Reflecting on my previous post there are two questions that have been raised in the comments section. They are related to Sam Harris’ anti-religion book the End of Faith which as I get farther into it I see is heavily influenced by his acceptance of Eastern philosophy. In any case his view is that religion is bad because faith without any evidence is unreasonable and right now the Islamic radicals are threatening many people’s lives and liberty. Thus the fundamentalists are a danger to civilization and he assumes the Christian fundamentalists will be just as dangerous to civilization and the fundamentalists are allowed their fundamentalism because of moderate Islamists and moderate Christians. Therefore in his thinking moderates in religion are just as bad for civilization as are fundamentalists. So if we ignore his guilt by association argument that says a fundamentalist Moslem is the same as a fundamentalist Christian we are still left with the idea of moderates making fundamentalism more acceptable. It is not the greatest argument it is equivalent to saying anyone with a religion of any type is responsible for the bad behavior of another person of another religion. If people of one religion recognize that it is ok to have faith in another religious philosophy, that religious freedom should be acceptable to society. Such pluralism will also allow fundamentalism.
Aside from the numerous personal suppositions that Sam Harris uses he is very right that faith has to be based upon evidence. Our suppositions about evidence however may be quite different. But for our purposes I want to discuss what it means in Christianity, does fundamentalism work at all or is it something that moderates don’t accept in their religion but use the same terminology and presuppositions as the fundamentalists.
Both moderates and fundamentalist Christians frequently use the term “word of God” in reference to the Bible. No doubt this is because at times in the Bible “the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness”, “word of God came to Nathan, saying.” The word of God in these instances indicates that the person received a message from God. Certainly the Bible as a whole and in its parts can be seen as containing messages from God. However the fundamentalist carries the conclusion farther by adding to the subject two other ideas, inerrancy and infallibility. These two elements create the effect that instead of the Bible containing messages from God the whole thing is a message from God that has no errors in it and is infallible. This leads us to Glenn’s comment:
II Timothy [3:16] is usually the verse cited to justify biblical inerrancy, inspiration and the like. And since the only Bible available to the author of II Timothy (assumed to be Paul) was the Old Testament, than the OT in this reasoning is perfectly authoritative, infallible, etc.
What is your take on that passage and argument?
(NASB) 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
Nowhere in that verse is the concept given of inerrancy or infallibility. It tells us about the profitability of reading the scriptures for various life applications. In fact within the context of 2 Timothy the idea is that those scriptures would lead to the wisdom to recognize Jesus Christ.
14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The concept is that the sacred writings will lead you to wisdom that can see the salvation in faith in Christ. So the sacred writings are not simply a list of God’s commands but an inspired account of God and man, history and philosophy with the intent to lead us back to God and salvation (healing the relationship). Wisdom is developed by the application of information. Dictionary.com defines Wisdom as: ”knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.” Wisdom is not found because something is without error or infallible. God alone is infallible, man who is the one recording the messages from God or is the subject of inspiration is not infallible and not without errors, he is not without his own presuppositions whether they are true or false. The insistence upon infallibility in fundamentalism destroys the wisdom factor. Infallibility says that a Sabbath breaker should be killed as per Old Testament instruction. Wisdom is the product of seeking to couple truth with justice and right judgment. It forces people to look at other alternatives and other examples whether they are found in other areas of the Bible or whether they may be examples which come from life around us today or in history.
To this I will add the comment of Bruce:
Is it possible that there is a different interpretation to be had of Deut. 13 (I think it was 13?) than the one that Harris has implied. So often we Christians will say that that doesn't apply to today, they "needed" that strict law at that time because Israel was going through a period of crisis etc. etc.
There are certainly other ways of interpreting the verses in Deut 13, but Harris did not imply anything to those verses. He was quoting them in their context and with their meaning intact. To say that the meaning was for those people at that time in those circumstances is the natural method of interpretation. It is in fact the logical application of the statement. However if Deut 13 is the infallible Word of God then we have painted ourselves into the corner and fundamentalism is our only option. By accepting the fundamentalist view the moderate Christian is very much the accomplice to the fundamentalist view of God in society. We have to move past being a moderate to being a progressive Christian. A progressive Christian is someone who looks at the message without inserting the fundamentalist traditions into the message. To come to a method of understanding the Bible which sees inspiration in the Bible yet allows for the progression of truth and understanding, not only for ourselves but also for the writers of the books.
The question we have to ask is how do we determine what is of importance and what is not to our relationship with God and other people. Strict rules for an ancient civilization may no longer having real meaning for us, and if not applicable to us then we need to understand what the inspirational value to us is. That value of course may just be in knowledge of history, or it may speak of the nature of man or the nature of God or it may even be something that may only aid some of us depending upon what our life situation may be.
This of course leads us to the objection that to analyze the Bible in this way we are placing human reason above the “word of God”. That is the fundamentalist first and foremost objection to Progressive Christianity. The answer is found in the fact that both the Jewish and Christian and every other religion I can think of is dependent upon human reason. We have to depend upon the reasoning of the prophets and the writers of the books of the Bible, we have to depend upon the reasoning of the people around those prophets and writers who held their messages as important and inspired of God. We even have to depend upon human reason when we hear about those people or read their messages. Contrary to Sam Harris’ view religion is filled with human reason. But as with other areas of human reason it is constantly changing and growing. Something that fundamentalism does not like, something that the tradition lovers do not like yet it is something we all must embrace.
The following is an example of something that is useful to show the difference between fundamentalism and a progressive view. The conversation is from the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
Leslie has just gone to church for an Easter service, and in conversation afterward these are some of the statements of the children Leslie age 10, Jess age 10 and Maybelle age 6:.
Leslie: That whole Jesus thing is really interesting isn’t it?
Jess: What you mean?
Leslie: All those people wanting to kill him when he hadn’t done anything to hurt them. She hesitated. It’s really kind of a beautiful story, like Abraham Lincoln or Socrates or Aslan.
Maybelle: It ain’t beautiful its scary nailing holes right through some bodies hands
Jess: Maybelle’s right…Its because were all vile sinners God made Jesus die.
Leslie: Do you think that’s true?
Jess: He was shocked. It’s in the Bible Leslie
Leslie: it’s crazy isn’t it, you have to believe it but you hate it. I don’t have to believe it and I think it’s beautiful.
Maybelle: you gotta believe the Bible Leslie.
May belle: Cause if you don’t believe the Bible…God will damn you to hell when you die!
---From chapter 8