In this episode Kurt speaks with non-Christian Valerie Tarico on her recent article defending Roy Moore’s alleged behavior as “biblical.”
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. So glad to be with you here. It’s a fine winter day here in the suburbs of Chicago. Chris is very pleased. Winter happens to be his favorite season. He came in singing, what did you come in singing?
Chris: It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Kurt: Right. Yeah.
Chris: It’s snowing right now, Kurt.
Kurt: It’s a wintery mix, rain, snow, and I’m not sure it’s sticking to the ground.
Chris: Maybe we’ll have a pleasant surprise when we leave.
Kurt: Winter is Chris’s favorite time of year and it is the winter for sure now after last year. We had a mild winter. I think we might be in store for something a little bit more cold this year, which of course, you love Chris. We’ve got a great show for you coming up today. We’re gonna be talking to someone that has a different take than what we might be used to, but as you know, on this show we bring on a variety of perspectives so we can learn what peoples’ views are and just become more well-rounded people I think when we encounter people that we may not agree with and it helps us to realize we can still talk to people, cause I think that’s something that if you’re a long-time listener of the show, you know that’s part of my mission here, because we’re becoming more isolated in our society today, so in the hopes of maybe even leading by example to a certain extent, I think that we can illustrate we can talk to people that we have differences with. That’s a good thing. If you haven’t had the chance I want to encourage you to listen to last week’s episode wherein I was discussing with two fellows on the philosophy of Ayn Rand and that posed to be an interesting topic. I hadn’t really considered Ayn Rand’s philosophy before, didn’t know much about her even. I just knew she had written a work called Atlas Shrugged, but nevertheless, that posed to be an interesting discussion. I want to encourage you to listen to that if you haven’t had that chance. A couple of ways you can do that. You can go the website veracityhill.com and click on the post there, the article post, it’s got the episode embedded. If you’re following us on Facebook we did livestream last week and we’ve got that video for you, and I hope you’re following us today as well and if you want to participate in today’s discussion, there are a number of ways you can do that. I’m trying my best to follow along with the comments here on Facebook stream and you can get in touch through email, Kurt@veracityhill.com. Lastly, you can join us our texting plan. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888. You can join our free texting plan. I’ll text you every once in awhile, get your thoughts, and you can text me and I can read those comments as well. I do have an update on the fundraiser that we’ve been doing. This is a fundraiser that I think we started back in, when was it Chris, maybe September possibly, and then we just had a couple delays. We had the Defenders Conference and whatnot that sort of took the attention, so we’re hoping to start that back up and right now we are at 27 and a half percent of our fundraising goal. We’re looking to raise $800 per month in new support to continue this program, to give us a little bit of an advertising budget, to pay the loyal Chris for his tech production that he does. If you like the production value that we bring to you week after week, that’s Chris. I couldn’t do this without him and so we’d love to be able to get your support, your regular monthly support to show our appreciation to Chris, among other things. Okay. Heading into today’s topic we’ve got a fascinating discussion I think ahead for you and joining me on the show today is Dr. Valerie Tarico and she is a writer and she has a Ph.D. in psychology as I understand and I’m hoping she’ll be able to tell us more about herself and her background as she says, a former fundy, and I’d love to get her background and her story told so Valerie, thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Valerie: Thank you for having me on the show. I wanted to start by saying how much I appreciate what you said about your mission to kind of build bridges and get people listening to each other. I think that was what attracted me, that’s what made me say yes to you even though we are obviously in very different places in terms of our religious beliefs. When I was an evangelical Christian, I thought of my spiritual kin as people who believed what I believed, that the Bible was a literally perfect word of God and that after leaving Christianity I thought that my spiritual kin were people who had kind of left behind that perspective, and at some point it occurred to me that in reality for me, our kind of spiritual and moral court isn’t about what we believe, it’s who we love and how we serve, and when I realized that I also realized that there are people who I think of as spiritual kin who are in all kinds of religions and non-religions.
Kurt: In different places. Yeah. Different beliefs. Sure. Great. Again, thank you so much for coming on the show. Let me start off by asking you this about your background and your upbringing, and part of this is because I don’t even know exactly where you stand these days and that’s part of the fun of the show. You say you’re a former evangelical Christian so were you raised as a Christian, did you have belief that, and how exactly you might define these terms might be different from how I would define them so that may be our task today in understanding one another. What would you say is an evangelical Christian and where are you today if I can ask that?
