As a child I was raised attending a liberal Christian church. Getting out on my own after High School, I left religion behind, feeling there was no need for it. In the early Eighties, things happened in my life that steered me back toward the Bible and Christianity. I studied the Bible, reading it cover to cover twice over. But I studied it from a point of view of wanting to know if it was the word of God as opposed to already believing that it was. My studies left me with more questions than answers. Again, I left it behind, but not exactly. In the back of my mind there was always the question, Is it really the word of God? Is there a God, who created everything?
Lately, in light of Donald Trump, the COVID 19 virus and more recently, the killing of George Floyd, I have come back to studying the Bible. It seems that I just can’t leave it alone. It is quite possibly the most intriguing, interesting, and mysterious collection of literature ever devised. It is the one book used more often than any other in history to further human ambition, for good or ill. It’s words have been used and abused to further the purposes of everyone from religious leaders to dictators and fascists. The Pope uses it. Hitler used it. Trump uses it. I use it.
I own ten different versions of the Bible. I use them to compare translations. I also have an exhaustive concordance of the Bible which includes Greek and Hebrew dictionaries of every word written therein. To be able to find the original Greek and Hebrew words used in the original text helps me to understand the meaning of what was written. It’s a slow and sometimes tedious process. I can spend a whole day pouring over one sentence, going from the Bible to the concordance to the internet and back again just to squeeze out every drop of meaning. Why, you might ask? Because I want to know. I’ve never been one who just believes something because I want it to be true. I want to know that it’s true, or not.
Christianity has been carved up into many different factions since its beginning. Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical, etc. Each group believes they have the answer, the right answer, and everyone else is wrong. Many people don’t accept that view, that everyone thinks everyone else is wrong. But if Catholics didn’t think Baptists were wrong, there would be no need of Catholicism. That’s why there are so many different denominations. Because each one believes they are right. But how can that be? Are they all right, or all wrong? Is one of them right and all the rest wrong? From my own point of view, right and wrong are subjective. They are concepts that can be completely different for each of us. Most of us think murder is wrong. A serial killer thinks murder is okay. How can that be? It can be, because each one of us has a brain to think with and our experiences throughout life shape how we think. No two people will think exactly the same.
So what does that mean for the Bible? It’s one collection of writings and billions of people. Each one of us can read it and come to our own conclusions. How will we ever know, if it’s true or false? That’s where faith comes in. There is in fact, no way to really know the truth about anything. It comes down to what you believe. And belief is subjective. Each person uses their own thoughts and experiences to form opinions about the world around them. To form opinions about the Bible. And believe me, everyone has an opinion about the Bible!
The New Testament of the Christian Bible tells us about the life of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t his actual name because, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but there is no “J” in the Hebrew language. From what I’ve read, his name would have been Yeshua. Not really important anyway, but this is where translation can help clear things up. Jesus’s central message was to love one another. Be kind to each other. That’s it. All the other things are interesting, but that is the message. Love each other.
So I’ve come to base my thoughts, words, and actions on that principle. To love everyone. That doesn’t mean I can’t disagree. It doesn’t mean I can’t protest. There are a lot of bad things happening in the world right now perpetrated by people who have agendas which don’t line up with mine. Agendas that I see as harmful. I see it as an act of love to protest things like that. When Jesus found the money changers in the Temple defiling the word of God he used a whip to drive them out. He over turned their tables. He was angry and used violence as an act of love to destroy something he thought was evil. He felt that at that moment, violence was the answer to an immediate problem. And it wasn’t just any problem. It was a defilement of God’s word and the temple. Pretty important stuff to Jesus.
In the U.S. today we have an immediate problem. Racism. It permeates every facet of White America. It’s been happening since White people first came here. The protests against the killing of yet another Black man at the hands of police are a reaction to 400 years of oppression. I think of it as an act of love. To love others so much that you’re willing to stand up and say so. I wish they didn’t have to use violence. I wish that others weren’t using it as an opportunity to riot. Maybe Jesus wished he didn’t have to use violence. We don’t know. But we can hope.