Baal of the Canaanites required particular ritual at particular times of the year. The fertility of soil in Spring was ensured by sacred coupling in the temple, imitating Baal’s relations with his wife Anat. Similarly, in Leviticus different sacrifices are required at particular times.
Then, the Hebrews had the idea of being the Chosen People, of a jealous and partisan God. “Thou shalt have no other Gods but me” indicates henotheism: people believed other Gods existed, but chose only to worship Yahweh, who then supported them. Yahweh demanded total obedience, and behaved capriciously and immorally: when David killed Uriah in order to steal his wife Bathsheba, God killed their child. But David never existed: there is no record of him in the chronicles of neighbouring peoples, or in archaeology.
That theory, that a great wodge of Bible from 1 Samuel 1 to 1 Kings 25 was written in the period of Elisha and Jehu in the 9th century, even if it was edited later, has blown my mind. What God did they need? A partisan God, who favoured Israel and Judah, and demanded the extirpation of other Gods and other peoples. The people disobeyed: Jezebel promoted the worship of Baal, and Jeremiah in the 6th century complains of worship of the Queen of Heaven. A search for Asherah in the NIV produces forty results.
The Assyrians were becoming more and more powerful and aggressive to their neighbours, and conquered Israel the Northern Kingdom between 740 and 722. Israel was destroyed as a political entity, and its culture wiped out. The people were assimilated. It would not be difficult for a prophet at that time to see the way the international situation was developing, but Isaiah’s insight was that God was behind the Assyrian conquest (Isaiah 10 5-6). Why? Because the rich deprive the poor of their rights. Isaiah’s God is concerned with social justice. I desire Mercy not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6, also 8th century)
The conception of God grows. God used the Assyrians for God’s purposes, but in Psalm 86 is “abounding in love to all who call to you”, which will be “all the nations you have made”.
Atheists can pick so many texts from the Bible, showing God as bloodthirsty and capricious (though not Psalm 137). I have a limited defence of these texts: the events probably did not happen, and their purpose was to unify the people of Israel with stories. Paradoxically, this increases peace and reduces killing. However, there are many views of God in the Bible, and the highest in the Old Testament is the God of justice and mercy, who shall be the God of all peoples. This promise is fulfilled in the New Testament.
Divinely inspired does not mean literally true. There are too many contradictions in the “historical” record for that. And the Bible is ours, for our use, not an idol to worship or a weapon against enemies.
Those who believe the Bible is divinely inspired must wrestle with the story of Jephthah, who sacrificed his unnamed daughter to God. Jephthah’s story, with some indication of God’s continuing favour, continues in Judges 12. I say this is an old tradition where Hebrews believed God demanded human sacrifice- a superseded view of God- but there is no indication of that in the text itself.
God seems more keen to punish those who did not kill: Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today (I Samuel 28:18). The story is in 1 Samuel 15. God tells Saul to “totally destroy” (the Hebrew term meant “give them to God”, often by destruction) the Amalekites. But Saul spared the Amalekite king Agag, and the best of the livestock. Saul asks forgiveness, but the prophet says, “The Lord has rejected you”.
Possibly, killing the whole tribe was the only possible thing to do. The Amalekites were enemies who would never be allies. They claimed the same land as the Israelites. Therefore, they had to be killed. Possibly also, this is not a historical tale: there is little archaeological evidence for Saul, David or Solomon. From the New Jerome commentary, the book may have been assembled after the exile, and possibly its original sources date back to Jehu and Elisha in the late 9th century: on that reading, Jehu expunged the worship of Baal, and the fiction of David and his successors retrospectively justified that.
In Judges 1, the Israelites could not drive out the Canaanites and Amorites. From Joshua 24, it appears that the Lord gave all the peoples of the land into the hands of the Israelites, who totally destroyed them. From the archaeological record, Jericho (whose walls came tumbling down) was unoccupied at the putative conquest by Joshua. Israel, as the children of Israel the man enslaved in Egypt, taking forty years of wandering to travel the few miles to Canaan and then conquering and existing as one people until the Assyrian conquest, never existed. Instead, there are stories which justify the worship of one God. Even the names of the tribes are different: in Genesis 29-30, Levi is a tribe, and Joseph is one tribe. In Numbers 26, Levi is not named as a tribe, and Joseph is divided into Ephraim and Manasseh.
So rather than God seeking to kill men women and children and their livestock, there is the record of Jehu and Elisha, seeking to unite the peoples in the worship of one God with new stories of events from up to a thousand years before. These stories are augmented and edited after the exile in Babylon, again to unite the people.
A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. The Israelites throughout their history needed this focus of unity.
Divine inspiration cannot mean that God had people write down stories of what had happened three hundred or a thousand years before.
The Church of England has just published the Pilling Report, the report of the working group on human sexuality. Their press release says that its purpose is to be the basis of discussion over the next two years, and not to be a new policy statement.
The recommendations do not propose any change in the church’s teaching on sexual conduct. They do propose that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship. The group does not propose an authorised liturgy for this purpose but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.
The document calls on the church to repent of its homophobia, defined as hostility to gay people, but claims that No one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships.
