crispybits wrote:It's not just the inconsistencies between positions that many people have problems with daddy, it's inconsistencies within each position (or at least all of the non-100%-literal or non-100%-symbolic positions).
Well, right. I wasn't talking about dealing with inconsistencies so much as with having an objection to particular positions put forth in the process of an apologetic. For example, I have seen some here say that they consider Christianity to be ridiculous because there is no way that the earth is only 6,000 years old. That's an illegitimate objection because that belief is not essential to being a Christian. The same for opposing legal equality for gay marriage. What I said also applies to contemning Christianity because someone, (as someone has done in this thread) responds to legitimate arguments by saying, "You'll know the truth when you're burning in hell, buddy!" I have never made a statement like that, and never will. (You can check; I have been posting on this forum for years, largely on this subject.) So that attitude is certinly not necessary to being a Christian. So the upside of the diversity of opinions on so many issues and doctrines is that those doctrines need not be a hinderance (or excuse).
How does anyone (christian or otherwise) decide which bits of the bible are literal truth, and which bits are symbolism and parable intended to guide us towards moral truth without being meant to be taken literally?
I think the difficulty here arises from certain implicit assumptions. I'm going to steal a metaphor from the introduction to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity
. Consider the Kingdom of God to be a house with many rooms. Lewis presents his work as the hallway of the house; I present the "very VERY, few beliefs that are the absolute common ground" that I mentioned earlier as that hallway. You're not meant to stay in the hallway. It is in the rooms that there are chairs to sit in, meals to eat, fires to warm yourself by, and beds to sleep in. But you can't choose a room until you enter in the front door into the hallway. Choosing your set of convictions on the peripheral issues would amount to entering a room.
And who decides which is which?
That depends on who you talk to, and is one of the factors in choosing a room. My Catholic friends would say that it’s the Church “magisterium”. For what I would say, let me give you some background.
Background 1: Some in this forum have argued that there are no contradictions in the Bible. I believe that is true in one sense, but not in a sense that it is worth trying to prove here. Instead I say this:
Sure, the Bible is full of contradictions. Here’s a glaring one: Proverbs 26:4-5: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.” It tells you to do one thing, then turns around and tells you to do exactly the opposite. The whole Bible is the whole truth, therefore, part of the Bible is part of the truth, and as you know, a partial truth is a falsehood. Obviously, one of these is the truth, or God’s direction, for some circumstances and the other is for others.
The Bible is a big and multi-faceted book, and life, to which it applies, is also big and multi-faceted. Not everything applies to everything, so sure, it can be applied in different ways in different circumstances, and sure, it can also be misapplied.
Background 2: I was studying into the evolution of the Passover Seder and came across an article from a rabbi where he was discussing the Talmud. I wish I could find it again to quote it, but he asked, “Why does G-d leave so much in His Word to be interpreted and debated?” His conclusion was that God never intended His Word to be a cold, static thing inscribed on paper, or on stone, or whatever. He always intended it to be expressed in human flesh, so that it would have life. I could bore you to tears with a litany of Biblical support for that idea, but if you’re interested, just a few to look at would be 2nd Corinthians 3:3, Jeremiah 31:33&34, and 2nd Cor. 3:6
So my answer is that each one needs to hear from God for themselves on questionable and debated issues. It is the relating and interacting with God that is actually the point, rather than the letter of the law. In order to do that legitimately, though, you first have to come in the front door and get into the hallway. You can’t check out the doors to the different rooms from outside; it’s not a motel. An officer doesn’t give orders to the soldiers in the enemy army, and a (good) husband doesn’t whisper sweet nothings to someone else’s wife.
You will point out that many have thereby come to different convictions, and I answer that you are making the assumption that that is necessarily a problem, an assumption that unfortunately many Christians also make. I am convinced that the unity God always intended was less organizational and more organic.
And why does, for instance, your interpretation have more significance for you than Viceroy's (and vice versa) if you're both talking about the same immutable thing (absolute moral truth)?
Well, because it is mine. Or perhaps better said, it is the light that God has given me to walk by for the purpose and work that he has for me.
Is God's absolute moral truth actually a mutable and constantly changing thing as fits the culture (because every culture has different moral standards and the biblee has been influential in many of these different settings), or is it a fixed and unchanging thing (and if so why does biblical interpretation change over the centuries)?
I would say that God’s truth is universal and immutable, but we and our circumstances are not, so the application is not.
The right answer to the wrong question is still the wrong answer to the real question.