Thursday, January 9, 2014

Biblical Literalism as Handy Ammunition

One of Armstrongism's biggest issues is that it takes the Bible as 100% literal in all aspects.  Every single story actually happened.  Most also fail to realize that almost every single story in the Bible is from an oral tradition.  Stories passed on from generation to generation to tell the story of the people and bring meaning to their existence.  It is the same with American folktales.  Stories we know to not be true, but ultimately have great meaning to us as we grew as a nation.  They are stories of identity that convey a message.   

Since so many in the COG know so little about Jesus, they automatically jump to the conclusion that every parable or story he told was of an actual event.  They weren't and never were meant to be. The entire point of the parables of Jesus was to illustrate a point.

Richard Rohr, one of my favorite writers, has this to say:

Jewish midrash extrapolated from the mere story to find its actual spiritual message. We all do the same when we read anyway, but Jesus and his Jewish people were much more honest and up front about this. Fundamentalists pretend they are giving the text total and literal authority, but then it always ends up looking like what people in that culture would want to believe anyway. (Remember, good Bible Christians in the U.S. Confederacy and in South Africa were quite sure the Scriptures justified oppression and enslavement of black people.)
To take the Scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Serious reading of Scripture will allow you to find an ever-new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition.


Michael said...

"Fundamentalists pretend they are giving the text total and literal authority, but then it always ends up looking like what people in that culture would want to believe anyway."

I love the old staple: "The Bible interprets itself!"
Which, almost invariably, is followed by the quoter's own interpretation of some Bible passage...

Byker Bob said...

The Bible is as simple or as complex as one's own mind. Some folks recognize a metaphor or allegory when they see it, or hyperbole and sarcasm, but few would be able to define midrash or be acquainted with the nuances of the Jewish and Greek languages, and the impossibility of obtaining a direct equivalent type accurate translation of some words. Shallow or deep approaches can be taken, since the history and traditions involved are so rich.

Of course, it's really all about the nuggets, not usage of the book to enforce authoritarianism. In fact, applying authoritarianism is actually rendered impossible by so many limiting factors, but that does not stop some people from trying to make their followers believe that they must apply picked and chosen legalism in order to be saved.