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 war...it is very scary when the hordes of mankind are fundamentally guided...and often MIS guided...by 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".