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Archive for the category “Ethics”

Christians Against Coffee: What Will They Think of Next?

Christians Against Coffee: What Will They Think of Next?

Christians Against Coffee: What Will They Think of Next?

Yesterday the Huffington Post reported on a story in which an evangelical minister, David Barton, railed against Christians buying Starbucks coffee based on the sole idea that Starbucks spends some of their profits to support the civil rights of all people in the United States of America. In particular, this preacher was upset because Starbucks, according to him, refuses to support traditional marriage. Well, we all know what traditional (code for biblical) marriage means. After all, polygamy was the norm back in the day. So does this preacher support plural marriage? Or is he just against gay marriage? In either case, he is on the wrong side of the fence. To claim that a cup of coffee offends that which he represents as God is simply laughable on its face. Is it any wonder that this kind of preaching is unappealing to so many.

I don’t know about you, but I am personally offended by those who insist that their religious beliefs are superior to all other belief systems. While on my way home from Phoenix, we drove right by what is claimed as the largest cross in North America just to the East of Amarillo, Texas. For a small offering (not the cost of admission) one can drive off the road to a museum and chapel to engage in the praise of this monstrous cross by the side of the road. With between 39 and 41 million non-Christians (around 18% of the total population) in the United States and only about 40% of the total population of the United States claiming to be either evangelical or ‘born again’ Christians, one wonders just to whom the gigantic cross is playing.

As an atheist, I find there to be no evidence for the existence of a god or gods while I do find ample evidence that there is no god or gods floating around the universe. I have little difficulty writing about this rational decision yet I also do not wish to denigrate any who chose to adopt any particular mythology for their own personal comfort. I am not on a conversion rant. In fact, if there were ever credible evidence (not bible quotes or other self-serving writing) to the contrary, I would be rationally forced to accept the proposition that there is a god or gods that somehow run the universe for their own desires. All I am arguing is that the available evidence does not support such a proposition. What I find so offensive about true believers is their insistance that they have the true and correct answers and there must be no deviation from the rules they establish. There is a great line in a song I heard while on vacation that goes something like this…I met a preacher willing to explain the world according to him in return for my personal check. It is true-belief that is unwilling or unable to be open to the possibility of being altogether wrong; demanding that one believe as they or be burned at the stake or blown up while riding on a public bus.

What I am ranting against, I suppose, is the hypocrisy of true-belief, the hypocrisy born of ignorance fostered by turning a deaf ear to anything but that to which one is committed. It becomes unauthentic the very moment one chooses to act to force others to attend to the same beliefs to which the true-believer is committed for the benefit of the true-believer. Never mind that those forced to conform find the very act of conformity offensive. In the end, what do crosses and coffee have in common? Perhaps forced conformity is the bugaboo from which there is no recovery.

Priase the Lord…A Selfish Response to Tragedy

Priase the Lord...A Selfish Response to Tragedy

Priase the Lord…A Selfish Response to Tragedy

Leaving Alamogordo, New Mexico Friday morning, I set my gps for Joplin, Missouri and set my rain alarm app for push notifications. Our dog, Simin, developed a severe infection on his right-front leg requiring constant care throughout the day. Our plan for returning home was to spend around three nights on the road, stop off and see a few sights that we wanted to visit and arrive home on Monday. Those plans were shattered when Simin was diagnosed with this ugly infection. A friend’s daughter was kind enough to stay at the house to nurse Simin until we returned from our trip. But back to the point of this post.

Driving through Oklahoma City, the rain activity was picking up with storms tracking on either side of I-40. We drove on, with the bulk of the rain and storm activity either behind us or to either side. Pushing through Tulsa and on to Joplin, we arrived in Joplin tired and hungry. As we arrived the tornado warning sirens were blasting. We parked under the canopy to register but, rather than register, we were herded into the central hallway of the hotel and told that because we were under a tornado warning it would be best to stay in the hallway until the danger passed. They take tornados quite seriously in Joplin, Missouri, especially since the category five tornado that destroyed much of the town only a few years before. Once the danger passed we checked in, went next door to the hotel where there was a 24/7 Waffle House (hardly my first choice) for a light dinner and then back to the hotel where we went to bed.