Valerie: I did grow up as an Evangelical Christian. By my own choice, I went to Wheaton College….
Kurt: Is that right?
Valerie: So when you guys talk about Chicago winter being an awesome thing, I have to say that to an Arizona girl, that immediately calls your veracity into question.
Kurt: That would be Chris that likes the winter.
Chris: This is my veracity that’s being called into question.
Valerie: I grew up in an evangelical Christian family. We went to Bible church, kind of Dallas Theological Seminary tradition if you know that is in Phoenix. My father’s family had been converted to Sarah Palin’s brand of Christianity by door-to-door Pentecostals. They were Italian immigrants and were Catholic at the time and my mother comes from a kind of lineage of more the Brethren tradition, that they had found their way into this[NP1] Bible Church that I grew up in.
Kurt: Are you talking about the Plymouth Brethren?
Kurt: My mother was raised in a Plymouth Brethren Church.
Kurt: We’ve got that similarity there.
Valerie: So to kind of continue my story then, not my family’s story, I accepted Jesus as savior as a child. I think honestly I would say I did that more than once because hell was a pretty scary place to a kid. I took my faith very seriously, was involved in kind of intensive Bible study as a teen and engaged in, I was a counselor for Child Evangelists and Fellowship in Camp Good News and then by my own choice went to Wheaton College as I said, but beginning in high school I started having questions about the kinds of teachings that I had taken at face value. I think those questions came first because I had a friend, Kay, who was Mormon, and who was just clearly a much nicer person than I was, just a kind of really, lots of kind of obvious goodness about her, and the thought that I was going to be blissfully indifferent for all eternity while she was being tortured in hell and her torment was going to be a matter of indifference to me was one of the things that I found untenable. I think that opened the door to other kinds of questions and other kinds of experiences and by the time I hit Wheaton College I was really struggling to hold together what I perceived as a lot of the rational and moral contradictions in my Christian faith and evolving a pretty idiosyncratic set of answers at that point such that by the time I left Wheaton and went to graduate school in Iowa City where I got my Ph.D., I was worshiping in the Catholic Newman Center at that point because I felt like the experience of worship and the liturgy kind of to channel that experience of worship fit deeply for me, but a lot of the kind of teachings that surrounded biblical literalism really didn’t. Then after kind of moving on from graduate school, I also ultimately kind of had a set of experiences that I’m happy to tell you about that caused you to move out of Christianity entirey, so I would describe myself as a spiritual non-theist and by spiritual I mean that issues of meaning and morality are at the heart of what it means to be human and by non-theist I mean that I lack any kind of humanoid god concept.
Kurt: Listeners of the show know I’m not too fond of labels myself, but do you hold to a pantheistic of view as God as a spirit or how might you describe that non-theist aspect?
Valerie: Pantheism might come close, but I really think that all of these kinds of systems of thought that human beings have tried to come up to explain the wonder of our existence and the terrors of our own existence are far too kind of filtered through our own cognitive limitations and psychology to make much sense and that we are much better off simply being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know”.
Kurt: There’s the unknown. Yeah.
Valerie: And not trying to fill that emptiness with a set of human-shaped hypotheses that we then become wedded to.
Kurt: Yeah. Gotcha. Okay. But you would say nevertheless that there is sort of a higher power. Would that be accurate?
Valerie: Higher than me, but whether that is simply kind of the laws of physics that govern the universe, I’m not going to kind of posit that there’s some higher power that has a humanoid, I’m a psychologist, and so I think that even when our gods don’t have human bodies, they tend to have human psyches and we have a lot of trouble getting beyond that.
Kurt: Gotcha. That helps sort of understand where you’re coming from these days. I am curious to ask you about your background in history in studying psychology so maybe what got you interested in that and what was your doctoral research on. I’m interested to know that.
Valerie: I should start with my doctoral research, because it was so boring, five years later, when we were playing charades at my house and somebody put the title of my thesis into the charades pile, it took me minutes to realize what it was and then even after I knew what it was, I still couldn’t get it. It was in the kind of human resources area, kind of focused on what’s called critical incident interviewing in the selection of radiology residents and beyond that, I couldn’t to this day give you the wording if I had to do it to save my daughter’s life.
Kurt: Right. I’m doing my PhD right now and that research is very specific. You’ve got to make a contribution to the academic material out there and so when you talk about, I’m not broadly from what I just gathered, sort of interviewing processes for radiology students, something like that, that’s super specific so I understand.
