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Author Topic: The point behind such exhaustive (and exhausting) analysis  (Read 2236 times) Average Rating: 0
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Sophie
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« on: July 03, 2008, 09:30:09 AM »

In this forum, there are always questions about evolution, creationism, the correct way to do things etc and I have just been reading posts in a thread titled: "Adam and Eve", where at least tha latest ones talk about literal vs symbolic interpretations of the O.T.

I was brought up Christian Orthodox and this has never been an issue for me.Somehow, it never occurred to me to ask myself or anyone whether any of the events in the O.T. are literal facts or symbolism. I just took things at face value as I grew up and while I try to learn from the stories found in this part of the Bible, I do not spend any time thinking what part of it is literal and what symbolical. I do not find anything wrong with it either. I understand - although it is rather hard to put my self in the place of - those people who need exact facts and everything sorted out, to know what they believe in.

However the questions that spring to my mind when seeing posts about this kind of questions are:

1)Is it so important to specify what part of the O.T. is symbolic and what part is literal and why?

2)If at some point, one can presume to have finally sorted out fiction and fact in the O.T., how does that help one´s faith? (Literal and rhetorical question; I´ll be happy to see some points made)

3)How can one be sure which things are merely symbolic and, to use a Greek expression, "put one´s hand in their fire" based on this certainty? I understand there are Church fathers who interpret things differently - and I´ll be happily corrected if I am speaking out of ignorance.

4)A different version of (2): Not having sorted out fact and fiction in the O.T., will affect how I believe? I am not talking about not knowing and not studying the O.T., but about sticking with the message rather than with the "technicalities". To me, for example, the story of Adam and Eve is a fact, but I will not start wondering about them and what kind of snake it was that spoke to them but rather about the issues of pride, disobedience etc.

5)To use a metaphor, are we not sometimes shown the sky and look at the pointing finger instead?

These questions address more than the issue of the O.T. I have been having them every time I read of something relevant to traditions (see e.g. pews) and see people coming up with ever so many references claiming one thing or the other. Of course the O.T. is not about tradition but Tradition and I understand the difference, but whatever does its being literal or symbolical have to do with our faith? Could someone give me an answer?

I am feeling rather frustrated and reactionary today but I really need some answers, otherwise I´ll keep feeling frustrated. Honestly, sometimes, people´s sincere quests seem to me -  a really more intuitive than intellectual person - rather too much to handle, too intellectual to really concern  people who are not theologians or clergy - heck, not even clergy sticks with as much detail. I can of course choose not to judge what other people ask. But I cannot help not wondering about it. I am quite ignorant - I hadn´t even begun to suspect how much until I joined the forum so I sometimes wonder whether I am too simple. Then, I go back home, chat with a priest or two and they almost tell me off for "wanting to bite more than I can swallow" or "splitting hairs" (when I start bothering too much about certain issues).

I realise my questions above do not sound humble, or at least I am not that humble in asking them, but they exist and I think that if some of you give me a few answers or opinions, I will hopefully become more humble and less ignorant.Thank you.
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« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2008, 09:40:48 AM »

To me, for example, the story of Adam and Eve is a fact, but I will not start wondering about them and what kind of snake it was that spoke to them but rather about the issues of pride, disobedience etc.

Same here, except that for me the story of Adam and Eve is not a fact. The issue of pride and disobedience is real, though. So, as far as looking at the meaning is concerned, I understand you and I are on the same page.
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« Reply #2 on: July 03, 2008, 10:23:12 AM »

Sophie, I find your candor and honesty very refreshing. Your feelings are very similar to my own and I find this validating, as you are a cradle Orthodox, not merely an idiotic convert like myself who still isn't quite sure what's what.

As a person who grew up on a steady diet of Bible (in part learning to read from the Bible; father gathering the family around the kitchen table for prayer and Bible reading, and listening to mother reading the dear old Bible stories to us children faithfully every evening,etc.), it has come as a total shock to me to realize that the Orthodox church doesn't necessarily believe the Bible to be literal. In a sense, I feel a bit misled and disappointed that I entered the Church without this knowledge.

However, it was not until participating in this Forum that I came to this realization. I'm trying to handle this in a mature manner-gradually accepting  that it may be so (i.e. not everything is literal)-but it sure isn't easy. This is part of my struggle in "obtaining the Orthodox mindset".

