Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Biblical Literalism

I recently found myself lurking on a forum that contains a fairly prominent Young Earth Creationist member. Before you snicker, this guy is a decent person. He just appears to be under a misconstrued opinion of both The Bible and Christianity at large. And he wants morality to be based on The Bible entirely. But I digress...

This got me thinking on why YEC and Bible literalism is such a prominent minority (and perhaps majority in some areas) in America, while I will explore, briefly, how it is in direct conflict with the true intent of The Bible and Christianity. This will deal quite a bit with Christian theology, as a heads-up, and it should be noted that I do not believe in God or any higher being. With that out of the way, let us begin.

Biblical literalism has it's roots in an evangelical hermeneutical approach to Scripture and Protestant fundamentalism, and often results in people taking Creationism, Noah's Ark, etc., as actual, literal truth. The only case that allegory or metaphor is being used in The Bible is when it is explicitly stated, according to most literalists. I am going to ignore the overwhelming body of evidence that goes against The Deluge or Creationism, because most literalists don't accept that in the first place, and instead view this from a theological standpoint.

Literalism shares a bit of common ground with the "pick and choosers" as some people call them; people who pick and choose passages from The Bible to support their worldview, while ignoring others. The most mainstream application of this, perhaps, is in the diminished role that The Old Testament has in modern Christianity, to the point where many Christian theologists and Christian laymen make little apologies and simply say it is not reflective of true Christianity. However, like Literalism, we often see certain allegory still constrained to the belief that it is not allegory.

To cut to the chase; the act of picking and choosing, or in computer terms, cutting and pasting passages from The Bible is inherently lopsided. Christianity was never supposed to be represented in that way. Christianity was never founded under the pretense that the Bible is a source of infallible knowledge, or scientific knowledge. What it is supposed to represent is reason, and said reason can be based, when accurate, on scientifc knowledge. Look at the opening verses of John's Gospel; Logos/Jesus. He is the Word. Logos is a Greek term meaning reason. Thus, Reason made the world, and the world was made through Reason. Therefore, the world is inherently rational. As Logos also is a part of all humans, humans are also inherently rational (that is an entirely different can of beans).

The idea of reason/rationality being a fundamental part of Christianity was espoused by the likes of Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria. The Trinity itself was developed through assumed "rational" meditation, and goold ol' fashioned debate.

This idea continued well into the 4th and 5th century by the likes of Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo, among others. The understanding of Christianity was drawn from secular information at the time. The idea that God is rational and humans are rational led them to use morality implored by modern, secular reasoning. There is no contradiction between what Christianity showed and what human reason showed. And while at times many theologians thought that the latter needed to be corrected by the former, there was no inherent conflict between recognizing both of them as integral to Christian morality and knowledge.

So, in effect, Protestant fundamentalism and YECers are directly opposed to what Christianity was originally supposed to be about. They essentially deny that Christianity is reasonable, by allowing interpretation that directly goes against all reasonably and rationally developed evidence and consensus. It leads us to believe that they are saying that all scientific consensus is not just wrong; but fallicious, and deceitful. It pits religion against the reason it was originally founded to represent. They are, ultimately, saying what many atheists and agonstics have been saying for years; that religion is unreasonable, without really knowing that that is what they are portraying. They are pitting their religion against the world.

True Christianity was never about following the Bible in all cases all the time. So what if Paul thought creationism was true? We now have the information that shows that it isn't; he did not. Why do literalists cherry pick that bit of information, but casually dispose of the fact that Paul also probably thought that the sun revolves around the Earth? Very few people are willing to argue against the Earth actually rotating around the sun, so why is creationism still such an issue? If Paul had ostensibly said that the Sun revolves around the Earth, would modern Christians take that at it's word? Probably not (well, not most of them, at least). So then why still take creationism so literally?

Actual Christianity is about incorporating many facets of knowledge, not just the literal word of The Bible. YECers and Protestant fundamentalists are bastardizing the religion, essentially. This is why, just like modern scientists ignore YEC claims, so to do Christian theologists. It is, quite simply, not a legitimate interpretation of Christianity as it was set out to be.

Perhaps ironically, these Protestant fundamentalists share more in common with Muslims than other Chrstians, because Muslim theology is built on the fact that the Koran is an unfallible source of knowledge that contains God's direct teachings to man, and that the Koran has everything we need to know; we just need to learn to interpret it. This is not a very different world view from Protestant fundamentalists.

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