From Joplin, we had about a 550 mile drive back home. With that in mind, I set my alarm for 6:00 AM so we could leave the hotel and be on the road by around 7:00 AM. At around 6:30 AM we were walking in the hallway toward the complimentary breakfast (which was, of course, included in the room rate) when a tiny, woman with a shock of tightly curled white hair greeted us. “Mornin’,” she said. “Quite a storm last night. But we’re okay…Praise the Lord.” That set me to ponder exactly what she meant when she so flippantly praised the lord. Was she praising the lord selfishly for her personal safety. If this were the case, then her praise is immoral, based only on her personal needs and desires and to hell with everyone else. If, on the other hand, she was praising the lord for the storms, including the tornado in Oklahoma City which killed at least five people according to the news that morning, then her praise for the lord was also immoral when one considers the fact that the storm was deadly as well as destructive to property. It begs the question, what did the people of Oklahoma City do to deserve this devine punishment of multiple tornados even as they were cleaning up from the Moore category five tornado which struck only a few days ago.

Either way, praise for survival when others lost their lives or praise for the occurrence of the tornado itself, the praiser is caught in a trap of immoral praise. Either the god to whom praise is offered is mean and capricious, offering a killer storm to some while saving others from wanton destruction or the praiser herself is acting from selfish relief that she wasn’t harmed by this god for whom she has apparently released her praise on purely selfish terms. It seems that one who insists on praising the lord does so without regard to the consequences suffered by others from the very act of destruction from which one is spared. This is an immoral, unethical act because it is self-centered, contained within the outcome of the self without regard for the outcome of the other. Shame on the woman in the hallway for her selfish response to the tragedy suffered by Oklahoma City residents.

A proper response to such tragic loss and one’s personal escape from the personal impact of that loss is not that of praise, for praise cuts a two-edged path. To the contrary, a proper response would be to consider one’s safety in terms of probability, a statistical calculation having little to do with one’s imaginary friend in the sky. When considering one’s own safety, one might also consider just what one is able to do for those who actually suffered devastating loss. In addition, one could consider one’s own contribution to the climate change that is bringing devastating weather events like category five tornados and super hurricanes to this small, rather insignificant blue ball orbiting a star which, in turn, orbits the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and work to reverse the harm to the planet we call home that we ourselves caused. Praise the Lord but Pass the Ammunition was a slogan that arose from the trenches of WWI. In the final analysis, it may be applicable here.  Go ahead and praise the lord if you must; in the end, it is what you personally do to influence the outcome that counts.

On a final note, an old Jew was praying by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, something he did for the past forty years of his life. He was asked what he was praying for to which he replied, “I pray for peace, for an end to hunger, for the Messiah to come.” The questioner then asked, “Does it help?” To which the old Jew replied, “It’s like talking to a wall.”

Ready for a Familiar Bed…The End of the Road, Almost!

Ready for a Familiar Bed...The End of the Road, Almost!

Ready for a Familiar Bed…The End of the Road, Almost!

Storms in Colorado mirroring, sort of, the deadly storms in Oklahoma, scratching items off my bucket list such as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and a dirt road adventure in a Prius yesterday that was exciting and even scary at times coupled with five days with a fifteen-year old grandson all makes me ready for my own bed…but not quite yet. As I write this (not when it actually gets posted) it is 98 degrees in Phoenix and I have taken refuge in our hotel room as my wife and grandson lounge around the pool baking in the shade. Somehow, placing myself in a warming oven doesn’t have significant appeal as I am about to enter my eighth decade on this earth. I much prefer the comfort of the room which is holding at a most comfortable 72 degrees.

