Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A bumper sticker, a Bible, and--oops--some Jews! Let's throw the whole thing out!?


OK, it's tacky, and not really funny (neither were those T-shirts proclaiming that GHW Bush had wished that his wife had had an abortion before the nationa had an abortion for president), but is it really a reason to throw out the Old Testament?

Delawaredem thinks so, first noting that the significance of the Psalm is in Psalm 109:9--the next verse:

“Religious” conservatives have a new slogan that they are putting on bumper stickers and t-shirts.

“Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8″

What does Psalm 109:8 say?

“Let his days be few; and let another take his office.”

Well, that’s not bad. They are just praying for Obama to be replaced as President. Hey, I wanted Bush gone as President too, through his impeachment for war crimes. But let’s read the next verse that follows Psalm 109:8 which “religious” conservatives all so cleverly leave off the t-shirts and bumper stickers.

“Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”

So, it is pretty obvious that anyone repeating, wearing, or using this slogan “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8″ is actually calling for the President’s death in some form. And they want him to die sooner rather than later.


From this, DD goes on to reach the argument that we should--as a society--toss out the Old Testament. Seriously:

No, today I will turn my ire against the Old Testament of the Bible, the text that provides these “religious” conservatives with their murderous ideas in the first place. Let me ask you a question.

Has any other book been responsible for more death and destruction over the last 5,000 years that this one?

All sorts of depravity are justified by its text. Slavery, genocide, and murder. To this day, David Anderson opposes homosexuality simply because the Old Testament says it is an abomination. To this day, people use its text to justify their wrongful behavior. Revenge is justified by the Old Testament. Discrimination is justified by the Old Testament. Hatred is justified by the Old Testament.

Have any of you ever read the Old Testament from cover to cover?


Uh, yes, as a matter of fact I have. But where are you going with this DD?

So if you believe that Old Testament is still relevant today, you believe in a God that is giant dick, who condones and actually encourages murder, slavery and genocide, who believes that some of His own children that He created in His own image are actually abominations destined for eternal flame. I am content to follow the New Testament and his commandment that we love rather than hate each other. But I suppose if your political ideology rests on hatred, it is useless [sic] to have the Old Testament around.


Few lines down, MJ--who happens to be Jewish--politely, ahem, points out to Delawaredem that, uh, gee, guy, the OT also happens to be the Hebrew Bible.... And DD responds:

Yeah, something I did not think about in writing this is the Jewish faith, which is based on the Torah, which is the Old Testament. Indeed, I write this from a perspective of being a New Testament follower.

The difference I think between Jews and Evangelicals is interpretation. Evangelicals take the Old Testament literally. And from my experience with my Jewish friends, the Jewish faith and people do not. Certainly the Jewish faith does not believe in genocide and slavery. Other aspects of the Old Testament that I speak of you will have to address with respect to the Jewish faith.

But I am certainly not intending to invite the destruction of the Jewish people when I say throw out the Old Testament.


So let's see, we started with Psalm 109, condemned the Old Testament as brutal and genocidal, then backed off and said, essentially, that it's all right for Jews to have the OT because they don't actually believe its true the same way certain Christians do.

There are so many things wrong with this that I am at a loss regarding where to start.

How about we quote all of Psalm 109, for example, which is being mis-used both by the people who printed the bumper stickers and their critics who only quote two verses:

1 O God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,

2 for wicked and deceitful men
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.

3 With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.

4 In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.

5 They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.

6 Appoint [a] an evil man [b] to oppose him;
let an accuser [c] stand at his right hand.

7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.

8 May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.

10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven [d] from their ruined homes.

11 May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

12 May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.

13 May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.

14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.

15 May their sins always remain before the LORD,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.

16 For he never thought of doing a kindness,
but hounded to death the poor
and the needy and the brokenhearted.

17 He loved to pronounce a curse—
may it [e] come on him;
he found no pleasure in blessing—
may it be [f] far from him.

18 He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.

19 May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
like a belt tied forever around him.

20 May this be the LORD's payment to my accusers,
to those who speak evil of me.

21 But you, O Sovereign LORD,
deal well with me for your name's sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.

22 For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is wounded within me.

23 I fade away like an evening shadow;
I am shaken off like a locust.

24 My knees give way from fasting;
my body is thin and gaunt.

25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they shake their heads.

26 Help me, O LORD my God;
save me in accordance with your love.

27 Let them know that it is your hand,
that you, O LORD, have done it.

28 They may curse, but you will bless;
when they attack they will be put to shame,
but your servant will rejoice.

29 My accusers will be clothed with disgrace
and wrapped in shame as in a cloak.

30 With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD;
in the great throng I will praise him.

31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save his life from those who condemn him.