To further complicate matters, I did discuss these issues with a priest, a man who is a scientist as well as having grown up in an atheistic society, but his eyes grew large with shock and pain when I wondered if it was true that we don't believe the creation account etc. to be literal. He told me there is absolutely no reason not to believe it to be literal. So now I feel more confused than ever and am not sure whom to believe. I guess just keep muddling on somehow.
« Last Edit: July 03, 2008, 10:25:31 AM by Rosehip » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: July 03, 2008, 10:34:57 AM »

I did discuss these issues with a priest, a man who is a scientist as well as having grown up in an atheistic society, but his eyes grew large with shock and pain when I wondered if it was true that we don't believe the creation account etc. to be literal. He told me there is absolutely no reason not to believe it to be literal. So now I feel more confused than ever and am not sure whom to believe. I guess just keep muddling on somehow.

I know that some priests and bishops hold this belief. Fr. Hieromonk Seraphim Rose wrote, too, that there is no reason to swap the literal truth of the Bible for a satanic lie of the so-called evolution theory. On a Russian Internet Orthodox forum "Sirota," I met a number of people (mostly young women) who said that it's their parish priest's instruction to believe the events described in Genesis to have happened exactly the way they are described (including the excision of Adam's rib, etc.).

Sorry... "no can do." Thank God, so far there has been no doctrinal decision of any Ecumenical Cousil of the Church to take Genesis literally. If there will be one, then I'll have to excommunicate myself from the Church, to remain honest.
« Last Edit: July 03, 2008, 10:35:33 AM by Heorhij » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2008, 11:11:55 AM »

Sophie,   
          You raise some excellent points and I totally agree with you about the nitpicking.  Most people want answers to everything and are not satisfied if the answer is not clear-cut.  One of your examples is all the intricate talk of evolution vs. creation.  To me it doesn't matter how (the method) God gave us life. That knowledge doesn't affect how I should treat others or the issue of salvation.  If people are too busy trying to "figure out"  the details then it only takes time away from what is really important IMHO.  One could argue that this type of distraction (which happens to be some people's profession) can be used by the Evil one to keep us astray...such as in C.S. Lewis's the Screwtape Letters.  I say this while I too am guilty for asking questions (ex. Adam and Eve thread where I asked about the exact names given in the genealogy in Genesis).  Anyway, my advice to you is to ignore these type of threads if they bother you.  However I am not sure about your confusion after talking with your priest about evolution.  It is true that you will find a variety of opinions on this matter in Orthodoxy (including within the clergy). IMHO I don't think that Our all Merciful and Loving God would penalize humans for having different opinions on the matter.  It's more important on how we live our lives.

pray for me a sinner,   Juliana

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« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2008, 11:52:28 AM »

I think that priestly advice was good. We should act as if the Genesis account is true because God deigned it worth giving to us, even fashioning it for us.

I tend to believe in evolution, but the contrast between the practical application of the two "theories" is obvious.  I think I can safely say people don't enter the Kingdom of God by putting hope in scientific facts or, more accurately, the fantastic science fiction postulated upon the basis of such bare, observed phenomena.  This is where we got rocketship 'n aliens pulp fiction, but also where we got Peter Singer's nearly absolute redefinition and malleability of human life as something impersonal and external to the scientific bourgeoisie.  Evolution may be true, but God is Truth.  God's revelation is where we draw our most important conclusions, not from creation, as if our observation of it were infallible and that it had enough of a prescriptive structure to direct human life.  All truth is God's truth.
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« Reply #6 on: July 03, 2008, 11:58:16 AM »

IMHO I don't think that Our all Merciful and Loving God would penalize humans for having different opinions on the matter.  It's more important on how we live our lives.

pray for me a sinner,   Juliana



I absolutely agree.  But why wouldn't He penalize us for our differing opinions on this matter?  Why is the way we live our lives more important?  It's because the revelation of God, which may be through the myth of Genesis, teaches us to order our moral conduct as an aspect of our theosis before whatever conclusions we may draw by observing the base, physical structure of creation.
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« Reply #7 on: July 03, 2008, 03:39:21 PM »

I think that priestly advice was good. We should act as if the Genesis account is true because God deigned it worth giving to us, even fashioning it for us.

I disagree. I think the Genesis story is fashioned not for "us," but for those people who lived in the era when science did not exist as such.

