Nicole Kidman & Conservative Readings of the Bible

I’m currently reading a biography on Nicole Kidman by a journalist who has never actually met Nicole Kidman. The best part of the book is the beginning where he explains some of the reasons we love celebrities: “…the most important thing in that vexed transaction is the way the actress and the spectator must remain strangers. That’s how the magic works…For their cannot be this pitch of irrational desire without that rigorous apartness.”

His point is that we desire what we do not have because we can recreate it in our own image. We love the idea of God because we can make God into our own image, making God into whatever we want or need God to be. So long as God remains “out there” as “that which fulfills all my desires,” we love God. This is I think what is so compelling about the conservative Evangelical view of God, the perfect, transcendent, one. We like our Bible to be perfect, mystical, magical, and incomprehensible because then it always remains desirous, just out of reach, full of surprises that tickle our fancy.

But once the Bible becomes human, all too human, and once God is revealed as “irascible” as Brueggemann recounts it, we lose that aloofness, that mystical apartness that we were so attracted to. And this is what the conservative Evangelical’s paradigm will not allow. So while incarnation is given lip service, it is the “transcendent One” who will always trump. While the Bible says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and knowledge,” which means he didn’t know everything and when Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi Lama Sabacthani, My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me,” we must figure out a way to read those so Jesus doesn’t seem so . . . common, so human. We say we want a Jesus we can relate to but in those few instances where I feel I relate most to Jesus, in my ignorance and in my doubt, the conservative Evangelical paradigm becomes extremely uncomfortable.

When the Bible comes down off the silver screen and walks among us. When it says things we are embarrassed by, when it shows its age and sometimes inappropriate behavior, we get very uncomfortable with it. Thanks but no thanks. I prefer you on the screen where I can imagine you are something else, where you remain aloof and untouchable behind a veil of preconceived doctrines and guidlines, yes, but perfect and protected.

Thomson says it this way about Nicole Kidman in particular: “Anyway, the subject of this book is Nicole Kidman. And I should own up straightaway that, yes, I like Nicole Kidman very much. When I tell people that, sometimes they leer and ask, “Do you love her?” And my answer is clear: Yes, of course, I love her – so long as I do not have to meet her.”

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My Father

A Short & Personal Parable*

The One

There was a boy who loved his father. He loved him so much and wanted to be just like him. Not only was the father all powerful, all wise, and all good, at least in the eyes of the boy, but the father always told the son what to do and the best decisions to make. The boy had a wonderful childhood. Anytime he came to a tough decision he simply ran to his father, who hugged him tightly, and told him exactly which road to take. The boy was so comforted knowing that it was not his decision but his father’s. He was glad to give up the responsibility for his life, placing it in the hands of someone who knew so much better. When the boy was a man, his father became ill. And fear struck. I am lost without my father. I cannot make a single decision without his clear direction. And in that moment came the most devastating revelation: he was nothing like the father. He was neither wise, nor good, nor powerful. The father recovered, but the son never did.

The Other

There was another boy who loved his father. He loved him so much and wanted to be just like him. The father was all powerful, all wise, and all good, at least in the eyes of the boy, but it was often frustrating to be the son. It was difficult to understand why his father acted in the ways that he did. When the son would ask (I admit, sometimes he demanded) for the best path to take, the father would most often shrug his shoulders and simply say “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” while pointing to a particular book on the shelf that the father had written many years before. It was an autobiography of the tallest order.

Time and time again the boy would come to him with a decision to make, a crossroads in life and the father would simply say “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” How arrogant. How frustrating. This was such a different world than the world in the book. “I don’t want to know how my father acted, so long ago. I want to know right now what I should do,” the boy would often say.

After reading the letter over and over again, searching for the answer to the question that lay before him, the son would slam it shut in disgust and say, “I guess I will just have to make my own decision.” And so he did.

When the boy was a man, his father became ill. And he asked his father, “Before you die, I need to know one thing. Why did you never tell me what to do? Why did you never give me a clear answer to my questions? Why did you give me nothing when I most needed your direction?”

His father replied, “Any father who gives his son the answers robs him of the gift of the struggle. There is no one who becomes strong physically by having someone lift weights on his behalf. To desire to be like me without desiring to suffer is a contradiction. It cannot be done. Forcing you to take responsibility for your own life is the spiritual exercise required to be like me.”

The son thought, and said, “But why risk it? I could have made all the wrong decisions!”

The father chided the son, “Did you not read the book? Do you not remember who your father is? You have a father who will always be with you, even to the end of the age. The balance between Love and Power does not stop you from making mistakes, it redeems them.”

It was then that the son understood. And resentment melted away and was replaced by inestimable gratitude. And the father remained with the son, even to the end of the age.

3 Christian Arguments Against Gay Marriage & Why They’re Inconsistent

In full disclosure, I am a Christian who supports gay marriage. An evangelical even. I’m also a professor of philosophy & ethics. That means, at least in part, I’d like to think I think pretty logically. So when I hear some of the arguments from Christians as to why they are against gay marriage, I often scratch my head. These are 3 arguments that, if taken to their logical conclusion, end in inconsistency, at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. At least, in my opinion.

1. The “It’s a Sin” Argument

This is probably the most popular. The argument is this:

I believe gay sex/marriage is morally wrong because the Bible is against it.
I do not think the government should allow what I believe to be morally wrong.
Therefore, I do not think the government should allow gay sex/marriage.

The problem with this argument is that it’s hypocritical. How so?

According to this argument, if I am going to be against gay marriage, I should also be against the freedom of religion.