Wow. This is some pretty grim stuff.

Note that the references in 109:8-15 are prayers for judgment against an evil person, someone who abuses the poor and curses [in the semi-magical sense] the righteous. OT scholars might explain to DD and our bumper-sticker owners that psalms and prayers like this actually represented an ethical and moral advance in the Middle East during the time in question, and that even Biblical literalists have difficulty reading abstract intercessory psalms as true pieces of history.

Somebody should also probably explain that the doctrine of Biblical Literalism and Biblical Inerrancy originate in the Reformation as a rejection of a professional clergy. The Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches had always held the position that the Bible was not mere history, but a much more important document filled with allegory, spiritual meaning, and--most significantly--the need for interpretation. That's why the Catholic Church did not encourage Bible reading as such. The Literalists are essentially a political response: if the Bible means only what it says, and if the Bible is objectively accurate as history, then it does not need interpretation. Anyone who reads or hears the Scripture can understand it.

To some of us this sounds suspiciously like dumbing down the Bible by ignoring 1,500 years of Biblical exegesis of the NT and another 500-800 years on top of that for the OT. Evangelicals, however, developed the doctrine that the Fall of Man (original sin) so compromised human reason that we can only receive the Bible, not interpret it.

But is it time to give the OT the old heave-ho because the ancient Israelites were, ah, a rather bloodthirsty, genocidal lot?

Aside from the rather important question of cutting yourself off from one of the major intellectual sources of the Western Intellectual Tradition (which doesn't really seem to be much of problem for DD), what bothers me about his suggestion is that it is tantamount to saying that some documents, some ideas, are just to prone to misuse by some folks that those ideas ought to be eliminated from society.

Forget about the millions of Jews who have lived careful, blameless lives attempting to delve the meaning of Torah and Talmud.

Forget about the hundreds of millions of Christians who never seek to use the OT as an excuse for violent or petty behavior.

Instead, condemn the Book itself rather than the individuals you think are misusing it--sort of the way we are exactly NOT supposed to condemn the Quran or Muslims in general for the acts of some radicalized killers.

There are passages both appalling and beautiful in the OT, and a desert moral code that can chill you to the bone with its stonings and ritual killings. There is the Agedah of Abraham willing to kill his son at God's command, and the centuries old question of how that should be interpreted. There is fodder for those who want to ostracize or kill people over their differences: Middle Eastern tribes were not hallmarks of tolerance. There is even the complete redefinition of the OT by NT scholars who distorted the original meanings of the stories in order to prefigure Christ or create an intellectual consistency between Yahweh and the God of the NT.

There is also a huge missing link of Hellenistic Jewish religious material that ties together the latest books of the OT to the NT tradition.

But we need to get rid of it, DD says, because some people are too hateful and too idiotic to understand more than superficial, literal interpretations.

[What happened, I wonder, to the Earth's angular momentum when God made the sun stand still for several hours?]

This argument ignores the fact that thoughtful Christians have been dealing with the more gory and vengeful parts of the OT for decades, even centuries. Take theologian and novelist C. S. Lewis on--of all things--Psalm 109:

In his marvelous book, Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis observed:

In some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth. In others the same spirit ceases to be frightful only by becoming (to a modern mind) almost comic in its naivety. Examples can be found all over the Psalter, but perhaps the worst is in 109 (p. 20).


Lewis suspects that it may be best to leave such psalms alone. But then he says that we must face “facts squarely.”

The hatred is there — festering, gloating, undisguised — and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves (p. 22).


Lewis refers to these psalms as horrible, devilish, cruel, hateful, and evil. He believes that Psalm 109 — and the poetry of its kind in the psalter — should point us back to the evil we carry within and teach us each how to behave with goodness, humility, and love.


Psalm-expert Dr Amy Cottrill of Birmingham Southern University makes two critical points about such Psalms: their bellicosity and their disconnect from mainstream Judeo-Christian thought:

The psalm writers clearly have no qualms complaining to God about their pain.

"These are people that believe God cares about their pain and suffering enough that in order to relieve you, God will kill the enemy," she said. "The psalmist isn't just expressing pain, he wants something done about it. The prayer is: `God, kill my enemy.'"

Psalm 109 calls for curses upon the enemy: "May his days be few; may another seize his goods! May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children!"

In Psalm 58, the writer calls for the enemy to be punished: "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked."

The bad guys are portrayed as deserving of big-time vengeance.

"This is very bellicose literature," Cottrill said. "It's very violent. They are asking God to go kill their enemy."...

She finds them to be starkly different in worldview from the modern religious sensibilities of Jews and Christians.