Valerie: That’s a boring part of the psychology. The more interesting part is I think the first thing that intrigued me with psychology is I have a younger sister who is chronically mentally ill which first emerged as anorexia when she was around between 8-10 actually, so very early and well before we had much understanding of eating disorders. That experience of her struggle which continues to this day and has caused not only a lot of suffering in her own life, but in the lives of her children and other people around her was part of what attracted me to psychology and then, as a teenager, I also had a disorder. I was bulimic, and while at Wheaton College, while I was there as a sophomore, made a pretty serious suicide attempt in part because I couldn’t pray it away. My youth ministers thought I should be able to. Even after kind of going through that, the conclusions I came to while in the confines of my evangelical faith is that God doesn’t expect us to solve psychological problems by praying them away any more than He expects us to fix broken legs by praying them away. I became intrigued by the power of the tools of clinical psychology to kind of help people with healing processes and after graduating from Wheaton with a Spanish degree and realizing I didn’t want to be a teacher that became….
Kurt: What you wanted to pursue.
Kurt: Nice. First and foremost, I’m sorry that you and your sister have had these difficult life circumstances, and I’m especially sorry that you were provided with what I would think is false information, the idea of praying it away, prayer as the only means, I think is not a good evangelical Christian perspective to have. Someone like myself, I have what I call naturalistic tendencies, even when I read the Bible. For me, psychology is a very useful tool I think for helping people to overcome sin in their lives. It really stinks. There are a lot of youth pastors that are like that and sadly I think it’s because they don’t have the answers themselves and so they have to come up with insufficient answers, hopefully, we get more youth pastors listening to this show.
Valerie: Yeah. I have to say out of all the kinds of ministry that I’ve been around, youth pastors are kind of near the car salesman end of the spectrum for me in the sense that I think there are lot of folks who are very extroverted and not infrequently a little narcissistic, who feel like they have to be on all the time, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for real humility. Looking back, it’s easy for me to say from the distance now of really an incredible life and flourishing, coming to the end of middle age, I don’t regret that I went through that as a teenager, the eating disorder, because I feel like it forced to ask a lot of deeper questions about the nature of reality, the nature of healing, about the nature of the world around us, about things that we call sin, and I think it did humble me. It’s much harder to be judgmental about someone else who is struggling with something that feels like a compulsion for them or something they just can’t get past like an addiction when you know what it’s like to kind of struggle against something that you yourself haven’t simply been able to overcome with force of will.
Kurt: It’s been great to hear your background, your upbringing, your life story to date if you will and I want to be sure that we’ve designated enough time to the discussion of the topic of the show today so I had someone on Facebook share this article that was picked up by the Salon, at least I think that’s how you say it, just Salon I take it, this article you wrote on the Alabama GOP nominee for Senate, Roy Moore, and on this show we don’t talk about political candidates for elective purposes, but nevertheless, I think this is a topic that’s getting a lot of attention, not just with Moore, but our nation as a whole is dealing with sexual abuse cases and I’m very glad to see more women speaking up because it’s quite ridiculous, the level, how pervasive this is in our society and so I think it’s a good thing that more women are announcing and calling out their accusers, because that’s gonna be a good benefit I think in the long term to our nation in terms of healing from these past wounds and preventing issues like this in the future so I think overall, that’s a good thing, and I hope you’d agree with me on that too.
Valerie: I do agree with you on that. I really hope that we’re seeing is a seed change in terms of people being able to get away with sexual exploitation or kind of power differential, taking advantage of that. At the same time, I think it’s a broader conversation than I think us simply kind of making pariahs out of the people who are accused because there’s this whole social context and I guess part of why I wrote about it was because of that in which we expect men to be sexual initators and even sometimes sexually aggressive and we communicate that that’s hot, except when it’s not. You know, in movies and media and stuff like that, and so you have, we definitely, obviously have men who kind of become predatory in the sense of pushing that boundary and ignoring the messages whether subtle or very loud that they’ve crossed a boundary, but we also kind of have a lot of situations in which ordinary guys who are just trying to figure it out, get it wrong. It’s a systemic thing that I think we need to discuss as a culture rather than simply kind of convicting individuals and then thinking that the problem’s going to go away. You’ll notice that even in my article about Roy Moore, I didn’t go after Moore. I’m not really interested in kind of piling on to an accusation that is hearsay that I wasn’t present for and as much as I dislike Moore and I assure you I like dislike him intensely for a whole host of other reasons, I really do see kind of that behavior within the context that I talked about and I think that kind of sets folks like him up for doing things that are gross.