Why? Because the freedom of religion says that anyone can worship any god they choose in this country. And what does the Bible have to say about worshiping other gods? Well, let’s put it this way, there are 11 instances (if we’re really generous) against gay sex and over 250 instances where idolatry is condemned. Oh yeah, and pretty much all of Israel is destroyed because of it. So, you’re okay with allowing our country to endorse something condemned over 250 times in our Bible but not something condemned 11 times? Of course, the main difference is that the former affects you & benefits you while the latter doesn’t. Sounds like textbook hypocrisy.

2. The “The Bible is Clear that Marriage is Between A Man & A Woman” Argument

Many people like to start in Genesis, as though God creating Adam & Eve and telling them they’re perfect for each other, now go have sex (which, interestingly, we aren’t told they do until after they are kicked out of the Garden), is somehow the beginning of the institution of marriage. But if the Old Testament counts as what God had in mind for marriage, gay marriage might be more at home there than in our culture. After all, the most common pictures of marriage we have are

One Husband + Many Wives (Polygamous Marriage) – This list includes Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Elkanah, Ashur, Abijah and Jehoiada. There are a lot more but they were the “bad guys” so I’m assuming they don’t count as much.

One (Dead) Husband + One Widowed Wife + One Brother-In-Law (Levirate Marriage) – the brother-in-law of a deceased husband should impregnate (Ruth & Gen. 38:6–10) the widow so that she has an heir.

One Husband + One Wife + One Slave – Abraham, the Father of our Faith (Gen. 16:1-6) & Jacob, his grandson (Gen. 30:4-5).

One Husband + One (or more) Wife + Some (or hundreds) of Concubines – Nahor (Gen 22:4), Abraham (Gen. 25:5-7), Jacob (Gen. 35:22

Do you notice how many of these are from the same book as Adam & Eve? What gives? Why don’t these count as “foundations for modern marriage”? After all, the Fathers of our Faith practiced almost all of them, with not a word of condemnation from Genesis.

But that’s not all. If we follow the law, which, after all says that gay sex/marriage is an “abomination to God,” then we should also adhere to the following laws regarding marriage.

One Husband + One Prisoner of War – Deuteronomy 21:11-14

One Rapist Husband + One Victim Wife – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker.

Of course, there is also monogamous, heterosexual marriage in the Bible, especially if you like arranged marriages.

3. The “Procreation Argument”

This argument is as follows:

Marriage was intended for procreation (making babies)
Gay sex/marriage can’t produce babies
Therefore, gay marriage is wrong.

Welp, okay then, time to condemn those poor couples who can’t or won’t have children.

What’s my point? I guess it’s that unless we are willing to be an opponent of the freedom of religion, to account for which examples of marriage in Genesis we should still hold to today, or deem illegitimate the couples who cannot have kids, we shouldn’t use these arguments.

Sarcasm & Myth

As I was reading Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments today (as anyone is prone to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon) I ran into a small sarcastic quip that I thought again shows Kierkegaard extremely relevant for today. It is his introduction into one of his parables to explain how “the god” lisps to his loved one in order to have a reciprocal love:

“Suppose there was a king who loved a maiden of lowly station in life – but the reader may already have lost patience when he hears that our analogy begins like a fairy talk and is not at all systematic.”
It seems that the problems we have today with systematic theologians has a long history (with Philosophical Fragments written in the first half of the 19th century).
Even then history was often considered more “truthful” than parable (or dun…dun…dun…”myth”) and that “husking” the narratives of Scripture to get at the “kernels” is what is really important.
What a mean and petty God we serve who gave us a book that is mostly narrative and only partly propositional so that we have to spend all of our time finding out how to reduce the narratives to propositions…Wait a minute…

Barthian Ruminations

As our Schleiermacher Reading Group at WTS is currently reading through Barth’s Church Dogmatics section on Scripture, I have found myself having tremendous sympathies with his views on Scripture. Now, this is pretty scary and uncharted territory for me since I have it ingrained in me to consider Barth a hermeneutical and Christological heretic even though he opposed the theological liberals of his time (who I was also taught to consider heretical).

But I think that just as many of my fears about critical scholarship were unfounded so were my fears about Barth. For instance, he states:

The demand that the Bible should be read and understood and expounded historically is, therefore, obviously justified and can never be taken too seriously. The Bible itself posits this demand: even where it appeals expressly to divine commissionings and promptings, in its actual compostion it is eerywhere a human word, and this human word is obviously intended to be taken seriously and read and understood and expounded as such. To do anything else would be to miss the reality of the Bible and therefore the Bible itself as the witness of revelation. The demand for a “historical” understnading of the Bible necessarily means, in content, that we have to take it for what it undoubtedly is and is meant to be: the human speech uttered by specific men at speciic times in a specific situation, in a specific language and with a specific intention. It emans that the understanding of it has honestly and unreservedly been on which is guided by all these considerations…To the extent that it [the concrete humanity of Scripture] is ignored, it has not been read at all.

What I love about this quotation is that it gets at the heart of what makes the Bible so uncomfortable for both theological conservatives and theological liberals: its historical situatedness. For theological liberals history is unimportant because it cannot be trusted to be accurate, so we tear off the husk of situatedness and grasp the kernel of moral truth behind the history.
For theological conservatives history is too concrete and not “transcendent” or “ontological” enough, so we tear off the husk of situatedness and grasp the kernel of “what the divine author really meant.” We often read the text as though we want to always be getting behind the history rather than seeing the revelation itself as historical. I am not sure as to the implications of this but I do know that it gels much better with what we actually find in Scripture, that it was written by specific individuals, for specific individuals, for specific circumstances. We should probably then be spending our time figuring out how this fact affects our hermeneutic rather than expending all of our energy brushing this fact under the proverbial rug.