Friday, March 20, 2009

The logocentricity of the sacred

I originally intended this blog for my musings about the New Testament. Mostly because it is the only area that I feel confident to write about. I've spent a lot of time studying the greek and hebrew texts. I am a biblical scholar/historian, and not a theologian. But I have been thinking about the sacred lately and have something I want to get off my chest. Hopefully I'll have something useful, and ironically logocentric to post in the next week.

So I was driving home from Ikea last weekend and listening to CBC radio, as I always do because I hate almost all popular music that they play on the radio. As it was almost St. Patricks day there was a special about folk religions of Ireland. One scholar was arguing that the main reason many traditional people could never relate to western religion is the logocentricity of the sacred. It really got me thinking, that this is one, among many, of my major problems with christianity.

I know it seems ironic for a person who once spent over 60 hours on one word in the New Testament to criticize others for being overly logocentric, but there is a difference between a scholarly pursuit of knowledge and the religious pursuit of the sacred. As a biblical scholar, I never approach a particular biblical text in pursuit of an experience with the sacred or with god. Yet modern christians have almost deified the words of the bible (this applies to Jewish views of the Torah and Muslim views of the Quran even moreso but I don't want to criticize them too harshly because I was never one of them). In my 20 or so years in christianity this is one of the things i had the hardest time relating to. It never made sense to me that someone would search for a creator god in a book created by men. To me it always made more sense to search for the creator/s of the world in his/her/its/their creation. I don't ever remember feeling a sense of the sacred in church or when reading the bible, but I'll be damned if I haven't felt a powerful experience of something sacred everytime I see the ocean, or every time i've stood on top of a mountain. To me the world itself and all creatures within it are what is sacred and where sacredity is to be found.

That isn't to say that I am a panentheist, I'm not even sure there is a god. I don't think we should worship mountains or oceans, and I don't think they are gods. But I do think christians get way too caught up in the exact words of the bible and believe God can only be this or that because the bible uses this one word to describe god. It's very limiting on a supposedly supreme being. I have been told this idea is "silly" by christians. Oh well they are allowed to believe what they want. But I do find a certain absurdity in worshiping a god who created everything and searching for truths about that god in something created by men. If there is a god or gods, I feel confident I will find more truths about him/her/it/them in mountains and forests and oceans than anyone ever will learn from reading a book, even a book considered to be sacred.

But these are just my completely non-scholary thoughts about god and the sacred.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Good Samaritan

"Good Samaritan" is a phrase thrown around a lot these days. It is a compliment applied to any person who does a good deed. But like many modern phrases it is a biblical reference. I think most people are roughly aware that it come from parable of Jesus. But the modern usage as a compliment is the exact antithesis of the parable which was meant to shock and offend (dare I saw shock and awe) the listener. This is where a good knowledge of history is essential to understanding the biblical texts. But first lets look at the actual parable which comes from Luke 10:30-37

Luke 10: 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
Luke 10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
Luke 10:34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
Luke 10:35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Luke 10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
Luke 10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

This story has 3 main characters, besides the robbers and "the man". There is a lot that I could say about robbers and banditry in the ancient world and I've done a lot of research on banditry in the ancient jewish world, but that might be something for another post. For the purpose of this post it is the 3 main characters that are most important. So a man is laying half dead in the middle of the road and 3 people walk by him. First is the priest and the second is the levite. The importance of these characters is their social status. The Levites are the priestly tribe of Israel, and since both are priestly authorities they were revered men. All who listened to this tale would have looked up to these men. The fact that the highest and most honorable men pass by is important. The part of this verse that is most often missed is the samaritan. Basically all jews hated Samaritans. A bit racist, of course, but that's how they rolled. In fact most ancient jews would walk many miles out of their way between jericho and jerusalem to avoid Samaria. They were hated and to even talk to a samaritan was social suicide. It is quite possible many who listened booed or hissed at the mention of a samaritan. To their shock they find out the samaritan is the only one who does what is just. There isn't a good modern equivalent except maybe a neocon telling a story where a member of Al Qaeda is the only character to do the right thing and being told to do likewise and become a good Al Qaeda member. I have no doubt this shocking parable resulted in a lot of "what the fuck" sort of expressions and conversations afterward.

I find it sad that this story has become a nice little tale vaguely telling people to be nice to others, rather than a revolutionary tale that originally told as an insult that anyone, even the most noble men, who don't help their fellow humans will not have eternal life, but even the most despicable and deplorable human beings will be rewarded if they help someone in need. This story is filled with a revolutionary social order that the followers of Jesus must adopt. It forces the listener to not just be nice but to reverse their entire social worldview. It's sad this has been lost.

So I want to end with a story of my own. A man was walking down whyte ave at 4 am, after the taxis and most bars had cleared and he was mugged, stabbed and left half dead. There were only 3 people left on whyte at this time of night. A pastor who finished his volunteer shift at a homeless shelter saw him but walked by because he was in a rush to get home. Then Linda Duncan stepped over his half dead body on her way to save alberta from the conservative stranglehold. Finally a child-molester just released from prison noticed the man, bandaged the wound and helped him to the hospital and sat in the waiting room making sure the man got good care and was ok. Now who was a good neighbor?

I say to you go and be a good child-molester.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Hello reader,

Welcome to the inaugural post on my new philalethian blog. Actually new isn't the proper word, this blog has been revamped. I used to post on the philalethian blog back in 2005 just on random thoughts. I've decided to use this blog again, but this time to post some of my thoughts and research on the New Testament. I don't know if anyone else is interested or will ever read any of my posts, but if you are reading this I hope you enjoy my thoughts.

What is Philalethian blog? Philalethian is a greek work that means "lover of truth." The world is a blend of the greek verb "phileo" which means "to love" and the noun "alethes" meaning "truth." It's a name i've self applied for a few years now in all my online personas. Although I'm sure it makes me sound arrogant as hell, I think it is applicable to my biblical studies because I've never really been interested in the fluff or the bullshit of doctrine. I want to get to the truth of the matter. I don't know how effective i've been but it's my goal. I'd like to share of things with you I've found to be truths.