The Literal Lie of Fundamentalism

"Give up your good Christian life and follow Jesus." --Garrison Keillor
                                                                "The only container for truth is a lie."--JM Lloyd 

My position is that the Holy Bible is not holy, nor inerrant, nor consistent, nor is it God’s purpose that we view it as if it were an idol, as if it were perfect. It is the greatest work of literature ever written down, but is similar to how the Greeks viewed Homer’s epics, how the Romans viewed the Aeneid, or the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh or the Hindu Vedas. It is how a people came to view their history and how they answered certain ontological and epistemological questions. To put it in that company does not degrade the Bible; it elevates it. It is how humans have recorded our search for meaning and truth, for God.

The Bible is not history (except in the sense of a mythic history). There was no Eden, no flood, there may not have been even a captivity in Egypt (there is virtually no evidence for it). To pretend that we should believe the Bible instead of science is ridiculous, and does much harm. No one should be pointing to Genesis as our model for creation and belittling evolution.

The Bible contains much that is not holy: slavery, anti-homosexuality, violence toward women and babies and even animals, and a patriarchy that is still with us to this day. These need to be spoken against, not pointed to with holy fervor.

Inconsistencies abound but we pretend they are not there. Inconsistencies have been noticed since the early church Fathers (Origen for instance). Some get around this by pretending that the Bible is inerrant only as far as salvation is concerned. I put myself more in that camp, but I don’t pretend that this isn’t a very large loophole. Some use the term “inspired” but carefully avoid defining the term. I can use the term too; have used it in the past. And to me the Bible is very much inspired, but I doubt that I mean what others might mean.

The Bible--including the New Testament--show a people’s experience of God translated into language, a language that can only employ metaphor (that is all a language can do), and when we try and turn that language back into experiencing God we err if we train our ears literally. This is a great error for it misses the experience of God in humanity: this is what the Bible is for, this is its purpose (other than showing a people’s mythic history). To see the Bible as a box holding God is to limit God, and to substitute an answer where there should only be a question. Biblical inerrancy is about power and doctrine and dogma. When belief in the Holy Bible as inerrant Word of God keeps people from Christ/God, then it is time to cast aside that belief.

Literalists and other fundamentalists create a barrier, a wall, to knowing the experience of Christ. They create this wall of words that show magic miracles, that portrays a world totally unknown to us (prayers that heal, heavens that open up to angels singing, hell fire and damnation), an experience that is walled off to us because of an ignorance of language and of how humans tell stories to convey truth. Only when you see how the story is made, and ask what happened to cause a people to create such stories, do you begin to see the truth. Christ can only be known when you experience him; belief in a literal language masks this experience. It is time to cast it off.

Christ was so unusual to people that they needed to create a myth to surround him; this does not reduce his godliness; it enhances it! Why did they need to reach to such lengths? Because Jesus was so holy and good as to need this epic language, this form of literature that only the rare individuals of history get to have wrapped around them. It means he was truly different, truly of God. The proof of Jesus’ holiness is in the fiction of the mythology! Calling that fiction a literal truth is akin to labeling Jesus merely a man needing propping up, needing a mask of pretense. Call him holy by rejecting the literal lie.

[Written with the thoughts of Bishop Spong in mind. His book The Sins of Scripture is highly recommended.]


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