Earlier today, I showed about 20 minutes of a movie to my philosophy class, What the *Bleep* Do We Know?, which I highly recommend to anyone. The movie raises a lot of questions about what we can know, and the relations between quantum physics and how we affect our reality. There’s one fascinating section about how Native Americans couldn’t see Columbus’s ships when the ships were on the horizon, because the ships weren’t part of anything the Native Americans had experienced before, so their brains couldn’t register the ships at first.
Thinking along these lines, and along the lines of the Shakespearean adage “There’s more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy,” I told my students about how I saw a black ghost dog, a grim, one time, and how much that impacted me (for the full story, see “A Grim Reality” on my MySpace blog or at www.themagicalbuffet.com). That really threw my philosophical world for a loop, because I don’t know what to make of it.
One of my students mentioned that Christians believe in angels and demons, and that it was a demon that I saw. I rejected that idea and said that, while I admit anything is possible after the strange thing I saw, I don’t believe in demons. Another students objected, “Well, what about when Jesus had to toss out Legion?” I said something like, “Well, first of all, I am zero percent fundamentalist. So I would argue that people back in those days didn’t have categories for mental illness like we do today.” I had a couple of fundamentalist students that said “Uh uh!” and shook their heads that I dared question the Bible.
That made me think today about simply appealing to authority to support an argument, like “I believe that because the Bible says so.”
I think that, to demonstrate a possible problem with that, I’m going to tell my class about how I asked a class one time, “Why should we practice due process?” One student answered “because it’s in the Constitution.” While technically right, that is not a philosophical answer, because it begs the question, “why is it in the Constitution?” In other words, I want my students to tell me reasons why due process is a good thing. I’ll try to say something like, imagine we are the Founding Fathers and Mothers, and we have to write a new Constitution. Why should we put this in here?
All that is to say that, like saying “There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because President Bush said so” (it may be true that there were weapons of mass destruction, and it may not be true, but to argue in this way is a fallacy–appealing to Bush’s authority does not prove the case one way or the other), saying “I believe this because the Bible says so” is not a philosophical argument.
What does one do, then, when people use Biblical passages to support slavery? And even genocide? (All you have to do is point out how God supposedly ordered the extermination of Canaanite groups to make the sinister argument that genocide is okay, as long as God sanctions it.) All this is to say that there are many diverse things in the Bible, and I would argue that the genocide passages and slavery passages represented the desires of a particular writer projecting his passions onto God, not really what a loving God would sanction. But of course, I’m not a fundamentalist.
I do believe in Jesus’ teaching “Love your enemies,” even though I find it difficult to put into practice. But I would never say I believe this “because the Bible says so.” Rather, I think it’s incumbent on me to give philosophical reasons, such as how otherwise, we surrender to the same cycle of hatred that our enemies attack us with to begin with, how we end up mirroring their behavior, how I don’t want to live a life of hatred but rather one of compassion for its pragmatic benefits, how people are born in different circumstances which affect their worldviews, etc. I’m just saying all that off the top of my head–if I were really to defend such a claim as “Love your enemies,” I think I would have to take some of the above thoughts and flesh them out into a cogent, persuasive argument.
Anyway, those are my basic thoughts on the Bible–an inspired book, to be sure, but like anything human, it has to be subject to radical criticism, rather than simply submitting to its authority and not thinking about it. I believe a loving God wants us to think and to grow, not to accept thinks unthinkingly and uncritically.
That’s my .02, from a philosophy instructor once again frustrated with teaching in the Bible belt. 🙂