Sunday, October 24, 2010

History of the Bible

As fundamentalists of all persuasions swear allegiance to their God as revealed in "holy texts", it is important to understand the nature and content of these texts in order to understand the role of religion as it plays out in humanity's daily dysfunctions.

Now, before anybody gets too defensive here, I am NOT discussing the existence or role of God in the world. That is a whole other, BIG subject. I also am not writing this to discourage anyone from having faith or a belief system. What I AM bringing to the front here is the basis upon which faith should be built.

For those of you who might not know me, I come from a background steeped in fundamental Christianity. We were heavily influenced from our family tradition to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the Bible as the "the Word of God", infallible and literal. Post childhood I studied various other religions and found myself confronted as an educated adult with many contradictions to my upbringing...and while I continue to "believe" in God and the historical Jesus...I count myself as a "recovering evangelical" when it comes to my new understanding of things (I define "recovering Evangelical as "those outside the church who still like Jesus". See this website for further interesting links).

Probably the core disconnect I had with the traditions I grew up in was the concept of the Bible as "infallible" and EVERY WORD being sacred and directed by God...or his Holy Spirit. As a child I had read the Bible through 2-3 times by the time I was 8-9 years old. It was very educational, challenging and to this day affects my way of thinking and world view...mostly based on the history and perspectives on life the ancient book contains. I can still quote or "paraphrase" with the best of lay evangelicals...but I rarely do anymore as I reached a point in life where I refused to use the "Bible" in theological discourse. This is primarily because "the book" has been the great lightening rod of division and misunderstanding between humans and civilizations for hundreds of years now. My fundamental enlightenment on this was at the point where I realized a "New Testament" was never ordained nor suggested by the founder of Christianity, Jesus. He said many times to listen to "my words" as truth or "do as I do", but I don't think he envisioned the "gospel" writers or the "Pauline letters" as literal revelation from "God the father" himself. Such are the stark realities of religious progression.

Unfortunately, the Christian faith...and other fundamental faiths such as Judaism and Islam...have turned into fundamental adherence to "holy books". The founders of these religions or books are long gone...and now in their place many of us worship "a book". While I understand that written words are powerful...more powerful in the long term than armaments of is very scary when the hordes of mankind are fundamentally guided...and often MIS texts written hundreds of years before whose authenticity can be questioned from many perspectives.

While I studied this topic heavily at one point in my early 20s, I find that wikipedia has a pretty good high level overview on the history of the Bible. It seems reasonable to me that you have to study books ABOUT the Bible in order to understand its contents and history...and to qualify your "belief" in the "good book". To that end...I offer a few "Bible facts" to help illustrate my thesis:

"The Hebrew bible is not a single book but rather a collection of texts, most of them anonymous, and most of them the product of more or less extensive editing prior to reaching their modern form." Deductive reasoning might suggest that "anonymous" equates to "divine" writings?

It was in fact the birth of geology, marked by the publication of James Hutton's "Theory of the Earth" in 1788, which set in train the intellectual revolution that would dethrone Genesis as the ultimate authority on primeval earth and prehistory. The first casualty was the Creation story itself, and by the early 1800s "no responsible scientist contended for the literal credibility of the Mosaic account of creation." (p. 224)

Many scholars have pointed out that the Gospel of Mark shows signs of a lack of knowledge of geographical, political and religious matters in Palestine in the time of Jesus. Thus, today the most common opinion is, that the author is unknown and both geographically and historically at a distance to the narrated events. On the other hand, the other narratives are said to have relied on the Gospel of Mark as source.

The Bible as we know it today came from a variety of "Canons"...a term coined by early Christians but rooted in Judaism...meaning "rule" or "measure". These canons or measures have changed numerous times over the centuries and as I have learned about this for me has brought to issue the question of The Bible being "God's infallible word"...or is the book simply a complicated agreement between large bodies of religious leaders who determine for us what IS the "word of God"? There are various canons of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican Churches adopted by ecumenical councils who have determined what is in our currently published "Bible". It is increasingly troubling for me to base life and facts on such publication.

Obviously volumes of theological works have been devoted to the history of the Bible and one cannot begin to discuss or mention all these studies in a blog. All I can say is, after 35+ years of analyzing and studying this issue at various times and places...I cannot base my faith or "world view" on such a canon of writings. I realize that MY reality disappoints many close family members and friends whom I hold dear...yet as Shakespeare so eloquently stated..."to thine own self be true".

