“The Errors of Inerrancy”

In all my searchings and wanderings and Christian/Agnostic days of reading and agonizing over the meaning of doctrines, dogmas, and scriptures I have rarely come across as succinct an explanation of why biblical inerrancy is wrongheaded as this post explains right here:

John Hobbins again rides out to rescue inerrancy. I remain unconvinced that the word is rescuable from the arid rationalism of the creationists and Baconian Enlightenment minded fundamentalists. The type of error they are so keen to declare scripture free of is actually often at the heart of the type of entirely different writing scripture often consists of. In a wooden-minded world where error means much more the sort of thing these writers and speakers mean, and where empirical fact is the only truth, I am inclined to think that we need, at the very least, to put the word into long-term storage, and use other language.

I note that John seeks to speak from his particular take on his Reformation heritage. I continue to think the reification of scripture as a word independent of and set over against the church, rather than a vehicle of God’s activity to, in, and through his church, which John expresses in relatively eirenic ways, is a problematic inheritance. It encourages the kind of mindset that ascribes inerrancy to (non-existent) original autographs, but never explores the living nature of the texts to engage in their own re-interpretation, nor reads the internal dialogue of the canonical collection. (Doug Chaplin)

If I wrote a thousand words a day for a thousand days, I couldn’t come up with something as good as that. Excellent. The doctrine of inerrancy was the chief reason I could no longer have faith in the doctrines and dogmas of Christian fundamentalism. I find the topic endlessly fascinating because it does color your faith in one way or another. In fact, giving up inerrancy helped to cure me of belief in an object (the bible) over and above belief in a person (Jesus/Holy Spirit). For me, this is the test of true religion; do we believe more in the channels of Grace or do we believe in the Grace itself?

Thanks to Kay at her site for the link. There is another good post about this subject here.

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Usurping The Mother at Every Turn

God/dess forbid we should have people “born again” under the auspices of the feminine (even though everyone is born of woman, including “god“). The sexist implications of this pronouncements is staggering. I know it’s nothing new since Christianity has been doing it for centuries, but anyone with a feminist mindset can see that usurping the mother is the only way to establish control of the entire world through the unnatural “headship” of the father. Severing blood ties that maternity brings, as in the feudal days of agnatic primogeniture, is the only way to assure a stranglehold over life and property. Therefore, severing spiritual ties to The Great Mother Goddess also serves the same purpose. Thanks Wren’s Nest for the link.

On Why No One Can Know Truth of Anything From Written Records

In a word: bias. All written records are biased and that includes the supposed “inerrant” scriptures of all religions. Here is a good discussion about the book Misquoting Jesus over at Emerging Women. This book is a good lesson in not taking biblical written records completely literally. Oh sure some step around this by saying the “original” autographs of the bible are inerrant, but that’s just a cop-out. Since no one has the originals you can assume they say anything. And apparently that’s just what various copyists and scholars have done over the centuries. Which does not in any way take away from the spiritual message of a religion’s scriptures. It simply means that you cannot and must not make hard and fast rules based on questionable texts or passages or on questionable cultural norms and first century mindsets. People are so hungry for absolutes that they can’t live with the uncertainty of never knowing really what or if a God wants of us, and that includes finding out what God wants in the bible. (It’s funny that only Protestants seem to have a problem with this inerrancy business).

My bet is on the absolute uncertainty of God but the full on practice of inclusion and love in Jesus Christ.

Disclaimer: Emerging Women is committed to the scriptures. My take on the scriptures is no reflection on them and is purely my own opinion. I have the highest respect for the scriptures, a written records of many spiritual journeys.

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

In a world where conspiracies are rampant, Catholics are not immune. Check out this story, in which conservative Catholics blame liberal academics for the current priest shortage! Unbelievable. But conservative Christians are certainly looking for people to blame when the world, society, and religion naturally evolve over time, as it should. Also on the Catholic front, a priest mourns the recent decision by the Pope to revive the Latin Mass, apparently nullifying some of the work of the much needed Second Vatican Council in the 60s. I knew that Catholicism under Benedict XVI would be regressive and, well, here we go.

