18 July 2011

Bible Rejection in the Modern Era


A recent article in the Huffington Post by Jeffrey Small, author of the Breath of God, captures many of the modernist errors of today regarding the Bible and the Faith. I cannot say his position and its many errors are entirely his fault, though. The Church has gotten progressively weaker and weaker for a variety of reasons, allowing the Faith as it is presented to be watered down so much that people become complacent in their own faith and indeed do not even know their own faith well. This leads to erroneous conclusions such as those drawn in the aforementioned article, which I shall discuss in more detail later.

Now, the author's conclusions may perhaps, though not necessarily be formed through excellent logic, and the article as written certainly appears not be the product of overt anti-religious sentiment or propaganda as such. Yet, even flawless logic applied to an incorrect set of data or assumptions will nevertheless yield an erroneous result. The starting point always matters. If you throw a dart perfectly straight, but you are not positioned correctly in front of the dartboard, you will miss. If you see only part of an object, you are possibly likely to deduce its purpose incorrectly. Data and assumptions always matter.

As to the arguments Mr. Small makes, they begin with an assertion that the Bible ought to be treated as mythology. In fact, he suggests that he got even more out of the Bible reading it that was than when he read it "literally" as a child from a more stringent religious perspective. Yet, we know that the Bible is not to be read literally, but must be correctly interpreted. (See Saint Augustine’s discourse on Biblical interpretation.) The author continues with a series of points as to why scholars tend to reject the Bible as historical or literal. I will now address these individually in brief.

1. In his first argument, the author states that science and technology make the Bible largely unbelievable. He cited that the Bible claims the earth is 6000 years old, while physics says it is 13.7 billion years ago. These are flawed arguments ab initio, as they assume science and religion are incompatible or separate, or that religion is correct only in so far as it does not come into conflict with our present understanding of science. The numbers in the Bible need not be taken literally. When the creation of the world was taking place, it was said in Genesis that certain things were created on certain days. How long is a "day" in the context of the Supreme Being who created the vastness of the universe? How long is a "year"? The writings of the early Hebrew people further need not be taken absolutely literally in our understanding of the language, and they cannot be. Observe how much time and experience separates us from them. Our understanding of the world is vastly different from theirs, but it does not at all change the fact that we are talking about precisely the same great act: God's creation of the world.

Refer to Cardinal Newman's writings on the interrelationship between science and religion. Theology is the queen of all sciences, and all other sciences therefore must in some way agree with theology. The statement that science makes it difficult to believe the tenets of the faith is arrogant in the extreme in that it assumes that we can know all. Are we so convinced that our science today completely explains everything, and that therefore the Bible is wrong and not to be listened to? Perhaps most people today are indeed so convinced. However, even science has evolved. Science has even proven that its own understanding of the world previously was wrong or at least incomplete. Yet, the Bible, properly interpreted (again, see Saint Augustine), has never been proven to be wrong or incompatible with science. Science is nothing more than the explanation of God's world and the way he made it to work given in human terms.

2. The author claims that the Bible contains many "impossible" feats. The author states, "[many] of the stories are also scientifically impossible, like the tale of Joshua stopping the sun moving across the sky. This story assumes (as was the thinking then) that the earth was flat and was at the center of the universe."  There are two points worth mentioning. One is that the events in the Bible, again, must be interpreted properly and according to the context and experiences of the people writing them. Two people separated by thousands of years may explain the same event completely differently. The second point is that the Faith is indeed based on accepting that God can do as he wishes and is not bound by the laws of physics. Does physics permit the resurrection of the dead? Yet, Christ did it. Does physics permit an immaculate conception? Yet, God did this for Mary. Does physics permit a virgin birth? Yet, it happened. If you say you do not believe any of these occurrences because of science, then you are no longer a Christian and you have chosen to follow a "religion of science". It ultimately is a matter of faith. We must believe that there are things that we cannot understand, yet believe them anyway. The belief that we can understand everything is arrogant and impossible. The belief that we should only believe those things that we can understand demonstrates a weak faith rather than the child-like faith that Christ wants us all to have.

3. The author of the article claims in his third point that there are explanations for many of the Biblical divine events. Yes, indeed there are. Physics may have an excellent potential explanation for the parting of the Red Sea, for example, but that nevertheless does not prove that God did not do it. It merely offers an explanation as to the physical means by which it was done. In fact, such explanations serve merely to prove that certain events in the Bible did indeed happen, hopefully strengthening the faith of those who needed, like Thomas, more proof.

4. The author claims the Bible draws from "other myths." He states "...[the] Epic of Gilgamesh -- Sumerian poem detailing the creation of the universe that predates the writings of Genesis by many centuries -- contains a flood story whose plot points are almost identical to the story of Noah. "  Does this mean that the Bible account of the flood was incorrect? If the Sumerians were present at the flood, which covered the entire earth, then it stands to reason that they would also write about it. Here the author is merely trying to see what he wants to see. If physics and chemistry both explain the same natural phenomenon, does that mean that chemistry is wrong because it is talking about something in physics? Of course not.

