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Friday, November 4, 2022

Playing Loosey-Goosey With Scripture to Keep the Faith

Efforts to adapt Christianity for the current age continue, and we're definitely seeing a trend in how some scholars now present the Bible. It's one that doesn't really win me over.

When I was evangelical there were three characteristics of mainline Protestantism were especially bothersome to me. First, there was the tepid commitment to the faith. The first Easter I was a Presbyterian I was shocked and a little disgusted at how many strangers turned up for the service. They were unknown to me, but other parishioners knew them as holly and lily Christians who only showed up twice a year. Even the regular church-goers seemed absolutely clueless about the Bible.  Second was the seemingly permissive attitude toward sex. Premarital sex was no problem, and the push was already then towards acceptance of LGBTQ folks. In my young, conservative mind, that was proof positive that they had no regard for 'scriptural standards' of morality. Third, the Bible commentaries by 'liberal' scholars seemed to focus heavily on how the Bible was not divinely inspired, or at least not reliable historically or otherwise.

Contemporary progressive Christians, and particularly those coming from evangelical backgrounds, are finding ways to understand the Bible as something other than flawlessly inspired. At the same time, they're putting a positive spin on the facts that much of what the Bible represents itself to be simply isn't so. Consider, for example, how Dr. Peter Enns describes it.
Summarizing, he accepts the Bible as a 'human' document in the same sense that orthodox Christianity accepts Jesus as a 'human.' That is to say, Jesus is described as fully human and fully God, and that while he was on Earth in his mortal life he was subject to all the mental and physical limitations of any human being. The same is said to be true of the Bible, which is fully divine and the word of God, while at the same time being subject to the limitations of the people of the times in which it was written. 

Now, take a listen to how Dr. Daniel McClellan, a Latter-day Saint and scriptural scholar, talks about the Book of Mormon.
@maklelan

This one’s more for the Latter-day Saints out there.

♬ original sound - Dan McClellan
Basically, it's the same thing, right? The Book of Mormon might be sourced from a record of ancient people in the Americas (or maybe not), but it was written in the language of 19th century America and for the people of that time.

It's all rather convenient. Nothing has to be accurate, or truly of the origin it claims, and people can continue believing the same things. The argument Enns makes for God stooping down to speak to people in the ways that they could understand is all well and good, until you consider the absolute cruelty of it. If there were an omnipotent, benevolent being communicating with ancient humanity, why didn't he warn them directly about hygiene, or provide tips on safer child birth methods? The rules of clean and unclean in the Hebrew scriptures were ceremonial and inconsistent in places with modern scientific understandings, so don't even bother with that. Further, how could such a being not be able to find a way to communicate more clearly with humanity to avoid all of the misunderstandings among us over what the Bible means?

This is how religion works, though. It's not a real thing. It's human values, tradition, and imagination that lives in our heads and is expressed through the works of our hands. It is supremely malleable, and so as scientific understanding advances, people will think differently about religious beliefs and work out ways to make it still be meaningful in ways that they want. Sure, there will always be fundamentalists who decide to subsist in the squalor of their own ignorance, and yes people who favor an evidence-based worldview will continue to walk away from Christianity and similar religions, but there will also still be those who hold to the larger claims of the faith while thinking about the fundamentals in ways that permit doing so. 

We are an odd bunch, us human beings. So committed to our habits and symbols that we'll contort our minds every which way to hang on to them. It's fine with me, because it's part of being human. At least, so long as it doesn't lead to hatred and violence. We've had quite enough of that in the name of religion.