Many of the new movements, confessions, and declarations popping up today are obvious attempts to hang onto old ways in a world that has, well… moved on. Reforming can be a very good and much needed thing. “Returning” to anything instead of carving out new space, though, is probably not a good thing. It’s akin to trying to shove everything back into a closet in which the contents have outgrown the space. It’s pouring new wine into old wineskins:

[36] He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. [37] And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. [38] No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. [39] And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” (Luke 5)

There is always going to be tension between the new and the old. It’s the way of life and of evolutionary processes. Nothing is really gained by going backwards except to further isolate those who cannot be flexible. Jesus knew this and told the above parable to point out the inflexibility of the Pharisees and those who would not move with the new Kingdom and new Kingdom ethics. Sticking to this or that form because “it’s always been done” is stifling and allows no room for the Spirit to move. Confining people’s lives through ancient practices is also akin to stifling the Living Spirit. Sadly, it’s also a common tactic to demonize those who wish for change; feminists, religious progressives, those in gender studies, genetic researchers. It’s an attempt to blame such people for all the ills befalling society today rather than reach out in love and respect.

I’ve always been keen on inclusion rather than exclusion in the Body.  It’s not for me to say who God loves or who God doesn’t love. I’m always amazed at the audacity of those who claim to know these things for sure.  For me, love is the only glue and mercy the only test for inclusion. All else is idolatry.

Women, the Church, Humility (Gasp), and Body Politics

I’ve been thrown around psychologically and spiritually quite a lot this week. I’ve felt a burden to blog about women’s rights in and out of the church. I’ve felt burdened to warn women about the cartoon antics of Protestant macho male preachers like Mark Driscoll, and I’ve felt a tug of war in my own soul between the voice of feminist liberation and the voice of submission to the church. Is there really any difference between emerging church guru Mark Driscoll and Amanda Marcotte, the new “preacher of feminism?” How is it different? Whose voice represents me? Neither. You see, it’s very hard to have humility when your whole life growing up was one of forced submission and oppression whether it comes at the hands of men or women. It’s very hard to admit your vulnerabilities when strength, wits, and supreme acts of will have been the only things that have saved you. Yet, whose voice becomes the new way? “There, but for the grace of God…”

Therefore, I’m still trying to come to terms as a woman with my own voice and authority and as a believer with an institution of religion that seems hopeless. I’ve read the views of women who stay in the church and try to change it from within and realize that I am not new to the scene. I do not have new ideas. I’m not that much of a revolutionary thinker. Many, many more worthy women have gone before me trying to challenge hierarchy and have “failed” in an institutional sense, but not in a personal one; Christine de Pizan, Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc. Many Protestant women also took on the task of spiritual work, with or without the sanction of men. All of these women, and many more unnamed ones did not even think to “get permission” before they decided that things needed changing. So I am not in the least suggesting that my work is THAT important to the grand scheme of things. Carlos Carretto once said, “Perish the temptation that once we had come on the scene things would have taken a sharp turn for the better!” I have no illusions that I’m making any kind of difference in the world. This blog is mainly a forum for me and those foolish enough perhaps to read my rantings. Yet, I can’t help wanting to at least bring injustice to the attention of those who need to hear it most, whether male or female.

So, in this mood of quasi-spiritual despair/humility, I was contemplating what to blog about this morning that would even begin to address such issues, when I came across a wonderful bit of news from The Times in London. Apparently the Catholic Church admits the bible cannot be relied upon for “scientific accuracy or historical precision.” This is the most sensible thing I’ve heard come from the Catholic Church in years and goes a long way toward making me realize that there is hope in such a staid, stuffy, patriarchal institution. Once the bible gets taken down off it’s pedestal and is not worshiped by all, then real change can come. The news is one I’ve been saying all along on this blog. We shouldn’t be bound any longer by the breath of those long dead and culturally backward because of their words in an ancient text. Long held dogmas can now begin to change for the better; namely women’s roles in the Church. There I go being optimistic again. I have no illusions that change will come now or even 20 years from now, but this is a good start:

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture. The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.

The article continues with the UK Bishops showing profound wisdom:

The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”

They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.

“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”

I’m encouraged. I’m also going to read the whole thing (link above). But the point is that the Spirit is not bound forever in one time or one place, on this or that page, in this or that thing. Protestant fundamentalists, who so castigate Catholics for “worship” of statues, fail to recognize an idol of their own making, the bible.