Kurt: That makes a great segue to get into that context you talk about. I had a church to share I hope for people that are following us on the livestream or listening right now on the web site, I did share that article ahead of time so people could check it out. That context that you talked about there, what you’re referring to is for those who haven’t read the article, is here in the Bible we see a number of cases where it appears that women are mistreated and men abuse them and where sexual relations is nonconsensual and so this seems to be a problem that the Scripture talks about and so I do want to get into that so here I’ve got a couple questions, maybe points of clarification that I was hoping to get from you and so I’ve just got a couple quotes here if that’s alright. We’ll see how I can formulate this. One of the first things that stood out to me was you wrote, “In the Bible, females are created for the benefit of males,” and I’m curious here what your thoughts are on someone who might say that they are created equally in God’s image and in fact, from what I’ve heard from a number of scholars, that it’s both the male and the female together that create the image of God and so without that, there is no full image of God if that makes sense. What would you just say to someone who says for example, especially those that don’t take the creation account literally, they take it as Hebrew poetry, they would say that the idea of the female coming from the rib is just figurate poetic language. It didn’t literally happen that way. Nevertheless, we see here that together male and female, they’re created equal, and it’s not that females are unequal or solely there for the benefit of males.
Valerie: I have to say for starters, right, that what strikes me first is those stories is that the incredible hubris of human beings to kind of boldly posit that we are created in the image of God more so than the many other sentient beings around us. I think if I kind of had a kind of large overall critique of the Bible it really is that it’s just laughably arrogant, the degree to which we think of ourselves as somehow bigger and better than we are and the degree to which we then create God in our image, because that is the effect of saying man’s created in the image of God is kind of also like implying that basically that gives us an excuse for creating God in the image of man, but that aside, I think most scholars would saying there are two different creation stories in the book of Genesis, they come from different sources and traditions that in one of them it does in fact appear, the first Genesis creation story, that man and woman together are created simultaneously. In that second story woman is pretty clearly created to be a helpmeet or companion for man because none of the other animals are found to be suitable companions. Unfortunately, even if what I perceive as the most gender benign interpretation of the Christian tradition would say that it is male and female together that kind of most wholly reflect the image of divinity, that that isn’t how it has played out across the millennia of the Christian tradition. In my, both in terms of other Bible writers and what we kind of see got encoded in Leviticus and later in the Old Testament in particular, which doesn’t get repudiated clearly by the New Testament writers and especially not by Paul, but also if you look at the kind of writings of the Christian patriarchs and fathers down through the ages, there has been a very clear persistent argument that women are inferior and that women are made to be submissive to men so I linked a bunch of that stuff in the article, other articles where I’m kind of giving lists of Bible verses, quotations, by church fathers and so forth.
Kurt: Yeah. I don’t want to get too much into the church fathers, although part of my PhD research is studying the church fathers on a different subject, but strictly I think as it pertains to the Bible. One of the things that might be worrying from my perspective might be that we have to view the text in its ancient context and so their society was a lot different from our society. That’s not to, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I’m justifying anything that happened then, but it might just be an explanation of why it happened that way. I’m sure we might get more into that when we get to other examples here. I wanted to ask you a question here about one of the things that you brought up here, discomfort and pain women feel around sexuality and childbearing are inevitable, that the Bible teaches that. I would be curious to know, in the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, we hear the woman’s perspective on sexuality there and it really seems to be her own thing and that there is pleasure as opposed to discomfort in that context. Would we say that the Bible as a whole presents the view of women’s sexuality as irrelevant or would we just have to qualify and say that in some instances we see that their view is not accepted or welcomed?
Valerie: I guess in order to answer that question I have to address the status of the Bible itself and when you listen to what I talk about, modernist Christians sometimes say, “You do know not everyone interprets the Bible literally as the perfect Word of God. Right?” And I’m like, “Absolutely. Absolutely, “and I wish that they were saying more vociferously some of the things that I’m saying as an outsider, because I think that is the responsibility of Christians to speak powerfully on those issues. It’s what some Christians call bibliolatry, the idea that the Bible has literally for many people…
Kurt: Taken on a persona.
