The issue of culture or the issue of religion is often disparaged as closing people's minds to alternatives. I do however, have some questions.
We read every year the Haggadah on Passover. No proof has been ever found that the events described in the story, be it the Haggadah or the Torah itself, are true. Does that invalidate the story?
Let us first assume that the story describes historical events. The fact that we have not discovered tangible proof does not mean the events did not happen. Absence of proof is not proof of absence. If the events described, from the ten plagues to the crossing of the Red Sea did in fact happen - then the worldview of many in our contemporary world, would be set upside-down. Historically proving events which are considered miracles would also upset many in the religious community. But if proof is discovered - that's it.
If the events did not happen the way described in the story, does it change anything? Some would say that disproving the story disproves the religion based on it. Others would say that the events can never be fully disproven any more than they can be fully proven.
An then there is the revolutionary idea that whether the events are historically true or not, is completely irrelevant. Each Human group creates stories to consolidate the group as such and to convey a message that is considered central to the group identity. The stories of King Arthur, Romulus and Remus, Ulyses, the First Thanksgiving and such are just some of these stories. The Biblical story is the Jewish story.
So why do we create stories instead of preserving ideas (or in addition to)? Because stories are alive, and stories are beautiful. When the stories came into existence (whether describing actual history or not), most people were illiterate, and the pace and structure of the stories made them easier to remember. Even if the story is based on historical events, over time those who retell the story embelish it, adding elements, changing facts. They do this because the story is not just intended to describe an historical event, but to explain why a group does things the way it does. The goal of the story is not to preserve history but to preserve the group. Sharing the story is a way of sharing the past and provide a sense of kinship for those who make the story their own.
The Biblical story starts by telling us we are all (Jew and non Jew) descendants of Adam and Eve. We are, in a sense, a Human family. Within that Human family, the Bible tells us the story of the family of Abram ben Terach - and in that story, through his son Yitzhak and his grandson Jacob (Israel), tells us the different connections Israelites had with neighboring nations, like the Midianites, the Amonites, the Edomites, etc. It describes the degree of closeness of these relationships. Should be take it literally? Maybe. Maybe not.
And then there is the story of bondage and liberation contained in the Exodus story. The story teaches us the need to be humble in our freedom, for we were slaves - and only through Divine intervention were we freed. It teaches us not to take our Freedom for granted, and to understand that Freedom is conditioned to follow the law. And the law is a long list of approved (and disapproved) behaviors destined to make our relationships with others more stable; to create a common expectation in how we relate to each other and to the Divine. And the story, gory as it is at times, is beautiful.
If we learn to accept that the Bible is not a scientific Truth, but it is a Spiritual Truth, we can learn to see not only the Beauty of the Truth, but also the Truth in the Beauty of our stories. Stories connect us with our past, but also with family and our own inner life by defining our values and teaching us our principles.
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