Monday, 5 June 2017

The Jehovah's Witnesses Ask "Is The Bible Really From God?"

Warning:  This post is a self-indugent trip into one of my special interests.
Yesterday I accepted the Jehovah's Witness offer of a publication.  "Awake!"  It asks the question, "Is the Bible Really From God?"

If you happen to want to read it you can find it here.  I link to it because otherwise commenting about it as I have below would not be fair.  The magazine contents do not reflect my own opinions.

I believe the article to be almost hilarious in the points it makes.  They are points that really ought not to be made in any serious study of any ancient text, religious or secular.

The article begins by claiming the Bible (which incidentally says the sun was created after life on Earth) is scientifically accurate and therefore should be believed. As if it's meant to be science.  The writer asks the reader to "Consider examples from the fields of meteorology and genetics."  Okay, I'm game.  I'll consider them.  I'm absolutely shattered this afternoon and my head's not up to much more than playing with its continuing obsession with all things God!

Meteorology - Formation of Rain
The writer of the article claims that the writer of Job shows a creator who "does understand the rain cycle and saw to it that a human writer would include the facts accurately in the Bible."
It makes the claim based on Job 36:27-28.  My English Standard Version renders this as
For he draws up the drops of water;
    they distill his mist in rain,
which the skies pour down
     and drop on mankind abundantly.
The writer of the publication claims this shows a perfect picture of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation such as we all learn in school.  That could be an impressive thing to find in an ancient text although by the time Job was written, probably in the sixth century BCE, scholars were speculating and often understanding that rain originates from the water below being drawn up.  How could this information be included in the Bible?  It doesn't need to be some kind of prescience of science.  It can just be an idea that the writer had already encountered.

It becomes even less impressive when we realise that the words commonly translated "draws up" don't mean that at all.  Not at all.  They actually mean "draw away".  The picture here probably isn't of a properly understood water cycle at all.  In reality it probably mirrors an idea that the clouds and the rain are drawn away from a great mass of water above.
So it's probably not scientifically accurate.  And even if is broadly accurate it could just be reflecting a known idea.
It might also be fun to respond to the Witness that the words in the Bible were put into the mouth of Elihu, one of Job's friends.  God's response to his words begins, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"  Or that God's response in chapter 38 mentions "the springs of the sea" - echoing that idea commonly held then and for many centuries afterwards that the water on earth was also replenished by percolation.

And yet it doesn't matter.  The whole conversation is poetry not science.  As poetry it's very beautiful and the imagery is stupendous.  As science it stinks.  It's okay that it stinks.  Poetry books tend to stink as science and science books make for awful poetry.

I'd recommend reading Job.  Considering the story and playing with the concepts.  Delving into the images and ideas and being amazed at this ancient work of literature.  I say that as someone who no longer believes in the personal God the writer inspires us to follow and trust.

Genetics - Development of the Human Embryo

It quotes a verse which my Bible reads as "Your eyes saw my unformed substance," translates it as "embryo" and tries to prove from that single verse that the psalmist was well schooled in genetics! Accurate science.  The article writer admits it's poetic language but then tries to say King David, to whom the psalm is traditionally attributed, was being accurate about the human genetic code.

I think that's crazy but the Jehovah's Witness who talked to me about it yesterday until I had to rush for my bus took it totally seriously.  I used to take similar things just as serious.  When you're stuck in a dogmatic religion and believe it is the only way to truth and salvation then it's almost impossible to see through things like this.  People can gaze on open mouthed and apply reason and you won't be able to see it.  I look back at some things I used to believe and wonder how on earth I - with an IQ above 150 - ever managed to believe such unreasonable things wholeheartedly and call them reasonable.

For some reason the article writer doesn't quote the previous verse: "When I was being ... intricately woven in the depths of the earth."  I'm not sure they could claim that one as being scientifically accurate.  No geneticist says that we humans are woven in the depths of the earth.
It's not scientifically accurate.  Of course it isn't.  Again, it doesn't matter.  Not one bit.  Because it's poetry.  And poetry written by someone living thousands of years ago with a very different view of the world and the universe than the one we have now.
Part of that poetry was very important to me when I came out as transgender.  It's a part that's been important to many LGBT christians.  Verse 14 is a wonderful thing to hold onto when you've been hurt by churches for being who you are.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
      My soul knows it very well.
It was very reassuring to me at the time.  I'm transgender.  God made me this way.  And that's just as wonderful as if he/she/they had made me cisgender.   I held that verse close to my heart and mind and wrote about it too.

