Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bias and the Bible: how it affects our comprehension (Introduction)

Bias (bī´əs), n. [Fr. Biais, a slope, slant], 1. A slanting or diagonal line, cut or sewn in cloth. 2. A mental leaning or inclination; partiality; prejudice… Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (1957, New York, World Publishing Company)

 In the next few weeks, I will be writing about biases and how they silently affect everything; including our comprehension and communication. We all have biases, and not all of them are bad, in fact some can be quite useful; for example, an internal bias against racial hate-speech which we all know (now) in our hearts is wrong.  However, there are internal biases that still lead people into thoughtless prejudices, and sub-conscious discrimination.

I want to focus on how our biases effect how we read the Bible. So I will highlight scripture stories which we all think we know, and point out a few missed details and characters that may change how you understand biblical history.

We all know that women were barred from educational opportunities; the only scholars of the Bible until recently were men. So when you read commentaries, you are reading the singular point-of-view of a long line of men who made the opinions, wrote from their life experiences, and only had one view of women; which was solely as wives and mothers, housekeepers or “help-meets” of their husbands and never as leaders, for they considered these roles as god-ordained facts of life; men were leaders, women were helpers.[1]

Sadly, because so few people dig into the study of scripture for themselves, they rely on leaders, who are still overwhelmingly men, and who have all studies a series of commentaries which usually agree in content based on denominational rules.

Orthodoxy in Christianity is considered a very narrow set of rails to run a church on, so it is assumed that it is risky to consider other opinions; yet uncovering the bias against women needs to be illuminated with the light of Christ and then tossed on the burning trash pile (the
gehenna of fire, if you will) of ideas that should have been discarded from both our individual minds, and society at large.

The idea that God had sanctioned the subjugation of women in the Old Testament or New, needs to be destroyed once and for all.  For people to believe that somehow God is to be blamed for bad-acts committed by people in the Bible, needs to be put on that trash heap and burned to ashes. We all are guilty of reading biblical stories with a pre-conceived set of roles based solely on what we are told and learned in our culture.
I contend that due to a bias against women, churches have taught a warp idea which is not in the Bible; that God demands the subjugation of women, and what is actually missed is a revolutionary ideal that leadership is not based on your gender, but on your gifts and talents.

There were solitary women leaders who founded cities, stepped up and asked for land and it was granted; who not only prophesied but were leaders of the nation of Israel. These were women who not only lead the people in singing, but enforced the law of Israel and even sparked the greatest revival in the history of Israel. But there are many hints that the actual exclusion of women was not prompted by God, but by the male leaders recorded in scripture. 

So check back in the coming weeks and see if I can help you to read scripture with fresh eyes.

[1] It has only been late in the 20th century and into the 21st that women have become a small but growing presence in Biblical studies with more published works, and commentaries available now to choose from.