I tend to believe in evolution,

How can one believe or not believe in (biological) evolution? One can be aware that it occurs, or not aware that it occurs. But it does occur. Life does evolve. Changes in the DNA do occur, and many of them are heritable and change the existing forms of life. To say, "I tend to believe in evolution" is the same thing as to say, "I tend to believe in DNA and genes..."

but the contrast between the practical application of the two "theories" is obvious.  I think I can safely say people don't enter the Kingdom of God by putting hope in scientific facts or, more accurately, the fantastic science fiction postulated upon the basis of such bare, observed phenomena.  This is where we got rocketship 'n aliens pulp fiction,

I am not sure. I would think, rather, that aliens and spaceships are simply a product of human fantasy, having very little, if anything, to do with how people understand or do not understand biology.

but also where we got Peter Singer's nearly absolute redefinition and malleability of human life as something impersonal and external to the scientific bourgeoisie.

I am probably part of this "bourgeoisie" since I teach biological disciplines, including introductory biology, which necessarily includes the theory of biological evolution. But to me, human life is a precious, valuable thing. I cannot understand, how in the world the precise knowledge of how genes mutate and how the natural selection or the genetic drift work, or what's the difference between sympatric and allopatric speciation, - "devalues" human life. If anything, it increases the value of the human life and of life in general. Understanding modern biology, we become better aware of the fragility of our biosphere, learn to be better stewards of our planet, i.e. become better equipped to fulfil God's commandment to "rule" the Earth (Gen 1:28).

Evolution may be true, but God is Truth.  God's revelation is where we draw our most important conclusions, not from creation, as if our observation of it were infallible and that it had enough of a prescriptive structure to direct human life.  All truth is God's truth.

Well, yes, but He gave us natural sciences for a reason... You won't say, for example, "antibiotics may be true, but God is Truth," will you? Why oppose Revelation to human reason?
« Last Edit: July 03, 2008, 03:55:24 PM by Heorhij » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: July 03, 2008, 08:34:34 PM »

1)Is it so important to specify what part of the O.T. is symbolic and what part is literal and why?

Sophie,

I can only speak about this from my own point of view. First of all, let me say that I find the Genesis account of creation to be a most beautiful piece of literature. When one considers the brevity of a description of something as awesome as the creation of the universe, the detail is simple and yet breathtaking. There, in those few passages we have God's incomprehensible power contrasted with the pitiable and helpless human condition. If I were to place myself into the mind's eye of the author, I see things from the perspective of the created; always from that point of view. Even though I put words into the mouth of God, the how of creation is not explained; because it is unexplainable for me. But I believe that God created everything that my eyes behold; something within my soul responds to that fact and I must explain it as best I can.

And yes, thousands of years later we do talk of this passage in fairly literal terms; just the same as we talk of other parables in literal terms. No homily I have heard belabours the point that the Prodigal Son wasn't a literal person; because he is every person and we speak of him as if he really existed. Yet, he doesn't need to be literal for Christ to have brought home the deeply moving truths of his plight (and the plight of each human being on the planet) home to his listeners. I sense the same about the story of Adam and Eve. They could have been literal people, but the impact of their story isn't predicated upon that. The impact of their story is their/our human condition, their/our fall and their/our absolute reliance on God. They don't have to be historical for the parable to have immense ramifications. They are each one of us in a very real sense.

Now, as to why I believe it is important (for me, at least) to understand these passages as allegorical, symbollic or whatever. At the base of this is my belief that it is important to always tell one's children the truth. It would have been unforgiveable (for me, at least) to lead my children to believe that the Genesis account of creation was anything but an attempt to describe what is undescribable by the author of Genesis. To me, it has to be allegorical because it simply doesn't stand up to scientific scrutiny. And because I believe that the truths of the Bible go far beyond scientific importance, I believe it would be unforgiveable to force a choice between science and faith upon my children; especially when it is unnecessary. The bible isn't a scientific textbook; to place it in opposition to science would be a mistake, IMHO. When the salvation of people one loves is at stake, it's important (for me, at least) to place before them matters that build faith, not leave it open to attack from outside. I believe it would be far more dangerous to the salvation of those I love to ignore the evidence of science and take a rigid stance on the literal nature of Genesis.

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« Reply #9 on: July 03, 2008, 10:43:36 PM »

On a Russian Internet Orthodox forum "Sirota," I met a number of people (mostly young women) who said that it's their parish priest's instruction to believe the events described in Genesis to have happened exactly the way they are described (including the excision of Adam's rib, etc.).
Sounds kinda controlling for a priest to instruct his flock to believe in a certain way regarding that which has not been clarified in a dogmatic manner.
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« Reply #10 on: July 04, 2008, 06:30:45 AM »

Sophie,  
           However I am not sure about your confusion after talking with your priest about evolution.  It is true that you will find a variety of opinions on this matter in Orthodoxy (including within the clergy). IMHO I don't think that Our all Merciful and Loving God would penalize humans for having different opinions on the matter.  It's more important on how we live our lives.



