Skip to main content

Afterward to Peter on Genesis: Why does it matter?

Part I: A freaky little book
Part II: A Convergent Conversation / Small Gods
Part III: The Human Face of God / And the LORD saw what He had made…
Part IV: A few things missing
Part V: An Evolving Covenant / The Initiatory Challenge
Postscript: The Expulsion from Eden
Afterward: Why does it matter?

I’m writing this from New England Yearly Meeting Sessions 2008. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind for the last two or three days, so I’ve been away from the blog for a while.

I’ve written six impassioned posts after an in-depth reading of Genesis and a perusal of several commentaries. I’ve gotten dozens of lively and intelligent comments. But I’m coming back to it now with a much broader question than any I’ve asked so far: What does it matter? Having learned what I’ve learned about J and P and E, and about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, what has that told me (if anything) about G*d, or about Quakers, or about my own spiritual life?

The Bible was written by writers, and I’ve long felt that much of what those writers wanted to say has been lost, crushed, twisted, and sometimes outright perverted by later so-called “Bible based” traditions. All religious sentiments aside, as a fellow writer I feel it is my calling and my sacred duty to read through the text, not for comfort or for inspiration or for edification, but simply to hear what it is they were trying to say.

The Bible is also a huge part of Quaker tradition, and even though I am a non-Christian Quaker, I feel it’s important to have a reasonable familiarity with it. Beyond that, listening to Christ centered Quakers has made me think that a lot of the allergic reaction I (and many people) have to the Bible doesn’t come from the Bible itself, but from the ways that it has been misused.

Walter Cronkite once said something similar about the American flag and the extreme right wing of American politics. It’s a great symbol; why let them have it? Liberals are patriots, damn it, and if words like patriotism and symbols like the flag become the exclusive prevue of right-wing nut cases, then liberals have lost something powerful and precious.

This seems even more true of the Bible. Those who would turn the Bible into The Infallible Word Of God make it into an abomination. The stories in the Bible breathe, and the people who lived them and who wrote them down are my brothers and sisters, and... Imagine a child king, snatched from his bed in the middle of the night, dressed in regalia and propped on a puppet throne by powerful factions he cannot comprehend, to be used to justify the tyranny of a regent. Like the voice of that child, the voices and experiences of the writers of the Bible are lost when their stories are decreed to be doctrine and dogma.

Leave the kingdom and its factions aside. Listen to the child.

My next few posts will be about Sessions, but I wanted to finish up this series on Genesis first.


cubbie said…
yes yes yum!
pilgrim said…
I would agree with your aversion to the bible, but Quakerism is founded in Christ - "there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition" and "Christ is come to teach his children himself". With respect, you can no more be a pagan quaker than a virgin mother (with one notable exception!)

RevCindi said…
Excellent. I agree that those who would deify the Bible have lost the meaning of Christianity. Once we understand that it is about love (love your neighbor as yourself, love your God with all your...), life takes on a whole different meaning and one begins the true journey.
Hystery said…
I would just point out that our reference to the collection of literature that took multiple generations to write and then compile as a single, monolithic text known as "the Bible" is a relatively recent phenomenon historically speaking. To either categorically accept or reject the writings included in the canon ignores the diversity of context,intent, meaning, and culture out of which this collection of texts emerges.

Additionally, to defend a single interpretation of the life, death, (and resurrection?) of Jesus of Nazareth also ignores a multitude of Christian interpretations both heterodox and orthodox throughout the past two thousand years. Until my magic decoder ring comes in the mail, I intend to maintain an open mind toward others' interpretations and perspectives. I also understand that there is great diversity, both subtle and radical, that goes back to their first days. Therefore, I also will not soon be deciding who belongs and who does not.

Thanks, Peter for your reading. You have a refreshing hermeneutic which I find engaging and intelligent. As another Quaker Pagan with an interest in reading the bible, I also appreciate your example in moving beyond a reactionary Pagan response to biblical literature. There is great beauty and blessing to be found within those pages.
Anonymous said…
I'm a theist, non-christian Quaker who owns 6 translations of the bible!

Of course, there is one that I rely on for inspiration (NRSV), but I find the others helpful at times.