Less important to me though were later verses in the psalm:

Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
   O men of blood depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent:
   your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
   And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
   I count them as my enemies.

Those verses are rarely quoted.  They're not in hymns.  When the psalm was read in my old church (Metropolitan Community Church) we missed those verses out.  They are persona non grata.  We don't follow those ones.  It's just as well we don't or we might set out to be like King David and conquer and kill all the neighbouring nations who don't follow our God.  It was a different time.  If we raised up those verses we'd quickly become a Christian version of ISIS - who raise up such verses from the Qu'ran.

Those hate verses are followed by a final verse.  We read that one.  Everyone does.  It's in hymns and choruses.  We like it.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
   Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
   And lead me in the way everlasting.
Nowadays of course we'd say "Yes, there's a grievous way in you David.  You hate people with a different religion to you."  But let's ignore that for today.   Let's also ignore that the Hebrew word and idea could sometimes mean something very different to the word in English translation and usage - and that Jesus didn't really tell us to hate our parents even though our English Bibles tell us he did.

The poetry of the Psalms can be amazing.  With or without faith it's an amazing body of literature.  Yes, it's got those hate verses but every single ancient work has things that we would now refuse to make a part of our life.  Ancient writers, the wisest of their day, say cultural things we would now reject.  That's okay.  They are from another culture and age and there's no need to rip up the books.

The mistake made in this Jehovah's Witness publication - as in many conservative Christian or Bible-based publications - is to attempt to turn an ancient book of faith into something that it was never meant to be:  Science.

In doing so they've turned something that's often stunningly beautiful into something that deserves only to be laughed at, ridiculed and rejected.  Yes, they turn their God into a laughing stock.

I'm going to stop at that point.  I'm not going to examine the article's claim that the Bible accurately predicts the future.  I'm not going to examine the claim that the Bible answers life's big questions.  It does.  That's a given.  The scriptures of all religions answer life's big questions.  They just disagree in places on what the answer is.

I'm also not going to answer the question that's been on your lips for your entire life.  "The Sea Otter's Fur:  Was It Designed?"  The magazine doesn't answer the question either.  Disappointing!
You've probably been very bored reading what I've just written.  I had fun with it.  That's the nature of my obsession, my special interest.

My sadness is that some people will encounter the ludicrous scientific claims about meteorology and genetics, be amazed by them, and be one step along the way to becoming a Jehovah's Witness.  A group that wouldn't agree with what I said about LGBT Christians.  Not in the slightest.  A group that is monolithic, dogmatic and exclusivist.  Much as they smile at me in the street as they hold out their publications I would not be safe in their midst.  Not for long.  A 2014 survey showed that the Jehovah's Witnesses are the most homophobic of all major religious groups in the USA.  The best article I've found about it online is this one, simply because it quotes so many primary sources.  They've told me in the street that I'm fine, that I'd be welcome, that God loves me, that I'd be safe there.  It's a lie.  Their own writings demonstrate it to be so.

My gladness is that the Jehovah's Witnesses were not the only people offering something on the street of central Newcastle yesterday.  I took the plunge and joined a group with an offering that condemned nobody, welcomed everyone, and truly spread some love totally free from dogma and judgement.

We offered hugs.  Free hugs.  And for those who didn't want a hug a smile or a kind word.

Someone tried to offer me money.  Because they found it hard to believe people would just stand there offering something and expecting nothing, preaching nothing, embracing everyone.

That's what we did and it was an excellent time.  I say that as someone, autistic, who happens to have problems hugging people.  I'm usually a non-hugger.  But I went out hugging and it brought smiles to people and reassurance to people too the day after another terrorist attack.

I still have hug issues.  But I'd join those people and give out free hugs again in an instant.  It was like a perfect expression of love.  A piece of Biblical excellence because "perfect love casts out all fear."  Others gave a perfect expression later in the day.  I rushed for my bus to get to a community festival.  500 people attended and received something beautiful in the west end of Newcastle.  This time I was on the receiving end.

It was a fabulous day.  I saw lots of saints.  They might have a religious faith.  They might not.  It doesn't matter.  To me they are saints.

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