Biblical Literalism

Arthur's Journal on God & Politics
What Does It Mean to be Christian in America?
A God of War
Apocalypse & End Times
Biblical Literalism
Christ Path
Conformity & Orthodoxy
Fear, Shame & Guilt
God & Politics
Goodness, Morality & Sin
Heresy & Heretics
History, Mystery & Doubt
Kindergarten Religion
Mental Spiritual Constructs
Mystical Christianity
Mythical Proportions
Passion of The Christ ...
Someone Else's Magic
Don't Let Scripture Tell You Whether You Can Do It. Let Scripture Tell You How
Concerning my own experience, I suppose one could use the word "deprogramming" in that my initial bout with innerancy had more to do with how scripture was quoted to motivate or coerce me into socially acceptable conformity within my church.
I confess that as a child and up into my 40's, scriptural meaning as interpreted by my church had an absoluteness about it that brooked little dissent. When I discovered Joseph Campbell and his book entitled "The Power Of Myth," I was advised not to read that book.
But since I was in dissent and had become a non-literalist doubter, I swallowed my religious guilt, girded up my intellectual loins and read it anyway. When I read in Campbell about myths older than Hebrew Scripture referring to floods, arks, babies in baskets rescued from rivers by princesses, African stories about God asking man why fruit was eaten and the man blaming the woman who blamed a snake ...
... I realized that as a literalist with no appreciation for the blessings of myth, I was on a dead-end path of spiritual immaturity. But to reject the Bible and scripture because you've found them not to be innerant - not to be the literal and absolute "Word of God" as preached from many Christian pulpits - is a mistake in my opinion.
Once able to remove the limitation of literal interpretation, I learned how to bring Scripture to life. I learned about my own natural mystical bent as something all humanity possesses but only a minority actually trust to awaken. I learned how scripture is best appreciated as a "living" document that speaks through spirit.

"Me and God. Ain't that right God?"

Bishop Spong's earlier writings had a lot to do with inspiring the launching of my own website now into its third year.

At the time my perception was and remains that 2000 years beyond the events recorded in the New Testament, we find ourselves mired in a religiously cultural assumption of what the Bible is and how it should be viewed.

The controversies that arise spontaneously in most discussions of defined Christian religion remain - for the most part - based on an almost knee-jerk assumption of Biblical inerrancy. This assumption raises itself to a supreme pedestal of declaring that Koran's, Torah's, Upanashid's and all other historical scripture take second place to the supremacay of the God-dictated Bible.

I don't see this as an intentional or even conscious attitude on the part of biblical literalists, yet the attitude remains and is reflected in most of the writings that include Bible citations. This often unspoken assumption is the overriding framework upon which denigration to less-than status of all other spiritual belief systems is generated.

I wrote the following in my most recent essay:

"Condemnation of resistance to religious conformity brings us to a place of hearing the self-appointed tell us that

'My Jesus is not your Jesus. My Savior is not your Savior. I own the true redeemer and you can only call Him Savior & Redeemer if I agree with you. You can only call Jesus your friend if I agree with what you mean by that.

You can only resist evil as I define evil. Any other resistance to an evil of your own perception is heresy and God will punish you for that and for not believing me.'"

And, of course, the implied ... "Me and God. Ain't that right God?"

Thinking that God only talks to you in the Bible

Set the clock for ten minutes to think about big thoughts?

Dang, that's never worked for me. It's like when I'd sit in Bible Study Groups and talk god-talk. We'd get so caught up in the form of what we were doing - men reading the Bible and talking about it - that nobody would give me time to really think about those writings.

Not for me. I trust the historical Jesus too much to do that. I trust what the historical Jesus seemed to be saying in doctored up Biblical verses and I took Him literally. Tried out what he said, didn't just sit in a Bible study group and let some sort of group consensus tell me what I should be thinking and defining what a real experience with Jesus is.

