The great liberal Biblical Scholar James McGrath just wrote a nice post about this troubling question.
Biblical Literalism’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
David Hayward’s cartoon above illustrates the reason why I consider Biblical literalism to be an attack on Christianity, rather than an expression of faithfulness to it. No matter how much they insist otherwise, no one actually takes the Bible literally – not even all the bits that are “clearly” non-poetic.
But that doesn’t stop preachers from telling people they have a stark choice: either accept everything the Bible says, or toss the entire thing aside along with any faith, beliefs, and values they associate with it.
If that were indeed the choice that confronts us, then there would be no alternative to walking away, other than increasingly feigning faithfulness and consistency while hiding one’s hypocrisy.
Both options are detrimental to a healthy spiritual life.
But they aren’t the only options. Christianity flourished before it had a Bible, and when the collections of texts that Christians had could not be read by most of them. And even among those who could study and interpret the texts in question, what we see them doing with those texts is anything but literalism.
It is time to make clear to the world that the situation is not one of faithful Biblical literalists and then others who are compromising “sort of” Christians. If anything, the situation is one of progressives who are seeking to continue the dynamic interplay between tradition and novelty to which the Bible and the entire history of religion (not just Christianity) bears witness, and people who deceive the gullible into first believing, and then pretending, that they are being faithful in ways that they aren’t, at least not consistently.
But the above two options are not the only ones. There is an enormous range of others in between them and beyond them. While there are choices we sometimes need to make between two options, rarely are those two options the only ones.
Despite what fundamentalist preachers will tell you.
You can read my response just below.
words almost fail me to express my deep admiration for this wonderful post who expresses so many profound truths at the same time and in a seamless manner 🙂
I am convinced that fundamentalism (and more generally Conservative Evangelicalism) are destroying Christianity by leaving us no other choice than sacrificing our intellectual honesty or giving up our faith in Jesus altogether.
I started blogging in order to contribute to show that this is a false dichotomy , that one can be an enlightened religious believer hoping in the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
Conservative Evangelicals (CE) keep saying that progressive Christians pick and choose from the Bible in an irrational manner.
But as I have (hopefully) made it clear, THEY are the very ones who are guilty of this inconsistency.
There is nothing wrong about selectively approving good parts of a book you don’t view as inerrant, everyone (atheists, deists, pantheitst, Marxists…) do that all the time.
On the other hand, Conservative Evangelicals are constantly PLAYING DOWN the conflicting character of the different voices in the Bible and they themselves decide
– which texts they properly interpret
– which texts they necessarily have to distort because they contradict the former ones.
And they delude themselves into thinking that extraordinarily implausible harmonizations are acceptable if they are just logically possible.
I don’t hate or despise Conservative Evangelicals but think it is my duty to strongly oppose their positions, because they are really destroying our faith and are building a house of cards which is all too ready to collapse.
It is certainly no coincidence that a great number of militant atheist in America are former fundies who have never given up their bigoted mindset.
They have kept (to an important extent) the habit of thinking of the Bible as having ONLY ONE VOICE on moral issues, as the following dialogue with an anti-theist illustrates.
I think that the best apologetic strategy an enlightened Christian should take is :
– recognizing that there really are Biblical atrocities attributed to God
– showing that the Bible does NOT speak with one voice on most issues
– pointing out that the central message of Jesus was progressive .
I’m really looking forward to reading similar posts of yours 🙂
Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)