The Laziness of Biblical Literalism
"For activist leaders of the radical religious right, the Bible isn't so much a spiritual guide
as an ammunitions storehouse. Verses are handpicked from here and there (carefully ignoring those scriptures that might get
in the way of their own "godly" image and political ambitions) to justify whatever they want to do.
And since there
are commands in various parts of the Bible to do terrible things that Jesus never condoned--like stoning your rebellious children
to death, or stoning gay people, or killing everyone in an enemy's village except the young virginal girls...well clearly,
there's something for everyone, no matter how cruel, no matter how vile.
… So how did Jesus get demoted, and
why? A reading of the gospels will make that quickly apparent. The Sermon on the Mount alone is enough to rattle those who
use the Bible to enforce their personal prejudices.
Jesus was a troublemaker in his days and in ours because he stood
up for those who were reviled and persecuted by religious authorities under the banner of faith. He taught people the Good
News: That they should see God as a compassionate, accepting parent to love, not as an angry, violent, punitive authority
figure to fear." -Dr. Teresa Whitehurst, The Christian Minority Coalition
Whether you see Jesus as the God-become-mortal
or as one of the most powerful great teachers and sages in human history, one important question in this current time of religious
controversy needs to be more seriously addressed. As the "founder" of Christianity did Jesus intentionally establish or lay
the groundwork for a formal organization from within which would evolve doctrine and dogma written in irrevocable heavenly
Historical human propensity seems to have viewed the "civilization" of a society or culture in terms of formal
construction of rigid rules, cultural mores and an insistence on blind but trusting conformity. Everyone must do what the
"founders" have said and written - as if those founders sat around in some sort of marathon sessions out of which the documentation
and authority of the group evolved.
Most religious human beings affiliated with a formal belief set within a culture
or society tend to stand on the sort of documented and authorized orthodoxy that forever looks back for assurance rather than
forward with hope.
Disagreement and/or disapproval of the behavior of fellow members, fellow citizens or outsiders
then tends to find its basis in that backward looking framework of orthodoxy. Concerns about "education" of children and proselytes
to the culture have to do with instilling that which is limited to what can only be seen through the rear-view mirror upon
which is based definitions of what is seen through the windshield as movement forward continues.
How best then to utilize
scripture as a means of providing or enforcing the religious framework of definitions regarding anything in the present or
future? Insecurity in this regard is monstrous and tends to generate less courage and more cowardice, less boldness and more
timidity, and less initiative and more laziness.
Religious laziness is the constantly demonstrated and ineffective
mode of attempting to frame, adjust - and even correct the moral and ethical values in Christian-dominated America and - I
suspect - around the globe in all fundamentalist/literalist religions.
Those who pretend to give us our moral instructions
do so with their own subjective pretending that scripture was written once and only once - an inerrant and unchanging letter
from God - who has said all that needs to be said, leaving us to divine for ourselves the meaning of scriptural words and
phrases. The audience for these pretended moral instructions are expected to likewise pretend the same thing about scripture
and, in addition, pretend that these contemporary moral lawgivers are somehow more knowledgeable about religion, scripture
and "righteousness". They are to be trusted because, when it comes down to it, they can cite verses verbatim and pretend to
know the once-for-all-time and unchangeable meaning of those verses.
This is the lazy man's way to influence and authority
- and wealth - if a career in pastoring is the aspiration.
This is also the lazy Christian parent's way to influence,
authority and spiritual poverty if a career as a wise and successful rearing of children is the aspiration.
is first and foremost a spiritual document which contains within its pages a wisdom that must be obtained spiritually and
never literally. It takes work to use scripture in that way. It takes a recognition that God as the strongest spiritual force
in existence is something very much a part of reality in the here and now. It takes a recognition that every human individual
not only has a "right" to on-going spiritual communion but a need and opportunity to enhance life on the basis of individual
What has become obvious in American Society is the slide into laziness regarding the learning of the most basic
concepts presented by Christ. Whether admitted or not, many Christians - especially parents - have abdicated the need for
teaching children to move beyond the black and whiteness of fundamentalist literalness and into teaching a means for perception
and response to the actuality of contemporary societal life. As a result, children reach maturity knowing very little of the
most significant aspects of God and spirituality but armed with a limited but powerful list of "do's and don'ts" and "shoulds"
Mr. Dobson/Focus on the Family and their "war" against Spongebob Squarepants with their declared
rational typify this laziness. Driven by Dobson's Rhetoric I suspect that the literalist psychology comes into play with biblical
passages about raising children "in the Lord" and the like.
Those swayed by the anti-cartoon rhetoric might possibly
have some sense that their child's relationship with anyone outside the family - at that tender toddling age - could somehow
compete with the intimate harmony of the family in a home setting where spiritual brainwashing is so powerfully accomplished
as a normal part of growing up.
Such a concern might be more legitimate as the children get older - say nearer the
pre-pubescent junior-high-school ages when peer pressure mounts with terrifying rapidity.
In a home where a dissatisfied
Christian conscience possibly acknowledges that the family life has not been "perfect" as idealized in every Christian congregation,
the parents justifiably -in their heart of hearts - sense that forcing religion on children may not have been the best way.
religious dogma and doctrine is a hell of a lot easier than communicating a spiritual sense of ethical morality and doing
good for the sake of goodness.
How many kids grow up in so-called Christian homes having reached a point of tuning
out the preaching?
How many have grown up admiring their parents but struggling with a sense of quiet desperation in
not living up to an unreasonable standard of "righteousness" that has made so many Christian clergy-celebrities rich and so
many families torn?
Recently, as I have participated and contended with critics of a liberal Christian point of view,
I have realized that the fortress of justification for that criticism is in reality a quite small edifice. It's walls of protection
and the moat surrounding it are all constructed by a lazy insistence on the absolutely inerrant Bible.
Every day these
literalists - especially the celebrity literalists such as Dobson, Falwell, Robertson - even George Bush - are challenged
on their dogmatic declarations. Every day, it seems, someone somewhere publicly requests theological and scriptural justifications
for actions and viewpoints that contradict the teachings of Christ.
To name a few:
Jim Wallis and his liberal
The clergy who recently signed an open letter to the administration regarding the environment;
200+ prominent religious leaders who wrote an open letter entitled The Question of Torture: Open letter to Alberto Gonzales
(our new Attorney General);
The United Methodist Church congregation in Dallas, Texas who openly published a resolution
regarding the memberships of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
Sister Joan Chittister has called into question the hypocrisy
of activism against abortion in America while at the same time supporting the killing of men, women (including pregnant mothers)
and children in Iraq, Darfur and other places.
Bloggers and Internet editors have raised these same questions publicly
and few if any of those challenged have tried to justify or reconcile actions, decisions and behavior with the teachings of
On message boards of all sorts - including the discussion boards on this site - we encounter disagreement and
apologist reasoning based mostly on again an insistence that "How do I know? The Bible tells me so."
More and more,
the disparity between Christian biblical literalists and liberals is widening. In a very real way, the two groups no longer
have the Bible predominantly in common as was the case in the past. Letter-of-the-law Christians find themselves stuck in
a place where they can only defend their "truth" from within their walls and from their turrets of either-or. The current
political power base that has moved many Christians to the Right must sustain itself by somehow stopping the pendulum from
swinging the other way as more and more the hypocrisy of Radical Christian reasoning becomes publically obvious.
cornered, the lazy Christians can only throw the Book at critics. And unfortunately, regardless of pretending otherwise, the
Book is not the exclusive property of the self-appointed select elite.
The American Christian is a journal based
in Bay Center, Washington.
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