Oh, I believe in a historical Jesus. I've realized that for me any reality and revelation about what Jesus taught comes through experience which some times means that with trembling hands I let go of the Bible crutch and take his words at face value. And what I've learned .... works every time.

No personal God? Gosh, what a lonely existence. It doesn't take ten minutes of clock watching to commune with God. He won't leave me alone that long. Keeps interrupting my thoughts when I'm mowing the lawn, shaving, driving to work or trying to understand what it is they think they're doing on the 700 club.

Problem with many Bible touters is that you get the idea that if you want to talk to God you have to go to the god-talk place - the only place God will talk to you - the Bible. It must get lonely when the strongest sense of God primarily comes from form activities like Sunday worship and Monday Bible study.

Thinking that God only talks to you in the Bible and that big thoughts only come from reading over and over in the Bible is really 6th grade level religion.

The evangelicals and mystics have got a stronger sense of God's personal presence. If there is no sense of prophecy/inspiration based on a constant awareness of God's constant presence and a trust in the mortal aspects of the historical Jesus and His words, there is only the occasional Big Thought to anticipate in life.

That's where the supernatural Devil becomes real. When there is no constancy of the Big Thought, evil will fill the void.

Try this one out:

WORRY (c)2000 "Take a stroll with Worry, and a willing partner find,

who'll bring along your troubles so they'll not be left behind.

He'll summon all the vultures who will hover overhead

while your fear about your troubles leaves your courage feeling dead.

Mr. Worry will not comfort you; commiserate he does,

for he thrives and grows but stronger while reducing you because

the more he walks beside you the more welcome he remains

and feeds upon your sorrow making loses of your gains.

Take a stroll with Worry and you stroll on liquid sand

where to step away is difficult and nowhere can you stand,

for standing still is sinking and his vultures overhead

will feast upon the hopes and dreams you've given up for dead.

The Mother of your soul doth weep when Worry slithers in,

an uninvited guest so cruel who wants you not to win.

And Worry wed with Anger -- both destroy a vital chord

when the Mother weeps while watching you pick up a sharpened sword

to wreak a mindless havoc without wisdom at your side,

but Worry, laughing all the time will see how you deride

your essence and your virtue in the thrall of Anger's lust

and full of pride so wounded you grind Wisdom into dust."

*** Our very Personal God and our wonderful Historical Jesus never intended that life be an experience of waiting for the occasional Big Thought.

wave a book around and command God to cast out evil
As recorded in the non-inerrant/non-literal Bible, certain of his disciples attempted to cast out demons as they has seen Jesus do - but failed.

Jesus' response: "... this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."

If they were trying to emulate Jesus, they failed and wanted to know why?

Jesus didn't counsel them to wave a book around and command God to cast out evil because that's not what He did. Had it been what He did, they wouldn't have failed.

Prayer and fasting is a focusing meditation whereby the spirit brings the body into line in order to focus intent without the overriding influence of the outer ego - which tends to insist solely on the limited dimensions of physical existence.

Seems to me that Jesus was telling them they had to overcome the outer world in order to have power in the inner dimensional/psycholgocal world where "demons" function.

Without the mystical, Christianity devolves into mindless fundamentalism.

That is not the New Testament message. It never was

There is nothing in scripture that remotely reflects your belief that Jesus came into the world to suggest that, "I am God....and so are you."

Doesn't have to be. I treasure the Bible because it introduced and still sustains my spiritual practice. But the Bible does not have to authorize my understanding of Jesus. Nor do I have any desire to cite the Bible as the basis for what I've come to understand about Jesus.

In fact this is the starting point of all heresy as revealed in the opening chapters of Genesis in the story of Adam and Eve.

Heresy only exists when divergency from orthodoxy is considered a crime. The Genesis story is not a recording of a literal event. It is a beautiful Hebrew hymn and the more important knowledge from Genesis is why did the writers express Genesis in that manner?

Equating yourself with Jesus and God is the ultimate end of your kind of folly.

Equating your own interpretation of the Bible as truth and mine as myth is an even more precarious kind of folly. Most myth is in reality another way of expressing truth.