Valerie: It’s become the third person of the Trinity, replacing the Holy Spirit essentially, but when you treat the Bible as the literally perfect Word of God, complete and whole and you give it the attributes of divinity, perfection, completeness, immutability, all of that kind of stuff, instead of as you said perceiving it in a broader kind of cultural, historical, sociological context, then what happens is to answer your question now, you get a pretty mixed view of kind of what women are and what they should be and whether their experience of life, or their pleasures or sexual pleasures specifically matter. I, of course, have argued that the main current of the perspectives in the Old Testament is that this kind of perspective of women being essentially chattel, that the primary purpose of women is childbearing, that that has dominated both the Bible writers and the Christian tradition. Obviously, that’s not the case for the Song of Solomon. I do think that if you worship an iron age text, you get an iron age worldview, and like in the case of someone like Roy Moore, iron age behavior. That I think is kind of the bigger challenge here.
Kurt: Good. No. I’m sympathetic to some of your concerns there too. I think that’s good, and I like the way you phrase it too. If you worship an iron age text, you’re gonna get an iron age behavior, something like that. And I’m hoping to explore maybe some of those examples that we see in some of these themes and even today how Christians today should understand that text, but we’ve got to take a short break here and after we come back from the break, we’ll do a round of rapid questions too, so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for
sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors and I had lost my
mouse connection there. I had to quickly install a good old plug-in mouse here.
I’ll have to check that bluetooth connection. I am joined by Dr.
Valerie Tarico and in the first half of the show, we heard about her story, her
upbringing, and her journey, got into a little bit of our discussion today on
understanding the Biblical text and recognizing some of the difficult passages
in terms of how the Scripture describes and even might instruct men to treat,
or rather, mistreat women. We might see that as mistreating women. I see we’ve
got a couple comments here. We talked about psychology as a healing
tool. Louis here who has been watching says “Psychology as a healing tool.
Great topic.” and Marlin also says, “Totally agree.” We’ve got a
comment here from Travis and he writes, “She’s from Wheaton. God bless the
school that D.L. Moody founded.” I think Travis went to Moody Bible
Institute. We’ve got to get into the Rapid Questions here. Let me get
that set up. Losing that bluetooth connection to my mouse kind
of threw me off there. It was poor timing too, Chris. Right as the break was
ending. Valerie. Rapid Questions is just sixty seconds here where we ask you a
bunch of goofy fun questions and you try to answer as many of them as you can
and so are you ready?
Valerie: I’m ready.
Kurt: Okay. Here we go. What’s your clothing store of choice?
Valerie: Lifelong AIDS Alliance fo store.
Kurt; What song is playing on your radio these days?
Valerie: I’m outted. I don’t listen to music.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Valerie: I love living in Seattle, but I sometimes have fantasies of moving farther north to rural British Columbia.
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: What is your most hated sports franchise if you watch sports?
Valerie: Are you
talking about the NFL?
Kurt: Any or just the NFL in general. Left or right?
Kurt: What’s your favorite movie?
Valerie: The Mission was one of my favorite movies. Bladerunner is one of my favorite movies. Crash.
Kurt: Nice. I always ask this one. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Valerie: Diet Dr. Pepper.
Kurt: Okay. I’ll take it. That’s a win. It’s really sad. Dr. Pepper is my favorite beverage and whenever I get a guest that’s a firm no, that’s just bad news.
Valerie: It must be so much work having to go back and delete the whole show.
Kurt: I guess the thought hadn’t crossed my mind, but now it has. Thank you for that. Thanks for playing Rapid Questions. Again, in the first half of the show we learned about your journey and your background and where you are in the present day and then we got into the discussion about the Bible as an ancient text and how the way it describes and instructs men to treat women is concerning to us, to our sensibilities, these days, and sure, some Christians have mixed views of the text, and it sounded like your concern was really against, if I can accurately say this and correct me if I’m wrong, that your concern is against a particular way of reading the Bible, holding it almost like it’s the third person of the Trinity as you said or maybe we could say the fourth person of the Quadrinity, but just this idea that almost taking the text out of its context and people not understanding that it is an ancient document, or rather that if they do view it as an ancient document and don’t recognize it as such then they’re going to be acting, what did you say, it’s an iron age text, you’re going to get iron age behavior. I think I actually like that, because I think there’s a lof of good principles that can be drawn from that so I’m gonna steal that for in the future if that’s alright with you, Valerie.
Valerie: Yes. Hold on just a second. My computer wants to die here. I must have somehow unplugged it. I’ll be back just a second.
