Friday, January 04, 2008

The Gauntlet: Should Religious ideas/instructions/philosophies change with the times?

Becky took up my gauntlet to challenge for a post topic, and has thrown it down at my feet. So here it is:

Should religious ideas/instructions/philosophies be timeless or change with the times (keep in mind that my question comes from being raised Catholic)?
I really have no idea what it means to be raised Catholic. Knoxville has its fair share of a Catholic community, but being raised Baptist and now a member of the Methodist church the Protestant faith is all I've ever really been around. None of the churches I ever attended ever had any kind of anti-Catholic bias or teaching that can sometimes crop up from time to time, so there's no negative ingrained feelings at all.

I've known a few people here and there that have been Catholic during my life, but their particular religious practices and beliefs (those that differ from Protestantism) have been pretty nebulous. I know more about Catholicism from popular culture than personal experience.

That said, I can't really comment on that aspect, and I welcome your (or others') input there.

But for the original question: Should religious ideas/instructions/philosophies be timeless or change with the times? Here's what I believe on the subject.

I think mankind, as a social group, has evolved over the centuries. Some people believe we are as barbaric in AD 2008 as we were in 2008 BC or 20,008 BC (if you believe we go back that far). We just dress it up differently. I don't buy that as a universal truth - I believe humanity as a whole has learned to put most of its true barbaric past behind it. I do, however, believe some cultures on Earth today have a harder time putting it behind them than others. I think the evidence is pretty clear the Middle Eastern cultures, especially those grounded in the Islamic faiths, are struggling mightily to even join the 20th century (much less the 21st) in their ways of dealing with each other. Maybe that's an elitist and pro-Western attitude, but I think it's truer than not.

Anyway, humanity's culture evolves and has evolved over time. The way we perceive each other, how we interact with the world and God has changed since the times of Moses, Elijah, David and the Prophets. Even a casual skim through the Old Testament reveals a very, very bloody history - even compared to today's World Wars, pound for pound it was much bloodier and much more common. Thousands and thousands of men killed at the whim of kings, despots and emperors. Enemies beheaded, banished, cities burned and pillaged. This city-state rises up against another city-state because the leader of another city-state was mad at somebody else. Hundred-year exiles, wandering in wildernesses, walls falling down...the works.

Two thousand years ago, things changed.

While no one would paint the Middle Ages and the Dark Ages as cheerful, nor the Inquisition, Puritanism, Nazis and "Islamofascists" as cute and cuddly, still those cultural blights became more and more the aberration than the norm. We have seen the rise of democracy and the rule of the people overtake the culture of the monarchy and totalitarianism as the norm in the world.

Like I said, things change. But what's interesting is that while a New Testament was added, the Old Testament has stayed more or less the same in spirit since the ancients followed its teachings. And the NT, since the final official formation, has stayed more or less the same as well. The words in the two halves of the Bible are the same now as they were two thousand or five thousand years ago.

But should they be interpreted differently now, in today's more "civilized" world? Should the rules people were expected to follow and live by back then be updated to fit today's more "enlightened" society? I think Becky presents an interesting contrast of components: ideas/instructions/philosophies. To me (and apologies to the Book of Numbers), Ideas begat Philosophies and Philosophies begat Instructions.

The Bible presents the ideas of goodness that God (and Jesus) expected us to follow. The Ten Commandments are the obvious place to start, with Christ's reiterating of them into Two Commandments (Love thy neighbor as thyself, etc) plus all of Paul's exhortations in his letters. There are all the ideas necessary to live the life we all should: love one another, be fair, be nice, don't steal, don't murder, remember what's holy, love your enemy, etc. No, those ideas do NOT change over time. They are as true now as the were the first day they were uttered, passed down to later generations as oral tradition and finally put on parchment.

Philosophies are bodies of thinking based on collections of ideas. I think Christianity itself is a philosophy, embodying the teachings of Christ and his ministry. There are other collections of non-religious philosophies such as those bandied about in Ancient Greece between Plato and Socrates. Many more examples exist. Philosophies, being mostly created by man are a bit more malleable as we can see. Christianity in AD 2008 is a good bit different in a lot of ways than how it was practiced in AD 90 - the ideas are the same, but the philosophy has evolved to reflect the changing maturity of human culture. When we understand more about the world and each other, we can adapt of philosophies to better reflect the ideas they were built on.

The real trick comes in the Instruction. That's how people interpret the philosophies and relate them to others. That's where we can get into trouble, because anyone can come to a conclusion and spread their interpretation of what they perceive to be "right". Consider homosexuality: It's not directly addressed in the Ideas, touched on here and there in the Philosophy, but interpreted very differently in several sets of Instructions. Same as questions like, "what is adultery?", "what is killing/murder?", "do I love the enemy who stabs me in the back?" All those questions we deal with on a daily basis.

So yes, Becky, is my answer to you. And, no. :)

No, the Ideas shouldn't change. They are immovable, as solid as the foundations of the Earth and the fabric of the universe. Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. That's never going to change.

No, the basics of the Philosophies shouldn't change but they should bend and adjust as humanity's civilization evolves to the point they can understand more about what the Ideas are saying.

Yes, the Instruction should change when we weed out the human, sinful influence on what we feel are the rules. What We Want!!! should be resisted in conflict with What We Need!!!


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