Thursday, January 11, 2007

postal scrotum: more about the Bible

Richardson writes:


Your friend Max details a conversation with a Christian friend who takes the Bible literally, and (apparently) is poorly equipped to defend her positions. First I would caution him that not all - in fact many - Christians do not take all parts of the Bible literally (as I wrote before). Second I suggest that if one wants to argue about the Bible in such a manner, they go up against those who best able to debate the position (and here I say that I am not that person), rather than argue with the weaker and mistake their position for that of "Christians" in general. He didn't say he was doing that, but then why make a point of speaking of debating someone like her?


I agree with the first part of this paragraph. Regarding the second part of the paragraph, I'd say (without knowing how Max himself would reply) that, because Max was talking with a friend, it's likely that their conversation simply drifted in that direction; this almost certainly wasn't a formal discussion. I doubt that either Max or his friend had been looking for a debate, and my reading of Max's anecdote is that he wasn't making a generalization about all Christians. After all, Christianity is far too large a phenomenon for anyone to reduce it to a few simple elements (although there are those, including Christians themselves, who will try).

Nathan, who, if I'm not mistaken, has described himself as "post-Christian" before, writes:

Hi Kevin,

I continue to enjoy your blog postings. Regarding the idea of biblical interpretation, I thought I'd throw in my two cents worth, inspired by your blog, as I was, only a few days ago, with my three brief commentaries on Genesis (NB: here, here, and here).

I couldn't help noticing a reference to the question of biblical interpretation. There seems to be a misconception on the part of many people that Christian fundamentalists interpret the Bible literally. The alternative is sometimes stated to be allegorical interpretation.

There are several problems with this view. First, no fundamentalist is a complete literalist. For example, when Ps. 18 tells us that "Yahweh rode on a cherub and flew," nobody takes that as anything other than a figure of speech. (The ironic thing there is that when it was first composed, that image probably was imagined in literal terms, as storm deities did ride on horses and or chariots.) So fundamentalists are not pure literalists, even if they are, at times, approaching ancient texts without either a modern critical apparatus or a real ancient Near Eastern worldview.

The second problem is that the horrors of the Bible neither cannot nor should not be explained away by allegorical interpretation. The program of the Bible is violently exclusivist, from the genocidal instructions ordering the extermination of even babies, to the laws that mandated death for homosexuals, to the Apocalypse of St. John with its lake of fire-- again, reserved for homosexuals, oridinary people, good polytheists, etc. Under the circumstances, if there's a spiritual message there, it's not one that deserves veneration.

Oh yes: by the way, my students-- whenever I've asked them-- have always said that Dokdo is much less important than the issue of North Korea. In that regard, I think I've actually had a few LINK volunteers in my classes.



Here, too, I agree with Nathan and Richardson regarding the literalism issue. This is something I noted in my 2005 post on biblical literalism: there are degrees of it:

There are, of course, degrees of literalism. Most Christians take it as a basic article of faith that the man Jesus did, in fact, rise from the grave-- i.e., that the resurrection was a historical event, not simply a "new reality" that had sprung up in the minds of Jesus' disciples. Christians may differ, however, about the historicity of other events described in the Bible. A Christian might believe, for example, that Jesus rose from the grave while simultaneously dismissing the two creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 as myth. This inconsistency is strange but common. I suspect that many Christians simply choose not to think about it.

Let me take this opportunity to wish Nathan happy trails as he leaves the wilds of Smoo.

Nathan's Genesis commentaries are, by the way, well worth more than a few minutes of your time.


No comments: