Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Don't Need a Miracle

This is another installment of my Lenten series where I reflect on religion.

I woke up thinking about this in the middle of the night.

I can't take the Bible literally and a lot of the problem I have with religion is fundamentalism - an unyielding devotion to a literal, word for word interpretation of the Bible (or any work as the Tea Partiers are now doing it with the US Constitution). Having studied language, I realized that words can never capture the full truth of anything. There will always be something missing, or not said exactly right, or something ambiguous and asking for interpretation and of course everyone interprets through their own experiences, so there can never be unanimous agreement on what something means. It's just not possible. Plus, the meanings of words change constantly and don't even get me started on translation after translation over thousands of years.

When you view the Bible so closemindedly you really limit your ability to know God. Thinking about it even deeper, I realized that fundamentalists, in their unrelenting need to hold on to every word, lack faith. 

Let's take Creationists. Ridiculous. I remember watching that episode of the Duggars where they go to the Creationist Museum in Kentucky and look at dioramas of people playing on dinosaurs. These people will twist and contort facts and just plain make stuff up to make it fit their world view because the Bible says God created the heavens and the earth. They reject hard and true scientific evidence and refuse to send their kids to school because they might learn about Evolution and for what? It doesn't matter. I have never understood why Creationism and Evolution had to be mutually exclusive beliefs and they don't unless you are a person of little faith. The Bible says God created the Earth and the seas and the skies, plants, fish and animals and people. Ok, but it doesn't say HOW. It just says that He did and that's enough for me. I don't need it all to have taken place in the span of seven days as we now know seven days. Who cares? Why couldn't God have created things through Evolution? There is no conflict here at all. God made it all and the Universe is so complicated that we will probably never know exactly how it all was done or how it all works. Our minds can't even comprehend the magnitude and majesty of it all and just because there were dinosaurs and the earth is billions of years old and people came from monkeys doesn't mean that there is no God or that the Bible has to be null and void. Who are we to say that God had to do things in a way we could understand?

Same goes for life on other planets. Why couldn't God have made some other planets too? Again, no conflict.

The Bible is filled with fantastic stories of miracles. Angels appear, bushes burn, snakes talk and pillars of salt. The Red Sea parts, water to wine and suddenly there's enough fish and bread to feed a multitude. Stars lead the way to virgin births, heavenly hosts rejoice, lepers heal and finally the dead are raised and ascend to Heaven in human bodies.

It's probably all a bunch of nonsense. It's fairy tales. I'd be willing to bet that none of it happened, or if it did, it wasn't quite as we've been told.

And you know what? I don't need any of it to have happened in order to believe, to worship and to love.

Back in the day when the Bible was being written, the Jews were up against some stiff competition from all the surrounding pagan religions. First the Egyptians, then the Romans and there were many other little cults and sects in between. The pagan religions were more interesting and more fun. They had better stories to draw people in and they were more entertaining and possibly even scarier and we know nothing motivates people to believe something better than fear. Because the Jews and next the early Christians needed to preserve their religion and keep followers, it's reasonable to think that they had to match the competition a little with their own fantastical stories, otherwise the primitive thinking people of the time would migrate towards more magical religions. I mean think about it - you've got the Egyptians with their elaborate tales of the afterlife and mighty Gods and Goddesses with the heads of animals. The jews, well, they couldn't eat pork and shellfish. Who wouldn't want a golden cow? Then you've got the Romans with multiple deities with intricate and highly entertaining mythologies. What did the early Christians have? A scrappy rogue Rabbi. But how cool would it be if the scrappy rogue Rabbi was the product of a virgin birth and healed people and brought old men back from the dead. What if, what if...he walked on water? That might give him some more clout. Hey Romans, you've got your Neptune and Jupiter? Well, our dude can turn water into wine. Take that gladiators.

And poor Mary - doomed to be a virgin her whole life and a married virgin no less. Poor Joseph, right? Well guess what? I don't need Mary to have stayed a virgin forever and I don't even need her to have been a virgin when she got pregnant. I still have the same reverence and respect for her. If she were just a poor teenager who got pregnant with Jesus before she was married I have no problem with that whatsoever and perhaps if we could let go of the myths and tales of magic then we would be able to show a greater compassion to people in her situation now.

The fairy tale aspect of religion does nothing but hold us back in our spiritual development. Thousands of years ago, when human beings were trapped in darkness and ignorance they needed magical tales in order to believe in something greater and to give them hope and reassurance, but times have changed people. Our knowledge has advanced and so should our faith.