You would place your ideas, beliefs, and teachings on the same level of importance as those of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thomas Jefferson declared that he himself was Christian in the only way he believed Jesus wanted believers to be Christian. I personally believe that the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God and that humans also have the same status is an incredibly powerful and empowering message.

Restricting Jesus' divinity to a heavenly attribute truly diminishes and reduces spiritual power in being mortal. Extending Jesus' divinity into his actual mortal life extends the resurrection and all implied in a wonderful manner. You can phrase the belief in whatever educated format that suites you, but your teachings do not reflect the New Testament message that Jesus came into the world to save us from our true inner nature of rebellion.

That is not the New Testament message. It never was. That is why the issue of historical redaction of the scriptures to support a politically religious or religously political position is important. So long as we believe that your declaration is THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE message from the New Testament, we remain in spiritual bondage to orthodoxy at the cost of sustained spiritual ignorance.

"Teachings" are nothing more than expressed opinions that others must validate for themselves. You youself have applied this process to my writings and have differed with my opinions. If I were you I would not then label my opinions "teachings." You imply a kind of validation in doing so. Stick to words like heresy. That will get the knee-jerk reaction you want from spiritual innocents who might encounter these writings.

I disagree that our true inner nature is rebellion. Once again, in my opinion, the construct of a Judgmental God requiring obedience and commanding an army of humans against a supernatural evil is a false one. My experience of God is best described by the image of the Father of the Prodigal Son.

Your message is perhaps the most extreme form of heresy available today because it is given apparently within a 'Christian' context. It belongs within the Unitarian religious construct, imo. At least in those churches, there is not the pretence of a conflicting belief in the truthfulness of the story of Jesus.

I confess that what I believe about Jesus the Man who became Jesus the Christ conflicts with that story of Jesus constructed and supported by Biblical literalists - the same literalists who behave in a manner that suggests that if their interpretation is wrong, all is lost.

The Episcopal Liturgy includes the Nicene Creed with which I strongly disagree. I propose the Nicene Creed as the traditional Jesus story in synopsis form as interpreted by biblical literalists. And yet, based on my own personal experience with God and Jesus, I can easily relate the essentials of the Nicene Creed to Jesus' compassionate mortal message.

The thrust seems to be that if my views do not reflect the "approved" interpretation of the New Testament, I should perhaps cease publishing my opinions rather than run around saying what I think as an intellectual and spiritual danger to minds too young to have yet completed their Christian literalist programming?

I must be a literalist myself ... I assume that fathers all ought to act like the Father of the Prodigal Son

Arthur, are you talking about "fundamentalists" or "literalists"? Isn't it literally impossible to be a true literalist?

Oh man ..... I've always had an aversion to labels and the on-going plague on me was the original reference to fundamentalists and literalists I made in my earliest posts.

Most of what get's my dander up is the use of Biblical verses in a literalistic "one true and absolutely restricted meaning" upon which the only agreement is found within a particular group.

But you know ... I must be a literalist myself since my disagreement with others is founded in the same thing. For example, I assume that fathers all ought to act like the Father of the Prodigal Son.

I guess the bottom line has to do with additional assumptions, such as the one I infer which is that God agrees with my assessment of the Prodigal's father.

So, I don't know ... maybe I speak of "rigid, inflexible, literal fundamental Biblical evangelical theological absolutists." (Now I need to go wash my mouth out with soap.)

Don't answer that! God doesn't make phone calls to individuals

Love is the reason for communion between God and humanity. The love is limitless, boundless, freely expressed and available for us to perceive as we endeavor.

If I get a daily phone call from God and a biblicist is sitting at my table drinking coffee with me when the phone rings, what can he say?

"Don't answer that. God doesn't make phone calls to individuals. Trust me!!"


By the way, what is your opinion on God demanding that Hosea break the Mosaic law, and marry a woman who was a harlot? What are your thoughts on that?

My opinion?

