My friend died suddenly last month. He was 91. I was shocked and saddened. I also felt guilty. I felt as if I’d let him down. I’d known him as an acquaintance for 30 years, and then early last year we became friends.
My friend was born and raised in Alabama. His ancestors were Presbyterian, but his father married an Anglican and so my friend was raised Episcopalian. He went to Harvard and soon found the church and Christianity unpalatable.
He became a diplomat with the State Department. His assignments took him to many overseas countries. He developed an ecumenical outlook on all things religious.
Anglicans in Alabama are not Bible-thumpers. Nearly everybody else down that way is. The Bible is iconic in the South. Whether you believe it or not, you can’t get away from it.
Two years ago my friend realized he had some nagging questions about the Bible. He called me.
(I mean, really, who ya gonna call? Jimmy Swaggart?)
Is this a crisis of faith? I asked.
No, not at all. I’m just so damn curious about everything, and that includes the Bible. How in the hell did it become the Word of God?
Good question. Short answer: It’s not.
My friend came to my house.
I know Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible. So who did?
No one knows. But we do know that it was composed, redacted, and compiled by many hands over a long time. And we know that each of the authors was blinkered. We know things they didn’t. The Bible is a human product.
I thought so!
A lot of stuff in there is just plain wrong (the world was not created in seven days) not to mention immoral (holy wars, condemnation of homosexuality, subordination of woman, to name just a few). It’s a bony fish. Good idea to pull out the bones before swallowing any of it.
Actually, it’s not even a single book. It’s a collection of diverse works. We might think of it as we would a collection of Roman and Greek literary works. We can take the Bible into account, if we’d like, but we certainly don’t have to be bound by it.
You should put that into a book!
Well, Ernest, I’m working on one right now.
Hurry up. I’m old. I want to read it before I die.
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PS: Two book signings are coming up soon at Four Seasons Books, 116 German St., Shepherdstown: Saturday, September 25, at 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Each event will begin with a brief reading. Bring your copy of 80 Dispatches from the Devil’s Domain or purchase one at the store that day. This book and my first one, Let Love Arise, are available on Amazon (print and digital). Might not your kith and kin enjoy a copy too?
See Paula’s new photo (“Bandon Beach, Oregon”) on the home page. Posted September 5.
To raise questions is to raise consciousness. To raise consciousness is to open doors of enlightenment and illumination. Divinity is not confined to a book, no matter how “sacred” it is labelled. Divinity is not confined to a building or sanctuary, no matter how much it is perceived as “holy”. Divinity is within all and without all, if only we are aware. As Eckhart Tolle reminds us, “Awareness is the greatest agent of change.”
A good article. Look forward to reading your next book.
Thanks, Dave. That is still a work in progress. I hope to get it out sometime next year. Stay tuned. Randy
Thank you. Putting historical perspective on the good book helps reasoning people see past the literal interpretations & see the deeper meanings we can glean. Plucking out the bones is a good way to put it! Thank heavens my Christian upbringing encouraged an independent investigation of truth. Taught with love; anything that didn’t make sense I didn’t feel forced to swallow… & those fell away.
But perhaps the collection of works that make up the Biblical canon are the “word of God.” Isn’t Homer’s Iliad the word of God? Or Twain’s Huckleberry Finn? Or Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”? If we (good and bad) are the work of God, aren’t our works also?
I agree up to a point. Many works are “divine” including Rembrandt Bach Beethoven and the Beatles. It’s the article “the” before any one of them that is inappropriate.
I knew Ernest a little bit and have never met anyone more instantly likable. He also had the best southern accent ever. And his mind was a beautiful thing. Know him two minutes and you were on common ground. Rest in peace. As for feeling guilty, don’t. We all let our friends down in one way or another, but we are reminded by their friendship that we must be doing at least some things right.
What great comments on a good piece that makes you think!
Thank you for bringing reality to what seems like a “fairy tale” in many parts! I only hope your friend died “at peace“ realizing God couldn’t love him any more or any less regardless of his belief or lack of belief in the Bible!
Thanks! You are making me think again after some time off to just sleep and eat. Earnest questions indeed!