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The Freethinkers Forum meets once a week, and although I rarely have a free night to attend, I’m glad when I can be there. The Freethinkers live up to their name, they always set me to thinking. Last evening the presenter was a young man who was addressing the question of whether the Bible can be used as moral guide. He did a very good job sharing his thoughts on the topic, as evidenced by the fact that I’m still mulling over my perceptions of the Bible and morality.
First, I wonder what Bible are we addressing, and in whose hands is it being used as a moral tool? The Hebrew Bible? The Catholic version which adds both the apochrypha and the New Testament? Or, the stripped down Protestant version? The presenter took his examples of immoral behavior from the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. But, he discovered in conversations with conservative Christians that they hold the ‘moral truths’ of the Old Testament as equal to those in the New Testament. At least one person commented that he’d been taught that the teachings of Jesus supplanted the Old Testament, reflecting my own experience. Choosing to elevate to Old Testament as a moral guide allows conservative Christians to lend the moral weight of the Bible to God-approved wars and laws that deny civil rights to gays.
The Freethinkers agreed that war, rape, and homophobia were sanctioned by the Old Testament. We agreed that those three were immoral. But, we didn’t address the question of Judaism. Jews, of course, rely only on the Hebrew Bible for their religious formation. Yet, Judaism is in many ways a religion of ethical behavior. I was left wanting to discover how the Hebrew Bible interacts with the moral development of believing Jews. That led me to wonder how any version of the Bible affects the behaviors of Christians whose actions for peace, freedom and justice inspire my own hopes for moral behavior.
My acquaintance with the Protestant version of the Bible leads me to believe that it is almost infinitely malleable — that I can bend it’s words and stories to my whim and will. Yet, I’m still intrigued to know what happens when people go to that source and find there inspiration for moral behaviors of the highest order.
The Freethinkers offered something to think about, and an impetus to further research. A rare ‘free evening’ well spent.
Though this question might well be confused with a inquiry after the state of your loss of height or even girth, it is an inquiry after the state of your spiritual health. The ancient meaning of ‘shrive’ is to hear someone’s sins and to respond with an assurance of grace and spiritual advice as required. It is the action that lies behind Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins.
Next Tuesday, February 25th, could be a good day to ask yourself where you have fallen short in your striving to be a person who gives no offense. For those who experience a divine presence in their lives their desire not to offend includes both deity and humanity. For those whose sole focus is in the human realm, there still remains a need to own up to offenses one may have given. The range of offenses we can offer are almost too numerous to mention. A short list would include: unwarranted anger, intentional slights, corners cut too sharply, offering cold legalism where warm empathy was needed, pursuing desires to own or possess beyond need or reason, choosing the easy out when forgiving self, and choosing harsh standards when called upon to forgive others.
Before you even begin to catalogue the offenses you have given, I can offer one piece of advice good for both your spiritual health and your relationships on the mortal plane. It is not enough to catalogue those faults, or even to share the fact of your failings with counselors. You will need to take the next step and work at making amends with those you have offended. Sometimes apologies can suffice, at other times reparations will need to be offered. Occasionally you may find your offense went unnoticed and your contrition seems unnecessary. From time to time you will learn that apologies and reparations cannot undo the damage done. In that instance, in particular, you will find this spiritual advice more than cumbersome. Yet, it is for those times when forgiveness may not be readily forthcoming that we need an extra measure of grace. The grace that allows us to keep on reviewing our offenses, even though we might never be fully ‘shriven’ – heard, given the grace of forgiveness, and readmitted to a relationship unmarred by memories that bring pain.