Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do the Scriptures need interpreting?

As an atheist I of course have no religious interest in the scriptures but I was for many years paid a lot of money by a leading Australian university to teach sociology so I hope I may be excused for taking a sociological interest in them.

My interest is very much motivated by the historic power of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. They have been enormously influentual and I like to look at why. And in looking at why it seems important to see exactly what they say. So for a while I ran a daily Scripture blog which pointed out what they actually say -- and observed that what they say is a long way from what Christians generally believe today.

It was the Christianity of the first century that gave the huge initial impetus to the worldwide spead of Chistianity in subsequent centuries so it would seem to be that version of Christianity which is of greatest interest -- rather that the watered-down and paganized version we encounter today. And it is first century Christianity that is recorded in the Bible.

And my Scripture blog gave chapter and verse (as it were) in showing exactly where current Christianity is paganized and watered down from the first century original. And the fact that Christianity still has great influence despite being paganized and watered down is surely further testimony to the great power of the original. Even a little bit of the original Gospel is still helpful to many people.

Something that I have so far neglected to do, however, is to look at the claim made by the Catholic Church and some orthodox Jews (such as the aggressive Mr Kelley) to the effect that the Bible is THEIR book and only they can interpret it correctly. The Protestant Reformation was of course built around rejection of that claim. Most of the early Protestants said that they could read the Bible for themselves perfectly adequately and rejected any need for authoritative or learned interpretation.

I am a product of fundamentalist Protestant culture so that basic Protestant idea seems instinctively right to me. I am however a little saddened when I note that most Protestants talk the talk but don't walk the walk. Most Protestants still accept, for instance the quite mad doctrine of the triune God, which has absolutely no basis in scripture but which revives the doctrines of ancient Egypt rather well. The first person of influence to advocate it was Athanasius, an Egyptian. So I like to see what we find when we do walk the walk.

And it is my contention that the Bible is in fact very straightforward most of the time and that it therefore CAN easily be read and understood by almost everyone -- without any need for guidance from special authorities. But my asserting that is of little consequence unless I can give evidence of it. And I thought that I might today make a small start in that direction by comparing two historic pieces of religious expression. The first:
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.... Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest

The second:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfal, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

It is my submission that the first is as clear as crystal and the second is as clear as mud. So what are those passages? The first is from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 9) and the second is from the 39 Articles of Religion of the Church of England. The Bible beats theology any day.

But the Bible is TOO clear for most people. Ecclesiastes could hardly have expressed more plainly and emphatically that when you are dead you are dead: No mention of immortal souls flitting about. So that is when people start scrabbling for "interpretations". They say (for instance) that the Ecclesisstes passage is only talking about the body and that there is some mystical "soul" that lives on as well.

And if people need the comfort of that belief so be it. But the original teaching is clear. The Hebrews of Old Testament times were earth-oriented and the only aferlife they looked forward to was resurrection to life on earth at the time of the coming of the Messiah. And Jesus believed that too: "Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done ON EARTH, as it is in heaven".

So it's not the Bible that needs interpretation; it is the reluctance of people to accept its teachings that gives rise to the need for interpretation.

And the passage above from the 39 articles is an example of that too. It is an attempt to reject the plain words of Ephesians chapter 1 while appearing to accept them. Ephesians says quite plainly that being one of God's chosen ones was "predestined" from "before the foundation of the world", which no doubt seems rather unfair. At the time the Calvinists (mostly Scottish Presbyterians) accepted that but the Anglicans didn't like it, presumably because it made their sacraments look rather superfluous.

And that applies equally well to Jews and Christians. The following command in the Torah (Leviticus 20:13) is crystal clear: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." But Rabbinical teachings have "interpreted" that out of existence too.


Those heartless Israelis

Wait for it

Is there anything lower than a Palestinian?


Leftist pro-Palestinian activist finally gets a lesson in reality that he can't ignore

A SALAFIST group of radical Islamists killed an Italian activist after kidnapping him in Gaza, a Hamas security official said today. "The Italian was killed by suffocation and his body was found in a street of the city of Gaza," a spokesman for the Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip said.

Foreign aid workers in the enclave earlier named the man as Vittorio Arrigoni and said he was an activist with a pro-Palestinian group called the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who was also working as a journalist and writer.



Vocal critic of the US intervention in Iraq convicted of sex offense

He always seemed like a weak character. Now we know

A FORMER UN weapons inspector has been convicted of having unlawful contact with a minor, after being nabbed in an online sex sting. Scott Ritter, 49, exchanged explicit messages with a detective posing as a 15-year-old girl and masturbated even after the undercover officer stressed during the chat that he was a minor, prosecutors said.

A jury in the US state of Pennsylvania found Ritter guilty on six counts today, with sentencing set for next month.

Mr Kohlman acknowledged in his closing argument that jurors were likely "troubled and offended" by the graphic chat and video of Ritter that prosecutors played to the court, but said they were required to put aside their personal distaste because "this is not a referendum on whether anybody in the courtroom approves of adult chat rooms".

After the verdict, Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski said the jury reached the right decision. "They saw the case for what it is and the defendant for what he is and what he did," he said.

Ritter was one of the UN's chief weapons inspectors in Iraq from 1991 to 1998.



