July 10, 2005

Hidden Assumptions

We each bring all of our lives beliefs and convictions to what we read. Some of us are more aware of them than others. Larry and I for example often get into minor tussles over the assumptions we bring to scripture.

Paradoxically Larry and I agree in the basics and disagree in the details. Larry says something like all scripture is poetry and I say all scripture is parable. Our differences are not diatant at all.

Some assumptions we bring aren't about scripture at all: like the divinity of Christ or the facts of history. And still they impinge on how we read the texts we are looking at.

Someone calling themsleves Brandon attracted by our deliberations asked a rather pointed question:

How can we look at HUMAN history, and make any inferences as to what the kingdom is like?

It opened up for me that some assumptions I take for granted may not be shared by everyone. Like the idea that God reveals Godself through human history. No passage of scripture declares it but the whole breadth of scripture implies it. For me.

It seems to me this is an opportunity for us to lay our cards on the table so to speak. What do we bring to our reading of scripture? Something perhaps we haven't spoken of here before. It doesn't need to be monumental (or even secretly personal).

We've alraedy sort of rehashed the Triunity/Unitarian thing and the divine inspiration thing. And the metaphorical/literal thing. What else makes the way you read unique?


At 1:51 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

This is a neat idead, David. We should probably keep in mind (me, at least) that we may not be aware of all our assumptions and may actually consider some of them facts instead.

My known assumptions are probably not so much catholic, though I am a catholic, as they are just mine. Here are a few of them ...

- I want to believe in extraordinary stuff , like miracles, religious experience, yogis levitating :-) ... I'm skeptical and doubtful, but still I want it to be possible.

- I have a tendency to want the bible to be mainly a human work in the old testament (because I don't like that God too much), but the real divine deal in the gospels (because I mostly like Jesus and his God).

- I want Jesus to be completely human and completely divine (God) - this seems like the best choice for me having a relationship with him in the present (very important to me) ... he's vulnerable and approachable, but also all forgiving, all loving, and all powerful.

At 5:12 p.m., Blogger david said...

I agree Crystal. Most of our assumptions are hidden even from ourselves. Or we so take them for granted taht we stop thinking about them.

At 2:02 a.m., Blogger Brandon said...

My original question was based on an unstated assumption of my own --that there is a qualitative difference between the world humanity has built, and the kingdom of God. I don't know exactly what that qualitative difference is, and I don't know the Bible well enough to point to any scripture to justify it (which is one of the reasons I started lurking here; to learn more about the Bible), but it's something I feel in my bones.

So my question was based on that assumption, and I now realize that it's an assumption that not everyone shares.

On miracles, I agree with Crystal: I want to believe in miracles -- but the ones I want to believe in are the small, personal, positive miracles. As I said above, I am not well-informed about the Bible, but it seems to me that there is (again) a qualitative difference between the miracles of the OT and the miracles of the NT.

In the OT, the miracles that I know about tend to be big and flashy: The Red Sea is parted to allow the Israelites to escape. Cities are destroyed. The sun stops in the sky to allow a battle to be won.

They also tend to have negative aspects: It isn't enough that the Red Sea is parted to give an escape route -- the waters then come crashing back down to kill Pharoah's soldiers. Cities being destroyed has obvious negative aspects. The sun stopped in the sky to allow the battle to be won, but as a result, more people died.

In the NT, the miracles that I know about are much more personal, and much more positive: Jesus heals the sick. He calms the Sea of Galilee so as to assuage the fears of His disciples. He raises a man from the dead. He provides food for the hungry where none (or little) was available. And so on.

One of the questions I have puzzled over for many years is why miracles stopped happening after the time of the NT. I think now (and this is just another assumption, but it's one I feel rather strongly about) that miracles do still happen, and we just don't recognize them or hear about them -- there is so much information out there, that it's almost impossible to sort out which things are real and which are exaggerations.

But maybe it doesn't matter. I think maybe the most important miracles happen within the human heart, when people are moved to perform acts of grace.

-- A miracle happened when people fleeing the World Trade Centers stopped to help someone in a wheelchair down 80 flights of stairs.

-- A miracle happened in 1977, when the pilot of a passenger jet that was about to crash into a residential neighborhood in San Diego deliberately flew the plane straight DOWN into the ground, in order to minimize harm to people in the neighborhood.

-- A miracle happened in 1989, when a plane was coming in for a dangerous landing in Sioux City, IA. Emergency services had been notified, but they forgot to alert the blood banks to activate their phone trees -- and people heard about the impending disaster on the news, and showed up to donate blood anyway, without being asked.

Things like that. To tie this back in to my original question, maybe these acts of miraculous grace are instances of the kingdom of God breaking through into our world, through the only avenue available -- the human heart.

Sorry for the long digression.

At 7:40 a.m., Blogger david said...

I rather hope long digressions are not a sin. Otherwise I'd be spending mkore time in confessional than in Bible Study!

And I rather think what you had to say was not a digression but on topic.

Rather -- on my topic. I posted this digression instaed of the scheduled scripture passage.

At 2:04 p.m., Blogger Joe G. said...

Wow, what a question (from you david-william).

Hmm, my assumptions when reading the Bible...

