Saturday, July 30, 2005

Fundamentalism: Curiosities

One of the curious aspects of fundamentalism is that its adherents are passionately committed to the written word as it is written, while refusing any evidence from the history of the bible, from the history of religion, the history of fundamentalism, and from the study of literature. It is as if, excuse the comparison, but the written Word has become their personal God and they cannot stand, and will not study any evidence that reveals that their own understanding of the bible could be faulty or limited.

The Bible, according to the fundamentalists, must be taken as it is, without understanding the current version of the Bible went through some 300 + years of development of understanding of many books, concerning which were inspired and valid for the early Christian community and which were not. That ultimate decision was not made until the 4th century, and then it was made by Roman Catholic authority for the entire Christian community and accepted totally, until the reformers in the 16th century made a different decision. In other words, the Bible we have today, except for a few books that the Protestant reformers threw out, is essentially a Catholic bible, decided upon not until 367 A.D.

Fundamentalists consider the Bible as a Fax from God, though they will often deny the metaphor. Yet they refuse to consider the history of the Bible and that it is not simply a book but a library of books of many types of writing, genres, or literary forms.

Fundamentalists refuse to consider that the authors of the books of the Bible were humans, each of whom was sinful as we all are, and each of them limited by the understanding of the culture of the time. For example, the Apostle Paul accepted slavery, as did the entire Christian world at that time, and for another 19 hundred years. It was accepted partly because the “Bible said so,” but also because the entire Christian world, including popes and Protestant leaders had always accepted that the Negro race was inferior and not capable of full equality to the white man.

Fundamentalists also refuse to accept that which every student of literature knows that the Bible contains many forms, many genre, of writing or literature. Further, if you misunderstand the literary form, you misunderstand the meaning. You will mis-use the Bible, and more importantly mis-use the authority of God. Not only for your own life, but in a readiness to judge others as further from the Light than you are.

A curious example of this closed-mindedness, of what I call a stealth idolatry, is the fundamentalist practice of insisting early to know what is the content of your belief. If you do not accept that you are fallen, in need of a savior, and have accepted Jesus as your savior, they will often refuse to engage in any talk about the Bible with you. They have concluded that you have rejected the main and absolute tenet of Christian faith and are not only warped but likely to warp them if they engage in any conversation with you.

This, I propose, is totally contrary to the practice of Jesus who never demanded his listeners affirm him as their savior before engaging in conversation or willing to be present to them in food, drink and even party at weddings.

Finally it is worth noting that the exchange of conversation, for the fundamentalist, must always be textual, arguing texts, their text against your text, their text against your words, determined in advance that their text proves you and your position wrong. If you do not agree that their text is proof of the righteousness of their point of view, they will soon withdraw from any exchange, because they are convinced that you are denying the Word of God.

In fact, you are simply denying their use of the Word. However they are so utterly attached to their own meaning of the Word, that they cannot imagine or agree that anyone else should see the light differently than they do.

Therefore, it is never useful or helpful to argue scripture with a fundamentalist, never useful or heuristic to exchange texts with a person who believes that every word of the Bible is the Inerrant word of God. It is not even charitable, because should you succeed in drawing that person out of that closed box in which they live, you are undermining their faith. Because their faith is based upon the Inerrancy of every word in the Bible.

This is a challenge today for believers of all sorts. Because politicians and preachers, often with little or no accredited seminary training, are willing to appeal to “family values” supposedly well rooted in a fundamentalist or literal view of the Bible. An example of this is the issue of homosexuality, which I shall discuss at another time here.

I dare to call Fundamentalism a “stealth idolatry,” because it is a readiness to judge others, all others, even Christians of different persuasions, and certainly Jews, not only as mis-informed, but resisting God’s grace which they alone possess.

Once we use the gift of faith to judge the outcomes of other’s faith, we are guilty of the sin of pride and arrogance, of assuming that our gift gives us the right to judge another as further from God than we are.

The essence of Jesus message was to love God unconditionally and our neighbor as ourselves, and to find Him in our neighbor in particular wherever that neighbor was hurting. We who hold that view are called bleeding heart liberals by our conservative brethren. Could it be because we liberals believe the gospel has a mandate about loving whereas our conservative brethren are convinced the gospel is about personal salvation. If they BELIEVE rightly they are saved.