Well, I suppose it's an eye-brow raiser in a debate between two literalists trying to reconcile its meaning with a God who cannot tolerate sin with any degree of allowance.


Why I believe the bible is not the inerrant and absolute word of God written by men through his inspiration

(1) My study of how the books of the Bible were written, the process of inclusion and exclusion of specific books in both the Old and Testaments reflect the actions of mere mortals endeavoring to express their understanding and perception of God.

For example, a short bit of research will lead to experts on Hebrew writing forms that will illustrate that Genesis in its phrased and structural form is in fact a hymn to God and not a literal recitation of the specific acts of God.

Prophetic books written by "prophets" were not issued compiled singly or as a collection with a forward by God declaring the innerant definition of what was written. Were that true, those writings would not contain warnings and statement replete with explanations of choices to be made with proposals of alternative outcomes at the hands of God.

That's why, for example, Abraham could talk God into backing down on destruction of a city by continually lowering the number of righteous men to be found there.

Books left out of both the O.T. and N.T. reflect a rejection of writings not in harmony with specific partisan theological priorities.

The quality of some of those rejected writings is tremendous and nowhere will you find any writing by any of the early fathers that defends what was included and what was excluded without a justification of the growing Catholic orthodoxy.

(2) After having come to love scripture under the controlling tutelage and programming of one specific church, it was my on-going bible study which began to illuminate conflicts in doctrines and other absolutes adamantly proclaimed by that specific church as innerant and divine. Followed by encountering the same transparent inconsistencies in all Christian churches.

(3) The inclusion of historical knowledge as to the politics, economy and social evolution surrounding the rise of the Catholic Christianity which survived Roman persecution, endured Roman domination and ultimately outlive the Roman Empire itself - only to fall into the same power traps that empires fall into.

Subsequently the vicars of Christ tacitly endorsed, encouraged and ordered persecutions of Christian heretics in exactly the same arbitrary manner as their earlier Roman Persecutors who had influenced not only what N.T. books were included and why, but who got labeled heretics and who did not. All this long after the time of the historical Hebrews.

And as I have written elsewhere, the Protestant Reformation - in which protestors literally yanked the bible from out of Cathlicisms controlling hands and read it for themselves - formed alternatives to Catholicism founded mostly on the same evolved doctrines that came into being under Catholicism. They reformed but insisted on retaining an acceptance of what the Catholics had told them the bible was - in effect accepting the lie that a polluted and redacted scripture was in fact the inerrant WORD of God not to be interpreted in any other "private" way.

These are spiritual, intellectual and academic reasons for my not accepting the bible as an inerrant word of God that somehow survived all the tampering, manipulation and redaction of scripture and somehow came through millenia unscathed.

That the bible contains the mind of God as conveyed spiritually through a reading of scripture with a sincere heart and real intent is what matters to me.

That the bible contains the not-to-be-tampered-with and traditional commonly and privately accepted interpretations that brook no deviance is not something I believe.

Nor do I believe God expects me to use the bible in such a limited fashion.

a religious addict with an addiction to the book

I said it started out with God speaking to the Patriarchs, but as things went on, the written word was replacing that system - Yoday we have the written word, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I would also say that all who have that view obviously ignore, refuse to admit or are ignorant that such a view is based on a monstrous assumption. And it is only assumption ... an assumption I refuse to make because in my meager life efforts, I have encountered no proof that the assumption is valid.

I have encountered proof that valuable spiritual content in all scriptures of all spiritual paths are confirmable with the guidance of a holy spirit - but not in any formulaic or dogmatic way.

A willful refusal to step outside the single book is, as I have stated many times before, an example of lazy literalist thinking.

It comes down to being a religious addict with an addiction to the book.

As a professional social worker, I cannot avoid constant interaction with addicts of all kinds. Conversations with drug and alcohol addicts about their addictive behavior is exactly the same as conversations with bible addicts.