If Moses or Jesus never once performed a miracle would that negate their teachings? Aren't their teachings about how to love and how to live and treat one another far more important than plagues or resurrections? Would the Ten Commandments be any less wise without the parting of the Red Sea or the Beatitudes less stirring or lesser truths if Jesus didn't do the whole loaves and fishes routine? Of course not, and can't you see the obvious metaphor in that story anyway?

Could you not believe without these so called miracles? We don't need myths. We don't need to reject science or grasp at ancient words to gather faith. We don't need fantastic signs to believe. It's all right here in front of us. God is everywhere. Everything is a miracle - sea turtles laying eggs by moonlight, the making of babies, plumeria, papaya, ring tailed leaping lemurs, your grandmother, the subway, a fire, pickles and grilled cheese sandwiches, hula dancers, books and words, Christmas, Hindu temples and even the asphalt on the roads. Everything. Look around you and celebrate.


Living in Muddy Waters said...

I have no issue with anything you posted, but your inbox is going to get innundated. Your one gutsy big-shouldered broad!

BTW, if I get a vote, I think you should speak about your PPOCD. I had never even heard of it, but I am guessing a lot more woman have it that don't get diagnosed. It would be a mighty powerful way to use your blog.

Just my .02.

Wide Lawns said...

Can you imagine what would happen if your husband used this as his sermon in Country Time this Sunday?

Wide Lawns said...

And Muddy, yes I am going to write about PPOCD soon. I promise. So many people have encouraged me to do it, but I just need to meditate on it a little more and figure out what to say. It's hard for me to write sometimes when I don't have a certain amount of distance from a topic.

Anonymous said...

The bit about fundamentalists lacking faith really hit home with me, as I'm just beginning to realize that on my own. I live smack in the middle of fundamentalists country. In fact, many of the people I know work for a well-know international fundamentalist organization, although it's not marketed as such. Anyway, the important thing is that these people actually had me questioning MY faith and believing I was doing it all wrong. I was raised in a church that teaches God's grace is free and given to everyone. I have no idea why I let these people convince me otherwise.

Plus, I've never been good at remembering specific scriptures to get in a tiff about. I know the stories, but I never could argue my point with these people. I'm glad to see someone else "gets it".

Anonymous said...

p.s. I hope my earlier comment didn't seem like an "attack" on fundamentalists. I realize and respect that they are practicing their faith as they feel is right. They really are good people doing good things with passion.

Erica said...


This reminds me of two weddings I attended, back to back, this summer. The first was very traditional, very literal, "obey your husband as head of the house as God as head of the church." I was gripping my husband's hand the entire time - the groom is very controlling and he does NOT need encouragment. Contrast that with a beautiful unitarian universalist wedding the next day - where the exchanging of the rings was a wonderful mediation on the symbolism of the ring and its analogs in nature, and an amazing poem was read about putting the pains of adulthood and the fears of childhood aside to face your spouse as who you truly are. If there was a church in my area that held to that kind of doctrine, I'd be there every Sunday.

For whatever its worth, I'm really enjoying these posts.

Also, I just found this out yesterday, apparently my sister's boyfriend gave her a Quiverfull primer book as a Christmas present this year. Oh I hope she has the sense to get away from that!

Kerry said...

I'm with you on the literalists. They drive me crazy, too, since I believe the same as you do, that science need not fight with belief, and that the universe is a wonderful place. Interesting that you talk about fundamentalism as possibly lacking belief. I hadn't thought about that.

I think science can tell us the how, and belief can give us wonder and humility and lots of good good things. Belief can shape how we interpret the world. Help us decide how we want to live our lives. Belief nests with values to help us make those decisions.

And actually, Christ was not the first god to come from a virgin birth, nor to rise from the underworld, and probably other things that I don't remember at the moment. So many things are recycled over the millennia... :) It's kind of interesting to watch the mythologies evolve.

Anonymous said...

Since you are on a book bender, if you have not already ready "The Year of Living Biblically" by A.J. Jacobs. He is a hilarious and sincere author who spent a year trying to follow the rules outlined in the bible in a very literal way in the present day US of A. It addresses many of the discussion points in your post. Also, one of my favorite books is "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. Now, I realize he is a theologian, however, one of the greatest in our generation to address doubt and context and faith. I adore that book and reread it every year or so.

Anonymous said...

