Thursday, January 08, 2015

Bible Libel

This Newsweek cover story by Kurt Eichenwald--"The Bible: So Misunderstood It's A Sin"--has stirred up a lot of interest, and opposition.  I guess that was the point.  Calling a bunch of religious people mistaken, in particular conservative Christians, is the kind of story that will get attention because it tells some what they want to hear and enrages others.

But forget the controversy, what about the piece?  Much of what Eichenwald says isn't that controversial.  It's true, most Christians in the country--or anywhere--have not read the Bible.  They know the basic stories, certainly, but they'd be surprised by the specific, complete contents.  (I'm not saying only Christians are guilty of this--in fact, until recently only the educated classes could even read, so I'm sure many religious followers did it on a non-literary basis).

Eichenwald--who clearly operates from a left of center basis, since his attacks are mostly on the right, where he seems to feel religion is the most abused--explains that when it comes to the Bible, there's a lot to understand, and few do.  First, we're reading copies of the original writing, from decades or even centuries later, and it wasn't uncommon for errors to be introduced, or, more important, for new thinking and stories to be interpolated.  Then there's the whole question of translation, which often gets things wrong--sometimes intentionally--and, in any case, can't help but miss the nuances of the first language.  Next, you've got various texts.  When originally written, they were not part of the Bible, Old or New Testament.  It wasn't until others compiled them (or expurgated them) into one work, which is why you often have contradictory verses.

Now maybe you're thinking you already know that.  Certainly anyone serious about Biblical scholarship does.  But, in fact, a whole lot of people have strong beliefs about what their religion means but aren't especially aware of these facts.  So they end up cherry picking lines here and there to back up their beliefs, but that's not good enough, says Eichenwald.

I have two main problems with Eichenwald's approach. First, here's what he claims is his purpose:

So why study the Bible at all? Since it’s loaded with contradictions and translation errors and wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy, should it just be abandoned?
No. This examination is not an attack on the Bible or Christianity. Instead, Christians seeking greater understanding of their religion should view it as an attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias that has been heaped upon it. If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it. Too many of them seem to read John Grisham novels with greater care than they apply to the book they consider to be the most important document in the world.
But why should Christian seek greater understanding of something so questionable to begin with?  I don't know how religious Eichenwald is, but he should have the courage of his convictions.  He shouldn't claim he wants Christians to understand their religion better when what he seems to be doing is undercutting the very basis of their beliefs.
Second, let's say Eichenwald gets his wish and everyone becomes a Bible scholar.  Would this help any?  Perhaps a little regarding some controversies, but overall, I assume people would be just as divided and querulous as ever.  We've already got quite a few Biblical scholars, people who spend years closely studying the scriptures, who can't agree on any single point.  People will still look into the Bible and see whatever they want to see--and be certain they've got the correct interpretation.  Eichenwald believes he's got some good points to make, and maybe he does, but if people followed his general prescription I doubt he'd be much happier.

PS  I wrote this before yesterday's attack in Paris.  The Newsweek article may have ticked off a lot of people, but at least Eichenwald, as much as he may disagree with his opposition, can be confident they wouldn't react that way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

je suis charlie

3:49 AM, January 08, 2015  
Anonymous Chebdo said...

C'mon. He is simply suggesting a counterweight to those who are loudly proclaiming what the "the Bible means" - and yes he is probably mainly concerned mainly conservative rightwing firebrands and so-called traditionalists.

BTW moi aussi- nous sommes tous Charlie

6:08 AM, January 08, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I think the reason Jesus did not write anything down (that we know of) is precisely because he (or He, if he is God) knew that the direct words of God would quickly be turned into a tool and weapon by people (exercising their God-given free-will) to grab power and persecute others.

I think there is a similar lesson in the fate of the original 10 Commandments - broken into pieces shortly after they were inscribed, and then still used as a means of control over the population until they conveniently disappeared completely.

8:45 AM, January 08, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Denver Guy a parody of the pretzels religious people have to turn into when making excuses for their beliefs?

9:27 AM, January 08, 2015  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...


10:12 AM, January 08, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.

12:24 PM, January 08, 2015  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

This would be a good place to post the imam head bomb cartoon (or is it Mohammed himself? Let's assume so).

But since I'm technologically challenged the link will have to do.

2:18 AM, January 09, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the future most decidedly does belong to those who slander, or otherwise don't give a crap about, the beliefs of a few violent idiots. je suis Charlie

3:55 AM, January 09, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few violent idiots supported by tens of millions (at least) of coreligionists around the world.

9:11 AM, January 09, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because they are "co-religionists", they are all terrorists?

2:20 PM, January 09, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I referred to the tens of millions if not more of coreligionists who support such terror and do so in the name of their religion. Is that clear enough?

2:23 PM, January 09, 2015  

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