What role does/should scripture play in the practice of religion?
Can we be spiritual and religious in the absence of a Bible?
Do spirituality and a life of personal moral practice require a "book" or set of rules by which
Although most of us have been programmed to assume that religion in general and Christian religion
in particular cannot exist without a supporting scripture, such is not the case.
Prior to the invention of the printing press religion as an integral part of the pattern of
living was much more a function of word-of-mouth wisdom accumulated by a culture over the time of its existence. One might
make the case that a more commonly shared and practiced set of harmonious beliefs flourished better in the absence of written
precepts and rules.
Spiritual information shared verbally as opposed to written form meant that the information
was shared experientially between individuals.
One could further make the case that scripture is then a product of a culture's experiential
relationship with its god - a record of how the culture has come to interpret and create a consensual understanding of who
God is and how God is experienced.
How Did the Bible Get Its Content?
Marcus Borg, Hundere Distinguished Professor of
Religion and Culture at Oregon State University is the author of READING THE BIBLE AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME, a marvelous
look at how the Bible remains useful even if not taken literally.
Literal fundamentalists tend to believe the Bible to be an inerrant and infallible
collection of declarations of God to man. In DeMille's film, The Ten Commandments, Moses watches in astonishment
as a lightning-like "finger of God" writes the commandments in Hebrew words on stone tablets.
Is that how you believe the Bible came to be?
If so, how would you describe the process for how subsequent Bible books not attributed to Moses
For example, how did God dictate His words to Isaiah, Jeremiah and the others?
If you don't believe that such is how the Bible came into being, can you describe for yourself
what it would take in terms of understanding the Bible's origin in a way that keeps the Bible's status as sacred scripture
useful in the here and now?
Christian Liberals tend more to see the Bible as containing expressions of early Christians'
interpretation of their experience with God.
Alan Watts references the "Finger Pointing at the Moon" where literalist Christians tend to
focus on the finger rather than the moon.
Borg relates an anecdote in which one of his students expressed the thought that if the Bible
is a lens through which we see God then some people believe that the most important thing is to believe in the lens.
Part of the acceptance of the Bible as literal and inerrant 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 carefully and cunningly chosen passages from it to invoke fear, shame and
For those who had no Bible to read for themselves, the manipulation of a self-serving priesthood
to maintain control by such leverage was a primary tool of dominance.
"God says in the Bible that such and such, so you'd better do what I say."
Those early Catholic pre-printing-press religious writers from are also 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 dogma.
In some ways, the mysterious and current Catholic hierarchical opposition to the Da Vinci Code
suggests that scriptural redaction - rather than thretening alternate biographies of Jesus and Magdalene - is what
they are trying to avoid.
From the Protestant Evangelical viewpoint, casting doubt on the Jesus story as a literal and
absolute truth as presented in the New Testament again challenges interpretation. It becomes, ironically, the wrong kind of
anti-redaction where inaccuracies cannot be clarified because of a stubborn dogmatic belief in the finger and the lens.
Again, Jesus and Magdalene are the talking points. Historical redaction is the real issue.
The formal canonization (declaring sacred) of the recollected words and actions of Jesus and
the letters of Paul and other writers did not occur until approximately 300 years after Jesus.
That canonization is what became the Bible.
What do you think the criteria were at that time for including those writings chosen to become
The New Testament?
We know that Constantine placed severe restrictions on who and what Jesus was and would become
in formal Roman Catholic Christian doctrine.
Why do you think that the earliest formal Catholic organizational structure was an exact model
of the Roman civic governance structure? Only the names and titles were changed. That's Constantine fingerprint is an exact
What concerns and priorities of the Roman Emperor and other civil authorities do you think had
- if any - impact on what those earliest Catholic Christians included in The New Testament?
The internal imagery - the mental construct - for most adamant and politically active Christian
evangelicals is the massive literalist assumption that the Bible is the inerrant word of God;
that the Bible contains a literal history of a speaking relationship between God and man;
that such a relationship once existed but does not today - because we have the Bible to which
we can blindly turn and suspend any internal spiritual sense of logic and reason in resolving moral or ethical dilemmas.
Such literalism is not a spiritual root of a communal relationship with a living, active and
Rather, it is a weak crutch, overused as a pretended etched-in-stone justification for the flaws,
inconsistencies and instinctual mean-spiritedness of lazy literal and judgemental right-wing Christian activists.
Rejecting the literalist mode of Christian spirituality is a mighty catastrophe always lurking
behind a massive curtain of camouflage. As more and more thinking human beings drift toward a rejection of literalist thinking,
those among them who still recognize an inherent spiritual hunger and sense of living must reconcile the intent and usefulness
These are those whose progressive thinking harbors the greatest hopes for a constructive
Christian impact on global humanity.
These are those whose refusal to continue blindly following blind guides will shove Christian
congregations back from the abyss of a Taliban society.
That's why the Da Vinci Code is dangerous.
It suggests a Jesus who really looks more like Ghandi and less like a spiritually commanding
and meddling Julius Caesar.
© Arthur Ruger 2006