Yesterday, I mentioned a number of blog conversations I'd been following, discussing what aspects of the Bible and our faith are cultural. I've not commented on any of these posts, because I'm afraid that I currently lack the mental energy to be my usual humble, gracious self. (You get that about me, right?)
The Questions Being Discussed
The kind of questions that are being discussed inlcude:
- Is the Bible relevant today?
- Should women be silent in church?
- Are Men allowed to have long hair?
- Are we permitted to beat or kill our children?
- Must women submit to their husbands?
- How should we respond to divorce?
- Is homosexuality an abomination in the eyes of the Lord?
- Should we still seek to multiply and fill the earth, even with overpopulation in many areas?
- What about tithing?
- The holy kiss?
- Is intercourse forbidden during menstruation?
The Concerns Behind the Questions Being Discussed
It seems to me - and obviously this is partly assumption on my part - that the kind of concerns behind questions like these include:
- The eternal relevance of 'the word'
- The authority of Scripture - above cultural trends, scientific discoveries and technological advances
- If some things remain relevant and some don't, are we left to pick and choose?
- Can't we just read the Bible and believe/act upon it?
- Must we rely on theologians to tell us what applies and what doesn't?
- How do we know for certain what, if anything, is cultural and what is timeless (or transcultural)?
- Suspicion that people are trying to avoid bits of the Bible they don't like
- Demonic deception
- Overdpendance on liberal academics
- Will we end up believing less and less?
I actually find it quite interesting that this topic isn't discussed more than it is. After all, the question of determining cultural relevance is surely one of the most important questions to be asked by anyone who espouses a faith that depends upon ancient writings. Do we simply believe everything and act on it as the first hearers/readers would have done? If not, how do we know where and when to draw the line?
Everything is Cultural
I think that the reason I've been hesitant to enter into any of these conversations is that they seem to be so thoroughly misguided that I wouldn't know where to start. The trouble is, I can't think of any words ever spoken or written down that aren't 'cultural'. It's as if some people actually think that when it comes to the Bible, we simply read what it says, understand it and apply it to our lives. This is what some have referred to as the myth of pure objectivity and it is one of the ironic points where modern Science and fundamentalist religion agree.
Unfortunately, it is also nonsense!
I cannot even comprehend, let alone believe, something someone else writes, without feeding it through the lens of my own experience, knowledge, preferences and so on. Similarly, I cannot express an idea, belief or opinion to someone else, without adding onto it the baggage of my own experience, historical situation or cultural context. It's simply impossible.
Everything is cultural because everything is processed through cultural filters. And if everything is cultural then nothing automatically or necessarily transcends culture. However, some things can translate into other cultures - yet translation requires a translator and then we're back to square one!
Obviously, this doesn't begin to address the question of what commands are or are not binding on contemporary believers. However, I do think that it is an essential starting point in dismissing the fear and discouraging the sloppy thinking that often lies behind these kind of discussions.