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Monday, September 6, 2010

Warning: Reading the bible can be harmful or just useless

WARNING:
I read the bible often and I read it using numerous translations. It is the one book I read and reread more often than any other. So it is a strange thing for a pastoral care giver to say. Reading the bible can be useless. It can make you believe lies and harm your spiritual well being. How could such a thing be so?

Have you ever stopped to realize how it is that controversies, abuse and long standing perspectives can each create emotional and intellectual blindness.

CONTROVERSY:
People who are caught up in a controversy identify and attach certain vital values to their position. It can become difficult if not impossible for them to empathetically acknowledge those same values being genuinely shared by others who do not also align themselves with the same side of a controversy. Loyalty to an important value can add complications that distort our ability to have an objective perspective. For example: pro life people often cannot see how pro choice people might really value human life and pro choice people often cannot see how pro life people might really respect boundaries.

Be it freedom, family values or whatever. We can develop the habit of reacting immediately internally to anything that resembles a threat to what we value and the way we have come to understand how that value is honored. In some ways this is unavoidable. When those we love have been harmed, our personal experience compels us to value the things we believe will protect them in the future. They are too valuable for us to let go for even a moment. When meaningful possessions have been lost, stolen, or damaged our personal experience compels us to value the things we believe will minimize such losses. We develop, as it were, a story inside our minds that explains this value and identifies its enemies.

What we might not notice, however, is that embracing this story unquestionably prevents us from recognizing some valid aspect of truth that is subtly or significantly different. Over time we even become insensitive to subtleties often failing to recognize them. It is as if upon hearing that which we associate as "the wrong view" triggers in us an immediate rejection.

ABUSE:
When we have been abused or violated -- it makes little difference if such abuse is imagined or real -- we have a strong tendency to reject ways of thinking embraced by our abusers and can also hold on to ideas we imagine keep us safe.

TRADITION:
Long standing perspectives, even ones we disagree with have a strong tendency to operate within a rut. Many people, for example, who do not read or trust the bible have grown so accustomed to hearing certain verses quoted and explained by Fundamentalists that even though they reject the bible and the Fundamentalist teaching, they still might perceive that verse as indeed teaching what the fundamentalist claimed it to be clearly saying. Traditions create within us a rut where our mind takes an uncritical trip through an interpretation remaining unaware of all the forks in the road where a different direction could be a valid choice. Unaware of the alternatives, the traditional view takes on an assumed obviousness. The words or the specific bible verses commonly used to undergird the tradition become triggers that automatically set our thinking into the rut.

THE BIBLE CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE:
Personal and denominational beliefs are filled with, and influenced by both an adherence to and a rejection of many controversies, abuse and traditions. This can make reading the bible difficult. So many passages say something we have become too desensitized to hear, or invoke ideas too common so that a fresh reading that allows a new perspective becomes difficult or seem to assert some idea we experienced as abusive.

Many who have left abusive religious organizations, or left traditions they no longer embrace have found that reading the bible only reinforces what they left. It can take months and even years before they can read the bible again and not see something different than the clear but abusive or traditional meaning. Very often, the meaning seems so clear that those who reject a particular tradition might also feel it necessary to reject the bible altogether.

This is not because they are stupid, it is because they are human. Human beings, in order to accomplish more complex thought, develop certain habits of thought without having to always reinvent the interpretive wheel. If we have a bad thought habit, it can take time before we realize it is the habit that is at work rather than the, so called, obvious meaning. We have to shake loose from bad interpretive habits before we can read the bible anew.

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