when I taught high school biology, was the scientific method.  It’s standard.  You can’t do science without it.  So every proposal or idea that enters a biology classroom must withstand those tests.  Don’t get this confused with religion.  Religion isn’t meant to answer science, and science isn’t meant to answer religion…although in some instances they might overlap.

Are we still fighting these freedom of speech issues?  Still?  In 2009?  I have to chuckle that, in a way, we’re still trudging an uphill battle when it comes to people having open minds.  Why do we get so defensive when someone doesn’t agree with us?  Why get upset?  It’s their issue.  Not yours.  Only in one instance that I can think of, off the top of my head, does that issue become important, and that is in your child’s classroom.  I’m wondering, though, not having a child at that age yet, would it be better to use it as a teaching tool for your child, and say, “You know, Billy, your school district has decided to teach Intelligent Design alongside of evolution.  I’m wondering if I might learn along with you, so we can discuss this stuff together.  Weigh what they’re both saying?”  Seems to me you’d end up with a healthier child, one who can think for him- or herself, one that would understand both camps.  As would you.

“Beware the sound of one hand clapping” goes the saying, which means if you only hear one side of the story or the argument, you’re in serious trouble.  You have to know both sides in order to decide intelligently…for yourself.

So, the fact that we’re still fighting these battles in 2009 amazes me.  Galileo was a heretic in his day.  He’s not called one today.  Look how time changes everything.

Back to Expelled. Freedom of speech was Stein’s main point, and I think he pulled it off.  I’m not a fan of documentaries that mock people, which this did in some instances, but overall, it did the job.

And as I’m ending, another personal disclosure (as if this isn’t long enough!): As much as I admire Darwin’s theory and prescribe to his theories, I have to admit they’re not perfect.  As is any theory.

Here is my wish.  I would like to know two things.  I understand the smaller steps of Darwinism–species that make incremental changes over time, but no one has ever explained to me (or I’ve never read) how the HUGE arc happens–a single-celled organism gradually changing into humankind in billions of years–given the second law of thermodynamics (which says that the entropy…a measure of disorder…of the universe increases over time).  Which probably says more about my understanding of physics than anything else (hee, hee, hee).

The second question I have: the odds that something “just happened” at the beginning of time perplexes me, maybe due to the same law mentioned above.  Things fall apart; they don’t come together.

But then again, my mind is finite, and I have LOTS more reading to do, so perhaps I’ll discover probable explanations soon.

So, Bing, here’s my gift to you on Good Friday.  If you, my dear readers, have read this far, I’m sure you’re deciding whether or not you still want to be my friend.  I’m okay with that.  I decided a long time ago that I want to live my life transparently and without malice, and I can only hope I’m doing so.

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