Sunday, November 26, 2006

The world is flat. The bible says so.



by Larry Graham

The world is flat. The bible says so.

That was the teaching, until human investigation discovered otherwise. What happened to all of those flat-Earth people? With a few exceptions that are still around today, they either (a) became educated in the matter or (b) died off. No amount of intense belief; no amount of impassioned prayer will make the Earth flat.

But the Church tried very hard to make it flat anyhow.

Question: Who was responsible for the disruptions caused by this discovery? The astronomers? The church? Galileo took the blame, under pressure, and the Church was in the wrong.

While I agree that cultural differences lie at the root of our current Communion difficulties, I find it impossible to accept that we should give equal time and importance to ignorance and truth. While all cultures should be appreciated and all persons honored, all cultures are not created equal. It's time we stopped pretending that they are.

Cultures that practice blood sacrifice, female genital mutilation, or sell their children into slavery are not on a par with those that don't. Uneducated persons, in any society, are apt to be frightened of new ideas that they don'tunderstand or that their culture holds as wrong. Saying that homosexuality doesn't exist in Africa, or that it's an anomaly of decadent Western culture may play well among ignorant populations -- here and abroad. But it isn't true.

And we are supposed to be on the side of truth. It may be appropriate to acknowledge that we have rocked the boat. It is inappropriate to say that we're sorry for doing so. And it is flat out wrong to fail to acton what we know as true, just because somebody is offended by it.

I suggest that we should say something like "we have been blessed by Divine Providence with the knowledge, insight, scientific tools and time to inquire into the nature of homosexuality. We acknowledge that the new truths that have emerged can be distrubing. We have acted on these new truths through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and we understand this has caused tension. We can see that God is doing a new thing. We desire to share this understanding with the wider Communion."

We do not need to dumb down our beliefs. (We can leave that to the fundamentalists who do a very good job of it.) We must not be the Galileos of the present age.

Thanks to Larry Graham (Verger at All Saints, Atlanta) for not only "telling it like it is" but giving permission for me to share his reflections here.

8 comments:

Hiram said...

So, where does the Bible say that the world is flat? We often speak of "sunrise" and "sunset", and the Bible uses similar language to express how things may look to an observer ("the four corners of the earth"), but such language is not saying that the world is flat, anymore than we mean that the sun moves when it "rises" in the east.

In fact, Job 26:7 speaks of the earth being in space: "He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.

Confusion arises not out of what the Bible actually says, but how it is interpreted -- which is why I seek to interpret Scripture according to its context in history and culture, and according to its grammatical sense. Those who seek to bring a "new" undestanding out of Scripture have to twist grammar and /or context to do so -- or invent something out of whole cloth.

MadPriest said...

The world's not flat.
Huh!
Then why don't we all roll off?

Peggy said...

Thank you! I have come to believe that "unshakeable faith" exists only in the minds of the ignorant. Only God is perfect, therefore only God could be without change, since the Holy comprehends all those facts and circumstances which appear paradoxical or contradictory to us limited human beings. Our faith needs to be shakeable! Periodically, we need to be shaken up, stirred up, and opened up, so God can once again do a new thing within us. Isn't that a major part of the spirit of Advent?
Some years ago, in attempting to deal with a conflicted congregation, a certain bishop proclaimed "The truth is always somewhere in the middle." Actually, no, it's not. The mean is in the middle. The truth may lie largely with one party or another, or even outside the ken of all parties. In any case, clinging to ignorance will not allow true compromise to be effected, as only the truth can set us free.
I'll have another shake, please. Happy Advent.

Terry Sparks said...

Just a couple of comments on paragraph 8:

If we claim to have discovered "new" truths by virtue of our [superior]
"knowledge, insight, scientific tools and time" I fear we may create an
impression of imperialist or liberal arrogance. In fact, what we have
discovered is an eternal truth to which the Holy Spirit has guided us. We
have been led to this discovery through, among other things, a careful study

of scripture, always keeping the commandment to "love your neighbor as
yourself" firmly in place as a guiding principle. In the process, we find
that in order to love our neighbor as ourselves we must first *see* our
neighbor as ourselves and abandon centuries of cultural bias.

