Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Questions for Christians, Part II

I do not know how to read Scripture as Christians read it, for I do not know in what way I should treat it as authoritative. (Of course the Christian must treat Scripture as authoritative in some way. Christians differ among themselves about how to do this, but none deny that God in some way speaks through Scripture.)

I. The Way of the Fundamentalist

Might we say that Scripture is inerrant? To my mind, this is not a live option. I have given reasons of various sorts to reject the inerrantist view in prior posts, but let me here give a novel reason. Consider the proposition that expresses the inerrantist view. It is this:

BI: Scripture is through and through wholly without error.

Let us ask the inerrantist by what right does she assert BI. If she replies that Scripture itself asserts BI, her opponent has absolutely no obligation to agree. For to assume the veracity of Scripture to justify BI is just to assume veracity to justify veracity; and circular arguments of course prove nothing. So then the justification for BI must lie outside Scripture. But where if not Scripture can we find reason to hold BI? In history? History can at best verify bits and pieces of Scripture; it cannot verify the whole of it. In science? Much of Scripture is non-scientific in character; moreover, science contradict parts of Scripture. Genesis 1 provides the best-known example, but others can be found. Might we look to tradition to justify the inerrancy of Scripture? We cannot, for much of what tradition says about Scripture itself derives from Scripture, and so again we would have attempted to prove the veracity of Scripture based on the assumption of the veracity of Scripture. But if not in tradition, science, or history, there is nowhere that we can find reason to hold BI. BI is then unjustified and so, if held, held only irrationally.

Let me stress this point: BI must look outside Scripture for its justification. It is in this sense extra-Scriptural. This should trouble the inerrantists, for many hold that the sole source of true religious belief is the Bible.

In sum: in the attempt to find a way in which to read Scripture as if it is authoritative, we cannot side with the inerrantists.

I should say as well that I find BI not only unjustified but false as well. The Bible is full error, scientific, moral and other. The world was not created in six days. (Genesis 1) The world is not thousands of years old; it is billions. (The Biblical chronology culled from a multiplicity of verses.) One surely should not kill a child that curses his or her parents. (Leviticus 20:9) (To say otherwise is to allow that a thing most certainly evil today was not evil in the past, but such a temporal ethical relativism is surely repugnant.) Sinners most certainly are not banished to an eternity of torment as Christ says that they are. (Matthew 13: 47-50) (Torture has always been, is now and will always be evil.) Imagine my difficulty then when I attempt to read Scripture as does the Christian.

II. The Catholic Way

But how then might we read Scripture as authoritative? Might we hand it over to some church hierarchy and trust their opinion? This is the course recommended by the Church of Rome. If we do this, we the laity substitute the authority of Scripture for the authority of the Church. So let us ask what reason we have to believe that the Church speaks authoratatively. Here I can only report that I have deep disagreements with the Church about certain moral questions. Thus I have little or no inclination to say that the authority I seek lies in the Church.

III. The Way of Luther

Might we find the authority in Scripture if we allow ourselves to be lead by the Spirit as we read it. (I take Luther to have suggested such a thing, contra the Church of Rome.) I am doubtful that this suggestion can be of much help. Men and women of good faith, careful readers of Scripture all, deeply disagree about how to read it. (There's no need for me to chronicle such disagreements. Doubtless my readers can provide many examples of their own.) Is the Spirit present to some of these but not to all? If so, the Spirit shows an unjustified preference for some subset of Christians; it favors that subset with the grace to arrive at proper translations but withholds from others equally sincere and equally assiduous a similar grace. Such partiality is not worthy of God and should not be ascribed to Him.

Moreover, when I sit and read the Bible and attempt to open myself up to divine guidance (I'm not sure how to do this, but I have given it a try) I find that I'm often presented with texts that are either almost surely false or completely inscrutable. The Spirit has failed me.

But if none of these three ways, I do not know how to treat Scripture as an authoratative source. I do not know how to read Scripture as do Christians. This is a second barrier to my assent to the Christian world-view.

1 comment:

Doctor Logic said...

I like the succinctness of this post, especially regarding the circularity of BI.