Monday, December 16, 2013

The long process of learning

How my education worked - quickly - hah!

My degree is in Mathematics and Physics. What am I doing as an old student of the Bible? Why would I read the Bible? In my teens, my brother and I used to argue on the existence of God. I have to admit, I was not prepared for such an argument. Now, thanks to people like Bertrand Russell and Kurt Gödel, I know the argument is provably not provable either way. Russell's arguments against Christianity have as much clarity today as they did in the 1960's. But these are not arguments against God. Even though Russell wrote before Gödel's incompleteness theorem, he was wise enough to point out inconsistency of practice rather than take on the generic argument. His successors, Hofstader, Dennett, and others, have not always been so wise.

Douglas Hofstader's first book G-E-B, An Eternal Golden Braid is brilliant. As with many authors, his later books fade. (Take Note!) I remember reading it in the middle days of my learning of systems theory. I have been an application developer since I was 22, 45 years as of this writing. Systems let us get things done. They do not provide ultimate or philosophical answers. Just as the mechanical model of humanity was limited as an explanation for our humanity in the 19th century Frankenstein story, so also the systems model is limited today. Notice - I said nothing about God in that sentence. We can certainly not prove or explain God - we have a hard enough time proving and explaining ourselves.

And the problem we have with ourselves is that we hurt - we hurt others, we hurt our fellow creatures, and we hurt ourselves. We are our own contradiction. Not only scientific explanations but also and perhaps especially religious explanations are to be doubted. Without such serious doubt, healing is impossible. We are only healed as we open ourselves to what is not us. We have, in systems terms, a bootstrap problem.

This is not obvious. Like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, my first response to my perceived need was to run. Not that atheism was running. In some ways atheism is a healthier denial than some Christian confessions. Our separateness from God is as important as our ultimate union with God. What is the point of love if there is no 'other' to love? One might say, if one is looking - don't look here as if your looking could understand with no remainder. But one also must say, look here, and know that there is more than you can see.

I ran by myself, to the horror of my family. In so running, the first places I came to were places where fear seeks explanation and puts walls around what is to be believed. We may seek understanding. But understanding is not over-standing. It is not control. Answers and explanation seek control. This is not what the Scripture teaches. But I did read, and read, and read the canonical texts. And I did recognize that I needed more history and more of lots of things that I don't have enough time to study.

As I ran, the evidence mounted through my reading of the Bible, that it cannot be reconciled with itself on a simplistic consistency basis. I was slow of wit to see. Such growth takes time. I ran at the beginning of the Internet age and I was able to interact with many scholars from many universities, perhaps people of a more stable frame than myself. I had to learn also not to form a cult around any one person or approach or 'explanation'. The last 'book' I read was not necessarily the ultimate. In the email interactions (on the Gospels, on the infighting about gender and sex, on the theological discussions, on history and ancient languages) I could see the ax-grinding and the sparks flying. Others growing. Others having their assumptions and control-seeking mechanisms questioned.

These email lists are now mostly dormant, replaced by blogs, twitter, Facebook, and other 'Social' sites. It is too bad. The email lists were often better focused. But there are places on the Internet that will cut the packing-tape on the boxes we have placed ourselves in. We do not have to prepare ourselves for long-distance shipping.

We in the western world are fortunate to have such a wide-ranging communications capacity. Why did we do this and how will it benefit us? We are Compulsive Communicators, as David Attenborough noted in the TV Series, Life on Earth. This is perhaps a bit of the fundamental note of our bootstrap programming. It shows us that we stand or fall together. How we communicate, with truth, or in error, will determine our road. The path, the way, the walk - these represent our life within our culture. The culture will be naturally self-protective, but self-protection is in conflict with the unity that is needed for completeness. Self-giving for the 'other' is the road that is well marked.

I have learned this from a variety of sources, my wife and children not least, my culture also even with its inner contradictions - for the need to 'survive' conflicts with the need to 'give'.  I have learned this also from the canonical texts. Canonical here means a measuring rod. It requires discernment rather than credulity. It requires maturing rather than a childish stasis. But its capacity to teach seems to be unlimited. Therefore it has this canonical status, not for false domination or foolish subservience, but towards the completeness of a full humanity, a humus that cares for its origins, its cultures, and its shared hopes.

In these days, I am using a number of tools to see where I am in relation to the ancient texts. I hope I am continuing to grow. I am understandably cautious of sites that claim to have all the answers and fail to have questions. Blue Letter Bible provides some original language dictionaries online and an algorithm for inverting the text, allowing search by original language word and root with some limitations. I supplement the dictionaries with the old-fashioned book. Scripture4all is a set of grammatical interlinear glossed files. I prefer diglot to interlinear, but this one is quite useful in that grammatical form is sometimes hard to determine. The Bible gateway provides methods of comparing multiple translations by verse. I have recently agreed to take part in the #bgbg2 blogger grid. None of these three English-oriented sites supports Hebrew search. Mechon-Mamre provides considerable text with search capacity for the Hebrew Scriptures. It also has a site with cantillation marks. There are a number of other sites that I use or have used occasionally.

I tend to avoid the devotionals and I do not use any desk-top software. I am particularly cautious of software or devotionals that support only one of many cultures. Perhaps now I fear the self-interest of parochialism more than I need to. I support and encourage the reading of the Bible. These stories, poems, and records point where they must point with a sufficient content. With respect to the undeniable fact that we hurt - we hurt others, we hurt our fellow creatures, and we hurt ourselves, the canonical texts demonstrate a resolution to such violence.