We spent the better part of our last day in Phoenix at the Phoenix Science Center, a collection of science exhibits, a planetarium and a simply extraordinary exhibit exploring the genius of Leonardo DaVinci. We took in an I-Max 3-D film on the design and construction of the Boeing 787. While the film was interesting, it is always difficult to watch a movie in 3-D so for much of the film I simply closed my eyes. We also took in an informative, if not well narrated, sky show in the planetarium in which we were whisked to the very edges of the universe and back again all in under one hour. Had the live narrator said, “You guys,” one more time, however, I think I might have murdered her. With a good lunch in the museum in between all this adventure we spent nearly six hours exploring the exhibits, presentations and films on offer.

It is late afternoon now and I am relaxing in the hotel. Tonight we are going out to celebrate our grandson’s fifteenth birthday which seems to make him older than I could possibly imagine as well as my seventieth birthday which begs the question of how did I get this old this fast? With a good dinner and celebrations out of the way, Susan and I will get back on the road in the morning (about the time this post goes live) and start back home. With some planned and some unplanned stops along the way, we should arrive home exhausted sometime on Sunday or Monday…who knows. What I do know is that traveling is an important way to understand one’s roots and one’s priorities.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

On this trip, it became clearer to me than ever before that I have an ethical responsibility to work to repair our planet, to protect it from further commercially inspired harm, if not for myself, for my children, grandchildren and generations still not even being considered. Our planet is a fragile place, a place which evolved a delicate balance which is being disrupted by the greed of mankind. From strip mining to clear cutting forests, from depletion of eons old aquifers rather than engage in sustainable dry land farming to the despoiling of the lakes and oceans with garbage dumping and pollutants being washed into the water supply, we are at an environmental crossroads. It is not enough to delay solutions to the problems that we ourselves create. It is time to take ethical responsibility and say no to corporate polluters, to greedy mine owners, to those who would anger Mother Nature for their own immediate and personal gain, to those who allow themselves to be purchased by special interests while claiming to represent people. As Sugarland urges, “Stand up and use your voice.” It is good advice. It is time to stand up and be counted.

Caring for the Land…An Ethical Responsibility

Caring for the Land...An Ethical Responsibility

Caring for the Land…An Ethical Responsibility

Yesterday with my wife, son and grandson, I drove the Apache Trail from Globe to Apache Junction, Arizona. Beginning in Globe, where strip mining mountains to extract copper, strips the land of its natural beauty as well as destroying the eco-system which evolved to sustain plant and animal life over millions, perhaps billions of years. Driving into the canyon through which the Apache Trail runs, it quickly became obvious that the land here, with the exception of damming the river to create reservoir lakes and creating a road, remains wild and free.

Along the Apache Trail

Along the Apache Trail

Driving through this nearly pristine desert landscape, especially when compared to the rape of the land that results from strip mining, got me to thinking about an ethical responsibility for our stewardship of the only land we have to call home. The issue, it seems to me, is one in which we somehow have forgotten where food comes from (clearly not a Monsanto laboratory), how to assure the health of the land (surely not applying chemical fertilizer courtesy of a ConAgra laboratory) and the biodiversity that comes from growing multiple varieties of natural grains, fruits and vegetables (rather than planting genetically modified seeds developed in the laboratories of Central Soya). I thought about Georgia Pacific’s clear-cutting of forests in the Pacific Northwest thereby destroying the eco-system of the mountains as well as their ability to maintain fertile soil on the mountains after the nearly daily rains of the region. I could go on here, but you get the point. It seems we have placed profit over sustainability; immediate corporate greed trumping the very survival of future generations.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, people around the world lived in close affinity to the land they occupied. They took only that which was needed to provide food and protection from the elements. As urbanization began to replace the pastoral life of the farm and ranch or even the nomadic hunter-gathering life of indigenous people, the ability to live without exploiting the land began to disappear. By the mid-1950’s it was all but forgotten. I once asked my students where food comes from and to a soul they replied from the grocery store, giving the source barely a second thought. What was lost must be somehow regained if we are to survive as a civilization.