"Most mainstream religious people do not think of God as a religious warrior," she said. "The psalmists did. To them, God is all-powerful, but God is also very personal, very close. They definitely feel they have access. Sometimes they barter with God, saying, `If I die as a result of this suffering, who is going to praise you?' That's a pretty bold view."


Moreover, consider the fact that serious evangelicals, such as the scholars who publish in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, have been coming to grips with the language in Psalm 109 and similar OT passages for a long time:

As Peter C. Craigie suggests, these "expressions of vindictiveness and hatred" cannot be "purified" simply because they are in Scripture, and they are the psalmist's "natural reactions" to evil and pain, and "the sentiments are in themselves evil." The sentiments may also be understood as a product of the limited perspective of the psalmist being an OT believer. William L. Holladay points out that the imprecations exhibit "a very different spirit" from the one set forth in the NT, partly because the OT understands the human nature as "the undivided self," and the psalmists are "wrong about the location of evil," not distinguishing the sinner from sin.


Thoughtful Evangelicals have recognized that this difficult exists not just in an academic theological sense, but in the day-to-day expressions of ministers in their pulpits:

It is notoriously difficult to preach on the Psalms. Some think, moreover, that it is inappropriate to try because the Psalms have a different, quite distinct function in the liturgy....

The Psalms are poems of particularity and must not be treated as a generic statement about the human condition. These are the words, tried and tested, by persons in a particular community and pertain only to those persons in that community. At the outset the preacher must resist privatized interpretation.

The ones who speak here are Israelites who carry with them and bring to expression the long experience and the myriad of remembered texts concerning their life with God. The Psalter belongs in the OT and is surrounded by ancient memories of rescue, treasured accounts of miracles and promises from God, durable commands that have been variously honored and violated, and hopes awaiting fruition. The Psalms are “thick” in the sense that all this accumulated poignant reality is present in the utterance of the Psalms; and the preacher must attend to all that thickness.


Or, consider again, conservative Catholic writer Mark Shea, discussing the concept of righteous anger provoked by horrible inequities [in a piece based on Psalm 109]:

As Christians, of course, we cannot give our voice to such cursing. Jesus has very clearly told us that we must love our enemies and bless, not curse, those who despitefully use us. But that does not mean the Old Testament curses are bad or without value. In them, if we know what we are looking for, we see outrage at evil in chemical purity and know it as a gift of God. For righteous anger is not sin if we use it as God intended: as fuel for the engine of moral action. Anger only becomes a sin when we do not put it in the gas tank of action, but instead pour it on ourselves and others and set it on fire. Then it consumes us. The use of anger, like the use of gasoline, is not to bathe in it and drink it, but to turn its energy toward pursuing the redemptive, active love of God.

The staggering depravity that provoked the curses of our Jewish ancestors (and our own curses above) deserves cold, implacable hatred. It is the only decent response of a child of God. But our hatred must be directed at the sin, not the sinner.


In other words, despite the willingness of political partisans to jump on this bumper sticker as evangelicals trawling for assassins, there is considerable evidence that Christians--Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical--have been seriously wrestling with language like this for years.

But that's all irrelevant, apparently, when the wrong people start using Biblical rhetoric: instead of trying to understand it, or contextualize it, we need to throw it out.

Frank Schaeffer suggested on the Rachel Maddow show that no Christians are reacting against this partisn political usage of Psalm 109. Consider the respones of The Beatitudes Society or the The Mattew25 Network. I hope to see more such voices.

I think that what Delawaredem misses is that there is a continuing battle for the soul of Christianity.

On the one hand are the Christianists, who think that their ethic should be government-enforced policy.

On the other hand there are the Christians who view their religion as a private but potent part of their lives, and who have a rich heritage of religious and political dissent for the improvement of the human condition rather than the imposition of ritual law.

And on the gripping hand there those who see within the Christianists the chance to finally strike a death blow at religion itself, by equating virtually all belief with insanity and fanaticism.

I do not believe DD is one of those people, but I do believe that his position aids and abets them in precisely the same fashion he has formerly accused me of aiding and abetting those who plot violence against the government or the President.

Shorter: I don't think that we only have a choice between David Anderson's Christianity and no Christianity at all.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for your dissertation on the history of Leprechauns.

anonone

Delaware Watch said...

"OT scholars might explain to DD and our bumper-sticker owners that psalms and prayers like this actually represented an ethical and moral advance in the Middle East during the time in question"

So what? It was an advance then, but it is primitive and bellicose by today's standards. Your point might have been relevant 2000 plus years ago, but this fact makes no serious moral or spiritual claim on us today.

Delaware Watch said...