You have mistaken me for Rosehip. I would not talk to my priest about evolution, it has never bothered me to the point I need more answers than what is in the Bible.

Also, I must say I have been never bothered with whether the Lord will penalise me on whether I take the Bible at face value - which I do- or not because, frankly, I have my personal everyday weaknesses to worry about and I never thought of that as another issue.

This is what I am saying. If we take the O.T. as an educational book, why is it that issues of its being literal or fictional bother us? Why is it there has to be an issue? Is it because people have inquisitive minds along with faith, too much spare time in their hands to leave these things to theologians alone, is it because they believe it depends on this issue whether  they can believe or not? Why is it they bother equally with the "technical" aspects as well as the meaning of it? Have we not accepted (Orthodox) Christianity as the truth and all that comes with it? Why the need to dissect it to pieces and examine it under the microscope? Does that have to do with the people who found Orthodoxy exactly because they had to investigate like this? Is it a cultural thing? Is it a personal thing as it seems to be for some, whose vocation, understandably, places them in a situation where questions like this can possibly arise? But still, why the literacy of Bible excludes evolution? Do we think that because we have been programmed with a definite set of universal laws through which we assess the universe, God is subject to the universe He Himself has created? Why is it we cannot possibly accept that certain theories or facts do not contradict each other, but that simply we haven´t found the way to interpret better the scientific evidence of evolution in the light of God´s creation and this way concentrate on the important things? is it pride or is it progress or both?

Why do we not experience faith simply? True, people are not all the same. But faith is about living according to our love for God and our neighbour, is it not? Where does all this come in then? Is it out of faith or out of love for the possession of the truth? And this does not have to do only with the Bible and the evolution issue. How many times do people argue over the correct practice of things when it is only customs and tradition, matters of practicality and different opinions of the Fathers? And it frustrates me to see that, as I do have my opinions too, but I cannot consider myself in possession of the absolute truth on the matter especially as I do not believe there is an absolute truth is certain matters - not related to the Bible - and it pains me when people announce "verdicts" on the "correct" practice; I am humbled but also confused. It pains me because I would like to be doing what is best for my faith regarding the issue in question, but then everybody comes up with a different theory claiming this is the "correct" one. Why is the practice they have just discovered, or always been taught more valid or more respectful to God than the practice I, too, have always known and practiced out of love and faith? I believe my faith to be strong when it comes to atheists and agnosticists, but my own brothers seem to confuse me because they seem to be putting in my faith more do´s and don´ts and how to do´s than my own spiritual father, and thinking it is the best way to do things. People are not all the same and different things can equally apply to different people.

It seems my frustration does not want to go away just yet. I only put the issue of evolution as an example in my original post. Thank you for your patience, previous and further input.
« Last Edit: July 04, 2008, 06:34:20 AM by Sophie » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2008, 10:05:35 AM »

I disagree. I think the Genesis story is fashioned not for "us," but for those people who lived in the era when science did not exist as such.

You have a point.  I would say that as a cosmogony it is metaphorical or mythological, but as theological instruction and a part of Holy Tradition, it is absolutely fashioned for all men until our Lord's return.

Quote
How can one believe or not believe in (biological) evolution? One can be aware that it occurs, or not aware that it occurs. But it does occur. Life does evolve. Changes in the DNA do occur, and many of them are heritable and change the existing forms of life. To say, "I tend to believe in evolution" is the same thing as to say, "I tend to believe in DNA and genes..."
 

I would say that people are either ignorant or think there is some aspect of their faith which is denigrated by such a view of life.  It isn't a problem for my faith, but I say "I believe in evolution" because there are many people who don't.

Quote
I am not sure. I would think, rather, that aliens and spaceships are simply a product of human fantasy, having very little, if anything, to do with how people understand or do not understand biology.

My point was about speculation formed on the basis of modern science that results in fantastic ideas.  If the Christian view of the future isn't believed, people will fill the gap with something else.  My reference to pulp science fiction was rhetorical, but nevertheless, I've heard some pretty weird views of the future in which scientific fact is used as the only frame of reference.  Science is good, but the knowledge we get from sense perception doesn't suffice for our proper natural orientation.