Biblical idolatry today is the same as the scriptural idolatry state-of-affairs with which Jesus had to deal.

not in the manner of a human puppet who assumes that he only moves because God pulls the strings
Over my lifetime I came to understand that epiphany, illumination and flashes of inspiration lead to a greater sense and awareness of prompting and guidance - not in the manner of a human puppet who assumes that he only moves because God pulls the strings - but in a manner of coming to know and understand that the kingdom of God is within.

The kingdom of God within is a beautiful and fully illuminated place where there is constant opportunity to know one's self more completely, a constant opportunity for enhanced personal insight and wisdom, and most importantly, the on-going reality of God.

The kingdom of God within each of us is a place where we can see clearly through the window pane, because, as Watts expressed it, we are not too busy painting on the clear crystal pictures of what we think or what other mortals have told us is inside.

What we get today from literalists is essentially reduced to this one simplicity: all form and no substance
Marcus Borg has written some excellent books on Christianity, Jesus, the Bible and other topics - all of which annoy literalist and less liberal Christians who see Scripture and Religion as rigid and inflexible expressions of a monarchical God. If you go to my library (link from the topic page) you'll find at least two of his books.

With that point of view, you are always likely to encounter value judgments in which you are considered to be denying the faith. It's part of the sense of the absolute that supposedly reduces and simplifies spiritual living to formula.

In reality what happens is the formula basically proposes obedience as the prime essence of spirituality. Elements such as spiritual guidance, prompting, genuine spontaneous acts of compassion and doing good for the sake of goodness are relegated to a secondary status.

Whenever you write or speak on the subject, the main objection/rejection comes from those who've internallized the notion that if it's not in the Bible it is not valid. This then does the opposite of what is supposed to be the simplest formula. By insisting on obedience laced with faith and trust, we have ended up with an array of "pretty impressive minds like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, and Karl Barth," and hundreds of others who have had to expound complicated theologies to justify the simple concept of obedience. The why's and wherefore's go on endlessly.

We've had 2,000 years to lock the original artificial description given by Roman Christians and it's a hard habit to break. We have no proof that Jesus formally taught the doctrines or created any rituals that have come out of Catholicism or the Protestant reformation afterward. All of that is the result of "pretty impressive minds" trying to reconcile an original false notion.

It's an awkward place. The birth of traditional Christian doctrines came from 1st and 2nd century non-prophet expounders of how they - mere mortals - defined Jesus' teachings and morphed them into a formal dogmatic belief system. Today, those who resist liberal ideas that do not support biblical idolatry make of themselves critics of the very process that created that idolatry and complex theology in the first place.

Jesus, unlike "pretty impressive minds like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, John Wesley, and Karl Barth," taught a very simple practice for life: The God of Compassion and the inner presence of God in each individual. Jesus as the Son of God born a mortal is the simplest and yet most profound epiphany one can imagine: God appearing to mortals as a mortal and revealing that "you came from the same place as I. My Father and I are one - and so are you."

Only an imperial, monarchical and remote God who sits apart from humanity but communicates from a distance fits the traditional formal Christian vision of reality. The heirs of Rome bought into that. The Protestant reformers and their heirs bought into that. That kind of God is like a mechanic who only maintains and repairs an automobile engine by working through the tail pipe.

What we get today from literalists is essentially reduced to this one simplicity: all form and no substance.

I Do take that passage literal

But, posing the question in a way that makes one's beliefs about the Bible a matter of truth creates a narrow version of the Bible and its value.

Portraying disagreement that the bible is inerrant as a desire to reject and declare the bible void is a debating tactic designed to "win" the argument.

What of deductive reasoning, deep thought and being lead by the Spirit?

These are the starting points and with a sincere desire for understanding, one can exercise Paul's gifts - given by the spirit- of the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge.

I view the bible as an opportunity for a conversation with God. If I lack a willingness or am afraid to use deductive reasoning, deep thought and to ask the spirit to lead me; if I'm looking merely for absolute commandments with no desire other than a formula, I'm interrupting God's conversation with me and limiting Him to the literality of a verse.