"That's why the Catholic Church did not encourage Bible reading as such."

That is really a nice spin. The real truth is that the Catholic Church believed that it alone had the authority to interpret the Bible and, thus, effectively held that believers were unable to interpret the Bible for themselves. It was a system of control.

Delaware Watch said...

"Evangelicals, however, developed the doctrine that the Fall of Man (original sin) so compromised human reason that we can only receive the Bible, not interpret it."

Anyone who has read Saint Augustine's confessions knows that practically no one held a view of original sin that was more damning of the human character than him. He even thought that a baby cries for milk from its mother because it is selfish (not hungry, mind you), a reflection of its fallen nature. Catholicism has no grounds to throw stones at Protestantism over their versions (and they are many and diverse)of original sin.

Delaware Watch said...

", what bothers me about his suggestion is that it is tantamount to saying that some documents, some ideas, are just to prone to misuse by some folks that those ideas ought to be eliminated from society."

Perhaps he is just saying that the OT should no longer function as an authoritative guide for our lives. If that is what he is saying, then I think his position is unimpeachably correct.

Delaware Watch said...

"Forget about the millions of Jews who have lived careful, blameless lives attempting to delve the meaning of Torah and Talmud.

Forget about the hundreds of millions of Christians who never seek to use the OT as an excuse for violent or petty behavior."

You don't seriously believe that anyone who reads the OT and takes it as the only guide, or a principal guide, on their behavior can lead a "blameless" life, do you? If they lead a blameless life is almost certainly because their spiritual experience has been tempered by humanistic considerations--considerations that require no belief in a God or in magically inspired ancient texts.

Delaware Watch said...

"Instead, condemn the Book itself rather than the individuals you think are misusing it--sort of the way we are exactly NOT supposed to condemn the Quran or Muslims in general for the acts of some radicalized killers."

Are you suggesting that there can be no basis for condemning a book (which is not the same as banning it)? What about virulently racist screeds? Don't you condemn those.

The truth is that significant portions the OT does condone genocide and other crimes. The examples are replete. Any attempt to allegorize it is just a transparent attempt to put a pretty face on an apparent monstrosity.

Steve Newton said...

A1
Since you have admitted you cannot tell the difference between the Obama administration and the Nazis, your own credibility is rather ... diminished here.

Dana,
Perhaps he is just saying that the OT should no longer function as an authoritative guide for our lives. If that is what he is saying, then I think his position is unimpeachably correct.
Perhaps, but that's not what he said.

You don't seriously believe that anyone who reads the OT and takes it as the only guide, or a principal guide, on their behavior can lead a "blameless" life, do you?
Not only don't I believe it--I didn't say anything remotely like that.

Delaware Watch said...

"This argument ignores the fact that thoughtful Christians have been dealing with the more gory and vengeful parts of the OT for decades, even centuries."

What's the point here? Just because many people for a long time tried to put a pretty face on a monstrosity that makes it, somehow, less of a monstrosity?

Steve Newton said...

Dana
I love it when you get so involved that you post again and again before you finish reading a piece.

The truth is that significant portions the OT does condone genocide and other crimes. The examples are replete. Any attempt to allegorize it is just a transparent attempt to put a pretty face on an apparent monstrosity.

This sort of depends on whether you'd actually like to discuss serious scholarship and the history of interpretation of the OT, or--as I suspect--you're just popping off with whatever truisms already existed in your mind. There are multiple ways to read any text, and so far (disappointingly) you keep falling into the category of people who see only one possible, simplistic interpretation as valid.

Steve Newton said...

Dana,
You are now, unfortunately, demonstrating that you don't really know very much--St Augustine aside--about the history of Judeo-Christian theology.

That's OK, but quit trying to get away with using the monstrosity charge like it has any particular moral weight.

Delaware Watch said...

"In other words, despite the willingness of political partisans to jump on this bumper sticker as evangelicals trawling for assassins, there is considerable evidence that Christians--Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical--have been seriously wrestling with language like this for years."

Steve, get real. The bumper sticker and the context of the verse in question is a clear expression that Obama should be assassinated. It is not intended to be a reminder of of the exegetical difficulties of interpreting the vindictive psalms.

Steve Newton said...

Dana you confuse stoopid with evil.

I would be willing to bet that fewer than 5% of the people who put that bumper sticker/t-shirt/whatever on ever bothered to look at any of the rest of the verses of that Psalm until it hit the media.

Otherwise you are seriously arguing, along with Frank Schaeffer, that as many as 22 million Americans want to see President Obama assassinated.

Which is overreach, even for you.

Anonymous said...