That attitude, I propose, is the core hidden Christian heresy of today. It is a “Cheap grace,”“ not the costly grace Bonhoeffer described in his Cost of Discipleship writing. It is one reason we have a billion and half Christians attending church every Sunday (Jesus never said “Go to Church to worship me”) with so little effect on the world, our rampant consumerism, greed, prejudice, destruction of the environment, blind patriotism and addictive behavior.

Most churches are interested in membership and money. The building and filling it, and expanding it. Tithing, for example is not a New Testament teaching but it is often strongly urged upon believers today by many preachers. The New Testament norm is far more extensive than tithing. It is stewardship: everything we have belongs to the Lord, and it is for our use. Our use, to share with others.

It should be finally noted that the criterion of what was inspired and what was true revelation has traditionally been the Christian community as a whole. It took the early Christian community several hundred years of probing and discussion and living before defining that Jesus was the co-equal son of God, the second person in the Trinity. Cardinal Newman pointed out in his monograph on the Development of Doctrine that the laity may at times preserve the authentic Christian doctrine while the papacy is in error. This latter fact of history is something Catholic conservatives also ignore in their wanting to refer all things to papal authority believed to be infallible. Fundamentalists of all stripes are often simply oblivious of Christian history, and prefer to remain so.

Paschal Baute, July 30
"Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can we keep from singing?" - hymn.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Is the Bible the Inerrant Word of God?

How wrong is the view that every word is the “breath of God” for us now, without any further understanding of the human, literary and historical element of the Bible? We could take at least seven topics to demonstrate that believing in the Bible text led to teaching we now consider wrong which was maintained for many hundreds of years.

We will take one example of the teaching of Scripture and how our views change, and indeed how they must change. This example illustrates an important Catholic principle, first written about by Cardinal Newman, i.e., the development of doctrine. (There are many examples that demonstrate how viewing the Bible as inerrant and infallible has warped the Christian faith for leaders and laity for many years which we could see only later in hindsight.)

Let’s begin with slavery and how we view it today. (This discussion is taken from John T. Noonan, Federal Judge, distinguished Catholic scholar, several books, former Notre Dame Law Faculty. You will notice some legal training in his writing. It is found in Initiative Report, Catholic Common Ground Initiative, June 2005, vol 9: #2, p. 4.) He begins with a question.

Question. Is it morally lawful for one human being to hold another human being as a slave--as a piece of property, a chattel deprived of the right to determine his own vocation, to choose his own dwelling, to select his own food, to provide for his own children, and even to have his own name; but, rather, required to obey the orders of an owner who can make each of these decisions binding on this human piece of property, an owner who can mortgage him, lease him, transmit him by will or inheritance, and sell him to anyone the owner chooses?
Modem Catholics, modern Christians, most modern people would answer this absurd question, "No, it is not morally lawful." A Catholic theologian would add, "Such conduct was condemned in 1965 by the Second Vatican CounciL" Pope John Paul II has termed such conduct "intrinsically eviL" Because it is intrinsically evil it cannot be engaged in as morally lawful conduct by any person.

That answer was not the answer given by Hebrew Scripture, which announced the right of the Hebrews to enslave the occupants of the Promised Land. It was not the answer given by St. Paul who told slaves to obey their masters. It was not the answer given by the popes, who owned slaves, bought slaves, and transferred them as papal property. It was not the answer of St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that by nature human beings were free, but that human slavery was a useful addition to the natural law.

It was not the answer given by a series of fifteenth century popes who authorized Portuguese conquerors to enslave Africans and Spanish conquerors to enslave Indians. It was not the answer given by Rome to the missionaries who evangelized Asia and who were instructed that the slavery they encountered was morally acceptable. Search high and low in Denzinger, that authoritative collection of magisterial teachings, no Catholic theologian looking before 1965 could have discovered in this teaching that slaveholding, as such, was a sin, that it was indeed intrinsically evil.