Well, like Crystal wrote, I don't know all of the assumptions I "bring to the table" when studying the bible. But, here are a few that I am aware of (or hope that are my assumptions! :)) -

I don't believe that the Bible is the Word of God, as most evangelical Christians do. If anything, I agree with early Friends that Jesus is the word of God, not the Bible.

The Bible was written by human beings and thus has it's usual historical inaccuracies and contradictions, etc.

OTH, I believe that the Bible is inspired. It is also one of the primary guides for Christians as well as for Friends. Having noted that, I think it is the spirit of the book(s) and not the letter of it that is of most importance.

I believe that the writers wrote things that were real for them. I suppose we can debate the reality of those things. I feel comfortable with viewing these as metaphor, myth, or the true experiences of those writing. However, we choose to view or not view these books, the truth and guidance of the Spirit is here for us now; and it was these writings that have inspired some of the best actions of those who call themselves Christian (and Jewish for the OT/Hebrew Bible) and for those who are Quaker.

Wow, this could be a post on my blog: Beppe & the Bible!

At 5:07 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

Well hello. I've been out of touch for a week, only one short access to the web.

Re assumptions: my basic assumption is that I'm supposed to comment on and respond to everybody else's assumptions.

Re David: is my name being defamed? (just kidding, old bean).

For me the Bible is poetry in the sense that it means different things to different people. What we bring to the Bible determines to a large degree what we find in it. (I think that's the way God planned it!)

Re divinity: I think Jesus is divine, and so are we (paraphrasing Blake of course).

Re the facts of (Church) history: a very low view: it's not the kingdom of God, as Brandon has intimated, but a kingdom of the world-- very different. Still the saints of God are found there, too.

Of course "God reveals Godself through human history", but only to those with 'eyes to see', and only to the degree that we can see.

"lay our cards on the table"? yes, simply reveal who we are, the only basis for fully true fellowship and understanding.

Crystal, the 'extraordinary stuff' is possible: it happened, it happens, and it will happen, but not necessarily the way we envision it.

You tell us what you want to believe, but above all you want to know the truth, we all do. And he most certainly is "vulnerable and approachable, but also all forgiving, all loving, and all powerful."

I'm not through.

At 5:31 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

Brandon, there most certainly is "a qualitative difference between the world humanity has built, and the kingdom of God". His first intention was that we not eat the forbidden fruit; we ate it, and his plans changed.

That is the primary theme of the Old Testament from beginning to end: God proposed goodness, but they did badly.

Coming to the N.T. Jesus came announcing the kingdom. He lived in the kingdom. To the degree that we live by his values the kingdom is here. It's not about material things it's about spiritual things like love: to the degree that we love, we live in the kingdom. It's here, always was, always will be. But it nothing like what we ordinarily do.

Miracles have not stopped happening. The ones you cite are real and evidence of the presence of the kingdom (in the midst of the 'kingdom of this world'.

You already have a pretty good grasp of the reality I've been laboring.

Beppe: yes, Jesus is the word, not the Bible. The word is a poetic, spiritual reality, the Bible is a book containing a lot of words.

It was written by fallible, flawed human beings. It does indeed have "it's usual historical inaccuracies and contradictions, etc."

But, as you intimate, it is divinely inspired and (in the words of the old hymn) contains "the wonderful words of life".

Here ends my ex-cathedra pronouncements.

In conclusion you all impress me as well versed and completely right about most of your values and understanding re the Bible. I feel honored to be associated with such a rich and caring group.

At 1:13 a.m., Blogger Meredith said...

Hidden assumptions: I, too, am not sure of all of my assumptions when I read the Bible. I have never read it before – tried, but no success. I just could not understand any of it, and I unfortunately have never had formal instruction or teaching on the Bible. So for this study, I carefully read over the passages, and read and learn from what you all write about it, and try to discern the meaning it carries for me. Part of this is very difficult for me because I know so little about the history of the time – I have just never been interested. Also, the language feels awkward often times, and I suppose one assumption I have is that the English translations are inadequate to fully express the more poetic language of the times. Also, I do believe that it was common when the Bible was written to teach in parables, in story and poetry, and that the meanings must, at least in part, be derived from some non-rational part of our selves, the same part that is moved by spirit, by love, and by soulful connections. Since there was a huge time gap between the time when Jesus lived and when the various Bible chapters were written, I do not assume any of the conversations or even the narrative to have actually occurred, but rather to be a handed down, watered down, loosely connected oral history of a phenomenal and divinely inspired person, teacher and guide, Jesus.

PS It is good that my entry here comes after Larry's, because I am sure I cannot impress him as well versed or completely right...

I smile.

At 11:04 a.m., Blogger Larry said...

Meredith, we "well versed" types are in dire need of someone like you whom we can "teach".

Thank you for all your contributions.

At 12:53 p.m., Blogger Meredith said...

And I thank you dear Larry - I have learned much from you!

At 5:33 a.m., Blogger david said...


Those of us who like to put on the teacher-hat have found we learn alot about our subject matter by tryinmg to explain it two someone. They way we organize it in our brains is often very different than how it comes out -- because we discover we're making assumptions other folks don't share.

More importantly I think -- book-learned types like me find the challenge of engaging folks whose knowledge of things spiritual comes more from actually doing the spirituality VERY helpful (even when it makes us rethink our prejudices).


Post a Comment

<< Home