Kurt: Sounds good. For those that are following on the livestream here, we’re joined today by Valerie Tarico, and she’s currently plugging in her computer, but thus far it’s been an interesting conversation. I’ve been able to learn more about her worldview and her background, her journey, having gone to Wheaton College and then wanting to study psychology and she has written an article here on the Salon and if you go to the Veracity Hilll Facebook page, you can check out that article where she raises some concerning points against some of the passages in the Bible. I’m hoping we’ll be able to get the chance, before the break we were able to talk about a couple of those instances, and I’m hoping we’ll get some other chances here to get more into that and really ask some engaging questions how Christians should approach this text as an ancient document and so should be an interesting conversation and I hope that you will stick with us here. One of the things I had been just recently engaging in discussion on on Facebook was from, it may have been from the same thread that the fellow shared Valerie’s article. He was concerned with a number of the instances in the Scripture in Deuteronomy 22, there’s a passage that talks about in the English translations, that if a man rapes a woman, specifically a woman that’s not betrothed, he can pay the woman’s father a certain amount and marry the woman, and this is concerning to our sensibilities today. We wouldn’t want a society like that wherein the woman is forced to marry her rapist. How should Christians understand that? I’ve had the opportunity to look into that specific example and I’m not sure if Valerie raised that precise example. Maybe she did. That I think requires a lot of research because in the Hebrew there, English translations use the word rape, but in Hebrew it’s a different word than the other words used for rape. As I’ve been reading it and understanding it, I think that’s a poor English translation in the same way, and bear with me as I draw this out, in the same way when we today in our wedding vows talk about to have and to hold. That word, to hold, it’s a physical action, but it’s not necessarily an aggressive action. I think in this case, in Deuteronomy 22:28-29, we’re not dealing with rape there. I think we’re dealing with consensual sexual act and I think that’s also indicated by the lack of text explaining whether the woman yelled out for help. In those other cases, other verses about rape, you see that there are qualifications, if she did yell out, if she did not yell out, if she lives in the countryside and no one heard her what do you do then? And so, in Deuteronomy 22:28-29, I don’t think we’re dealing with a quote, unquote, classical case there. Again, a poor English translation indicating something that doesn’t mean the same thing that we might think of it and so hopefully we’ll get more into a discussion with Valerie here. Chris. Are we still connected with her? Okay. Valerie. Are you ready?
Valerie: I’m ready.
Kurt: Okay. Great. Sorry. I don’t know how long you were there while I was just going on.
Valerie: Pretty much the whole time, but that’s alright.
Kurt: I’d love to get your perspective on that. First, did you, in your article, did you talk about, I see the second point here, rape in the Bible’s violation is not against the woman but against the male owner. In that case, and I just got in this discussion with someone online, specifically with regard to Deuteronomy 22.
Valerie: That kind of creates a challenge in your desire to harmonize with what seems like a pretty ugly verse with our modern sensibilities because as I understand the Levitical code, when it’s consensual sex, then the father and the people actually have a right to kill the woman, so I don’t know. Frankly, I’d rather be forced to marry my rapist than get stoned to death, just saying.
Kurt: Right. No. Don’t get me wrong. It certainly does push against our sensibilities these days. I think that….
Valerie: Can I? Go ahead. I’m sorry.
Kurt: I was going to say, the way I understand it, in the case where they might be stoned to death, as I have understood it, and I could be wrong, I think those are cases where a man consensually sleeps with a woman who is already betrothed whereas in the Deuteronomy 22:28-29 she’s not betrothed. I think that’s why they allow for the male to pay the father what’s considered I think a classic dowry so that would be the way I distinguish it between the betrothed and the unbetrothed. If a man sleeps with a woman who’s betrothed to another man, that’s when you’ve got the problem, but no, go ahead. What were you going to say?
Valerie: I don’t know. It almost gets muddier to me because my understanding of the culture is that a woman who’s not betrothed is most typically a woman who’s also not sexually mature and who’s underage and….
Kurt: That does get muddy…
Valerie: You know, I think, to pop it up a level if I could from my perspective, we get into the weeds with all of this trying to rationalize or harmonize or try to figure out some way to make things be okay, that sometimes weren’t. Even if you could kind of come up with a way to make these verses okay, explaining the fact that God’s command on authority of an angel basically tells the soldiers to keep the virgin Midianite girls who are clearly underage for themselves and gives instructions for basically purifying them before having sex with them, there’s some things that are just never gonna sit well, but I think the way I think about that for myself is our world and spiritual ancestors who wrote the Bible were doing the best they could with the circumstances and knowledge available to them. Right?