5. The author, discussing that other religions have myths and miracles, states "On what basis can we Christians claim that our miracle stories are legitimate, yet theirs are flights of fancy?" Here again, it comes down to a matter of faith. If you seek hard proof, then I pray one day that you will receive a miraculous conversion of heart like Paul on the road to Damascus. Here also it is worth referring again to the writings of Cardinal Newman on the proof of God's existence. However, those who wish to doubt will nevertheless continue to doubt.

6. The author bemoans the Biblical inconsistencies. Here again, it is a matter of understanding the Bible in its proper context and interpreting it properly. This underscores the importance of Sacred Tradition. The knowledge of the Bible has evolved as humans have evolved.

7. The author states: "Reading the Bible as a literal historical account of events from the past limits the power of these stories. Rather than expressing universal truths, a literal interpretation limits the actions of God to certain events in history. God's actions in the world become finite, confined to certain historical events: like the chess master making individual moves on a chessboard frozen in time two thousand years ago. Reading these same stories mythologically, however, can bring forth their universal qualities."  Here he might be said to make somewhat of a rational point overall in terms of the universal qualities of the Bible. Yet, his argument is flawed. The Bible indeed is not a work confined in meaning to one time and place. It is universal. Its difficulty comes from the fact it was written by people through Divine inspiration in one particular time. Yet, the meaning of everything contained in the Bible is for everyone everywhere and at all times. This is, again, where the interpretation becomes so important. And, it is up to the Church to determine this, not science or "scholars." The answer is not to downgrade the Bible to a collection of myths. If you do so, then you can no longer claim Christianity as your religion.

8. The author claims that the "...literal reading of the Bible alienates much of our society." It claims that the Bible is discriminatory. This is perhaps the most offensive accusation of this article. Christ came for everyone. Christianity is very much inclusive. Christianity is for everyone. In fact, in the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church, we have adopted a slogan that makes this point clear, i.e., "The Church for Everyone." (TM)   Yet, welcoming everyone does not mean that we should change the tenets of the Faith. We do not alter the Divine Truth to suit the ever-changing whims of society. To do so would be the sin of modernism, as condemned by Pope St. Pius X, among many others of the Church’s leadership over the years. It would be to allow the Faith to be governed by the ways of the world rather than by the ways of God.

The author claims this alleged “discriminatory nature” of the Bible exists because the Bible was written "...an age in which slavery was legitimate, an age when discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation was the norm." I will address these five accusations one at a time. First, it is true that slavery was the norm at the time. However, Christ came to free all men. Slavery itself is not a part of Christianity or a divine precept, except that we, especially in the clergy, should be slaves to Christ. Therefore, that slavery exists in historical context in the Bible and in the history of the Church is irrelevant. This was a societal aspect being discussed, not a religious tenet. The Church today is very clear that slavery is not consistent with Christianity.

Second is the accusation of so-called gender bias. Nowhere in the tenets of Christianity does it state that there may be or should be discrimination or abuse of women. Yet, the Faith has a clear order of nature. This has been upheld as a theological truism for more than 2000 years. Men have their role in the Church and family, and women have theirs. Unfortunately the modern feminist society claims that Catholicism is biased because it refuses to permit the ordination of women. They have been successful in forcing ordination in the Episcopal Church, for example, and most if not all mainline protestant denominations also ordain women. This is another example of modern society's social viewpoints being used to claim the Church is wrong and demand change. That the Church upholds her principles does not make her biased. The Church simply states that each person was created special and for a special purpose. We each have our role and should fulfill. Upholding the Faith over modern social viewpoints is simply not gender discrimination. It is being a good and faithful Christian. It is better to be right in the eyes of God than to follow the ways of the world, even though society may condemn you for it.

Third and fourth are the accusations pertaining to race and ethnicity. It is quite absurd. Christ, once again, came for everyone, regardless of race or ethnic background. The Catholic Church is just that...Catholic. Universal. For everyone. 

Lastly is the argument regarding sexual orientation. Homosexuals are welcome in the Church. Yet, we will not and cannot say that homosexuality is acceptable. Sinners are welcome in the Church in general, for we are all sinners. We do not claim that the sin is acceptable, though. We are here to save souls, not pander to the myriad of social movements over the years. We do not approve of or advocate abuse of sinners. We seek their conversion. Love the sinner, but hate the sin.

In conclusion, the author of the referenced article, Jeffrey Small, claims in effect that the Church must get with the times in order to survive and be relevant. O Jeffrey of Small Faith! So long as there is even one person in the Church, the Church will continue. The Church does not need to adopt every perversion as acceptable in order to survive. We know that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. We know that there will be many attempts by the world to change and destroy the Church, even from within, for the world hates the Church, as the Church is not of this world. Yet, the Church will survive. The Church has always survived. One should not advocate watering down the Sacred Truth of the Christian Faith, or relegating it to mere mythology like that of the Pagan Greeks. One harms the souls of many through doing this. And, remember that a flawed data set or flawed set of assumptions will lead to wrong conclusions, no matter how good the logic. We have 2000 years of the collective wisdom of the Church on our side, which thoroughly embraces the totality of true science. Those who embraced the modernist theories against the Church have only what is in the present. Their approach lacks any foundation to make a real argument.

Want to know more? Read Card. Johnson's book An Incidental Priest. Click here to find out about it