Sometimes I see a religious book at the library and even though it's not by a familiar author, I think, "Maybe I'll give this book a try just to see what other views are out there." At times I've rather enjoyed the unusual approaches [read: not my normal evangelical/Baptist views on things] and lessons I've learned looking at biblical topics from other perspectives. Still, other times I've been left shaking my head at people and their ideas. Latest case in point:
Original Sinners by John R. Coats...it comes with the tag line: A New Interpretation of Genesis. So I thought I'd see what the people who believe Genesis more as an allegory believe. Right?
This man grew up attending a Southern Baptist church in Texas in the fifties. I assume his mother took them to church since he said his father was nonreligious. Anyway, the author questioned a lot of what he was taught in Sunday school and later rejected much of those interpretations of the Bible and became an Episcopal priest. For those not understanding what this means because denominational labels confuse you, I'd translate it to mean he liberalized his views on Scripture quite a bit. Now, I have read books and ideas from others who have undergone similar changes in life and found I could appreciate many things they believe. And while this guy does have some interesting thoughts on Genesis -- I especially enjoyed some of the talk of certain Hebrew words and customs of the time as well as the rabbi interpretations (Midrash) -- I can't help but ponder how such a person could ever lead a church. (Yes, I know this shows my intolerance perhaps, but I'm keeping it real as to what thoughts I had.)
While some, no doubt, love him and his style, I find him way too cynical and irreverent for my tastes.
For instance, concerning the story of the Tower of Babel where God sees the people building a tower towards heaven and then confuses their language and scatters them, the author writes, "J's Yahweh being so like us in his emotional makeup, it's not all that surprising that rather than asking them what they're up to, he simply goes with his assumptions. " (pg. 68)
My thoughts were more along the line, "Um, if God knows everything, don't you think He knows what they are up to without asking?"
I suppose his God is not all-knowing. Mine is.
He also wrote, "Yahweh, Creator of the Universe, Giver of the Law, et cetera, was something of a situational ethicist when it came to playing by his own rules. Mind you, he himself did not violate the rules, but he used proxies instead, people with flexible character whose moral fiber could be woven into whatever cloth was most appropriate to the situation...In short, young Jacob's sorry character was a divine asset." (pg. 142)
Written as if God needed Jacob's deceitfulness in order to put Jacob into the position God had promised. I always thought God could accomplish His will without Jacob's duplicity and Jacob just took things into his own hands much like we are prone to do. Hello, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael.
Also this gem:
"I continue to bump up against this certainty that Yahweh should clean up his act....On the other hand, I find this portrait of the creator's slick side ironic, amusing, and even soothing with its implication that my own smarmier side is but the result of spiritual DNA inherited from that One in whose image I was made." (pg. 143)
Y'know...I wouldn't mind this stuff if an atheist wrote it. I have a few blogging acquaintances from whom I could hear these mocking paragraphs and it not bother me so much. But this is a man who lead a congregation of Christians and he can speak this way about God? This is what I find baffling!
Also his thoughts on Abraham are ....um, well, you can see for yourself. As one reading from a 21st-century point of view without good thoughts of God, I guess I can see his perspective on the sacrificing-his-son story.
"Abraham is not a nice man, which can be said of many secular and religious leaders. Unlike other leaders who rise to power, however, he has no particular charisma, no warmth to draw the reader to him. ... In the confidence game he runs on Pharoah, a wild, risk-taking side emerges, but in the game he runs on Abimelech, he shows an absence of concern for the consequences of his actions on the population of an entire kingdom, which is different only in scale from his lack of concern for Hagar and Ishmael when Sarah decides to leave them in the desert to die. Again, these are characteristics of many 'great' men and women throughout history -- the disregard for other people's money, safety, dignity, jobs, and the willingness to play risky games for uncertain affect, plodding along for three days on the way to Mount Moriah, where he will kill his son. By the normative standards of our own time, were the events on Moriah made known, Isaac would be removed from the home, while Abraham would almost certainly be judged as a danger to society and placed for an indeterminate time in a state mental health facility. Yet three of the world's religions are rooted in him, and whether one regards him as a historical figure or a literary character, he remains one of the most influential figures in human history." (pg. 131)
Is there any wonder so many of us Jews, Christians and Muslims are crazy? Look at our chief patriarch and God! No wonder the world is a mess!
Really, after reading one book from both this guy and Bart Ehrman, I'd choose the latter as my pastor. And Ehrman is agnostic.