My personal odyssey and revelation tells me that I must stay rational and objective about "truth" and my beliefs in this life. While I strive to respect differing points of view and stay objective on all issues...there comes a point in each person's life when they have to make their own "call" on these heavy issues. I for one cannot base my life and beliefs on simple "leaps of faith"...or just believe something because "I WANT TO BELIEVE IT" or those before me did so nor for peer pressure.

I DO believe that somehow God set life in motion as we know it. I doubt we will ever totally know or comprehend who God is, why or to what end he has set these things in motion. I believe in a "personal God" to the extent that I can imagine the originator of life being somewhere in my genetics and my consciousness. I see "miracles" every day...yet to some levels of consciousness, those miracles may be a very natural order of the universe. Fundamentally, I think we need to stop making God "in our own image" or trying to make him into a "personal possession". To me, this is the ultimate "blasphemy".

We have much to ponder and mysteries to solve in this life. It is the "pursuit" of this that makes life meaningful to me. We don't have to have all the answers. Let us use our reason and rationale as much as possible to do so...and even if we come to different points of view or beliefs between us...let us just consider them so...and not the end of the world or our relationship to one another. We humans are mutually dependent...and our own worse enemies based on some of our "blind" beliefs on books we read.

As was the motto written in big letters above the altar of my dear Pastor/grandfather's church..." by this shall all men know that you are my disciples...if you have LOVE for one another" (John 13:35)... this continues as my core "theology".

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Controlling Drugs

After reading the obit of one of America's leading experts on the history of drugs in America, David Musto, it reminded me of many observations and articles read over the years on this subject. I have alluded in other blog posts to some of my viewpoints on the "drug war" my country is losing and the monies wasted in the wrong directions...but I have not clarified my thoughts in writing on drugs overall.

One of my fundamental disagreements with the world-wide "drug wars" is that YOU CAN'T LEGISLATE MORALITY FOR ANY SIGNIFICANT PERIOD OF TIME! During my relatively short lifetime, we have seen TRILLIONS of dollars spent trying to control the supply of what are deemed "illegal" or "illicit" drugs...with much of that money coming from heavy "sin" taxes on "legal" drugs/substances such as tobacco and alcohol...which substances kill hundreds of thousands of people every YEAR! Most of us have seen people close to us affected or dying from using these substances, yet...they remain legal while substances such as Marijuana...which have scientifically been proven to have medicinal properties for some diseases...remain taboo and illegal. My opinion is, if you are going to legislate limits on one harmful substance, you need to put limits on all. But of course, prohibition never worked and will never work. And lets face it...SOME companies and rich families make a LOT of money on those products/substances in worldwide distribution.

In addition to the societal costs of fighting global "underground" suppliers to our addictions...we continue to criminalize the sick and demented addicts among us...without getting to the root of the cause. Our institutions just drive many of these forces and appetites underground which has now established huge resources and revenues that will never be documented or enter mainstream commerce. We have created two economies...and two macro classes in our global population; traditional/formal markets and underground/informal markets. Global economies cannot be truly measured without taking into account those informal markets.

PRIMAL MESSAGE: We will never eradicate the supply if we don't affect the demand.

In my broad travels and experiences in life, I have observed many aspects of the "drug dilemma" fairly close and personal through some people close to me. Substances from alcohol to Marijuana to "prescription narcotics" to harder drugs have affected the personal lives of many potentially great people who have been in my path. That makes it a very personal and emotional issue by nature. Anyone I have known who overcame addictions did so by PERSONAL CHOICE, not by edict or legal decree. Even legislated drug treatment programs mandated by a court on someone are a waste of time if THAT PERSON is not ready to change their lives and actions. Some of the most obvious hypocrisies I have seen on this issue are "blasted" cocktailers spewing forth about putting "druggies" in jail. It would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s when "illicit drugs" and "free love" became more mainstream aspects of American culture. The boomer generation and large economic growth of those times fueled a consumerism that was insatiable. With new wealth and independence came new levels of greed, debauchery...and people began discovering how money and freedom alone does not bring happiness. As people began to express their "freedom" and "success" by throwing out many cultural taboos and traditions...individualism became more rampant and the rule of law in governments and religions were questioned and/or disregarded by the growing multitudes. Individuals were allowed to explore their natures and had the economic freedom to do so. With this new wealth and boredom came the tendency to "medicate" both legally and illegally any ache, pain or depression we were experiencing. Have a headache? Pop an aspirin. Pulled muscle or back spasms? Pop a big dose of Ibuprofen or some sort of steroid. Feeling depressed? Here...take the latest version of psychotic drug recommended by your psychiatrist. The problem with all this "cause and effect" was that these substances taken over a long period of time can kill us by affecting other organs as side affects...and often taking medications only cover up "symptoms" of a real problem or health defect. What is the morality of that? Even after adjusting for inflation, we now spend as much on health care every 10 days as we did in the entire year of 1950. That's the cost of drugs for ya...