Meet My Benefactor

By pure luck, I happened to sit down next to a man last week who has been my benefactor for my entire life and the large part of his, and yet we had never met. In fact, though he has been serving me faithfully for three decades, looking after my well-being and trying to improve my standard of living, he didn't even know my name. Actually he still doesn't, because it is slightly odd to get too personal with the guy in the next seat on a plane. We all know this. And yet I did tell him of my deep gratitude for all he has done.

This man is in charge of marketing for one of six manufacturing plants in North America that makes oriented polypropylene for packaging materials. This substance is called OPP for short. He goes around to companies that make stuff like drinks and candies and other products and explains to them the advantages of OPP — about which more in a bit.

This man is on the road constantly and has a stack of airline-rewards cards to prove it. He is like the George Clooney character in the movie Up in the Air — a seasoned traveler married to his work. His work is to be the eyes and ears of the company as it deals with its product purchasers. His life is lived in the B2B — the business-to-business transactions that are invisible to the consuming public.

His vocabulary is industry specific, filled with neologisms that no one outside of the packaging world could understand. He can tell you the chemical properties of a bag from five feet away. He can explain why a bag is easier to tear one way and harder the other. He knows the history, the process, the competition, plus the name of every large-scale bag-purchasing manager in North America, and he is happy to talk about it all.

What is his function? He is the man who makes the inventions and the productions part of our lives. Without the person on the front lines actually selling the product, everything that went into the invention and production is pointless. He is the interface between the raw materials and the final product, the man who has to have all the answers that link the great chain of the structure of production from first to last.

As for his product, you and I both know OPP well, though we probably didn't know what it is called. It is the stuff that is used to make potato-chip bags. It is the reason that the contents stay crisp no matter what the temperature outside. You can dip the bag in water and it changes nothing. The air can be hot or cold, and still the chips inside are unchanged. The same material wraps candy like Snickers and the effect is the same.

It is also the reason that these bags can be so beautiful. OPP loves printing. It is a perfect template for designers. The results never rub off on your fingers. Nor does the printing fade in the sun. It can accept even the most subtle gradations in color. You could print a work of Michelangelo on OPP and hang it in a museum.

It turns out that potatoes fried in oil are super vulnerable to becoming rancid. Maybe you thought it was chemical preservatives (up with those too!) that prevented this. That is part of the answer but not the whole answer. The real reason is OPP. This is what stops the degenerative process. This is not a problem for other fried items, like pork rinds, which is why they often come in see-through bags. OPP is not see-through, and that is good. The product inside doesn't like the light. OPP keeps that out too.

OPP has other nice features. It has a very low "dead-fold" capacity, which is why, when you wad up a potato chip bag, it bounces right back to its original shape. This is to protect the contents inside. That's why, in the 1960s, potato chips came with crumbled contents but today they are mostly intact and perfect. You thought it was just because it was filled with air? Well, ask yourself why the air doesn't escape. The answer again: OPP. It seals perfectly. This stuff is impenetrable.

And get this: this is a petroleum product. That's right, it is made of a material derived from oil. So the price of the stuff fluctuates according to the price of oil. When the price of oil goes up, your chips become more expensive, due mainly to the packaging, which is also why the OPP industry is firmly attached to the idea of liberalizing the regulations on the discovery and refining of oil. My benefactor marketing manager is very interested in this.

Now, all of this is pretty cool and wonderful. But let's get down to the core rationale here. What is all the fuss about? Why was OPP invented, and why is it marketed, and why it is used so much around the world? Why does this man spend his life on the road and follow every bit of industry news? What is the point of all of this?

It is for one reason: my well-being. Yours too. It is to please us and make our lives that much better. It is for the consumer that the producer produces, and it is for the consumer that everyone in all stages of production strives to make an ever-better product. It all comes down to that bag of chips you pick up with your submarine sandwich. This is why millions of people in the OPP industry around the world dance the dance. It is why the potatoes are grown, chopped, fried, bagged, and shipped to millions and millions of places.

The heck of it is that these people get no credit. No bag of chips says: this bag is made by Joe's OPP factory. No, they are anonymous benefactors of society. Hardly anyone thinks of them. And yet, if you bought a bag of chips that is full of rancid crumbs, you would know the difference. You would be annoyed at the store that sold them, at the company that made them, and maybe even at the economic system that allows people to profit from selling bad stuff. Private OPP producers prevent this from happening, millions and millions of times per day.

You and I are running this show, and we didn't even know it. The producers of these bags are serving us slavishly every day, and we don't know or care. And somehow it all happens without a central planner, without government mandates, and without state-owned factories or smart people at the top directing the process from beginning to end. All that needs to take place to bring about this complex and brilliant system is that we have to have a desire: a desire for a good potato chip. The rest happens on its own — a self-managing system that responds to the tiniest of signals.

So, I would like to send a message to my benefactor who has devoted his life to explaining to food producers the merits of OPP. My message is, thank you. I suspect that I might be the first consumer who has ever said so, but in my ideal world, billions of people would be giving thanks to you and everyone else like you. You are all servants of the great cause of making the world a better place to live.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


1 comment:

Michael said...


Acts 8:30-35 - 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"

31 He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.

32 This was the scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

33 In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth."

34 Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?"

35 Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.

2 Peter 1:20 - Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation,

2 Peter 3:16 - Speaking of these things 12 as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures.