Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Interpretive Castles

There is a commonality between the Biblical Creationism championed by Ken Ham in last night's debate with Bill Nye and attitudes among some Christians towards persons who are LGBTQ. The commonality has to do with the fundamentalist method of scriptural interpretation (aka the fundamentalist hermeneutic). I was, for many years, a fundamentalist Christian, so I know this hermeneutic well. It begins with an a priori assumption that the Bible must be interpreted in a literalistic way ("The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it."). This literalistic interpretation cannot be questioned or doubted because to do so, it is assumed, would be to threaten the entire system of belief. This fear is illustrated well in this cartoon which I first saw in a Christian publication. It highlights the belief that if a literalistic interpretation of Genesis (and of scripture in general) is lost, then the whole structure of the Christian faith will come crashing down like a house of cards. Therefore, any view about science or human nature or, well, anything, has to conform to the fundamentalist/literalistic interpretation of the Bible. All the evidences in the world in support of evolution or LGBTQ inclusion--regardless of how compelling they ought to be--will be discounted if they contradict the root literalistic interpretation. Likewise, explanations--regardless of how implausible or ridiculous--will be accepted if they conform to and reinforce the literalistic interpretation. What is thought to be at stake is the entire faith of Christianity. Adherents to this hermeneutic therefore see themselves as constantly under attack.

Of course, what is really at stake is simply an interpretational method, and a poor one at that. A more nuanced and educated approach to the Bible--one that takes into account ancient literary genres, for instance--is more challenging and strenuous but also exponentially more rewarding and life-affirming.


Anonymous Jim said...

Thanks, Danny, for this excellent post. The problem I always have with those who take this literalist position is their attempt to explain the many contradictions in the Bible. The Bible becomes the object of worship and God becomes static, a God of the past who is done dictating the "word" to ancient stenographers.

2:13 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home