Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bush Does God

With bittersweet regret I note that George W. Bush withheld his nonpareil wisdom on the Bible until his last days in office. The occasion was an interview with reporter Cynthia McFadden:

MCFADDEN: Is it literally true, the Bible?

BUSH: You know. Probably not ... No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament, for example is ... has got ... You know, the important lesson is "God sent a son."
Glorious! There's something for nearly everyone to find contemptible here:
  • For non-Christians who believe in some other god -- the vast majority of the world's population, including in its mighty sweep Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and all sorts of other wretches -- he has affirmed, however back-handedly, that he thinks their beliefs are false and useless and that his god, the god of Christianity, is the best god of them all;
  • For non-believers like myself, he has confirmed that he bases his life, at least in some vague way, on ancient fairy tales;
  • For Christian zealots -- the ones who paint their faces at the games, lead the bawdiest of chants against the opposing gods, and buy all the tie-in merchandise as soon as it goes on sale -- he has expressed doubts as to the authority of their very most cherished book;
  • For the top-shelf academics who wring their hands as they decry the caricatures to which, they say, the "new atheists" reduce the rich subtleties of Christian theology, Bush offers the crudest of Cliff's Notes oversimplifications -- "God sent a son" -- and not, say, that god is the name we give to grand unfolding of the human ideal of justice or some such abstruse, question-begging bullshit.
On top of all that, I detect in the "probably," the "you know," and the verbal halting a sense that Bush really doesn't give a shit about the question or the answer. The Bible, the question of god, theology, and related matters constitute just more regions of his vast incuriosity.

7 comments:

Snowbrush said...

Surprisingly, Bush has stated the view of many liberal Christians.

Funny that the question was stated and answered as if it's all one way or the other.

Mike said...

These recent interviews are a sure sign of Bush's lame-duck status. His handlers never let him do this kind of foot-chewing embarrassment when they still cared.

Dale said...

Snowbrush, thanks for commenting. I glanced over your blog and you seem like a reasonable person, so ... perhaps you could flesh that out a little?

I find "liberal" Christianity baffling (and I agree with you that Bush sounded like a liberal Christian in that interview).

The trouble: I don't know what it means to say the Bible is the word of allllllmighty god, kinda. It's the kinda that trips me up.

I can certainly understand finding some passages in the Bible agreeable/reasonable and others disagreeable/unreasonable. I certainly read the Bible that way -- some of it hangs together just fine, much of it comes across as insane, cruel, barbaric, etc.

But this is true of all books. This is true, specifically, of all books written by people.

But isn't the Bible supposed to be written by a superhuman entity? An omniscient one?

So if god is omniscient and the Bible is his word, then where can doubts fit in?

If god is not omniscient and/or the Bible is not his word, why care what the Bible says? It's no better or worse than any other book.

It seems to me that the binary thinking comes in with this question: either the Bible came from people (who are always and everywhere short of omniscience) or it came from an omniscient god.

If it came from an omniscient god, there's no doubting it.

If it came from people -- or if people messed up god's perfect word somewhere along the way -- then some method, some standard, some interpretive rule, must be used to pick the good from the not-good. That method/standard/rule does not appear in the Bible. Nor does god come down and give lectures on it. So it comes down to interpretation and limited human wisdom in this case, in which case, again, the Bible offers nothing above and beyond any other literary work.

Where am I wrong on this? I am eager to understand how one would go about making the Bible into kinda the work of an omniscient being.

Thanks.

Dale said...

Mike, you're quite right -- Bush has been set free. It could get hilarious.

Snowbrush said...

"I glanced over your blog and you seem like a reasonable person..."

Takes one to know one--ha. Thanks for the "compliment." I get so tired of letters that start, "Hell, son, are they letting a fruitcake like you run free?"

"I am eager to understand how one would go about making the Bible into kinda the work of an omniscient being."

I take Bush like Bush takes the Bible, not too literally. He's unsure of his speaking abilities and often throws in extra qualifiers that don't mean a whole lot. I have no explanation beyond that...

For my views on the Bible, read the last part of my most recent entry. After I answered Lynn's letter, I outlined my own "faith," such as it is.

Liberal Christians don't take the Bible as all or nothing. They'll say that, sure it's screwed historically and scientifically, but it's an accurate guide to matters of faith. Religion been retreating before the advances of science for a long, long time; and this relinquishing of claims to its literal accuracy is just one sign of that.

Dale said...

Snowbrush, thanks for that. I hereby lift the burden of explaining liberal Christianity from your shoulders. That explanation belongs to people who actually believe it, but I'm not holding my breath.

Scott said...

Dale:

I found your blog through the "Blogs I Like" feature on the blog of an apparent acquaintence that we have in common - the blogger who does Token Offerings.

Anyway, I had a couple of comments to make.

1. I canat least respect the fact that Bush had the balls to admit that he's not a literalist. Now that's he's a lame duck, he doesn't have to pander to the religious right anymore. Admitting that he's not a literalist might be the first honest thng that's come out of his mouth in the last 8 years. So I'm not going to crucify him for it (excuse the pun).

2. I fancy myself a "liberal Christian," although probably more liberal than what you mean when you use the term. I'm a Christian because I am drawn to the teachings and life philosophy of Jesus as they are presented in the Gospels. I do not, however, accept the legendary and mythological aspects of the Jesus story - virgin births, walking on water, literal bodily resurrections, literal God in the flesh, etc.

I'll answer your questiosn about liberal Christianity one by one. And, of course, I would encourage you to visit my own blog if you really want to know more about my ideas (sorry, shameless self-promoting there).

1. "But isn't the Bible supposed to be written by a superhuman entity? An omniscient one?"

Well, no, not really. I think most Christians recognize that the Bible was written by human beings. They simply argue that those human beings were "inspired" by God. I don't personally accept this, however.

2. "So if god is omniscient and the Bible is his word, then where can doubts fit in?"

I don't personally believe in a theistic-type God. While I will offer up a prayer now and then, particularly in a pinch, I tend to live my life as though thestic gods do not exist. Instead, I define God with words like love, mercy, forgiveness, and abundant life. If God exists, I believe God is the essence, or source, of those things - not necessarily a theistic human-like being with human-like qualities.

3. "If god is not omniscient and/or the Bible is not his word, why care what the Bible says? It's no better or worse than any other book."

It certainly is not necessarily any better or worse than any other sacred text. I believe that good guides for living can be found in many different religious traditions. However, just because the Bible may not be in the inspired Word of a theistic Heavenly Father, does not mean that it doesn't have any value to modern life. I find much value in the teachings and philosophies of Jesus - he was sort of like a Jewish Buddhist in many ways.

4. "So it comes down to interpretation and limited human wisdom in this case, in which case, again, the Bible offers nothing above and beyond any other literary work."

Yes, it does come down to interpretation and what you, as an individual, take from the teachings presented there. For some people, there's nothing there of value. For others, it's the infallible Word of God. For me, it is a fascinating story of an ancient people's struggles to understand their God and their place in the world. And identifying with those ancient struggles sparks a deep sense of shared humanity within me. The Bible, more than anything else, is a deeply human book.