Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

15 March, 2012

I Am Not a Theologian: Literally

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As I sit down to write this, I feel very keenly my lack of learning. I am going to try to say something useful based on opinions that may not be as fully founded as I think they are, and I feel I should admit that up front, so as to defuse my potentially grievous errors before they crop up. Despite these misgivings though, I am going to share some of my half-arsed musings on the divine and internet-assembled philosophy, and hope I manage to convey my point despite my limitations.

I read an article today which said that only 1 in 4 Norwegian Christian leaders interpret the Bible literally. This was presented as if it were some kind of shocking fact, which I suppose it is – I was a bit shocked that the number was that high.

The article did not differentiate based on denomination, it spanned both state church Lutherans and free church pentecostals and probably some other communities as well. I’m from a Lutheran background myself, so I don’t really know too much about what is taught in other denominations, but the idea of taking the creation story literally seems so alien to me. It is the sort of fundamentalism I hear of in the news from the US, thinking those opinions would never be held here. Yet, one in four leaders do hold them! I don’t get it.

I especially don’t get the argument given in the article, that you should read the Bible literally to protect you faith. The man interviewed gives the example of Swedes who lose their faith when confronted with evolution; to avoid this result, one must apparently cling to the literal truth of Genesis. What? How does that make any sense? Only if you do take Genesis literally does science and evolution become a problem. If you assume, reasonably, that the point of the story is not to give a literal account but to convey an underlying truth, there is no conflict. ¬†Why cannot evolution be the literal means of creation?

When it comes to the creation story in particular you encounter problems when taking it literally, because there’s actually two creation stories, right next to each other in Genesis. And they don’t agree. One says there was only water before creation, the other that there was a desolate wasteland. Both cannot be literal truth – another argument for reading them as metaphors, in my opinion.

It must be hard to be a fundamentalist. I certainly don’t understand how it can be maintained. I also don’t understand why fundamentalists get to call themselves the conservatives – Fundamentalism is fairly recent idea. The Catholic church has certainly always held that Scripture is not the sole authority of Faith, but always tempered with the tradition of the Church. QI informed me that the Church of England was quite positive towards Darwin’s theories when he first made them, as they had long tried to encourage a metaphorical reading – but less positive about the harsh and loveless existence implied in survival of the fittest.

As for my own church tradition, Luther did insist on Scripture as the sole authority – but was far from being a fundamentalist. He assigned the various books of the Bible – which is not one book, no matter how many times we claim it is – varying degrees of authority depending on their subject. Only that which pointed towards the essential truth of the loving Christ was considered truly true.

And just to have an aside regarding the main character himself: Jesus, of course, is famous for never speaking in metaphors …

I don’t think much of the Bible was meant to be taken as a literal, historical account. Even the Gospels are less concerned with the sequence of actual events and more with the point they’re trying to convey. History as a discipline or genre didn’t really exist then as it does today, and it is futile to impose our views of academic texts on writings which were never intended to be read that way.

When it comes to the pointless opposition between evolution and creationism, I always return to this quote by St. Augustine, which I’ll use to round off this rambling. I don’t agree with everything Augustine said, not by far, but in this case he’s hit the bullseye:

In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said, “I send you the Holy Spirit so that he might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon.” The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature.

Contra Felicem Manichaeum

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