Also, if we say that we understand that acting on these truths through the
promptings of the Holy Spirit has "caused tension," this puts us in the
position of taking responsibility for something [tension, dissention,
possible schism, etc.] that is not our fault. If there is tension, then its

cause is very likely the familiar tendency of human beings to react with
fear and defensiveness when faced with the prospect of fundamental change in

society.

It may not be too late for us to refuse any longer to be blamed for
something that God has led us to, and then proceed without apology to do
justice and seek reconciliation with those who oppose us. As long as we
accept responsibility for these troubles on any level, then we allow
ourselves to continue to be seen as the source and origin of the problem.
For God's kingdom to break through into this world, God's will must be done
without reservation or apology. If Jesus taught us anything, He taught us
that.

Blessings,

Terry Sparks
Poughkeepsie

Terry Sparks said...

Just a couple of comments on paragraph 8:

If we claim to have discovered "new" truths by virtue of our [superior] "knowledge, insight, scientific tools and time" I fear we may create an impression of imperialist or liberal arrogance. In fact, what we have discovered is an eternal truth to which the Holy Spirit has guided us. We have been led to this discovery through, among other things, a careful study of scripture, always keeping the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" firmly in place as a guiding principle. In the process, we find that in order to love our neighbor as ourselves we must first *see* our neighbor as ourselves and abandon centuries of cultural bias.

Also, if we say that we understand that acting on these truths through the promptings of the Holy Spirit has "caused tension," this puts us in the position of taking responsibility for something [tension, dissention, possible schism, etc.] that is not our fault. If there is tension, then its cause is very likely the familiar tendency of human beings to react with fear and defensiveness when faced with the prospect of fundamental change in
society.

It may not be too late for us to refuse any longer to be blamed for something that God has led us to, and then proceed without apology to do justice and seek reconciliation with those who oppose us. As long as we accept responsibility for these troubles on any level, then we allow ourselves to continue to be seen as the source and origin of the problem. For God's kingdom to break through into this world, God's will must be done without reservation or apology. If Jesus taught us anything, He taught us that.

Blessings,

Terry Sparks
Poughkeepsie NY

frharry said...

Hiram said... Confusion arises not out of what the Bible actually says, but how it is interpreted -- which is why I seek to interpret Scripture according to its context in history and culture, and according to its grammatical sense. Those who seek to bring a "new" undestanding out of Scripture have to twist grammar and /or context to do so -- or invent something out of whole cloth.

Couple of comments. The Bible doesn't *say* anything. Human beings speak, write and read. So by definition, we are always talking about interpretation since each of us peers through our own hermeneutical lens in encountering and understanding our world. At the very best, human beings have a constructed understanding of the world they encounter.

That's why talking about a "new understanding out of Scripture" makes little sense. Clearly we can understand a modicum of what the original writers understood through what we can know about their context and the subtext of their writing. But that hardly means that their understanding (which has historically been confused with the understandings of the church's favored theologians) somehow must be seen as normative for *our* own understanding of it. We don't get let off the hook so easily.

Human beings are not computers ready for programming. On our best days, we are critical thinkers conscious of our own lenses in the process of appropriating scripture in light of our lives here and now. While we should afford the ancients the hermeneutic of generosity in our encounters with their thought, only an intellectually irresponsible person would give them - and their historical interpreters - an absolute veto over all understandings of their thought - including its ultimate value to us here and now - for eternity.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

"Where does the Bible say that the world is flat?"

A strict reading of the text (Gen 1) gives a pretty firm impression that there is a flat world under a dome, and lights suspended from the dome (I think the word in the text actually translates better as canopy than dome). Of course ignoring for a moment that light comes before the sun was created, the sun and moon are placed in this canopy above the earth-- assuming an earth-centric universe.

What the text certainly does NOT say is "let galaxies be formed with solar systems that have suns in the center, and let one solar system in particular be formed that has a planet orbiting around it form..." You get the point.

To think that the authors of Genesis had some preconceived prophetic scientific understanding of the universe is a bit naive. And when somebody realized it was naive they got ostracized. Now, we realize that GLBT issues aren't written so precisely either. And, in due course-- typical of our broken human nature-- those who have a hard time changing would like to ostracize those who are figuring out just how naive it is.

j

revsusan said...

"So, where does the Bible say that the world is flat?"

Hiram, it's another one of those pesky "clear truth of scripture" questions ... see also:

http://inchatatime.blogspot.com/2006/02/clear-truth-of-scripture.html