Wednesday, 15 June 2016

How to read scriptures wrongly

[OK, I might have used the word 'wrongly' wrongly but it is more impactful in a title than 'How not to read scriptures'.]

In the light of recent atrocities I recall how I once sat in a department seminar at which a sociologist was adamant that the Christian Bible wrecks family relationships.

I reflect on this also in the context of some Muslim friends struggling with Ramadan falling in the period where we are enjoying the longest of days.

We are approaching the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere where on 21st June the sun will rise at 0443 hours and set at 2120hrs. Pity the Muslim student who is sitting national exams.

The sociologist quoted in part from Luke 14:26 saying that the Bible teaches believers to 'hate their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters'.

The verse in its entirety is:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple."
This sociologist assumed that this text should be interpreted literally by all Christians.

How wrong could she get? What sort of anarchy would we have inherited if every believer since the resurrection of Jesus had been hating their father and mother? Is this even logical?

I won't go into an exegesis of Luke 14:26. You could read more on this link and here.

In short, we could say 'hate' was used to suggest how our love for God must trump all other loves, to the extent that the way we love our parents could be considered 'hate'.

In other words, on a scale of 1 (hate) to 10 (love), we should love God at 10 and hate our parents at 1.

But if we put this whole scale on a significantly larger scale (A for hate to Z for love), then the whole of the first scale is in fact between Y and Z in the second scale, while rape and murder would fall into the 'A' zone.

Hyperbole. See definition.

Then there is the issue of letting Scripture interpret Scripture:
As a hermeneutic approach, "Scripture interprets Scripture" is the idea that we should read a passage in the light of the entire Bible. It also states that we should interpret confusing passages based on clear passages. (Source)
Thus we interpret this hating of parents in the light of, for example, the fifth of the Ten Commandments:
"Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." (Exodus 20:12)
And if anyone has difficulty with this (as some people hold that the Old Testament is full of bloodshed, and full of contradictions), then let us go straight to what Jesus taught: "Love your neighbour as yourself".

I have not, hand on heart, studied the Koran, but is the requirement for fasting 'from sun up to sun down' literal? And if so, within what historical and geographical context did this instruction originate?

Being thus ignorant, I ask, what if Ramadan falls in the period of the shortest day, as would be the case in the southern hemisphere?

Nobody here complains when Ramadan falls in winter. In London, the shortest day will see the sun rise at  0804 hours and set at 1554 hours.

I mean, that is nothing more than missing a brunch rather than a fast, isn't it? Do believers then just go, 'hurray, a short fast!'??

What are the first principles of fasting?

Jesus taught about fasting thus in Matthew 6:16-18:
“When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
My Muslim friends in Singapore have very regular sunrise to sundown hours. What if these hours shift as they do when we move away from the equator?

If Ramadan falls in winter, do Muslims extend their fasting to at least 12 hours so that they could feel the impact of a fast? I don't know. By the same token, could my Muslim friends get away with fasting for just 12 hours in winter so that they could continue to perform their normal duties at work and school?

What should the theology behind Ramadan fasting be? Just fast between sunrise and sundown according to Mecca sunlight hours?

The letter of the law or the spirit of the law?

Is it acceptable that one fasts fastidiously from physical food but harbour evil in their hearts?

Whatever the answer may be, whether you are Christian or Muslim, gay or not, an Alice Fong or a Bryan Lim, I will subscribe to what Jesus said in the following context:

The Greatest Commandment
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

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