I suppose the whole week has gotten me thinking about religion, the Protestant and Catholic Churches, women’s liberation from oppression, and where I fit into this picture. Men will never understand the tension inherent in being a woman “forced” to submit to men and being a woman who submits “willingly” to the person of the mythical savior; Jesus. Is Jesus just another man in a long line of men who asks for all from women and gives nothing in return but the promise of “salvation” elsewhere, or is this truly a reciprocal relationship where Jesus in his humility also submits to us in our humanness, thereby enacting the model of all human relationships? Can women exist in morbidly patriarchal cultures and still honor the power and wisdom that is in them or must we be subsumed by men in power yet again? And again. And again. How can this theology be liberating when only women are asked to give their entire lives while men still enjoy the fruits of power under the mere guise of “submission?”

Virginia Mollenkott writes, in “Women, Men, and the Bible” that:

As we have seen, the New Testament teaches that the Christian way of relating is through mutual submission and mutual and voluntary loving service. But as somebody once quipped: “Who ever said that Christianity hasn’t worked? It’s never even been tried yet!” Certainly the history of male-female relations through the centuries demonstrates that Jesus’ teachings concerning mutual submission have at best received only lip service, and at worst have been converted into a cruel parody of themselves. Christlike submission has been taught to wives but not to husbands. Instead of giving themselves up for their wives as Jesus gave self up for the church, husbands have been encouraged to assume that their wives are supposed to make all the sacrifices.

And indeed, all women are taught in Protestant churches everywhere to make the most sacrifices, that they should just quit complaining about it, accept the status quo, and let men get on with their work! Don’t we know we are just slowing down the vital work of men in the church? Bah! I can no longer exist in fundamentalist churches and no longer will I go there. Because rather than be liberators of women, they have created the most oppressive atmosphere for women imaginable. And the Catholic Church, who used to be the chief oppressor and murderer of women, has come to recognize the valuable role women play. They are beginning to realize that without us there will be no more priests. Without our bodies and our childbearing, the church will shrink. Is it any wonder that women are using their bodies to protest, to procure abortions, to refuse surrender? And is it any wonder that men have become more violent against the bodies of women? Until women are fully part of the community, sadly, there will be more abortion and violence.

Acknowledging that more and more women are leaving the church, is it any wonder then that Pope Paul II threw women a “bone” in Evangelium Vitae? Is it any wonder that the Pope calls women to a “new feminism” because we are the bearers of life, something radical, pro-choice feminists resist to the very core of their beings? I’m not a fan of essentialism either, but must I give up honoring my role as mother and nurturer of life in order to make some political or intellectual difference in the world? Isn’t this more dualism? More of the same that we have heard from the church for years? Must I severely castigate one thing to be another? Why are women put in this position; to have to choose between egalitarian power, life, and a workable place in society through our wits and intellect vs. submission, essentialism, and breeders of a new patrist hierarchy? Are women merely the ladder whereby men get to their “heaven” and are “saved?”

The Ladder

I had a sudden vision in the night,
I did not sleep, I dare not say I dreamed.
Beside my bed a curious ladder gleamed
And lifted upward toward the sky’s dim height;
And every rung shone luminous and white,
And every rung a woman’s body seemed
Out-stretched, and down the sides her long hair
streamed;
And you, you climbed that ladder of delight.

You climbed sure-footed, naked rung by rung,
Clasped them and trod them, called them by their name,
And my name too, I hear you speak at last;
You stood upon my breast the while and flung
A hand up to the next–and then, oh shame,
I kissed the foot that bruised me as it passed.

Leonora Speyer (1872-1956)

Forget Christianity as We Know It

Welcome a new Christianity without rules, without bargains with God, without fear. I am astounded and still trying to assimilate the Internet Monk’s vision. I found it yesterday while surfing the web and reading my favorite blogs. Some will say it’s Christianity without teeth. I say it’s PURE GRACE. Here’s an excerpt:

The New Testament uses three commands to describe what seems to be “our side” of the transaction: repent, believe, and confess. The many variations and synonyms don’t need to be listed. Even if we include the diversity of Christian beliefs about the necessity of baptism, the majority of Christians would agree that repentance, faith and some form of confession are repeatedly urged and illustrated by the New Testament writers.

