Patrice, the Ethics Alarms resident Catholic theologian (and a dear friend), weighs in on the “Noah” controversy, in the this Comment of the Day on the post, “Noah” Ethics:
My undergraduate theology degree is indisputably from a Catholic perspective, although many of the scholars we studied were not Catholic, nor even Christian. I was required to take only 4 semesters of biblical literature, but even those few academic hours of biblical studies taught me enough about biblical analysis to understand how “The Bible” (which, as I’m sure you know, is just a mutually-agreed upon canon of literature which omits as much as it includes) came to be. I often think that it is a shame that true knowledge about biblical literature mostly seems to reside only in academia. Unfortunately, most of the zealots out there would and probably do regard biblical scholarship as an attack on God. The battles over the centuries over biblical inerrancy/infallibility/literalism are merely unread footnotes to most people.
Significantly, though, something happened back in the 1970s or 80s that has swung very conservative Christians (at least) into this reactionary stance. There was a discussion that if the accuracy of the bible were called into question, Christianity would be so adversely affected that it would collapse. So, conservative Christians made that stance their banner. Unfortunately, I believe, this position actually creates a greater level of cognitive dissonance, and can only do just that, as human intellect evolves and electronic media spreads information (and misinformation) widely. Back in biblical times, they had their own version of media and sharing of knowledge. It was called kerygma — specifically meaning the proclamation of the Good News. The earliest disciples proclaimed the Good News by telling stories of their experiences with Jesus. These stories were told and re-told, the way we post and re-post things on Facebook and Twitter, et al. Digital media isn’t even perfect in that regard, so how should we interpret the “whisper down the lane” telling of the stories of Jesus? Even Jesus used stories in his kerygma — today we call them parables. They are stories meant to convey a message, whether it is that we should rejoice because of the life of Jesus, or that we need to consider “What would Jesus Do?” in trying to live our lives for others, etc. Then there are the issues of multiple sources for the written biblical literature, varying levels of completeness of the sources, different versions of the same stories in the different sources, and THEN we have the translations! I personally own a number of Bibles, from which I can read the same story written with different words. Preachers and homilists focus on different items in the scriptures of the day in church. Sometimes, their focus seems to miss points that I (humbly) think are more important. Oh, well.
The Noah story is interesting, because if you focus on the details building up to the Big Event, God really does seem like a mass murderer, because, REALLY? — all of those children were corrupt, and every single one of those adults was corrupt? (But of course, one could say that about God “letting” horrible things happen to innocents throughout time, e.g., famine, war, disease, death.) (And one can’t ignore the fact that an epic flood disaster features prominently in a number of ancient cultures. So-o-o… what does THAT mean?) I’m trying to come up with a non-evangelical explanation for a decent purpose for the Noah story, but I can’t. It’s all about God establishing a covenant relationship with “His” people, that he would be there for them if they lived righteously. So there. Of course, they didn’t (The Golden Calf springs to mind), resulting in various tragedies for the Israelites, various later redemptions by God, etc. etc.
History it is NOT.
Graphic: The Militant Atheist