It is not enough to preserve a few primitive sites, set aside as national parks, monuments or forests. It is not enough to declare a few acres as a state park. No, the commitment must be to force a return to sustainable farming, to sustainable foresting and to refusing to support food that is not appropriately labeled as to GMO or antibiotic inclusion in the manufacture, growing or preparation of foods. Our very survival depends on this because everything depends on everything and everyone depends on everyone.

On Memorial Day

On Memorial Day

On Memorial Day

On this day, Memorial Day, we are remembering those who gave their lives in the defense of freedom and our democratic-republic. That is what we are supposed to be doing. But is that what this day of remembering really is? Yesterday morning I was watching television, specifically the NBC coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix race while in Phoenix visiting my son and grandson (who is about to turn 15 and is a petulant teenager for sure). While I had heard it all before, nearly every commercial aired during this motor race was advertising a blow out Memorial Day sale. Is this what we have become? Are our memorials, our holidays, set aside so that one can engage in support of commercial interests?

If I were at home, the race would have been seen in a DVR recorded format, one in which I would skip through the commercials allowing me to simply watch the race which is the reason for watching in the first place. But I was in a hotel in Phoenix watching the race live so the commercials were in my face. Blow out car sales, furniture sales, even sales for groceries were simply unavoidable. I began to think about just how disrespectful these commercials are to those soldiers who were conscripted or volunteered to serve our nation in times of war; those for whom a return to the United States came in a coffin. Is this what we have become? A nation ruled by holiday sales without truly understanding the context of the holiday itself?

I am not a supporter of many of the recent wars waged by the United States. I grew up in the Viet Nam era,  that most unpopular war waged for the preservation of freedom by Lyndon Johnson. It was a time of protest against the war as well as a national effort to assure that all Americans would be guaranteed civil rights promised by the Constitution of the United States. A time of political unrest inspired by hope for the democracy promised by the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. My own political breeding ground caused me to question the need for war, for killing and being killed for the sake of some political agenda that was far from certain. The wars fought by the United States since that time have done nothing to change my mind. In fact, the most recent, the second Iraq war, a war fought for a flat out lie, merely reinforced the idea that wars are generally without merit. Generally but not exclusively for there are instances when one must rise as a nation and defend itself.

That being said, there remains the sobering fact that when there are wars there will be parents hanging Gold Stars in their windows for their fallen sons and now daughters. Wars cause death, the death of those fighting in them and the civilians caught in the crossfire of battle. Wars cause young people to die well before their time whether they were conscripted into the battlefield or volunteered; the death of soldiers becomes an inevitable fallout from war. It is fully appropriate to honor those for whom war has claimed the ultimate sacrifice. It is not, however, appropriate to infect those deaths with the wanton hubris of corporate America. Memorial day is not a day to celebrate horsepower or fancy couches. It is a day to soberly reflect on the carnage of war; a day to lay wreaths on the graves of soldiers who have fallen in battle. It is a day to consider the folly of the old men in Washington who are so willing to commit the nation’s young men and women to the battlefield while considering the morality of peace. Memorial day is a day to honor those who have fallen not a day to hawk cars or living room suites or even blueberries on sale. Memorial day is a day of great sadness that has turned into a day of picnics, bar-b-ques and selling cars. What a shame.

Responsibility for Earth…It Is The Only Home We Have!

Responsibility for Earth...It Is The Only Home We Have!

Responsibility for Earth…It Is The Only Home We Have!

Responsibility for Earth...It Is The Only Home We Have!

Responsibility for Earth…It Is The Only Home We Have!

I spent the day yesterday in the wilderness of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Western Colorado. Set in the Western Rockies, quite near the San Juan Range, the Black Canyon is a magnificent example of untouched wilderness (except that the Gunnison River runs with less force and less water than ever because of dams up river). Driving just the day before, through the center of the Rocky Mountains, through the Vail Pass on I-70, I cringed at several examples of strip mining that simply level magnificent mountains by stripping away the whole mountain to find the small deposits of ore that bring the mining company a profit. I couldn’t help but think about the film Treasure of Sierra Madre when the gold mine ran out and the old miner insisted that before they left the mountain the three partners put the mountain back to its pristine condition. The whole idea was that the mountain was good to them so they had the responsibility to be good to the mountain. That responsibility meant that greed could not out strip the ethical action was forgotten; to the contrary, it was paramount in the mind of at least one of the partners and the others saw the wisdom in the action.