It has been said by some that God needs no defenders and that the idea that God does not have to justify Himself is unreasonable ... that it is rude, faithless and blashpemy to ask God to justify or clarify something in the bible or something someone has said that God has commanded.

But I say that this whole notion is only a notion, that God is approachable - willing, in fact - to give more to all who will ask, seek and knock.

I Do take that passage literal.

"Ask and it shall be given Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you."

By taking that passage literal, I discover that it's okay with God if I approach scripture with deductive reasoning, deep thought and the knowledge that I'm being led by the spirit.

a self-limiting exposure to all that the Bible has to offer
Part of the acceptance of the Bible as literal and innerant is an inheritance from what common folks in the middle ages were taught by the Catholic priests. This was prior to the printing press when the Bible became more available to those who wanted to read it for themselves.

Until the Bible became more available, the priesthood used the Bible as leverage, presenting it as literally true and inerrant and then citing passages from it to invoke fear, shame and guilt. For those who had no Bible to read for themselves, the behavior of a self-serving priesthood to maintain control by such leverage was a primary tool of dominance.

"God says in the Bible that ........ , so you'd better do what I say."

Those early pre-printing-press religious writers are known to have edited and altered what ultimately came to be the New Testament as we have it today.

In some instances even today, the strongest fundamentalist literalists have little to say about this process of redaction that resulted in a scripture that contains only what those early Catholic scholars wanted us to know - doctrines and stories that supported Catholic theology and doctrine.

Fundamentalist literalism has built its own altered version of Christian theology that differs from the traditional Catholic inheritance.

The irony is, that they have constructed something from a source that was originally remodeled itself.

I'm not saying that the Bible is an invalid scripture, but that restricting one's self to mere literal interpretation and popular tradition around the myth of an innerant Bible is literally that - a self-limiting exposure to all that the Bible has to offer.

stuck in that 19th century place

 When all is said and done, legalizing or "illegalizing" a relationship between two people as a basis for discrimination around the distribution of personal assets and entitlements most assuredly falls under the category of "state" as in separation of "church and state."

We act in an arrogant ignorance when our assumptions base themselves on our dominant spiritual society's unconscious collaboration to consider a myth an absolutely inerrant truth.

Such is the case with fundamentalist and conservative "opinionizing" against change based on being deeply founded and enmeshed inside the literalist box.

In this regard, all one needs to do is survey the posts on any religious (particularly Christian) message board to see who writes from a place inside the box, inside-but-trying-to-think-outside the box, or actually outside the box.

Arguments against same sex marriage that somehow draw authority on a traditional assumption about what God said, what God meant and an absolutely literal inerrancy of the legalistic view of scripture are arguments that originate from inside a box that for the most part has it's foundation deep in the 19th century literalism. That particular literalism was, at the time, the most advanced and progressive approach to moving Christian living into the modernity of that 19th century time.

(For a fascinating survey of the variety of common-folk approaches to Christian spirituality I recommend James' THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE -written from a place in time much closer to the 19th century than we are today)

Many of us remain stuck in that 19th century place and you can see it in the discussions. A lot of the contrariness to new ideas, thoughts or approaches advocating some sort of change that implies concepts "revolutionary", "radical", or "modern" is expressed in posts that appeal to that silent conspiracy to consider a myth as a truth.

In most cases, we see a basically fundamentalist and Christian traditionalist view that repeatedly falls back on verse-quoting or "tradition" that underlies the long term foundation of "old time religion" (again based in the 19th century). It appears that citing a verse somehow justifies an opinion as superior.

Citing from the Bible as the alternative to logical and common-sense reasoning reduces the Bible itself from a living spirit-based document that can be used for a lifetime to a dead volume of nothing more than tradition-generated legal statements ( and old time religious doctrinal assumptions) good merely for citing. The blind use scripture in this way, attempting to lead others whom they assume are more blind than they, toward a ditch neither can see.

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