As I now look back to those times (60s-70s), I begin to see the roots of current political and religious realities. Forgive me if I am too "general" in some of my comments for the sake of brevity and blogspace...but drugs has for me become the main "battle ground" for the cultural wars in our society. There are also a number of ironies that to me are so obvious...

The more society's institutions try and place dogmatic controls on the behaviors of its members, the more various factions go in extreme opposite directions. Most humans/individuals have the constant battle between what they WANT to do as individuals and what is ACCEPTED by their peers and fellow members of society. Some of us obviously stray more independently than others.

Dr. Musto's work also pointed out "...the close correlation, historically, between public outrage over certain drugs and their use by feared or hated minorities." This governmental "war on drugs" has become a "class war" and against the people themselves...not the drugs or addiction. This is most evident when you see poor black or minority young men incarcerated for years for possession or sales of drugs...while rich and "pretty" white actresses who are repeat offenders serve no more than a few hours of a few MONTHS conviction. I am a white person who is enraged by this lack of uniform justice in my home country.

This is a huge subject I know...but I think the macros can be summed up quite easily. The "war on drugs" by all statistics has been a failure...BECAUSE...with all the trillions spent we still have more and more addicts, pushers and kids BUYING the stuff...both legal and non-legal substances. And while they succeeded in reducing the drug supply chain in has only been replaced and multiplied in Mexico which is almost in a state of anarchism as the money and supply has been pushed CLOSER to the users by this drug war. Ridiculous!

I know many people who come to Latin America and elsewhere to load up on "legal" prescription drugs without prescriptions and are as "addicted" to them as any heroin addict. The false morality of this is huge. Just because drugs...or alcohol...or tobacco are legal doesn't mean you have license to destroy your health with them. To this end...ALL drugs should be legal and controlled by society for societies sake. This would take most of the drugs off THE STREET and put them in pharmacies or clinics where they belong. People should not be convicted for using them, but for losing control on them. If someone wants to OD, it is their privilege and personal responsibility regarding that possibility. If they affect or damage someone else while out of control...that is when institutions of society should step in to protect victims and the rest of society.

It is my fundamental belief that if government and religion put the same amount of money and effort into helping educate and treat the USERS of drugs...including warnings about the legal prescriptions of synthetic drugs that are killing many people... the war on drugs could be turned around. Yet, I fear there are many dark forces behind the scenes that are quite happy having the war as it is. Ongoing, never ending churning of funds through their grimy big hands/accounts that perpetuate the cycle of devastation and destruction...mostly to the poor and minorities who some people want to keep minimalized. And lets face it...drugs also keep the rich and beautiful aloof to what is really going on as well.

Final quote from THIS LINK...

"One of the defining characteristics of the drug war is politician’s ignoring expert findings and providing demagogic enforcement measures to placate idiot & ignorant voters. And never, ever, EVER considering de-criminalizing and harm reduction allied to social reform."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gods Work or Human Error?

This article today hits home on another modern day moral dilemma. Are "test tube babies" meddling from man, or an extension of "Gods work"?

Obviously the Pope and other religious leaders have come down against such meddling from man in what is considered God's unique handiwork...the forming of a unique life.

As for me, the short answer or cause and effect of man is at the basis of all life reproduction. As far as I know up until recent times it took actions and decisions of a man and a woman to have sex before a baby came to being. I think there is cause and effect to that. It goes to reason then that if man...with the extreme intellect and potential God started in motion if you are a believer...can replicate the same process in a test tube, should we not be amazed and celebrating instead of "throwing stones" like in the dark ages?

I understand all the concerns over "mad scientists" cloning a "super" human race or warring machines...yet again I am not too sure that is not going on in the "natural" order of things anyways. We normal humans seem to be quite capable of fostering and birthing "war machines". But if we can also alter or guarantee cellular processes to control birth defects or potential for disease...why is that a bad thing? Test tube babies can't be much worse than the ones we are creating normally.

As I have periodically stated...if man is designed or born in "God's image", why should we not do as much of his work as possible in this life?