Valerie: They were struggling to see what was real and what was good and how to live in moral community with each other and they were doing that in a context of incredibly limited information and yet each one of them, you have to assume that each one of the people who wrote a passage of the Bible, and there were many writers, obviously there were many texts, was taking some received tradition and then doing what he thought was kind of like a better articulation of it. The most clear way to kind of revise or reinterpret. They weren’t simply transcriptionists. They were writing a way of what had been handed down to them and then offering a new and what they thought was improved interpretation of something that was closer to again, understanding divinity and reality and morality and all of that, and so then when I then think about us in the modern age, from our standpoint of vastly superior knowledge and privilege, if we then take their words and deify them, if we kind of treat them as if they were literally carved in stone and we kind of put them on a pedestal, we aren’t even honoring the quest of the Bible writers. I kind of feel like we can either honor their words or we can honor their quest, but it’s not really possible to do both.
Kurt: Again, I’m sympathetic to your concern that some people don’t recognize the value of at least some what theologians call progressive revelation, the idea that we’re still learning. This might explain why, for example, in American history, the slavery abolitonists who started that movement were Christians, even though the Bible is written in a context where there is slavery and there are even instructions on how to treat your slave. In that sense, I think we might even be closer than maybe we originally thought because there is that valid concern that this is a text, and it’s even written for a specific time period and as I understand it, it’s also written specifically for a limited people group. Right? The Jews or the Israelites specifically. Beyond that and beyond its temporal time period in its ancient context, I don’t think that today Christians have to follow it. That’s why I think before we got cut off there with the computer cord, I think I was asking you whether your concern here is geared toward a specific type of interpretation of the Bible and not necessarily the Bible itself, because if we understand the Bible as a historical document of an ancient people group, then we can see how it was limited in its ethical code. What are your thoughts on that?
Valerie: Yes. I think that’s well said. It really is, again, I keep coming back to this because it’s so central for me, the hubris of us putting God’s name on human words. Right? When I look at the Bible and I think, obviously I’m not alone in this, I see human handprints all of it. I see human fallibility all over it. I see struggle and failure and not just in the passages that we think kind of like are designed to teach that, but even when our spiritual ancestors were coming up with the very best hypotheses they could generate about what God was and who God was and how God wanted us to behave and far far too often in history, people have treated those words as if they were the words of God rather than the words of fallible human beings. We also add a layer on top of that I think with Biblical literalism so people who kind of stand up and boldly, like (Unclear at 51:50), say the Bible is the literally perfect word of God are not only assuming the infallibility of those Bible writers and the infallibility of the Catholic councils who assembled the canonical Scriptures, but they are also assuming their own infallibility in making that bold assertion.
Kurt: You and I are then in agreement that we shouldn’t necessarily apply everything in the Bible to our modern context, that some things, of course, are good in the Bible. Right? Do not murder. Do not steal. But some of the things we think just don’t apply. In that sense then, the Bible describes what a people group believed back then, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it today. I think you’d agree with me in that regard. I’m curious then, in your article you say, “In the Bible, young women are commonly given to older men.”, but this isn’t necessarily the case with just the Bible. Right? This is what people did back then. This is ancient near eastern culture, not just the Jewish people, but it was the characteristic of all societies before the modern age. In that sense, let me say it this way, if it’s a knock against the Bible, then it should almost be a knock against all the other instruction manuals, ethical manuals from other societies too. Which if that’s the case, then yeah, that can be a good concern for us today.
Valerie: I think that’s again a great way of putting it. Our only kind of humanity is gradually coming to understand power differentials in the way that we do and to recognize children as autonomous beings with moral standing who have rights of their own independent of the priorities and values of their parents. Right? That isn’t just true of the Bible. It’s true of pretty much all the sacred texts of the Axial Age. I think that what happens is that we take things that are descriptive and we make them prescriptive, and that can happen within a text or it can happen to a text after the fact.
Kurt: I think that’s a great point. I fully agree, but then I think what that entails might be where we have some differences because I still do value the Bible as the word of God, inspired, and I think that it is an ancient text and so, I think it’s curious maybe to explore these themes here. It sounds like we’ve got a lot of common ground here on these concerns, but it’s led us to different places.