The church should pay close attention to the continuing, and as yet inconclusive, scientific work on same sex attraction. The evidence is reviewed at pp60-66. Most people are either male or female, some are intersex, some are transsexual. Most only feel heterosexual attraction, some only feel homosexual attraction, some move between the two (and may or may not self-identify as bi). Orientation has a combination of biological, social and psychological factors. Biology is not destiny, but some have a greater propensity to same sex attraction. Are our observed greater problems with mental health, and greater instability in our relationships, due to prejudice and the lack of societal support? Possibly, but not certainly, they say, disagreeing with the submission from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. They even suggest that “sexual orientation change efforts” may be effective.
At p97, they assess the implications of this for the church. Belief is not incompatible with science, they say, but while science proceeds by inductive reasoning, theology proceeds by deduction from scripture and tradition. Today’s Christians can change doctrine where it contradicts our experience of the world and of God (para 334) but doctrine stands until there is sufficient evidence to change it.
As the report appears to show the position of the church is worth discussing, and as the position of the church is wrong now, there is some faint hope of improvement. They do say that discussions should take note of the position of the wider Anglican Communion, and as some Anglican churches want to split away because of the CofE’s current position, which they find insufficiently homophobic, we can’t expect rapid movement.
What does the report say about the Bible (pp67ff)? Just that it is complex and disputed, with translation problems and differences of culture, too complex for even a Bishops’ report to summarise usefully. At p176 there is a useful essay by David Runcorn on the Evangelical perspective, accepting same sex relationships “on the basis of, not in spite of, scripture”.
-You can go the way we always go if you like, I
(I can’t remember what she said precisely, will/ want to/ would like to are very different in expression)
“go this way”.
I may dislike being merely polite, but they were having a stand-off. It would have been avoidable by her saying, just before she turned, “I quite fancy going this way for a change, do you mind?”
This is a scrap of dialogue, how people actually speak, and a moment which by the rule of Show don’t Tell I would expand, as I could not say straight out that this is a trivial thing to row about.
-He opens his mouth to speak, then his shoulders slump.
-Have it your own way- there follows an Unselfishness competition, encouraged by Screwtape (ch 26).
-Without a word, he goes off by the usual way.
-Sulks or flare-ups may continue to the evening.
I thought, setting out, that there was no point looking for blackberries, but thinking about that couple I found my attention grabbed by one ripe one, among all the shrivelled husks. Unconsciously, I had been looking out for it, and when it appeared my conscious attention zeroed in on it. It had a sweet, delicate flavour. Later, I saw a mauve flower (“wild flower”, “bird”, “tree” is usually specific enough for me) and spent time with its shocking oddity among the November greens and browns.
As I turned the corner a man called his dog, and asked me a question. I was more concerned about answering him- raising my voice still sounds male, to me, so- did I see the little dog do a shit? Er, no. After, I think how careful of him. He wants to clean up after his dog, and if it runs off he wants to be sure it has not messed somewhere. At the time I was concerned with other things. I saw him more clearly after. Or imposed different concerns and stereotypes of mine on him.
Should Scotland be independent? No. Given that we cannot tow ourselves out into the Atlantic, our trading circumstances remain the same. Now, we benefit from the Barnett Formula, and oil revenues are decreasing.
We will still have to negotiate with the English. But, now, some of the civil servants negotiating for Westminster are Scots, and others have affection for Scotland as part of our one country. Then, they won’t. We will still have to negotiate internationally, but have less weight.
Devolved, Scotland can have more Socialist policies, such as free residential care for the elderly, and no fees for university students to pay. Independent, Scotland might be unable to afford them.
This was going to be a full post, but I feel no need to say more.
It starts with commands to make particular sacrifices at particular times. The NRSV Access bible says its traditions were probably gathered in its current form after the exile in Babylon, and the New Jerome Biblical Commentary agrees that the first seven chapters present the sacrificial legislation of the Second Temple, built around 516BCE. With the end of the Monarchy, there was a need for a focus of unity and the identity of the nation. Sacrifice also atoned for sin: in one, on the Day of Atonement, the sins of the whole nation of the past year were taken away by the Scapegoat. It is reassuring that humans could have a way of becoming right with God; but all Christians would agree that these rules for killing and burning animals are no longer necessary. Christ’s sacrifice supersedes them.
Chapters 10-15 distinguish ceremonially clean from unclean things. Some of these are sensible: pork must be well cooked, or can give food poisoning, so in a peasant economy it might be better not to eat it at all. These rules also distinguish the Jews from the peoples around them. Therefore, the book gives them a sense of solidarity, and identity with a particular culture. But again, now God has called all these things clean and commanded Christians not to call them unclean.
There are two narrative passages. In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu perform a sacrifice which God has not commanded. Fire issues out of the “presence of the Lord” and they die. Aaron is ordered not to mourn them. This illustrates an aspect of God. God is “abba“, Daddy, but also the Holy God, to be treated with respect. However as we are commanded to pray Our Father, and a father will not give his son a stone when he asks for bread, it is unlikely God kills those who worship incorrectly by blasting them with fire. This too is at least qualified, if not superseded. At 24: 10-16, the child of an Egyptian by an Israelite woman gets in a fight with an Israelite, and blasphemes God’s name with a curse. The whole community stones him to death. No Christian now argues we should stone people to death, though soi-disant Christians in Uganda, egged on by American extremists, seek the death penalty for homosexuality.