Hystery speaks my mind about the bible -- there is a great blessing to be found within those pages.

Jesus did things that most of us would never have the spiritual fortitude to do. He actually died for his spiritual truth. I'm not sure I'm ready for that.

And he created a legacy that has been almost unparelled in human history.

Just reading about it enriches my life.

Anonymous said…
Your observation about distaste for things "Biblical" being far more about misuse of the Bible than about what the Bible has to say is a major concern of mine. I have only recentlty begun learning about "narrative theology" as opposed to the "propositional theology" that also appears to me to be the basis for different peoples' problems with bible thought. Thank you again for your thoughts and sources. Incidentally, many of us Quakers regard those who would limit "Christ" and how His light can be expressed to the earthly ministry of Jesus as not very "Quakerly." When your perceptions of values in the Light contradict what Jesus had to say, we will have to talk further, but I haven't seen it yet.

In His Love,
Nate Swift
Anonymous said…
Nate Swift makes a good point about not limiting the concept of "Christ" to the earthly ministry of Jesus. I wouldn't go so far as to call it unQuakerly, but it does seem to take something that is spiritual and use it as a secular thing.

I can only speak for myself here, but my concept of "Christ" is partly God-in-Spirit and partly something we all have within us that we can nurture and allow to guide us into a life of spiritual integrity in unity with God-in-Spirit.

Of couse, Jesus perfected his inner Light and Chist-ness more than anyone else ever has. In that there is great hope and encouragement. That is my view. Others believe that Jesus was the perfect manisfestation of Christ-through-God. Either way, he was a role model of the highest order.

I've been so grateful, this week, at New England Yearly Meeting--and in the comments section of this blog, both during Peter's recent series and at other times--to have encountered Quakers who have shared with me their way of reading the Bible.

Though I wouldn't want to overgeneralize, since NEYM is largely attended by the most liberal of Friends, it's my impression that many Friends read the Bible in a way that is actually very close to the way that I have learned to read mythology as a Pagan woman. (Again, I don't want to overgeneralize; I know that individual Pagans approach material differently, too.) I've become aware of the tenderness and discernment that Quakers bring to their reading of the Bible--"listening" to it a lot the same way that we listen to messages in meeting for worship, in recognition both that the degree of inspiration of the speaker (who has not been held to be God, dictating his autobiography, by the Friends I've spoken with)varies from message to message, and that any given message or passage may not be meant for us on any given day.

I have found my attitudes toward the Bible shifting and becoming far more tender over this past week in particular. I suspect that many of my Pagan friends would be shocked at how much a number of heavily scriptural vocal messages have touched my heart this week. On occasion, the clarity of communication with my heart has been breathtaking.

I will probably post more on this topic later, when I get home. (I'm still at NEYM, waiting for Permanent Board to wrap up so we can carpool home with a f/Friend who is there.) I've got a lot of seasoning to do on this subject before I'll be very lucid about some of the deeper movements within my heart. But I'm very grateful to the f/Friends who have taken the time and trouble to be tender and open as they have shared their own approach to reading a book that is often deeply troubling, and has certainly been read in a spirit of acrimony far too often over the years.

But, read in a spirit of love, and with discernment--as thoughtful Pagans read our mythology--this book can heal.

With respect to Pilgrim/John, if a virgin can become a mother--whether metaphorically or literally--I think you may speak too hastily when you speak with certainty that Peter and I cannot be Pagan Quakers.

Because, friend, we are... a fact I think we're actually attempting to explore in this series and at this blog with a very Quakerly humility and expectancy.

If you are yourself Quaker, perhaps one day we will find ourselves gathered in worship together, waiting upon the Light that Fox and the vast majority of the world's Quakers do call Christ.

As for me, I trust that the waiting, the listening, and the faithfulness to that Spirit is more important to living as a Quaker than are words and names.

Blessed be.
Bright Crow said…
"Leave the kingdom and its factions aside. Listen to the child."

Thank you, Friends Peter and Cat. You both are delving deeply into territory I've relished exploring for a long time.