Quote
I am probably part of this "bourgeoisie" since I teach biological disciplines, including introductory biology, which necessarily includes the theory of biological evolution. 

You're not.  That, to me, is predicated upon whether one uses science to unnaturally manipulate life or, at least, redefine our perception of it in a way that violates our created nature and God's prescription, and whether one subsequently justifies such action upon scientific bases which are, apparently, self evident.  As with just about anything, science is good but the unnatural use of it is not.

Quote
But to me, human life is a precious, valuable thing. I cannot understand, how in the world the precise knowledge of how genes mutate and how the natural selection or the genetic drift work, or what's the difference between sympatric and allopatric speciation, - "devalues" human life. If anything, it increases the value of the human life and of life in general. Understanding modern biology, we become better aware of the fragility of our biosphere, learn to be better stewards of our planet, i.e. become better equipped to fulfil God's commandment to "rule" the Earth (Gen 1:28).

Absolutely.  Smiley

Quote
Well, yes, but He gave us natural sciences for a reason... You won't say, for example, "antibiotics may be true, but God is Truth," will you? Why oppose Revelation to human reason?

I won't!  Let us likewise not oppose human reason to Revelation, which I know you have no intention of doing.  Smiley

God bless.


edited to fix a quote
« Last Edit: July 05, 2008, 10:07:21 AM by ignatios » Logged
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« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2008, 06:03:34 PM »

Dear Sophie,
I am sorry for not responding sooner, but I was out of town for the holiday. First let me apologize for getting you and Rosehip mixed up on the priest's advise. Secondly let me add that I enjoy reading your posts  immensely and have learned much from them. 
   Personally I feel that God created everything and the "how" doesn't concern me a bit.  He gave us the capability of reason and scientific study (which we have gained much from) so I would never discount the probability of evolution.  The issue to me is moot when compared to living a life in Christ...in which I fail miserably but keep trying.  Embarrassed

Quote
Also, I must say I have been never bothered with whether the Lord will penalise me on whether I take the Bible at face value - which I do- or not because, frankly, I have my personal everyday weaknesses to worry about and I never thought of that as another issue.

Amen to that!!!  Like we humans don't have enough worry about.  Tongue Cheesy

Quote
Why is it we cannot possibly accept that certain theories or facts do not contradict each other, but that simply we haven´t found the way to interpret better the scientific evidence of evolution in the light of God´s creation and this way concentrate on the important things? is it pride or is it progress or both?

My personal opinion points to PRIDE as the main culprit here.  People just have to be "the one" with the "correct answer".  I doubt the motivation for it is always hope of praise or adulation; but some sort of self- recognition even if under the guise of the betterment for mankind.  When we can turn towards others in love and true caring  (and away from our own personal fulfillment) then this sort of behavior will always remain.  And since I live in a fallen state I will continue to repeat mistakes which I pray God will give me the grace to lessen over time.

Quote
How many times do people argue over the correct practice of things when it is only customs and tradition, matters of practicality and different opinions of the Fathers? And it frustrates me to see that, as I do have my opinions too, but I cannot consider myself in possession of the absolute truth on the matter especially as I do not believe there is an absolute truth is certain matters - not related to the Bible - and it pains me when people announce "verdicts" on the "correct" practice; I am humbled but also confused. It pains me because I would like to be doing what is best for my faith regarding the issue in question, but then everybody comes up with a different theory claiming this is the "correct" one.


Sophie, it is understandable that you are frustrated by people's pronouncements of correct practices.  This may be a cross that God has given you to help you in your salvation.  IMHO you should talk with your spiritual father and pray that God may enlighten you on these feelings.  Of course it is easier said than done to try to let these "trivial matters in the scheme of things" roll off your back.  But the knowledge that all of us are  struggling to live a life in Christ but have different flaws may give you solace and a feeling of love for your fellow Orthodox neighbors. 

God bless you,     Juliana Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: July 07, 2008, 07:55:27 AM »

Thank you all for your replies although I must say that I found only the women - what a coincindence - and mostly Julianna
covered possibly the issues of my post. The issue is not evolution, or correct practice, is what makes people go on and on about such issues. My questions may, due to my expression style, have sounded rhetorical but they were literal. I am humbled by your replies and mostly by the lack of them. I should be more understanding, more tolerant and more patient with the different attitudes of people about life and faith and accept the differences without feeling frustrated.
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« Reply #14 on: July 14, 2008, 10:59:48 AM »

I apologise for turning this into yet another instance of "going on and on" about such things.
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