WL: You are thinking too hard. For me it is not about logic and what makes sense to our human minds. It is about faith. How is it that the Bible has endured for so long? How is that no one Jewish names their girl child Mary? These are simple human questions. Somehow it all doesn't matter. Having faith is the hardest exercise in human discipline. IMHO. Just find a place that gives you peace. When in serious trouble or pain, reach out to what gives you strength, grace and peace.

greyspasm said...

I think Mel Gibson's movie was originally titled "Passion of the Scrappy Rogue Rabbi" but for some reason it was changed at the last minute. ;)

I completely agree with you that Creationism and evolution don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Thanks again for being the voice of reason.

BoB said...

Interestingly, I have faith that I could repeat every experiment that defines our scientific understanding of the world. I don't have to repeat them personally to believe science works.

Carol in SC said...

I agree with your line of thinking; however, I was born, and still live in, the Deep South and very few people in my life would understand my views. So, I don't talk about religion or politics with anyone. Even my husband. It's sad, really.

Laurie said...

" I don't need any of it to have happened in order to believe, to worship and to love."

Perfect. ;)

rosie-b said...

Beautifully said and just how I feel about my own religion. Thank you for that.

The idea that fundamentalists lack faith is one that hadn't occurred to me before but it makes sense. I have a feeling I'll be pondering that idea for awhile.

jennifer said...

i like this version but liked the first better - not leaving this on email b/c i remember the comments are moderated. am i evil b/c i like reading things on rss that dont make the final cut?

Kayla Williford said...

While I am a Christian, a sinful disciple, more specifically, and do believe that most, if not all, of the stories in the Word are true, that certainly should never be the focus. It really doesn't matter if I believe the stories or not, what matters is if I, with God's guidance and grace, understand and implement the message into my heart, thoughts, and therefore actions. The point is not that Jesus could (and can) perform miracles, but that He is a powerful and sovereign yet sacrificial and loving God. The older I get the more disgusted I become with the way in which conservative American "Christians" get so wrapped up in the intricacies of the Word and lose sight of the point of it all. I agree especially with your point about the fact that maybe God created, used, and is using evolution for His purposes, and, thank God, we cannot understand everything He does.

Rachel said...

Growing up in my religion, we are taught to take the inspired word of the Bible. I love that and think this has helped my faith because it allows understanding to grow, instead of adopting an off-putting all-or-nothing stance.

A well respected author (ok, Dan Brown) wrote in Angels and Demons, "Science and religion are not at odds. Science is simply too young to understand." That's always hit home for me, and I felt it echoed the ideas of your post.

p.s. Congrats on your essay being published!

Seryan said...

If I weren't reading this at work, I think I'd be cheering 'yes, yes!' out loud over this! But especially this bit:

"Who are we to say that God had to do things in a way we could understand?"

YES. *THANK* you. God is presented as immortal, omnipotent, omniscient. We are none of these things. How can we hope to understand a being who IS? Not to mention, a being that can create a universe certainly doesn't owe us any explanations.

Trouble said...

I recently read a book called "unprotected texts" that discussed all the way the bible contradicts itself over sex. It was very accessible and easy to read. The author said in the forward that she wrote the book to try and keep people from claiming that the bible says one specific thing about anything; she says that it's all about interpretation and people need to own up to that.

Anonymous said...

"How is that no one Jewish names their girl child Mary?"
Miriam is the original Hebrew version of the English "Mary" and is a very common Jewish name.

Anonymous said...

And who needs a god to behave correctly? And isn't that the purpose of religion at base?

Rich said...

Though I made the headline of one of your blog entries re: your Catholic comments, I must say you are absolutely right on here. Your description of miracles at the end was perfect. I use much the same thought process; sit back and look up in the sky on some dark, clear night. It's so incomprehensible to me, so deeply beautiful, so awe inspiring, that God has to be.

Mary G said...

Hey Vic, loved the post. Completely agree with your way of thinking. Just nit-picking one thing though, from my former-fundamentalist upbringing I am trained to spot these things ya know. ;-) But Mary wasn't claimed in the Bible to have remained a virgin. That's a Catholic thing. Jesus had many brothers and sisters. James the author of the book of James was in fact Jesus' brother. Or half-brother as the fundies say, since Joseph wasn't considered to be Jesus' father. It is thought that once Mary had Jesus, that Mary and Joseph consummated their marriage and had many more children afterwards. This is just the fundamentalist scriptural standpoint, and has NOTHING to do wtih your overall idea about people taking the text too literally. Which I completely agree with. Just thought I'd mention it.

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