(It was not the answer given by the entire South, what became the Confederate States of America at the time of the Civil war, nor by many Northerners--to bring in my favorite time of history. The issue divided the country and sent brother to fight against brother for four long painful years in Lincoln's mission to save the Union. -Paschal)

Christian authority, Christian peoples for nineteen hundred years believed slavery, based on biblical teaching to be acceptable. Churches actually owned slaves. Bishop Carroll, pioneer Catholic bishop in this country owned slaves. The entire Christian community has changed its view, on a number of issues, even those dealing with sexual mores.

For these changes to have happened, we had to be free to criticize what the Bible said, to understand it differently for our times. Scholars and theologians had to be free to correct the fallible but mistaken teaching based on the Bible. (I can take another seven subjects to illustrate the narrowness of Inerrancy.)

"How could this development in doctrine have occurred unless scholars and theologians were free to correct the fallible but mistaken teaching of the magisterium (official teaching)?"

Adapted by Paschal Baute, July 20, 2005
Copyrighted, 2005, Initiative Report,, National Pastoral Life Center, , NYa.

Noonan is a scholar and if you have not yet any of his books, you are missing a treat. The first I read (and heard him speak some 40 years ago) was on the History of Contraception.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bible itself refutes the Fundamentalist view.

The Bible itself refutes the fundamentalist (literalist, inerrant) view of it.

That the Bible contains errors and inconsistences cannot be denied by anyone willing to look at its history or even the Bible itself. The historical approach is now standard in all seminaries and universities which have courses pertaining to the bible. It is also virtually universal in mainline Jewish and Christian churches. It does not contradict faith.

When one refuses to consider this reality, one is as blind as the Six Men from Indostan with six parts of the elephant, each believing they had the total view. One is also bound to mis-understand and mis-use the Word of God. One will also be reading from the “same page” as did countless Christians earlier who used the Bible to condemn, abuse and kill others. Because: “The Bible says so. . .” I gave specific examples earlier of how the Bible has been misquoted because the readers did not understand the form and context of the writings.

Nowhere does the Bible state we must believe every word of it. Such belief is not even included in its own statements of what is vital to religion. According to the synoptic gospels, Jesus regarded the Two Commandments, the Decalogue and giving to the poor as basic religion (Mark 10:17-21; 12: 28-34).

Matthew 5: 17-19 and Luke 16:17 uphold the permanence of the law, and have been used to defend the inerrancy of Scripture. These passages are weak support for several reasons. First, they refer to only a portion of the Bible, the law or Torah. Second, Jesus explicitly disagreed with three passages in the law (Deut 24:1-4; Lev 19:12; Exod 21:24). If Jesus spoke these words, he certainly was not a fundamentalist.

If Jesus did not speak these words then the fact remains that a very major section of the Bible, the Sermon on the Mount, specifically and intentionally rejects three passages in another major section, the law.

There is no evidence that Jesus ever expected his audience to rely upon any authority at all–either his own or that of others. He expected his disciples to judge for themselves (Luke 12:57) and to read the signs of the times for themselves. (Luke 12:54 and Matthew 16:2-3). There is no evidence anywhere that he expected his disciples to accept whatever he said on “blind faith.”
In fact, surely one of the reasons he used some 32 parables was to invite the listener to come one by one to their own understanding.

The Bible is a library of many kinds of books, which include poetry, satire, debate, letters and fiction. Unless we consider the literary form of the writing, the context and the intention of the author, we are bound to mis-read and mis-interpret the Bible. We are bound to use the Bible against others as do many conservative evangelists, preachers and politicians today. That the Bible is inspired does not mean that some text can be taken from the Bible to prove any point. The Fundamentalist view cannot stand even in the light of the testimony of the Bible itself. Inconsistencies (and errors) are obvious for anyone who looks, as I have pointed out earlier.

Growth from fundamentalism to a more mature understanding of the Bible and the essence of Jesus teaching about true religion can be a painful personal experience. But it is well worth the cost. Many good books exist today. Another one is Albert Nolan: Jesus Before Christianity (before Christians gave him all those titles, who was he as a Jew?), now in its 25th year anniversary edition. (Orbis, Maryknoll press, 2003).

Paschal Baute, July 20, 2005