Most evangelical Christians would agree that these are “our part” in a transaction with God called “being saved.” We repent from sin, we believe in Jesus and the Gospel message, then we demonstrate the reality of that faith through some form of confession. That confession is usually understood by evangelicals to be a public invitation or altar call, baptism and/or the public confession that precedes church membership. In response, God gives us salvation by removing our sin and crediting us with the righteousness of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the blessings of salvation become ours. Our entire existence is then infused with the “new creation” that is “in Christ.”

But is this the best way to think of the Christian message? I have serious questions about whether transactionalism confuses the language of scripture with the realities of God, and in the process, leads to a religion of “doing business” with a God who is manipulated. Is transactionalism the source of the trivialization of God and the elevation of man that plagues evangelicalism? I believe so.

Like Spencer, I have found this to be the most liberating admission I’ve read in a long time. I see it galvanizing Christianity as we know it. In the rest of the article he outlines his entire vision and yes, I was enrapt reading it, even during my favorite TV show: Ghost Hunters.

The email conversation I’ve been having with a former pastor emphasizes the need for a new vision. He said that he could never condone the “new community” I’ve found with other Christians on the Internet, in house churches, etc. because the church was in the business (my word) of dispensing graces, the gospel, and ministering to individuals. This can only be done, he says, in a local church. I countered that grace is not confined to this or that place. Grace is the free flow of Godde’s love regardless of location. The church is not a Pez dispenser. I suddenly realized, after his unequivocal assertion, that people have such a hard time allowing other people the freedom to find their own way. They want to herd us into groups like sheep so they can tell who’s “outside” the fold and garner control over those inside it. Once they know who’s “outside” they feel safe and can begin to point fingers. They can exclude by fear and claim exclusive authority to teach, to preach, and then deny sacraments. They can protect their own interests and shut the door to fresh thinking.

Spencer’s vision is far more radical than even this pastor or any old-school Christians can imagine. I’m still trying to digest it. His vision of the old views of atonement theory hit home for me, since the “dying as payment” idea never seemed quite merciful or right for a God of MERCY and LOVE. Spencer writes,

Debates about “transactionalism” have often been debates about the atonement. The Bible places the death of Jesus as the apex of a scriptural thread of sacrificial theology. Sacrifice is plainly transactional. No one can deny that, and I wouldn’t try. But is the death of Jesus a transaction, or is it a sacrament that allows us to think about the unthinkable and unknowable in a way that can be understood humanly and temporally?

Classical theologians argued about who received the “payoff” from Christ’s death on our behalf. Satan? The Father? When did the payment go into effect? Was the transaction between members of the Godhead, or does human faith and/or obedience effect the transaction? Did the atonement’s benefits extend to those who lived before it happened? Transactional questions are endless, leaving some persons weary and wondering, “Is this what the death of Jesus is all about? How many sins can be forgiven by how much blood? The calculation of worth?”

Such debates assume a temporal and transactional understanding of the atonement. They are built on the idea that, at some point in time, our reconciliation in Christ did not exist, but was in the future. Some Christians writers in the early history of the church, giving up the temporal aspect of the atonement, wondered if the “transactional” language of sacrifice was obscuring eternal truths about God. Was the death of Jesus a temporal sacrifice, and therefore a transaction, or was it something else? If God were dealing with another race in another galaxy, would the death of Jesus be the same, for the same reasons? Or could it be different because, in actuality, that death is a sacrament, and not a transaction at all.

The beautiful possibilities this evokes is endless. Some will wonder why then Jesus had to be so special at all and not some other dying and rising God. I think that for Christians who absolutely believe in the efficaciousness of Jesus over all others will have no problem with Spencer’s view after reading it, unless they are completely wedded to the transactional idea of salvation. Those who claim that Jesus does not matter in the history of the world will still remain unconvinced. I am the first to admit that there is no evidence to convince either way except that which those of faith have: personal experience.

And that’s precisely what all this is: a matter of faith. For someone like me who is just waiting for that excellent vision to tip me over the edge toward faith (and that’s a very precarious place to be), this has come closest to pushing me over. I’ll admit it. I need to believe. My intellect can only take me so far.