The Council Of Hippo, for instance, solidified the basic Christian canon in 393 A.D. They also voted in favor of clerical celibacy. 1600 years later, Protestants will take up arms if you try to remove the Gospel Of John from the bible, but they would do the same if you suggest that preachers shouldn't marry. Why do we trust The Council Of Hippo on some issues but not others?
Plus, there's a lot of disagreement over what is inspired and what isn't. There were a multitude of gospels, epistles, apocalypses and such being passed around in the early days of the church.
(For the best layperson's guide to everything I've said so far, see Bart Ehrman's Jesus, Interrupted. You really must hit that link. It's an excellent interview.)
Here's a handy chart that shows what the many branches of Christianity accept as "Bible". Click on the chart, and it will take you to an interactive site that explains who deleted what, added what, and why. "God's Word", as you sometimes hear it called, is open for a lot of debate.
Which gets me to my point.... This afternoon, a friend of mine named Gene Elliott sent me and several other folks an interesting email. (Hit the Gene Elliot label below to read some of his outstanding political rants)
Let's edit and update the bible. Our bible is frozen in a time warp ranging from 1,900 to 2,700 years. Since then there has been immense progress in science and morals. For example, we now know the earth is not flat and that the sun does not revolve around it. We no longer accept slavery as the norm and do not accept repression of women, both of which were previously accepted.
If we dared to use our minds with current knowledge, what would we edit out of the bible? What would we add. Sunday, in a conversation with (deleted) on this subject, he enlightened me by suggesting that some of Martin Luther King's sermons might make positive contribution to our new, imaginary bible.
As John Spong has suggested, some of the things in the bible that we now know are ridiculous are what drives away educated, intelligent people from Christianity. What would you edit out of the bible if you could do so? Even though we can not literally edit and reprint the bible, we can think about and discuss what we think would advance the cause of Christianity and improve lives if things were removed or added.
If any of you are offended by this, I accept whatever criticism you wish to direct my way. I have never been accused of being a diplomat.
Well, this is what happens when the Southern Baptists kick people out of their convention.
What would I delete? Well, the book of Revelation doesn't make a lick of sense. The Gospels would do well to kick out John and add Thomas. If the Old Testament book of Numbers was inspired, it was inspired by Nyquil. I could go on and on, but what would be the point?
In the meantime, let me suggest one addition. This is from novelist Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs And All, page 167.
"Early religions were like muddy ponds with lots of foliage. Concealed there, the fish of the soul could splash and feed. Eventually, however, religions became aquariums. Then, hatcheries. from farm fingerling to frozen fish stick is a short swim.
....If one yearns to see the face of the Divine, one must break out of the aquarium, escape the fish farm, to go swim up the wild cataracts, dive in deep fjords. One must explore the labyrinth of the reef, the shadows of lily pads. How limiting, how insulting to think of God as a benevolent warden, an absentee hatchery manager who imprisons us in the "comfort" of artificial pools, where intermediaries sprinkle our restrictive waters with sanitized flakes of processed nutriment.
A longing for the Divine is intrinsic in Homo sapiens. (For all we know, it is innate in squirrels, dandelions, and diamond rings, as well.) We approach the Divine by enlarging our souls and lighting up our brains. To expedite those two things may be the mission of our existence.
Well and good. But such activity runs counter to the aspirations of commerce and politics. Politics is the science of domination, and persons in the process of enlargement and illumination are notoriously difficult to control. Therefore, to protect its vested interests, politics usurped religion a very long time ago. Kings bought off priests with land and adornments. Together, they drained the shady ponds and replaced them with fish tanks. The walls of the tanks were constructed of ignorance and superstition, held together with fear. They called the tanks "synagogues" or "churches" or "mosques". After the tanks were in place, nobody talked much about soul anymore. Instead, they talked about spirit. Soul is hot and heavy. Spirit is cool, abstract, detached. Soul is connected to the earth and its waters. Spirit is connected to the sky and its gases. Out of the gases springs fire. Firepower. It has been observed that the logical extension of all politics is war. Once religion became political, the exercise of it, too, could be said to lead sooner or later to war. "War is hell." Thus, religious belief propels us straight to hell. History unwaveringly supports this view. (Each modern religion has boasted that it and it alone is on speaking terms with the Deity, and its adherents have been quite willing to die - or kill - to support its presumptuous claims.)
Not every silty bayou could be drained, of course. The soulfish that bubbled and snapped in the few remaining ponds were tagged "mystics". they were regarded as mavericks, exotic and inferior. If they splashed too high, they were thought to be threatening and in need of extermination. The fearful flounders in the tanks, now psychologically dependent upon addictive spirit flakes, had forgotten that once upon a time they, too, had been mystical.
Religion is nothing but institutionalized mysticism. The catch is, mysticism does not lend itself to institutionalization. The moment we attempt to organize mysticism, we destroy its essence. Religion, then, is mysticism in which the mystical has been killed. Or, at least diminished."
That's the great Tom Robbins.
Inspired by God? No.
Better than, say, Leviticus? Definitely.
Picture of the Human Aquarium came from here.