Thursday, July 22, 2010

Who do you think you are?

The BBC has a program that investigates famous people's heritage. I've only seen the show once, but it seems that there are some fascinating twists and turns in these people's backgrounds.

I've been doing some genealogy work too, just for fun. I signed up for the free 14-day trial of so I could have access to what is normal reserved for subscribers. Two weeks is not near long enough, but it gave me a basic overview of my family's heritage.

I've learned that great grandma Pecheur may have been a full blooded Chickasaw Native American. I've learned the names of other great (etc.) grandparents. I've learned some of the movements of the forefathers, and for some even when and where they came to, what would be, the United States.

But a couple of things have struck me. The oral story is often complimentary to the written story and at the same time contradictory to the written story. People's memory of past events often change and morph. Here are some examples.

A person may have been asked on a certain census where their father was born. They may have answered in Virginia. Then, ten years later, when asked the same question, they may have said in South Carolina. And possible ten years later, the father has been reported to have been born in Georgia. Now, the person is not lying. But I imagine as people get older they forget. The father may have actually been born in Virginia, but moved to South Carolina before the descendant was born. He grew up in South Carolina and inadvertently would state his father was born in South Carolina. Or, it could be that he was told his father was born in Virginia, but ten years he had found it, it was his father's father that was born there and in fact his father had been born in South Carolina.

The same is true with birth dates and death dates. These can be off my as much as five years (maybe even more). And it's hard to find out what the true day of birth or death or marriage.

This is not to mention the family stories that can be integrated or separated or whatever. People are not lying. They are stating the truth as they know it and as it has been passed down to them. And to me, it is not that disturbing to find out a birth date is off from one census report to another. Even myself, when verbalizing what I've learned will often mix a story from the paternal side with the maternal side or something similar.

With technology and sometimes the expertise of the experts, we can find out a good deal about our ancestors. We can find out a story, one certain angle, of a relative. This is what the BBC show is trying to do; tell a story from researching historical documents. Sometimes the oral story needs altering to make it more precise after reviewing the research.

This all got me thinking about the oral vs written transmission of Scripture. I would imagine most of the Bible was simply written oral tradition. And somehow writing down oral history solidifies it, makes it true. Then, somebody in some discipline comes along and sees a problem with their research and what is written. Next, the conclusion is that the Bible is wrong, made-up of a bunch of fanciful and moral stories and thereby holds no authority or relevance for today. Check. On to the next undermine of truth structures.

Hold on. This type of conclusion and how one gets to this conclusion may have more problems than at first appears. As I said when I was doing genealogical work, I had a certain tolerance for differences in the oral story and the" documented" story. Birth dates were off, death dates were off. There is a bit of imprecision. And it really does not bother me. I don't conclude from imprecision that my forefather was possibly a historical reality, but I'm not really sure because I don't have a month/date/year for his/her birth. And even the documented (the "written version") version may not be as reliable as I like to think.

So, why should I worry and fret when someone thinks they have displaced the entire Bible because they believe their evidence proves one thing and the Bible may state another? There is a certain tolerance for imprecision when it comes to transmitting history down through the ages. It doesn't indicate fraud or deception or even untruth. It just means we need to look deeper at the story, and also it means we may just have to deal with not knowing every precise detail about the event. We know one angle or two of the event. But until we gain all knowledge, we don't know everything. And that's OK by me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Naked God

I did something even I can't believe I did.

I gave a book away.

I came across this book, Naked God by Martin Ayers, from a friend. He had received a leaflet about it being distributed for free in their area by a local church plant within the next few weeks. As he waited to receive his copy, I decided to visit the church and get my own copy. I didn't read it right off. I figured if it was free, it probably was not going to be that great. haha My friend got his copy in the mail and had it read before I even started. He loved it and had good things to say about it and was hoping his son would pick up the book and read it too.

Fast forward a little. Since we had visited the church on and off we knew the author attended there. But we had never met him. Then, he spoke one Sunday on the parable of the wedding feast. It was one of the best sermons I had ever heard on heaven. (I think it would be worth it to listen to the mp3 file. Scroll down to the sermon by Martin Ayers). That Sunday I met a church member who asked me if I had read his book, since we had been talking about how much we enjoyed the sermon. She said he talked about the parable in the book and thought it was so good that she was hoping her daughter would read the book. She then introduced me to him.

Then, Lady R read the book and recommended it to me. So, with three people who had read the book, and all had spoken highly of it, I thought I'd pick it up.

All the hype was legit. I read it and felt refreshed and was reminded of the general mentality of atheistic or naturalistic thinking in this country. A lot of food for thought to help those who are still undecided about the existence of God. A breathe of fresh air for the believer who has been affected by the smog of the culture of relativism and pluralism and postmodernism.

With a title like Naked God I was expecting a reproduction of Michelangelo's Sistene Chapel scene of God's backside on the cover. But I guess a burning match head will be OK. =) Especially since the book is not about God being naked but "...strip[ping] away any false ideas we've reveal the truth." Ayers asks a basic question, "Is there a God?" Nothing new there, but he follows up with, "If there is NOT a God then what is the consequence, if there is a God what is the consequence, and what are you going to do about it?"

Ayers tackles head on the philosophy of naturalism, which he defines as existence without God. The consequence is a life without much purpose and machine like. For me though it brought me back to 11th grade and my own experience with naturalism in Ms. Kelly's class. We talked about the philosophy behind Jack London's works and how it was realism, an American form of European naturalism (see also here to confirm my teacher's teaching). I tried to read Emile Zola's work but it was too philosophical and above my intelligence. Nonetheless, I considered myself a naturalist who believed in God. Little did I know I was actually a Calvinist, another French deterministic philosophy with similar consequences as naturalism save only with a hope of and in God. I believed that every minutiae was planned and ordered by God. If someone fell down the steps, they were ordained to or at best there was nothing they could have ever done to have prevented it. I didn't really do much with this information. In other words I didn't develop any theology from this. I just had it in the back of my head. But my freshman year in college I saw the huge error of being a "naturalist." It really did mean denying the existence of God and accepting that all that exists is the natural world. And since I didn't know about Calvinism, I rejected naturalism and through C.S. Lewis' Miracles, I re-considered myself a super-naturalist.

I digress a bit. Ayers states it like this "...every decision we will ever make has been caused...We can't influence the world by our choices, because we're just part of the world ourselves. The naked truth is that we're not free in the way we think we are." (pg 26-7) This is the outcome of a naturalistic viewpoint.

The next section, Ayers deals with Jesus and relativism. This was encouraging to me. In a day when many have an all-roads-lead-to-Rome attitude, it is a balm to hear the exclusiveness of Jesus still being talked about. In this section Ayers also references Lewis' Miracles, but in a different way than I had. Ayers uses a quote from Lewis to show how people in Jesus' day were no more gullible to the supernatural miracles than we are in the "modern" world. (see pg 102)

And it's in chapter 14 where Ayers talks about the parable of the wedding feast. But I think the sermon is better.

When I finished the book, I was in the central part of the city on the underground transportation system. I felt like it was a book worth passing on. So, I laid the book in the seat next beside me. I prayed that it wouldn't simply be put in the trash but that someone who needed to read it would pick it up and read it. It was hard for me to give away a book. I really wanted to bring it home and put it on my bookshelf. But I kept thinking, "Freely you have received freely give."

Also, Ayers has given me permission to include a link to the first part of the book. Take a look and let me know what you think.