2015-01-09

So simplistic it's a sin


I just read the Eichenwald Newsweek article on the Bible. It starts out swirling the toilet bowl of scholarship, but is at least floating by the end of the essay. It begins as Erhman fundamentalism, as if someone deified the works of Bart Ehrman* (and his ilk) and then parroted all his talking points, but without his nuance or scholarship to back it. Large swaths of this article lend itself to a line by line refutation, but that comes across as petty and defensive. While I have great sympathies with his take on right-wing culture, I was very saddened by his scholarly naivety. And it alarms me that he plays that loose with the facts (and his editors let him get away with it). If you want me to get specific, ask me about almost any point of scholarship made in the beginning of that article (and much of it later), and I can direct you to historical evidence which substantially modifies or altogether refutes the points he is making.


Is there some truth to what he says? Yes. Some of his points on the Hebrew Bible and creation stories are decent. The way he problematizes the idea of the Bible as an inerrant Book sent down from on high is good for many to hear. The process of copying, distributing and canonizing the Bible was messy indeed. And he makes decent (if simplistic) points about sexuality in Scripture, praying in public, and whether Bible believers really want to live under law or grace. But his treatment of the complexities of New Testament scholarship and theological development is abysmal, especially as concerns the Trinity and Incarnation. And his predilection for the hilariously outdated, 400 year old, King James Bible as the "gold standard" of Bibles is beyond me. If one wants to present modern scholarly views, use a Bible translated by modern scholars.

I know from my own experience, it is possible to be an intense critic of the religious right while still holding a high view of the development of the Bible and Christian theology throughout history. Are those on the "religious right" hypocrites and postmodern Pharisees who contradict the Bible they profess, in order to gain and maintain social power? Often, yes. Should one distort evidence, jettison objectivity and compromise journalistic commitment to truth-telling to make that point? No.

Don't present one fairly jaundiced view of the Bible and theological development as THE scholarly view. It is A scholarly view, or to be more precise, parts of several scholarly views popularized and simplified by someone who does not have the knowledge base or scholarly ability to do so. One does not need to "debunk" the Bible with pseudohistory and scriptural oversimplifications. Religious fundamentalism cannot be banished by Secular fundamentalism. It can only be banished by rational, evidence based thinking. Which is what both sides seem to lack.

Now after that flogging, I will say I completely agree with him when he says "Instead, Christians seeking greater understanding of their religion should view it as an attempt to save the Bible from the ignorance, hatred and bias that has been heaped upon it. If Christians truly want to treat the New Testament as the foundation of the religion, they have to know it. Too many of them seem to read John Grisham novels with greater care than they apply to the book they consider to be the most important document in the world."

I could not agree more. Although instead of John Grisham I might have named Beck or Hannity or Limbaugh or O'Reilly or someone else in the right wing pantheon.

The article ends by quoting the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Which is a great place to end. But an even better place to start.

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*Bart Ehrman, to his defense, is a very nice guy with a great sense of humor. I've exchanged email with him. He is also a very reasonable skeptic of Christianity who makes his points with compassion and genuine regard for those he disagrees with. Also, to his credit, he admits that Jesus was an historical person, unlike some of the more historically ignorant secular fundamentalists around today. If all skeptics and believers carried themselves like Ehrman, the world would be a better place. And Newsweek articles would be better written.

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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.