"I've become aware of the tenderness and discernment that Quakers bring to their reading of the Bible--"listening" to it a lot the same way that we listen to messages in meeting for worship...."

Yes, yes.

I'm currently reading a book by James P. Carse called The Religious Case Against Belief, which adds a powerful new perspective to the whole matter of "communitas" (faith community) versus "belief system."

Once I've finished the book, I'll have more to add to this discussion on my own blogs.

Blessed be,
Idris said…
Thanks for a stimulating read - most of what I would want to say has been covered so I will not repeat.

Anonymous said…
The first step is to realize that it is a book, written by humans. Gods do not write books, or not in words, in handwriting or cuneiform or hieroglyphic, on paper or stone. Gods if they write books do it in stone and water and earth and air and fire, and by reading those (which we have begun to be able to do) we can read a true history of the earth and of the universe.

Human authors lie. Not consciously maybe, but they all observe only from their point of view, and that's what they write down. So it can't be inerrant if applied to other folk.

My favorite source on who wrote the OT is Richard Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible?, but there are variant readings of the evidence.

Until three hundred years ago, most Jews and Christians believed - needed to believe - that the Bible was God's memo to us, and this led to all sorts of horrors and foolishness, and western civ has in some ways never quite recovered from the nervous breakdown of the invention of modern textual philology, followed by geology, followed by biology, followed by archaeology that cast doubt on so much that no one wanted to doubt. It's not grown up to close your mind to reason. But it's perfectly natural to want to.

So the first step is to accept that we have a heavily edited version of many writers' work, and we have no way of knowing (and every reason to doubt) that there was any agreed-on intent beforehand to produce anything like what eventually emerged.

But the fact is, the book could hardly be more extraordinary (I think it would be less so) if it were the word of God and not the word of various humans. And its centrality to our culture may be regretted, but it cannot be erased.

Popular posts from this blog


(Note: there were so many thought provoking comments in response to this post that it generated a second-round of ideas. You can read the follow-up post here .) I have a confession to make. I want to be famous. Well, sort of. I don't want to be famous, famous, and ride around in a limousine and have to hire security and that sort of thing. I just want to write a book, have it published by somebody other than my mother, and bought and read by somebody other than my mother, and maybe even sign a couple of autographs along the way. Mom can have one autographed, too, if she wants. It has to be a spiritual book. A really moving and truthful book, that makes people want to look deep inside themselves, and then they come up to me and say something like, "It was all because of that book you wrote! It changed my life!" And I would say, no, no, really, you did all that, you and God/the gods --I'm a little fuzzy on whether the life-changing book is for Pagans or for Quake

Peter on Grief and Communities

Well, that was unexpected. For the last year, ever since my mom's health took a sharp downturn, I've been my dad's ride to Florence Congregational Church on Sundays. That community has been important for my dad and the weekly outing with me was something he always looked forward to and enjoyed, so I didn't mind taking him there. It meant giving up attending my own Quaker meeting for the duration, but I had already been questioning whether silent waiting worship was working for me. I was ready for a sabbatical. A month ago, my dad was Section-Twelved into a geriatric psych hospital when his dementia started to make him emotionally volatile. I had been visiting him every day at his assisted living facility which was right on my way home from work, but the hospital was almost an hour away. I didn't see him at all for three weeks, and when I did visit him there, it actually took me a couple of seconds to recognize him. He was slumped forward in a wheel chair, lo

There is a Spirit Which I Feel

I was always a "rational use of force" gal. For most of my life I believed that the use of force--by which I meant human beings taking up arms and going off to war to try to kill one another--was a regrettable necessity. Sometimes I liked to imagine that Paganism held an alternative to that, particularly back in the day when I believed in that mythical past era of the peaceful, goddess-worshipping matriarchal societies . (I really liked that version of history, and was sorry when I stopped believing in it as factual.) But that way of seeing reality changed for me, in the time between one footfall and the next, on a sunny fall morning: September 11, 2001. I was already running late for work that day when the phone rang; my friend Abby was calling, to give me the news that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center in New York. So? I thought to myself, picturing a small private aircraft. Abby tried to convey some of what she was hearing--terrorists, fire--but the mag