Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Church and the Bible

Ekklesia reports:

Roman Catholic bishops have published a teaching document which points out that sections of the bible can not be taken literally, and challenges many ideas held by some Evangelicals about both creation and the end of the world.

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”.

In the document, the bishops acknowledge their debt to biblical scholars. They say the Bible must be approached in the knowledge that it is “God’s word expressed in human language” and that proper acknowledgement should be given both to the word of God and its human dimensions.

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

As examples of passages not to be taken literally, the bishops cite the early chapters of Genesis, comparing them with early creation legends from other cultures, especially from the ancient East. The bishops say it is clear that the primary purpose of these chapters was to provide religious teaching and that they could not be described as historical writing, reports the Times newspaper.

Similarly, they refute popular interpretations of the book of Revelation, which see it as predicting contemporary events.

(I've tried to find a copy of the document online, but so far all I can find are offers from the Catholic Truth Society to sell it to me for four quid.)

Naturally, the media's knowledge of religion being what it is, The Times has given this story the inflammatory headline
'Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible'. (Check out the list of 'true' vs. 'untrue' passages. Are journalists actually required to hand over their brains when they sell out to Murdoch?)

In fact, the bishops are merely reiterating the Church's long-held position on scripture. The Catholic Church has never believed in a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible; that is a Protestant idea, and a relatively recent one.
St Augustine read the first chapters of Genesis as an allegory.

I for one am very glad to see this document. I've recently been disturbed to find fundamentalist tendencies creeping into individual Catholics' reading of the Bible. I remember one Scripture group where a couple of us were discussing factors in the Johannine community that might have caused the author of John to write about the washing of feet rather than the institution of the Eucharist. We were interrupted by horrified cries of 'But John wrote this! It's an eyewitness account! Maybe he was just distracted when Jesus broke the bread!'

For too long, the Church has failed to provide guidance to lay Catholics reading the Bible. Meanwhile, fundamentalists have loudly proclaimed themselves to have the only true interpretation of Scripture. The lack of an effective response by churches with more liberal interpretations has led to Christians far outside the fundamentalist tradition being influenced by fundamentalist ideas, and has even affected the reputation of Christianity as a whole. (It's very frustrating and painful to hear people speak disdainfully of 'Christians,' when what they really mean is 'Pat Robertson.') I hope that this document is just the start of a new trend.


At 3:20 pm, Blogger beatroot said...

I am always suprised by two things with the religious: one that they believe things that were written at least 2000 years ago and expect them to make sence today...and secondly, that people are shocked when, say, the catholic church or the anglican are old-fashioned and don't like homosexuality, etc.

Take Leviticus. This is what it has to say about gays: "'If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death'

Nobody can claim that this is an ambigious position. And then, again in Leviticus we get other gems of modernity - such as: You can't eat pork or shellfish; any emission of semen makes you unclean for a day; a menstruating woman is definitely to be avoided for about a week, as is anything she's touched; if anyone eats blood they are to be shunned by everyone, forever.

So if you've ever had black pudding, that's's a oneway trip to hell for you! Again in Leviticus we get such things as: make sure your clothes are made from only one garment; do not have more than one crop in your garden, etc.

The bible is full of gibberish - period. These are things that quite primitive societies thought in those days and it makes little sence to us why the fuss?

At 9:34 pm, Blogger Laura Brown said...

Hi Peter -

Leviticus is a book that definitely illustrates the dangers of taking Scripture literally!

I thought the purity laws in Leviticus were pretty irrelevant to modern life too, until I read what Rene Girard has to say about them in 'Violence and the Sacred.' His reading has less to do with the specific prohibitions than with the fears and desires they are meant to control.

At 1:50 pm, Blogger beatroot said...

So, now I am reading 'Violence and the sacred - rene Girad's insights into Christianity' is a bit deep so I will get back to on that one.

But thanks for making me read something that I would never have read unless I had visited faynights...surely the best possible reason for the blogophere!

I was also looking at your special projects bit on the sidebar. Working conditions in Vistorian England is one of my favs...! I also looked at Chris's randon single's bit...he lists some great tracks that he has written about...some good Liverpool bands! But have you checked out, on the other side of the Atlantic, Eels! Sublime and weird all in one!

At 8:13 pm, Blogger Chris Brown said...

I've actually got four Eels CD singles (and 'Flyswatter' on picture disc), but they've never cropped up from the randominser. I would offer to write aboout one of them, but I suppose that wouldn't really be random.

Actually, It's been a while since I've written one of those. I got a bit of writer's block about one particular record and never got round to it somehow. Maybe I should get going again.


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