Comments: opinion for the end of January

Great to see some commenters on Jane Williams' article actually arguing against the usual bunch of arch-atheists who respond to her work. I really cannot see even an atheist's objection to her point: "read this work in the context of those who wrote and for whom it was written."

And nice to see Theo Hobson point out the Episcopal Church *I* recognize!

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Saturday, 29 January 2011 at 12:07pm GMT

"...read this work in the context of those who wrote and for whom it was written."

Ah yes. But who wrote, and when? It looks very like the Hebrew scriptures were codified, if not written, in sixth century Babylon, to create a national identity for a group of exiles. Noah is obviously myth, Abraham not less so. The "covenants" are in the story, not in history. Ms. Williams calls Genesis a story of "how a faithful God continues to work with unfaithful people" -- but to what were the people originally to give faith? We have millennia of human history, twenty-seven centuries of lore about our god. Yes, we must continue to go through the tradition and pick out the good parts, but there's no getting away from the contradictions and outrages in the narrative.

You might be more respectful of the usual bunch of arch-atheists in the Guardian's comments. They show you how the story looks from outside.

Posted by Murdoch at Saturday, 29 January 2011 at 4:52pm GMT

My problem with the arch-atheists is that they generally ignore Williams' attempts to explain the context of the story and just rant about how it is all so much claptrap.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Saturday, 29 January 2011 at 6:43pm GMT

Following Theo Hobson's article I wonder if TEC would like to do some border crossing into England? (Only slightly tongue in cheek!)

Posted by Richard Ashby at Saturday, 29 January 2011 at 8:51pm GMT

Really so glad TH felt welcome in TEC; as that is rather our TEC point. Thank goodness, thank God.

Posted by drdanfee at Saturday, 29 January 2011 at 11:12pm GMT

I'm so glad Theo Hobson found a welcome in The Episcopal Church. I guess that ought to be the experience of All Anglicans - wherever they are in the world. Sadly, there are still certain congregations where one does not feel entirely welcome. Let's all hope and pray that this current meeting of Communion Primates - or at least the ones who bothered to turn up - will do something about the culture of exclusivity that one can often find in the more fundamentalist congregations. We are all sinners - let's act like we share that problem, and that we are so glad that God still loves us, in Christ.

Remember, the Church is not a just a mausoleum for saints but mostly a hospital for sinners.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 30 January 2011 at 3:14am GMT

"Noah is obviously myth, Abraham not less so."

Doubtful -- Abraham is far more likely to have been a historical figure.

" The "covenants" are in the story, not in history. Ms. Williams calls Genesis a story of "how a faithful God continues to work with unfaithful people" -- but to what were the people originally to give faith?"

I think the "unfaithful people" topos first comes up in Exodus. The patriarchal clan of Abraham has incidents of naughtiness but no pattern of infidelity to the covenant (which entails no Law at this point).

"the contradictions and outrages in the narrative."

In later texts -- the herem texts of Num 31 and 1 Sam 15 for example -- but there is little to be outraged about in Genesis.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Sunday, 30 January 2011 at 6:56am GMT

There is a difference between the moral of a story and the lessons of history. Jane Williams consistently fudges them. Her "arch-atheist" critics don't seek her out -- she writes in a secular national newspaper, and some readers find her views irrelevant and inconsistent with what they know. The critics don't seem "arch-atheist" to me, just people who, being outside the narrative, don't find it as convincing as do people who repeat it among themselves all the time. Rather than bristle at them, one might consider what one has to say to them.

"little to be outraged about in Genesis"? Well, the destruction of life in Noah, the Abraham and Isaac affair -- but familiarity has dulled their implications. And scholars say that the setting of the Abraham story is anachronistic -- the places he visits didn't exist yet in his supposed time. Archeologists and historians haven't been able to back up the events of Joseph, Moses, the Exodus, even David. Legends and literature can reflect truths about human nature, but the grand narrative about God created by Hebrew writers and Christian theologians is being stripped of its historical assumptions. So, what next?

Posted by Murdoch at Sunday, 30 January 2011 at 5:26pm GMT

"Legends and literature can reflect truths about human nature, but the grand narrative about God created by Hebrew writers and Christian theologians is being stripped of its historical assumptions. So, what next?"

You see, I think those "historical assumptions" didn't exist in the minds of the original writers and listeners of this narrative. I think they were assumed by later readers, beginning around the time of the Roman Empire's adoption of Christianity. Even today, most Jews do not read Genesis or even Exodus as history...they read it as the mythic narrative of their people, the story of WHY they are a people, not HOW they are a people.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Sunday, 30 January 2011 at 7:01pm GMT

What Murdoch said. Arch-atheist is meant to be some kind of put down I understand (it is never explained).

Many these a-as are thoughtful and conscientious - who could ask for anything more ?

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Sunday, 30 January 2011 at 9:12pm GMT

Arch-atheist is meant (by me) as a descriptive term for those who feel it necessary to comment negatively on every expression of religious belief, with words like "drivel," "nonsense," "superstition," and "lies."

Read the comments on this week's piece by Williams; go back and read the comments on previous ones...these are people who are not content to be non-believers themselves but to berate all those who believe in anything higher than themselves. If the situation were reverse, if it were a similar group of Christians who felt it required to post comments on every atheist writing, they would be scourged as "intolerant."

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Sunday, 30 January 2011 at 10:46pm GMT

"they were assumed by later readers, beginning around the time of the Roman Empire's adoption of Christianity." They WERE assumed then, for, oh, sixteen hundred years. Of course, current ideas of history and evidence didn't apply at the time of writing.

"most Jews do not read Genesis or even Exodus as history...they read it as the mythic narrative of their people." The tradition has also been read as a real estate deed to the land of Palestine, where the Jews hadn't held sovereignty since 700 CE. It seems to me that all sorts of theoretical claims are based on the traditional stories being history. I'm glad Pat O'Neill takes them symbolically. That's progress.

Bye the bye, the people who believe in something higher than themselves have tended to lord it over others. Continuing to assert superiority in the face of lack of evidence for same does arouse a bit of resentment.

Posted by Murdoch at Sunday, 30 January 2011 at 11:27pm GMT

"Even today, most Jews do not read Genesis or even Exodus as history..."

Well, that depends on who you're talking about. Worldwide, most Jews who identify as religious are, to some degree of affiliation at least, Orthodox. The Conservative and Reform movements claim a majority of affiliated Jews in the United States, not in terms of the worldwide Jewish population. And the Orthodox are not generally inclined to regard the Bible as "the mythology of their people."

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Monday, 31 January 2011 at 3:14pm GMT

"...the Orthodox are not generally inclined to regard the Bible as "the mythology of their people."

But neither are they generally inclined to read it as being literal history and truth. They are better educated than that.

Posted by Pat O'Neill at Monday, 31 January 2011 at 9:18pm GMT

"But neither are they generally inclined to read it as being literal history and truth."

I can assure you, Pat, that if you walk into any one of the Orthodox shuls in my city and tell them that they do not believe that the Children of Israel passed through the miraculously parted Red Sea, or that Abram/Abraham is a fictive character representing their tribal origins, they will tell you otherwise.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Wednesday, 2 February 2011 at 8:52pm GMT

"But neither are they generally inclined to read it as being literal history and truth. They are better educated than that."

I'm sorry, but I really should have addressed this in my last post. It's a mistake to think that the division between people who view the Bible's account of history as trustworthy is between the well educated and some other group. I've come across people in the Ivy League who believe that God literally gave Moses the Torah on Mt Sinai. I'm sure that I could find Christians in the same setting who have a similar take.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Wednesday, 2 February 2011 at 9:17pm GMT
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