Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fundamentalism and the Bible-- part 3

It is the absolutist's view of the Bible that causes them to focus on things like male authority.  It explains why so many fundamentalist churches (not all) veto women pastors.  Some of the passages regarding male authority seem to be written in quite a literal fashion.  Still, if one were to take a careful look at the larger picture presented in the Bible, one might well view passages supporting the subordination of women as culture-bound and of no abiding significance. For fundamentalist, though, that won't work.  You cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. You cannot say the Genesis account might be viewed differently from the perspective of myth, other scriptures, and reason.  The fundamentalist is adamant that all parts of the Bible are of equal abiding value.

Many religionists find their very deepest meaning in religion.  It gives their entire lives purpose. Fundamentalist base this quest for meaning on the absolute, infallible nature of the text.  They don't see the Bible as an aspect of Christian religion-- informing our commonsense and reasoning.  Many claim the Bible is the whole of the Christian religion.  Why is such authority ascribed to the Book?  Because, for fundamentalists it is self-authenticating.

Absolutists believe the Bible contains the absolute truth.  Outside sources and resources such as critical scholarship and commonsense are not needed.  The prevailing view is that the Bible is a self-contained truth system, requiring no outside interpreter.  The Bible contains the undeniably plain truth.  Plain as the nose on your face.  For absolutists, the text itself becomes a self apparent system of truth-- a circle of truth.  This is how the Bible becomes self authenticating.  It is true because it says it is true and is self-directive in specifying how to read the text.

Not long ago, someone emailed me about an article I had written concerning non-violence, and the call of Christians to peacemaking.  He sincerely tried to show me the error of my ways by proving that the Biblical text did approve of violence.  He cited many passages in support of his position-- not a hard thing to do because there are so many.  He thought I had been misled and demanded a reply.

To tackle his objections one-by-one was going to require I write a small book just for him.  So what did I do?  I referred him to some good books dealing with the topics of violence in the Bible and Christ and violence.  I told him that these resources dealt with his objections at length.  He sent me a blistering reply.  He asked, how could I send him off to read books written by men?  He went on to write, "I gave you the Bible.  You give me the words of men."

He simply couldn't grab the notion that he, in like manner, gave me the words of men.  Were they inspired men (and women!)?  I would say yes--at least in some measure and way.  Still, the writers were humans and, as humans, they were bound by culture, lived in a particular time and context, and shared a (mythic) story of salvation history.  They were storytellers, and they were not above mistakes.  They told stories that were told and retold, augmented in the telling, and twisted to serve a purpose.

What we are talking about here is the Bible as theologized history.  Theologized history is history with all of the curtains pulled back.  Bible stories share many of the characteristics of the stories of Israel's neighbors.  Many were borrowed and modified.  Whether the stories were original with Israel or borrowed from their neighbors and changed in some ways they share the same purpose: to reveal.  In myths we see behind the scenes and discover God operates every aspect of the universe.

In fact, in the Biblical record, we discover that God even uses evil for good.  Consider Joseph, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape and incarcerated, driven away from his family and home by the bitterness of his own brothers.  Yet, through the story, the myth, we discovery that God was working behind the scenes.  We discover that God had a plan all along to save both the Egyptians and the Israelites.  How do we know?  We know because the story, the myth (which may contain many factual elements), draws aside the curtain and makes the hidden apparent. We know because of the myth.  By focusing on their insistence of the literal nature of Biblical stories and ignoring the story told via myth, fundamentalists often miss the deepest most valuable lessons the Bible has to teach.

More to follow....

For an in depth study of fundamentalism and why I eventually parted company from that point of view, see my new book Stories of a Recovering Fundamentalist.  On the storefront site you can read about the book and read an excerpt.  I invite you to take a look!

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