All of Leviticus is superseded, then, apart from that bit about men lying with men. The bit in the same chapter condemning sex during menstruation is never enforced.
There is one good bit. 19:18, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, which Jesus quoted. The book has historical value, and it had value for the community which obeyed it, 2500 years ago. It is no basis for any moral law, now.
I have extensively rewritten my page Gay Christians, added some lovely pictures, and reordered it so that the meanings of the passages are explained briefly, then links are provided to more detailed discussion. The new form should make it easier to add new links: if you would like to recommend any, please let me know.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill has been introduced before the Scottish Parliament.
In Scotland as in England, there will be two separate institutions, gay marriage and straight marriage, both called “marriage”, but with particular differences. “Adultery has the same meaning for [both]“, which words, paradoxically, differentiate them: sexual betrayal is only adultery if it is opposite-sex. There is voidability of a marriage as in England: in England, the ground is called “non-consummation”, in Scotland, “impotence”, but it comes to the same thing, the failure to consummate. This only applies to opposite-sex marriage.
It is a Civil Partnership bill: I rather hoped it would create opposite-sex civil partnerships, just to see what people wanted. The union of two people, indefinitely, is the meaning of the procedure. Allowing opposite sex civil partnerships would show whether people believed that “marriage” has a religious or just a civil meaning, and whether they wanted to distance themselves from it.
Religious bodies may request to be registered to perform same sex marriages. There is no particular provision for the Church of Scotland. My old lot, the Scottish Episcopal Church, say that The Church’s current position is that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and this clarity allows us the space to listen to the many differing views held by the members of our Church. I hope that means change is possible. I fear it means that resistors have the upper hand. But even the Church of Scotland offers hope: while it “opposes” same sex marriage, it is “acutely aware that opinions differ among our own members and that many people are anxious and hurt in the current situation. We re-iterate that we believe homophobia to be sinful.”
Civil partners may marry each other, and the marriage is backdated to the date of the civil partnership ceremony.
I read “Protection of freedom of expression” and my hackles rise, but clause 14 adds nothing. The Bill does not affect the human rights to freedom of expression or freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Well, duh.
The bill grants jurisdiction to the sheriff court in actions for declarator of marriage. In Scotland, marriage may be by “Cohabitation with habit and repute”- where people live together, the court may declare them married without a ceremony. However, this is a dead letter: the law requires “repute”. They must pretend to be married. In the past, cohabiting couples might have pretended to be married in order to avoid scandal, but now there is no shame in cohabitation, so people do not pretend. The provision is extended to same sex couples.
A married trans person cannot get a gender recognition certificate unless his/her spouse consents, but where the spouse does, the continuity of the marriage is not affected. A trans person in a civil partnership also needs consent from his/her partner to get a GRC, and regulations may provide for the civil partnership to be converted into a marriage. This indicates that civil partnership was less than marriage, separate and therefore not equal.
Thank God for equal marriage! It is a powerful symbol of equality.
I love these photographs. They feel Scots to me, not just the kilts but the faces and the architecture. Click one to find its origin, I will take it down if the owner objects.
My friend’s father in law was a drunken violent man who had bullied and assaulted his wife and daughters. He felt no love for the man. When he died, it seemed to affect my friend, who still declared his hatred, and it seemed to me that even though he was not bereaved in the usual way, he had been reminded of death. The death of another made him think of his own.
Another man told me that when he turned thirty, he had a clear understanding of his own death. He was going to die.
Someone wrote (AC Grayling? I can’t find it on Google) that if there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no believers at funerals: confronted with the fact of death we are unable to believe our fairy-tales- which may be why Rodney repeated so often about Dad’s experience of eternal life, now. If we all believed it, he would only say it once, and if he believed it he might say it less. The funeral is a reminder of our own death, and for Rodney at 87 it will not be long.
For me at 47, it may be fifty years, and, perhaps, being alive and hungry, or frightened, or powerless, is more frightening than dying. I don’t know if that is true for me, though. I don’t know what I feel about it, and I don’t know what I might feel about it. In the moment of death there is the basic-brain response to seek survival, which may overcome the rational desire for death: so the hanged man desperately scratches at his neck to loosen the rope. I have desired death as a relief from burdens (I don’t, now) but a survival instinct would take over from that part of me which planned my death.
And then there is the state of being dead, no longer feeling or acting, though perhaps still influencing. I feel some resentment, actually: how could the world get on without me? It feels unreal. I remember thinking of my university carrying on without me- I realised it does, and turned to what was next.
I will die. I don’t know if the pain of a terminal illness is increased by knowledge that it is terminal, but the inevitable fact of death would simply be closer than it is now.
I don’t know what I feel about my death, and so put words to myself, seeking some spark of recognition. Possibly because it is unlikely within the next five years, and I do not plan ahead, particularly- five years seems a long way away- it is not real enough to me for me to feel anything, even though I can state I will die as a fact.