Monday, February 23, 2009

Bishop Spong Q&A 2/19/2009

Rick, via the Internet, writes:

You mentioned that there are two sets of the Ten Commandments, and that one of them includes the injunction against boiling a kid in its mother's milk. I believe you said this version was in Deuteronomy. But I looked up the Deuteronomy version, chapter 5, verses 6-21, and I find no reference to boiling. In fact this recitation of the Ten Commandments appears to be in complete agreement with the recitation in Exodus, chapter 20, verses 3-17. Would you please explain where I would find the Ten Commandments recitation that includes the boiling the kid reference you described? Thanks.

Dear Rick,

You must have misheard. I said there are three versions of the Ten Commandments. The oldest one is Exodus 34, the second is Exodus 20 and the last is Deuteronomy 5. It is in Exodus 34 that you will find the injunction about "boiling a kid in its mother's milk." This version is almost totally cultic.

If you look again at Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, you will discover that there is not "complete agreement" as you suggest. The primary difference is in the commandment about the Sabbath. Deuteronomy suggests that the Sabbath was to be observed because they had once been slaves in Egypt and even slaves must have a day of rest. In Exodus 20, the original Sabbath Day commandment has been edited to claim that God, resting from the work of creation on the Sabbath, was the reason for its continued observance. That addition to the original fourth commandment was from the quill of the priestly writers in the Babylonian exile (roughly from 596 to 450 BCE, depending on which return from exile was the last one), who also wrote the seven day creation story at the same time.

That creation story did not exist when Deuteronomy was written. So the versions of the Ten Commandments are really four: the primitive Exodus 34 version from the "J" writer in the 10th century BCE; the familiar one from Exodus 20, which is originally from the "E" writer in the 9th century BCE but was substantially edited by the "P" writer in the 6th century BCE; and the Deuteronomy 5 version, which is from the 7th century BCE and from the hand of the Deuteronomic writer. The biblical writers accounted for these several versions by suggesting that because Moses broke the tablets, God had to redo them and God did not redo them in the same way.

The fact is that these rules, like all covenant rules, emerged through the life of the nation of Israel and probably always had several versions. That is not a problem unless you are a fundamentalist.

– John Shelby Spong

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A response to last weeks article

My younger brother (he’s 70, I’m 72) wrote a reply to last week’s entry about freethinking Muslims. I thought you might be interested in reading it. For the past several years he has traveled the mid-East, consulting with universities in Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman. He has worked with individual universities and with groups of universities on a variety of projects.

That's an encouraging article, and I applaud the openness and visibility of their statement. The good news is that there are many muslims who think that way. In fact, there are many more who believe that way than dare to make such a public declaration. the fact that some do helps the others. In the long run, I believe this position will win out and Islam will join the modern world. However, I do think it will be a long time coming.

Right now we have a few Arab countries that are trying to move this way - Jordan, UAE, Qatar, and to a lesser extent Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain. And you have mixtures of things going on that highlight some of the issues, such as Saudi Arabia under the fundamentalist theocratic control of the Mahabis and simultaneously building strong universities and bringing in top scholars. Oil money provides a great buffering for rulers in times of transition and it slows the pace of change in a case like Saudi Arabia while it allows change to move more swiftly in a case like Kuwait.

With the enormous strengthening of higher education in the middle east coupled with the impossibility of totally controlling information in this internet age, things will be changing at different paces in different countries. However, the transition will not be easy or without conflict. Good examples of countries with conflict are Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. As any threatened group does, the Islamists (followers of Islam who want to establish theocratic governments) become more fanatically fundamental when their traditions, and especially their power, weaken. We can only hope for more examples of enlightened muslims speaking out as in the statement you sent. And we need more examples of the benefits of secular democracy. The current economic situation hurts perceptions ("See the greed of secularism and what it brings."). The election of Obama was a very strong positive signal ("See that democracy is real and works."). In time more of the Arab leaders such as in Jordan and Qatar will push for democracy, and in other countries the people will demand more freedom from autocrats whether their rulers or their clerics.

In the meantime I suggest we applaud, support, and befriend muslims who take such clear stands for secular societies. They often come under intense pressure from within their muslim community.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Encouraging news from the Islamic World?

Our study group has often questioned whether there were ‘freethinkers’ in other religions, as there are within Christianity. This past Sunday we read a statement from the Internet that leads us to believe there are! Below is a proclamation form a Muslim group that gives an example.

Institution for the Secularization of Islamic Society

Mission: We believe that Islamic society has been held back by an unwillingness to subject its beliefs, laws and practices to critical examination, by a lack of respect for the rights of the individual, and by an unwillingness to tolerate alternative viewpoints or to engage in constructive dialogue.The Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society (ISIS) has been formed to promote the ideas of rationalism, secularism, democracy and human rights within Islamic society.ISIS promotes freedom of expression, freedom of thought and belief, freedom of intellectual and scientific inquiry, freedom of conscience and religion – including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief - and freedom from religion: the freedom not to believe in any deity.

Statement of Principles

1. We share the ideals of a democratic society, and a secular state that does not endorse any religion, religious institution, or any religious dogma. The basis for its authority is in man-made law, not in religious doctrine or in divine revelation. In a theocracy of the type that Islamic fundamentalists wish to establish, sovereignty belongs to god, but in a democracy sovereignty belongs to the people. We therefore favor the firm separation of religion and state: without such a separation there can be no freedom from tyranny, and such a separation is the sine qua non for a secular state.

2. We believe in the primacy of the rule of law: a common civil code under which all men and women have equal protection of their rights and freedoms.

3. We endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights without qualification. We are particularly concerned to promote and protect the rights of women and those with minority beliefs: all should be equal before the law.

4. We are dedicated to combating fanaticism, intolerance, violent fundamentalism, and terrorism by showing the intellectual inadequacy of the fanatics’ programmes, the historical inaccuracy of their claims, the philosophical poverty of their arguments, and the totalitarian nature of their thought.We defend the right of free inquiry, and the free expression of ideas. We therefore reserve the right to examine the historical foundations of Islam, and to explain the rise and fall of Islam by the normal mechanisms of human history.

Additional info:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Violinist in the Metro

Here is a thought provoking article I found in a church newsletter this week. Hope you enjoy it... barry e

A man sat at a metro station in Washington, DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late to work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother dragging him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing the silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua sold out a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written… how many other things are we missing?

-- author unknown