14 June 2007

The Passing of Ruth Graham

It saddens me to announce that Ruth Graham, wife to Billy Graham, passed away today. She was 87.

I hope that you will join me in praying for the Graham family and in honoring the life of such a wonderful woman.

Of his wife, Mr. Graham had this to say:
"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support."

Intro to Religious Thought (or: What They Don't Teach in Sunday School)

The academic study of religion is the most thoroughly depressing field out there. I'm pretty sure of it. It shouldn't be, but it is. They take everything you believe and show you how stupid it is to believe in it. All interpretations (at least according to my professor, and yes he means all, as in every, including those by non-believers) are wrong (yeah, he's a big fan of Nietzsche, for those who were wondering). What's weird is when you get home and realize you still believe, despite how incredible the beliefs are. There's an old joke I once heard, that if you have enough faith to still believe after going through Seminary, you have enough faith to be a preacher. I'm starting to think the same is true for religion majors. This reminds me of a mewithoutYou quote, "We have all our beliefs, but we don't want our beliefs; God of Peace, we want you."

The problem with the way we teach beliefs in modern churches is that we claim them to be fact. In the most conservative churches, it goes without question that Moses wrote the Torah, the world was created in seven days, we are the only religion to hold this view, there was a flood, we are the only people who believe in a Noah figure, the Patriarchs are all very real, we can prove that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and the Bible has absolutely no contradictions, historical or otherwise. In reality, the Torah has four sources and probably more authors, our TWO accounts of creation coincide with accounts from all over the Near and Middle East, the Epic of Gilgamesh recounts a flood and an ark, there is not proof for any of the Patriarchs, least of all Joseph, who should have proof, and no proof of Israelite presence in Egypt. On top of that, the mention of iron and the Philistines should not be in the Torah, as neither would not be in Canaan until after 1200 BCE. Not to mention the fact that there are multiple versions of the texts we found at the Dead Sea, especially Isaiah, on who's prophecies much of our understanding of Jesus as Christ is based. It's quite sad to listen to the students in my class who haven't been introduced to these ideas until now. Their entire faith is shattering before them (though whether or not their faith should be based on creationism is another topic).

Then there are the ideas that nobody sees coming, no matter how progressive of a church they attended or how much study they do on their own. The idea that the Israelites worshiped multiple gods, that the Hebrew Bible affirms the existence of multiple gods, the idea that God had to wrestle a sea monster during creation, the suggestion that Noah's son slept with him while he was drunk, and the idea that Mary very possibly wasn't a virgin. Even though these ideas are not as wide-spread as the first, they'll still through you for a loop the first time you hear them.

So why isn't the Church teaching its members to think? Why is it that you don't hear these ideas until you get into the lecture hall? I'm not saying they should be a part of every sermon, but they are certainly things that older Christians should be concerned with. These are serious problems for our faith and if we want to be able to say we have a relationship with God and that we understand our faith and where it comes from, these are issues that need to be addressed.

On the issue of where our faith comes from, why is it that we don't look into the Israelite background of our faith? What makes Jesus distinct from all these other deities in the ancient world is not being born of a virgin or rising from the dead. It's the long, glorious history that culminates in Christ. Almost as if God looked around at all of these ancient cults and said, "Ha, watch this," and blew them all out of the water. If you don't learn about what distinguishes Jesus from others in the "divine man" genre of ancient history, then when you hear about these other "divinities", you face a tremendous crisis.

In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell says our faith should be more like a spring than a brick, in that it should be flexible (and springs can be used for trampolines and to invite people to come play, where as bricks can only be used in walls, to keep people out). When we raise people to have brick-like faith, when it comes time for someone to need to reexamine their faith, it shatters. When a person whose faith is like a spring reexamines their faith, they survive. How do we make our faith like a spring? By learning about it.

Rock on.

Edit: Ben Witherington expresses his thoughts on a similar subject at his blog.
My friend Pat writes on a broader sense of Christian complacency over at Notes from Underground.