What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

The Bible Paradox

October 20, 2013, 12:00 AM
Shutterstock_62785384

Nearly 80 percent of all Americans think the Bible is either literally true or is the inspired word of God. And yet, most Americans have no idea what is actually in the Bible, as Stephen Prothero notably demonstrated in his book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't

(To test your religious literacy, take Prothero's quiz here.)

And so we have the paradoxical situation in which we as a culture "have invested the words of this book with amazing authority even when we don't know what these words are and what they mean."

So says Joel Baden, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. Baden gave a recent talk called "What Use is the Bible?" (see video below) at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, MA. 

"The Bible has effectively ceased to become a text," Baden argues, but instead has become a symbol of power and authority "that is undergirded by the relatively uninformed faith commitments of the majority of the American public. To speak in the name of the Bible is to claim a piece of that authority."

And this is a power that can be abused, and often is. When people invoke the Bible, they are often seeking to invoke a deeper Biblical truth, one that represents a singularity of message and meaning. In other words, in order for the Bible to work as a prop, it needs to function like a sledgehammer. "Nobody wants a wishy-washy authority," Baden says.

Our religious traditions have taught us to read the Bible this way. Since we are conditioned to search the Bible for one meaning, we have lost the ability to be careful readers. 

In the video below, Baden does something radically different. He walks us through the two contradictory creation accounts in Genesis. On what day did God create the plants and the birds and land and sea and Adam and Eve? If you read Genesis I and II back-to-back you are bound to be thoroughly confused. So why couldn't the authors of the Bible get their stories straight?

"Whoever put these stories together effectively privileged form over content," Baden says. The Bible's author "was willing to sacrifice easy meaning and singularity of perspective for the presence in scripture of multiple perspectives." The author was "happier with an incomprehensible plot - an impossible story - than to have to give up one of these two viewpoints."

And so if we are to continue to invest as much authority in the Bible as we do, Baden says, we - as serious readers of the text - cannot pretend that the Bible is a single, clear statement of belief. Rather, "it is a jumble of beliefs," Baden says, "a combination of voices...embedded in the text right from the word 'Go.'"

So of what use is the Bible? This book is both the ultimate source of authority and completely indecisive. But that does not mean we should throw it away, Baden says. "This text that our culture holds most sacred is a living reminder that human interaction is founded on dialogue and not monologue - the inclusion of differences, not their exclusion.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

More from the Big Idea for Sunday, October 20 2013

Religious Pluralism

The Bible is a source of great authority and it is also completely indecisive. In today's lesson,¬†Yale Divinity School professor Joel Baden points out some of the striking contradictions in the... Read More…

 

The Bible Paradox

Newsletter: Share: