The Bible is not clear — this is a feature, not a bug. The Bible doesn’t lay out specific rules about how we should live our lives from day to day — well, it kind of does, or did, in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The rest of the Hebrew scriptures, or Old Testament, illustrate how that didn’t work at all, and then the New Testament writers, mainly Paul, just threw the OT law section right out the window.
For Christians, the Torah, or Law, is summed up neatly by Jesus, “…‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”, Matthew 22:37–40, but that turns out to be a lot harder than it looks and a lot of Christians don’t really bother with it. Then, complicating things further, a lot of Christians latch onto the Ten Commandments, which you can look up yourself if you want, and act like those are what’s important, because they’re very basic and not that hard for most folks to follow. Or pretend to follow.
When my kid was in elementary school, there was a court case in Alabama or Arkansas or somewhere — one of the stereotypical southern states — where some local judge had posted the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and it became a kerfuffle because it violated the separation of church and state. I remember picking up my kid from school and seeing a sign in the hall reminding kids to not run, to use the handrail on the stairs and some other very basic grade school rules and I thought “That’s like the Ten Commandments.”
The usual elementary school rules about running, shoving, raising your hand when you want to speak in class &c, exist to create an environment where learning can happen, but they are not the point of elementary school. In the same way, the Ten Commandments, if followed, create an environment in which people can live with some degree of security and focus their attention on other things — raising kids, pursuing a vocation, meditating on God &c. Of course, it’s pretty unusual for anyone to actually follow the Ten Commandments, which goes back to what I said about the OT laws not really working which is why the NT writers dismissed them. Jesus’s statement about loving God and neighbor contains the essence of the Ten Commandments and is easier to remember, though not easier to follow. That’s why so many Christians don’t.
Loving God and loving one’s neighbor are incredibly difficult things to do. I freely admit that I have not yet been able to do it. Actually, I pretty much live on the edge of misanthropy — mainly because I’m a frustrated idealist. If I was in God’s shoes, I’d’ve wiped out the human race a long time ago, and just hung out with bears and bees. God almost did that, we read in Genesis 6, but then He decided to change His mind and decided to work with Abraham and his descendents instead. Not what I would’ve done, but I assume God knows better than me.
I can’t truly muster up love for most people — and I’d say I’ve got some really negative feelings toward some people, most notably the super-rich — but I am willing to grow into that. God has done some surprising things in my life — externally and internally — so I believe that He can change me into a person who can love everyone. In the meantime, I do the best I can to get along with people. And I work in a homeless shelter where I interact with the kind of people that Jesus spent a lot of time with. As far as morality goes, I’d say the homeless people I know are about even with the rest of society — most of them will rip you off if you have something they want or need and they think they can get away with it. The determining factor is how a person defines “get away with it.” Many Christians, in my time and place, seem to believe that if they mouth some Christian platitudes, mostly follow most of the Ten Commandments and go to church occasionally, they can get away with quite a lot. This is called hypocrisy and it’s why non-Christians tend to have a very low opinion of them — us, I guess.
I started off by saying the Bible isn’t clear. Actually, the Bible is pretty clear about a few things, but those things are actually very difficult — love your neighbor, for example. For the most part, the Bible seems to be really vague. There are a number of reasons for that, but I think the most important one is that the medium of the Bible is part of the message.
The Bible doesn’t give us everything right away. Some things will be clear right off the bat — Jesus liked children — but other things might take a while to figure out — like what Jesus meant when he said that being like a child was necessary for anyone who wanted to get into the kingdom of heaven. It’s like playing the guitar — you can learn a few simple things right away, but you can play the guitar for eighty years and still have more to learn and explore. The Bible writers — and especially the scribes who edited the Bible into its current form during the third century BCE — were people who sat around all day studying the scriptures, and they intended for the readers to do the same. They deliberately crafted a work which must be studied to be understood, because that is what makes it meaningful. If you work on understanding a parable for months, that parable will mean more to you than if the message is just handed to you. And the Bible is not meant to be read alone. Very few people even had the chance to read the Bible until Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1430s. Before that, people heard the Bible in groups and talked about it. If you want to get much out of the Bible, you’ll have to invest some time, do some work and meditation, and find out what other people have to say about it. And while you’re doing that, you’ll be learning to live a simple life with contemplation and meaningful interaction with other people, which will facilitate your further study and deepen your understanding. I’ve been doing this sort of thing for a little while and the effect it has had has been dramatic.
The next place to go seems to be some description of how I have been, compared with how I am now. That will be a new section.