Comparing the beauty found in nature against the strip mining operations that pillage the natural beauty of the land for profit is something we all should do. The question is simply this: Does earning a profit outweigh the ethical responsibility to destroy the very land we must live on and with? I suggest that making a reasonable profit, one that is based not on greed but on an ethical responsibility to preserve the beauty of nature. In addition, the ethical responsibility extends to people in the sense that there is an important responsibility to those from whose labor served to produce those profits. In short, there is no excuse for strip mining a mountain to oblivion, paying miners low wages, and earning obscene profits other than greed.

The image in the upper right was shot at an overlook at the Black Canyon’s South Rim. The canyon, carved over a 2-million year period, is a pristine wilderness preserved for people around the United States and the world. Once one leaves the confines of the National Park, however, the land no longer pristine or preserved. Fenced in pastures, rusting cars in yards, dammed rivers and streams, broken down barns, buildings and equipment all serve to remind one of the importance of the preservation of wilderness as a reminder of our responsibility to do no harm to the world we live in. Just because one can strip mine or clear-cut forests or despoil the oceans or spew pollutants into the atmosphere doesn’t mean we should. In fact, the shortsighted pollution of the only place we call home is without honor or morality.

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

Storm Clouds, Tornadoes and Carbon

A second F-5 tornado strikes Moore, Oklahoma in the past few years and a representative from Moore responds with calls to prayer. The image on the right was shot along I-70 in Western Colorado around the same time this tragedy occurred. I was standing along an access road to a Costco store in the middle of Colorado gypsum country, in fact, the town in which the Costco was located was named Gypsum, in bright sunlight as the clouds gathered to the south producing rain. The storms were perhaps a mile away moving toward us. While in the mountains they didn’t reach the intensity of the Moore event, when we were driving through them on I-70 it was mighty scary. I suppose making images that tell a story is one way to connect to the tragedy suffered by those in Moore, there is little that one can do except to take action to reverse the man made climate change that is now clearly causing more tragic weather events.

The representative from Moore, in asking people for their prayers, did not express anger for the second and now precedented storm, that’s right, not unprecedented but precedented because this is not the first occurrence of such a storm in Moore. No, his response was to fall upon the mercy of his friend in the sky to help the townsfolk whose lives were either lost or disrupted from the after effects of the storm. My response is somewhat different. Over the past 20 or so years, significant weather changes manifest in a more powerful tornado seasons, more powerful hurricanes, drought, melting of polar ice-caps and so on. One thing I have noticed living in the greater Chicago area is that we seem to be having shorter Winters but when snow falls it seems to fall in buckets.

I think that one must recognize the part we all play in global climate change and vow to do something about reversing the problem. While I will not be around to see the effects of either further and more difficult climate change or the absolute reversal of climate change (I turn 70 in two weeks time), my grandchildren will. Yes, tornadoes are dangerous and the devastation they cause tragic but prayers to an imaginary friend in the sky do nothing to address the difficult, expensive solutions that human beings must take if we expect to occupy this planet for much longer. What is needed are not prayers but action. The first action must be to contribute provide aid and assistance to those who suffered this tragic event; that is merely the beginning and is more palliative than affirmative. The affirmative solutions do not come from denial that climate change does not exist; after all denial is not just a river in Africa, rather, affirmative solutions come from recognition that climate change is man made and that we must attack the problem with as much vigor as we prosecute the wars we ostensibly fight for the defense of freedom. Pray if you must, if you think it will help, if it brings you comfort but when you finish praying take up the cause of reversing global climate change as if your life and the lives of your children and children’s children depend upon the actions you personally take…Because they do!