Steve Newton wrote:

"Since you have admitted you cannot tell the difference between the Obama administration and the Nazis, your own credibility is rather ... diminished here.

Steve, you know that I never wrote anything close to that, so it isn't my credibility that is diminished when you make-up stuff like that.

Funny how extraordinary sensitive and dismissive you are to having your superstitions challenged, particularly when those superstitions are firmly rooted on a long history bloody of ignorance, bigotry, and oppression.

This post has as much veridicality and value as discussing whether Leprechauns' pots are made out of clay or brass.

anonone

Anonymous said...

Steve wrote:

"There are multiple ways to read any text, and so far (disappointingly) you keep falling into the category of people who see only one possible, simplistic interpretation as valid."

Yes, instead let us follow the interpretations of a religious institution where they practice ritualistic cannibalism and believe they are eating human flesh and drinking human blood all the while in the shadow or their primary object of faith: an instrument of torture and execution.

Yes, let them provide the non-simplistic interpretation for us.

anonone

Rhymes With Right said...

1. DD, being a hatemonger (along with the rest of the crew over there), doesn't want to deal with the reality that those who printed that sticker INTENTIONALLY CHOSE only one verse rather than the entire psalm. They INTENTIONALLY removed that verse from its original context in order to limit it to the much more benign expression of hope that Obama will be a one term president. DD and the rest of the Delaware Liberal hatemongers, however, see that intentional editing as a move to hide a call for assassination -- indicating either that they are disingenuous or dumb.

2) Given that elsewhere on the same site thee is an attack on Sarah Palin for urging the profiling of terrorists who use the Qu'ran to justify their acts of violence against innocents, I find it interesting that DD and the rest of the moonbats are holding Christians (and Jews) who oppose Obama politically to a higher standard than they hold murderous Muslims. After all, there is no call for the suppression for Muhammad's manual of murder and mayhem over there -- and you can be certain that there would be attacks on any blogger who suggested such a ban despite the fact that the Qu'ran is being used TODAY to justify the sorts of abuses that DD condemns as having been justified in the past. Seems a bit hypocritical to me.

3) Of course, it might not be hypocrisy. it may just be that DD and the rest of the Delaware liberal crew know that they can insult Christians and Jews and the things that they hold sacred without any consequences. On the other hand, directing similar rhetoric against Muslims might bring death threats. . . or worse.
3)

Mike W. said...

Sounds like a nice helping of bigotry from DelawareDem.

Delaware Watch said...

"This sort of depends on whether you'd actually like to discuss serious scholarship and the history of interpretation of the OT, or--as I suspect--you're just popping off with whatever truisms already existed in your mind. There are multiple ways to read any text, and so far (disappointingly) you keep falling into the category of people who see only one possible, simplistic interpretation as valid."

I know what this "serious scholarship" and "history of interpretation" amounts to when it comes to the monstrous portions of the text: they cease to be descriptive and become interpolative for the sole purpose of making the monstrous passages palatable.

Funny how Biblical hermeneutics works with believers. When the passages are morally reprehensible or when the obvious signification of a passage contradicts established doctrine, the passages are to be taken allegorically or symbolically. Otherwise the passages are to be taken literally. It all works out rather conveniently.

Anonymous said...

Dana,

Your responses have been great here. Particularly this:

"When the passages are morally reprehensible or when the obvious signification of a passage contradicts established doctrine, the passages are to be taken allegorically or symbolically. Otherwise the passages are to be taken literally. It all works out rather conveniently."

I'd only add that another strategy that Biblical hermeneutics use is to claim "obsolescence" or that "that was back then and God doesn't mean that anymore."

This is a particularly useful out for them when it comes to their God's moral approval of slavery (see 10 Commandments, for example). It is used in spite of the lack of any documentation (stone tablets or otherwise) that their God ever changed HIS opinion.

anonone

RSmitty said...

What's wrong with you, Steve?

Shortest post, EVER!

You're slipping after your editorial-in-print debut.
;-)

My constructive-criticism of his charge was that he gives most from that mindset too much credit in being subtle. My point was they have shown themselves to constantly be very direct, confrontational, and persistent. To then suddenly advertise a specific verse in the hopes the reader will then bring other, unmentioned verses into the context is applying a trait, possibly as a matter of convenience to the argument, that has not yet been exhibited by that group.

Wow, I can ramble.

Delaware Watch said...

Allegorize this: Mass Killings Ordered, Committed, Or Approved By God

http://ffrf.org/books/bas/bas5.php

Rhymes With Right said...

Seems to me that the Freedom From Religion Foundation is particularly interested in imposing its religious values on the rest of us -- perhaps it is time from a Freedom From The Freedom From Religion Foundation. :)