Perhaps I am a heretic. Maybe that is simply the easiest solution to the theological debates that run through my head and my near constant consternation with the literal interpreters of the Bible. Perhaps I simply do not get it. Perhaps I am lost and do, indeed, need to be saved. Naw, I don’t buy that for a second.
There are too many internal inconsistency in the biblical text itself for me to believe it is the divine, inerrant Word of God. There are far too many inconsistencies in the positions of the rigid ideologues with whom I am familiar for me to believe they have a lock on the one true faith. So, where does that leave me? To be sure, I am in a constant state of searching and theological inquiry. I believe that is a healthy search — even if it is has the potential to be a daily frustration.
All of this has come to a head of late in the debate over Senator Santorum’s characterization of President Obama’s theology as phony. I have significant difficulty dealing with people who classify the faith/theology of others as anything. I do not share Santorum’s theological bent. I do not, however, challenge his right to that belief or the sincerity of his convictions. I believe his interpretations of the Bible and the literalism associated with them to be wrong. The beliefs underlying his positions, it seems to me, serve to create a biblical worldview focused on the next life — rather than sincere focus on this life in service to others. I disagree with his positions and his interpretations, but I do not call him phony. I judge him to be sincere in his beliefs — however much I disagree with those beliefs.
I agree with Brian McLaren when he writes of this debate: “many of us think it’s time to retire Santorum’s Industrial Era theology of dominion and exchange it for a more ancient understanding…and one with more foresight for the future as well.” (see here)
As the political debate will undoubtedly continue, I am forced to continue to examine my own beliefs in light of the positions expressed by others. I continue to explore and to debate. I do all of this to live more fully and more faithfully in this world. I continue this search and this debate to understand my faith and to honor the faiths of others. I do all of these things in the hope that I can continue to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God.
A Prayer: I pray for the strength to continue in my exploration of faith. I ask, Holy One, for the courage to express my faith and my understandings in the light of those who so completely disagree with what I believe. I ask for the continued ability to apply my intellect to the search for the meaning of a faithful life in this world. Allow me to serve those around me by honoring the journey of and to faith. Amen.1 year ago
In book study at church Wednesday, we were asked to name a “churchy word” we have wrestled with. My word was “literalism.” I struggle a great deal more with the application than I do with the word itself. For me, I regularly wonder how a literal reader of the Bible and a metaphorical reader (like myself) can have a meaningful conversation about their faiths.
It has been said that Americans and the English are two people separated by a common language. Surely this is the case with regard to literal and metaphorical Christians as well. So, where do we—if we are committed to dialog and intellectual engagement—go from here? For me, this is an intensely personal question. I want to have these conversations. They are extremely difficult.
The most immediate struggle for me is this: literalists know the Bible’s text inside and out. They can quite literally quote chapter and verse. And the assumption is that it all means exactly what it says—by today’s definitions. I can quote very few passages word-for-word. Even when I can, I don’t see the same things—nor do I want to. So, how do we have a meaningful conversation? How do we engage in any meaningful way?
These are the questions I ask myself as I begin to read Marcus Borg’s Speaking Christian with the book study group. I hope the text (and the conversation) helps me to find some answers. These are my most pressing questions of faith. My central struggle for a long time has been this search for common ground. I worry that the common space within which to have this conversation simply does not exist. I pray I am wrong.1 year ago
Drawing truth out of a life situation or written text is like pulling on an elastic band. We reach into the text and pull out a truth, as we would pull on an elastic band while the other end remains anchored in the text. We may examine the truth carefully and be guided by it in some very important ways. But when we finish defining and analyzing the truth, we release it back into the text. The next time we reach into that same text, we may be in a different life situation, or we may use different exegetical tools; thus, we may discover a different truth.
—Mary Elizabeth Mullino Moore, Teaching From the Heart (p. 18)
Truth is an interesting concept. We all want it to be singular and capitalized. THE TRUTH. There is only one Truth, and it is easy to find just read the Bible. Read it. Hear it. Know the Truth. It simply isn’t that easy. Peter Gomes tells us that the act of reading is itself an act of interpretation. Nothing is as simple as seeing the words on the page and getting the truth.
It seems that many of those around me want there to be only one truth. Life is so simple in black and white. I live in a world of gray. I struggle with truth, and I believe as Mullino Moore says, “we may discover a different truth.” Each reading brings a different context and the possibility of a different truth.
In my doctoral residency class, the professor and I had an interesting exchange over the “truth” of a chair. He argued that a chair was a chair. Its very nature was to be a chair. I replied that a chair is a chair only because we have collectively agreed that it is a chair. We could just as easily have defined the thing we now call a chair to be a pecan pie. It is the constructed truth of our society that a chair is a chair. This is an example in the extreme, but truth is where we find it. It is dependent on context and influenced by community.
This idea of context dependent and constructed truth helps me come to grips with my relationship with the Bible. I am far from a literal reader of the Bible. In fact, I believe the literal reading of the text of the Bible to be the weakest and least meaningful reading in many instances. Too, the meaning I take from the biblical text often changes with each reading. Mullino Moore’s words at the beginning of this post begin to help me make sense of that reality. I guess, then, that this post must end as a beginning. I feel more comfortable with my changing interpretations, but I think that must not be my end … even though it is the end of this post.1 year ago