Thursday, December 18, 2008

Biblical Literalism Continued

So what is the problem with Biblical Literalism? For me it's really simple. After talking with several Biblical Literalists on Topix, I cannot for the life of me understand why they want to take it so literally. I mean they sit there and say how literal the Bible is and when you bring up an inconsistency, they start 'interpreting' it. How literal is anything that requires interpretation anyway? One of them summed it up for me beautifully "You have to take the Bible literally, except where you don't." And he seemed to actually believe that! So in reality there is no such thing as Biblical Literalism, it's more of a 'cherry-picking' the parts of the Bible you want to take literally and ignoring the rest, which is why I enjoyed the Biblical Literalism Recipe post so much.

One of my other issues is that the Biblical Literalists I have chatted with seem to equate literalism and inerrancy. I find this to be a logical non-sequitor. If the Bible cannot be read literally, that is without any form of interpretation, then how can it possibly be seen as inerrant, that is 'without error'. This doesn't even begin to deal with the inconsistencies in the Bible itself, but just the simple fact of interpretation. How does inerrancy work in the face of interpretation? Makes little sense to me.

Part of this, I'm sure, is certainly my own upbringing. I was taught that the Bible is the 'Word of God', but not that the words of the Bible should be treated as if they came out of God's mouth. Do you see the difference? It makes perfect sense to me how a book written over the course of centuries, by multiple groups of people, bending the stories to fit the time and politics of the day, translated, re-translated, and even the translations have been translated, could be seen as anything other than allegorical in nature.

I do enjoy how some of the Literalists justify themselves. They quote the simple fact that some of the places mentioned in the Bible actually existed. What I don't get is why they see that as proof? I mean Tom Clancy writes about cities and towns that exist in the US, and that doesn't make his fiction a reality. Oh yea, there's a Denver, so the atomic bomb Clancy had exploding there was real! How crazy is that?

It always leaves me shaking my head, especially when a poster starts talking about how carefully the Bible gets copied, as if the men copying it are incapable of error simply because they are copying the Bible. Many have written about how they changed the wording and the tone to be more in line with their thinking -- poetic license! Just research a little on the King James version of the Bible and the changes made for no other reason that the writers could will surprise you. The other fun fact is that there are different varieties of literalists and inerrantists (is that a word?). There are some that only claim it (evangelical inerrantists) for the original source documents, many of which no longer exist. Other claim specific versions of the Bible are the 'one true' version, such as the King James Only inerrantists. There are others still that make wildly divergent claims on exactly what literal and inerrant mean.

So the bottom-line question still exists, which Bible should be taken absolutely literally and inerrant? So far no one seems to be able to answer that. In all honesty I think this whole point is self-defeating. No one has been able to point to an error-free, un-conflicted Bible, one even free from literary problems. So this 'belief' in Biblical Literacy is just that, a belief. I think the problem was summed up best by St. Augustine"

It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.
The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, Augustine of Hippo, early 5th century AD
St. Augustine clearly seems to understand the difference between 'metaphorical' and 'literal' and I so dearly wish the more rapid believers in Biblical Literalism would realize the damage they do to their own faiths by denying explanations that are not written about in the Bible.

No comments:

Post a Comment