Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Most Essential Difference

Hi Andy,

Just read your letter to the editor in the new issue of Adventist Today [in which you basically said we need to "abandon the god of the Old Testament."]

Good timing! For I have told you I would one day like to discuss the essential differences between left and right in America.

So, I think the time may be now! I see your letter there as going to the heart of what I believe to be the most essential difference between political left-leaners and political right-leaners in this country. That is, I believe most left-leaners either do not take the Bible to originate from God at all or they have a less orthodox view of its origination than do right-leaners. Just to be clear: I do not mean to say that right-leaners are all believers in literal, word-for-word Scriptural inspiration--or necessarily believers in the Bible at all, nor do I mean that all left-leaners are secularists or agnostics. I'm saying that the more solidly one believes in the divine origin of the Bible (if you are a Jew, the Old Testament; if you are a Christian, both the New and Old Testaments), the more likely one is to lean right; the less solidly one believes in the divine origin of the Bible, the more likely one is to lean left.

This is not my own epiphane. I followed Dennis Prager over several years of thinking this through on his radio program, and that is the conclusion he finally came to, a year or two ago. I was not so sure for a long time, but I am increasingly a believer in his thesis, with a few modifications perhaps in his phrasing.

I realize now there are probably very few Leftist Christians who look at the Bible in the same way I do. Meaning, that it is all divinely inspired, probably thought-inspired rather than word-inspired, but nonetheless very reliable as written. How this inspiration works, and how literally the Bible is to be taken in any given divinely-inspired passage, is not, I think, the point. The point is more the firmness with which one believes the Bible to be of divine origin (OT for Jews, OT-NT for Christians).

I think most, if not all, of the seeming contradictions in the Bible can be explained by a theology which is well versed in historical-contextual studies and general Biblical exegesis. I believe this in part because it has been my privilege to know several such theologians, one of whom, a well-known scholar in our church, has been a very close friend and go-to person on Biblical questions for many years. I am always amazed at how he can explain Scripture out of most any hole! And very credibly.

I also find I am a lover of paradox. If I could understand everything about God and His Word, I would be God. I do not care to be God. I prefer to be His creature, and my Biblical questionings--railings, even, at times--delightfully confirm to me my smallness, my human limitations. On one level I find it deeply satisfying that I am not fully satisfied.

So, I think the kernel of the differences you and I have encountered in our discussions lies in this, our differing view of the Bible. How this facet of a person pushes them in either direction politically is a fascinating topic. I think it likely has something to do with the following: The more seriously you take the (whole) Bible, the more you will see and understand--really understand, from your head to your gut--that human nature is not basically good. It's not basically evil, either; it has inclinations in both directions, with the inclination toward the bad being stronger.

Once you realize that human nature is not basically good, there is a cascade of changes in your priorities and in to your approach to human problems. You will care more about ethical training in the young. You will lean more toward tough-love approaches than enabling approaches. (The Old Testament is full of examples of these, in God's seeming incomprehensibly harsh dealings with Man. In the NT tough love seems, on the surface, somewhat harder to find, but especially if read in the light of the OT, I think it is possible--just as I think God's immense love and mercy is visible all through the Old Testament.)

You will recognize real evil earlier, with fewer illusions as to how to approach it. You will more easily grasp the importance of a belief in objective right and wrong. You will be more concerned about global, totalitarian Islamist aspirations than about global warming, which you may suspect is more a product of pervasive political demagoguery than of too many SUV's. You will worry more about soul pollution (bad language, incivility) than about air pollution (second-hand smoke). You will concern yourself more with the molding of children's characters than with ensuring they get early sex education. You will detest and oppose the producers of MTV more than you detest and oppose the producers of cigarettes.

You will better understand the intrinsic connection of widespread, decent, freely-chosen and openly-practiced religion to a decent society. You will see more clearly the dangers in too much power devolving to central authorities, and therefore of too much money flowing into those coffers. You will understand that humans are not re-moldable into perfect creatures, and that any utopian attempt to steer society toward perfection through egalitarian schemes is not only doomed to failure, but is almost certainly going to end in disaster--ship-wrecked on the rocks of human corruption.

In short, you will be what we call today "conservative."

That's the view from here! Subject to modification, as always... ;)

Ever your friend,
Janine Goffar

Editor's note: To read my review of Escape from the Flames, click here.

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