The Arrogance of Belief: Thinking in Jewish 44

If you were to die today, where would you go?
Billboard Sign in Kansas

The Arrogance of Belief: Thinking in Jewish 44

The Arrogance of Belief: Thinking in Jewish 44

Driving through Missouri and Kansas for the past two days, I couldn’t help but notice the many billboards that read “If you were to die today, where would you go.” I know what the people spending money would like as an answer, thereby allowing their organizations to profit from one’s repentance; my answer, however, is simply this…I’ll go into the ground. I have no illusions about that for which there are no answers. I do not believe there is knowledge beyond the grave. I do not believe that the body and the soul exist as separate entities, rather, the soul, if there is such a thing, is fully dependent upon the physical body for its very existence. It is not a separate entity housed in the body at the pleasure of some deity or another. That being said, should one present evidence to the contrary, and by evidence I do not mean textual references to Bronze or Iron Age documents that purport to be the undeniable word of God for that is not reliable nor valid evidence. No, I mean something that counts as evidence that is both replaceable and reliable through valid experimentation. In short, evidence that does not rely on belief first and results second. If I were presented with that sort of evidence, I would be the first to change my mind.

What strikes me about these billboard adverts is their arrogance. They purport to know an answer that is absolutely unknowable, relying on fear laden belief systems that infuse guilt as the guide to right or moral behavior. The question being asked relies on a belief that there is an afterlife, that in this afterlife one is either rewarded or punished, that one has some measure of control over which afterlife one will receive and that this decision is ultimately out of one’s hands and in the hands of some eternal bureaucrat who metes out rewards and punishments like an angry parent might. It is just this kind of thinking that causes some people, Christians, Jews and Muslims, to choose martyrdom on  the promise that because of their actions they will be granted the highest rewards available in heaven for committing unspeakable acts upon their fellow man. None are immune from behavior rooted in the ancient mythology of the Bronze or Iron Ages because the holy texts of these monotheistic religions make promises based on nothing more than the words scratched out on some ancient parchment.

The Buddhists have a saying that keeps the whole thing in perspective, “If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.” The force of this simple idea is that one who purports to know, who claims knowledge of the unknowable, is a false prophet and must, therefore, be ignored. One must not listen to the self-serving arrogance of one who claims knowledge of that which is ineffable. To do so is to engage in dangerous, menacing behavior designed to serve the self-interest of another rather than the interests of the greater good. The arrogance of those claiming knowledge of that which they have no knowledge other than their reliance on ancient texts born, perhaps, of political propaganda to serve the interests of the priests and ruling classes or, perhaps, the human need to understand that which is currently explainable  or, perhaps, both is palpable in the sense that it exploits those most easily exploited. In the words of P. T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

“If you were to die today, where will you go?” is in the same category as the arrogance of those who predict the dates for the end of the world and the evangelical campaigns like “I Found It” and “I Support Religious Freedom.” Ideas without evidence, relying only on faith for their foundational underpinnings. For me, I’ll simply pass.

Question Everything…Learning to Think Clearly for Yourself

Don’t just teach your children to read…Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.
George Carlin

The late George Carlin took nothing at face value. His deep and often cynical analysis of behavior and ideas was always refreshing in a world filled with apathetic acceptance of propaganda swaddled in the guise of politics, religion, culture, class, race, and gender. Forgive me if I left anything off the list. His point, however, is clear. Accept nothing someone tells you or what someone writes and you read. Do not believe the surface for if you do you’ll surely be disappointed. But what does it mean to question everything? What does it actually mean to read critically?

I have one anecdotal piece of evidence, a story that is funny while carrying the seeds of corporate greed at its core. It was widely reported in the late 1980’s that when toilet training one’s children, it is best to wait until the child asks to be trained. In an era of child centered parenting, a period in which I raised my own children, this bit of news reporting seemed to make a great deal of sense until I learned that the studies that were widely reported were funded by manufacturers of disposable diapers. The question arises as to whether the studies results were motivated by a reasonable interpretation of the data or by the profits to be made from selling one or two more years worth of disposable diapers? Fortunately for my kids, they were unable to use disposable diapers so we opted for cloth. The point of this anecdote is to simply point out that when a study is widely reported it is always appropriate to ask where the funding source for the study came from. Does the funder have an economic or idealogical stake in the results of the study.

