* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Monday, September 24, 2012

Summarizing Joshua and Judges: The Israelites' Downward Spiral Does Not Need to Be Reflected in Our Lives

Beginning with looking at the very first chapters of Genesis through a new lens, this recontextualization of the biblical narrative has been based on the foundation that all people are capable of recognizing and living out a deep truth, beauty, and creativity within them.  This deep self lies beneath the fears and beliefs we accumulate throughout our lives and is the very character of the divine.  If we choose to do so, we can see that divine character all around us, that undeniable truth, deep beauty, and fearless inspiration being present in all of nature and in every other people, however hidden or prominently exhibited.

As the biblical narrative continued, it became a tale of how people paid more attention to Fear than to their own divine natures.  Fear led people to do some horrible things to themselves and to other people, and those actions sometimes had far-reaching consequences.  Even though the Old Testament narrative is not historical fact, we can clearly relate to the truths it reflects about human nature.  We sometimes do regrettable things because we give irrational fears too much power in our lives.

Moses attempted to create a society focused outward, toward an externalized deity, with a prescribed set of laws, beliefs, and behaviors designed to connect people to the divine and to one another.  Many other cultures also strove to quantify the divine in some external way, even as many cultures strive to do today.  Stepping out of the narrative of the ancient Israelites as it is presented in the Bible, the religious laws and regulations in the Old Testament were actually created over a long period of time and written back into a pseudo-historical context in an effort to provide a strong spiritual foundation for a specific society.  These went beyond merely specifying punishments for the kinds of moral issues on which nearly every society agrees.  These laws and regulations were, in a certain sense, an attempt to define the divine in a meaningful way.

When Moses died, Joshua took his mantle of leadership, and various judges followed him in the recorded history of the Israelites.  The story told in Joshua and Judges is a downward spiral of a culture falling prey to its own fears and losing its sense of identity.  Their propensity to see their joys and sorrows as manifestations of divine approval or rejection robbed them of personal responsibility, and the tendency to place the character of the divine somewhere outside of themselves left them spiritually vulnerable and immature.  In short, the social experiment is showing some weaknesses, but the hardships to come for the Israelites will give them reasons to cling to their culture with grim determination.

We are not a part of the ancient Israelite worldview.  We do not have the same cultural or geographical background as the ancient Israelites.  We are more knowledgeable in every field than they were, as we should be after a few thousand years of development.  We have choices about what we believe, and in the Western world, we can largely make those choices without fear of death.  Whatever beliefs you choose about the divine, hopefully those beliefs give you a reason to confront your irrational fears and make decisions based on a deeper truth.  Whether you prefer one religion or another, or no religion at all, the bottom line is that we are connected to one another and to the world around us.  Our actions matter.  The ancient Israelites understood this, even as they wrestled with their cultural identity.  It is not beyond us today to recognize our need for connection to the world, to one another, and to ourselves.  It is not beyond us today to put aside irrational fear and take personal responsibility for our actions and our beliefs.  To call upon a word that is overused and often abused, it is not beyond us today to love, deeply and sincerely, ourselves and the people with whom we share this existence.

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