Valerie: But that’s why I come back to what I was talking about at the beginning. Right? There are places and spaces where all each of us can do is kind of humbly make our own best guesses about what’s real and kind of going forward with the knowledge that there’s room for us, we are fallible and there’s room for us to be wrong. That’s why the title of my book was Trusting Doubt because that kind of captured the intellectual honesty of following doubts, but also kind of acknowledging the uncertainty in that space, and it’s also why I came back to where I started at the beginning of this, which is what I realized over time was that my spiritual kinship isn’t based on what they believe. It’s who and how they love and serve.
Kurt: We’ve only got a few more minutes here, but I want to ask you this. Is then your ultimate concern here not necessarily with the Bible itself, which that’s the way it seemed to come across in the article, but it’s more so with a certain interpretation of the Bible as the literal word of God and this interpretation would just neglect ancient context, not recognizing as we agree that it’s descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive. Would that be accurate then to say that?
Valerie: Sure. Absolutely. I think, and my greater concern is about people doing harm, doing harm to themselves, doing harm to each other, doing harm to the intricate web of life that surrounds us and that when we believe things that are untrue, especially if we believe things that are emphatically untrue, that we really kind of put ourselves into a risky space.
Kurt: I’m thinking here of, I forget the name of the fellow that, he’s supporting Moore and he cited Joseph and Mary. I forget the guy’s name. At any rate…
Valerie: Zeigler I think or something like that.
Kurt: In that case, I think we would both agree that someone like that has not understood the text as descriptive of a time period, because that person is trying to prescribe those ancient cultural norms which, even still, right, we try to look back and understand why were those cultural norms the way they were, and maybe in some cases, we have trouble finding good reason for that, but in other cases, I could think of there being good reason. I could think of a few good examples and I’d like to get your thoughts on them. One, I think here like prisoners of war were made in the Old Testament, they were allowed to be slaves, and I think part of the reason for that cultural norm is because there weren’t prisons for example in ancient agrarian societies, and then another thing I could think here too is when a woman became a widow, her brother was to bring her into his family. Why would do that? At least the way I understood it. Today we’ve got a welfare system that can help take care of people in need, but back then there was welfare system so what would a woman do in that society, and like I said maybe there were still bad reasons, there were bad structural frameworks in that society that wouldn’t allow women to do certain things that they’re allowed to do today. I think that can help explain why those norms were there, even though it doesn’t justify them for today and in that sense, maybe, as we get better we recognize that certain ethical norms can be relative even to a society. People might be laughing at our small speed limits these days when eventually we might come up with the technology to allow travelling at 200 MPH. What would your thoughts be on that? Would we hold a similar mindset there or do you want to have further pushback against my explanation?
Valerie: Absolutely. I think that a lot of the rules in the Bible and in the Koran, even many of them which are horrendous to us now, you could argue that some of them evolved to help give people to have power, allow them to continue holding it, including honestly males, but I think other parts of it were trying to promote a coherent society and a stable society and one in which people actually did take care of each other. Right? In the patriarchial tribal society in the ancient near east where the Bible was written, the kin network was the welfare system.
Kurt: Right. Good. Valerie. I want to say, if I can be honest, that this has been a pleasantly delightful conversation, and I think that we would agree on some of the fundamental ways we should be interpreting the text, even if its led us to different perspectives. That’s been nice I think to explore that and a great way too to learn about a different perspective on this. Thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Valerie: Thank you for having on the show. I’m honored, and it feels like a really incredible and important thing right now in our cultural context where divisions are so deep and sometimes frighteningly passionate, that you reached out to me feels like something I’m grateful and something that I honor.
Kurt: Thank you so much and we’ll have to explore other ideas to bring you back on the show in the future.
Valerie: Thank you.
Kurt: Of course. Thanks. Have a great day.
Valerie: You too.
Kurt: Bye bye. Alright. That has been a great conversation I think with Dr. Valerie Tarico and we’ll have to think, think of some other ways to bring her back and explore some other topics from her perspective. I hope it’s been a beneficial conversation for you as well to see that even people with different views can find points of agreement on how we should interpret these ancient texts, and if you haven’t had a chance, I want to encourage you to read that article written by her. It’s posted on our Facebook page and we’ll also include it on our website. You can see there there are some valid concerns, and I think we maybe hashed out the finer nuances there. I’m sympathetic to her concern of interpreting the Bible in a certain way to justify behavior in our day, in our modern day, and so that’s a very good concern to have. We live in a different world than they lived in back then and so I think understanding that can really help us even to understand the Bible in its cultural context and that’s very important for seeking the truth and having a good ethical framework of mind so I’m glad that we had that topic for today’s show.
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[NP1]Unclear at 7:50