It is always important to think clearly about claims made that appear on the surface to be quite logical. Another example: An argument made by fundamentalists for whom the literal (surface) meaning in the Bible is without flaw claims that evolution must be wrong by partially making their case that the human eye is too complex an organ to be made other than by divine design. This is an argument from incredulity which, in its simplest form, goes something like this: I can conceive of no other possible solution so X must be the case. The argument from incredulity is one of the weaker forms of argumentation because, for the most part, those who make the argument fail to consider sources outside of those which make them most comfortable. Consulting other sources, scientific sources, that argue for the evolution of the human eye using evidence from many species allows one to argue from extant evidence and not from belief systems or ideology.

Teach your children to read critically, open their eyes to the very idea that there is always more than one way to get to the roof but if you can’t think clearly you might not recognize them.

Reconciling Mythology with Reality: Thinking in Jewish 43

Reconciling Mythology with Reality: Thinking in Jewish 43

Reconciling Mythology with Reality: Thinking in Jewish 43

In their provocative book, The Bible Unearthed, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, drawing on the most recent archaeological research present to the reader a stunningly new vision of the rise of ancient Israel and how the Hebrew Bible served as a powerful mythology for the Judean kings beginning with the rule of King Josiah in the middle of the 8th century BCE. What Finkelstein and Silberman argue is that the Torah and the historical writings from Joshua through Kings I and II provide a picture that is more mythological than historical. Their argument is based on both archaeological data and practicability; could the events recorded in the Bible actually have occurred, do they pass the giggle test.

In terms of the mythological argument, Finkelstein and Silberman present a case that suggests that many of the events have an 8th century BCE contemporary feel that seem to be supportive of Josiah and his ambitions. Many of the “historical” stories presented use 8th century BCE geographical references to cities and peoples that could not have existed in the 15th century BCE when the stories were said to have occurred. Perhaps an example is in order. When the exodus from Egypt is said to have occurred, the People of Israel (they were not yet Jews) took the long way around, wandering in the Southern Sinai for 40 years. Had they taken the Northern route across the Sinai, along the Mediterranean Sea the people would have come in direct contact with a line of Egyptian fortifications which surely would have created an Egyptian response, if only to document the rabble of Israel leaving Egypt. There are any number of Egyptian documents extant today that mention the travel of many peoples but there is no mention anywhere of a rabble of 600,000 people, former slaves in Egypt, leaving as a whole group to cross the desert. To confirm the historicity of the Bible there must be other confirming data, either Egyptian records or archaeological discoveries; neither exist. Crossing the desert with so many people is also beyond reasonable expectations. Small groups of nomads for sure but the population of a small nation crossing the desert and surviving is beyond the capacity of human beings without leaving significant archaeological evidence behind. If the evidence is not there the historicity of the stories fails.

What Finkelstein and Silberman argue is that trying to understand the Bible as an historical document of the development of a people is not supported by the historical or archaeological evidence. It is, however, supported by inferential evidence as dating from the reign of King Josiah, a time in the mid 8th century BCE of great power shifts and an accompanying religious revolution. The evidence found in the historical place names in the Hebrew Bible through Kings II have a corollary in the historical record of that time period as found in documentary evidence from outside of the Judean Kingdom and from the archaeological data dating from this time period as well. Understanding the Bible as a cobbling of extant mythological stories and a political document supporting the ambitions and activities of King Josiah and his immediate successors is a more accurate view.

All that being said, the staying power of the texts is nothing less than extraordinary. The mythology of the Torah and the histories took on a life of its own surviving to this very moment as a guide to ethical practice in the world. It is a book of actions leading to understandings, even if those understandings are quite different and perhaps unrecognizable by those of 8th century BCE Israelites for whom the stories related to their contemporary lives.

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JUMP FOR JOY! Photo Project

Capturing the beauty of the human spirit -- in mid-air -- around the world

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